Feb. 21, 11:13 p.m.
It’s the American dream. The kind that so rarely comes true.
Miami-born speed skater Eddy Alvarez, the son of Cuban immigrants, won a silver medal in the 5000-meter relay in Sochi. In doing so, he became the first Cuban-American man to win a medal at the Winter Olympics.
Saying this was unlikely is an understatement. Alvarez comes from a city where ice rinks are almost as rare as freezing temperatures. His parents come from a country that’s never even participated in the Winter Olympics.
But through hard work, determination, and perseverance, Alvarez realized the American dream. And he also reminded me why I love rooting for Team USA.
How many other countries can boast such a diverse group of Olympic athletes?
Look at the faces and names on the U.S. team. From Eddy Alvarez and Maureen Ajoku, to Jake Zamansky and Caroline Zhang. There are so many different nationalities, races and religions represented … and yet each one of them is as American as can be.
It’s a reflection of the melting pot that we live in, and an inspiration for the young people who might not feel as “American” as their peers.
When you compete for something, what language your parents speak or where they were born is NOT a factor. That sort of thing doesn’t determine where you finish.
It’s all about talent, drive and commitment. Qualities that will take you a long way in this country.
Just ask Eddy Alvarez.
Feb. 20, 11:07 p.m.
Gracie Gold has the perfect name for the Olympics. But then again, so does her twin sister Carly.
Maybe you’ve seen Carly, sitting in the stands and cheering Gracie on during the figure skating finals. The twins have also done countless interviews together during the Sochi Games about how much Carly’s support has helped Gracie reach her Olympic dream. But there’s one thing I haven’t seen them address … Carly’s Olympic dream.
Gracie says they did “everything together.” And that includes competitive figure skating since they were little girls. So even though Carly’s been super supportive publicly, I can’t imagine that it’s not at least a little bit difficult that only one of them qualified for the Olympics.
Admitting that wouldn’t make Carly a bad sister/friend. It would make her human. And yet, the fact that she hasn’t said a word about it, or showed any signs of jealousy, proves that she’s a GREAT sister/friend.
Think about how hard it would be, to train for years alongside your twin sister, shooting for the same goal. And then when it came time for the sport’s biggest stage, she enters the spotlight and you’re left behind in the shadows. She gets to wear the glittery outfits and have her makeup done. You have to answer questions about how good she looks.
Everywhere you go, people want to interview your parents about how great their daughter is. And they don’t mean you.
Everyone wants to take pictures with your sister. “Oh, you’re her twin? Cool, would you mind taking the picture?”
That doesn’t sound very pleasant, especially when you’re an 18-year-old girl. Even after getting compared to your twin sister for 18 years, that still has to be really tough.
It also doesn’t sound very easy for the Golds’ parents. I’m sure the family realized long before the 2014 Winter Games that Gracie had a better shot of reaching the Olympics than Carly. But that doesn’t make the reality of it any easier to handle.
I’m not saying Carly isn’t truly happy for Gracie. I’m sure she is. I just think most people don’t realize what it’s like to be in the “other” twin’s shoes.
Feb. 19, 9:10 p.m.
You could make a strong argument that the biggest star of the 2014 Winter Olympics is a guy who isn’t even competing.
Johnny Weir is a former Olympic figure skater turned broadcaster, and he’s stealing the show in Sochi.
Even if you don’t remember watching Weir in the 2006 or 2010 Olympics (he never finished higher than fifth), you can’t help but notice him now.
His outfits are outrageous. His electric personality is contagious. And the best part of all … I don’t think he’s TRYING to be a star. I get the feeling he’s just being himself. You know how Lady Gaga is outrageous, but it often seems like she’s actively searching for new ways to shock people? I don’t think that’s what Weir is doing.
When he goes fishing in a fur coat on “Access Hollywood,” or enters the rink like he’s ready for the Hunger Games … I truly believe he just thinks he looks good. And when he broadcasts figure skating alongside Tara Lipinski (in pre-planned corresponding outfits), I think he just says whatever’s on his mind.
It’s refreshing. It’s entertaining. And I give NBC a lot of credit for giving Weir the freedom to be as Weir-d as he wants to be.
Stay Weird Johnny Weir. If nobody emerges as the superstar of the Sochi Olympics, at least we can count on you.
Feb. 18, 11:22 p.m.
It’s not them, it’s you.
When I used to play tennis and made a bad shot, I’d often inspect my racket as if there was something wrong with it. Maybe it was broken??
Maybe not. It wasn’t the racket. It was me. Seems pretty obvious now, but in the heat of a competition, it’s natural to place the blame elsewhere.
That’s what I think is happening to the U.S. speed skating team.
Over the last 3 Olympics, the U.S. speed skaters have won a combined 19 medals. So far in Sochi, they have zero.
So what’s wrong? Well, a number of the skaters claimed the team’s new high-tech Under Armour suits are to blame. They cited a design flaw that might be slowing them down. So last week, the entire team switched to an older Under Armour suit. And guess what happened? Nothing. Team USA still saw disappointing results and zero medals.
I don’t blame the skaters for blaming the new suits. After working so hard to reach the Olympics, they’re desperate for answers. They need a quick fix. But hopefully once the Games are over, the athletes will admit that the suits weren’t the problem.
And maybe this will serve as a reminder that when a basketball player misses a dunk, it’s not the shoes. When a football player drops a pass, it’s not the gloves. When a baseball player strikes out, it’s not the bat. If it was, wouldn’t athletes have to credit the equipment after making a big play?
Just imagine, Team USA wins the gold medal in ice hockey. The guy who scores the winning goal gets interviewed.
Reporter: “How were you able to do it?”
Player: “I have to give credit to the stick. We have the best sticks in the world!”
In victory or defeat … it’s not them, it’s you.
Feb. 17, 11:11 p.m.
Ever eat a little too much chocolate? I know I have.
It’s not that I don’t like chocolate. It’s that I like it so much, I don’t know when to stop. I often take one bite too many.
That’s kind of what happened to the NBC reporter who interviewed Olympic skier Bode Miller after he won a bronze medal in the super-G.
Christin Cooper got crushed on social media for how she handled the emotional subject of Miller’s brother, who died last year. If you haven’t seen the interview, you can watch it here.
As a journalist who’s been in similar situations after a sporting event, I think I can offer a fair perspective about where things went wrong.
Cooper had every right to broach the topic of Miller’s brother. It was a huge story going into the Olympics, and you’ll notice that Bode was actually the one who first mentioned his brother in the interview. Once he brought it up, I think a follow-up question was appropriate.
Remember, as a reporter, you’re trained to seek out a compelling answer. And in the Olympics, there’s nothing more compelling than raw emotion and personal joy or sorrow from a world-class athlete. That’s really what makes the Olympics so popular. It’s unscripted reality TV.
But there’s a fine line between a natural emotional moment, and a forced one. Cooper crossed that line.
Her final question was the piece of chocolate that makes you sick. And it’s a shame, because it was going so well. The big strong athlete showed vulnerability, the camera zoomed in on his face and you saw the beginning of tears. I think we can all admit, that’s far better television than a bunch of standard sports clichés, right? And if it ended after Miller started to break down, I think the public reaction is mostly positive today.
Instead, Cooper asks another question about Miller’s dead brother. And it felt forced. “When you’re looking up at the sky at the start, we see you there and it looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?”
Miller can’t get a word out, so he puts his head down in his hands and weeps.
That moment is why I think the reaction on social media was so loud. He was vulnerable and many viewers felt the need to protect him … to defend the defenseless.
Oddly enough, Miller was the first to come to Cooper’s defense on Twitter.
I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment
— Bode Miller (@MillerBode) February 17, 2014
My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasnt trying to cause pain.
— Bode Miller (@MillerBode) February 17, 2014
In a statement, NBC said in part, “we understand how some viewers thought the line of questioning went too far, but it was our judgment that his answers were a necessary part of the story.”
They’re right. The interview helps tell the story of Miller’s emotional achievement AND how too much of a good interview can be bad.
It’s not that Cooper is cold-hearted. She put her arm around Miller to comfort him immediately after the interview. It’s just that she went too far in her desire to get the compelling TV moment.
Cooper probably regrets the last question. If not, she should. I know I would have.
Feb. 14, 10:45 p.m.
I’m genuinely excited about Saturday’s hockey showdown between Team USA and Russia. But let’s make one thing clear. There will be no “Miracle on Ice” this year. In fact, I feel confident in saying there won’t be anything quite like the Miracle on Ice EVER AGAIN. Not just in the Olympics, but in sports … period.
In 1980, you had the perfect storm. The stars aligned as the Stars and Stripes shocked the world and upset the Hammer and Sickle. All the factors that make for a great story were in play. You had the underdog amateur Americans against the Soviet professionals. They had won the previous four Olympic gold medals. We hadn’t won gold in 20 years. Add to that a little thing called the Cold War and national pride reached an all-time high.
Americans love watching America win. But we love it even more when it comes at the expense of an enemy. That enemy doesn’t exist anymore. That’s not to say we don’t have geopolitical rivals, but a country that invokes disdain just by being mentioned? Not really. Russia? No. China? No. Definitely not Canada (they seem so nice right?).
The closest thing I can envision to a “Miracle on Ice” moment would be the United States soccer team winning the World Cup over a traditional power. It’s similar, because soccer, like hockey, isn’t the most popular sport in the U.S. So if we were to surprise people and rule the world on the biggest stage of that sport … that’s when Americans start to care.
Problem is, the traditional world powers in soccer aren’t viewed as “bad guys.” If Team USA somehow beat Brazil at the 2014 World Cup on their home turf, it would be a massive upset. Americans would rejoice (and probably light things on fire) like we just won the Super Bowl. But it’s impossible to reach the level of the 1980 men’s hockey team. There was palpable tension at that time. Real animosity between players and fans. A win for the Soviet Union would’ve been used as a propaganda tool.
So while it would be fun to see the United States beat Spain or Argentina at the World Cup, it could never compare.
Sure, a win for the U.S. hockey team over Russia in Sochi would be tremendous. And yet, it wouldn’t even come close to what happened in Lake Placid in 1980. So let’s not go overboard with the comparisons … and let’s go USA!
Feb. 13, 11:26 p.m.
The most unlikely American gold medalist reminded me of what makes these games so great.
How unlikely was Joss Christensen’s gold medal win in slopestyle skiing at Sochi? Well, one week ago, he didn’t have a Wikipedia page. Do you realize how easy it is to get a Wikipedia page? Anyone who’s ever been on TV (besides me) has a Wikipedia page. I mean, the Taco Bell Chihuahua has one. His name was Gidget. (Who knew right?)
Christensen shocked the world and beat out his own more famous USA teammates to win the first-ever Olympic slopestyle competition. And now his Wikipedia page is all of two sentences long. But here’s the part of Christensen’s story that needs to be added to the page.
Last August, the 22-year-old from Park City, Utah had just landed in New Zealand for a pre-Olympic competition when he found out his father passed away. James Christensen had been hospitalized with a heart condition and Joss never got a chance to say goodbye.
Determined to make his dad proud, Christensen, mourning and struggling, managed to make the Olympic team. But barely. And he was anything but a favorite to win in Sochi.
Maybe it was motivation from his father’s memory … maybe it was the photo of his dad he carried inside his pocket … or maybe it was just the raw emotion, but Christensen turned in the performance of a lifetime. And after standing atop that podium he told the world, “I did it for him.”
Christensen’s mother told reporters she could barely breathe. “I think he was thinking of his father the whole time,” she said. “He’d be very proud. He’s up there smiling.”
You couldn’t have scripted it any better if you tried.
Joss Christensen is hardly the only Olympian with Mom and Dad on his mind. The sacrifices these parents make for their children are remarkable. Countless hours and dollars spent, asking nothing in return. That’s where Olympic dreams originate.
So while we celebrate some of the best athletes in the world, let’s remember the unselfishness of Olympic parents.
In fact, maybe it’s time we start making medals for parents too. And if they’re as good as Joss Christensen’s, I think they deserve the gold.
Feb. 12, 11:25 p.m.
How do we decide what’s a sport? It’s a question I often ask myself during the Olympics.
Figure skating is probably the most popular Olympic event in America. But is it a sport or a contest? It’s confusing because figure skating champions are determined by judges. That makes it similar to dog shows, dunk contests, and “American Idol.” And the only thing sporty about “American Idol” was Simon Cowell’s extra-medium T-shirts.
Nobody would consider those “sports,” would they?
Yet, look at the other Olympic events that employ judges. Snowboarding and ski jumping sure seem to be sports. Just look at the participants. They’re athletic. They train hard to get there. They work up a sweat while competing (which is more than you can say for bowling).
So where do we draw the line between sport and skill? Contest and competition?
If you argue that figure skating isn’t a sport because it uses judges, what do you do with the fact that figure skaters are more physically fit than most offensive linemen in the NFL? Ski jumpers are in better shape than many pitchers in Major League Baseball.
For me, it comes down to physical activity. Chess is not a sport because the only muscle being flexed is the brain. (I know the brain isn’t technically a muscle, but you get the point.)
Auto racing is a sport because even though the driver is seated, he or she is undergoing intense physical demands.
So yes, figure skating is a sport. Badminton is a sport. Even biathlon, the event that combines cross-country skiing and shooting a rifle, is a sport.
Although I’m still not sure about curling …
Feb. 11, 11:15 p.m.
This is about Bob Costas’ eyes. But it’s not what you think.
Making fun of Costas’ infected red eyes has become the cool thing to do on social media and the Internet. Everyone’s trying to out-clever each other with a snarky comment about Bob’s beat-up eyes. And I’m not going to pretend that some of it isn’t funny. Some of it is. However, I am going to ask that we open our own fully functioning eyes to what’s really happening with NBC’s longtime Olympic host.
After 157 straight Olympic prime-time broadcasts for NBC, Costas stepped aside tonight because of his eye infection. Matt Lauer took over and has done a great job. But even he knows that Costas is irreplaceable. Costas is the Michael Phelps … the Apolo Ohno … the Usain Bolt of broadcasting.
And yet, when an Olympic athlete competes through an injury, we celebrate them. If an athlete is in visible pain, we cheer for them to “tough it out.” So how come nobody’s applying that same thought process with Costas? Isn’t he fighting through what must be a very uncomfortable infection to perform at the highest level of his craft? Not to mention the fact that he’s sacrificing his image to do it …
Even if you accuse Costas of choosing to work the first part of the Olympics for selfish reasons, the end result is viewers getting to watch the best broadcaster in the world. Would you prefer he didn’t even attempt to work through the pain? It takes a lot to send the best in the world to the bench. Just ask Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug, who in 1996 famously fought through pain to win gold in Atlanta.
I’m not saying we should put Costas and his pinkeye on a Wheaties box. But is it too much to ask that we have a little empathy for a man willing to withstand pain (and LOTS of jokes) to do his job? A job, by the way … that Costas has held down every single night of the Summer and Winter Olympics since 2000.
Feel better Bob. Tonight, you and your red eyes were missed.
Feb. 10, 11:35 p.m.
Maybe it’s because I spent time with Eddy Alvarez’s family in Miami four years ago. Maybe it’s because I know how much the Cuban-American speed skater wanted to shock the world in his first Olympic event. Either way, I found myself feeling really bad for Alvarez when he got disqualified in the 1,500-meter short track race.
But here’s the funny thing I learned after it was over. I felt worse about it than HE did!
When NBC 6 reporter Julia Bagg asked him about getting DQ’d, you’d think DQ stood for Dairy Queen, and he just finished off a Blizzard. He was smiling, unapologetic, and 100 percent positive that he’d do better in the next event.
“I skated great,” Alvarez said. “I like to make it interesting.”
Wow. What confidence. Talk about a guy who can keep his eyes on the prize and not get discouraged. Maybe that’s why he’s the Olympic athlete and I’m not (although watching curling makes me feel like I still have a chance).
Alvarez’s reaction to an abrupt end to his first Olympic event ever was tremendous. It makes me appreciate his talent and drive even more. After overcoming so much to get to Sochi, it’ll take more than one little misstep to derail his dreams.
With Alvarez’s parents watching from the nosebleeds (they couldn’t get better seats?), Eddy knew he still made them proud.
And I bet he could still hear his mom cheering from the top of the stadium. If you haven’t heard her … um, unique rally cry for Eddy, you can find it here.
It’s kind of how I imagine a hyena would sound, if the hyena was in a great deal of pain.
The good news for Alvarez (and his super-fan parents) is that he has two more individual events and a team event to compete in. And after watching how Eddy handled this adversity, I have complete confidence he’ll make America and Miami proud.
Feb. 7, 10:45 p.m.
Sochi apparently forgot about the whole “Opening” part of the Opening Ceremony. The 2014 Winter Games started yesterday! But hey, it’s OK Russia. We’ll forgive you since you spent $51 billion on these Olympics, and because you gave us plenty of entertaining moments tonight.
Here’s a running list of my observations from The Not Quite Opening Ceremony:
– So many important figures in Russian history. Tchaikovsky. Dostoyevsky. Teddy Bruschi. (Just kidding, he’s not Russian. But doesn’t his name fit perfectly?)
– How did Yakov Smirnoff not make the intro video? What a country!
– The time and attention to detail spent on this production. Wow. So impressive. Must be a proud moment for everyone involved.
– As a kid, I used to learn about all the different countries around the world by watching the Olympics with my parents. 88 countries this year!
– There’s always that one country you’ve never heard of. This year it was two for me. Andorra! San Marino! (Not to be confused with Dan Marino.)
– Some of the athletes from Armenia don’t look all that … how do you say? ... athletic.
– Germany’s uniforms are awful.
– Ireland and Lithuania’s uniforms are awesome
– Nepal has the only non-rectangular flag. Love it!
– Didn’t know Norway had the most Winter Olympic medals of all time – 303!
– Not sure how I feel about Team USA’s uniforms. They could also pass for tablecloth or an ugly sweater party.
– 230 athletes makes this the largest contingent of athletes for Team USA ever.
– Will these athletes ever watch the videos they’re shooting?
– Chile is my favorite country to say in Spanish. Chee-lay!
– Those people dancing in the fur hats didn’t stop the entire time! Someone get them a raise.
– There are 12 new Olympic sports this year. I’d like to add a 13th. A smile-off between Vladimir Putin and Nick Saban.
– Overall, it wasn’t nearly as grandiose as Beijing, or as much fun as London … but for the Winter Olympics, I don’t remember a more elaborate Opening Ceremony.
Feb. 6, 11:20 p.m.
The first day of the Olympics is like the first day of school (minus the embarrassing photo your mom makes you take).
Sure, you’ve done this before, but it always feels different. There are new faces. New people to meet. New games to play. New stories about to unfold. And just like that first day of school, not much REALLY happens.
But don’t worry … you know the drama’s coming. You can see it, thanks to the nervous smile of the figure skater about to start a routine. Or the skier who hesitates for a moment before attacking the mountain. They train for four years and it all comes down to these next few days. Sometimes it comes down to a split-second. And whether it ends in triumph or heartbreak, we’ll be watching. You know why? Because America loves reality TV. And the Olympics are REAL reality TV.
There’s no script here. Sometimes you get that perfect storybook ending. Sometimes dreams are dashed. And never does it end with a Kardashian getting divorced.
It’s that unpredictable nature of the Olympics that makes the games so captivating.
It’s also the rare chance for people from all over the country, red states and blue states, to come together and root for a common goal. Gold for Team USA! Or maybe you root for your home country too. But either way, it’s a true source of pride. The national anthem playing while young men and women stand tall on the medal stage … that gets me every time.
I can’t wait to see how the 2014 Winter Olympics unfold. I can’t wait to see if Sochi is up to the challenge of being a host city. I can’t wait to see which anonymous athletes transform into overnight celebrities.
So let’s enjoy these next 17 days, because just like the last day of school, I’ll be sad to say goodbye when it’s over.