Liam Update #2

The first races of the year were at the Utah oval this weekend. Liam Ortega continued his strong recovery from his head injury.

Here his is watching his teammates April Medley & Ashlee Barnett wizz by during a 500m

I asked him how he was doing:

I don’t have any memories from the day of the accident, but one of the trainers here at the oval told me that when I woke up, & was told I was going to the hospital. I said “What! That’s expensive!!”

Its awesome to be back here & seeing how everyone is doing on the ice.

The lasting effects from the accident are mostly testing my patience to get back to working out, & staying positive. However I did lose my senses of smell & taste.

I do have the 4 basic tastes, sweet salty, sour & bitter. But I have the memory of how things taste, more than actually tasting things, so my mind is kind of filling in the gaps. When my mom asks me if dinner is good, I can’t really tell her, since I am missing 10 or 12 flavors.

Not having a sense of smell is kind of funny, I actually have better hygiene now, because I don’t want to be the smelly kid by accident.

I’d like to compete again soon. Hopefully at nationals, but I will leave it up to the Doctors.

Interestingly enough, I saw quite a bit of traffic coming into this blog from some Dutch speedskating discussion boards. Evidently a crowded rinks/helmets discussion is going on there too.

I want to make a comment, about how when stuff happens, that is when your close family & friends really count…

This is Liam’s mom Kate, taking a video of him skating at nationals last year

She has been in Utah since his accident, helping out till he is cleared by the doctors to drive again, and here they at the oval on Saturday.

Recently I have been told, that once you have your own kids, and you hear about something happening to someone else’s kids (no matter how old the kids are) it just hits you in a different way.

As I am just a few weeks away from becoming a dad myself, I’ve watched Kate & Liam, and felt that small stirrings in my own self (Jess is being kicked by it, no stirrings at all)

Someday soon I will understand this more clearly.

Lake Placid Schedule

How does that catchy country song go?

‘Cause I’ve got friends in cold places
Where the snow howls
And hard ice chases my blues away
were I glide all day
I’m not big on frowning faces
So it’s time for those Lake Placid races!
Oh, I’ve got friends in cold places

Hmm, maybe that’s not that song goes.. But I miss Placid, like every skater misses that special hometown rink. It’s just that Placid (and Roseville) take a special something to skate there. Especially a sense of humor.

Here is a picture I took, during warmups before a race, maybe 5 years ago.

I’d love to make it out there to skate this year, but I don’t think I can.

They just released the Placid race schedule, here it is.

December 12th: Opening day (if it’s cold enough)

December 20th-21st: Dimon Sports Marathon

Late December: the break between Xmas & New years is the traditional Connecticut speedskating camp. A wonderful camp, that got me started many years ago.

January 3rd-4th Charles Jewtraw all-around

January 17th-18th: Jack Shea Sprints

What you see below is not a picture I took; this is the lake placid oval web cam, right now!!

Oh I’ve got friends, in cold places…

Skating for Starbucks

There are many names it can be called, a community, a family, I like calling it the skate tribe. But the unique people who throw their lives into skating are always fascinating.

I had not seen Netanya Mintz for quite some time, & I had heard through mutual friends she had retired.

But there she was, on the ice today, and sporting a new sponsor (and her employer as well).

I asked Tani why she is coming back, and heard an answer worth retelling here-

Getting involved in the Human Race really fired me up to compete again. (click on the Chicago area of the map here) I always missed the discipline and thought I could just channel my competitiveness elsewhere, like law school.. I applied, got into a few schools, but turned them down..

When I started running and training again for a purpose, I realized I’m not yet ready to be behind the scenes (I wanted to be a sports attorney), I still want to be the athlete.

Taking the time off that I did, 18 months, gave me some perspective on the sport, both racing and training.

I called Starbucks right when I made the decision to come back, and asked if they’d sponsor me again and they said absolutely, and were more than supportive of my decision. It was very uplifting and motivating.

A few weeks later I moved out here, and so here I am… and I am SO happy. I am also now deeply involved with Starbucks’s “Thrive” program, A wellness program for employees.

Here is a picture of Tani I took at an America’s cup several years ago, but never published.

Racing is not just about winning & reaching your goals, sometimes you learn more about yourself when you fail. Tani was not happy on this day; she had really wanted to make the World University Games team, had skated the best 1000m she could, but it was not fast enough.

She is looking at the scoreboard, & watching her place in the standings get bumped down, pair by pair, & not feeling so great.

I didn’t publish this then, but I will now, along with this Neil Young lyric I think of every now & then when I have a rough race;

I’ve been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I’m all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.

However, the next day, Tani went out & skated a fantastic 1500m, and did make the World University team!

Skating gives and skating takes away, and that is why we do it.

2 Olympic Trials?!?!

Directly from the US speedskating fall board meeting, here is a mildly important piece of breaking news-

There will be 2 Olympic trials to represent the USA at Vancouver. The first, and most important one, will likely be in Milwaukee in late October 2009, and the second in late December 2009.

Here is the nutshell explanation as to why-

In the past, a country knew how many “slots” it would have at the Olympics from performances the previous year. Therefore during an Olympic year, the world cup seemed not as important, and often skaters & whole teams would skip parts of it, or train through it, building for the games.

The ISU did not like this. So for the Vancouver games, they decided that each country will earn their start spots for the Olympics through performances in the 5 world cup events immediately before Vancouver.

This makes the world cup leading up to the Olympics dreadfully important.

But this launches the following problem; If US speedskating picked our Olympic team the way it has always been done, it’s very likely that a world cup team, picked in October, will undertake a grueling traveling & competition schedule (where they will try and put in peak performances), earning spots for the USA.

Then they will come back in December, and with no time for rest & regeneration, at trials will face athletes who have been training and peaking for just one race. These athletes could take spots away from the people who directly earned them..

What then would the motivation be, for athletes to perform in the world cup? When we desperately need them to perform to earn start positions in the games?

Also, the sports physiologists who work for US speedskating said that so many weeks of intense competition in a row would lead to emotionally and physically fried athletes, just a few weeks before the start of the games.

The solution that was voted in, during the US speedskating fall board meeting, is that there will be 2 Olympic trials.

At the first one in October, the world cup team will be picked. For example, in the men’s 500m, 5 skaters will earn world cup starts. Through their performances, they could earn the USA up to 4, 500m starting spots in the Olympics.

What US speedskating has decided, is all but one of these spots will be given to the skaters who earned them at the world cups. The last spot will be awarded at the “second Olympic trials” in December, the traditional US speedskating national champs.

This is the same for all the Olympic distances, all spots but one will go to the world cup team picked in October.

Having 2 trials also gives everyone else something to skate for, so the season is not “over” in October, and also gives skaters who might make small mistakes in October, or skater who never skate well that early in the season, a way to come back & still make the team.

However, there is the “Needham clause” added to the selection process. (Chris, if you have a better name for it, please dub it otherwise). Basically it states, that if the person who earned that final spot consistently places very highly in world cup racing, and does not finish worse than 6th, (or 4th in long distance races) at US trials, then they get that spot anyway, and there is no spot available at the 2nd Olympic trials.

There is some moral logic in that, but I think the rule is written in a way that left many quite confused.

So it is possible that the 2nd Olympic trials will be meaningless, depending on how individual performances at the world cup shake out.

Or it could be incredibly exciting, nail biting racing. I am hoping for option 2.

Other notes worth mentioning is that for the October trials, you can skate your qualification time in the previous season.

This is an excellent addition to the rules, and has profound implications for those outside the national team womb who are trying to qualify for the once in a lifetime experience of skating Olympic trials.

It means that this year is really important for a lot of people, as you can earn your spot at trials by skating qualifying times this year!

For the December Olympic trials race #2, you do need to skate the time in that season. But the way it’s shaping up, the October race is vastly more important.

Also worth noting, the times to qualify have gotten faster, noticeably faster for the 1500m. Here they are-

But again, to skate these times, to qualify for Olympic trials, it really means something. This is not just a weekend time trial, it’s vastly more intense, nerve-wracking, and amazing.

For a lucky few, it’s a stepping-stone to other things, but for the majority of us who race this event, it’s a singular moment that will echo in our hearts for as long as we live.

It’s crazy that such long & dry meetings can product such important changes. This is my old skating buddy/current US speedskating employee, Chris Weaver at the podium, flanked by board president Brad Goskowicz, Executive Director Bob Crowley, and board member Beth Bedford.

There were other important things discussed at the meeting including something that might have a huge impact on what I do here. The banning of video cameras (possibly including mine) from all events that US speedskating webcasts is one of them. They also are banning picture taking/videos at practice.

I think it’s great that they are webcasting events! But where is an archive of past events?

They called this policy “culling the herd to make it stronger”. I did make a few comments on this policy at the meeting, and I hope something will be worked out, not just for what I do here, but for parents who want to video or take pictures of their kid racing.

But I will say this: in the 21st century; trying to control & limit media is a terrible idea for a small sport trying to grow. The way to make the “Digital Herd” stronger to benefit speedskating is to HELP IT GROW BIGGER.

Yes, it’s a sometimes messy & disorganized herd, there will be dissenting voices in the herd too, that’s called democracy, a good thing on multiple levels. Overall speedskating will THRIVE if access is as open as possible.

I am optimistic that working with the good people I have come to know on staff at US Speedskating, some kind of compromise can be reached.

Ugh… too much thinking…

However there is a perfect antidote for endless meetings- A long mountain bike ride, & seeing the sunset from the trails at the ridgeline of the Wasatch, overlooking downtown Salt Lake where I started.

Nothing can clear the mind like a long, painful climb, and nothing can focus it like dancing on ragged edge of destruction & “more fun” during the fast descent off the mountain.

I could almost feel my soul exhaling the crust of too many hours in a meeting room chair, and right at the edges of my imagination, I can almost feel the approach of Olympic trials in October, 2009.

Only 13 months from now—

Brain Body Argument

Brain: Come on, loser, you need to skate short track, you’ve been racing your bike too much recently!

Body: Hey, I won a bike race last week to soothe the driven beast within….. You want me to do what?!?!?!

Brain: But it’s a nice morning, amongst your friends. This is fun.

Body: Exqueeze me, but bike muscles are not skate muscles… Ouch!!

Brain: Masters sprint worlds will happen for the first time, this year, in Inzell, Germany, In February! Do you want to be ready???

Body: Ok…. Ok….Ok…… you are right.. bring it on!!

Brain: You are getting your butt kicked all over the ice, go faster you craptastic mass of dis-cordination!!

Body: What did you expect? You have not been disciplined enough to be here regularly, I am doing the best I can

Brain: Go faster! Everyone here is waaay faster than you!

Body: let go of that ego, and I will. Caring so much is good sometimes, but not good right now. Drop it & focus on technique. It’s friggin September, not December!

Body: Better?

Brain: A little bit better….. But you still are too slow, fat, old, etc, etc, shall I recite the list????

Body: Shut up, I’m busy skating….. It’s the last set and I’ve finally found a bit of a groove… Here, have some endorphins, enjoy yourself…

Brain: Ahhhhhh… I love this sport…

Outer lane notes

On the scoreboard yesterday at the Utah oval:

Below the sign, Liam’s teammates Matt Plummer & Mike Stein pass by in a high speed blur.

Look at how far back their hips are (indicating their center of gravity) compared to their blades; this is one clear reason why they can skate so fast. It’s a hard technical thing to do, but it creates so much speed.

It was interesting to watch the discussion of Liam’s injury develop into a discussion about helmets. Personally, I don’t feel a pressing safety need to wear one on the long track, even though I never ride my bike or inline without one. But I think it would be great if there were enough people wearing helmets, that it would be a normal choice for a long track skater to make, not an unusual one.

In downhill skiing, helmets have become accepted as a personal choice with no stigma attached, and often half the skiers on a slope will be wearing them, from beginners to pros.

There are certainly interesting helmets out there that would be fantastic for ice speedskating. But the ISU has not certified anything for competition but the “old faithful” LAS helmet.

4 to go

Jess has about 4 weeks left until she is due, so we decided to have a few pictures taken of us, to capture this moment in our lives.

Jess has been doing a lot of yoga as her “pregnancy training”, and I warm up on the squat rack with more weight than her. So this was just playing around, I don’t think Jamie has had a couple like us in her studio before, & I think we scared her half to death, especially when we did things like this.

I didn’t know if I should publish this here or not, as it has nothing to do with speedskating, but as so many of my family & friends read this, and our upcoming kid will have such an impact on my skating life, why not!

I am laughing in this photo, because the photographer kept saying “come on Andrew, flex those biceps a bit!“. Sorry Jamie, I don’t have a lot of that; I don’t skate with my arms!

Liam Update

When terrible things happen, rumors fly, and there was an awful crash at the oval a few days ago. So the rumor mill is running at full speed, and on top of that, I am sure there are some in the skate tribe who have not heard.

I was not on the ice that morning, but I spoke to several who were, and Liam’s mom, so here is the latest.

Three days ago, a Canadian sprinter was doing an all out effort. At top speed he slipped, fell, and slid into a group of American skaters. Liam Ortega’s legs were taken out from under him, and he smacked the back of his head into the ice, cracking his skull behind his ear and bruising the front & back of his brain from the severity of the impact.

He was still unconscious when the ambulance took him from the rink. He woke up in the ambulance, but then went into seizures. They took him via helicopter to the top intensive care unit in Salt Lake. If not for ventilators breathing for him, he probably would have died that first day.

Yes, it was that bad.

But since that first, awful day, Liam has improved tremendously, is breathing on his own, and now is awake, eating, and alert. Despite the severity of the impact, the doctors give him a prognosis of total recovery in 6-8 weeks.

His friends and teammates have all rallied around him, and his mom is down here from Alaska, but it’s going to be a long, hard road.

But Liam is unbelievably strong; here he is on another hard road- the climb up Haleakala in Hawaii, where you start at the ocean, and reach 10,000 feet after 37 miles of climbing.

Liam’s mom Kate told me they had to recalibrate the machines in the Intensive care unit, He is so fit, and his heart rate so low, he kept setting off all the alarms.

Liam, I am tearing up writing this. Get well soon, ok?

You are in our thoughts & prayers.