February 26, 2006
If someone has ever told you they went to the best party ever, they lied to you. Well, unless they were at Sports Illustrated’s blowout party last night at Club Bud.
Every Olympic year, there is one final party for the athletes the night before the Closing Ceremony.
Sports Illustrated teamed up with Budweiser to host this year’s festa in Torino.
The star-studded room allowed the athletes to finally enjoy themselves out of the spotlight and in an invite-only surrounding. Passes were given out to select members of the press while all Olympic athletes were able to invite a few guests each. Well, almost all athletes. Sometimes, it can be detrimental having an event of the last day of the Olympics.
By the way, Derek Parra is the man. I have never met a nicer person in my life.
New SI Swimsuit issues lined the walls and tables while loud (and well-mixed) music, varying from rock to techno, filled the glass pyramidal Club Bud. Beers (and surprisingly mixed drinks) flowed freely all night. Attractive dancers were positioned throughout the club, intermittently stopped by presentations of athleticism, including two contortionists and a tightrope-like display.
In the side lounge, a Jacuzzi filled with models overlooked the Po River. Are you kidding me? Free alcohol and women in bikinis?
There were many photo opportunities, especially as the party was starting. I took advantage at first, but it got to the point where I felt guilty taking pictures with some of the athletes.
Some of the athletes, including Apolo Anton Ohno handled the attention very well. Ohno arrived to the party shortly after winning the 500m event, with a gold medal around his neck. It was the perfect pregame for an Olympic Party.
I was very lucky to get a ticket and bump shoulders with many famous athletes and sportswriters, but it was also very enlightening. I am usually star struck, but after talking with some of the athletes, I realized that although they have characteristics that distinguish themselves, athletes are still just everyday people.
Posted by Marco Santini at 5:44 PM | Permalink
| Comments (0)
February 24, 2006
Although the Americans are second in the medal standings with 22 medals (two behind Germany), there seems to be a general disappointment for the American team going into the final weekend of competition.
Both Ice Hockey Gold Medal games will be without American teams and the SI cover jinx continued with authority as the American Ski team pulled up really lame. Chad Hedrick will be leaving with each colored medal after expecting five gold medals and Michelle Kwan did not even have a chance to compete for her elusive gold medal.
Maybe some athletes have not performed to their potential, but maybe there has been an extreme influx of hyping athletes.
For the most part, Italians (and a majority of the world) feel that Americans always think they are the best. This is true. No matter the event, many Americans feel victory is the only way to measure fame and character. A competitive driving force is instilled into our minds, dispersing into all aspects of our lives.
But increasing expectations are changing the face of sport.
Ask the Canadian hockey team (or the Canadian Broadcast Channel) how expectations are changing their businesses.
In a betting mans world, there will always be a favorite and there will most certainly be an underdog. There will always be the underlying stories but there will also be the stories that are blown out of proportion to draw attention and ratings.
Sporting Networks, especially ESPN, have changed the face of modern sports, allowing for premium exposure and the quest for the highlight reel. I enjoy getting my sports news as quickly as possible (by the way, does anyone have the Mobile ESPN?) but I want the facts.
Hogging the spotlight has hurt many athletes, whether in their athletic careers or everyday lives. Lindsey Jacobellis should regret when she grabbed her snowboard in the final of the Women’s Snowboard Cross, but she will still get money from sponsors. She will learn from her mistake, but how often do we as a sports audience think about how we are receiving our sports news and why we are seeing certain athletes covered on a regular basis?
Statistics cannot lie. Greatness can be seen everywhere, but we have to reconsider what we appreciate. Winning a gold medal isn’t the only way an athlete can be successful in his/her sport.
Through these Olympics, I am beginning to appreciate sports more so for great competition than for memorable and sometimes life-shattering moments. Although many of these sports continue year-round, the most important event occurs once every four years. Your talent also get measured in four-year periods, trying to live the perfect moment at the perfect time on the perfect day.
Gearing one’s life toward a certain goal can be very frustrating. Many athletes sacrifice their social lives and daily desires for a specific means. Few attain these dreams. There is nothing wrong striving for the best, but it should always be with proper intent.
Although Michelle Kwan fell short of Americas dream for her to win the gold medal in Torino, she was very gracious about withdrawing. She was classy. Although it may sting in the morning when she wakes up without a gold medal in her trophy collection, she talked about the journey that sports led her through and how they shaped her life. She did not focus on the gaping hole in her heart that the media continues to rip open whenever her name is mentioned.
It is difficult to look at such events and be grateful for all the athletes that compete, but as long as we measure athletes by the rings on their fingers and medals on their necks, our views will continue to be clouded by the true lessons learned from sport.
Accepting defeat is one of them.
Posted by Marco Santini at 3:02 PM | Permalink
| Comments (1)
February 23, 2006
For the last week, speed skating (not soccer) has taken over the Italian world.
Before the 2006 Winter Olympics, Italy had never won a medal in speed skating (also the number (0) of current NHL players on the Mens Hockey team).
But in Torino, anything can happen.
In his first event, Enrico Fabris silenced critics by taking bronze in the 5,000m event. The crowd went crazy at the arena and also at Medals Plaza.
Winning a medal was not enough for Fabris, who anchored a strong Italian pursuit team that beat the USA en route to a gold medal. (Shani Davis chose not to compete in the team pursuit causing problems between with Chad Hedrick).
But none of this compared to the 1500m performance Fabris delivered on Tuesday.
I always root for the USA, but this difficult not to jump on this bandwagon. When Shani Davis crossed the line in the last heat of the 1500m in second place, I screamed in enjoyment. Many people were pulling for the Americans, but my heart was (temporarily) with the Italians. How can you not root for an athlete competing on his home soil, especially given the circumstances?
All of the local restaurants and bars were showing continuous replay reels on Rai TV (Italian Network). It was the topic on everyones tongue that night and fans with Italian flags could be seen throughout the streets near the Palavela.
I went to an Italian restaurant that night surrounded by televisions. I tried talking to the male host, who did not know any English. Instead of asking for a table, I told the man I liked Enrico Fabris (mi piace Enrico Fabris). He yelled with joy and brought us to a directly to a table. I immediately felt accepted.
Enrico even made the front cover of most of the Italian newspapers, where anything but soccer is usually sacrilegous.
The Italians' reactions were similar to the way most Americans feel about ice skating, although there are no Italians in the top ten going into tonight. Carolina Kostner has the best shot for Italy, sitting in11th place.
Tonight's final for the Ladies Free Skate is going to be a great (American) showdown. Sasha Cohen only leads second seed (and favoriter) Irina Slutskaya by .03 points, but Kimmie Meissner is fifth overall going into tonight while Emily Hughes is seventh. Which American skater is going to be the next Sarah Hughes or Michelle Kwan?
Tickets are nearly impossible to find, selling for at least triple digit Euros.
Sometimes, going to a nearby pub can be (almost) as fun as going to the event. Pubs can provide more social and vivacious atmospheres, as long as they have nice TVs (with English channels).
Posted by Marco Santini at 9:31 AM | Permalink
| Comments (0)
February 21, 2006
The most highly anticipated event of the 20th Winter Olympics is finally here. Tonight the female figure skaters will compete in the Short Program at 7:00 pm.
Usually, the top three finishers at the 2006 U.S. Championships qualify for the Olympics. Winner Sasha Cohen, runner-up Kimmie Meissner and third place finisher Emily Hughes were readyto make the trip to Torino but then Michelle Kwan had to make things difficult. She withdrew from the U.S. Championships because of a right groin injury and then successfully petitioned for an Olympic roster spot following two performances in front of a committee on January 27th.
Two weeks later, Michelle Kwan had made her way to Torino and was all smiles at the Opening Ceremonies on February 10th. The next day, Kwan pulled out of the Olympics because of her groin. Many fans believed Kwan never really deserved an Olympic roster spot in the first place. All of her hard work to get past the Olympic red tape had been wasted.
That was (almost) exactly what Emily Hughes wanted to hear. Her father received a phone call during a sushi dinner that confirmed her Olympic acceptance as a replacement. The 17-year-old Great-Neck, NY native who got bumped from the Olympic roster was finally back in the mix to compete for her country and follow in her the footsteps of her sister.
Sarah Hughes won gold in the free skate in Salt Lake City after a spectacular performance. Her perfect performance was etched into history as one of the best performances, overshadowing highly favored Michelle Kwan.
Tonight, the American performers are staggered. Hughes with skate 15th among the 29 women competing in the short program. Kimmie Meissner will skate second overall and Sasha Cohen will be the last figure skater to perform.
Overall, Russian Irina Slutskaya is favored for tonight’s event. Showing great sportsmanship, Sarah Hughes delivered Slutskaya’s skating costume from New York, since the two often shop at the same Tania Bass designer store.
Medals will be handed out after Thursday night’s Free Skate competition. The story lines are piling up for what should be an amazing few nights of figure skating.
Posted by Marco Santini at 9:06 AM | Permalink
| Comments (0)
February 20, 2006
Athletic events are always more enjoyable when watching them in good company.
A friend from my hometown of Cresskill, New Jersey ventured to the Olympics this weekend. She was able to find us hockey tickets for the Men’s USA game against Slovakia. Hockey is my favorite sport in the Winter Olympics and I was eager to watch an American event in person, rather than on the television feeds.
It was slightly ironic that she got tickets for us while I am interning at the Winter Games. I guess when you work between 12 and 14-hour days, it can be difficult to find ticket information, let alone see daylight. Free tickets come around every so often, but it depends on seniority mixed with a little luck.
After a scoreless yet very exciting first period, I spent the first intermission waiting on an absurdly long line at the refreshment stand. I talked with many people in American gear and met a study abroad student from the Providence area. I also traded a few pins, which is by far the most addicting Olympic habit.
Before arriving in Torino, I vowed not to get caught up in the absurd pin collection. I grabbed a few free ones here and there and now my collection numbers 14. They range from Access Hollywood to Rai to Visa. I guess it could be worse. I could be traveling to each Olympic city and prefer to trade pins all day rather than witness the games.
Marian Hossa started the scoring scuffle for the Slovakian team during a power play at the 14:20 mark of the second period. I must admit, it was a nice goal. Hundreds of fans rushed to their feet, snare drums in one hand and flags in the other. Who knew the Slovakian fans were that intense about their hockey? I mean, they are one of two remaining undefeated teams at the Olympics.
I was sitting in a predominantly American section of the stadium. There were many American flags visible, but not compared to the section of decked-out Slovakian fans. They must have bought at least four complete rows.
The US answered back just over four minutes later with a power play goal of their own when Brian Rolston scored with assists coming from Brian Rafalski and Scott Gomez. My friend and I screamed and jumped up together, along with hald of the stadium. I actually felt like part of the scornig process.
Everyone in the stadium was back on the edge of their seats. The Slovakians got the last laugh when Peter Bondra scored just under two minutes into the final period. For the next 18 minutes, the US team put together some great scoring chances in front of the net, but they could not convert, as Slovakia won their second game in a row. It was almost as disappointing as the American Ski Team.
However, we did not leave the arena upset. I felt very close with to the team, as an American rooting for his team in a foreign country, but it was great being a part of the event. I enjoy watching a well-played game and it was tough not to smile when you watch a game played so intensely, especially when you sit with someone who enjoys the game as much as my friend.
This hockey game was very different from my first hockey experience of the Olympic games (Germany vs. Czech Republic). I went with a friend who knew very little about hockey. It was a great explaining the game and the international rules, but they were not able to identify great passes and saves. I felt more like a teacher than a sports fan.
Despite the American loss, sitting with a real hockey fan was amazing, especially since she is a New Jersey Devils fan. Sorry Bruins fans. We were screaming with emotion and experiencing the slap shots with the players, in addition to the random American fans sitting near us, who we quickly made acquaintances with.
Next up for the USA (1-1-2) team is Russia (3-0-1) on Tuesday night. Also tomorrow night, Slovakia (4-0-0) will skate against Sweden (3-0-1).
Posted by Marco Santini at 12:53 PM | Permalink
| Comments (2)
February 17, 2006
Yesterday, the Winter Olympics took a huge step into the future with the debut of snowboard cross.
The new racing sport, comparable to Nascar on ice, combines speed with aggression and strategy throughout a windy, jump-filled course. Riders have two solo runs to qualify for the rounds of four riders apiece. Such rounds are won and lost out of the gate, where the first few (small) jumps determine your initial standing entering the first curve.
American favorite Seth Wescott earned the first snowboard cross gold medal in history, after smoothly passing Radoslav Zidek on the inside of one of the final turns. Zidek almost caught Wescott on the final hill, but the photo finish was golden for the American.
Wescott's accomplishment marked the third gold medal for the American team in three snowboarding events (Shaun White in the men's half pipe and Hannah Teter in the women's half pipe).
The sweep was intact until the Americans got cocky. Lindsey Jacobellis had the gold medal waiting for her at the bottom of the hill, with no other competitors in sight, going into the final jump. All she had to do was land on her feet.
I think she wanted the gold medal too much; maybe it just was not her day; or maybe she really wanted the attention.
Jacobellis grabbed her board in the air on the final jump and lost her balance. She fell to the snow and quickly got back on her feet, but it was too late. Tanja Frieden from Switzerland made up the distance, earning the first non-American snowboard medal of the Olympics.
Approaching her final jump, I thought Jacobellis was going to win the easiest gold medal in Olympic history. She dominated (almost) the entire race and showed her talent in each of the rounds leading up to the finals. Good thing I did not say that out loud and jinx her or anything.
Fans may come to events for the show, but athletes must show up to perform to their highest potential. I'm sure she was nervous, especially competing in the first women’s snowboard cross in history, but showing off ended up being her Achilles heel.
My heart stopped when Jacobellis fell, and I will always remember her as the athlete who made the best debut in her event without taking home the gold.
Posted by Marco Santini at 1:29 PM | Permalink
| Comments (1)
February 16, 2006
Last night, I attended my first Olympic event. My friend had received two tickets as a gift and asked me to join them for the hockey game between Germany and the Czech Republic at 5:00pm.
We arrived at the Palasport Olimpico, one of the two Olympic hockey arenas, as the first period was coming to a close. There was a lot of traffic and parking near the stadium was difficult to find. Germany was already winning 1-0, on a late first period goal by Tino Boos.
We settled into our seats, which were two rows behind the player’s entrance to the ice rink, between the German and Czech benches. The arena was almost fully occupied and the lighting was great.
As the second period started, I was still taking in my surroundings, when Tomas Kaberle scored 1:20 into the period, to tie the game at one goal apiece. Half of the face-painted, flag-bearing crowd erupted into cheer.
Kaberle added another goal just over two minutes later, giving the Czech Republic their first lead of the game. Finally, the Czech team was living up to its pre-Olympic hype, favored to to be in the the gold medal game.
Then, I thought I was transferred to an NBA or NFL game. Listen up NHL, you want to boost attendance? Take a page from the Italians and add some cheerleaders to your game plan. When I saw the dancers in orange and yellow, I laughed at first. They were dancing and cheering in the aisles, but many fans seemed to enjoy them.
The Czech team added two more goals in the third period to win the game 4-1. After Jaromir Jagr added a goal, David Vyborny scored an empty netter with 30 seconds left in the game.
Legendary goalie Dominik Hasek, 41, started the game for the Czech Republic, but left the game just under 10 minutes into the first period with pain between his legs. Hasek recorded four saves on four shots and was relieved by Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 20 of 21 shots.
The preliminary round continues today when the Czech Republic will hit the ice against Switzerland at 1:00pm while Germany will face off against Canada tonight at 8:00pm.
Hopefully the US team can rebound from their dissapointing 3-3 tie with Latvia when the face off against Kazakhstan tonight at 9:00pm.
P.S. Who knew the Italians could care less about Valentines Day?
Posted by Marco Santini at 4:56 AM | Permalink
| Comments (1)