Just Call Him Mr. 25/8

Question: which winter Olympic sport is your favorite to watch?

I don’t think I could possibly answer this question. I love figure skating, and have since I can remember. Hockey is always exciting, as is curling, in an entirely different way. Snowboarding is always a nail-biter, and let’s not even talk about skeleton, bobsledding, and luge! Even cross-country skiing and the biathlon have their own appeal.

Then there’s short track.

Honestly, I think it’s in a category all its own. It has the speed and grace of long track speed skating, plus the added element of something along the lines of roller derby. I mean, think about it: around five skaters, on a track that’s only the size of a hockey rink, sprinting at speeds up to 35 mph, with razor sharp, 18-inch blades strapped to their feet. Every time I watch a race, I’m convinced that one of them is going to die. They never do, of course, but crashes are a fairly normal occurrence. And during every crash, I’m convinced that one skater’s blade is going to end up in another skater’s thigh. But it’s “just a part of the sport.” It makes you wonder how any one person can stay on top for any amount of time. But some of these guys can, and do. Just ask Apolo Ohno!


Okay, I’ll be honest; Apolo is a huge part of the reason I started having any interest in short track. The man is gorgeous, and super adorable to boot. Ask Vh1 and they’ll tell you he’s “undateable,” since he rocks both a bandana AND a soul patch. But this is the network that airs such shows as Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, Daisy of Love, etc. And seriously… just look at him.


And he tweeted me once! Best day ever!

Let me tell you – this was the hardest I’ve ever fangirled in my life. (He wished me goodnight! APOLO OHNO! Wished ME goodnight! :D)

But having a vested interest in an athlete in such a crazy intense sport is not for the faint of heart. Apolo’s strategy is to spend most of the race in the middle of the pack, and then take the lead at the end. It makes total sense, what with less wind resistance and everything. But as a fan? “Okay, he’s in third, but it’s okay, it’s a long race! Third, third, third, CRAP! FOURTH?! WHAT THE HELL, THAT SHOULD BE CALLED A FOUL! ARE YOU BLIND, REF?! Back to third, second, second, second, OH MY GOD THERE’S TWO LAPS LEFT, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, APOLO?! Second, second, first! YAY! WIN! Now take me to the emergency room for my heart palpitations, please.”

Rinse and repeat, for every single heat he competes in for every single race. Let me tell you, it’s high stress. But it’s so worth it! Eight medals? Check!

So anyway, when I heard he wrote a book, I knew I had to have it. It was my final Chanukah present this year, and I started reading it a few days ago. Why’d I wait so long? No idea.

It started off kind of slow. I mean, it was really interesting to read about how one of my favorite athletes grew up. Wait, you were friends with high schoolers when you were HOW young? They stole WHAT? They had WHAT in that bag? …It’s pretty amazing to see what kind of transformation he made in just a few years. But I still just read about a chapter a day. I wasn’t really hooked until he got to the Olympics.

That’s when things got really good! Not only did he talk about how he trained, both physically and mentally (which, by the way, holy crap!), but he described his thoughts during each second of a lot of his races. Races that I remember watching, on the edge of my seat, heart in my throat, screaming at the TV. It’s a really weird sensation, experiencing one of your memories from inside someone else’s head. Weird in a really, REALLY cool way! At moments when I’d be thinking “oh my god, he’s gonna lose, he’s not in control at all!” he was thinking about how his strategy was working perfectly, what kind of pass he’d be making next, and how easy that win was. Oh, to be an elite athlete.

Beyond that, he talks about his training. Like I said before, HOLY CRAP. For months before Vancouver, all he would do was skate, work out, and review skating tapes. All he would eat was hard boiled eggs, salmon, some vegetables, and an oatmeal mix. Oh, and a bowl of pasta on his “high-calorie” day. It’s insanity. The man deserves a gold medal just for that, let alone his racing!

I was surprised by how affected I was by this book. I’m not really sure why; listen to Apolo speak once and you know he has some great stuff to say. But this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to dog-ear pages of a book. The following are all passages I felt the need to bookmark.


“For seemingly everybody, at least for this one night [during the opening ceremony], no matter who we are or where we’re from, whether in the stadium or watching on television in the farthest reaches of the globe, we all allow ourselves to share in the hope that our world can be a more peaceful, gentler place.”

--This. Exactly this. This is why I love the Olympics so much. You see the French team waving double-sided flags, one side French, one side American, at the 2002 Olympics in honor of 9/11, you see a stadium-wide moment of silence for the Georgian luger that was killed in Vancouver, and you can’t help but truly believe that there is good in the world.


“[Steve Bradbury’s] strategy here in Salt Lake had been – in a word – unique. He would deliberately lag behind, way behind, the main pack. If you were being generous, you might call it a safe distance. You might also call it 20 to 30 meters. Then he would wait for everyone else to fall down. It seemed almost laughable.

In the quarterfinals, two guys ahead of him fell. Steve advanced.

In the semifinals, two guys ahead of him fell and another was disqualified. Steve advanced.

As we rounded the final corner, Jiajun tried to pass on the outside. He was trying to go over the top. He grabbed at my shoulder.

At that exact instant, Hyun-Soo tried to move up on the inside. He was small—but not that small.

There simply wasn’t any room there.

Around the curve, after grabbing at me, Jiajun lost his balance and went spinning out, into the pads.

Even as Jiajun was flying out of the race, Hyun-Soo lost his balance. Because there was no room, he had nowhere to go but down, and down he went, out of control, taking out both Mathieu and me.

The force threw me onto my back and sent me into a full 360-degree spin. It slammed me into the boards. My head bounced off the padding. I could feel the wind at my fingers, and the next thing I knew, I was in the boards.

Everybody in the race but Steve was down.

Be ready for anything. Never, ever take a race for granted until you’re over the line. Finish. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a daze. It doesn’t matter how quick everything is happening all around you, no matter how crazed. What happens to you is up to you. Finish.

I got up, onto my right skate. I turned toward the line as Steve, his arms at his sides, sauntered by. He coasted across the line, the winner. Your gold medalist.

…the phrase ‘do a Bradbury’ has become part of the Aussie vocabulary. It means to achieve something against all reasonable odds.

I threw a bag of ice onto my leg and dropped into a wheelchair. After all, I had to get to a ceremony. I had a silver medal to collect, and I was thrilled about that.

It was, after all, the best race of my life.

I didn’t lose gold.

I won silver.

--In short track, as in life, sometimes things can turn into a crazy mess at the drop of a dime. And THAT is the attitude I desperately wish I had. So, my new New Year’s resolution: I didn’t lose gold, I won silver.


“The entire Olympic experience, the Olympic dream, the fact of being an Olympian—all of that was now in my blood, in my eyes, in everything about me. I felt the power of the Olympic spirit. And I wanted to train as if I had nothing, as if I’d had no success. It’s why I put my medals in my sock drawer instead of on display. I wanted to act as if I had done nothing, won nothing, yet.

For me, it was now four years to the next Winter Games, in Torino, Italy, in 2006. Four years to train for—as an example—40 seconds in the 500.

If it were just about a medal, that was bad math. It was very good math, though, if the equation, were framed differently. For those 40 seconds, I might have the chance to be all I could be.


“A coach would say, “Great race!”

And I would come back with something like this: “No, I need to do more.”

I have to accept that I am forever striving for perfect. It’s part of me to my core. But I also accept now that nothing is perfect. And it doesn’t need to be perfect. That doesn’t need to detract in any way, shape, or form from whatever it is I’m pursuing.

My personal best is good enough, as long as I give it everything I’ve got.

It’s too intense and too unforgiving a life if you live trying to be a perfectionist. Perfect is, in a very real sense, unattainable. It’s a little like being on a perpetual StairMaster—the thing never shuts off, the stairs piling down and down, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but never, ever off.

Sometimes you’ve got to get off the machine, hold the rails, look around, and appreciate all the stairs you’ve already climbed.


“There’s a sense of purity that we don’t see as often anymore, a glimpse into a life that is dedicated, with a central purpose—and that is to love a particular sport and to compete within it.

The Olympic Games were my spark—to come to the Games prepared, to represent my country the best I could. And every single time I have been treated so well by the Olympic Games. They have given me so much insight and I have been blessed and lucky enough to be my best. To go out there and give my all, that’s all I ask for. Whether I’m disqualified, or I come first, second or third, it’s not really up to me. I carry my struggle further.

At an Olympics, we come together on one stage. We come together to compete in fair play and with goodwill.

You see people from countries all over the world in one place, together—a unity of ethnicities and languages. It’s what we look for. It’s what we all really want. It’s what we want to see.

And it really is cool.

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