Cats & Short Track on Television

I’m sure you have seen the cat-like Apolo Anton Ohno in action. He’s not only the best-named man in Turin; he’s also the deity of short-track skating…… To watch him skate is a joy. He slinks past opponents like a ghost. It’s raw power elegantly applied.

Letters from a shrinking globe

This is not the first time I have heard speedskaters compared to animals. I have heard them likened to birds, pumas, greyhounds, bulldogs, cheetah, stampeding buffalo, racehorses, etc etc. My brother’s Texan girlfriend, the first time she saw long trackers blasting along at 35mph with their racing hoods up, said this:

They remind me of seals, very athletic seals.

Short track nationals are this coming weekend. And although I will not be there (I truly suck at short track) I know many people who will be. The skill and agility of short track is truly one of the most amazing athletic things I have ever seen in person. Even non-speedskaters can watch the physics-defying skill, dramatic passing, & thrill-a-minute pacing. Its just as cool seeing kids do it as it is with the Olympians.

Catlike… that is short track. My cat Tortibella seems athletic enough to do short-track, no fear of crashing or of wiggling through small spaces, and she is certainly used to walking around with sharp things on her feet.

Are these pics evidence that I am going crazy without constant training? Not as bad as in the past. Actually Jess took these pictures, also I am posting these crazy images in part as a thank you to all those pet-folks who commented & emailed me about my lost dog post. There was some nerve that story hit, and the cat people out there deserve equal time.

However, I have a question, thinking about short track. WHY ISN’T THERE SHORT TRACK ON TV FREQUENTLY???

Short track is a tremendously television friendly sport, and why US Speedskating did not receiving any significant television coverage or revenues from this past Olympic trials is a great mystery of marketing incompetence. They should have had Olympic trials (read: the Apollo/Shani show) in freaking Madison square garden!! Or at least in some major NHL caliber arena. You could have had thousands of screaming fans & generate mothra-caliber buzz. I understand there is a pad-safety issue that requires an Olympic sized ice sheet. But there has to be a technical answer to that, the incredibly safe Calgary oval short track is not huge, has amazing pads, and they run top races on that thing.

WHY WAS THERE WAS NOT EXTENSIVE TV COVERAGE OF US OLYMPIC TRIALS!

The only reason I can think that this did not happen, is there was no do-or-die motivation or interest at the management echelons. People do what benefits them most, that is human nature. If the athletes got a ton of television, would they then start demanding more money? Speedskating is controllable at the size it is now, but if money/coverage/TV professionals suddenly show up, it becomes HUGE, and uncontrollable.

Heck, look at all the political pain & wrath unleashed when a tiny number of Long trackers started cashing in on their Euro-notoriety. What would happen if 10 times that came to short track?

Joey Cheek said in an interview, that the inline talent pool is drying up (all too true, the sport is 1/3 the size it was) and the next wave of talent will come from the Ohno-inspired short track scene. So IT IS do-or-die, in terms of continuing to grow the sport. Get it on TV, call someone the flying whatever, and skating will thrive.

I bet $5 there will not be TV coverage of this coming weekends NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS. 99% of local high school football teams get more TV & Newspaper coverage than short track Natz will. There is something WRONG with that. Short track has EVERYTHING that appeals to American sports fans! Crashes, speed, grace, excitement, personalities, controversial refereeing, heroes from numerous backgrounds! Its ALL there.

Ok, I am putting away my soapbox. It’s always easy to piss & moan than it is to find answers. I am no sports marketing professional, but I can RECOGNIZE WHEN THERE ARE NONE VISIBLE!

Here is an image I took from the stands at the 2002 games, this is the split second before the start of the gold medal 500m race. I have never heard a sound in my life like a few moments after this image, when American Rusty Smith took the lead in this race (well, yes, one other time, as a rocketfuel dragster went 0 to 300+mph in a few seconds). Click on an image for your own Desktop sized version.

Notice that each of these top skaters here has their own unique start line position.

This proves a theory I have, that your start line stance is like your underwear, a very personal thing, and although some people have similar tastes & ideal anatomic or stylistic inclinations, there is no ultimate right or wrong fit that can be applied to everyone. Just go fast like a cat, or seal, or whatever -and be ready to turn left when that corner arrives.

16 Responses to “Cats & Short Track on Television”

  1. the ‘upper managment echelons’[of the we-know-which ogb] obviously aren’t out there with a do-or-die attitude on recruiting sponsors or kids. it’s more of a ‘come and kiss our feet’ type of attitude, imo and other members.
    i wouldn’t be surprised if the short-trackers lobbied the isu to be represented by a different association someday soon, considering what some of them[and some lt skaters] have had to suffer..?
    i surmised you getting on your soapbox would brace you for some related response rhetoric?especially from me..hehehe

  2. Then there’s the “purity in obscurity” argument - with less at stake, there’s less pressure to cheat, to sell out, to take drugs. Nobody tries to exploit you because there’s nothing to exploit. Nobody’s in the sport for any reason other than that they love it. So be careful what you wish for…

    At the same time, recognition, even profit, are fine things.

    There are factors, probably clearly identifiable, that distinguish the sports that people (especially Americans) will take an interest in. I can’t comment much on them beause there’s probably no one outside the African bush who knows (or, let’s be honest cares) less about sports, especially team sports, than I do. But you can bet those factors exist and some marketers know what they are and use them shamelessly.

    I do think that speedskating is at a disadvantage here because in most of the country, people don’t and won’t do it as kids. I bet Dutch kids have skate races from toddlerhood… but much of this country is warm, and while - probably thanks to inline - the occasional skater will come from South Carolina or California, logic says that way more will come from the hockey belt. I personally don’t think that hockey or skating in general will ever catch on in the South or West - anywhere that you don’t routinely need to wear a parka over a Halloween costume - can’t say why, except that even indoors people don’t go that much against their climate - any ideas anyone?

    Figure skating, actually ice dancing, is perhaps the most TV friendly sport around. It’s got some intrinsic glamour, and that’s been capitalized on to the max. Speed skating does NOT look romantic, there are no glittery outfits, let alone cheesecake, no swoops and jumps, no MUSIC fer chrissake - to your Iowa housewife and the old man who’s switched in for a minute because there’s a beer commercial on the Packers game, it’s just a buncha guys pelting along like hell for a few seconds and then falling over.

    Sorry, sometimes the truth hurts. No personal identification, no team rah-rah, no glam chicks, and the average watcher can’t tell a great technician from a “bulldog on skates”. This isn’t to say that the right management couldn’t make it the hottest thing since pet rocks (which are proof that you can sell ANYTHING, eh?), only that it’s not a marketing slam-dunk.

  3. First Andrew, I love your blog!
    I wish we had more speedskaters, ice & inline who put their thoughts, concerns, victories and defeats out there for the rest of us to commiserate with.
    Second, I agree with Kate.
    There isn’t much flash and glitter in either ice or inline speedskating.
    Before I started inline a few years ago, I loved watching the winter olympics but found long track boring and short track too fast to follow and over too quick.
    Then I’m old and can’t follow a hockey puck with my eyes either!
    Now because I inline, I love to watch both. I can appreciate what it took to get to where those athletes are.
    Even tho I skate indoor and enjoy it greatly, when I saw my first Team practice I thought it was a very weird activity.
    Skaters in skinsuits going around and around and around.
    The nuances and subtlties of the sport were not something I could identify with.
    I had to be in it to get it.
    We do have a local ice team in Bethlehem, Pa and many inliners are doing both.
    Ice is just out of my price range.
    But if our canals froze over I’d be out in a heart beat!

  4. I really didn’t know much about speedskating before the 2006 Olympics, but now I am addicted! I wish there was more coverage of the sport on TV then just the Olympics. (I wish there was more coverage during the Olympics) But I’m not sure exactly how many people here in Central Florida would be interested (other than myself), I’m sure with the right marketing it could take off here, or anywhere for that matter. It’s all about the drive, desire, and skill of those responsible for marketing the sport. I mean we have the Tampa Bay Lightning which won the Stanley Cup for crying out loud. So somebody down here likes seeing people on ice!

    There are a lot of avid skaters here in Orlando. I go ice skating all the time and I am not the only person out there. Warm climate people do like cold weather sports. Everybody loves football right? I think the best games I’ve been to have been when it was freezing out and I was in a snow suit with a comforter wrapped around me.

    And as for speedskating not being popular because it is not like ice skating doesn’t make sense to me. I ran track in high school and in college… I’ve also run the Army 10 miler for Uncle Sam and running is by no means glamorous. But track and field is one of the most popular sports in the Olympics period. People enjoy these sports for the the sheer athleticism. In track you go around, and around, and around as well for miles and miles and people still watch it.

    I love speedskating partly because I can identify with the amount of work, passion, and determination it takes to excel. I enjoy watching speedskating because you guys are hardcore!! So please, please, please won’t someone bring speedskating to Orlando? Please?

    Oh, and I enjoy watching speedskating because speedskaters have the absolute most beautiful bodies and who wouldn’t want to watch hot men in tight clothes? And there are plenty of hot ladies for the men to look at. I mean really, there is something for everyone…

  5. thanks for the long & thoughtful replies…. I approached this topic with some fear, but now I am glad I waded in…

    all of you make really good points… and you are all right, the question is, when a whole spectrum of views is out there, what creates a potential audience for a sport??

    I always wonder why, say.. oh… dragster racing somehow is TV/ESPN worthy, but long track is not (its similar, watch the machine, look at the time)…

    Outdoor life has a bizillion different niche sport shows… why not a short track one?? People would watch it..

  6. I never thought to compare drag racing with speedskating!
    Perhaps with the right “star” athletes we would have more TV coverage.
    I think the money people would have to see positive investment potential.
    What would they gain by promoting short track?

  7. I agree that that was a great analogy:) I think that short track has the right “star” right now. Apolo Anton Ohno is amazing. He’s a superb athlete and very attractive. Not only is he at the top of his sport, he is charming, well spoken, and intelligent. He was featured in LIFE magazine and is on the cover of Cosmo. What more do they need?

    What I really like about Apolo is that he’s far from conceited and credits his success to many people, not just himself. I also think that a lot of Americans can find inspiration or can identify with him because of his background and upbringing.

    I think America needs an athlete who doesn’t complain about how someone else or the “team” is keeping him down (there are a few NFL stars on my mind as a write this comment). In every interview I have seen with Apolo, he has taken every triumph and every defeat with such grace and good-naturedness. I remember when he was asked about how he felt when he took bronze in the 1000M… he simply said,”Eh… that’s short track.”

    With so many professional sports stars being so self-centered (and really ticking off the American public), I think Apolo is exactly the “hero” that we all want to look up to.

  8. Hey Andrew!
    At least us ST’ers are getting press SOMEWHERE!!! Haha!
    Just came back from Nationals and although I had a great time seeing old friends, and making new ones, I hate to say that I am very disappointed with the whole venue this year. The general consesus was that it certainly did not “feel” like a National event. The last 2 years have felt like OK, this is the real deal…this past weekend felt like just another local meet. I guess I feel disappointed because this was an “Olympic Year” and the event should have ridden on the coat tails of that excitement and it just fell way short. Two years ago we were in Cleveland, and I must say, THAT was a great event. Cleveland set the bar for how Nationals should be run. And buzz in the locker rooms reflected that..everyone is really looking forward to next year.
    One of the great highlights was hearing Olu play the National Anthem..first time I’ve met him and he’s a pretty cool guy!
    As far as the audience goes..well, watching Short Track is NEVER boring…no two races are alike..and I totally agree that watching the kids race is just as fun if not more so! Some of those kids can move!! I think it’s just a matter of letting the public see it more than once or twice a year. I’m not a big Nascar fan, but you could use that as an example-people watch that for HOURS..cars going fast and in a circle lap after lap after lap..no girls, no music, sitting in the hot sun ALL day long. If your sport gets any coverage, someone will become a fan.
    Well, time to take some time off and tune up my bike and get ready for next year. I just started reading a good book called “Mind Gym”. Great for visualization. Hopefully USS will learn from this year and make up for it next year.
    Take it easy…and I’ll be reading!!

  9. Melissa, thanks for setting me straight on ice sports in Florida! Always great to learn something new.

    A comment on car racing - i think it appeals to a lot of people who tinker with their own cars. I also think that a LOT of people, while driving, dream of racing. Driving can be pretty boring, also prett competitive. So there’s a lot of personal identification. The crashes can be spectacular, and car crashes have become a staple of TV and movies. Plus there’s the beer factor. ;)

  10. LOL Kate! I think beer does have a lot to do with it:) I have a friend who is big into NASCAR and he only goes for the first and last 5 laps of the race… the rest is about hanging out with his boys… I guess only time (and effort) will tell whether or not speedskating goes main stream. I sure do hope so.

    If you’re looking to vacation, come on down to Orlando! It’s a balmy 87 right now! I love it!

  11. Joie and Kate…No flash and glitter? Not a warm weather sport? Speed skating has everyhing figure skating has and more. Figure skating is certainly done all over the Us, even in sunny California. Speed skating is too, you just don’t know it yet. At nationals this weekend there were skaters from all over the country. The skaters were fantastic. All those colorful uniforms, all those rock hard bodies. All those crashes, with the ambulance standing by, and all those close finishes. Smiles, tears, and the most photogenic faces one would ever want on the cover of a Wheaties box. Yes, these competitors go around and around, like many sports, but slow motion replay was invented for a sport that inherently possesses such skill, grace and power.

    What we need is PROMOTION. Kelly was right, it certainly didn’t seem like a national event in an Olympic year. The stands seemed occupied only by cold, weary parents. Weren’t there any fans converted by Torino that might have lived in Madison and would have liked to come see the competition? Where was the outreach? How about suggesting field trips from local schools? Where were the banners? the decoration, the seating? the posters, the ticket collectors, the tv cameras?

    Cleveland was a great nationals that did pull in tons of spectators. What about organizing a nationals in a larger city where a big NHL arena with its own promoters could be used? As Andrew suggested, why not Madison Square Gardens? The Pepsi center in Denver? The Verizon Center in Washington DC? The Joe Lewis Center in Detroit? The bank Atlantic Center in Miami? Costs in registration might be offset by cheaper plane fares…

  12. wow, fantastic discussion… I am now REALLY glad I opened up this topic..

    I will be going to the US speedskating spring board meeting, and will be thinking of some of these words while I toss in my 2 cents…

    does any reader out there have pictures of short track natz? I would be happy to post them…

  13. The only thing better than seeing speed skating nationals on TV would be to see the “National Cat Athlete” competition, sponsored by Meow Mix of course. You cat Tortibella looks like she trains hard in the bar stool category. My cat Cleo would excel in the “change rooms in a flash” section, while Too many Toes Tiger would be tops in “small mammal juggling” and “Tree balance beam”.

    Of course they are in great shape because they emphasize recovery.

  14. Hi Andrew, I haven’t talked to you in a while, but wanted to thank you for “getting political” on your blog! I’d like to add my thoughts on USSPEEDSKATING and marketing.

    Even though speedskating is not a sport that would appeal to every audience, there are people in this country who are wanting to see more of it. And though it is not like figure skating, there’s no reason why our skinsuits can’t be cool and sexy, instead of lame and stupid like the swiftsuits we had while I was competing, that looked like you were wearing a red swimsuit pulled over a pair of blue tights!!! Hello??? They were hideous! And there’s no reason why they couldn’t play music during the races.

    This sport has had its ups and downs, but I believe it has never had as much marketing potential as it does now. You brought up the issue of maintaining control over a small sport, and I think that’s exactly what the problem is.

    The people in charge of USSPEEDSKATING are not there because they are doing a good job, but because they have been in control from the beginning! Having money, attention, and more new athletes brought into the sport would also bring in talented people who would rise to the top of the organization by their ability to actually run the organization in a way that is good for everyone, and the people who are grabbing onto the power now would lose their position and status.

    I know that USSPEEDSKATING has fired people who have tried to work for them in the areas of marketing and development, simply for having “too radical ideas.” The current leadership doesn’t want things to change.

    “Maintaining the purity of the sport” is not an argument, and anyone who has experienced this sport on the level that I have would know this: USSPEEDSKATING is run by a small group that promotes a narrow agenda. Any money or attention brought to speedskating would only make the situation MORE ethical at this point, bringing the sport out of “some garage in Minnesota” and into the light of public accountability.

    I love the sport of speedskating, and am often sorry that I couldn’t have taken my own skating career further, but now that I’m working in the professional world, I can tell you that the people in charge of speedskating are NOT professional. It was hell to skate for them.

  15. 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 ear 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

    You need strategy: to do clean passes, to be sharp for the last laps,

    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.

    Incredible fitness: so you can be as efficient as possible for the entire race

    Perfect technics: that will help you glide, turn without losing speed, do better passes, reach higher speed…

    and all of the above interact with eachother and that is what make skaters better than other.

    keep on skating

    Remi

  16. […] 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 repos […]

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