Blogtober Day 30: Bonnie Blair

Fun fact: I've had the date of this post planned out since... well, since the idea of Blogtober took shape. Yet this is the post I'm scrambling to write so I can go to bed. Irony at its finest! Can't complain, though -- it was an epic night of final Halloween costume prep. But, uh, I apologize if this isn't my most eloquent post ever. It's kind of past my bedtime! :P

Man, Bonnie is basically in a class of her own among winter Olympians. It's kind of unbelievable.

She went to her first Olympics in 1984 when she was only 19 and finished eighth in the 500m. In 1988 she was back again, this time winning gold in the 500m and bronze in the 1,000m, setting a 500m world record in the process and becoming America's only double medalist at those Games. In 1992, she won gold in both the 500m and 1,000m. This made her the first woman to win two Olympic 500m titles and the first American woman to win consecutive winter Olympic championships.

But Bonnie was far from done, as she competed in a final Olympics in 1994. She won the 500m for a third straight time, a whole 36 hundredths of a second faster than the silver medalist. In her final Olympic race, the 1,000m, she destroyed the competition by a full 1.38 seconds, the largest margin in Olympic history for the event.

After the 1994 Olympics, Bonnie continued racing. In March of that year, she became the first woman to skate the 500m in under 39 seconds. She retired on her 31st birthday, in March of 1995, right after setting a new personal best and American record in the 1,000m in her final race ever. Talk about going out while you're on top!

As if all that wasn't enough, Bonnie also skated short track early on in her career, winning the 1986 Overall Short-track World Championship. Because why the heck not?
In her career, Bonnie won five Olympic gold medals and one bronze, making her the most decorated American Winter Olympian ever. That record stood until Apolo Ohno won his seventh and eighth medals in Vancouver 2010. But while Apolo has more medals in total, only two of them are gold. So if we want to talk about pure domination... Bonnie wins. She is by far one of the best sprinters ever.

Why was I planning on writing this post today, you ask? Well, yesterday Bonnie was inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame, and I got to go! Just being in the same general breathing space as she was made the whole thing worth it! She talked about how she doesn't care that her kids don't speed skate, but that she wants them to love their chosen sport as much as she loved hers. She's completely adorable. :) The guy running the ceremony was basically fawning over her, and to be honest, I don't blame him at all!

One more day of Blogtober, guys! ONE. MORE. DAY.

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Blogtober Day 29: Olga Korbut

Well, after 28 days of Blogtober, I finally figured out how to plan ahead: I knew I'd be busy until late tonight, so I wrote this post (gasp) yesterday! Woo, go me! But now the issue is that it's 10 pm, tomorrow night is going to be another late one, and I can't decide if I should write tomorrow's post now or tomorrow. #bloggerstruggles

Olga is the original queen of gymnastics. The way the sport looks nowadays basically all comes back to her... but more on that later.

She originated a backflip-to-catch release move on the uneven bars, which was the first backwards release ever done by a woman. This and other acrobatics made her a huge star at the 1972 Olympics, and her technical excellence overthrew the sport's emphasis on artistry. She won silver on the uneven bars and gold on balance beam, floor exercise and in the team competition. At the 1974 World Championships, she won two golds and four silvers. She went to her second Olympics in 1976 and won silver on balance beam and gold in the team competition.

But more important than Olga's multiple Olympic medals is the attention she drew to gymnastics. Because of her, girls flocked to join gymnastics and a sport that had previously gone unnoticed was making headlines. She met with President Richard Nixon after the 1972 Olympics, and according to Olga, "he told me that my performance in Munich did more for reducing the political tension during the Cold War between our two countries than the embassies were able to do in five years." (I, uh, don't really know how, or what the logistics of that statement were, but I'll take his word for it.)

Before Olga, gymnastics belonged to women, with artistry as the main emphasis. But along came Olga, all of 4'11 and 82 pounds, whose high-flying tricks and technique blew everyone away. Suddenly, gymnastics was all about acrobatics, and small athletes (i.e. girls) became the norm. She paved the way for Nadia Comaneci, who paved the way for basically everyone else.

I, personally, love it when tiny people do big things and shake things up. But it's definitely not overstating it to say that Olga was a pint-sized revolutionary.

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Blogtober Day 28: Michelle Kwan

True story: my first Olympic memory involves Michelle Kwan and bitter anger. It was the night before my seventh birthday, Tara Lipinski was screaming her annoying head off after beating Michelle for the gold medal, and I was SO STINKING MAD. I'm still not entirely over that, to be honest. *grumbles*

Essentially, Michelle achieved everything a figure skater could possibly achieve except winning Olympic gold. She won five World Championships (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2003), tying her for most wins by an American. She has won nine U.S. Championships (1996, 1998–2005), tying the record for most wins; her eight consecutive titles is a U.S. record, as is her streak of 12 consecutive medals. She is the only woman in figure skating history to reclaim the World title three times (1998, 2000, 2003). In her career, she received a total of 57 6.0s (perfect scores) from her at nationals and worlds. At the U.S. Championships alone, she holds the record for most 6.0s. And, since figure skating is no longer scored on the 6.0 scale, nobody will ever overtake her.

And then, of course, is the Olympic silver medal from 1998 and the Olympic bronze medal from 2002.

Can you say flawless?

Michelle the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, and is widely regarded as one of the best figure skaters of all time. She was on top of the figure skating world for over a decade, which is kiiiiiind of ridiculous. She's also one of the most beloved American athletes, uh, ever.

She's MICHELLE FREAKING KWAN, that's why you should care!

*drops mic*

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Blogtober Day 27: Kim Rhode

I'm obnoxiously excited about this week, guys. Tuesday night I'm going to the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame induction, Thursday is Halloween and the USA Volleyball costume contest, and on Saturday the interns are getting a tour of the USOC archives (*internally screaming*). So after Blogtober ends, I'll get maybe one day off before I'm word-vomiting my excessive feelings all over the blog again.  Prepare yourselves!

Kim Rhode is a shooter, so I'm 99% sure that 99% of people reading this have never heard of her, which is unfortunate. But I'd like to draw your attention to the photo above and the collection of Olympic medals around her neck. There are five of them, and no two were won at the same Games. Five Olympics. True story.

Kim began sport hunting when she was really young, and won her first world championship in women's double trap shooting when she was 13. Thirteen years old! UMMM. Her first Olympic medal came in 1996, a gold in double trap, making her the youngest female gold medalist in the history of Olympic shooting. She won a bronze in the same event in 2000, and another gold in 2004. Double trap was them removed from the Olympics, so Kim turned her focus to skeet. Not missing a beat (hey, that rhymes!), she set a world record with 98 hits during 2007 world cup competition, and then won silver at the 2008 Olympics. At the 2012 Olympics, she set an Olympic record and tied the new world record score with 99 hits on her way to another gold medal.

She also studied veterinary medicine at Cal Poly. And, when the shotgun she'd used in competitions for 18 years was stolen in 2008, fans donated $13,000 buy her a new gun. Holy dedicated fan base, Batman!

Kim is one of 11 Americans in history to have competed in five consecutive Olympics (along with Danielle Scott). She's the only American athlete ever to win medals for an individual event in five consecutive Olympics.

 And she's only 34. The oldest Olympian ever was a 72-year-old shooter, so Kim might still be out there winning medals when my hypothetical future children are out of college.

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Blogtober Day 26: Lloy Ball

Guess who returned to the OTC tonight after an epic day of Halloween costume-making to find that the USOC had shut off the Internet! This is the second time in several weeks that this has happened and I've had ZERO notice; everyone that works at USOC HQ got an email about it, but do they not realize that they have multiple interns that don't work at HQ but live at the OTC? No? Sigh.

So, if we're getting all technical about things, Blogtober has been foiled by a giant first world problem. However, my definition of a day is the time from when I wake up in the morning to when I go to sleep at night. Therefore, since I'm still very much awake (even though it's after midnight), it's still today in my book. And I'm going to retroactively date this post, so it'll say it's published on the correct date. Take that, Goldnet! I win!

Lloy Ball looks more like a member of Hell's Angels than a volleyball player, amirite? I don't think I'd want to run into a dude that looks like that in a dark alley. But interestingly, he was the setter on the U.S. Men's National Volleyball team, not an attacker. (For those of you that don't know volleyball, the setter is like the quarterback; he runs the offense, but very rarely does he score himself. But when he does, it's pretty.)

Basically, Lloy is just as bad-ass as his tattoos make him look. He grew up in Indiana, where men's volleyball wasn't a sanctioned high school sport, so he played basketball during the school year and volleyball during the summer. When he was 15, he became the youngest volleyball player ever to compete at the U.S. Olympic Festival, and when he was 16 he became the youngest player ever to compete on the national team. He was recruited by THE Bobby Knight to play basketball for Indiana, but Lloy decided to play volleyball instead. He rejected Bobby Knight.

With the national team, Lloy went on to become a four-time Olympian (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008). His first two Olympics were pretty rough, but the team improved to fourth place in 2004. Lloy wasn't planning on returning for a fourth Games, but eventually decided that he wanted his young son to remember him playing in the Olympics... and then he led the team to the gold medal in Beijing.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering; his parents named him after his grandfather, Lloyd, but dropped the D from the end to make him unique. A+.)

Lloy is the first American men's volleyball player ever to compete in four Olympics. He'd been such a mainstay on the national team for so long that, when he retired in 2011, it created something of a vacuum at setter; what the heck do we do without Lloy running our offense?! Apparently that had something to do with the team's performance in London. "Before Lloy" and "After Lloy" is kind of a thing. They're still trying to regroup.

On an entirely unrelated note, since volleyball is so often thought of as a girls' sport, I love that there was this big, tattooed, tough-guy type in there to break the mold. But he also runs a volleyball clinic with his dad and got his daughter's name tattooed on him so, y'know, he fits into a grand total of zero stereotypes. And that's awesome.

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Blogtober Day 25: Apolo Ohno

It's the laaaast Friday of Blogtober! WOO! I gotta say, this whole blog-every-day thing, as fun as it is, is a serious time suck and it's getting kind of exhausting. I really don't know how some bloggers do this month after month after month. My hat is off to all of you that do.

Luckily, though, I saved this particular post for close to the end to motivate myself through the final push. So here. we. go.

Can we talk about the amount of angst this guy put me through during his races? I'm talking digging my fingernails into my face and screaming myself hoarse. It's a rough life being emotionally invested in a short track skater.

Speaking of a rough life (I didn't even do that on purpose; accidental perfect transition for the win!), Apolo overcame a lot to get to where he is. He was raised by a single father and fell into a group of super shady older kids when he was young. Apolo credits sports with saving him from going down a really bad path, though he did kind of fight it kicking and screaming in the beginning.

He became the youngest U.S. national champion ever, at age 14, in 1997 and went on to hold the title from 2001-2009, winning it 12 times. In 1999 he became the youngest skater to win a World Cup event title, and he became the first American to win a World Cup overall title in 2001, and won again in 2003 and 2005. He won his first overall World Championship title at the in 2008. He has 21 World Championship medals in total.

And then, of course, there's the Olympics. Apolo made his debut in 2002, winning a gold and a silver and my heart amidst a decent amount of controversy (which kind of became a theme with him -- so even MORE angst and heart palpitations!). In 2006, he won two bronzes and a gold, but not just any gold. THE gold. The Perfect Race (watch that video and take a moment to bask in the utter flawlessness). In 2010, his final Olympics, he took home two more bronzes and a silver for eight Olympic medals total.

 Those eight medals make Apolo the most decorated American winter Olympian of all time. (He also happened to win that record-breaking medal at night on Feb. 20... but on the east coast, it was the wee hours of Feb. 21. So basically, Apolo made history on my birthday. BOOM.)

But what I really love about Apolo is how he never lost his good sportsmanship, he never stopped working his tail off, and he never complained about crashes or losses or disqualifications. When you read his book, you know that this is a guy that gets it. He doesn't want to win for the sake of winning; he wants to have earned it. He knows that the Olympics are more significant than just a sporting event, which is something I may agree with. But just a little bit (she says as she continues to write her Olympics blog...).

So, while I'm really sad that he's now retired, I am kind of glad that I won't have to watch him race around at a gazillion miles an hour with five other guys all with knives strapped to their feet. But thanks to him, I now get to stress out about the next generation of short trackers, and I'll enjoy every second of it. :)

Venus Trapped in Mars

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Blogtober Day 24: Jennie Finch

Jennie is sort of like the Cy Young of softball. Have you ever seen her pitch? It's prettyyyy filthy.

Jennie originally followed her brothers onto the baseball diamond, but kept herself spread pretty thin athletically as a kid; in high school, she lettered four times in softball and two times each in basketball and volleyball, and was captain of all three as a senior. But she chose softball for college and became a dominating force. She was a three-time All-American and set the NCAA record for consecutive games won, with 60 (!!!!!) spanning nearly two whole seasons. This included three wins at the 2001 Women's College World Series; she led Arizona to the championship and won Most Outstanding Player. Jennie finished her collegiate career with 119 total wins, 12th most all time; 24 as a freshman, 29 as a sophomore, 32 as a junior and 34 as a senior. Jeez, talk about getting better with age!

She pitched on the 2004 Olympic team ('cause, hey, remember when softball was an Olympic sport?), finishing with a 2-0 record and 12 strikeouts, one hit, one walk and no runs in eight innings of work to lead the U.S. to the gold medal. In 2008, she pitched in three Olympic games (har har) going 11 shut-out innings, helping the U.S. win silver. And then softball was no longer an Olympic sport.

But what I didn't know is that there's also a National Pro Fastpitch softball league, and Jennie pitched there for a while as well (including several perfect games, because why not?). She retired in 2010 and was a huge advocate for softball's campaign to get re-added to the Olympics in 2016.

Oh, and Jennie can also strike out MLB All Stars.

While Jennie is sort of the Cy Young of softball, she's also the Mia Hamm of softball. Jennie revolutionized her sport the same way Mia revolutionized hers. She brought it into the spotlight and made it cool, gave girls the okay to be pretty and wear glitter headbands and play with hot pink bats. She has also never posed for Playboy or Maxim, kept her reputation spotless, stayed humble and is still committed to growing the game.

Sounds like an all-star to me!

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Blogtober Day 23: Alberto Tomba

I took three things away from all those years of Italian classes in middle and high school: 1) the lingering urge to say "abbiamo finito" and "andiamo," 2) an excessive knowledge of Roberto Benigni's movies, and 3) this guy.

I discovered Alberto Tomba when my Italian teacher gave us an assignment to do on any famous Italian person we wanted. So, of course, I Googled "Italian Olympians" (or something of the sort) and his name popped up. I chose him for two reasons: he's one of Italy's most successful Olympians ever, and his nickname is Tomba la Bomba (Tomba the bomb). That might be my favorite sports nickname ever -- love the way it just rolls off the tongue!

Anyway, moving on from my high school reminiscences. Alberto was beating members of the national A team when he was still on the B team. He got onto his first podium in 1986, and then won bronze in the giant slalom at the 1987 world championships. Medals came fast and furious from there on; his first world cup came in slalom in 1987 before, two days later, beating his idol Ingemar Stenmark in the giant slalom for another gold medal. He won nine races in 1988, including two Olympic gold medals; in the first run of the giant slalom at the Olympics, he finished over a second faster than the next fastest competitor. That's basically an eternity. It was here that he was nicknamed Tomba la Bomba and became famous for his hard-partying ways. But more on that later.

Alberto won a gold and a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics, and another silver in 1994. In his career, he won nine season titles, won 50 races and finished on 88 podiums. He's the only male skier ever to have won at least one race per year for 11 straight seasons. He retired in 1998 at age 31 after his 50th world cup win, having not done well at the 1998 Olympics. But earlier this year, he said that he regrets retiring so young and could've kept racing for another Olympics or two. Imagine what he could've won had he continued!

So back to the hard-partying stuff... apparently his reputation was almost entirely fabricated. Of course, some media exaggeration had something to do with it, but Alberto apparently would go to sleep really early, wake up and go out for an hour at 2 a.m., and then go back to sleep. All in the name of image. Genius.

Alberto was at the top of the skiing world for a solid 12 years, which is a CRAZY long time to be the best at a sport. He's undoubtedly one of the best skiers ever.

And, seriously, Tomba la Bomba? I dare you to say it and not enjoy yourself!

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Blogtober Day 22: Peggy Fleming

You want to know how well-planned this month's bloggy endeavor was? There are six figure skaters on my list of people to write fan letters to; two were done in the first half of the month, and four were left for the final week and a half. Hah, whoops?

The Grenoble 1968 Olympics were the first ever to be televised in color. Clearly someone saw Peggy's ballin' chartreuse skating dress and was like, "AMERICA MUST BE ABLE TO EXPERIENCE THIS IN ALL ITS GLORY!" Boom, color broadcasts.

Peggy started skating when she was nine, and it didn't take long for everything to get flipped on its head. In 1961, when she was 12, her coach (along with the rest of the U.S. figure skating national team) was killed in a plane crash on the way to the 1961 World Championships. After the tragedy, she was coached by the legendary Carlo Fassi and went on to win five U.S. titles, three World titles and Olympic gold in 1968 before retiring.

In 1993, Peggy was named the third most popular athlete in America (behind Mary Lou Retton and fellow skater Dorothy Hamill), which kind of boggles my mind because the Dream Team was a thing in 1992. In 1998, Peggy was diagnosed with breast cancer, but it was caught early and she underwent surgery. She's now in remission and a huge breast cancer activist. She and her husband own and operate a winery, and the profits from one of their wines go to charities that support breast cancer research.

She's been a figure skating commentator for over 20 years now, and she was in Blades of Glory as a judge. Yes.

The plane crash that killed Peggy's coach wiped out the entire top level of U.S. figure skating. Think about it; these were the skaters and coaches going to the world championships, and suddenly they were all gone. Peggy came up in a skating world that was basically a vacuum. 1964 was the first Olympics in 12 years that had no American on the ladies' figure skating podium. When she won Olympic gold, it signaled America's return to figure skating dominance; an American lady won a figure skating medal in every Olympics until 2010.

But Peggy's gold medal meant even more to America as a whole, as it was the only gold medal won by Team USA at the winter Olympics in 1968. I can't even comprehend that.

You rock that chartreuse dress, girl!

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Blogtober Day 21: Buzz Schneider

I was going to save my letter about Buzz for the 25th (because 25 was his number and I'm the lamest person alive, in case that fact has escaped you thus far), but today was a struggle; the OTC is re-carpeting all the rooms and today was my turn, which meant packing up my entire room last night and moving back in today when I got home from work. Well, I returned to my lamp and TV up on shelves I couldn't reach, no desk chair, and all the furniture ever so slightly off from where it used to be. Not the worst case scenario by far, but it was frustrating enough for some choice four-letter exclamations a couple of times as I tried to put all my stuff back. Ah, dorm life.

Basically, all I want to do right now is be a vegetable, but a blog post must be written. And if there's any athlete that can make me smile simply by existing, it's Buzzy.

Buzz is one of the many guys from the Miracle on Ice hockey team that pretty much nobody knows about, which is a damn shame. Like the team itself, people didn't really think too much of him, but again, like the team itself, he ended up surpassing all expectations.

He grew up in middle of nowhere, Minnesota (not too far from the slice of middle of nowhere, Minnesota where his Olympic line mate Mark Pavelich grew up), and was as good at baseball as he was at hockey. After high school the Pittsburgh Pirates invited him to try out, but pretty much every big college hockey program was offering him a scholarship. So he went to the University of Minnesota (coached by Herb Brooks) and won the 1974 NCAA championship.

Buzz was on the U.S. National Team from 1974-76 (including the 1976 Olympic team) before turning pro and playing for various minor league teams. He was on the national team in 1977 and then again, obviously, in 1980 when he made the Olympic team. At an absolutely ancient 25 years old, he was the grandpa of the group (the only returning Olympian from the '76 team), and people didn't really expect too much out of the guy that had been bouncing around the minors for several years.

The Boys of Winter says that Buzz may have been the "most popular and industrious player on the team," and could very well have been elected captain over Mike Eruzione because he was that well-liked. In the exhibition season, he played in 62 games and scored 42 points. He was on the Conehead line with Pavelich and Bah Harrington; they were the line Herb put in the game when he wanted to make something happen. During the Olympics, the Coneheads were the highest scoring line, and Buzz had 11 points in seven games (including the first goal of the game against the Soviets, no biggie) -- tied with Mark Johnson, who was named the team's MVP, as the leading scorer. Y'know, casually. Not too bad for a guy who was "over the hill," huh?

Buzz never played in the NHL (though he played pro hockey in Switzerland for several years and almost went for a third Olympics in 1984), which is probably why his accomplishments have sort of been lost to the general public. But really, he was a leader of the Miracle on Ice team in every way and he deserves WAY more credit than he gets. He was kind of a ridiculously talented player that Herb Brooks basically begged not to go to Europe until after the Olympics. And his stats don't lie.

But the thing about Buzz's mere existence that makes me smile is the fact that he's apparently the most wonderful person ever. Herb used to be on him constantly because he knew that Buzz had an incredible strength of personality and wouldn't be too bothered. He "exudes the sort of laid-back warmth and sincerity that makes you feel you've known him for ten years after ten minutes," never made a fuss, and an old friend of his has said he would've made a great pastor because "he has such a gentle way. He's always giving and thinking of other people." I mean, just listen to him speak. I want to hug him (and clearly so does that reporter)!

Basically, Buzz is everything I love in an athlete: he's an underdog, crazy talented and a quality human being. (And I named my car after him and it makes me happy on the regular. Awesome life choice.)

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