Friday, February 28, 2014

Norwegians and Swedes: True Olympians!

The “Money Side of Life” website just published a hit parade of bonuses paid to Olympians in Sochi by the countries' respective National Olympic Committees or sport ministries to athletes who medaled.

The Russians have been showering their medalist with tons of money, not to mention a free Mercedes SUV each, probably thanks to Putin's obsession to making a big splash by coming out number 1 on the final tally.

Compared to that, the USA and France seem stingy, while Norway and Sweden are the only one that are espousing the true Olympic spirit by doing it just for the sport.

Scandinavians always seem to manage to keep their fingers out of the stinky money-cookie-jar!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Are wide skis harmful to the knee?

They might, if we believe a few essays written on the subject. It's pretty clear that a skier can be incredibly cantilevered on a 120 mm underfoot ski while skiing on ice... But, before we start dwelling on the subject, what can be called a “wide” ski? A plank wider than 100 mm underfoot? That does it by my book.
The “thing” probably works on a bottomless powder day that happens 10% of the time, and I'm probably delusional with that percentage, but if you get stuck with these on hard pack, it might take you a week to change edges.

The equipment holy grail is to limit my ski inventory to one pair that can do it all, and it seems to me that I have found it between 80 to 95 mm underfoot. Beyond that, I'm not playing, especially because, in my new home, I'll only get 2 slots on the ski rack instead of 5 today. That's this simple!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Who are ski racers competing for?

That's a good question; themselves, the spectators? I bring this up following a comment posted about my recent blog on the Sochi men slalom, by Alain Lazard, a former coach and ski industry veteran. I suggest you begin by reading it, then go back to this post.

Most racers and coaches that weren't Austrian or Norwegian were incensed by Ante Kostelic's slalom course, but didn't really care about what the public at large could think. Yet, in the end, the viewing public picks up the tab for the high cost of ski racing. This said, I'd like to re-frame the debate under the form of a light-spirited story.

A tale that Mario Matt, the medal gold winner could have told us:

Mario: “ I really got lucky in the second run; just like me, Ante Kostellic is getting old and, unlike me, he's beginning to 'lose it.' Believe it or not, he mistook me for his son Ivica and this is what he told me”:

Ante: “What kind of a slalom course do you want me to set for you, son, to brighten your day with a little bit of gold?”

Mario: “Sounds terrific, but I don't want to upset anyone anymore with the devilish courses you usually set for me.”

Ante: “Don't you worry, just tell me the traps you need, that's all. I always set my courses by the letter of the book, if not by its spirit. For instance, I worship rule 803.4.1 that says that we should avoid monotonous series of standardized combinations of gates. Further, if all else fail, there's always a Technical Delegate who should do a bit more than taking the generous per diem the FIS gives him to just cruise along. Shouldn't he always make sure that the race conditions are tip-top?”

Mario: “You're probably right...”

Ante: “And spectators are entitled to some fun too; they shouldn’t have to watch a race in which the best go like rockets and the human eye can no longer tell if they straddle gates or fly over them!”

Mario: “I know...”

Ante: “Ivica, I've always told you and your sister that pre-race inspection wasn't just for you to remember the course, but to also check if anything was wrong. Racers can always lodge a complaint with the TD and the Jury. Of course, no one dares to say anything, secretly hoping that Hirscher won't make it to the bottom of the hill!”

Mario: “I know, but I'm not one of those brats that bitches all the time about conditions, Pa!”

Ante: I know, you're a good boy Ivica, but as you know, skiers as good as you can really make a big difference on a difficult snow day with a tough course like the one I'll be setting for you. I'm convinced you'll step up to the plate with your very best skiing; okay you might screw up here and there, but at the finish you'll prevail.

 Mario: “Thank you, Pa; I'll do as you said.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Slushy, Sochi Snow

If there is something that was often mentioned, but not expanded upon too much by the media, it was the quality of the Olympic snow at Sochi. The IOC and the Russians must have kept a continuous tight lid on this slushy subject. No matter what Putin supporters will say, it wasn't ideal and certainly more spring than winter like. 
For those of us who have traveled a bit and know the mountain environment, there is a clear correlation between minimum skiing altitude and latitude. In other words, Whistler Mountain that sits at only 2,840' stands under a 50 degree latitude, while Taos Ski Valley, further south in New Mexico is 9,207' high for a 36.6 latitude. It goes in between from these two extreme.

Now Rosa Khutor that falls in between these two examples has a base elevation of 3,840' at 43.6 degrees. In America, Jackson hole located at the same latitude doesn't have too much snow at 6,451'. To make matters worse, the Sochi mountain resort suffers from an even milder climate due to its proximity to the Black Sea.

There was no excuse for picking such a place as a Winter Olympic venue! Now, that you know all this, you wonder how much money from the Putin “slush” fund must have been paid the IOC delegates to clinch the Sochi nomination...

Monday, February 24, 2014

No need to ever replace these LED!

Since I'd like to be green and politically correct too, my new home will only be lit with LED. No more incandescent or even fluorescent stuff! As a result, we've been investing our last dollars to purchase these cool lights.
When I brought the 100 + bulbs and fixtures to the electrician doing the installation, he looked at the bulbs and said to me “You'll never have to replace any of them during your lifetime!” As I must have looked incredulous, he pointed the red lettering on the packaging that stated “Last 22.8 years”.

I have to admit that this electrician was more generous than a roofer, that 10 ago, predicted that I might last as long as a 25 year-lasting roof! No matter what the number, if you know my age as well as I do, you can now figure out my latest expiration date!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What's wrong with Ante Kostelic?

To be perfectly honest, I never been crazy about the man, but he has produced some pretty impressive results with his own kids, forcing them to reach the pinnacle of ski racing. I don't know if his mind is as tormented as his way of setting slalom courses, but since I watched the Sochi Olympic Slalom, he's redeemed himself a bit, at least in my eyes.

One of the problem with modern ski racing is that when you have seen one racer, you've almost seen them all. New techniques, modern equipment, smooth and bullet-proof slope preparation - I'm not talking about Sochi - have tremendously reduced the discernible gaps between racers, both in style and timing. For the public at large, the ones who can't tell the difference between a flush and a horizontal gate, it generally looks all the same, as if all racers were some robots or clones of each other.
On Sunday, Ante engineered a second run that was so schizophrenic that it ended up being highly entertaining. We could see a clear difference between the few racers who made it down to the bottom of the hill and the many who choose to stop half-way. Kidding aside, the very best won. Was it a disservice to the sport as some disgruntled racers have suggested? Not really; I did enjoy the show and can still turn pretty good on my own.

The only thing that I believe was wrong is that Dad the Coach shouldn't be able to set the course Son is racing on, but this is the fault of the closed and antiquated boys club FIS has always been. I doubt this rule will ever change, and unless he gets a huge contract with Cirque du Soleil, I believe that Ante will soon re-appear and set crazy slaloms again, as soon as his grand-children are of World Cup racing age; I can't wait!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Olympic medals: A rating system

I still contend that Olympic medals are far from being created equal. Here are some ideas for ranking them and see how each event, and therefore, each medal stacks up against each other.

The list is by no means exhaustive. If you want to submit other criteria, by all means do!

Just a few ideas to get the conversation started:
Participation level (competition), Local, Courage, money commitment, technical difficulties, subjective vs. objective measures, physical danger, intensity of training required, relevance to the general public as practitioners, athletes' natural gift and dispositions as well as entertainment value to the spectator. To be continued...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hitting the wall!

I never noticed it until yesterday when I went to the liquor store. My wife had seen it for a few weeks already. The sculpture depicts a skier crashing into the wall of the main liquor store in Park City.

It's used as a way to illustrate the danger of alcohol to youngsters and might in a way show that skiing and drinking don't mix well. The artwork is cosponsored by the US Ski Team and it as original as it is – pardon the pun – striking!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Basic GS (and ski) rules

After watching Ligety's well-deserved victory in Giant Slalom, a few basic skiing principles finally dawned on me. They are three of them:

1. Anticipate your turns well ahead of time.
2. Always be smooth on your skis.
3. Avoid ruts and other unfriendly obstacles.

While number one is a rule every alpine competitors knows to well, it's hard to make it a permanent rule and turn it into a natural instinct. Yet, that's where we should focus most of our training. If we can stay ahead of the curve, we'll always be fine. I we start playing catch-up we are self-destructing.

Number two also is a no-brainer. If we can be smooth at all time, we'll waste far less energy, we'll end up being more nimble and we'll look stunning beautiful on skis. 

Number three is much harder to master, because, most of the time, we don't control it. Racers need to start in ruts before earning the privilege of racing on a manicured surface, the rest of us are at the whim of mother nature, the bad choices we make in picking runs or the variable nature of snow.

So I would suggest that this latter quality will come naturally after we have mastered the first two. This said, skiing is limpidly simple. Apply these steps and you'll ski like a god.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bloated Olympic!

In my last blog, I shared my fatigue for these seemingly endless Winter Olympics Games. One reason is the excessive number of events. In recent history, the Winter Games have seen their total number of events more than triple between 1960 at Squaw Valley and today in Sochi.
I'm convinced less would be much, much better, especially after watching the boarder-cross which that is more a piece of circus act than a legitimate winter sports.

I might not go quite as far as saying "let's get rid of snowboarding" or "do away with skeleton", but it is high time to clean up some of these questionable events and reduce the total number of events to around 50 or something thing of this order, which would be around what we had in Sarajevo. Clearly, the IOC must be asleep at the wheel ...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympic fatigue...

As we're a little over half-way in that winter olympic marathon, I'm beginning to feel tired of digesting this endless sea of results that I didn't necessary wish, all these numbing commercials and my leaving aside important tasks that won't get any me any medal, but should keep me out of trouble.
That's the price of indulging in unbridled entertainment, I guess, but I don't even want to imagine how I'll survive this last week of spectacle. I should, perhaps, go to the movie instead?

Monday, February 17, 2014

The holy grail in sports

Perhaps, this dimension was best illustrated last night when Meryle Davis and Charlie White hit the ice during their short program and is returning today as they're cashing in their Gold. Both made their art and skills look super-light and seem so effortless and easy. On top of all that, they seem to genuinely enjoy the experience.

This to me translate into the utmost efficiency of movements and efforts and represents the holy grail in sports. It generally is the result of intense training and stringent preparation found in exacting sports like gymnastics or acrobatics.

I like to remember to put that thought into my bony-head every time I go skiing. You won't find much of it in skeleton or in luge!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

And now, Spring Olympics!

Until now, we only had Summer and Winter flavors for the Olympics, and today, with Sochi, the Spring Olympics have finally come to age! We're talking about April weather and mud-season Olympics, especially for skiers, when it's time to dress up or down, be a ski-clown, have fun, puddle-jump and do tons of exotic things you'd never imagine doing under a real February weather.

This new version of the ancient games will remain the most lasting Putin-Russian legacy in the Olympic tradition, and may be remembered as being the great equalizer. With such varying conditions, winning and losing surprises will be guaranteed and constant change may be the only certainty. Some have already renamed it “Russian Roulette!”

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The case for a decent minimum wage

No having a minimum wage, or at the very least a decent one, is a great deal for employers who can't afford robots but settle on cheap, disposable workers. Companies like chicken processors Tyson are very good at that.

They don't pay their employees, are savvy enough to avoid paying taxes themselves, and guess what? The middle class picks up the tab by providing their underpaid workforce social assistance under the form of food stamp and other subsidies.

The point is that if we paid people a living wage, we wouldn't have to rescue them at taxpayers' expense. Services would cost more, some goods (those made here) might also be more expensive, but we would be much better off as a nation.

There is no reason that people who work should earn less than $15 per hour!

Friday, February 14, 2014

The relative value of medals

The Olympics have the knack of mixing a constantly growing variety of events and of conveying the idea that they're all equal. That's right, have all medals the same value? I don't think so and it makes me wonder all the time.
To me, Curling doesn't even come close to Alpine Downhill. Sometime, I'm thinking of establishing a comparison table that would integrate technical difficulties, subjective vs. objective measures, physical danger, intensity of training required, athletes' natural gift and dispositions as well as entertainment value to the spectator.

Something worth exploring that might make events possible to compare? Any suggestions?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hooked on the Olympics!

With an eleven hour time difference, it's hard to watch any day Olympic event live. This said, even when I try to see evening events live during the day, I find it an incredible waste of time, even considering the fact that I'm supposedly retired.

Finally, when all is said and done and after being a tireless critic of NBC in America, I enjoy watching the summary in the evening, even if it's interspersed with endless and repetitive commercials. While totally inflexible, it give me a great view of the day as far as North American athletes are concerned.

Of course, I don't see much of the rest of the international field of athletes, but who need those, we're Americans, right!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Penalty for arrogance?

I don't appreciate arrogant people in general and arrogant athletes in particular. Yet, there's a fine line that the top performer needs to navigate between staying humble and having enough self-confidence.

Just yesterday, Shaun White, the flamboyant - and yes – arrogant snowboarder, got his payback when he failed to even win a bronze medal at the Sochi half-pipe event. This hero bigger than life in a sport that has yet to mature and find its bearings, got the disastrous result he's been courting ever since he won his first Olympic Gold.

Call it bad karma, call it overconfidence or just being gently pushed away by the next generation; the bottom line is that he lost. And losing is terrible thing to experience when you are utterly convinced of your established superiority. A good lesson to remember!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

French ski team politics

For years, Cyprien Richard has been one of the top GS skier France had to offer. A silver world championship medal and a world cup victory in 2011, several 3 places the years before and always in the top 15 in recent seasons, should have secured the 35 year old a ticked to Sochi, even as a potential replacement.

Instead, he was asked to stay in his Morzine hometown and wait for the Team's phone call. To me, this sucks, because today's Pinturaults and other Fanaras, owe it to Richard to have helped paved the way for them and bring up arguably the strongest male GS ski team in the world. Not a nice way to say “thanks!”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sochi's men downhill...

I was disappointed, but not surprised by Bode Miller's performance, but I guess pure talent alone can't fill all the gaps that a well rounded program will pad and isn't always enough to provide this essential element called “margin of superiority.”

This said, while the Bernhard Russi's “designer course” contains all the interesting and require ingredients needed in “making” a modern downhill, it also embodies a lot of artificiality.

 Add to this the fact that the ribbon is super icy, but super-smooth, there are very few trees, the spectator has a tough time appreciating the speed and true difficulties of the course, lacking visual reference points, especially under flat light that prevailed on competition day.

All this leads me to say that this ersatz downhill runs don't age too well, except perhaps for Beaver Creek's Birds of Prey and that, at the end of the day, the Hahnenkamm remains a timeless classic.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Olympics going to the dogs?

If something isn't getting better as time goes by, it's the Olympics. Sochi 2014 is another proof that the IOC is loosing its way by letting countries like Russia spend like a drunken sailor on Games that are not to glorify the participating athletes, but Russia's Tyrant-in-Chief, Vladimir Putin.

 Should I add that this occasion to bring people together is tarnished by an excess of commercialism, too many athletes choosing a “flag of convenience” and a plethora of events. The IOC seems to add them to see if anything will “stick.”

The Opening Ceremonies is a case in point. Okay for the Parade of Nations and the lighting of the flame, but that's all that's needed; this shouldn't be “Cirque du Soleil.” All that grotesque show makes me miss even more the authentic and down-to-earth 1960 Olympics in Squaw-Valley, USA!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Representing Park City in Sochi...

Never has Park City fielded so many competitors to an Olympic. Just today, we had our very own Sage Kotsenburg, who started with a bang today when he won the first gold medal in Slopestyle Snowboarding and got things going for our little mountain community.
Next, we'll have Joss Christensen, competing in Slopestyle Skiing, a huge female contigent made of Sarah Hendrickson, Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome, all in Ski Jumping. Steven Holcomb will show us how fast he can drive down his Bobsled down the run, Megan McJames is our female Alpine Skier and who could forget our hometown hero, Ted Ligety in Alpine Skiing!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Prove me that you exist!

What a question is this? Well, this is one the French government just asked me, before they would send me a monthly retirement check. My answer: Yes, I'm alive and well. The problem is that I had to spend one morning finding who would get me that precious affidavit. 
You see, many folks, particularly the old ones from Algeria tend to abuse France's generosity and practically never die. In other words, they become immortal the day they chose to retire in Algeria, after having worked in France.

The French retirement system pays off about $1 billion each year for these guys who are around 125 year old, while in America, they ask me to proof that I myself, not dead and still skiing!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Another silly dream of mine...

I like to keep track of my dreams on this blog, because it's quite rare that I can recall them, and also that they are so stupid and senseless that they'd make Dr. Carl Jung look like a fraud. So here we go; I just dreamed that I was flying to Europe via New York and taking along Woody, my neighbor golden retriever.

I kind of kidnapped the pooch without asking his owner and when I changed planes in JFK, two things happened. I realized I had lost the dog and also I forgot my parka inside the overhead compartment. It was winter and I was freezing. I hadn't packed another coat, so it was both a complex and desperate situation.

My problems got unresolved until I woke up and I'm still wondering what possessed me to take my neighbor's dog without even asking the master. As for the ski jacket, no worries, I still have a closet full of them!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The rebel in me...

As I was watching a TV show about young Amish struggling with their antiquated, authoritarian system, I was thinking that I wasn't much different when I was younger and ever since I could remember, I was questioning the status quo, venturing into forbidden areas and entertaining thoughts that were not necessarily mainstream at the time.

Was I already behaving as a rebel? Perhaps, at least by some people's standards. Would I have been happy, staying were I was brought up and just following the path that was expected of me? No. I was an explorer, a thrill-seeker, an adventurer and a contrarian. Had I been influenced by some people or was that spirit already in my genes? I believe the latter. Rebels are born, not made.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fountain of youth

Like most Americans I know which team won the Superbowl and what I heard was that the winners was the youngest ones, with the most to gain and win they did, without dwelling too much on strategy or psychology.

On the opposite end, the Broncos had everything to lose, were older and go trapped in their own sophisticated, conservative and defensive thinking. All this to say that wisdom is good, but too much of it isn't too good and can conceal a form of self-entrapment.

When all other things (training, athleticism, natural talent) are equal, having nothing to lose remains a huge advantage. My advice to the older set? Stay young mentally, don't intellectualize issues too much, and as Nike would say, “Just do it!”

Monday, February 3, 2014

Today's Men World Cup skiing

If there was a need to underscore it, it has become obvious that there are now two distinct leagues in Men's World Cup skiing, at least in technical events. The top three or four guys and the rest.

Ligety's decisive victory in yesterday's GS in St. Moritz, accompanied by the “usual suspects”, Hirscher and Pinturault, show a clear and constant gap between the “über-skiers” that would also include Felix Neureuther, and the rest of the field.
These many racers, just a notch below, are for the most part struggling and will only grab a few crumbs, now and then. This gap in technical superiority seems hard to explain and I would suspect that many a coach and team director are trying to untangle the reasons and the secrets that make these athletes so untouchable...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

America #1 Holiday

Do you know what's the most Sacred Holiday in America? Christmas? Thanksgiving?
Nope; try again?
The 4th of July?
Wrong again!
Give up?
The right answer is Superbowl Sunday.

For weeks, we've been hammered by the media about this unnatural cataclysm when two football teams collide and America congregates, complete with beer, chips, pretzels and a cortege of bad food inside its collective mouth, holds its breath, cheers for a favorite team and falls under the spell of some of the most clever commercials.

What are we planning to do to celebrate that Sacred Day? Go skiing this afternoon. We'll be guaranteed to have the mountain to ourselves; this said, we'll watch the game when we return so we can judge the commercials and know which team won!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lamenting change

Recently, out the blue, as I was sitting in a dentist waiting room, I ran into another countryman of mine who has lived in Park City for almost as long as I have. I don't see him often because he live a rather reclusive life and shuttles back and forth between Utah and France.

Like most French people, he never stopped complaining during our conversation. “America used to be nice, it's no anymore”, “France has too many immigrants”, “I can't wait to see my kids grown up and out of the house to start living,” etc. 
My diagnostic is quite simple: The man hates change and never will get used to it. The problem is that life IS change, so how can you life happy if your can't stand the only constant in this world that is Change?