Tag Archives: international sports

Remembering Jeff Blatnick

Jeff Blatnick

I’ve always believed long after the games have ended, Olympic athletes have the potential to continue inspiring.   Some continue to inspire from the history books, their achievements becoming legendary.  Others use their experiences to become valuable contributing members of society, giving back to their sport, their community, or their country.  Jeff Blatnick did both.  The former Olympic wrestler died last week following complications from heart surgery at the age of 55.

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‘9.79*’, Part 2

These eight runners ran one of the most famous races in Olympic history.

(Continued from Part 1)

Back in 1988 I remember the shock and disgust I felt when learning of Ben Johnson’s positive test for steroids, and how I felt vindicated when Carl Lewis was bumped up from silver to gold.  Ben Johnson represented the most evil and dishonest aspect of Olympic sports.  Now I find myself hating him less and sympathizing with him more.  Yes, Ben Johnson took performance-enhancing drugs during his amateur competitive career.  Yet according to test results and the testimony of several of Johnson’s contemporaries, so did four of the other competitors from the 1988 race–Including Carl Lewis.  (And I’m not even going to address the allegations that Johnson was framed in his failure to pass post-race drug test.)

I grew up revering Carl Lewis, the heir apparent to Jesse Owens.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve

“9.79*” offers us a never-before-seen perspective of Ben Johnson.

had my eyes opened to the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs and the real Carl Lewis, whose enormous ego and motives are sickening.  Those who read this blog know what an idealist I am when it comes to the Olympics.  Yes, there’s even some naiveté there as well, because I can’t comfortably accept the idea that we should just enjoy the performance and to hell with trying to maintain the purity of sport.  When I asked Gordon about this and about the impact of 1988 on sports, he offered an interesting comment.  “I believe that the vast majority of times [in races] were not done clean and have never been done clean….1988 was certainly a wake-up call.”  He’s right, but it’s still a bitter pill for me to swallow.

After I watched “9.79*” I didn’t sleep well that evening.  Am I more upset about the injustice of Ben Johnson being the patsy, the fall guy?  Or is it the child in me who feels betrayed by those she once idolized?  After watching I felt angry, betrayed, and sad.   Carl Lewis wasn’t Ben Johnson’s victim.  If anything, it was the other way around.  Nor were Linford Christie, Dennis Mitchell, Ray Stewart, of Desai Williams.  As for Robson da Silva and Calvin Smith, the only two of those eight runners that never tested positive for drugs, they were victims.  But so were we, the fans.  Especially those of us who are hopelessly idealistic and believe in the purity of sport.  When I posed this question to Dan Gordon, he was hesitant to say who—if anyone—is the victim.  Here again, he’s determined to remain objective.  “ ‘9.79*’ asks a lot of questions, [but doesn’t] provide answers,”  he reminded me.

As the interview concluded, Gordon relayed a conversation with a university professor on the issue of doping in sports.  “He said, ‘Remember that it’s just entertainment.’  Well, I’m not sure I’m ready to do that.”

Neither am I.

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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Filed under Athletics/Track & Field, Book/Movie Reviews

From the Olympic Fanatic Vault: Barbara Ann Scott–A True Patriot

(Photo by Tony Linck//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

I still remember the first time I learned about Barbara Ann Scott.   Leading up to the 1988 Winter Olympics, I was soaking in all I could about the sports and athletes.   In addition to  its spread previewing the figure skating competition to be held in Calgary’s Saddledome, Sports Illustrated also featured an article on Canada’s last women’s figure skater to win Olympic gold:  Barbara Ann Scott.  Back in 1988, it was remarkable to note that no Canadian woman had won a figure skating gold medal in 40 years.  Move forward to 2012 and Canada still continues to wait for another to replicate Scott’s accomplishment.  The friendly nation is in its 64th year without an Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating.

Earlier this week Barbara Ann Scott passed away.  She was 84.  Remembering that Sports Illustrated article, I had my parents look for it in my stash of Olympic memorabilia.  Yet again they came through for me.  I guess I need to think about moving these items to my home.

Before there was Dorothy Hammill, Michelle Kwan, or even Yu-Na Kim, there was Barbara Ann Scott.  The Ontario-born skater had a tremendous impact on not just the skating world, but all of Canada.  Take these notables which The New York Times mentioned in its tribute to her:

  • How many figure skaters can say they had a doll created in their likeness in the pre-Barbie era?  In 1948 the Reliable Toy Company began manufacturing the Barbara Ann Scott Doll.
  • How many female athletes can say they inspired male athletes?  It was a direct result of Scott’s heroic win at the 1948 Winter Olympics. Her skating aesthetic was so perfect that Donald Jackson said of Scott, “Even though I was a male skater, she was the one person I looked up to.”  Dick Button said of Scott, “She was delicate, precise, exact, meticulous — simply perfect.”
  • How many can be credited by a prime minister?  Former Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King said that Scott “gave Canadians courage to get through the darkness of the postwar gloom.”

    The Sports Illustrated article which inspired me. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

Back in 1988, this thirteen year-old girl was immediately attracted to Scott and her story.  Aside from Scott’s historical impact as a skater, I was drawn to her beauty and poise–both in her younger and later years.  Even at age 60, Barbara Ann Scott exuded an elegance and sophistication that few athletes possess.   I remember thinking to myself, “Here’s someone worthy of looking up to!”

Such grace was not only exhibited in her skating and style, but in her words and actions.  Like the majority of Canadians, Scott had much love for her country and was unabashedly patriotic;  not as Americans think of patriotism with our obnoxious chanting of “USA! USA.”  No, Scott was like most Canadians, equally proud and humble to be Canadian.  It’s the same modest and dignified satisfaction that Canadians possess, and which we’ve seen in other Canadian athletes like  Wayne Gretzky and Sydney Crosby.  In its tribute to Scott, the Chicago Sun-Times quoted her as having said, “My father always taught me that anything you can do for Canada, do, it comes first….And so, I tried in my little way.”

Scott at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Photo: Ashley Fraser, Postmedia News)

So proud of her were Canadians that they didn’t forget her when the 2010 Vancouver Olympics were held.  Scott was selected as one of several to help carry the Olympic Flag during the opening ceremony (I had hoped that she’d be selected to light the torch.). While I was saddened by how much she’d aged, I smiled when I saw how elegant she still was, and how happy and proud she was to be representing Canada at another Olympics.

Perhaps Scott didn’t have any triple or quadruple jumps in her resume.  Yet whether on or off the ice, she carried herself with the poise, grace, and humility that is seldom seen anymore.   Barbara Ann Scott isn’t just a role model for figure skaters.  Or Canadians.  Exemplifying modesty and patriotism, her “true patriot love” touched many “far and wide.”  I can only hope that her legacy will not be forgotten and remembered by future generations.

Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

 

 

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A Cure for Post-Olympic Blues

Today I’m feeling blue.  I’ve got Post-Olympicitis.  My symptoms are restlessness, sadness, heavy sighing, fatigue, and lack of motivation to carry out normal activities.

Singing “The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow” isn’t helping.  But thankfully there are wonderful folks at BBC, including Newsday presenter Julian Keane who was incredibly thoughtful to share a video with me via Twitter.  It not only reminds us of the phenomenal job done by British athletes, but a reminder to also keep looking forward. Yes, ever forward!

Before I share the video, I want to take a moment to extend my gratitude to BBC for the support and kindness it showed this blog over the past two weeks.  I write this blog because I love the Olympics, and because it’s a means for sharing my  passion with others.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think someone would want to  hear my thoughts via mainstream media, much less BBC, the most highly regarded agency in broadcasting!  The producers and presenters for both BBC Newsday and BBC World  Have Your Say couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious; and for little ole me who was shaking with nerves about being on live radio, their gestures were more appreciated than they’ll ever know.

Now, enjoy this video which features some of Great Britain’s Olympians lip-syncing to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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But Wait! The Drama of London Isn’t Quite Over!

The cauldron’s been extinguished.  Athletes have packed up and departed the athlete village.  Some of the venues are being dismantled.   Yet the drama of the Olympics continues!

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Final Days in London: “Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow”

So long, London! (Photo from London 2012 Website)

I’ve never been good at goodbyes, and being the terribly sentimental person that I am makes them all the more difficult.  When I was younger, I remember crying as the flame was extinguished in Calgary, Seoul, and other games.   I didn’t want the games to end.

These games revived me.   They brought back the purest and rawest emotions that I remember having as a child.  And it felt so good.  Until the end when it was time to bid the 2012 Olympics farewell.

In the opening ceremony, LOCOG Chairman Sebastian Coe said of the Games, “There is a truth to sport, a purity, a drama, an intensity, a spirit that makes it irresistible to take part in and irresistible to watch.”  While the games between 2000 and 2008 are not to be admonished, London was special, unique.  For this fanatic, these games brought back to  the Olympics the “purity”, “intensity”, and “spirit”  that as a young child, I had found in the Olympics.

I once remarked that the Olympics were, as the late Bud Greenspan said, “Never Neverland.”  It is more than this.  It is more than just the unity of cultures from across the globe.  They are about what Chairman Coe also said in that opening ceremony speech:

“In every Olympic sport there is all that matters in life.  Humans stretched to the limit of their abilities, inspired by what they can achieve, driven by their talent to work harder than they can believe possible, living for the moment but making an indelible mark upon history.”

Just as it did in 1908 and 1948, London again welcomed the world for two weeks of glorious sport and competition, making the game more memorable than others.  Thousands of athletes came to London and made their own indelible mark upon history.   And just as I once was so many years ago, I found myself crying during the opening and closing ceremonies, in absolute awe of the strength, athleticism, and courage displayed by thousands of athletes.  And while these games were also “irresistible to watch”, they also gave me a sense of hope.  For the female Saudi athletes daring to compete, those athletes representing a war-torn country, or a competitor overcoming personal tragedy to attend these games, they all gave us hope.  They reminded us that it is not without pain, tears, courage, and determination that we achieve our goals.

Yes, Chairman Coe, Great Britain “did it right.”  We did see the very best of Britain, and for that we are all eternally grateful.  And as you said, these games have inspired a generation.

That feeling of extreme sadness I had as a child when the Olympic flame is extinguished….I had it again tonight.  I don’t want these games to end.  While the flame may have been extinguished, we will carry the memories of 2012 with us always, using them as a source of inspiration, whether we are young or old, athlete or fan.  Let us begin to count the days until Sochi and Rio, remembering, as the London Games reminded us, to always strive for Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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“And the Fanatic Goes to….”

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s that time again.  As we prepare to conclude the 2012 Summer Olympics, it’s time to reflect on these two weeks and bestow more honor on some of those who participated in these games.

There’s no red carpet pre-awards show, so let’s just get right to the awards.  I’ve got a closing ceremony to go watch!

Olympian with the best celebrity doppelgänger:

Alexander Vinokourov, Cycling: Could be a brother for Conan O’Brien!

Perhaps Vinokourov isn’t Ukrainian, or O’Brien isn’t Irish?!

Best Opening Ceremony Uniform:

Netherlands, who just barely beat out Belize for the best costume.  The v-neck sweaters with accompanying orange and blue was a bright and cheerful splash  of color to the fairly predictable array of costume, while remaining loyal to country colors.

Worst Exhibit of Sportsmanship:

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press Images

McKayla Maroney, who was none to happy with a silver medal, and was none too shy about displaying her dissatisfaction.

Best Sportsmanship:

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Grenada’s Kirani James not only won a gold medal, but won my vote for best sportsman, as he not only congratulated his fellow winners, but found it important to swap bibs with fellow competitor Oscar Pistorius.

Best Venue:

Eton Dorney, Venue for Rowing Canoe/Kayak Sprint

Best Come-From-Behind Victory:

Photo: Rob Schumacher, USA TODAY Sports

It’s one thing to come from behind and win.  It’s another thing to almost miss making the cut for the semi-finals, only doing fair in those rounds, and then storming back in the finals.  That’s just what David Boudia did in the men’s 10-Meter Platform, making him yet another American diver in the history books along with the late Mark Lenzi, and Greg Louganis.

Most Inspirational Athlete:

Photo: Associated Press

Oscar Pistorius, South African Runner

Most Exciting Win:

Three-Way Tie Between Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford, and Mo Farah

Best Fans:

Whether in the velodrome, at Greenwich park, along the Box Hill route, or inside Olympic Stadium, Great Britain can definitely be dubbed “Our Greatest Fans,” as they made the Olympics all the more enjoyable, showing true patriotism and loyalty.  Thank you, Great Britain!

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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Filed under 2012 London Olympics