10 things about Italy

(I wrote this in Europe, but have not had the brain power/time to organize the pictures until now)

Italy reminded me of visiting a close relative who is worldly, educated, stylish, endearingly eccentric, disorganized, rambunctious, and who lives in a house that is exceptionally beautiful, but who ran out of money halfway through construction, so it’s wonderful in a work-in-progress kind of way.

Many of the American professional bicycle racers who base themselves in Europe choose Italy, and I can see why immediately. There is something in the Italian spirit and zest for life that appeals to Americans.

Now I need to be somewhat careful as I write this, as my wonderful father-in-law is Italian, and my wife speaks Italian fluently and has lots of family in Milan. Also, I spent the majority of my Italian time in South Tyrolia. They speak German & Italian there, and have a complicated relationship to Italy. So who knows what mismash of culture I saw through my own filter of odd Americana.

So with that disqualifier, here are some of my observations & moments from my few days in Italy.

10. Fertile ITALY

Switzerland is so magisterial, tough, and spartan in it’s rugged physical nature. Yet only one hour south of Lugano by train, suddenly a mild climate & very agriculturally rich land leaps into view. It just blew my mind to think that this is the landscape the Romans marched all over the rest of the world from, and that now I am here.

9. Italian Graffiti
I saw lots of urban graffiti in Europe, and a lot around Milan. This is the best picture I got.

8. Bicycle Commuters.
I waited for the bus one chilly evening on a hill in Bolzano. For every car that roared past, I saw at least one bicycle or scooter commuter zipping by. The cyclists were all ages, all economic classes, and actually had to work to get up this hill. They did so with speed and a pedaling suppleness that suggests they do this every single day. The cars on the road did drive aggressively and very fast, but the drivers used their considerable skill to give cyclists wide berths. It was quite cold out, everyone was still riding.

7. Walking arm & arm with mom.
I saw this many times, a man or woman about my age, out for a walk with mom. Usually with a proffered elbow gratefully accepted. It seemed both stately and intimate at the same time. It made me miss my mom, and having the excuse to go for a walk somewhere with her. But in America, how many of us are still in the same town as our folks? And how many of us are completely dependent on our cars, physically and psychologically, to do ANYTHING? When was the last time we “went for a walk” with mom for the sake of the walk?

6. Adjustable Showerheads
The same as I have seen all over, but this one in my Hotel had the hot & cold indicators installed wrong. The cold handle was hot, and the hot handle was cold. It took me a while to figure it out. Disorganization or a test of tourist intelligence? I almost failed the test.

5. Newsstands
I think it takes spending a good solid hour browsing an Italian newspaper & magazine oriented store to hold a good mirror up to your American face & take a close look at yourself. What do you find appealing? revolting? familiar? boring? kinky? exotic?

There is an amazing spectrum of stuff at the average newstand, newspapers rivaling the raunchiest british tabloids, Harley Davidson custom chopper mags, endless Cosmo & girly-girl mag rip-offs, lots of hardcore porn, computer ‘zines, yachting mags, Futbol Futbol & Futbol. All mixed together and a good mirror to look deeply into, since in every topic, the temperature & intensity seems to be several notches higher that us stuffy Americani.

4. Italian keys
From space age Swiss keys to the middle ages of the hotel I was staying at. This quite large & primitive key is connected to a huge, extremely heavy brass weight that practically pulls your pants off if you are not wearing a belt and put it in your pocket. I am not sure what the black rubber bumper around the brass weight is for. Anyone have ideas?

3. The unofficial Italian State Bird
I don’t know what the official state “bird” of Italy is. But here is my nomination, the construction crane. Most Italy seems to be under construction/reconstruction/desperately needed remodeling. Huge cranes cast their shadows EVERYWHERE. Every neighborhood seems to have one or two. There are five visible in this shot, and over one very modest town, I quickly counted 14. I asked an Italian about it, he said something about they are absolutely necessary because they must build strong homes… yeah, whatever…

I have lived in some of the fastest growing urban areas in America, towns in Colorado and Utah that are adding population at 10-14% a year, and we only use these in major urban construction for things like skyscrapers, never for one story houses. Italy is actually shrinking in population, not growing, so I simply don’t understand why these eyesores are towering over everything.

Besides, I only ever saw one of them actually moving something.

2. The McOrientale
I am mortified over what the US most visibly exports to the rest of the world; the pop music, fast food, & sitcom TV is so far from the best of what America is. However I was intrigued to try a McOrientale, but it was discontinued. I wanted to see a bun with a pictogram on the top. What does it mean? Any speakers of Chinese read this blog and know this word? (wayne in taiwan, you probably know) Or maybe that is McDonaldese, and not any real Asian language.

1. The birthplace of all Tortellini.

Forget the mythical “Fountain of Youth” I want to live next to this “Fountain of Tortellini!” hidden in a snowy nook of the Dolomites. I like the vineyards in front of this factory, as well as the creative steam rising from who knows what? Wine & tortellini? Sounds good!

North Americans, Photo

I am stuck to the couch tired, but for a good reason.

I skated very well today, and won my 2nd North American pack-style championship, setting another 500m pack record (37.4).

But this was a meet that was in many ways about kids, and when you watch endless streams of 14 year olds blasting through 500’s, it’s possible to feel optimistic about the future of speedskating, even though there were some categories that were almost empty.

This is the Ceremonial Group Shot of all the winners, along with the head Canadian & American refs. There are very likely some future Olympians among these younger faces. From left to right in the back row you have Jeff Edwards -the head American referee , Marty Haire -Northern New York, Laurent Dubreuall -Quebec, Mitchel Whitmore -Wisconsin Skating Association, Boris Leikin -Direct Member, Nathan Bernhard -Saskatchewan, Emily Hill -Alberta, Andrew Love -Northern New York (I lived in NY for enough of this year to still be a member) and Wayne Fleming -the head Canadian referee.

Kneeling in the front row, the guy is Heath Irvine from Alberta. I am not sure who is who among the women, but they are Lillian Iwaniszyn -Alberta, Ann-Veroni Michaud -Quebec, and Gillain Richmond -Alberta. (If anyone out there in blogland knows for sure, or if I got a face & name mismatched, please let me know.)

When I was there for this picture, I did not notice the flamey-scoreboard behind us announcing us as the 2006 North American Champions! Very cool! Walking on the ice for this shot, it was oddly sticky, like glass someone has spilled soda on.

Click on the image for a larger one.

North Americans, Pack-style!

Pack style racing! Love it or hate it, it’s a whole different expression of the sport than metric time trials. Pack racing is intense, exciting, mano-a-mano (or womao-a-womano) and combines strategy with the unique skill to change speeds quickly, as frequently the races are quite tactical until an intense acceleration to the finish.

Times don’t really matter as much as finishing first. There are pack style records, I have a few of them, but they are VERY difficult to achieve when you have a whole bunch of people sitting in your draft just waiting to slingshot past you in sight of the finish!

Here are some pictures I took at today’s North American pack style meet. North Americans is a joint US-Canada meet, and has a lot of the top younger skaters going head to head with each other. Notice that many of the skaters look like they have yellow socks on, that actually is Kevlar or neoprene protection for their ankles/achilles in case they get kicked by someone else. If you look closely you can also see the bump from soccer shinguards under several skinsuits as well.

These are all fairly young skaters. Quite prominent in these shots is the red and blue of the Quebec speedskating association. Montreal alone has more skaters in its club system than the USA has skaters (about 2,000). Their selection races are intense, and the skaters they send to meets like this are usually terrific, in both short and long track. There are also a lot of blue and black uniforms in these pics, that’s Alberta.

For a long time, pack style speedskating was the only kind of speedskating in North America. Today for Masters skaters in the US, pack-style is the only competition we skate with our “peers”. I did outdoor inline racing for years, and I like packstyle, even though it’s hard to switch mental gears after so much metric-centric training.

If it weren’t for the fact that North American Pack Championships was in Salt Lake this weekend, I would have been couch surfing for sure, as I am emotionally blah & jet lagged after my European trip. But I would have been kicking myself if I had skipped it.

Also these races were my last chance to renew a very intense and friendly rivalry with Brian Boudreau. Brian has won US master’s 30-39 Packstyle Nationals the last 4 years in a row, (twice with me simmering in second place). We are very closely matched, with most of our races being decided by less than .2 of a second, but Brian has been consistently that .2 better at pack than I am, tactically, technically, and physically.

Today’s races were the usual Andrew & Brian deathmatch, with him crushing me in the 1500, and me barely squeaking out a 1000m win by .17. However the refs threw in a bit of speedskating politics, and disqualified Brian in the 1500m because he was wearing a US national team skinsuit in a championship race. He has never been on the national team, & the rules say you can’t wear the USA in top races unless you have earned it. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about how different minor sports approach the thorny issues surrounding sponsorship & money.

Suffice it to say, Brian did break a rule, but it was sad that the rigid enforcing of this rule took away his excellent racing in the 1500m. This is such a small sport, why not just let us race & give Brian a warning instead of a DQ? You could not even see the USA through his racing bib number! Would a few strategically applied pieces of Duct tape be okay?

I understand the issues, and there are very complicated, emotional, & nuanced arguments for both sides. But I find it somewhat strange that US speedskating is currently threatening legal action against some top skaters who are not wearing the official US speedskating sponsors, but when an excellent skater who has poured many years of his life into this sport, and was given a suit EXACTLY like this one to wear at Olympic trials a few weeks ago, wears those logos, ooooooh! Baaaaad!

I shouldn’t even wade into this argument, as it’s an EXTREMELY emotional one right now in the upper echelons of skating, and it does not impact me at all. I think I will just leave this with the idea that most professional cycling teams are flattered when someone wears one of their jerseys.

Tomorrow will be my last chance to race Brian packstyle until the 2011 season, as he is not going to US Masters champs in Minnesota next weekend, and next season, he will be racing with the 40-49 category! Watch out guys, the Boudreau express is a hard one to follow!


Here is 1500m & 10k world record holder, and olympic medal favoritie Chad Hedrick, relaxing in one of his favorite ways. He is quite the pool shark. I taped this for his site, but it’s funny enough that I am posting it here as well.

I have gotten to know Chad since I started to work for him in September. I have really not posted my thoughts on this unique fellow here at all, since I do respect his privacy. When we spend time together, he is just being himself and we are working on his website. He is not in “on the record” interview mode, and I am aware of that.

Lets just say that he is one of the most complete and intense competitors I have EVER met. The guy has unreal willpower, and over a lifetime of unreal willpower training this has taken his tremendous natural talent into the world-record stratosphere. He is similar to Lance Armstrong in that respect, and that is an apt comparison to make. Watch his face during his Olympic races, he truly suffers, but somehow keeps pouring amazing power into the ice through intense pain.

We are as different as apples & walnuts, or even more specifically, as different as Spring, Texas and Ithaca, NY, and we have led radically different lives, but do I respect him for what he has done and has the capacity to do in the upcoming Olympic games.

Jessica’s Website

Jessica wanted to put together a website of her own, for family in Italy and the US, detailing her own journeys in Europe.

So I threw together a quick and simple template, and then she populated it with her words and pictures. The first page is pictures of her family, but the following pages on Italy, Lugano, and Davos, have some nice travel & alpine photos, including Jessica dipping a snickers bar into nutella while lounging at the top of a mountain!

This is her second website, she made another one in 2004, about a trip she took to Mexico to spay/neuter dogs. These sites have nothing to do with speedskating, zen, or me at all, although I do appear in a few pictures.

Jet Lag & Pie

I awake suddenly, the moonlight streaming in through the window. I stretch my travel worn self, and think “wow, what a comfortable bed! What hotel is this? And WHOA!!, who is sleeping next to me!!!” it took me a few long fuzzy moments to realize, joyfully, that I was HOME!!! and it was Jessica.

Jet lag is not nearly as bad coming from Europe to the USA, as it is the other direction. Even so, I am staggering around, and I have a lot to catch up on; web design work, laundry, the pile of mail & papers on my desk (where I found this Chinese fortune from some long ago dinner!!). Also I did some catch up reading of blogs I enjoy. One of them had this sentence in it-

It’s like I keep winning pie eating contests, but the prize is more pie.

-Outer life

Now he is talking in his blog about being a smart guy, and the reward he found from school and work is that when he achieves, immediately the reward is another level of difficulty.

I could not help thinking that this applies to athletes as well. Is this why we describe athletes as “hungry”? Maybe this is why sometimes some athletes hit an internal wall, and have no ambition to subject themselves to the pain of training and the stress of competition anymore. They are full of “racing pie”. Sometimes the taste is bitter, sometimes sweet, sometimes it never digests properly, a lot depends on you.

When I was bicycle racing, I realized I had an unusual appetite for racing pie compared to most normal, well-adjusted human beings, even compared to the average maladjusted road racer I was odd. I raced my bike 450+ times over roughly 10 years. Still have both collarbones intact too. Even now, after all the intensity I have been through in the last couple of weeks, I still am hungry to accomplish certain things on my skates (a friggin mid-36 second 500m!! for one!!).

Will I ever be full? Or must I change my tastes? Bake a different pie? Certainly I am satisfied right now, completely happy with the last pie-eating contest, but somehow there is always more pie to eat, and appetite to eat it with.


Home, Home again
I like to be here, when I can.
When I come home, cold and tired
It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire.

Far away, across the fields
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell.

-Pink Floyd
The Dark Side of the Moon

I found myself mentally replaying this album on the long flight home, Pink Floyd meant a ton to me in high school. Still does.

I still think jets look like weird fish. This is the one that carried me from Amsterdam to Minneapolis.

However it was still some culture shock upon deplaning in the USA, 2 things leaped into focus:




Another award needs to be mentioned here as well, the Minneapolis airport gets the baggage claim nightmare award.. . there were 1000+ pieces of unclaimed luggage from canceled flights strewn everywhere, and very anxious Japanese tourists searching the mounds. Luckily I found my own 2 needles in this haystack. There are advantages to having strange looking luggage, I travel with a duct tape swathed, battered tool chest for my skates & sharpening equipment, it was easy to spot!

Wow.. it’s great to be back… I did not miss the USA when I was on the road, but being home, I went straight to a Caribou coffeeshop (a decent midwest chain), and just inhaled some American black gold… When you order a large coffee here, you get a really a nice gallon sized cup that can really make your heart pound! It’s good to be back!!!

Vladamir Budin

What inspires me? People who do things that despite all odds, despite all “rational” explanation that they should not be able to do things, they keep on doing them. A perfect example is Russian Speedskater Vladamir Budin.

I have now seen him race several times, and I never get tired of seeing him skate. Like a lot of Russian skaters, he is not terribly worried about upper body motion, what matters far more is lower body stroke length, as well as excellent physical conditioning. What I find completely amazing is that at his age, he moves with the angles & precision of a much younger man. Check out this video!

He must be in his late 60’s. When I first met him 2 years ago, he was racing on a 40 year old pair of Vikings. This season he does have clap skates.

Look at the flow and ease of his style, and his flexibility. He is proof that if you put your body in the right angles, you can fly on skates, even if you don’t have the natural strength of a younger fellow.

I have never been able to say a word to Vladamir, as he only speaks Russian, I only speak eccentric Americanish, and we have never had the chance for Boris to translate between us. But I did show him this movie I took, and his eyes lit up and he gave me a huge smile that needed no translation.

Is this what I want to be when I grow up? naaah, I think this is where I want to “grow to”.

Inzell & Snow

When last heard from, this traveling skateblogger was updating from a gas station hallway, it was raining/slushing outside, and he was going to race shortly… the story continues…. (now I am writing from the Munich airport, killing a few hours before my flight home)

As I was doing my pre-race warmup jog, I noticed Pat Kelly intently watching a German drilling holes into the ice and setting up the electronic timing. As we peered into the very deep hole he had created, I remarked it looked more like an ice fishing hole than Long-track racing ice, Pat said, “yeah, that is some thick ice, at least 9 cm”.

Most of the time, Long track racing ice is 2- 3cm thick. Ice thickness makes a true difference to top speed & the effort needed to maintain top speed. The difference between Salt Lake ice during Olympic trials, and the ice in Inzell today is similar to the difference in feel to riding a road bike along an asphalt road or across a grassy field. There is an ice-motocross event next weekend at this oval, so they are probably trying to thicken things up. Lucky us.

And the rain/snow mix gooping from the sky, and the thick, damp air, does not help things much either. There is a headwind on the backstretch, but it’s slight.

The rain stops as the races start, and I see many masters skaters I know going half at second or more slower than Davos or Hamar. The air gets a bit colder, after a resurface, the ice even looks passable. Pat Kelly opens his 500m with an excellent 10.2 for his 500m, faster than he did at Davos, but his final time is .2 slower, a 38.2

Boris skates a great 39.5 for his 500m, and continues the North American sprinters assault on the master’s records!! Go Boris! Here he is driving for the finish.

In my previous post about racing at Davos, I talked about speedskating hip positions illustrated with a great picture of Pat Kelly and myself. I showed that pic to Boris, and since then he has drilled me over and over, both in Collabo and Inzell, on this one simple aspect to technique, to drive my left hip more deeply into the turns. It’s a simple, difficult, maddening thing.

By this time in the season, I am on technical auto-pilot for most of what I do, and can focus on fine tuning. When it was my turn for the 500, I had not paid any attention to the other skaters in my age group at all, so I felt pressure on myself to go fast, but was relaxed, because after all, there won’t be fast times skated today.

Bang, I am off the line like a shot! Down the first 100m in 10.35 I hit the first turn really well & feel the new hip angle giving my left leg more power into the ice. I slam out of the turn and fight extra low and hard through the wind on the backstretch.

Boris is standing right at the entrance to the final outer corner, screaming something. I am too focused to hear it, but the image of him, and his body language urging me on, I will remember till my dying day. As I whip by and set the corner, I glimpse him break into a full running sprint so he can see the whole corner.

I set the turn well, sink into it & focus on that low-hip feeling. I build that turn like I have never built a final outer turn in my whole life. Feeling the extra power, I get greedy, and try to throw in more crossover steps in than there is space. I miss the pads with my right foot by a whisker, and as my left foot is crossing over, I skate on the edge crust of the track for a split second.

Now riding a slight tailwind, I drive that last 100m with everything I have left, You can see the amazing Italian men urging me onward. Fortza! Fortza! Die Die Die! Andrea! rings in my ears! Like many truly fast races, this looked a bit wild & out of control at moments, but it was VERY effective.

I cross the line, 37.47!!!!! A crazy time for these conditions outdoors, and another lowering of my 500m record! I am stunned! Ecstatic! How do I deserve this amazing life! As I coast by the stands, the crowd is applauding, The skaters on the warm-up track are a barrage of high-fives & smiles. I see Boris jumping around with a huge grin on his face. I point at him, begin my own applause and start saying, “it’s all his fault!”

I am the Canary that ate the Cat! Who knows how fast this effort would have been in Salt Lake, but it would have been roughly in the middle of the group racing in the first day of the men’s 500 world cup in Inzell last month (and they had to be skating in better conditions than there were today!!!).

But maybe that is not a fair comparison to make, because it’s impossible to compare conditions day to day on outdoor tracks, and before I get too full of myself, I must say that later that day in the Planet-Ice rinkside bar, watching the 500m races from World Speedskating Sprint Championships on live TV, a couple of Swiss Masters Skaters kidded me as to why I was skating masters races, and not skating world sprints? They pointed out I was faster than some skaters who were competing at world sprints. Just as they were saying that, Casey Fitzrandolph and Kip Carpenter appeared on the screen to skate their 500m races, I pointed to the screen and said, “That is the reason I am not skating world sprints, the US sprinters are all absolute studs, and there are a whole bunch more fellows in the US who are waay faster than me, several of whom are OLDER than I am.”

A Russian then joined in with kidding me “But you have your world record! No?” as I have said before in this space, there is no official masters world record, it does not exist, and it makes me feel odd to call it a world record. So I said “Naw, it’s a Master’s International record, a cool thing, but there is no sanctioned world records for Masters” he looked puzzled for a moment, then brightened up and said in an extremely thick Ruski accent “ok, then it is a Galactic record!” That cracked me up! Fastest 35-40 solar orbits carbon-based life-form traveling over solid h2o in this Galactic region? I will accept that! sanctioned or not!

I was lucky to have had that narrow window of halfway decent ice to race at least once on, as the fickle mountain weather closed in hard. Warming up for the 1000m, the wind came into the stadium, and swirled around, and seemed to be a headwind for most of the track. Racing became a bit more a rationing of effort. In outdoor & windy conditions, things get funky. I skated a steady 1:17.38, being conservative until the last 400m. After the results were tallied, I was solidly in the lead of the 11 men in my age group, and also on track to break the sprint samalong record as well.

After racing, Boris & our Norwegian buddy Arne jogged 20 minutes for warmdown. I could barely follow them. After only 800m, my body was crumbling like a dirt clod in a rainstorm, abs & calves cramping and crusty. I would swear at that moment that I was no athlete of any kind, just some worn-out lame-duck who needs a hundred tabs of advil, and a week in bed.

Sunday dawned with a foot of new snow on the ground, and it just poured snow all day long. Racing became as much survival oriented as speed oriented. Boris smacked a wall pretty well in his 500m, but was ok, I thought that I skated another excellent 500, but was a full second slower than on Saturday. By the time the 1000m races came around. It was snowing silly hard, skate blades were parting the snow like the wake beside the prow of a boat. I hope these two images give you a good idea. (I know Boris well enough to know he is gonna look at these two pictures here and start working on my funny arm swing, I really swing my shoulder when I am accelerating, not my elbow/arm like one is supposed to)

Gotta love racing outdoors! It certainly is character building sometimes! Boris and I certainly suffer from an excess of character! After all the races were over, and the results were tallied up, Pat Kelly and I handily won our age groups & set new sprint samalong records, Boris’s crash cost him the overall in his. But he was not upset, as our good buddy Arne stepped right in with an excellent final 1000m to take the overall.

This European racing trip has been an astonishing experience. I am glad I was able to share some of it with you here.

Ugh, its 2am here in the Munich airport. I chatted with one of the security guards who said there is an all night coffee place in the terminal somewhere. I need to post this. As I get some of the pictures I took organized, I will make up some galleries of images of Europe, but right now coffee is the mission.

Thanks for reading…

Lasma Kauniste & Inzell

Over breakfast yesterday morning in Inzell, Boris overhears a couple at the next table speaking Russian, so he says hello, it turns out to be Latvian Lasma Kauniste, the 1969 women’s world champion. She is here to skate the masters races. Boris says she was “a superstar like Michael Jackson” in the old Soviet Union. He was very happy to chat with a speedskating & cultural hero from his childhood.

You might think, with some of my stories, that I am moving in some exotic realm inhabited by superstars. Nothing could be farther from the truth; in this small sport there is basically no distance between Olympians and run-of-the-mill skaters. It’s also not a sport where the elite make insane amounts of money, so top speedskaters still live “normal” lives, and don’t get the superstar syndrome of entourages, bodyguards, and being forever unable to eat dinner quietly in a restaurant (maybe Lasma was different 45 years ago, but today it’s a small sport). Lasma actually remembered me from when I raced here 2 years ago, that was my ego boost for the day, another thing to deposit into the Egobank.

It’s nice to be back in Inzell. Travel is usually the moment of the constant new. Especially traveling in a foreign country where there is constant overwhelming mouthfuls of new. On the bus here, through unfamiliar Austrian countryside, suddenly Boris and I pass into Germany, see the town of “Hammer” and I suddenly recognize landmarks.

I know where the rink is, where the bus stop is, where the grocery store is, and when we went to dinner at the “Planet-ice” bistro and bar attached to the rink, the waitress was the same Teutonic blond as 2 years ago.

I still couldn’t read anything on the menu, as it was completely in German, but it’s nice to be back in Inzell. I have some good memories of this town, and hope to make a few more before I leave.

I am blogging you from a dark hallway next to the bathrooms at a ciao-agrip gas station the only wireless hotspot I could find in all of Inzell (pronounced INT-ZIL).

I race in 2 hours, its warm, wet, and raining outside, turning this snowy winter wonderland into a huge Bavarian slushy.