Thursday, March 02, 2006

Take the couch or make the trek?

I was surprised to see the rapid dismantling of the Olympics going on almost immediately after the Closing Cermony.
First, I stopped at the press center to send some email and photos to the Stowe Reporter. When I arrived, unlike weeks before, I was one of a few reporters left in the place. On my way in I didn't have to pass through security, they just waved me through. The journalists inside weren't working so much as drinking beers as they sent email and talked on their cell phones about how happy they were to finally be coming home. No news flashes were being passed around, no results were handed out.
In the Piazza San Carlo, where the Today Show was aired every day during the Games, fencing and an abandoned stage haunted the open square, and at the medals plaza cranes were taking apart the staging where dozens of athletes were given their medals.
I felt sorry that I hadn't ventured into the city during the bustle of it all. Maybe I missed out.
I couldn't help but think about all that staging and glitz with some cynicism. It's only realistic that TV and print put a polish and shine on the Games that is weirdly absent when you're there in person. There's no musical introduction or introductory shots of the mountains, and city sights. It's just you in the crowd with the athletes at the start and maybe a jumbo screen. There is some commentary, but not like on TV.
This was a notion I pondered some while I was there, but it struck me hardest when I returned and scrolled through the list of shows my TIVO had recorded. One was NBC's coverage the night of the men's slalom.
The Olympic anthem blared and I realized I hadn't heard it once while I was in Italy. I liked it, it gave the coverage a little drama and excitement about what was to come. I felt like I did when I was little, about to watch Katarina Witt and Alberto Tomba compete.
First to come on was bobsledding, the four man. Bob Costas came on with his news caster voice, then handed the show over to event commentators. They showed maybe five runs of the third run, practically screaming commentary about how this guy was going to prove himself, show that he owned the track. Then with excitement we were taken to the first run of men's slaom. Tod Brooker, who showed he doesn't know much about slalom, babbled on about Bode and Rocca and Raich. They only showed about 10 guys, but left out Jimmy Cochran's run. Didn't even mention him even though he was the top American finisher. Then bang we were back down at the bottom of the pass in Cesana at the bobsled track for the fourth and final run.
You get the idea.
Watching the Olympics packaged in a three and a half hour special has it's benefits. You don't have to get in a plane, figure out the transport system or pay thousands of dollars for rooms and tickets and food. You can just eat dinner at home then settle into the couch for the night and watch the show. There were a few times while I was there when I thought that would be nice.
You obviously miss out on some key things. You don't get a real feel for the overwhelming joy and thrill when someone throws their hands up in victory or crashes hard. You don't feel the tension building in the crowd when an athlete puts down a solid performance and someone readies to top it, and you don't get a real feel for the place, it's people, the food, the weather...
The television coverage in the United States is created for high drama and suspense. The audience gets whirled into it, and so do the commentators, spinning it and spinning it until they themselves seem dizzy and confused.
Television coverage in Europe is a little different because they show the entire event live, usually with commentators who know the sport well. They don't shout, unless the happen to be Italian and an Italian wins - then they go nuts. Showing the whole event takes a little more effort on the viewers part. Instead of watching a highlight performance reel, you sit there and watch the whole competition and see the whole thing unfold. Spin usually comes after the competition in a separate highlight show showcasing the best performances from the day and the worst.
The little kid in me likes the Bob Costas, flashy highlight reel, but seeing the NBC coverage after being at the event in person was so disappointing.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Wrapping up

For the better part of an hour I have been trying to come up with a plan for how I am going to relate the energy and excitement of the past several days. It is sad that I am only going to be able to give you bits and pieces. Like I did in the beginning I feel overwhelmed with choices of what to highlight and what to weed out from the Olympic experience.
Last week I felt like my coverage was getting too organized. I spent lost of time planning and sitting in the press center. After a few days of that in a row, I realized that that was what everyone else was doing. I wanted to get out there and experience everything I could for a few days, then come back to my laptop and spew it all out.
It’s been tough coming to Italy and not speaking the language. If I were able to speak a little Italian I could have asked tons more questions to local people about what it has been like hosting the Olympics. I tried a few shop keepers and old ladies on the street, and they either looked at me like I had two heads or they only spoke enough English to sell their wares. As soon as the conversation turned away from that it dissolved.
One woman that owned a small grocery store in the village of Sestriere said that she was very happy and that she had done as much business as she does all winter in these past three weeks. That sounded like a generous estimation to me, but the wealth that the Olympics has brought in to the various villages surrounding Torino, not to mention Torino itself, has been immense.
For Torino hosting the Olympics has forced the city to redefine itself, maybe even more than that, it has been a savior. Though the city has a dearth of history and culture before the Olympics it was taken for granted. Once a major hub of the Roman Empire the city is home to the largest collection of Egyptian art outside of Cairo. The shroud that Jesus was buried in is kept here in Torino, there is a good collection of modern and classical art, and the architecture is really beautiful if you can see through the smog.
The more modern side of Torino is the home of car manufacturer Fiat, and the company gives the city a definite industrial overtone. The city has also grown well beyond its original center, and high-rise apartment buildings lie on the outskirts. Torino is, as you have probably already heard, the largest city to ever host the Winter Games.
All throughout the Games, commercials have run on Italian TV highlighting the modern and classical beauty of the city. It’s duality is interesting, and the play on it world-wide has made an impression, I think. That’s the view from the inside anyway. I don’t know if that perception has made it out there.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Bogged down

A slight disclaimer to the last post. I did write it yesterday, but because of the crowding in the press room over the past two days the wireless connection was getting super bogged down. It seems that everyone is ramping it up another notch as the Games are coming to a close. Reporters are busy scheduling interviews and trying to put a wrap on things here in Sestriere. Surely it's no different in Torino.
The streets are busy today for the women's giant slalom. American Julia Mancuso is in the lead after a stellar first run. Paerson sits second and Poutianen third, and they're all within tenths of one another. The second run will be exciting.
More soon.

A view out across the Piedmonte region of Italy.

Photo by Marina Knight
Off track

After yesterday and the days before, and all the activity and hoopla, camera lenses and voice recorders I just needed to get as far away from everything Olympic as I possibly could. So, I got up and grabbed my cross-country skis, which have been sitting in the corner for the last two weeks and headed for the hills.
It was extremely refreshing.
There is a groomed track leading to San Sicario from Sestriere that edges its way along the mountain sides. People use it as a walking path for the first few kilometers, but after that it doesn’t get much traffic and by the time I got to the top I was probably the first human up there since the fall. After the grooming ended I left my skis in the snow and trudged through the powder to a rock where the sun was just right. I sat there looking out over the mountains for the better part of an hour until I felt like me again.
Up there in the mountain air I could look down at the village of Sestriere and to my right see the ladies’ downhill track. Way off somewhere in the steep valley was Bardonecchia where snowboarders were racing. I imagined what it would be like to travel here without the Olympics going on. Just how much less busy is town? Are the people as friendly and helpful? Is everything just a little bit cheaper? What is Sestriere really like?
I realized that I haven’t learned much about the town I’ve been staying in. My interactions have been so superficial, and it doesn’t help that I speak no Italian. I wonder what set of troubles they face. Do they need a new hockey rink? It looks like the whole place could use a facelift with its ugly collection of circa 1950s architecture. Is tourism as much of a driving force in Sestriere as it is in Stowe? It certainly doesn’t seem like there is anything else going on here, and from what I understand the town was built as a playground for the rich and famous in Fiat’s heyday. I’ve been looking for a local paper to read, but just find national ones.
What’s going to happen to all the buildings they’ve put up especially for the Olympics? Is this place going to look like Lake Placid, NY one day? What does hosting an event like this do to a place? If people are going to have to look at that God-awful athlete village for the rest of their lives I will pity them. How long will the wealth shopkeepers have reaped sustain them? Will some of the older business owners like the butcher down the road call it quits and move to Monaco?
There are so many questions going through my mind, and I thought I came up to keep them all at bay. Maybe the steep descent back down to the heart of it all will be enough of a thrill to erase them all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Austria's Gottwald celebrates gold in the Nordic combined sprint Tuesday.

Photo by Getty Images
Austrian doping scandal raises questions

As I sit in the press center many of the reporters, especially the Austrians, are waiting for the urine tests of six cross-country and four biathletes to come back. A live interview with Austria's director of skiing just ended and the crowd of reporters has dispersed to their work stations around the room.
On February 18th a midnight raid by Italian police occurred in Pragelato at the chalet where Austrian coaches are staying. Official reports say nothing was found. Unofficial reports say a bag of syringes and other equipment used to blood dope were found. The Austrian federation has hired a lawyer, and the banned coach who came to visit the Austrian team has left Italy.
The raids were prompted by the arrival of Walter Mayer, the Austrian coach banned from these Olympics for his involvement in a blood doping scandal at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. Though the Austrians say the raid was unwarranted the IOC's chief medical commissioner Arne Ljungqvist Mayer's presence was enough reason to conduct the search.
Austrians are second in the medal count so far this Olympics. They've won three alpine gold, three alpine silver and three alpine bronze medals. Their nordic combined teams won two golds and one silver and the same for ski jumping.
Lots hangs on the results. A positive test will taint the games and Austrian's dominance of the ski world. A negative one would be a relief to all.

Monday, February 20, 2006

More snow in the mountains

It snowed a foot last night. Most of it came down while I was in Torino watching the US men's team get beat by Sweden, 2-1. As we came outside the rink we were surprised to see huge flakes coming down and collecting.
My mind flashed back to my friendly driver from the first day who told me it never snowed in the city. I could only imagine what was happening in Sestriere.
It doesn't take much snow to really mess things up here. The ride back took more than three hours, and once in Cesana the driver had to put chains on for the big set of switchbacks. I was lucky to be with my husband, and we were even luckier to have run into some of the ski team's VIPs who gave us a ride back. If we were left to our own devices we would have been stranded for sure as the media buses stopped running.
We arrived back in town at close to midnight to see the giant slalom hill still completely covered with powder. There wasn't a machine on it; only a few nice powder tracks left by some course worker. Looks like they decided to have some fun before they got to work.
Seems typical of the whole experience so far. Have fun first, then get serious. It applies to most everything and wait until the last possible second to organize anything.
Not that I'm bagging on it. It just takes some time to adjust to; one of those cultural differences that just are.
We woke this morning to cleared skies and beautiful sun. The hill was totally buffed and ready to go, and surprisingly the start was only delayed by an hour.
I'll try to come up with other examples of this chaos to further illustrate.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A jump to inspiration

As the Games wear on, believe it or not, it is becoming more and more difficult to keep the torch burning. I'm not talking about the Olympic flame, I'm talking about the well of excitement that seemed so overwhelming the first week.
What was new is now becoming routine, and many journalists, myself included, have been talking about how to combat the feeling of a tremendously unique experience seeming like an everyday one.
We are all human and fall into what's comfortable. We understand the transportation system, know where to keep jazzed up on coffee, have established relationships with sources, and that's all fine and good if you can keep your perspective fresh and remain excited.
For me, the realization came from my mother via email. The charge was heavy.
"I thought you were going to cover 'all aspects' of the Olympics,' she wrote. She wanted more of a scene-setter, not just news about sports.
See that? Just when I thought I had this whole thing down like clockwork, I realize that lack of precision and slightly chaotic mode of being can be a good thing. I felt like a sponge full of water that was trying to soak up more.
Needing a jolt from the norm I took the bus to Pragelato to watch some ski jumping. I'm a huge fan of the sport, and was turned on to it two years ago when I spent the winter in Europe with my husband. Seeing it live and feeling the energy of the crowd was a good twist on what was becoming a one-track experience. Today, I'm heading back down to Torino to see the USA play Sweden in men's hockey.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Austria's Niki Hosp after the slalom portion of women's combined.

Photo by Marina Knight

Weather plagues speed races

After nearly a day of waiting around for an opening clear enough to start the women's downhill portion of the combined race the ladies finally got a chance to race. The slalom, a veritable 40-second sprint, was held last night at Sestriere Colle.
Marlies Schild is in the lead with Janica Kostelic in second and Anja Paerson third.
The downhill is likely to be rescheduled again because again we woke up to snow. The men's super g is scheduled to re-start at 1:30pm after close to 15 racers went down before visibility got too dangerous and unfair to go on. It started to snow hard after about five racers had gone and they posted times which the later and not to mention better skiers could not match.
The forecast is for continued snow through tomorrow.
In hindsight it would have been better to schedule the speed races closer to the beginning so that in the case of bad weather there would be more room to reschedule. As it is now the alpine races are stacked up until the end.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Gold slips away

Vermont's Lindsey Jacobellis fell on the second to last jump after pulling a trick air to lose a sizeable lead and come in second, winning the silver medal in Bardonecchia, Italy.
Tanja Frieden of Switzerland passed Jacobellis as she tried to get back her momentum and won the gold medal. Canada's Domique Maltais won bronze after a fall of her own on the top part of the course.

Women's DH postponed

The downhill portion of the women's combined has been postponed and officials have not said when the race will take place. The slalom portion is set for 17:00 and 19:30 in Sestriere Colle. Winds that blew away clouds and snow became a problem as gusts swept up the hill at San Sicario early this afternoon. Croatian Nikka Fleiss was the first and only racer to run the course. She was blown backward off the top jump and fell, but got up and finished.
"The race is not fair," she told Italian tv at the bottom. Shortly after, the race was postponed.

Snowy weather puts downhill in question

Skies that cleared yesterday afternoon reverted to clouds and snow this morning. A few inches has fallen so far and the winds have picked up, too. It's putting into question whether they will be able to run the women's dowhnill portion of the combined. The start has been delayed until one o'clock, and the start has been moved down to where the super g begins.
The forecast in the mountains is for snow until Sunday with clearing after. It's sunny in Torino...
All of us reporters are sitting around in the press center trying to decide what to do. Some will head off to cover other events, some will remain here until a decision is made then either make a break for San Sicario, about half an hour from here by bus, or watch the race here and wait for tonight's slalom.
Starters for the US include, Lindsey Kildow, Resi Steigler, Julia Mancuso and Kaylin Richardson, and if history plays a role in today's outcome the team could do very well. Kildow has a 5th in combined at San Sicario in 2005. In the same race Mancuso was 6th, Stiegler was 8th and Richardson on 16th. In addition, Mancuso has two World Junior combined gold medals, one in 2002 and another in 2004. Kildow's best finish in World Cup combined was a 4th at World Championships in 2005. Stiegler could also contend as she holds a bronze medal in the event from World Juniors in 2003.

Sestriere, Italy
Photo by Marina Knight

Here is a shot of Sestriere, the heart of the mountain competitions at the Winter Games. The peak to the right is Sestriere Colle, where the giant slalom and slalom will be held for men and women. To the left is Sestriere Borgata, host to the men's downhill and super g courses.
The garish orange tower in the center and buildings below it make up the athlete village, and way over to the left - the speck of blue - is the press center where I am sitting right now!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dinner with Courtney

I'm not sure what about this trip is sending me in the direction of the U.S. Luge Team, but last night I met and had dinner with Courtney Zablocki who placed fourth in the women's single event held on Valentine's day.
It was complete happenstance. I walked into a crowded restaurant on the main street of Sestriere to find two of Courtney's friends eating dinner. I had met them the first night I arrived in Sestriere and since I was alone they asked me to join them. When I saw them last night they invited me to sit down again and said Courtney was on her way, too. I felt like I was imposing, but they were sincere and insisted I sit. So I did.
I enjoyed learning a bit about luge, or sliding, as they say. I had tons of questions about it, since I know next to nothing about the sport. Most surprising was that she said the Austrian team is the most fun to hang around. She said they are relaxed, funny even. The news hit me as the Austrian skiers are anything but relaxed and funny. They are the most uptight team on the World Cup. Turns out the German's are luge's OSV equivalent.
Courtney also said the luge track here is not as difficult as people are making it out to be. There has been a lot of press about that lately, and several athletes have been sent to the hospital after bad crashes. She said the problem is training on the track was cut in half compared to normal races. When athletes are asked to race full gas on a track they aren't completely comfortable on accidents are bound to happen, and she could think of at least three tracks on the World Cup that are more difficult than the one here in Torino.
She also confirmed reports that the food in the athlete village is horrible. Her team got up early one morning for breakfast and found dinner still sitting out, the pasta's overcooked and they serve croissants wrapped in plastic in the morning. Such a shame as here we are in Italy of all places where the food is typically terrific. Check out next week's print version to learn more about the region's food.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ligety digging for gold in the slalom portion of the men's combined Tuesday night in Sestriere.
Photo by Getty Images
Media Blitz

For the first time I am watching an Olymic event inside at the press center. I feel like I'm cheating a bit, but there are lots of other journalists in here doing the same. The pluses are that it's warm and I'm online watching the live tv feed of the race which I can see perfectly. I can also listen to the quotes athletes give live to various tv stations and translate them from German if that's what they're speaking.
Michaela Dorfmeister just won the downhill, Marlies Schild was second and Anja Paerson was third, and I would not have been able to tell you that if I were standing at the finish.
At the venue press center in Sestriere Borgata and Sestriere Colle for example, the guys (and they are guys) who do the live comments and live timing are tucked away in their own little tent. I stuck my head in yesterday and felt like I had discovered the Wizard of Oz. Tons of computers and tv screens and other equipment I didn't even recognize, and no one was saying a word.
In the main press room the vibe is quite different. There is lots of talking going on. Reporters showing off their angles and making small talk, asking logistical questions and generally sharing information. Sometimes it's too much and I have to put on my ipod to tune it all out.
Also distracting is the mass amounts of information that is coming at me all the time. The walls are lined with boxes where the latest result are placed. Biathlon, snowboard, skiing, skeleton, you name it and there is more than enough information for a hundred different articles. On top of the results there are dozens of quote sheets and press conference highlights, even interviews with different athletes.
It all shows the complexity of the Olympics for the media. It is super busy all the time. We wake up early get on a bus, go to an event, stand in the security line, get scanned find the venue press center turn on our computers right away and begin typing. By the time you get where you're going there are four or five emails with updates on who is leading what event or who has crashed out. Overnight there are about 40 emails waiting in your inbox that take a solid half-hour to wade through. After the event there's a rush to get quotes. We pack in against the fence and lean our voice recorders the athlete's way. Then it's back to the press center for the conference after the flower ceremony at the finish. Back on the bus now, computers on if you're smart or a good time to catch a nap, then back to the main media center to file stories and send photos.
Granted it's all new to me and luckily I have a weekly deadline instead of a daily for my first Olympics, but slowly I am getting the routine and filing more quickly.
That's a typical day. The tough part is deciding when to quit go get some pasta and head to sleep. Tougher is resisting the urge to go live it up a little, this is the Olympics after all.
Crying for two reasons

The first was for joy obviously after Ted won the gold medal. He is a great guy, a good friend and being here to see him win was one of the highlights of my year. After the downhill portion of the combined I decided to walk back up to Sestriere Colle. It was a nice day, and I needed a little hike. On the way, I met up with Ted's parents who came over to watch the opening ceremonies and are staying for the entire games over in Bardoneccia. They seemed happy, but don't think they would have predicted him winning. I never say them after, but they must have been out of their heads with excitement.
The second reason for crying is because Dane Spencer of the US Ski Team suffered a horrible crash yesterday that is going to take a long time to recover from. Dane broke his neck and pelvis after crashing in a downhill at Big Mountain. He is currently in the hospital with a halo on his head to keep his neck secure, and doctors have been draining fluid from his abdomen. Right now he's not conscious, but it's only medically induced. Doctors say his spinal column is fine, and he will recover but not for months.
Dane competes regularly on the World Cup, and is especially good at giant slalom. He's been in the top-ten several times. After missing qualifying for the Olympic team, he traveled back to the US to compete in Nor-Am speed events.
Words of encouragement can be sent to

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Vermont Gold!
Hannah Teter, the Green Mountain girl, dazzles the crowd on her way to Olympic gold. Way to go!

Gretchen Bleiler of Aspen, Colorado.
Photo by Getty Images

Norway's Kjersti Buaas blasts out of the pipe.
Photo by Getty Images

Monday, February 13, 2006

Vermont Gold!

The women's gold medal in the snowboarding halfpipe will remain in Vermont! Hannah Teter came from third place after the qualifiers to jump on top of the podium. Sadly though defending champion and Vermonter Kelly Clark slipped back into fourth place after a fall at the bottom of her last run.
It was so cool to witness the whole event. From the time I got off the press bus I could feel much more energy in the crowd. There were scores of American fans, so much so that it almost felt like a competition in the states. On my way in I ran into Tricia Byrnes, who is also a Vermonter and former Olympian. She was there to cheer on her teammates even though she missed qualifying for the team. Nick Sargent of Stowe was also there. I ran into him after the event in the streets of the old part of town.
It was quite different from the men's downhill yesterday. The snowboarders know how to have a good time!
The skies were blue and the temperature mild. A slight breeze dissolved with the afternoon.
After the event, I ran into Daron and Michelle and we had some lunch at a small restaurant in the old town before driving back to Sestriere together.
Now I'm sitting at the press center getting ready for the action tomorrow. Should be an exciting day. The men's combined and Any Newell's team spring down the road in Pragelato. I obviously can't be in two places at once, and think logistically it will be easier and better for me to watch here, then run in between the downhill and slalom to catch Andy on the live feed here in the press center.
Much more later.
Men's downhill on the inside

The men's downhill was a strange race. When Michael Walchofer's mistake ridden run held up for first place for 20 racers everyone was surprised, and when Frenchman Antoine Deneriaz came down and beat him the crowd had nearly been lulled to sleep. It was only halfway down that people started to process that he might come through in the lead.
For me, it was an even stranger experience. In the morning I headed off to the venue press center early to get a workspace before the throngs of journalists made thier way up from Torino. After working inside for a while, I went out to the finish to make sure I had a good viewing position along with a bunch of other writers. We stood there for an hour before the race began. During that time we threw out predictions about who would win, and who should win and what the hill was like and who it favored. Some of the comments were illuminating and other flat out silly. I was surprised to learn how little some knew about ski racing.
The core group of ski writers definately stood out from the ones who normally cover football or basketball.
It made me realize that a lot of what has been written about Bode Miller came from journalists who understand little. In fact, some are even looking for a hostile angle, reading into things with complete bias. When Bode came through the finish in fourth place he looked into the camera and threw up his hands. A journalist beside me said, "Did you see that? I think he just pushed away the camera!"
I was taken aback as that was so clearly not what happened.
Everyone began postulating about how upset the Americans must be; they probably were dissapointed. Two were clear medal contenders and they did not perform. But it turns out both Bode and Daron were fairly happy with their runs. They said they wouldn't have done much different. Bode lost his edge in the last three turns after a great run, and Daron had a small mistake on top but otherwise thought he had a solid run.
When the two racers made their way toward us for comments everyone began pushing and shoving their voice recorders within range. It was almost embarassing.
After a while I broke away and hopped on the bus back up to Sestriere, grabbed my camera and went out to take some more photos. The town was crowded with people and lively. Buses lined the roads as people began to make their way back to the city and off to the next event.

Antoine Deneriaz of France celebrates Olympic Gold after winning the men's downhill in Sestriere Borgata. He came from 30th to win with a perfect run.

Daron Rahlves of the United States talks to the press after the men's Olympic downhill on Sunday. He finished in 10th place.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

From the finish

I am sitting at the finish of the men’s downhill in Sestriere Borgata. There’s a small press center here, and I was lucky enough to arrive early and get a workspace.
There is much to re-cap so I’ll start at the beginning.
The starts must be aligned in my favor because despite arriving very late I made it to the opening ceremonies. As soon as my plane landed I ran outside the airport to beat the crowd and grabbed a driver who took me to the main press center in the center of Torino. The organizing committee had a slew of drivers waiting for the members of the press equipped with shiny new Fiats to take us where we needed to go. My driver was particularly friendly, spoke no English and insisted on taking me on a tour of Torino before driving to the press center where my ticket to the opening ceremonies was waiting. I made it there about half an hour before they started to find the office I needed to go to closed! Amazingly, the first person I asked happened to be a journalist who decided not to go to the opening ceremonies. He gave me his ticket.
I ran quickly back to the car where my driver was waiting. We went to the hotel to drop off my bags, and they told me they didn’t have a reservation under my name. So, I just left my bags there and rushed to the Stadio Olympico. I was literally running across the empty piazza staring at the lights beaming from the show which was just underway. Once inside I made my way right to the floor where the teams entered. It was a thrill to be so close, crowded among the photographers with huge lenses – me with my small one.
The ceremony blended tradition with Italy’s modern era. It was aesthetically pleasing, exciting and had an air of pride about it that was fitting. I’ll describe it more in a feature.
After the ceremony I needed to figure out where I was going to stay. A friendly-looking woman was walking next to me and I asked if I could use her cell phone, then described my predicament. Turns out she was at the Olympics with Visa International and was able to give me a room in one of Torino’s nicest hotels. Sometimes things just work out.
Yesterday, I spent most of the day getting oriented at the main press center in Torino. Setting up my phone, getting wireless access and figuring out the media transport system took the better part of three hours. After I was en-route to the mountains.
Claviere, where I’m staying is about 17 kilometers from Sestriere but luck plays into how long it takes to get here. Sometimes the bus is on time and other times you wait an hour. It’s all entertaining though, as people are chatty and inquisitive; especially the volunteers.
It should be a great race today. The sky is blue, it was cold last night and the Americans are firing: traumwetter, as the Austrians say.
The Olympic Flame - Opening Ceremonies
Torino 2006

Photo by Marina Knight

Friday, February 10, 2006

Dispatch from Paris

In the five hours I have been sitting here at the airport in Paris as the time ticks down to the Opening Ceremonies I've had lots of fun. Since landing I've wandered the halls, browsed in shops, had some poached eggs and even got to sit outside for a minute. It's almost warm enough to cause a little body shock from the cooler Vermont climes.
One of the highlights was meeting former Luger Tim Wiley and his wife while waiting in line to try and get on an earlier flight to Torino. Tim was in the 1992 and 1994 Olypics and after he retired from Luge, he became a whitewater Kayaker and almost qualified for the 1996 Olympic Team. He was an alternate.
They both live in the Boston area, and are headed to the Games to enjoy and spectate. Tim is on the board of the US Olympic Committee now. Kristen's French nearly got me on an earlier flight, but just when we though we had the Air France people keen on the idea of switching my ticket for their friend's, who was on the early flight, they started shaking their heads and pouting, "No, no, I am so sorry, but it izz impossible, in a heavy French accent.
Oh, well. It was a good solid try.
Anyway, it's a sunny day here in Paris. Probably about 60 degrees. I was here once as a child and remeber sitting on a big fountain somewhere while my mother took my picture. That's a much fonder memory than the one I'm currently creating.
On the road
“Come on, Marina, find your groove,” the voice on the other end of the phone said. I was checking off the final details before pulling out of Stowe Thursday morning, and talking to a good friend.
Indeed, I was not myself.
I’m not sure when gung-ho, ready for everything me was replaced with a nervous and travel-stressed version of myself, but I am not liking it. Maybe I’m getting older, maybe I’m becoming like all those other comfort-honing people. The thought is disturbing.
The ultimate perturbing factor that I continue to ponder as I sit in the Logan airport is that I am not headed anywhere outrageous. I’m not going to cover the war in Iraq; I know there’s no danger involved. I’m going to Italy to cover the Winter Olympics!
These rationalizations have made me feel only slightly better.
I’m headed into uncharted territory, and part of me feels as though this event is going to swallow me whole. I will be one reporter amid 10,000 members of the press – that’s like two whole Stowe’s full. I’ve organized all the travel details myself, and for those who know me well that’s reason enough for me to be worried.
The levels of logistic gymnastics reached new heights yesterday when I found out I had a ticket to the Opening Ceremonies. Since I planned to arrive in Torino on the day of the Opening Ceremonies and am staying outside the city in a mountain-town called Claviere I needed to find a room so I could just check into the mountains a day late. I probably don’t need to say that finding a hotel room the day before the Olympics begin is not easy. In the end I must give credit to my best friend for helping me in a pinch.
While the thought of taking on the Olympics by myself seems stifling, on the other hand I imagine that could be a plus. Surely NBC’s entourage has to be clunky and hard to get around. I will be able to come and go as I please, digital voice recorder and laptop in hand. There is really nothing holding me back.
The sentiment among some athletes I’ve spoken with is that they just want to get things underway. They want to stop talking and thinking about it and start competing. I guess, I feel the exact same thing. I can’t wait for the thrill and excitement of the competitions themselves to start fueling me.
Meanwhile, my departing flight has been delayed by two hours, which means I am going to miss my connection to Torino. I’ll have a five-hour layover in Paris, and arrive in Torino at about 5:30pm. This will add new excitement to making it to the Opening Ceremonies.
I guess the fun starts now.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Gearing up for the Games

I can feel my departure date coming like a train now - one that's moving fast. Part of me wants it to slow down, so I can be sure to organize everything. Another part of me wants to get there already!
We (the Stowe Reporter) have been preparing for the Olympics for what seems like the better part of a year now. As the Opening Ceremonies draw closer (Feb. 10, 8pm on NBC) my email inbox has been barraged with notes from friends and family to wish me well, press releases about athletes we'll be keeping an eye on and travel tips from the United States Olympic Committee. The lastest word from Italy is that snow, on the order of three feet, has finally come to the mountains. Before the snowfall workers were carting in snow to cover the dowhill track in Sestiere, now it seems they have an overabundance.

Our coverage in Torino will be three-fold.

1. This Blog, which I will update as often as possible. The Blog will serve as my daily journal. Log on and you could read about the dude I met on the bus ride to a ski jumping competition and see a picture of him, what the weather is doing or any other thing Olympic.

2. Web content. The Stowe Reporter will be updating the Olympic section of our website on a daily basis with interesting features. We want you to be there, hearing the crowds, slogging through the slush and witnessing amazing feats of athleticism. The website will also include links to schedules, results, television coverage and other interesting Olympic sites, plus bios on Vermont's "Great 8." Let the Stowe Reporter be your portal to the Torino Games.

3. The Olympics in Print. Each week, the Stowe Reporter will be devoting a section of the paper, published each Thursday, with Olympic content. Contact for subscriptions.

This will all happen assuming I don't forget important things like battery chargers and computer converters, and do not get swallowed up by this amorphous blob some are calling the Olympics. I am after all one small, rookie reporter diving into what is perhaps the biggest media event in the sporting world, and I am doing it alone.....Should be a blast.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Wengen slalom

Giorgio Rocca of Italy pulled off his fifth win in a row today in Wengen. After finishing the first run fourth, good fortune turned his way as first-run leader, Benjamin Raich, straddled the third gate, third-place Ted Ligety gave up time on his second run and German Alois Vogl also let up on the throttle.
Though it is the first time in a long while that one racer has won so many consecutive races, Rocca will need to win the next two to tie countryman Alberto Tomba who won seven in a row near the end of his career. Ingemar Stenmark holds the ultimate record with 14 giant slalom wins in a row.
For the U.S., Ligety landed fifth. He blazed through the first run, but a slightly ragged second run cost him. He still holds second in the slalom standings though. Bode Miller had a bright day coming in eigth. In the first run he slid though a gate on his hip and still managed to qualify for a second run easily. His second run was impressive in sections, but sketchy in others as he came close on the line risking it like he always does. When he came through the finish he was a second up, but was soon surpassed by guys in the top ten of the first run. Tom Rothrock also qualified for a second run from 41st, but looked off balance from the beginning and skied out at the top of the second run. Chip Knight, Erik Schlopy and Jimmy Cochran did not qualify for a second run. Knight was the closest of the three, and had a clean run that was just 19 hundreths too conservative.
Another stand-out performance came from Japan's Kentaro Minagawa, who placed fourth, a career best. His teammate, Akira Sasaki, went out in the first run after straddling a gate, and Minagawa carried the flag. His second run was exciting to watch. He has an all-out style and boot-topping tendency that is fast, when he can finish.

Men's slalom Wengen, Swtizerland
1.Giorgio Rocca 1:42.28
2.Kalle Pallander 1:42.48
3.Alois Vogl 1:42.79
4.Kentaro Minagawa 1:42.90
5.Ted Ligety 1:42.93

Friday, January 13, 2006

It’s good to be back in Wengen

There was a downhill training run here today in preparation for the 76th running of the famed Lauberhornrennen under the pristine skies of Wengen, Switzerland. But I’m not going to talk about that today.
Nor am I going to talk about the big press conference Bode Miller gave this afternoon during which he probably spoke more about his claim that he’s skied, even competed, while still drunk from the night before. I chose not to go to the press conference, and I’ll tell you why: Wengen is too beautiful a place, it was too nice a day and Bode isn’t the only one who has ever skied with a bad hangover.
Instead, I am going to tell you about the special place that provides the backdrop to one of the most beautiful places in the entire world.
The small village of Wengen sits atop a dramatic hanging valley. Sheer cliffs of rock and ice fall a thousand feet to the town of Lauterbrunnen. There are no cars here. The only way up is via a cog train, and before that was built a series of footpaths lead to the village.
The lack of automobiles only makes the picturesque village more old-world. The air seems crisper and at night the quiet is deafening, after the bars stop pumping euro techno that is.
Some say there are people in the town, living in some of the homes tucked away in the shadow of the Eiger, who have never been down to the valley.
It’s easy to imaging the place before the railway made it one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Switzerland, and to its credit Wengen has clung mostly traditional ideals.
A trip not to be missed is a ride to the “top of Europe”. Trains leaving from Wengen bring you way up through the rock face of the Eiger for a heart-stopping view of glacial beauty.
Also at the top is an ice palace carved out of the glacier. You can stroll through halls and rooms cut from the ice and look at a dozen or so ice sculptures.
Down in town during the races activity fluctuates between the finish area, about a mile away, and the center of the village where the awards are held.
In the morning on the way to the train one of the bakeries is set up making fresh jelly-filled Berliners, or donuts. Having come fresh from the fryer they are warm and steaming and cost just one Swiss franc.
On the way home the smell of roasted chestnuts fills the air, and people gather round for cups of gluwein, a warm very alcoholic wine and spice drink.
As the day turns into night bars fill and start pumping cheesy songs remixed to a harsh European beat. The bad music is excused though. Better the Swiss be known for natural gems like Wengen that are a treat to experience.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A brief commentary on Bode.
The most recent story in the ski press about defending overall World Cup champion, Bode Miller, is about how the frustration he is experiencing communicating his ideas about reforms to the sport with its organizing body, the FIS.
His ideas include taking another look at what drugs should be legal and illegal, as well as addressing the top-heavy and FIS dictated prize money in the sport. His suggestions, though not outrightly, hint at an athletes union.
The idea is not novel in sport and ski racing could benefit from such organization. If Miller is really serious about it though, he should get some of the other top racers behind him and conduct a constructive conversation with organizers.
Because he is the outspoken athlete, and he's not afraid to speak his mind, he has to be careful. In the past few weeks the media has started using negative description in their stories about Miller. They say he is "lashing out", and describe his semi-tantrum at the finish of a race when officials asked him to walk around fencing to his RV rather than cut straight through.
If Miller wants to affect change he needs to come off as being more positive, and slightly less acerbic.
Part of the fault lies with the media for not fully understanding Miller himself; his style of communication and pattern of thought is different. It shouldn't excuse him from rude comments, but a balance needs to be struck. The media right now is blowing his comments and actions slightly out of proportion.
Our Coverage of ski racing was a topic at our weekly editorial meeting today. The Stowe Reporter has a long history of following ski racing at a local and international level. It is a component of our newspaper that we pride and one that makes us stand out however off-beat some of our readers may find it. We are the official newspaper for the Vermont Alpine Racing Association, and are rekindling a keen eye on the World Cup tour. In addition we are trying to meet the requests of numerous readers to include more stories about snowboarding and cross-country skiing, also popular winter sports in Stowe.
In this week's edition of the Stowe Reporter you'll find stories about Hannah Kearney and Andy Newell of Vermont, who recently posted strong results in World Cup competitions in freestyle skiing and nordic sprinting.
Next week, we'll have coverage of the Grand Prix snowboard events taking place now in Breckenridge, Colo.
Part of the effort this year is to provide readers and fans with a preview of what's going on in each sport leading up to the Olypics in Feb., which the Stowe Reporter will be covering. We want to pay special attention to Vermont athletes who will be competing in Torino, as well as those who have a shot at making the Olympic team.
The opportunity for us to be there amid the 10,000 other members of the media is special and exciting and we look forward to bringing the Games home to Stowe.
When the Games begin our coverage will include weekly features in our print edition along with more frequently posted stories on our website-, just click on the Olympic logo to get them. This blog will be an informal way to share news and stories from Torino and will be updated daily starting Feb. 10, 2006. It can be accessed through our website as you must know because you're here now.
As of next week in our print edition there will be a Vermont Ski Racing cover after the sports section of the paper. In the Sports section you will find news and coverage of the Stowe High School varsity sports teams, and other local sports news. The Vermont Ski Racing section will be devoted to VARA, Eastern Cup, Nor-Am and World Cup skiing. We will also publish articles with "An eye on Torino" in the skiing section.
Story ideas and news tips can be sent to

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ligety skis Ligety-split
Ask his teammates and they’ll all tell you it’s only a matter of time before 20 year-old Ted Ligety wins a World Cup. He could do it in giant slalom or slalom.
At the season’s opener in Soelden, Austria Ligety won the second run, and in Nor-Ams at Keystone Ligety handily beat Sunday’s winner Georgio Rocca by nearly a second.
Ligety doesn’t care if the course is choppy or the weather is bad, he skis with the same relaxed aggression each time he kicks open the timing wand.
Sunday’s slalom was no exception. In the first run he skied to 12th place. His run was solid, but somewhat reserved. High attrition played to his advantage as lots of men in the top 30 could not solve the course.
It may have been in part due to new rules that have made the distance between gates shorter. The FIS constantly adjusts this variable to keep up with ski technology. Athletes say slalom courses now have less rhythm, with tighter combinations like flushes and hairpin turns to slow them down. Last season, the FIS said slalom racers were carrying up to 65 kilometers per hour in certain World Cup races, which they felt would only spell disaster and result in injuries. In Sunday’s race we may have seen racers adjusting to the new regulations.
Italy’s Giorgio Rocca was not one of them. He skied the first course effortlessly as did Austrian Ben Raich, who took the first-run lead.
In the second run, Frenchman, Stephane Tissot, a racer who has been knocking on success’s door skied the fastest run. He came through the line nearly two seconds ahead of the rest of the field, and stood in the leader’s position until Rocca came down 20 racers later.
Ligety started 19th in the second run.
"First run, I feel like I should've given her a little harder, and second run I let it go and that's how I like to ski. It's a lot more fun when you're letting it hang out there and you can really feel your skis bite and you're not letting 'em break at all."
"It was pretty unbelievable sitting up there [in the finish] and I started to realize, with a few guys left to go, it was gonna be a top-5 finish...and then Benni (Raich) went out," Ligety said. "I thought for sure he'd knock me out, but then he went out as well, so it was just a lot of luck played into me getting a third-place finish today."
Tom Rothrock was 16th while Chip Knight skied out in the second run. Defending World Cup champion Bode Miller skied off course in the first run, then hiked but finished 23 seconds out; Erik Schlopy (Park City, UT) skipped the race after breaking his left hand Saturday in giant slalom and had a cast put on his hand.
A year ago, Ligety posted the best result of his career up to that point, finishing 15th in the slalom. Stephan Tissot’s best slalom finish also came last year at Beaver Creek where he finished 10th.
A day after they finished first and second in the VISA Birds of Prey downhill, Miller survived three bobbles to overtake teammate Daron Rahlves for a dramatic giant slalom win in a snowstorm Saturday. Erik Schlopy finished fourth, one-hundredth of a second off the podium even though he broke his hand during the first run after hitting it against the base of a gate.
Dane Spencer turned in a terrific result, coming in 12th. Spencer had struggled throughout the early season with a nagging knee injury, and said he was unsure what he was capable of on the World Cup stage because of it. Just days before he finished well off the pace in the men’s Nor-Ams at Keystone. Visibly satisfied at the finish Spencer is set with confidence for the next giant slalom in Alta Badia on Dec. 18.
Schlopy’s result was also a confidence builder. In 2003 he won a bronze medal at the World Championships giant slalom, and was sixth in last year’s race at Beaver Creek, but has had spotty performances since. Surely, he’ll find his way to the podium this season.
Miller, tied with Finland’s Kalle Pallander for the first run lead, while Rahlves sat in second.
Snow began to drive during the second run, but the course remained in good condition. Some racers said the conditions varied from slick icy surfaces to sections of the course that were chunked out making skiing smooth a trick in flat light.
Rahlves and Schlopy came down and held their positions, as the spectators began to murmur of a 1-2-3 finish for the Americans, but when Pallander came through the line ahead of Schlopy attention quickly refocused on whether Miller would explode or execute.
Miller’s second run was one of the weekend’s highlights. His body and skis did things not even he could describe as he laid everything on the line. He was not skiing for second place again.
"Those of you who know ski racing, you’re not faster if you’re on your ass, but it does add excitement sometimes. I knew I needed to bring a lot of intensity to the second run. I wanted to put down a run that I was really psyched about, so with the fatigue and the snow conditions and all the things kinda going against me, I think I felt like maybe this challenge was more worthy," Miller said. "I like those kinds of challenges. It definitely was worthy of a massive effort. It made it easier for me to dig deep."
When he saw that he had won, Miller laid down in the soft snow at the finish laughing.
He added, "I knew I was gonna have a massive struggle at the bottom. The bottom of this course is usually where you win or lose, so I was literally yelling from about Golden Eagle down, shouting the whole time, full war cries," Miller said.
It was the 20th World Cup win of his career.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Good Morning! It snowed about a foot last night, which should make for an interesting start today. No doubt course workers have been working since the early hours to clear away what snow they can to make the hill as buffed as possible.
The first run is scheduled to start at 11am.
USA's first racer will Be Bode Miller, who drew #7 followed by #12 Daron Rahlves, #22 Dane Spencer, #23 Erik Schlopy, #41 Jimmy Cochran, #51 Chip Knight, #63 Ted Ligety and #54 Jake Zamansky.
Canada's Thomas Grandi, who won back to back World Cups last year wil start first.
Last night at the Inn at Beaver Creek, the U.S. Ski Team threw a small victory celebration and champagne toast. It was exciting for the team because they have claimed victory at home twice in a row, leaving the Austrian's scratching their heads. Head coaches Phil McNichol and John McBride said it was a great start to an Olympic year, and they hoped the team would carry momentum through the World Cups to come.
TV crews with cameras and boom mics swarmed the room picking up Bode and Daron's conversations with friends, and photographers buzzed to capture the scene.
More from the GS - Stay tuned.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Birds of Prey Men's Downhill
Rahlves wins!!
It's not a bad day to beging this blog.
I am sitting at the base of Beaver Creek, where the men's World Cup has stopped for four races, and American Daron Rahlves just posted his first victory in what is sure to be a stellar season for the speed ace. Bode Miller came in second, making for an American one-two.
Yesterday was the Super-g, which many racers said was an unfair race. Visibility was poor because a thick layer of fog hung over the mountain. Most of the racers who did well started early in the pack, while those starting in the late 20s and beyond had difficulty. Seasoned vet, Kjetil Andre Aamodt was one racer who did not complain. Apparently, when asked whether or not he thought the race should have been cancelled he said no. This is ski racing, he said, it's an outdoor sport and dealing with snow and fog is part of the package.
American Daron Rahlves was one of the top-ranked skiers to post a strong finish: fifth place. Overall World Cup Champion, Bode Miller, didn't finish the course.
Today weather again plagued the downhill. Early in the morning a fine crystalline mist fell - not quite snow, not quite rain, and fog rolled in and out. One minute the whole hill was visible and the next it was socked back in. All morning we waited to hear news that the race had been cancelled, but organizers remained faithful that they could pull it off.
The first forerunners came down the course on time. It was clear at the top, but a patch of persistant fog hung over the most difficult part of the course. The first racers punched through it, fearless at about 112 kilometers per hour.
After about five racers, they held the race as more fog rolled in. And the race went on like this for rest of the day. One or two would go, then the race would stop. When the fog cleared they would send as many as they could before it came back. This made the race a tough one to watch, and no doubt a tough one to ski.
Benjamin Raich of Austria was one racer who had to wait about ten minutes before he could climb back into the starting gate. The off and on of a race like this, especially a downhill, is extremely hard for racers to deal with. You could tell that Raich was off from the moment he left the starting gate. He skied rigidly, and his skis were chopping through sections of the course he would otherwise be able to slice through. A dissapointment for him surely.
In fact most of the Austrian team had trouble today. Herman Maier was not on his game. An early mistake on one of the top jumps lead to a series of small errors throughout his run. Andreas Schifferer looked good, but his skis ran slowly across the flats.
Daron's run was by far the best of the day. He ran in a pocket of racers who had particularly good visibility. Some of his teammates at the bottom of the course said when the fog cleared the track may have glazed making it a bit faster. He blasted out of the start like a ball of fire, and skied aggresively through the top section, nailing every turn. He flew off the biggest jump in a tight, compact position, landed and quickly garbbed his tuck again. Through the splits he was ahead each time, and the crowd cheered wildly. When Daron crossed the line and saw he was in first by a reasonable margin, he raised his hands in the air looking out at the crowd soaking in the moment.
Bode two racerd after Daron. He charged out of the start too, and looked, in typical Bode fashion, like he was also on the hunt. As he skied down it looked like he was just holding it together. At times he seemed off balance, or weirdly contorted. He flew off a jump in sketchy style, landing twisted, but somehow he managed to keep it all in the fall line. He was ahead of Daron in two of the splits, but lost two tenths at the bottom and came in second. The crowd went wild again.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's giant slalom.