Speedskater Thanksgiving

A few of the hands around my Thanksgiving table. Except for Jessica, evert single one of them are people I would never have met unless I had started speedskating.

Indeed, all over Salt Lake City, there are many gatherings of athletes who came here just to train on the frozen hamster wheel.

How many are there? The best guesses range between 120 & 150. Of course not all are still training daily, some came for the ice, and stayed for the mountains.

America is a mosaic of weird & fascinating subcultures. This is the one I am proud to be a part of.

And what better way to recover from a turkey-induced stupor than a crushing workout? Here is Mia Manganello, the day after Thanksgiving, lacing up for the last hard set of the day.

I was chatting with Chad Hedrick at the rink after my own workout (Chad is going to be a new father in March as well), and he said that the thing he hates the most about ice speedskating is how it often wrecks Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I agree 100%. I spent 3 years of Thanksgivings in Calgary, by choice. The Can-Am event was one I needed to keep developing. No one forced me to be a speedskater, but the stopwatch only really loves you to the ultimate when you are prepared to sacrifice & sacrifice & sacrifice (This is why my 500m is over a second slower now than it used to be).

Here are Chad’s new boots & blades; he used a pair of Simmons inline boots & L-R Maple clap arm slots for years. Now he has a more conventional long track boot, set up with Viking blades.

Even though I am not in sacrifice mode anymore, I still love going fast, and focus as hard as I can when I am skating.

Here is National Team Sprinter Mike Blumel, doing perfectly what I was working on this entire day on the ice.

Mike has perfect shoulder & hip position pressing into the turn. If you look at where his just-planted left foot is compared to his center of gravity, he is creating immediate pressure the moment his blade touches the ice.

Most skaters “reach” too much with that left foot, and are not creating the immediate pressure they could.

Mike is pressing his upper body into the push, but also keeping it square with the turn. Hard to do. I wonder how many Thanksgivings with family Mike has skipped, and will skip during his tenure with the National team, to skate with such precision?

Want to beat him someday? It’s easy: Be amazingly talented, twine years of excellent coaching together with willpower to suffer, and then spend a lifetime sacrificing more than Mike has.

So simple, and so hard.

Solitude

(I originally wrote this in august, and never got around to publishing it. I am going through that new dad-sleep-deprivation cycle right now, & my creativity is a bit low, I figured why not publish this now?)

Train in a group? or train alone?

what is best? it’s an age old question with many strong arguments on either side.

This is Salt Lake inliner Eric Lineback, skating up Big Cottonwood canyon, on the way to the aptly named Solitude ski resort. Thanks to Kim Kraan for the photo.

On the flip side of this, both in substance skated on, elevation gain, velocity, and companionship, here is the US sprint national team. Jen Rodriguez leads Chris Needham, visiting Japanese skater & former 500m WR holder Joji Kato, Mike Blumel, and the rest.

Train along or in a group? It’s the age old question.

You need people to push you, but other times you’ve got to be tough, and face those nasty training days on your own. Especially in long track, it’s a solo sport, and there are many athletes who are great group trainers, but wilt alone in their lane at lonely velocity.

Speaking of Japanese skaters, like the immensely talented Joji, (who I saw do a perfect Michael Jackson moonwalk on his short track blades) there are several Japanese skaters in Salt Lake right now, including the mutiple olympic medalist Hiroyasu Shimizu.

Contrary to popular stereotype, at the rink I’ve see Shimizu training on his own, and the Americans training in groups.

Individuality seems to be culturally relative term, and I find Japanese culture facinating in it’s relation to it. The same day as I took these pictures, I read this wild NYT article about the Japanese phenomenon of the hikikomori (wikipedia link).

Painting with only the broadest cultural brush, it seems that Americans “run away” from physical places and situations, and Japanese tend to “run inward” to express that same feeling.

Maybe a well balanced individual (and athlete?) can move effortlessly between social and solitary forms of life and training. Yeah, this is just speedskating, just a sport, but it’s more than that.

LIVE & FREE Speedskating

How many times have you heard the mournful refrain “I wish speedskating were on TV more than once every 4 years!!!”

Well, now YOU CAN WATCH SPEEDSKATING LIVE, in high quality streaming video on the internet.

Let your eyes follow the arrow to the newest advertiser on ZATOSS, Universal Sports Broadcasting.

This weekend there will be 12 HOURS of speedskating coverage of the Long Track World cup from Herenveen. Friday Saturday & Sunday. 10am-2pm ET. Also they are broadcasting this to 30 million homes too. Pretty cool.

These good folks will be showing a whole lot of skating this winter, short and long track.

If this is what you have been waiting for, then I urge you to tune in online or on your TV. The more eyes watching, the more chance this will happen again.

Our sport will never be the NFL, but it can be so much better than it has been in the past. This is a crucial first step.

You can see more on their website, and the entire World Cup Short & Long Track schedule here.

Direct link the broadcast

Complete Speed Skating Schedule

Highlight Speed Skating Videos

Photography

National Team Member Rebekah Bradford is in Herenveen right now, and she writes

It sure is beautiful where we are staying. Our hotel is secluded in a wooded area, called “Orangewoud,” away from the town. Yesterday, I rented a bike and rode into downtown Heerenveen. It was a nice escape however it wasn’t a big one.

I felt a little bit of a celebrity since people recognized my team jacket and asked for pictures and autographs. I think I even got a tiny discount on some toys I bought for my awesome nephews. Definitely out of the ordinary back at home.

Races last weekend in Berlin were okay. I was expecting better results because of how well I’ve been lately. That’s a big no-no. Expectations are the number one killer of any good race.

My plan this weekend is focus back on the skating and to approach the start line more from a tactical standpoint. Well and to have fun and enjoy the moment as well!

Bekah, we will enjoy WATCHING you & the rest of team USA do your best in one of the loudest, most raucous rinks on the world cup circuit.

How She Looks at Me

All the propaganda from that parental lobby is true; Having kids just changes everything.

Maybe I should set up an RZ specific blog, or a photostream somewhere, or this is in danger of becoming Zen & the Art of Diaper Changing with a fussy baby at midnight. (ZATAODCWAFBAM?)

She is my beautiful daughter, but she is not perfect all the time.

In general though, she is one very chill, happy baby, with two enthralled, somewhat sleep-deprived parents.

Strength

Note from Andrew: this post was not written by me, it is part of a group email written by Canadian speedskater Meaghan Buisson. It is such a brilliant bit of writing, that with her permission, I have reposted it here. Since writing this, Megs has been injured and is rehabbing back from a herniated disk right now.


“No athlete survives in a vacuum.”

There isn’t a single aspect of my life in which I am not reminded of this fact; the sheer existence of my being relies heavily on all those around me. Thus to every gesture of support big or small, the professional cobbling that holds me together in a variety of ways, the random grocery cards, Air Miles, occasional (and much appreciated!) cheque, each and every phone call, word, or note of encouragement and (however remote) shoulder against which to stand, I am – forever - grateful.

Since return to Calgary, I’ve worn a bracelet. The beads mark countless individuals, coaches, my aunt, a diverse list including family members, medical professionals, sponsors, coaches, my dear friends scatted like dandelion seeds around the globe

Like most athletes, my strength is most sorely tested in moments of doubt, injury and despair.

A few days ago, we had a hard intervals program; 2-4-2-4-2-4-2-4-2 minute sustained sprints with 120” rest in between repetition. My training mates did it outdoors together as a group run. Courtesy of my back injuries however, I was indoors, solo on a stationary bike.

I love our Monday afternoon runs and longed to be outside in the gorgeous weather with my group, not moldering in damp darkness on a stationary bike older than I.

But just before I started the first repetition, I happened to glance at my wrist. When I saw my bracelet, I thought of everyone who steadfastly encourages, helps and believes in me. As my watch beeped, I thought “this one’s for you.”

I felt pretty good that sprint. So the next time, I broke it down further still; dedicating every ten seconds, in fact, through the remainder of every interval that followed, to a different one of you – the countless faces and names whose collective strength creates the backbone of my life.

“Bruce… John… Dr. Coll… Bryan… Arno… Peak Mechanical – Dave, Randy, Keith… Carrie… Rita… Chad… David… Walter… Tonya… Westwind…”

Amazingly, there wasn’t a single repeated name; I ran out of intervals first! Even more incredibly, in a grueling program designed to slay, every single time I started to tire, with new dedication and resolve I found strength to go harder, stronger still.

“Michelle… Maki… Natasha… Arno… Jacquie… Dr. Kyle… Missive (Readers)… Andrew… Jason… Kim… Chris… Mom… Dad… Lynne… Yvonne… Anita… Paul… Susan… Gus… Jim… Alice… Jenna… Katy…”

I finished that program with a very large pool of sweat dripping off the bike and an even bigger smile across my face. And in a month marred by injury, that dreaded hour on a Monarch turned into one of the best training sessions I’ve done all season.

“And so it is…
second by second…
for the true love of the moment…
whatever it may bring…”

For all you live and are part of these moments of my life, I thank you.

First Snow

The first snow of the year is something that winter sports athletes receive with joy. It is a palpable reminder that what they practice so hard for is just around the corner.

In a ski town like Salt Lake, you can almost hear the muted howls of joy drifting down from the mountaintops. Or is that the sound of dogs rolling around in city parks?

But this is the mountain west, not the east, and snow does not stay very long. It left quickly enough for a few pictures of my visiting brother and RZ outside.

If RZ were a perfect genetic copy of me, I am not sure she would create as much emotion as the fact that I see every member of my family in her face.

Her coloring, however, is certainly Jessica’s, as are the feet. Her personality is entirely her own, and that oddly adds to the appeal.

My very wise friend Susan, battle-tested mom of 2, just wrote to me;

And no beating yourself up with guilt about going to skate or on a ride or just for a 15 minute drive alone in the car to nowhere.

Like the flight attendant says: put on your own oxygen mask first.

Thanks Susan, I needed that, and sleep, I could use that too. But all good things will come in their own time.

Besides, if I am already awake at 5am, it makes short track practice so much easier to get to.

VOTE!!!

Even though my own personal politics are progressive Democrat, in the interest of fair & balanced media, & the weird intersection of speedskating & politics, I thought Matt Plummer’s short track t-shirt was quite funny.

I got into a heavy exchange of politics at the office a few hours ago. It was wonderful to exchange 100 gun broadsides with a smart Libertarian at point blank range.

My co-workers gathered around to watch as we maneuvered & the verbal artillery thundered. I feel like I did inflict a few de-masting shots, but probably so did he.

But the most important thing is that our vigorous exchange was good natured.

This is a country whose most essential value is “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Today is the day we get to speak, in the most powerful way. Go do it, no matter what side of the political spectrum you are on. And remember that after today is over, we are voting everyday with our wallets.

(I am desperately trying to stifle the impulse to write more political commentary right now, especially as this… is…. not… a…. political….. blog!!)

Arzelia & Me

A man cannot be part of the Mommy/Baby/Boobies bonded trinity. We just don’t have the equipment.

But a man can cuddle/sing and hum, and I think that RZ really likes the “good vibrations” that a big solid daddy can make. I have a use!! Yay!! (that and changing diapers/burping babies at 4am, I am really good at that)

I don’t want to have this blog turn into a mush-fest of baby pictures, but that is where my heart is right now. After 4 days at the Hospital, we returned home late yesterday, and are settling in.

A speedskating post, with some absolutely amazing photography by Tom DiNardo of the Vancouver Short Track World Cup, immediately follows.

My photography cannot compare with Tom’s, but my subject can.

I just keep looking at her, and can’t believe how blessed Jess & I are.

Vancouver WC Story

The commentary and images here are from Tom DiNardo. I have never really thought much about doing multiple-post collaborations, but Tom is so talented, how can I not?

Take it away Tom!


October 25th & 26th, the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, BC, hosted the ISU World Cup Short-track Speed Skating event.

It is a shame that this sport is not more widely received and televised in the States. It is impossible to understand the excitement and energy of this sport from statistics listed in result sheets. Even excellently-timed photos of last minute passes, unfortunate crashes and reactions of victory or defeat cannot begin to convey the wide range of emotions experienced by the skaters and die-hard fans willing to travel great lengths for the opportunity to see them in person.

I arrived Thursday to cover the last practice day and to get a handle on the best angle to capture some images. Even though every team was clearly working hard to bring their A-game to the upcoming events, there was still a lightness in the air; something best shown in this photo of Italian team member, Yuri Confortola.

With a smile like that, how can you not cheer for the guy? Especially when he puts out this kind of effort to take first in 1500m Men’s Semi Final Race 3:

In spite of the tension beginning to build Friday morning, there was a camaraderie here you don’t find in many other sports. During the race pictured above, members of the Bulgarian team were sitting in the seats directly behind where I was shooting and they were cheering loudly for Yuri. This kind of oneness that can transcend countries is, in my opinion, unique to sports like this.

The dedication to perfecting one’s craft requires such a single-minded pursuit of excellence that other athletes truly understand and appreciate it.

The US team was very focused and determined; the positive impact of Jae Su Chun’s coaching style was clearly seen in the performance of our skaters.

There were a number of crashes this weekend, as is usually the case when medals and place standings are on the line. One memorable crash was during the 1500m Ladies A Final. It was all going according to plan with US team members Reutter and Baver stalking the amazing Koreans. You could see that they wanted it. They were getting on the box today.

Then it all went wrong in a heartbeat.

You could feel the heartbreak in the Coliseum. I wasn’t sure I wanted to show this last shot because of how much I like Katherine and Allison, but I think it’s important to show how much heart they put into this sport. Like I mentioned earlier, the results sheet does not tell the story the way it needs to be told. Katherine and Allison wanted it so bad that they risked an outcome like this to win.

In the grand scheme of things, stepping up against the best in the world and making it to the finals is an incredible feat by itself.

China had a somewhat mixed performance this weekend. The depth of power and single-minded focus of the Chinese men’s team is really impressive, so I found it surprising that they did not come away with a single medal this weekend. Then you have Meng Wang. She is like a machine. Every lap of the 500m Ladies A Final was perfection for her.

Not to overshadow Jessica Hewitt’s excellent second place effort, but everyone else in this class is an also-ran at the moment. If you want to beat this lady, you better bring something special to the rink or Meng will hand you a beating you won’t forget.

The 1000m Ladies A was a real barn-burner from start to finish. It looked like China’s Yang Zhou had the race in the bag leading from the first lap until the last inch of the final lap. Below is Zhou cruising through the start of the final lap with Korea’s Sae-Bom Shin, China’s Hul Zhang, and Allison Baver in tow.

A few seconds later, Shin snatched the victory from Zhou as Baver dispatched Zhang in the same manner.

Unfortunately for Zhou, in addition to losing her podium spot in the final inches of the race, she also lost her balance and ended up visiting the pads at the end of the straight.

Ho-Suk Lee was the dominant force in the 500m Men’s A final. Below Jeff Simon gives Lee a run for his money. During that warp speed 4 1/2 laps, Lee, Simon and Francois-Louis Tremblay all took a turn at the front. In the end though, Simon and Tremblay couldn’t stop Lee’s final burst of speed. Tremblay somehow managed to find a way past Simon to take second on the last lap.

Francois Hamelin leading the first three laps of the 1000m Men’s Semi-Final 1.

Then the Korean’s went into overdrive and both Ho-Suk Lee and Yoon-Gy Kwak took over first and second on the final lap and held off Hamlin and China’s Ye Li to claim the top two spots on the podium.

Apolo Ohno, Canada’s Michael Gilday, and Korea’s Jung-Soo Lee all took a turn at the front during this race. In the end, Lee, Gilday, and Rami Beaulieu-Tinker took the top spots, leaving Apolo to settle with a rare fourth.

The final race of the day was the Men’s 5000m relay with twenty skaters on the ice representing the US, Canada, England and Japan. To say that this was the most heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat race of the weekend would be an understatement.
Here we see Canada’s Charles Hamlin leading Apolo Ohno, Satoru Terao, and Jon Eley.

Nine laps later, Jeff Simon put an excellent pass on Francois Hamelin.

With multiple lead changes and an intensity that resonated throughout the stadium, all eyes were on the ice. This was a tight race finished brilliantly by the US team with Canada and England placing second and third.

A little post race congratulations from Coach Chun before the medals ceremony.

It was an excellent finish to the weekend for the US team as we move onto the Asian and European segments of the World Cup.

A complete photo story of the weekend will be available at www.bellafaccie.com in the next few days.