Wheaties & Politics

When talking about internal skating politics in person, so often I will just throw up my hands, and exclaim with frustration: “Why can’t we all just get along and be nice to each other”.

But money is involved, power, people’s lives, personal perspectives, & what they work so so so hard for. Niceness goes right out the window when you mix that stuff into sports. And there is no avoiding it.

I swore to myself, to have nothing to do with it, to just skate, just skate and be positive. Yet I waded fully into this morass by describing the US speedskating board meeting, and then the “Hindu death goddess” Eva.

I dove into that mudpit, and now I feel dirty with politics. Absolutely filthy. Sick with a disease I could have avoided by simply applying the time tested “Ostritch immunity strategy”.

So at breakfast this morning, I am eating my bowl of Wheaties, reading the box with Joey Cheek’s bio on it. What could be more pure that a celebratory Wheaties box? that bit of weird Americana that seems to MATTER for some bizarre reason.

However, politics wormed its filthy way in, money, lawyers, lawsuits, etc, and my bowl of cereal lost its taste.

Click here, and read for yourself the words on the back of the Wheaties box.

See if you can find for yourself what is so oddly wrong with this collection of words (of course Joey had nothing to do with this word choice, I would have hated to be the writer who had to create this).

I am sure someone will mention the 800 pound gorilla that is missing, in the comments, if you are stymied.

Dog Heaven

The blog has been quiet, I have been recharging in the following ways:

  1. A rest week after some of the most intense gym work of my life (I have blown away every PB I ever had), It’s scary and thrilling to push your limits with immense amounts of weight, a tad dangerous too.
  2. Recharging the mind with intense reading (what do I read? Well, This week its Ivan Turgenev & Norman Mailer, and some exceptional Japanese comic novels)

  3. Recharging with writing, I have been furiously productive recently, but it’s all stuff that does not quite fit here.
  4. Recharging my bank account with lots of hours at my new job. It’s satisfying in a mindless worker ant kind of way (an ant that carries XML in its jaws, but an ant nonetheless). I miss training full time, it felt somehow more vulnerable & ferociously alive.
  5. Recharging the soul, with long walks with Lilly. When you get a cramp in your muscles, people talk about “walking it off”. Well, if one’s soul gets a cramp, you can “walk it off” in nature very effectively. Trust me, it works.

Today Lilly and I “walked it off” on the mud flats surrounding the great Salt Lake. Even on Memorial Day weekend, we had it completely to ourselves.

Click on the pics for a bigger view.

Despite the absolutely stunning beauty; It’s a foul, muddy, semi-disgusting place, covered in rotting fish, dismembered bird skeletons, and random garbage, like this chair waay out on the flats. It’s total Dog Heaven, and cathartic for humans in its own way.

click on this image for a panoramic shot of lilly rolling in some sandy goo.

Frequently the Salt Lake smells like an ocean mixed with a landfill. Lilly spent most of her time rolling in the sand, splashing in scum, and nosing dead things, discovering one rotting wonderment after another with the joy of a child on Christmas morning. Her happiness lifted my own spirits.

Zen 10 Questions: Alain Gloor

My web stats tell me that there are many readers of this blog out there, from all over the world (50+ countries just this may alone) but I have absolutely no idea who most of you are as individuals. It’s hard to imagine numbers like that, I prefer to always think of people.

Therefore I love it when blog readers email me out of the blue. Recently I had a fascinating email conversation with Swiss speedskater Alain Gloor. He is currently 3rd overall in the Inline world cup, racing for the powerhouse Athleticum Rollerblade team, and also he competes on the Dutch ice marathon circuit for schaatsteam.nl (in american vernacular, this qualifies him for “stud” status)

Alain is a perfect example of what I call an “ALLSKATER”, someone who skates everything, ice and inline, and is better for it.

I asked him a few questions, and our email conversation developed into this blog entry. Enjoy!

1 .Who inspired you to try ice?

First it was actually my friend Robert Goossen who was the first in Switzerland on inline skates. His parents are from the Netherlands, so it was obvious he also did ice skating. So I started, just for training, trying hard with those soft, soft Viking shoes in Basel on a 250m rink (three hockey fields opened for one “big” lap).

But I never actually thought I would do competitions. “No, no, I’m concentrating on inline skating, thanks.” Was my standard answer on people approaching me, telling me that I “have” to do competitions!!

Why did I end up in competitions then anyway? In the summer of 2004 I met my girlfriend Nienke. Yes, she’s from the Netherlands and that’s obviously why. She asked why I wouldn’t want to try the ice in the Netherlands and live with her? Yes, ok, sure, why not?! I stopped with my studies (history, german literature and media science) and went to live with her in a very small village in Friesland near Thialf, Heerenveen. She organized all the contacts to a Marathon team and got me involved with them. That’s how I ended up doing a full season (over 30 marathon races and natural ice races in Sweden and Austria), quite successful and having a lot of fun.

2. What is the inline scene like in Switzerland?

Yes, it definitely is big in Switzerland. We do have all the strongest skaters here in Switzerland, a pack of about 100 Skaters that have high skills is very normal. Switzerland used to be a very small country concerning Roller Speed Skating, an underdog.

But through the fact that we got the best skaters coming to Switzerland since about 1999, the level of skaters in Switzerland is now very high and we are known as skaters that are physically very strong and always try to attack. The level is now that high that my sister Nadine and me started to win our first medals in the history of the Swiss Federation, at Worlds in China.

The marathons are organized very professional and a lot of people attend them. The “Iguana Think Tank” organization works with the following concept:

  1. Professional Skaters
  2. Recreational Skaters
  3. Party!

That’s the philosophy of their every event. And it seems to work, although people started to worry now inline speed skating did not make it to the Olympics again.

What is ice racing like in Holland?

It definitely is huge, huge, huge. Coming from Switzerland where we do not even have one oval apart from the natural ice rink in Davos, it blew me away. Constant tv coverage, a big knowledge about sports in society and a big love and passion for sports is normal in the Netherlands. It’s perfect to live in the Netherlands as a sportsman.

It’s per example as big as all people, and I literally mean all, from young to old, know Shani Davis, Dutch tv brought their own cameras into the ice stadium at Olympics the follow every step of the stars.

And, it’s huge business in the Netherlands, really huge…

What are your skating goals?

For now my season on inline skates is going very well, I’m now third in the World Inline Cup rankings. But this will be very difficult to hold on to until the end of the season, but I will try with my strong team Athleticum Rollerblade in my back.

As I won two silvers at Europeans my goal will be to get European Champion. Probably in a points race on long distance.

I probably won’t attend the Worlds to allow me to get a good preparation for the ice season in the Netherlands in marathons. I will be in the same team, but in the A grade, where the level is pretty high, but it’s a very fascinating sport. All 16 races will be live on television! I will be accompanied by my fellow inline skater Roger Schneider in the same team, also from Switzerland!

As for long track, for sure I will try a bit. But for the moment I’m more fascinated with marathon racing (tactics, skating with the team etc.). I did one 5k in my life, and managed to almost crash twice in the first corner. I did a time of 7.00. People say it’s good for the first time…

So maybe one day my main goal will be to attend the Olympics for Switzerland.

What are the obstacles/advantages you have as Swiss athlete?

As I said, one big advantage is that we have all the professional inline skaters competing and living here. But for any other support it is very hard. The organization with teams and sponsors is very good and we can be very happy with how things are in the inline world in Switzerland.

But as soon as you would like to get support by the Olympic federation or the state, it gets very difficult and virtually impossible.

In the Netherlands it is very nice to have the “bonus” as a stranger i.e. “the Swiss that tries to ice and manages to do good, actually!” It is also attractive for sponsors to have someone with a profile of course, and a story to tell.

What is it like to be a Swiss athlete racing on a Dutch team?

It’s great. I found new friends there and managed to learn Dutch in a few months, that makes things a lot easier. Everything is very professional there and very well organized and people just love sports. Your trainer/manager will do everything for you that you have a good feeling/life as a sportsman, what I appreciate very much in the Netherlands!

Thanks Alain for a fascinating interview!! and a glimpse into European ice & inline culture. I hope to meet you in person someday!

I am intrigued by the principles of the “Iguana Think Tank”, and how they might be applied to different facets of ice and inline racing in the USA.

Are there even Iguanas in Switzerland? I guess that these days, there are some very smart ones, who put on some fine races.

Eva & Kali

I don’t write much about my good friend Eva Rodansky in this blog, because she has her own blog & her own voice that is entirely a different creature from mine, with different vibe and goals.

I have not written because she had a very difficult falling out with our mutual coach; their differences are between them, and I respect their privacy (and I was caught directly between two VERY strong personalities).

And also probably the biggest reason I have not written about Eva is simple cowardice. She is a very controversial figure in speedskating. Utterly fearless, smart, funny, and brutally honest to the point of complete personal destruction to herself and her targets, to say Eva is loved & hated & admired & feared is no understatement.

I am glad we are friends, even if we sometimes argue with the ferocity of siblings. She is never boring, she is ALIVE in the most fundamental way. In a world that encourages people into cookie cutter roles, she says surprising things all the time. We push and prod each other in ways that benefit us both.

I also have a rare gift for being able to piss her off royally, and still be talking to her the next day. I once compared her blog to Al-Qaeda, and our friendship survived.

When I met her Mom during the Salt Lake World Cup race, she told me a story about a 5 year old Eva venturing out into the ocean on a boogie board, and just getting beaten to pieces by waves twice her size. After many hours, Mom had to practically drag her off that beach. Eva had found a difficult challenge, and the more pain & obstacles there were, the more determined she became. This is one of the reasons speedskating was a perfect fit for her internal and external talents & habits.

(isn’t this so true of many of us, the things we latch onto, are true matches of our external and internal mechanisms)

Anyway, Eva called me recently, exalting!! My phone was practically glowing with her joy. US Speedskating has just fired/let go 3 people whom she has some serious issues with. This includes the program director and 2 national team coaches who had been introduced at the board meeting as already re-hired for next year (separately, the top short track coach has also resigned). Suddenly, in her scalpel like opinion, things seemed to be going the right way in the organization, she even made a NICE post about US Speedskating on her blog.

Eva being nice? Miracles never cease!!!

(just kidding Eva)

But as she described what she knew over the phone, the image of the Hindu death goddess Kali sprang into my mind, but it was an Eva-Kali hybrid, Eva was gleefully dancing over the body of US Speedskating just as Kali dances over Shiva, wearing a necklace of skulls and a skirt made from the severed arms of her enemies.

I told her that over the phone, and she thought it was quite funny. But as I began thinking about the metaphor, it seemed to make a ton of sense. Kali’s fierce fangs & tongue have been Eva’s blog, the swords are the moments Eva lets her skates do the talking. The dark & terrifying complexion of Kali matches Eva’s own dark “Offspring” rock & roll wardrobe (her favorite bracelet? A black one that says “livewrong”).

Shiva, in being underfoot, tames Kali’s wildness, and at other times, Shiva’s own intensity is the only thing in the universe that matches hers. Remember Shiva and Kali are partners, just like Eva will always have a part of her in love with this sport that has been so good and yet so cruel to her.

What do I mean? Cruel? Try missing 2 Olympic teams by fractions of seconds! 0.26 on 2002 and 0.08 in 2006, and then you can feel the pain she has felt. Try having a national team coach tell you that you were DELIBERATELY OVERTRAINED as an “experiment”, and then you can taste her rage. Death and life are opposite sides of the same coin. In destruction there are the seeds of rebirth, anger is often born from love.

US Speedskating will be a better organization by having a couple of Rodanskys out there sniping from the fringes (and there are quite a few, others have told me they agree with her, even though Eva’s rage is difficult for many people to read) it’s a symptom of democracy. Eva has become a better person through the challenges tossed her way. Imagine Eva without skating? it’s hard to picture, although she will be running the Salt Lake marathon in a week.

Religion is a metaphor that often helps people make peace with an often cruel and random world. And in Hinduism especially, the gods are a varied set of metaphors for aspects of a singular “god”. So I am doing Kali justice by bringing her into this. I am sure the people who were fired don’t feel too good this morning, and frankly, neither Eva or I know the inside story of the politics & wrangling, and maybe the ones who do will keep the story to themselves.

But for right now, Eva is dancing on the bodies, and is looking forward to rebirth from destruction.

The midnight oil candle

Sorry for the quiet here…..

I’ve recently started an interesting new job with great people, but consistent 10 hour days in cubicle-land + my usual training load + my own independent web clients has emotionally left me microwaving the midnight oil candle at both ends. Physically I can handle a giant training load, but being back in cube-land adds not merely a time-limiter, but an emotional drain as well.

This past weekend, all the tiredness I have built up came pouring forth. I pretty much staggered around the house in a bad mood with a constant incoherent mumble going on.

a bit more than my usual constant incoherent mumble!! Jess is a saint to put up with me….

One of the things that I noticed immediately when I went full-time with skating 2 years ago was how workouts changed. The number and intensity of the hard workouts was the same, but the warm up and warm down time became essentially unlimited, Easy recovery workouts were always done with the proper timing. Stretching became not just a good idea, but also a matter of survival. Naps between workouts on 2 a days allowed for a new level of clarity to the second workout.

Every gram of physical and emotional voltage aligned itself towards one goal. Like wind driven waves marching to the shore. Wave built upon wave, week after week added up to months, then years, and I got a LOT better.

I miss it…

Life evolves and changes, I welcome it…. but I am bumping up against the fact that a human being is a finite resource, and what we consciously choose to pour our cup of life and moments into is what makes us human, and I have over-poured, spilled, -the cup does not runneth over, or is half-full, or a flower vase, I ran on empty for a while and paid a price…

(I can hear many of my friends chucking at me, thinking; “just wait till you have kids!”)

damm, even just writing this entry and now I am somewhat late for work… damm… But fear not, I will still be racing this winter… although I am in cube-land for 10 hours today, I will be at the gym for 2 1/2!!! whooo!!!

(re-reading that last sentence later in the day, do I ever learn?? apparently not, oh well, endorphins are quite the addicting drug…)

From Remi in Montreal

Yesterday a terrific comment by Canadian National Team skater Rene L’oiseaux appeared on my post “cats & short track”. As few would likely notice this on this older post, I asked Rene if I could repost it here, as it contains some essential truths about training for ALL types of skating, not just his specialty of short track (I especially liked points 3 & 4). I asked him to send me a pic of him skating, and wow, did he ever send me a picture!!!

Here he is, leading Jeffrey Sholten sometime last winter:

And here is his post:

Hi everyone, I’m a short track speed skater for the Canadian National team. I have been skating for the last 15 years. First of all i’m always glad to see people discussing and showing their love and interests for this Ho! so crazy sport.

For sure I agree with the fact that short track doesn’t get enough coverage and recognition. From what I read and hear when I talk to people it seems that the main issue and the reason why is the simple fact that nobody can really have a good idea of how hard and complicated this sport can be.

As this - pretty much new sport - grow older, you need to have lots of qualities

  1. You need strategy: to do clean passes, to be sharp for the last laps,
  2. You need technology: good blades so you are able to turn and glide, good boots to have better support, blades are set differently for each skaters and for each type of ice (ex. hard or soft) as in Formula 1.
  3. Incredible fitness: so you can be as efficient as possible for the entire race
  4. Perfect techniques: that will help you glide, turn without losing speed, do better passes, reach higher speed…
  5. and all of the above interact with each other and that is what make skaters better than other.

keep on skating


Remi (he seems to sign his name both Remi and Rene) is a French Canadian living and training at their national training center in Montreal. Did you know that Montreal alone has more skaters than the ENTIRE MEMBERSHIP of US speedskating? He is a fast fish in one tough pond.

He is aware of what is going on in US speedskating right now and wants to start a dialogue here between Canadian and American skaters, so we can learn best practices from each other.

I think it’s a great idea, as there are fundamental differences between our organizational systems. I will kick off the discussion with several observations others have told me:

A top US Coach said some Canadians have told him Canada does an outstanding job developing good skaters from their huge grassroots programs, but they think the Americans do a better job at taking exceptional talents and turning them into gold medal winners.

Someone with dual-Canadian US citizenship once ruminated to me that he thought that there were cultural differences in attitudes of risk, Americans tend to be more aggressive in trying to win or crash trying, he thought many Canadians would rather be a surefooted top ten.

Canada has astonishingly well developed & comprehensive athlete programs in both Montreal and Calgary, what lessons can Salt Lake, Milwaulkee, and Marquette learn from them?

I grew up a 3 hour drive from the Canadian border, but only as an adult have I began to appreciate the fascinating variety of cultural differences, things that reach far deeper than mistaking a Tim Horton’s for Dunkin Doughnuts of the north (their coffee & boston cremes are better). Canada is it’s own thing, and the closer I have looked, the more I appreciate it’s individuality. Even in things that are seemingly simple like speedskating, there are a million ways to approach it.

Oh, and speaking of Canada, it’s worth saying: Peter Doucet is one of my favorite brothers O’ the wheel & blade on the planet. It’s been too long since I have seen that redhead sparkplug of skating soul!! Shouts go out to all my ‘ol toronto inline speed team buddies!!

Lots to think about here. What do readers here think? after the recent Olympi-gasm, it’s the proper time to think and ruminate. As I write this (in Cocoa cafe in downtown salt lake), national team coach Tom Cushman walked by, stopped & we chatted a bit about these subjects, the 4-year cycle of change is on many people’s mind.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I never thought I would find anything more painful than one of my coaches’ mid-summer 3 hour dryland workouts:

Until now…. I spent 3 days last weekend at every single minute of the US speedskating spring board meeting, wow… it was an amazing emotional spin-cycle of “the good, the bad, and the ugly”

It was painful to be there because of watching the clash of really smart & passionate people who have all dedicated much of their lives to this sport. There were moments of brilliance and moments of incompetence and disconnection.

Everyone REALLY cares, but due to their positions, experience, motivations, and “clue factor” ideas of what is “best” for this organization tend to differ radically.

Also I have never seen an organization who’s professional staff said as often to the membership “we need your ideas and help, come up with proposals & program ideas & sponsorship leads”-At least 3 different meetings, that was the recurring theme.

I have always argued that “US speedskating” is a misnomer, because it sounds like a singular item, like “US SPEEDSKATING” is one animal, or an individual.

It’s not, US SPEEDSKATING a beast with 1700 heads, arms, eyes, claws, teeth, scattered pockets of brain and stomping feet. And this beast frequently chews on itself, tears itself apart, and lurches about when the head tries to point it in a particular direction. It’s a beast to love, and to be deeply ambivalent about when it steps on your head.

There are several essential limbs of the beast in evidence at this meeting, and they all are pre-disposed to view this loveable & bloody creature from a different perspective depending on what appendage their life experience places them in. No group is unanimous, and there are people who have migrated between appendages (like there are 4 athlete reps on the board), but here are the essential rough groupings.

The board of directors
The 100 category 1 elite athletes
The half dozen professional salaried coaches
The paid staff at the national office in ohio
Officials (many with decades of service)
The HARDCORE club volunteers & coaches who come from all over the country
The business professionals who want to run this like a 21st century business.
Curious local skaters (I fit in this one)
Representatives: Facilities-Sponsors-USOC & Speed Skating Canada

I have struggled about how I should write about this meeting. Here is my take on the Good, the bad, and the ugly from my own impressionistic notes I wrote down as I watched the proceedings.

The Good.

  • In the view of the general public, speedskating is often judged by our success at the Olympic games, to say there was interest and media coverage of US speedskating’s 10 medals is an understatement! 10 medals! what astonishing sucess!!
  • There is a VITAL base of volunteers who REALLY care about what happens to this sport.
  • There must have been 50 people at the meeting, all representing large numbers of members, who flew in from all over the USA. This passion will ensure a bedrock for this sport no matter what happens at the upper levels.
  • There were some astonishingly good questions & concerns raised by the Elite Athletes in attendance, and what they had to say was honestly listened to. Derek Parra, Chris Witty, Catherine Rainey, K.C. Boutiette, Dan Jansen, Chris Needham, all were very active contributors in every meeting they were at. I have never seen an organization whose athletes were more directly involved.
  • There are some people in positions of authority at US speedskating who are extremely competent, I was very impressed with Craig Wing, smart dude. Chris Needham & Scott Koons are going to be fantastic athlete reps as well. There are also some fearless & elouquent members of the volunteers, who were fun to watch & good to listen to.

The Bad

  • In Canada, the provincial association pays the travel expenses of their top young athletes. Pretty cool!

    In the US, sometimes even the top skaters pay their own way to races. But hey, this is where Canadian tax dollars go! Essentailly taxes are the price of civilization, and I will refrain from commenting on where American civiliazation is headed!!!

  • Some important political issues were obviously resolved in backroom closed-door meetings, not in front of the membership. If I were on the board, would I act differently? maybe, but maybe not, democracy can be a messy, full contact sport.
  • US speedskating is cutting several regional development coaches; this is a BAD idea, as development is what this organization is all about. No money? There was practically a revolt in the membership about the elimination of these coaches. And it happened anyway. With an organization with a running budget somewhere over a million dollars, it seems silly to cut experienced human beings who don’t cost that much. Cut your altitude housing before coaching.
  • US speedskating Membership has slowly declined over the last 4 years, but is has been in general decline for the past 100, so maybe that is no one’s fault but societal tectonics at work. However, with the popularity & availability of short-track clubs, it seems odd.

    Speedskating will never be a “major sport”. But it should be larger & better known than it is

The Ugly

  • US speedskating has pissed off its sponsors royally. In the direct words of a budget committee member, they are facing “The Perfect Storm” in the next few months, here are the elements of said storm:
  • US speedskating “got in the door” with Qwest as a potential sponsor because the idea of Shani Davis wearing a Qwest logo was incredibly attractive to this company that claims diversity as a core value. Shani never wore a Qwest logo, in fact, there was a picture of Shani on the front page of USA today with Qwest logo painted over by DSB (you could just barely see Qwest). The CEO of Qwest was PISSED, and not only is canceling their sponsorship, they are about to sue to get their money back from last year!! That would be crippling organization-wide if they do.
  • ADT is furious as well, mostly due to the Olympic media firestorms. Why no one in authority in US speedskating did not step in to calm the waters is beyond me. It could have been a one or two day media story, not almost two weeks.
  • Losing these two sponsors adds up to MILLIONS of dollars.
  • The USOC demands that US speedskating has a new athlete agreement (the source of much of this friction) in hand, or they will not approve their 1.1 million of funding per year. So there MUST be some kind of a peace treaty, and right now the athletes who have outside sponsors seem still quite pissed off. (in the spirit of disclosure, I do work for one of them, so I can’t take too public a position on this).
  • Essentially, every major source of funding in jeapordy, not good. It takes some real talent to piss off EVERYONE all at once!
  • There was far too much, from people who should have been be better prepared: “we need ideas & proposals from the membership, we need help& proposals from the membership, since we don’t have a firm suggestion of direction” At several different meetings, this was a recurring theme.

Bonus Ugly: Yesterday the executive director of US speedskating resigned! why after the meeting? and not before? during? so there could be discussion/member input about what to do next, & who might replace her? or maybe so that people could simply say either “thank you” or “go away” depending on their feelings about her. Odd timing… very odd… Again, we were in her shoes, would we have handled it differently?

It’s unfair of me to point out issues, and not offer constructive solutions, or take the “walk a mile in other moccasains” thoughtful approach. My own small ideas, will come in another post (and maybe something about my own small innefective contribution to the meeting itself).

(right now I need to get to work, I am back in cube-land, I have a contract IT job at a cool company, and I am late for work)