Home > olympics, sports > The Den Mother’s Olympic Update: Part 3

The Den Mother’s Olympic Update: Part 3

Tuesday, February 14, 2006, 21:32 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Allow me to begin today with a brief programming note. It has come to my attention that readers may want more than just my clever comments in these daily Olympic updates. Sorry folks, I should have thought to provide more links to the stories I’m commenting on, considering that my visitors may be reading what I write in part because they haven’t been following the Games on their own.

Your humble correspondent has heard your complaints. Beginning to day, I will provide more links to go with my remarks. They may go to news stories or athlete profiles, and they will add a little something to what I say.

That said, I will also apologize for the lateness of today’s post. I worked through lunch, thus losing my usual blogging time.

The First “Olympic Moment” of 2006

The Olympics are supposed to represent something special, a quality not always found in sports in general. To quote the Olympic charter:

The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

This principle is probably played out many times at each Olympic Games, but we’re lucky if we witness just it just once. Such was the case in yesterday’s pairs figure skating final, when the last competitors to skate suffered a nasty fall. China’s Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao (same surname, no relation) had just begun their free skate when they attempted a throw quadruple salchow. Upon landing, Dan slipped and hit the ice, appearing to twist her leg and come down hard on her knee. It was quickly apparent that she was unable to continue.

Talk about a nightmare moment for any athlete or performer. The music was stopped. Dan looked stunned and devastated; Hao looked concerned for his partner. Then the audience erupted into spontaneous applause, perhaps partly in acknowledgment of the difficulty of the attempted jump, maybe to help ease the pair’s embarrassment, but mostly, I think, to show their support. They maintained their applause while Dan was tended by trainers and coaches conferred with officials.

After several minutes, it appeared that the pair was able and willing to at least attempt to continue their program. The rules allow skaters under such circumstances to resume their program at the point where they had to stop, and presumably the judges would base their scores on the program as if she had gotten up from the fall and immediately continued. In other words, reflect the fall in the scoring, but impose no penalty for having stopped and re-started. So the music was cued up from the beginning. Zhang and Zhang skated around the ice to get their bearings and place themselves at the spot on the ice where the fell took place. When they got to that point in the music, they picked up where the left off. Now I’m not an expert on figure skating, but it looked to me like they did a fine job, albeit a bit shaky at times. They finished fairly strongly and receive scores high enough to win the silver medal.

But that wasn’t the Olympic moment. The moment came when the spectators of all nations expressed their encouragement, and when the athletes persevered. It happens every time an athlete, outmatched by far better competition, comes in dead last but gives it everything she has until she is finished, and every time the fans cheer her on as loudly as they cheered for the winner. It happens when an inexperienced team, despite being routed by a more seasoned and better trained opponent, expends as much effort in the last minute as they did in the first. It happens when we watch a medal presentation and are happy for the winner even if he isn’t from our country.

It’s why I love the Olympics.

The Den Mother’s Day 3 Viewing

For the record, the Chinese didn’t just grab silver in the pairs figure skating event. They also took bronze. And fourth place. Russians Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won the gold. The highest finishing American pair was Rena Inoue and John Baldwin. Having now watched enough of Olympic figure skating to have some feel for the new scoring method, I believe it’s probably a good thing for the sport. One of my biggest complaints about figure skating in the past is that it was more about how pretty the skater looked than about what he/she/they were able to accomplish on an athletic level. That’s still an important element, just as form and position in the air is important in scoring a ski jumper. But now figure skating results are more directly tied to how difficult the program is and how well it’s done. That pair lift looks gorgeous, but how many times was the man able to turn while holding his partner over his head? Criteria like that lends legitimacy to the sport that I think was lost when elements like compulsory figures were eliminated from high level competition.

But enough about figure skating. I also watched the women’s halfpipe competition, in which the U.S. took gold and silver as they did in the men’s event the day before. The champ yesterday was Hannah Teter, a 19-year-old Vermonter who looked more like she was out for fun in the backyard than competing on an international stage. Expect American domination in snowboarding to fall by the wayside a few years down the road as the sport becomes more popular and other countries begin training athletes in earnest. For a glimpse of who might contend in the next few years, we can look to the Norwegian who won yesterday’s bronze medal and the Australian who pulled in at fifth place.

My father doesn’t consider snowboarding and figure skating to be real sports, so he and viewers like him got their Olympic fix with the men’s 500m speed skating final, won handily by American Joey Cheek. While others around him were slip-sliding away, either stumbling at the start or sliding head-first across the finish line, Cheek was rock solid and did everything right. And fast. And it turns out he’s a humanitarian, too. You have to respect a winner with a heart.

See all of Monday’s results at the official Torino web site.

What to Watch on Day 4

This afternoon’s 4:00-5:00 block will show the final two runs of the women’s singles luge, which I’d really like to see. Alas, I must earn a living. There is another women’s event on tonight’s docket: the 500m speed skating. Having said previously that I prefer the longer distance races, I am nonetheless looking forward to the women’s sprint. As a not-so-athletic woman in not-so-great shape, I developed an appreciation for sprinting last summer when (OK, don’t laugh) I played on a company softball team and discovered that I’m a really good baserunner. Sort of made up for my utter lack of ability to hit, field, or throw. But I digress.

I also plan to enjoy another dose of figure skating tonight with the men’s short program. It shames me to admit that I don’t recognize any of the names in this competition. I used to follow figure skating semi-regularly, but tonight’s contenders will be all-new to me.

The third item on NBC’s Tuesday evening schedule is the men’s alpine combined, which I don’t even remember as an Olympic event, but it must have been there because seven men have won it at past Olympics, though not every one. Combined was an event in the Games of 1936 and 1948 (Olympic competition having been suspended during World War II) and didn’t reappear until 1988. According to the International Olympic Committee:

The combined event consists of one downhill followed by two slalom runs. The times are added together and the fastest total time determines the winner. The combined downhill and the combined slalom are contested independently of the regular downhill and slalom events, and the combined courses are shorter than the regular versions.

Other Olympic News

Downhillers weren’t the only competitors cracking up yesterday. Shortly after I wrote about the three women who crashed in training runs, an American luger managed to knock herself unconscious. In the second run of the women’s singles, Samantha Retrosi suffered a concussion when she hit the wall and lost control while sliding faster than I would ever dare to. She reportedly doesn’t remember the mishap, which is probably a good thing.

As usual, there are a host of sports taking place that don’t make it to network prime time, and today they include men’s 10km sprint biathlon (that’s cross-country skiing and shooting), men’s and women’s cross-country sprints, four women’s hockey games, a host of curling matches, and the aforementioned women’s luge finals.

Finally, I must admit that upon receiving an e-mail alert earlier today, I came this –>||<– close to reneging on my “no spoilers” pledge. The urge passed after a few seconds. But it’s big. Let’s just say that someone with a big mouth continues to go down in flames.

Olympic Boyfriend Update

I thought Chad Hedrick was supposed to contend in all five men’s speed skating events. Before the Games began, people were talking about his chances of tying the winter Olympic record of five gold medals set by Eric Heiden (who was, incidentally, my Olympic boyfriend of 1980). But Hedrick didn’t skate in last night’s 500m. So what gives?

It turns out that this year’s competition includes a new team pursuit event, which is what will give Hedrick his fifth medal opportunity. In attendance to see what happens will be an orthopedic surgeon who works with the U.S. speed skating team—Eric A. Heiden, M.D.

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