The Perfect Race

“For me it was the perfect race…. I was happy before this medal, but to be able to come here and finish it like this is pretty spectacular… Emotion, so much emotion and passion, everything was running through my body. It was crazy.”

-Apollo Anton Ohno, reflecting on his gold medal 500m race.

I love this quote, Apollo talked in several interviews about “skating the perfect race” the internal focus it requires, and how hard he trained to make this happen. This guy could live however he wants, and supposedly lives a Spartan lifestyle at the US Olympic training center in Colorado Springs.

I came as close as I ever have so far to my own “perfect race” this past Saturday. All season long I have had the goal to skate a sub 37 second 500m, to see a 36 next to my name on the scoreboard, and I am almost out of time to do it. Busting the 37 barrier is a “line in the sand” that I need to cross. Warming up for this past Saturday’s races, I felt tremendous possibility in my legs, I could tell, technically and physically, that this could be the day.

I was paired with “start-line-rocket” Parker Vance, and he inspired me to blast off the line like a freak, to my fastest start ever (10.30), I hit the first turn well, made a tiny mistake exiting the turn, and then skated the finest last 250 meters I have ever done, every step was as perfect as I am capable of. I even include evidence here of both knees coming together as I drive that last 100. Bringing the knees together properly has always has been an element of technique that has always crippled my top end speed.

Every synapse was screaming, I could feel the pressure I was getting into the ice, I KNEW that this was the moment, that it could be right now!!!

Maybe I think too much, but today it was good fuel in the fire. I jabbed my blade at the finish line as I crossed, reaching for every possible hundreth, on fire!!

I pulled up out of my skating position, looked at the clock, and see

37.00

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The howl that escaped my body was full of the joy of a personal best, joy of almost a perfect race, blended with frustration, with feeling every millimeter of distance from 36.99 to 37.00

I always believed that athletes need to focus & try as hard as they can every rep, every step in training, because that is where you earn tiny amounts of speed like this. Where did I fail? What is this supposed to teach me?

How far is .01? at my lap time of 26.70 (that is 33.5 mph/53.9kph average speed for 400m) using the socal speed calculator, that is 14.9 meters a second, so I missed that 36 by 14.9 centimeters.

Such a tiny distance to have so much of my self-esteem poured into.

14.9 centimeters… .01 of a second… How far is that? 1/3 of a blade length, half the width of the ibook I write this on. My hand, wrist to fingertip is even 19 cm.

John Loquai said to me afterwards, that after seeing my race, now he understands exactly how much .01 of a second can mean. I am swirling about in a mix of happy and sad, almost the perfect race, the best I can do, but it’s not enough.


p.s. John himself skated an amazing race worth mentioning, a 1500m paired with Ron “glidemaster” Macky. (life experience on speedskates? Macky=17 years, Loquai=1.5). There was lots of friendly betting & trash talking going on, lots of speculation on who would win. Ron & John train together all the time, and knew it would be very close. Boris & I got into the fun too, Boris picked Ron, I picked John. The actual event was fun to watch, with John’s opening 300m a bit faster, and he then increased his lead a tiny bit every lap, skating a 1:50.99 (with a last lap of 29.87!) to Ron’s 1:52.25 -these guys are true artists of pain!).

Faces & Vibe -Masters International

As I have said several times, the Masters International race this last weekend’s exemplifies the best that there is in speedskating.

I had a post that focused on the race, and now here is one that is about the faces & vibe. I should have posted this earlier this week, but better late than never!

First of all, a recording of the national anthem, as played by Olu. I think every time a race director asks him to play, they should wave his entry fee as a thank you. You can hear a hockey game going on in the background, and the buzz of the massive fluorescent lights at the Pettit. But it’s still Olu, and he can REALLY play.

Every time I hear the anthem, I think of our armed forces in the Middle East. It’s easy to forget that there is a war going on right now. Much of America has effectively closed its eyes to the men & women in uniform who are serving & sometimes dying in Iraq. It’s important to remember that for every death we hear about, there are also roughly 4-5 catastrophic injuries where the soldier lives, but loses arms/legs/eyes/hands/mobility. How many souls & families have been scarred by this war? There are people now on their 4th & 5th combat tours!! (also there are possibly 100,000 Iraqi civilian dead, mostly from US firepower).

Agree or disagree with our current foreign policies, it’s important to remember what is happening in the world right now, and to live life in context, not as a “head in the sand” Ostrich.

Ok, enough politics, back to skating (see, I too am guilty of exactly what I just complained about above).

Here are a bunch of folks, lacing up for warmup, at a scary early hour of the morning.

The inline to ice movement does not just happen at the Elite Level; Glenn Corso is a member of the NYC area Empire speed inline team, and came out from Long Island to race. He does short track ice, and has a handful of days on the long track clap blades. He was right in the mix in the toughest category, the 40-44’s, had a blast, and says next year he will bring a pile of folks from that very talented club. Fantastic! There also was a skater from the very active Team Caravan/Capitol racing group in Virginia, but I did not get a chance to chat with him.

One of the growing traditions of The Masters International is the Saturday night party at Olu’s. This year was it’s biggest and best ever. 40 of the 70+ competitors showed up for a huge dish-to-pass buffet, and Olympics watching. I wish I had a tape of the ‘hollerin during Apollo Ohno’s gold medal short track race, and shortly thereafter, the relay.

The fire was nice, also in fine form was Mary O’Donnell, The US rep to the governing body of International Masters skating, the IMSSC. Here she is, making some noise during the women’s Olympic 5k, wearing a crazy Dutch hat she bought during a world cup at Herenveen. The little spikes & bells are like a dragon tail, and hang all the way down her back. I hear Mary’s other sporting passion is rowing! Now that is quite the doubleshot of summer and wintertime lactic acid fun!

You can always tell when the Indy speedskating team has arrived at a race. Their towels, chairs, luggage, and full skinsuits are all Cheetah print!

I asked them about this, and they said at one of their earliest races as a club, they showed up to the meet with each member having 2 suits, they wore cheetah print on Saturday, and american-design motif suits on Sunday. Everyone asked them on Sunday “hey, were are your cool cheetah suits!”. Since that positive feedback, the theme has grown and taken over.

Indyspeed skates inline all summer, short and long track ice in the winter. They are excellent examples of “allskaters” who participate in every kind of speed skating there is. I strongly believe in the “allskater” concept as an individual & club philosophy. It is a path for all-skaters to follow except for a tiny number of people trying to specialize in elite ice sprinting (I really miss being an allskater).

Check out the Indy speed website, their skating technique & annual peridodization plans are quite interesting. Also I LOVE THIS PHOTO, of several of them at the start line of the world team time trial championships (cycling).

I can see why their Coach, Cindi Hart, just won US speedskating volunteer coach of the year! I want to do a ZEN 10 interview with Cindy, as the first interview I ever did was with last year’s volunteer Coach of the year, Jim Cornell. Hmmm, maybe this blog has been around long enough, I can start “traditions”!

Eat your Wheaties!

I don’t really like breakfast cereal that much, I far prefer a coffee & protein centric breakfast.

But Wheaties just announced that Joey Cheek & Apollo Ohno are going to be on their boxes!!!! So I will become a Wheaties customer, good for at lest several boxes. (here is sports illustrated’s story)

Who knows, maybe I will like cereal again. I wonder if Wheaties are good in coffee? Hmmm.. Probably not, but I bet there is someone in the General Mills R&D trying to create “Eggies” or “Meaties” or something equivalent.

What a wild ride the Olympics were! Is anyone out there also suffering from post-games-burnout/withdrawal? I am still catching up on my sleep.

Its easy to castigate NBC for what they could have done better in their coverage, as we are not the people who have to actually DO it. We are not the people whose jobs actually depend on the ratings, and I bet some heads were chopped off due to the poor ratings.

But one thing that could have been easily done is simply make high quality internet streaming feeds available of events LIVE! and CHARGE for them, I would have paid $20 to see every speedskating event. They had this in Europe, why not here as well? Imagine how sucky the coverage would have seemed if your sport was Biathlon? Curling? Ski Jumping?

The mass market gets smaller & stupider by the year, what matters now is an aggregate of micro-markets, and reaching them.

How cool is it that Joey’s face is now gonna be in SUPERMARKETS!!! I wonder if they give him a few boxes of it for free? And will he someday sit down for breakfast with his own face on the cereal across the table? That would be a surreal moment, and one surely not lost on a smart guy like Joey.

Loquai

I found treasure not where I thought
-Peace of mind can’t be bought-
Still I believe

Just hang on – Suffer well –
Sometimes it’s hard – its hard to tell

Depeche Mode –from their latest album “playing the angel”

At practice today I took a few pictures of John Loquai doing a 3 lap fast tempo through sunlight spattering across one of the turns (every lap under 30 seconds! Wowsa!).

Later this same evening, Jessica bought a just released Depeche Mode album, these lyrics were playing, and I thought of John.

John originally was a hockey player, but had to give up that sport after SIX CONCUSSIONS!

Certainly John has “found treasure not where he thought” because after a year and a half of switching to speedskates, he earned category 1 status at Olympic trials (basically, one notch from national team, and that earns him the right to wear the USA). As my buddy Kirk says “John gets faster ever time he touches the ice.” Its true, he has even improved since trials.

However now the real work begins over the next 4 years. John has the raw talent, the feel for the ice, the internal drive to train hard, all the pieces are there. But now the specter of money suddenly raises its ugly head. How to eat? Pay rent? Have a life? This sport demands total commitment to reach the top level, and no guarantees of anything but memories. It’s a very hard choice to make.

He is looking for sponsors, some way to not starve while training full time. I can totally empathize. This is a hard spot to be, to be so close to the full national team ride, but still one step away.

If there are any good corporate sponsors out there, jazzed up about the Olympics, and looking for a dark horse with talent and a good story, John might be your guy. It’s a hard, but rewarding path he sees in front of him. Suffer well John, I wish you luck.