The Real Winner of Sochi 2014: 1980

I think it's pretty needless to say that I haven't been pleased with my 2014 Olympic hockey experience for the last several days. Even after the U.S. men were eliminated, I tuned in for the gold medal game this morning, expecting to see some crazy excitement, and instead got a 3-0 victory. Yawn. (At least we made things interesting when we lost gold in Vancouver, amirite?)

So today I want to talk about the real winner of the Olympic hockey tournament: 1980 references.

It's no secret that the 1980 team is kind of my thing, so seeing other people talking about it on Twitter was kind of the greatest. Obviously this all came to a head when the U.S. faced Russia in pool play, and how could it not? Three members of the Soviet team from 1980 are now in positions of power in Russian hockey; Vladislav Tretiak is the head of Russian Ice Hockey Federation, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov is the Olympic team's head coach, and Alexei Kasatonov is the team's technical official. And then there's Viktor Tikhonov, the head coach of the 1980 team, whose grandson (with the same name) is a forward on the 2014 team. And on the American end is Ryan Suter, whose father Bob was on the 1980 U.S. team. So, y'know, there were connections to be made.

But most of what I saw was purely gratuitous. And totally, completely awesome.

But to my delight, people were throwin' it back to 1980 during completely irrelevant games, and when neither Russia nor the U.S. were even on the ice.

And I've got to hand it to NBC's hockey broadcast team, because they were able to throw some gems into their coverage.

But I think what gets the most credit from me is the following:

1972 was essentially the Soviet Union's "Miracle on Ice," except it was on a basketball court. Video linked here for your convenience, should you want to relive a very unfortunate moment in American sports history. Nonetheless, 1980 reference + 1972 reference = A+.

So congratulations, 1980 references! You win the Olympics! Happy 34th anniversary!

(And now I just want to paste Mike Eruzione's "I just scored the winning goal" face on every hockey photo in existence. Someone take Photoshop away from me.)

**Note: Photos are not mine. But the ridiculous things that've been done to them are.
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If You Hate On the Winter Olympics, You're Wrong

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this here, but I'm totally a Winter Olympics girl. Summer is great and everything, but I am completely in my element every fourth February. I fell in love with figure skating when I was a kiddo and it only snowballed from there (pun totally intended).

So it completely boggles my mind when people hate on the Winter Olympics. I can understand if you simply prefer summer sports, or if you grew up somewhere that doesn't emphasize winter sports, or whatever the situation may be, and politely decide not to watch when winter rolls around. But the utter disdain that the Winter Olympics endure from so many people is just plain not okay.

Again, I understand if a certain sport just isn't your cup of tea. But if you're one of those people that flat out disrespects winter sports and their athletes, I'm glaring looking at you.

Imagine, if you will, that the Miami Heat is playing for the NBA championship and is down by a point in the final game with only seconds to go. LeBron James is dribbling down the court. He's about to go for a sweet dunk but, as he prepares to leap into the air, his foot slips out from under him. He lands on his butt, the buzzer sounds and the Heat has lost. Incomprehensible, right?! LeBron is the best! He'd never just slip!

Well, welcome to the world of winter sports, where everything is contested on snow or ice. You're the best at your sport? Aw, that's cute, but ice ain't about to care, and neither are the rules. If an athlete lands just ever so slightly wrong, the biggest moment of their athletic career goes up in smoke, even if they're the best in the world. No victories are guaranteed. It is impossible to predict the result of any of these events. Just ask Lindsey Jacobellis, the perennial snowboardcross gold medal favorite who only has one silver medal after three Olympics. With the extremely rare exception, every sport is always anybody's game!

Not only do sports take place on snow or ice, but many of these athletes compete with knives strapped to their feet. So not only is falling a very real possibility, blood is a very real possibility. Every time I watch short track, I'm convinced that someone is going to die. Just ask J.R. Celski, who had one of his thighs sliced down to the bone by a skate blade during a race back in 2009. You don't know stress until you've emotionally invested in a short track skater.

If you're bored while deadly injuries are constantly imminent, I'm a little bit concerned.

Sure, if you break it down, Winter Olympic sports sound kind of lame; pushing a giant rock on ice (and psh, sweeping it?!), sliding down an ice tube, twirling around on ice, etc. But let's talk about summer sports, which include throwing heavy balls, throwing pointy sticks, jumping over things, twirling around in water, doing flips off of various random equipment, etc. Let's be fair about this, folks. All sports are, essentially, pointless. But we love 'em anyway. Don't disrespect a sport just because you don't understand it, por favor!

Yes, winter sports are more expensive to take part in than many summer sports. I mean, it costs nothing to go for a run! But are you telling me that speed skater Emily Scott, who had a job but was so low on money after her NGB stipend was cut that she started a GoFundMe campaign and applied for food stamps, is rich? Or Kaitlyn Farrington, the snowboard halfpipe gold medalist, whose parents paid for her snowboarding by selling one of the family's cows each week? Or the countless families that had to take out a second mortgage on their houses, or the athletes that hold down multiple jobs at once so they can afford equipment, etc. etc.?

Seriously, the fact that people think that Winter Olympians are upper-class snobs makes my blood boil and my heart hurt. The amount of dedication and sacrifice that goes into these sports is unreal because they're so expensive.

Uh, dude, do the Summer Olympics have anything to do with Ancient Greece anymore? The only sport that does is the marathon. No sports are kept on the program because they were on the ancient program (hey there, wrestling). They're not limited to Greek citizens, mythology has absolutely nothing to do with anything, women are allowed to participate, and the only competitors that compete naked are NONE OF THEM. The modern Olympics may have been inspired by the Ancient Olympics, but if this is your standard... it probably shouldn't be. That's not really the point anymore.

"Winter Olympics are only for white people!" you exclaim. "They're whitewashed and elitist and RACIST!"

Yes, look at all of those white people.

The Winter Olympics may not have the diversity of the Summer Olympics, but it's improving by leaps and bounds and more countries are represented than ever before. And to be fair, there's no snow or ice in Africa. You can't really fault the blonde-haired, blue-eyed folks of Scandinavia (aka a very very cold place) for being good at cross-country skiing any more than you can fault Ethiopians for being good at the marathon. Heck, the Dutch are basically born on speed skates, but you don't see them sweeping the podium at the Summer Olympics, do you?

So I hope you've learned something today. Even if you don't personally enjoy watching the Winter Olympics, you should at least be able to objectively acknowledge that they're pretty awesome. If not...

And if you need more guidance, I'd be happy to explain the rules of curling to you. :)

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Jeremy Abbott Is More Awesome Than All Of Us

Now that the Olympic men's figure skating short program has aired both live and in primetime yesterday, I'm assuming that everyone that wanted to see it has seen it. And if you haven't seen it... well, you missed something out of the Twilight Zone. I swear, it was incredibly fitting that I made popcorn right as it was starting. (Yes, that was at around 8 a.m. MT, but when you have breakfast at 5 a.m., three hours later is definitely snack time. Don't judge.)

The craziness began right at the start of the second group of skaters, as four-time Olympic medalist Evgeni Plushenko landed a jump awkwardly in his warm-up and immediately grabbed his back. He was the first skater in that group set to perform and, instead of skating out to center ice, he skated over to the judges. Next thing you knew, he'd withdrawn due to injury and was taking a goodbye bow, his Olympic (and skating) career officially done. What?! He'd been having some issues since the team event long program, but I still felt like I'd been clubbed over the head with a frying pan. Complete and utter shock. In all my years of Olympics-watching, nothing like that has ever happened.

But anyway. This post is not being written so I can talk about Plushenko, but just... I'm still shocked. Moving on.

After that, we were all lulled into a false sense of security, assuming that there's no way anything else shocking could happen. I mean, one shocker like that is rare enough, but two? Nah. No way.

And then Jeremy Abbott took the ice.

If you haven't been following U.S. or Olympic figure skating, here's the dealio: Jeremy won U.S. nationals in 2010 (ahead of future Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, no less) to make the Olympic team, but had a disaster of a short program and finished ninth overall. He finished second at nationals to make the Olympic team for 2014 and, in the team event, had another bad short program to finish seventh out of 10. The hope going into the individual event was that he'd gotten his nerves out and could now skate cleanly. In his own words, he'd now already gotten his Olympic disaster out of the way.

Well, homeboy fell on his first jumping pass in his individual short program. And not just any run-of-the-mill fall, either. I'm talking total wipe-out, right on his hip, careening into the boards, and not immediately getting up. He was down, and he was clearly very badly hurt.

via Yahoo images
I was, first of all, very afraid for him, and I also assumed that was it. Can you medically withdraw in the middle of your program? I don't even know, but that's what I thought would happen. He'd hobble over to the judges and tearfully bow out.

But no. Oh, no. After an agonizing 10 or 15 seconds that felt like it took an hour, Jeremy collected himself, stood up and continued his program. According to good ol' commentators Johnny Weir (literally just typed "Weird" instead of Weir, hahaha. #freudianslip) and Tara Lipinski informed us that, despite his significant time down on the ice, he hadn't missed any of his program's required elements (i.e. jumps, spins, etc.), just some choreography. So he caught up with his music and kept going. I was so nervous as he approached his second jumping pass, I was about ready to vomit... but lo and behold, he landed it. And he landed every other jump he executed.

He was like a different person! Before his program, he was taking deep breaths and visibly trying to get himself mentally ready. But after his fall, you could see in his eyes that he was pissed and determined and ready to raise some hell. And he did.

And guys, I cannot even tell you how completely overwhelmed I was. The amount of respect I have for this guy is unreal. It was so inspiring to see him fight back from what could've (or, really, should've) been utter devastation. This is his last Olympics and he wasn't going to just let it end like that.

It should be a lesson to us all: our flops should never be death knells. Jeremy Abbott went hip-first into the ice and face-first into the boards at the Olympics and got up and finished with his head held high. Didn't accomplish what you wanted to? Well, bummer. Brush the snow off your pants and hit that triple lutz-triple toe combination because, damnit, you can!

As Jeremy was waiting for his scores, I think it was Tara that said, "It may not've been the Olympic moment he'd been hoping for, but he inadvertently created an Olympic moment." Heck yes, he did.

(And then he returned for his long program today and delivered like a CHAMP. Ended his final Olympics on the most positive of notes. I may or may not have gotten a little misty-eyed. You go, Jeremy.)

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Breakin' It Down: The Sochi 2014 Olympic Opening Ceremony

I wasn't sure, originally, if I was going to post a "review" of the opening ceremony. But then a couple of friends told me I should, and who am I to turn down a request like that? :) I might not have the insight I had into London 2012's Opening Ceremony, but that also means I don't have the emotional attachment either. I did, however, live-tweet the whole three-hour saga, and I may or may not have been looking for an excuse to try the whole "embedded tweets" thing. So let's get this party started!

Was anyone else as bummed about this as I was? I always look forward to the creative way a ceremony will present the Olympic rings, and it's always a highlight of the production. Not only this, but Google image search any of the modern opening ceremonies and the rings come up close to the top. These are always the enduring images of the ceremonies, and it's so disappointing that Sochi's flopped so spectacularly. If this isn't redone, the four rings and a snowflake will be the image everyone takes away.

Mass movement isn't something I ever really thought about before my time with London 2012 Ceremonies, but none of this could be done without it! As opposed to traditional choreography, mass choreography is (somewhat obviously) the movements of large amounts of people in a group. It's how the crowds of performers get to where they need to be, it's the incredible shapes that are made by hundreds of people, etc. That flag is one example. It's an incredibly precise operation!

I mean, seriously. Was this not the coolest? It kind of reminded me of what they did in Beijing during the parade of nations, when each nation walked across an ink pad and then a giant canvas that later became part of the ceremony. I love when something is added to the parade of nations to make it just a little more special, and this was symbolic to boot!

Are you for real, Meredith? It's the Cyrillic alphabet. Not all that hard to explain. "Yes, it's different than the alphabet that English speakers are familiar with, which is why the countries are entering in seemingly random order."

Hooray for warm-weather countries getting some representation! I think my favorite entrance was Venezuela, whose flag bearer was just having a total dance party. Every athlete should be that excited to be there! :) Now, granted, a lot of the athletes representing the warm-weather countries don't actually live there, but I'm on board with this system. Not only does it get these countries interested in the winter Olympics by giving them a rooting interest, but it allows more athletes to achieve their Olympic dreams. As someone who achieved my dream by any means necessary, I'm down with these folks gettin' it done however they can.

True story! The athlete marshals are instructed as to what to do and all have earpieces in during the show (more of that mass movement stuff!), but the marching you see is the first time it happens.

Because few things scream America more than the stars and stripes... but something that does is an ensemble of sheepskin coats and cowboys hats. Yeehaw!

'Nuff said. :)

Did I notice this correctly? In the "thousand years of history in three minutes" little video clip, was the Soviet era completely bypassed? Or did I blink and miss it?

The floor of the stadium was one of the coolest things I've ever seen (that ship sequence! Sheesh!), but I was especially blown away by the map. They had men marching in formation on it and interacting with what was going on in the projection, and the effect it had was incredible.

I had the pleasure of knowing Steve Boyd in London. He's been a part of every Olympics in recent memory, and was in charge of mass choreography for London 2012 and Vancouver 2010 (and, incidentally, High School Musical 3). If you watch either of those ceremonies, it doesn't take long to see that he's beyond brilliantly talented. He also happens to be overwhelmingly appreciative of ceremony volunteers and an absolute gem of a person to work with!

This was going to be the real test, in my eyes: could Russia put on a positive ceremony without totally glossing over all the bad bits of its history? Turns out they could! Of course it was going to overlook some things, because the nature of opening ceremonies is to be positive and proud, but they handled things very well. Viewers really got a sense of the different eras and how things progressed. The Soviet era was represented as industrial, uniform and kind of big and scary. And red, lots of red. They may not've specifically said, "hey, lots of people were murdered during this time!" but that would've just been dumb. Instead, the ceremony conveyed a dark, ominous feeling that gave you a sense of what happened. And the moment of tribute to lives lost in World War II was fantastic.

I don't remember his exact words, but I do remember that there was a lot about being tolerant and understanding. And not "we should..." but "we will..." Like he was almost giving commands. You WILL be tolerant. He's starting out his IOC presidency in the middle of a maelstrom, and it was good (if a little shocking) to see him laying it out there like that.

Calling all Olympians (or was it all Olympic medalists?) "Olympic gods" might be a teensy bit hyperbolic, but wow. This. was. incredible.

Funny. He's probably the greatest goalie in hockey history, but he's forever immortalized in America for giving up a last-second goal to Mark Johnson and getting taken out of the game that eventually became the Miracle on Ice. Oops?

Odd thing to be bummed about, yes. But Russian Olympic games seem to have a strange obsession with their mascots. Exhibit A:

Yes, that is a field full of dancing Mishas. And a giant, inflatable Misha. And, uh, is Leopard imitating Usain Bolt? I don't get it. But I was looking forward to it.

Woohoo! But when the camera angle on Fisht Olympic Stadium and the cauldron is just right, all I can see is...

A comparison to The Big Owe probably wasn't what they're going for. But based on Sochi's budget overrun, it might be a pretty apt one. :P

Overall, there was a lot about this ceremony that I absolutely loved (some going unmentioned, like the troika and the doves), but I didn't emotionally connect to it. It absolutely fascinated me and it was beautiful and I couldn't tear my eyes away, but my eyes remained dry and I walked away feeling a bit short of awestruck. Definitely (definitely) impressed, but not blown out of the water.

So tell me! What are your thoughts on the opening ceremony?

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Celebrating the Opening Ceremony!

Real talk: I celebrate Olympic opening ceremonies the way most of America celebrates the Super Bowl. It's the thing I look forward to. It's serious business. I do not flip away during commercials, I do not stop paying attention during the parade of nations, and if you talk while it's on TV I will tell you to shut up. And maybe throw in some serious stink-eye.

Opening ceremony day is like my own personal national holiday, which is kind of a bummer when the rest of the world is intent on doing its normal thing. But thankfully, for this Olympiad, I'm working at one of very few places that understands. So, for this Olympiad, I actually got to celebrate!

The festivities started in the morning with a Team USA torch lighting ceremony at the Olympic Training Center, so that came with the added benefit of returning to my old stomping grounds and seeing some folks I hadn't seen since I left in December. :) There was breakfast, and then we went up to the roof and the U.S. Paralympic sledge hockey team lit the cauldron!

Then it was off to work. My hours during the Olympics are understandably bizarre, seeing as we have to compensate for an 11-hour time difference, so my shift was 10 a.m.-3 p.m. MT. It was awesome because, with the time difference, I started work smack in the middle of the opening ceremony. My assignment? Create a photo gallery!

Let me break it down for you. Opening ceremonies are my jam. The Winter Olympics are my jam. So making a photo gallery of a Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony as it was happening was just... indescribable. :)

The festivities continued at 5 p.m. that evening, with an Olympic celebration extravaganza in downtown Colorado Springs. I put in some extra time at work to hang around until 5, and then walked a block to see what was what and spend some time with some cool people. There'd been an Olympic celebration over the summer that I'd gone to, and this one was pretty similar. There were sport information booths and demonstrations (including snowmobile jumping), and a big screen where the opening ceremony would be aired.

It's things like this that remind me why I love the Olympics so much. It's that community, festival-like feeling. Everyone was decked out in their Team USA finest, drinking hot chocolate or vodka (da, Russia!), ringing cowbells and cheering. It's a unity and palpable excitement that you don't really get on this large a scale during any other time.

I, however, decided to leave after a relatively short time. Why? 1) It was cold. Much warmer than the negative temperatures of the previous few days, yes, but even after 45 minutes my face was going numb. I would've been miserable before the ceremony even started. And 2) I need to be able to sit and watch and concentrate and get emotional. So I headed home, scarfed down some dinner and snuggled up on the couch. And, let me tell ya, it was fabulous. And my thoughts on the ceremony will be a post entirely their own!

How did everyone else spend Opening Ceremony day? :)

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