Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Olympics

Quick Update, Plus Some 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Thoughts

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Folks, I know I haven’t posted any updates in a while, and I’ve had folks asking why.

First, I have had some time-intensive edits on my plate lately, and the paying work must come first.

Second, I have a concert next week with the Racine Concert Band, and I’ve been spending some time preparing for that.

Third, I’ve been watching the Olympics — and yes, the figure skating, natch — but I haven’t had anything interesting to say there.

Until now, that is.

I love Adam Rippon. I always have. Great skater. Lots of technique and emotion. I love how he puts programs together.

Tonight, Nathan Chen skated up to his potential and then some. He is a great jumper. And he has nice spins. But without his jumps, he’d not be there. (He is not yet the whole package.) But six quads, with five cleanly landed? Hard to argue with that.

Don’t know if either are in the mix for individual medals (as the team, overall, won a bronze). But they have represented the US well and I’m proud of them.

Aside from that, it seems odd that Ashley Wagner is not there.

I am not sold in Bradie Tennell as “the best American women’s figure skater,” though she does seem engaging, perky, and a good jumper. My guess, as this is her first try at the Olympics, is that she’ll be lucky to finish 8th. (Note I will be happy if she does better than this. I’m just aware of international figure skating politics, and how very difficult it is for a first-time skater on the major stage to place in the top ten, much less the top five.)

We are fortunate, as Americans, as this certainly is Mirai Nagasu’s time, as she’s hitting her triple axel, and she looks good and wants redemption for the Sochi Olympics (where Wagner was placed on the team ahead of Nagasu, even though Nagasu had appeared to win a spot in her own right). Providing Nagasu hits her triple axel in both the short and long programs, she could medal, especially as the international judges are quite aware of her.

As for the pairs…eh. I like our pair team, the Kneirims. They are a married couple, and have lovely flow on the ice. But they’ll be lucky to finish tenth after a weak short program. (Edited to add: I somehow missed this, but they finished fifteenth overall.)

The dancers look strong, with the Shibutanis (otherwise known as the “Shib Sibs”). So we have a very good chance for a medal there, perhaps silver or even gold.

So, there’s been a lot going on, for me personally and with regards to the Olympics.

As always, I’ll try to keep you posted, so do look for blogs next week.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 16, 2018 at 9:52 pm

Olympics Controversy in Figure Skating Again as Sotnikova “Wins” Gold over Kim, Kostner

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Folks, I have rarely been as upset about a result in Olympic figure skating as I am right now.

In fact, the last time I was this upset, it was over Johnny Weir’s brilliant skate in the 2010 Vancouver games being marked too low for him to medal (he started in sixth after the short and stayed there despite his brilliant long program).

But this time, it’s because one skater — Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova — was given marks that were far, far too high, allowing her to “win” the gold medal over two far superior skaters — South Korea’s Yuna Kim, and Italy’s Carolina Kostner.

This is a controversy of major proportions for two reasons: One, Kim, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, skated a clean, challenging program, but was not rewarded to the same level as Sotnikova. And two, Carolina Kostner’s program was perhaps even better than Kim’s and Sotnikova’s from an artistic perspective, yet she, too, was undermarked.

Here are just a few articles talking about the controversy:

Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel says:

(Sotnikova’s) score was through the roof, 5.76 points higher than what Kim was given on another flawless-looking program and 7.34 above what Kostner received for her own tremendous program.

The judging, because of the size of the gap between the scores, is likely to be analyzed and criticized for years to come. In fact, American Ashley Wagner wasted no time, saying “people need to be accountable.”

The Age, an Australian newspaper, was much more blunt in its assessment:

Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova rode a powerful wave of national emotion to win a controversial Olympic figure skating title on Thursday as the Sochi Games felt shockwaves from Ukraine’s bloody civil unrest.

Sotnikova, 17, captured Russia’s first ever women’s individual gold as defending champion and red-hot favourite Kim Yu-Na was dumped into the silver medal position.

The Age also points out that Sotnikova made at least one obvious error — double-footing a combination jump (this is when both feet come down at the same time, and is unmistakable) — when both Kim and Kostner made zero errors in their respective programs.

Kostner was gracious, being quoted by the Age as saying, “I just have faith that the judges made the right decision.”

CBS Sports quoted American Ashley Wagner, who alone among the three American women skated an error-free program to finish in seventh place, as saying:

“People don’t want to watch a sport where you watch people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean,” she said. “It’s confusing and we need to make it clear for people.

“People need to be held accountable. They need to get rid of anonymous judging. There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base.”

Note that Wagner may be complaining more about the fact that Gold, who fell, was placed ahead of Wagner in the standings than the current controversy. But her point is still well-taken; if Kim and Kostner both skated difficult and clean programs, why did Sotnikova, who skated a difficult program but did not skate clean, get rewarded?

My own assessment is this: Sotnikova deserved a medal. Bronze.

Kostner should’ve won the gold, to my mind, but I’d have been OK with her winning silver and Kim winning gold because both skated clean programs with lyricism and heart.

I watched Sotnikova’s program several times. She actually double-footed two jumps (the last two) in her three-jump combo, and she also had a slight double-foot on one other triple jump. Those all should’ve had negative grade of execution scores that should’ve been reflected in her overall scores . . . but weren’t.

And while I enjoyed commentator Johnny Weir’s assessment immensely on NBCsn’s coverage — he did a fantastic job with every event alongside Tara Lipinski and Terry Gannon — I do not agree with him or Lipinski that Sotnikova deserved gold.

A few other final thoughts about the women’s figure skating event:

  1. Mao Asada had by far the most impressive skate in the long program, landing at least one triple axel cleanly and skating with a buoyancy I hadn’t been expecting after her disastrous short program. It’s truly a shame that she wasn’t able to get some sort of combination into her program yesterday, as she might well have medaled despite the bad fall had she done so. She ended her competitive career with grace and dignity; it was an honor to watch her skate for so many years.
  2. Ashley Wagner’s skate was clean; she had one under-rotation and one wrong-edge entry deduction (this is really tough to spot, but it’s when a figure skater starts the jump on the wrong edge and switches over just before making the jump in order to make it a little easier to perform), but these things happen. She looked good and validated her entry into the Olympics.
  3. Polina Edmunds had a fall in her long program and didn’t skate as well as she did at the U.S. Nationals, finishing in ninth place. (This is who should’ve been replaced by Wagner; Mirai Nagasu should’ve gone instead as I believe she’d have placed above Edmunds.)
  4. Gracie Gold had one fall that looked almost like a somersault on the ice (as she got up so quickly, you almost didn’t notice it was there). She’s a rising star.
  5. Julia Lipnitskaia had a nice free skate with one fall and was placed about where she should be in fifth place due to her incredibly difficult spins. Ashley Wagner is not happy about it (see this article by Yahoo Sports writer Martin Rogers), but Lipnitskaia’s marks were not anywhere near as wildly inflated as Sotnikova’s.

Ultimately, Sotnikova’s “gold” medal is yet another black eye for figure skating. And while I was sure as of last night that the judges would not do something like this — as they had to know a protest would ensue (Italy is not likely to protest, but South Korea sounded to me as if they’re strongly considering it) — the judges have exceeded my expectations . . . in a bad way.

Don’t be surprised if the IOC overrules this one and gives Kim a gold medal along with Sotnikova.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 5:04 pm

NBC’s Christin Cooper Pushes Bode Miller to Tears After Bronze Medal Win

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Every time I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to the Sochi Olympic Games, something happens to make me change my mind.

In Sunday’s Super-G Olympic ski race, American Bode Miller won the bronze medal (actually tying with Canadian Jan Hudec) behind fellow American Andrew Weibrecht and gold-medal winning Kjetil Jansrud of Norway. In doing so, the thirty-six-year-old Miller became the oldest Olympic medalist in skiing history, and has now won six Olympic medals — one gold, three silvers, and two bronzes.

However, NBC reporter Christin Cooper, herself a past Olympic medal winner in skiing (silver in 1984 in the Giant Slalom), pushed Miller way too far in an interview aired in prime-time television an hour or so ago. The interview has been transcribed by Yahoo’s Fourth-Place Medal column; here’s Cooper’s first question and Miller’s first answer:

Cooper: Bode, such an extraordinary accomplishment, at your age, after a turbulent year, coming back from knee surgery, to get this medal today, put it in perspective. How much does this mean to you?

Miller: I mean it’s incredible. I always feel like I’m capable of winning medals but as we’ve seen this Olympics it’s not that easy. To be on the podium, this was a really big day for me. Emotionally, I had a lot riding on it. Even though I really didn’t ski my best, I’m just super super happy.

This is a perfectly reasonable question, and a good answer by Miller. No problems here.

Next was Cooper’s second question:

Cooper: For a guy who says that medals don’t really matter, that they aren’t the thing, you’ve amassed quite a collection. What does this one mean to you in terms of all the others.

Miller: This was a little different. You know with my brother passing away, I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sensed it. This one is different.

This, again, is a reasonable question and a good answer by Miller. He was starting to tear up at this point, though, and most interviewers would’ve backed off and thanked him for his time.

For whatever reason, Cooper did not do this.

Here’s Cooper’s third question and Miller’s third answer:

Cooper: Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?

Miller: Um, I mean, a lot. Obviously just a long struggle coming in here. It’s just a tough year.

This wasn’t a terrible question, but it wasn’t good because Miller was already in distress. Miller again gave a credible answer, but he teared up and was having a lot of distress in the process.

Again, most interviewers would’ve backed off. But again, Cooper did not do this.

Instead, here was Cooper’s fourth question and Miller’s abortive fourth answer:

Cooper: I know you wanted to be here with Chelly, really experiencing these games. How much does this mean to you to come up with this great performance for him? And was it for him?

Miller: I don’t know if it’s really for him but I wanted to come here and, I dunno, make myself proud, but … (trails off)

Here is when Cooper made a big mistake. She mentioned Chelone Miller, Bode’s brother, by name — Chelone was only 29 when he passed away in 2013 of a seizure, and was considered a possibility to make the Sochi Olympics in snowboarding until the end of his life.

Then Cooper made an even bigger mistake — she asked a fifth and final question:

Cooper: When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?

Miller: (breaks down and cries, Cooper puts an arm on him)

Now, this was just way out of line. Miller had answered the question already, as best he could, at least twice, and was obviously emotional. (Cooper even said this, earlier, so she was aware of it.) His brother has been dead for less than a year, for pity’s sake (see this story about Chelone Miller’s passing if you don’t believe me). The wound is still fresh, and Miller was showing the strain after Cooper’s second question.

But she didn’t back off.

As a journalist — no matter how unemployed I may be at the moment — I can tell you right now that Cooper’s behavior was completely wrong. She should’ve backed off after the second question and not asked the third, but once she did ask the third and saw that Miller was so emotional, she should definitely have backed off then.

That she instead chose to ask the fourth and fifth questions after he was already extremely upset for a completely understandable reason made absolutely no sense.

Fortunately, I’m not the only person out there who feels this way, either, as Yahoo’s Fourth-Place Medal column written by Mike Oz (about Olympic events) has also taken Cooper to task. Here’s a bit of that:

Reporters have to ask tough questions. It’s part of being a journalist. One of the hardest parts of the job — and one of the toughest nuances to learn — is knowing when enough is enough in an emotional situation. Cooper, it’s worth nothing, was a skier before getting a TV gig with NBC, not a lifelong journalist

Maybe when she looks back at the tape on this, she’ll realize that one question about Miller’s brother was enough — perhaps two would have been OK. But the third one, the one that broke Miller down into a ball of emotion, came off as, at best, insensitive and, at worst, cheap.

All I can say is, I sincerely hope so.

Because what Christin Cooper did wasn’t just poor journalism and wasn’t just insensitive.

It was plain, flat wrong on every level. Period.

In Olympic Long Program, U.S. Figure Skater Jeremy Abbott Silences Critics

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Yesterday’s blog discussed U.S. figure skater Jeremy Abbott, who took a particularly nasty fall, laying stunned on the ice for nearly twenty seconds due to the pain, but got back up and finished his heart-felt short program to finish fifteenth.

Finishing that far back meant it would be nearly impossible for Abbott to pull up into the top ten. And indeed, he didn’t, finishing twelfth.

But what he did today was still quite impressive, as despite being in obvious pain, Abbott skated a clean long program.

After that, Abbott had a message for his critics, according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports:

Asked what he had to say to those who say he chokes, he first exhaled loudly, put his head back and said, “Ahhhh … I would just love…”

He turned to Barb Reichert of U.S. Figure Skating public relations.

“Sorry Barb, you’re going to kill me,” he said.

“No,” she said. “I’m not. Bring it. Bring it.”

Abbott brought it.

“I would just hold my middle finger in the air and say a big ‘F you’ to everyone who has ever said that to me because they have never stood in my shoes,” he said, the kind of direct language not commonly found in the skating hall.

Now, why did Abbott say this? Well, not every commentator is as polite as I am, not by a mile. Twitter yesterday was particularly unforgiving, and half (if not more) of the commentators never once took a look at what Abbott did after he took that hard fall.

Figure skating is one of the most difficult athletic pursuits around. Even though I can’t do it — I don’t have the balance, the strength, or the stamina, and never have — I understand skating and I understand the skater’s mentality, mostly because I’m a musician and I performed at many music competitions. And having to do your best when your reed isn’t working, or your keys are sticking, or you know you’re competing against someone who’s won the competition several times and you’re a newcomer — well, those nerves are hard to deal with.

That’s why I never faulted Abbott for having nerves, or being willing to acknowledge them. But as a commentator — even an armchair one like myself — I have to be honest about what I see.

Yesterday, I said that Abbott’s story of falling hard but getting up and finishing when he could’ve walked away without fault was inspiring. And it was.

Today, going out there when he knew he had no realistic chance for a medal and giving it his all, then skating a clean program despite being in pain from yesterday’s fall, was even more so.

Life is about how hard you try after you’ve been knocked down. It’s all about how you get up, or don’t. And that’s why I’d rather talk about Jeremy Abbott, who’s competed now in two Olympics, finishing ninth  and twelfth, than talk about 2014 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who’s only nineteen and has not faced significant adversity on the ice as of yet (off the ice, yes, due to the tsunami a few years ago). And I definitely don’t want to talk about Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan, who apparently felt he deserved the gold medal despite taking three falls, because that young man has way too much publicity already.

For today, this Valentine’s Day, I want you to consider the courage of a young man who’s about to retire from the sport he loves — Jeremy Abbott — at the young age of twenty-eight, because the sport is so difficult, so demanding, requires so much dedication, that his legs and back and body and mind just cannot keep doing it at the high level required to attain the Olympics.

Then consider how difficult it was for him to take that fall — look at the program in context (I’m sure it’s available on YouTube by now, or at, and see what Abbott did to get up again, then skate the rest of his program with vigor and panache.

That’s what we all need to do, in this life.

I have a lot of sympathy for Abbott.  I had it in 2010 at Vancouver, when he finished ninth by skating a brilliant program to pull way up in the standings. And I have it again today.

Because what makes an Olympic champion is not the medals.

It’s the heart.

That’s why Jeremy Abbott will forever be an Olympic champion.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 14, 2014 at 4:59 pm

U.S. Figure Skater Jeremy Abbott Falls Hard, Wins Big (at Life)

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Today, I witnessed something I’ve never before seen in my many years of watching figure skating. Reigning United States men’s champion Jeremy Abbott, who’s had his share of troubles in the Olympics already, took a very hard fall in the Olympic men’s short program at Sochi, lay on the ice for nearly twenty seconds . . . then got up and skated the rest of his program cleanly and with energy.

This was a big win for Abbott, even though it wasn’t reflected in the score column overmuch.

You see, Abbott, over the years, has had many problems with his nerves. They are well-documented, they are pervasive, and while they are also completely understandable (I doubt many of us would do well under so much scrutiny), they’ve kept him from attaining his immense potential — at least at the international level.

Martin Rogers of Yahoo Sports quoted Abbott afterward as saying:

“First thing, I was in a lot of pain and I was laying there kind of shocked and I didn’t know what to think,” Abbott said. “I was waiting for the music to stop. The audience was screaming, and I was, like, ‘Forget it all, I am going to finish this program.’

“As much of a disappointment as this is, I am not in the least bit ashamed. I stood up and finished this program, and I am proud of what I did in the circumstances.”

Abbott scored a 72.58, good for fifteenth place out of thirty, but what he achieved goes far beyond any scorecard.


What Abbott achieved was the ultimate triumph of dedication, focus, and persistence. He refused to let a terrible fall — one that could still, potentially, knock him out of the competition — stop him from completing his short program. And in so doing, he won the respect of his competitors and the Russian crowd’s vociferous support, which wasn’t altogether easy as their lone entrant into the men’s program, Evgeny Plushenko, had abruptly retired directly before he was supposed to skate in the short.

I don’t doubt that Plushenko was injured — he clutched his back and looked like he could barely stand upright when he skated over to the judges in order to withdraw — and I also don’t doubt that Plushenko did the right thing in withdrawing, no matter how abrupt it turned out to be.

But what Abbott did in getting up from one of the worst falls I’ve ever seen and skating the rest of his program with vigor, energy, and even brilliance was as inspirational an effort as I’ve ever seen.

As Rogers put it in his headline, “Jeremy Abbott Loses Marks for Ugly Fall, Wins Hearts for Finishing Short Program.”

As I’ve been critical over the years of Abbott — much though I adore his skating — I felt it imperative to point this out: Jeremy Abbott has the heart of a true champion.

Whether he can skate the long program after a night of stiffening up and soreness, and possibly some bone breaks as well (as a hairline fracture can be hard to spot, especially right after an injury due to the inflammation incurred) is immaterial.

What Abbott did today in refusing to give up on himself is far, far more important than any marks could ever be. In or out of the Olympics.

You see, Jeremy Abbott proved today why he’s as big a winner at life as anyone I’ve ever seen.

And that, my friends, is extremely impressive.