Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Sochi 2014

Olympic Thoughts: Dance, Ladies Short Program

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Folks, the last few days have been hectic. So I’ve not had much time to discuss the latest doings in the world of Olympic figure skating.

But since I had a request from a friend to discuss a bit of the ice dancing, I thought I’d talk about that.

But wait — there’s more.

Because I managed to see every single one of the ladies perform their Olympic short programs yesterday, I thought I’d discuss a little bit about that competition as well.

First, let’s talk about the ice dancing. United States figure skaters Charlie White and Meryl Davis excelled in their short program, and skated a solid long program to a beautiful piece of music (Scheherezade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) with technical brilliance and a great deal of speed to win the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. in ice dance. (Note that Davis and White won silver in 2010, while Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto also won silver in 2006.)

I enjoyed White and Davis’ skating, and felt they were worthy of a gold medal.

However, in some ways I responded a whole lot more to Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They, too, are excellent skaters with the whole repertoire of moves . . . they won gold in Vancouver, though, so it’s hard to feel like they’ve been cheated.

As for the women’s short program, here’s my take:

  1. The American women are in good shape, with Gracie Gold in fourth place, Ashley Wagner in sixth and Polina Edmunds in seventh. All skated credibly or better; Gold has a real chance to win a silver or bronze if she skates a clean long program.
  2. There’s no way in the world Adelina Sotnikova belongs among the top six. Her scores were wildly inflated.
  3. What a shame that Mao Asada wasn’t able to complete her triple axel or her combination jump. Her program was lovely except for the fall, but missing those required elements dropped her all the way to sixteenth place. She’d need several miracles to get within striking distance of the podium.
  4. My overall winner of the short program? Carolina Kostner of Italy. She skated beautifully to “Ave Maria,” and was every bit as good as Yuna Kim.

In case you’re wondering what I’m looking for in Friday’s long program from the ladies, here goes:

  1. Russian ladies’ scores will continue to be wildly inflated, but none will medal (as if they did, an international judging controversy would no doubt ensue).
  2. Mao Asada will land at least one triple axel and a three-jump combo (probably triple-triple-double).
  3. Gracie Gold will skate clean and medal.
  4. Podium (who I think should win): Carolina Kostner, gold; Yuna Kim, silver; Gracie Gold, bronze.
  5. Podium (who the judges will inexplicably pick): Yuna Kim, gold; Carolina Kostner, silver; probably still Gracie Gold, bronze, unless Mao Asada lands two triple axels cleanly (if so, she’ll win the bronze somehow, and deserve it).

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 5:20 am

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 NBC.com), 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.

No.

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.

Pre-Olympics, Many Stray Dogs Killed In Sochi

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On Keith Olbermann’s ESPN nightly sportscast Tuesday evening, Olbermann discussed Russia’s current national disgrace: They’re killing stray dogs in Sochi.

Many of them. For no reason, excepting the dogs exist and it’s legal to do whatever you like to dogs in Russia.

That was bad enough news to give me nightmares. And I wondered at the time, “Where are all the Russian animal activists? Don’t they care?”

Fortunately, there are a few who do.

As Olbermann pointed out on his sportscast Wednesday evening, this article from the Boston Globe discusses the efforts of Russian animal activist Vlada Provotorova, who’s so far managed to save about one hundred dogs from the slaughter. These are friendly animals (Olbermann had a video clip, a brief one), and act like they were once members of someone’s family.

Note that Ms. Provotorova is not the only activist who’s tried to make a difference; there are a number of them. (Bless them all.)

You might be forgiven for wondering why it’s legal to kill dogs in Russia. As this article from CNN points out, in Russia, there’s no legislation — none whatsoever — that dictates anything about how to treat a pet.

This is why a pest control service has been contracted by Sochi itself to “take care” of all this by killing the dogs, leaving the city itself to say its hands are clean, because what they’re doing is legal.

What’s frustrating about all this, aside from the fact it’s happening at all, is that a year ago, the Humane Society International wanted to go in there and help sterilize the pet population . . . but Olympic officials turned them down flat according to this article from Time.

From the article:

Kelly O’Meara, director of companion animals and engagement for Humane Society International, was “very surprised” when she heard that Sochi officials planned to kill stray dogs roaming around the Olympic host region throughout the Games. Just last April, organizers scrapped that idea, and said they would build a shelter for the animals. Now, city officials have hired a private company to do the dirty work — its owner told ABC News that the dogs posed a public-safety and health risk and that they were “biological trash.”

“They’ve very publicly gone back on their word,” O’Meara says.

The more I hear about this story, folks, the more I just want to cry.

You see, dogs, as a group, are much more friendly and loyal than the people they’re often entrusted to — and they don’t deserve to be treated as if they’re “biological trash.”

Worst of all, the friendliest animals — the ones that could easily be taken to a shelter, neutered or spayed, and adopted out — are the “easiest to catch” according to O’Meara. So they’re the ones that are most likely getting killed the quickest.

This all could’ve easily been avoided. It should’ve been avoided.

Even now, if the IOC would just get their heads out of their rear ends and admit it’s actually happening, this shameful act could be halted in its tracks. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of dogs’ lives could be saved.

But it seems as if the IOC would rather die than admit to any sort of error whatsoever. Which is why the only story, according to them, is that the dogs are being treated “humanely,” and that all this talk of dogs getting killed is just that — talk.

While I’d like to believe the IOC, if only because they talk a good game, I cannot ignore report after report, both on Olbermann’s show and in at least seventeen different newspaper accounts (written by different people, no less), that talk about the same thing.

Look. I’m a dog lover. So if I were in Russia right now, I’d be one of the many people trying to get the dogs out of there — or at minimum, I’d be one of the reporters discussing the problem and letting the world know it exists.

I hope that in this case that sunlight really is the best disinfectant, so a few more innocent dogs will be saved.

But as I cannot hope for that — most particularly because dogs, at least in that one guy’s eyes, are merely “biological trash” — all I can do is pray that somehow, some way, the word will keep getting out about what’s happening to these poor dogs.

Because it is unconscionable.