Saturday, February 27, 2010

The biggest names you've never heard

I don't know about you, but I'm suffering from a bad case of Olympics fatigue. I can't take any more tiaras, tears, shin-anigans, pouty Russians, lascivious snowboarders or cigar-puffing women. I was beginning to think maybe I had missed the addition of boorish behavior as a medal sport.

So I thought today might be a good time to take a look at a couple of athletes who embody the Olympic spirit perhaps more than those who have been training their whole lives for it. I remember watching the opening ceremonies two weeks ago as an alpine skier from Ghana proudly entered BC Place stadium. Ghana in the Winter Games? Skiing? Well, why not.

Here's Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, who is expected to take part in today's slalom, making a pretty compelling argument for why he has as much right to ski in the Olympics as Bode Miller, Carlo Janka or Didier Defago.

And then there's Marjan Kalhor, the first female athlete from Iran to compete in the Winter Olympics. She was last among the finishers in the giant slalom on Thursday and in yesterday's slalom, but was happy and proud to be representing her country at the Games. Now that's class.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Words to live by

American figure skater Johnny Weir clearly marches to the proverbial beat of a different drummer.

He has been a polarizing figure in the world of figure skating, raising eyebrows with some of his unconventional costumes and his outspokenness. When he finished sixth Thursday night in the men's competition, the crowd audibly registered its displeasure with the judges.

But Weir seems comfortable in his own skin, something for which no medals are awarded.
"You must always be yourself and always enjoy what you are doing ... You can't care what anyone else thinks because really there is no basis for that in your life. You have to live your life for yourself. So even when I was little I was playing on a soccer team and running the complete opposite way pretending to be a zebra, an ostrich or something. So I have always been like this."
— Johnny Weir

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fit to be the best

A big congratulations to American skier Lindsey Vonn, who yesterday won gold in the women's downhill, beating the competition by an impressive margin and outskiing the weight of the expectations heaped on her by the U.S. media before the start of the Winter Games.

It's worth noting here that Vonn owes much of her success on the mountain these past few years to her training off of it. She is widely considered the fittest woman on the World Cup circuit, spending countless hours at the gym working on her strength, endurance and balance.

You can find a look at Lindsey in the gym here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let the Games begin!

There was a time when I loved watching the Olympics, but not so much anymore. I realized this last night when just 28 minutes into the opening coverage of the Winter Games in Vancouver, I found myself thoroughly bored. Granted, I was perhaps rushing to judgment, since last night's broadcast had very little to do with sport and much to do with pomp and circumstance, which I've never been terribly fond of.

Less than an hour into the broadcast, there had already enough faux intrigue and drama to make me turn my attention to other matters. Whatever happened to just covering sport for sport's sake?

Instead, the network parcels out its coverage in small doses of feel-good narratives, interspersed between monstrously expensive commercials.

It was hard last night to watch athletes from country after country come parading into BC Place stadium, all smiles and waving flags and bright colors, just hours after luger Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia had lost his life in an Olympic training accident that was sickening in its suddenness and violence.

Life does not always lend itself to tidy narratives.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Saints kick it up a notch

I've always liked that saying "without risk, there can be no reward."

Well if ever there were a perfect real-life illustration of that principle, it was last-night's gutsy Super Bowl win by the New Orleans Saints.

The onside kick by the Saints to open the second half was sheer brilliance. They could have kicked deep, as nearly any other team would have, and then most likely would have watched the Indianapolis Colts march methodically down the field for a score, as only the Colts can do.

But no, the Saints took a risk — a huge risk — and it payed off, big-time.

The Saints showed that they are the best, and they did it in truly super fashion.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Words to live by

There have been times in my life when I have been so afraid of failure, or injury, or some other negative outcome that hasn't yet happened — and probably won't — that I have decided against participation in an event. And then I was left to wonder what could have been, if only I had trusted in myself more.

Retired hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky didn't become known as "The Great One" by not taking chances.

"You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."

— Wayne Gretzky

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This ice rink is anything but cold

One of the many things I like about being physically active is that it gives me an opportunity to meet interesting people. I think someone who is active, who regularly gets out of the house and engages with the world, who physically challenges himself or herself, is more likely to be happy and interesting than someone who doesn't.

One place where such active and interesting people can be found is the University of Rhode Island's Bradford R. Boss Arena, which offers a variety of public skating programs on weekdays. Skating at the arena on a weekday morning, as Marge and I were fortunate enough to be able to do last Friday, is nothing like skating there on weekends, when skate-clad tots supported by milk crates present some serious challenges, and teenagers playing tag terrorize almost all of us.

But on weekday mornings, the arena is a frozen oasis occupied by only a handful of people — people like Martha Simoneau, 58, at left, a former roller dancer (I didn't even know there was such a thing!) who said she traded her wheels for blades five years ago after the roller rinks in Rhode Island closed.

Simoneau can usually be found at the Boss Arena a couple of times a week, or "when work permits," meticulously practicing the figure skating routines she learned during two years of lessons.

Or people like Ray Cox, 69, of Hopkinton, at right with yours truly, who said he took up skating nine years ago and now goes to the rink four or five times a week.

With his wide-brimmed hat and equally wide smile, Cox is a focal point as he carves figures at the center of the ice with a boyish enthusiasm.

"Age is just a number," he says. "Just get out there and do it."

Yeah, I like that motto. I might not be out there doing triple axels, but I'm out there doing it, and meeting some fun people along the way.