Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami Warning Canceled

The tsunami hit Maui, but it was only a few feet high. My friend Jeff watched it from upcountry through his powerful artillery spotting scope (same model as I've got in my bedroom window). He reported that Kahului Harbor had some boiling, a surge, and then a big silt cloud washed in through the breakwall, but there was no damage.

When I talked to him on the phone, he was hard at work at his propane grill, cooking up brats for a hastily-thrown tsunami party he'd put together for several groups of friends seeking refuge at his house (elevation 1890 feet above sea level) from their beachfront homes. He was dealing with the crisis in the traditional Hawai'ian way - throw a party, drink a lot, cook up some grinds. If you're going to die, might as well die tipsy and on a full stomach.

A few minutes later, he texted me to report a serious crisis - he was running low on beer.

Tsunami !!


The Llaima volcano, near Chillan (the epicenter of yesterday's earthquake), snapped from the Villarica volcano near Pucon. The area is thick with active volcanos.

Weird timing. I'm sitting in the Admiral's Club at DFW, on my way home from Utah. The time is 10:34 CST. Last night a massive earthquake (1000 X more powerful than the one which flattened Haiti 6 weeks ago) struck the ski town of Chillan, Chile. As a result of this quake, in about 5 hours, a tsunami is supposed to hit the Hawai'ian Islands, where I am, coincidentally, headed.

The good news is I have to change planes @ LAX, and by the time I arrive at LAX, the situtation on the ground in Hawai'i will be clear. The tsunami will have come and gone. The early modeling data show a 9-12 foot tsunami hitting Maui. Ordinarily, 9-12 foot waves would result in boredom warnings being issued, as in winter, 40-50 foot waves are common. However, tsunami waves act differently than normal waves, as they sometimes surge for 15-20 minutes rather than 15-20 seconds. A tsunami that size could cause some serious damage.

Fortunately, my house is 3,450 feet above sea level on the North slope of the Haleakala volcano. Unfortunately, my car is parked at Kahului Airport, which is about 25 feet above sea level. Another potential problem is that the island's two power plants and sewage-processing plants are also located about 25-50 feet above sea level. And finally, all the airport runways in the state of Hawaii capable of handling large aircraft are also located less than 50 feet above sea level. The airports on Moloka'i and Lana'i are quite a bit higher, but they have very short runways designed only for small inter-island aircraft.

Should be an interesting day.

In another case of strange coincidence, I was in Chillan, Chile (the epicenter of the earthquake), about 6 months ago. I went skiing all over Chile in August of '09, and not only did I visit Chillan, but the best skiing of the trip was in a resort called Nevados de Chillan, which is about 25 miles from there. I fear the Nevados de Chillan ski resort is now a pile of rubble, but I'm sure I will find out soon exactly what has happened there.

Skunk tracks in Nevados de Chillan. August, 2009

Volcanic vents near the top of Nevados de Chillan

The Mighty Skunk, high atop Nevados de Chillan.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Womens GS; Will Sochi Be Another Pissler?

After watching one racer in today's womens GS Run 2, it was clear that Atle and the jury are no longer asking themselves the usual questions about the race conditions.

The normal questions would be:

1. Will it be a fair race?

2. Are the conditions above minimum?

3. Are the conditions going to get anybody hurt?

Instead they are asking themselves one and only one question: "Is running the race in these atrocious conditions worse than canceling the race and leaving Pissler with races canceled, for the first time in Olympic history?"

In GS, question 3 isn't nearly as critical as in the "speed" disciplines. That's not to say racers don't get hurt in GS crashes (they do), but GS crashes rarely are caused by bad conditions. The speeds and forces involved just aren't that high.

Today, obviously, the answer was "no", so they ran on a slushy Slurpee-slope with 15 seconds of the course completely socked in by fog. I'm sure, at this point, even the racers just want to get the Orympical Games over with, get the hell out of Pissler, and never see the fucking place again. Trust me on this - they won't. There will never be another World Cup level race held there. Probably Alpine Canada won't even hold Nor-Ams (equivalent to AAA baseball) there. Ostensibly, after the 3rd straight failure to get a World Cup race off in 1998, Pissler was off the schedule forever, but Vancouver getting the Olympics started the entire clusterfuck all over again. Everyone who has ever been involved with an (attempted) race at Pissler knew the Olympics was going to be a Gong Show, and Pissler did not disappoint. It sucked.

A clever television sleight-of-hand took place during run 2. I'm almost sure it wasn't intentional (nobody from the host broadcaster is that smart), but it worked well. I noticed it, but anybody who doesn't know the sport well probably didn't, so I will explain it.

In GS races (actually, in all race disciplines except slalom) the "start interval" (time between racers) is very tightly controlled. It is published in a document called the "Daily Race Program", and everybody on the hill has a copy. Often, this interval will change for safety, theatrical, and TV reasons at various places on the start list. For example, racers 1-15 may start at a 1:45 interval, then racers 16-30 at 2:15, then 31-end at 0:45. There is a timing device called a "start clock" which is programmed with these intervals, and the clock counts the racer down in the start gate with both an audible and a visible signal. That's the BOOP BOOP BOOP BEEP sound you hear when a racer is starting. A racer doesn't have to start exactly dead-on the start interval; the racer can legally start any time between -5 seconds and +5 seconds. For example, the start interval is 1:15, racer 14 is scheduled to leave at 12:12:00; racer 14 can legally start at any time between 12:11:55 and 12:12:05. The next racer (15) then can legally start at any point between 12:13:10 and 12:13:20. It's primarily a safety thing. If a racer hooks a gate and breaks it off, the nearby course worker has a Daily Program and knows it will be X:XX before the next racer arrives; if he can fix the gate within that interval and be out of the way before the next racer arrives, he does it. If not, he calls the referee on the radio and asks for a delay ("stop-start") of one or more intervals.

What happened today is the racers were running the course in 1:15, and the start interval was also 1:15. The socked-in "Sewer" section of the course started at about 8-10 seconds into each racer's run, and lasted about 12-15 seconds. On TV, what you saw was this:

- Racer 10 finishes.
- TV follows Racer 10 as she stops: 5 seconds.
- TV follows Racer 10's reaction: 10 seconds.

(HI MOM!
LOOK AT MY SKIS!
I SKI ROSSIGNOL!
ROSSIGNOL!
ROSSIGNOL!
ROSSIGNOL!)

- Racer 11 is already 15 seconds into her run. Instead of going to #11 live, TV rolls tape of Racer 11 starting (BOOP BOOP BOOP BEEP) and negotiating the first few gates: 15 seconds.
- Just before Racer 11 disappears into the fog on the replay, TV switches to Racer 11 live.
- At this point, Racer 11 is about 30 seconds into her run and is through the pea soup section, so the viewer never really sees the skier doing her impression of David Paterson.

TV avoided the embarrassing effect of Run 1 yesterday, where every single racer spent 20 seconds in a fog so thick that it looked like the camera was following a cotton ball being blown through a sandstorm.

OK, enough about Womens GS for now.

My friend and esteemed colleague The Big Guy asked a very good question today:

"Enlighten us regarding the 2014 location: Krasnaya Polyana. Looks like another Vancoober/Whizzler to me.
Do tell!"


Well. Ahem. I've never been to Krasnaya Polyana, but I've talked to a few colleagues in the alpine race biz who have (including two representatives from FIS). At this point there are virtually no answers. It's all questions.

First of all, the current resort known as Krasnaya Polyana was, during the review process, deemed unsuitable for an Olympic Games (how much worse than Pissler could it be?). So, an entirely new venue is being built about 20 minutes down the road, at another mountain. Construction has not yet started. The Olympic courses are still being laid out. At the moment, there is nothing at the Olympic venue except a couple of office trailers.

Giving Sochi the benefit of the doubt, this sounds sketchy, but is not necessarily a bad thing. In 1988, for example, the original plan for the Calgary Games was to run the alpine events at Lake Louise, one of the best and most consistent World Cup venues for the past 25 years. Commercial problems took LL off the table, so the Calgary Games organizers designated a virgin, uncut mountain near Calgary (Nakiska) as their alpine site. They cut trails, installed lifts, built a venue from scratch. It wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't a great venue. After the Olympics concluded, they ripped out all the lifts except one and nobody skied on the Olympic courses ever again. Basically it took about a hundred million dollars to find out that Nakiska was a shitty place to put a ski resort.

Vladimir Putin is an alpine skiing fanatic, and he has promised the IOC that Krasnaya Polyana will get whatever resources (financial and otherwise) it needs to become a world-class venue in plenty of time for 2014. Since Putin has very few people (none, actually) to answer to, his promise carries, er, a lot of promise.

However.

Unlimited money, unlimited political power, and tens of thousands of troops may not be able to overcome some serious environmental challenges presented by Krasnaya Polyana.

To wit:

1. The current Krasnaya Polyana resort claims an average seasonal snowfall of 1.5 meters. That's about 60 inches. That's really, really bad. That's about the same as, say, Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is hardly a skiing mecca. Off-the-scale bad for a ski resort. Snowbasin, Utah (for example), site of the 2002 Olympic downhill (my home resort where, coincidentally, I skied today in 10" of fresh powder, hee hee hee), averages about 400 inches a year. Snowbird, a small resort about an hour from Snowbasin, averages almost 600 inches. Snowbasin and Snowbird, like all ski resorts in Utah, have "The Greatest Snow On Earth" (it says so right on the Utah license plates). One of the worst resorts in the American West in terms of snowfall is Sun Valley, Idaho. Sun Valley averages 220 inches a year. So, to summarize, the snowfall is Sun Valley is pretty crappy, but it's about 4x more than Krasnaya Polyana.

Lots of snow doesn't guarantee a good Olympic venue. Before the 2002 Games, we were all terrified that the Olympic events at Snowbasin would be snowed out. Both World Cup "test events" (in 2000 and 2001) and 2 of 3 "Nor-Am" test events at Snowbasin leading up to the 2002 Olympics were snowed out. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you wake up and there's 28" of fresh powder on the racecourse, you can't race. It's too dangerous. The new snow actually has to be removed from the course, as if the race course was a sidewalk. The course workers actually use shovels and snowblowers to get the new snow OFF the course. But that takes time, since a downhill course is about 5km in length. Imagine shoveling a sidewalk that's 5km long and 60m wide. I used to love working races at Snowbasin, because the chances were overwhelming that I would spend the entire week skiing fresh pow and not working one damn bit. Miraculously, Snowbasin got no significant snowfall during the 2002 Olympics, thus proving that God is, in fact, a Mormon.

2. The altitude at the base of Krasnaya Polyana is 540m / 1700 feet. Bad. Altitude means cold and dry, which is good for snow. The base area at FuckOffler is 650m / 2100 feet. So in other words, Krasnaya Polyana is LOWER than Pissler. GAH!

This, potentially, can be worked around. Krasnaya Polyana has a vertical drop of 1688m / 5500 feet. That's about the same vert as FuckOffler, and that's an awesome vertical drop for a ski area. Even mighty Kitzbühel has a vert of "only" about 3300 feet. Vail is about the same. The problem with Pissler is that the finish area (Creekside) is at the very bottom of the mtn, where it is always raining and foggy. If VANOC had built the Pissler race venues at the TOP of the mountain, they wouldn't have had the worst Olympic alpine events in Olympic history during the past three weeks. It's not impossible to build race venues at the top. Expensive, yes. Impractical, yes. But not impossible. Breckenridge, for example, has its race course on Cimmarron, which is about a mile (via ski trails) and 2500 vertical feet above Breck village. The Cimmarron start is up at around 12,000 feet. The finish of the GS is at about 11,500 feet. The village is at about 9,000 feet (note - the town of Breckenridge, at the base of the Breckenridge ski area, is about a half-mile vertically above the TOP of Pissler. That's why Breck is one of the best places to ski on the planet, and why Pissler fucking sucks). Building race venues at the top of a mountain creates a lot of problems with respect to getting spectators up there, and dealing with TV cabling, but it's nothing that a shitload of money can't solve. I'll go out on a limb here and opine that Mr Putin can solve those problems very nicely, should he decide doing so is prudent.

3. Ocean. Pissler gets slammed by fronts coming off the nearby Pacific Ocean. Sochi is, like Vancouver, right on the Black Sea. Krasnaya Polyana, like FuckOffler, is just inland. The Black Sea is relatively small, and not in the path of the prevailing upper-level winds, so the proximity of the Black Sea to Krasnaya Polyana isn't as ominous as the proximity of the Pacific Ocean to FuckOffler.

So that's what I know about Krasnaya Polyana. It has the potential to be another raging clusterfuck of an alpine venue, but a lot of questions remain before I'm ready to throw in the towel on 2014.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gong Show At the Womens GS

The Pissler weather turned the womens GS into a Gong Show. I've never seen such a fucked-up race at the World Cup level. The fog in "The Sewer" was so thick that the first run never should have taken place. Between the mushy, slushy course falling apart and the 20 completely invisible gates in the middle of the course, that race was about as much of a comic farse as a race can be at this level. Fortunately, Atle had the balls to at least pull the plug on the 2nd run. The pressure on him to try to get the race off must have been crushing, as Pissler is running out of time. The possibility that the Olympics will end without the ski program being completed, the possibility of which I blogged a week ago, is becoming very real.

I watched Vonn's and Mancuso's first runs. The rule is you've got to be able to see two gates ahead; to me it looked like they couldn't see two meters ahead at mid-course. Of course, in typical Pissler fashion, it was perfectly clear down at the finish. The typical Pissler fog sits like a big steaming pile of dog shit about 300 vertical feet above the finish.

Normally, at this level, the "start interval" (time between racers) would be set so that each racer would be either totally finished or 2-3 gates from the finish before the next racer started (at least for the "top seed"). But because the Pissler piss was so thick, Atle sped up the start interval (perfectly legal and not controversial at all) to 1:00 for a 1:15 run. At a normal race, when Vonn hit the nets, the next racer (Mancuso) would still have been standing in the start. A "stop-start" could have been called to repair the gate Vonn broke, and to cart Vonn's carcass off the course. Unfortunately, with the tightened start interval, when Vonn hit the nets Mancuso was already 15 seconds into her run. Having "yellow flag zones" is also normal, and Mancuso was flagged just before she got to the site of Vonn's crash because the course wasn't safe there. Mancuso stopped, which she is obligated to do. Mancuso then had to be zapped back up to the start on a snowmobile, and then she was re-run on partially burned skis. The psychological factor and additional stress definitely didn't help Mancuso, nor did running 13 racers later on a course that was already falling apart in the rain and warm temperatures, nor was the fact that she'd already run most of a run, and was winded. The whole episode was just a cascading series of Pissler-caused fuckups, but there was nothing against the rules nor even that unusual. Simple bad luck. It's ski racing, it's an outdoor sport, it happens all the time, although not normally to racers in the top seed. Mancuso whined on TV about all the cards stacked up against her, but she should remember that a humongous dollop of extraordinarily good luck got her the DH silver, so what goes around comes around. That's ski racing, and ski racing at Pissler introduces far more luck - both good and bad - than normal.

Normally, the first run would be thrown out and the race re-scheduled for another day. That's really the fair thing to do. But I think everyone involved realizes that they are in real danger of the womens GS being canceled, so the jury allowed the first run to stand, and will attempt to race run 2 tomorrow (Thursday).

Tomorrow (Thursday) is supposed to be exactly like today, so there's a very real possibility that the 2nd run will be postponed. Again. Based on my past experience with racing in Pissler fog, they've only got one shot, and that's to run it first thing in the morning with no delays. Once they delay the start to see if the fog burns off (it won't) or suffer a couple of delays due to crashes, they're dead. Pissler fog only gets worse as the day goes on.

Friday is also supposed to be warm, rainy, and foggy for the womens SL.

The best case scenario is the GS run 2 finishes Thursday, the SL goes off on Friday as scheduled, and Saturday the mens SL finishes things up. However, we're talking about Pissler here. Worst case: too foggy to run GS run 2 Thursday, same thing for womens SL on Friday, men run SL on Saturday (weather is supposed to clear by Saturday), Sunday is a make-up day for womens SL, and womens GS is abandoned due to Pissler fog.

Pissler just sucks.

Vonn's crash was a doozy. She almost knocked herself unconscious with her own right knee (which she also did at Lake Louise earlier this season, where she almost bit through her own tongue), then got twisted up like a bavarian pretzel in a very violent tumble. She's one strong and tough chick to walk away from that under her own power. An impressive athlete indeed. She fractured her finger. That's actually a big deal, because her next race is slalom, and these days, slalom racing is essentially a boxing match between the racers and the rapid-gates. Racing modern slalom with an injured hand is very, very difficult. If I were her, I'd pack my bags tonight and leave with my two medals. Maybe go host Saturday Night Live this weekend (as she has stated she'd love to do) instead of staying around rainy Pissler to try to race slalom with her hand in a cast.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Barcelona Dragons Defeat Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl

Andrea Fischbacher of Austria won the womens SG today. Heretofore, the Austrians have been getting their asses kicked in this Olympics, which, back in Austria, has approximately the same societal impact as losing the Vietnam War had on Americans.

I'm not exaggerating.

Much.

I'm sure Fischbacher's gold was celebrated back in Austria, but even if Austria goes 1-2-3 in all of the remaining events, the Austrian media are going to crucify the team for their performance in Pissler. Ski racing is that important to the country.

Here in the US, virtually everyone with the slightest interest in professional sports is a fan of one or more of the following: NFL football, MLB baseball, NBA basketball, and NASCAR. In addition, a significant percentage of the US population goes borneo over college football (BCS anyone?) or college hoops (March Madness). In Austria, there's none of that. It's alpine ski racing, alpine ski racing, alpine ski racing. All ski racing, all winter. OK, they watch soccer in the summer.

The thing about the Americans is we win 100% of our own "world" championships because we do not invite anybody else. "World Series", my ass. When's the last time you saw the Barcelona Dragons beat up on The Dallas Cowboys to win the Super Bowl? I'm surprised the NFL doesn't call it the Intergalactic Bowl, regardless of the fact that no other countries - let alone other galaxies - are invited.

Austria does not have that luxury. In ski racing, they are the gold standard, and every team on the planet is out to beat them first and foremost.

The ÖSV ("Austria Ski Team" as they call themselves) is the best-managed, best-organized, best-performing, wealthiest, best-sponsored alpine team on the planet. Most years, they win more than all the other teams put together. They're kind of like the Dallas Cowboys or the NY Yankees, in that they do not always win, but historically they win more than everybody else added together. When they don't win, they put their heads down and come back at you twice as hard the next time.

The Austrians also host three of the biggest events on the World Cup: the season opener on the Rettenbach glacier in Sölden, the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel (also the biggest winter sporting event in Europe) and the Nachtslalom in Schladming.

All the teams respect the Austrians. All the teams fear the Austrians. All the teams think about the Austrians before they concern themselves with anybody else.

Right now the Swiss have a very good team. They're on equal terms with the Austrians, who are in somewhat of a slump. But for almost 20 years, the Swiss couldn't get arrested. That NEVER would have happened to Austria. They have a mediocre season from time to time. But most seasons, the AUTs dominate.

Austria has two of the top "technical" skiers on the World Cup, Benjamin Raich and Reinfried Herbst. Raich won the overall World Cup crystal globe in 2006 and won both the SL and GS in Torino. Herbst has been the hottest SL skier on the World Cup this year. Herbst had Kitzbühel all but won and blew it a few gates from the finish, but then convincingly won Schladming two days later. The pressure on those two guys to perform in the upcoming GS and SL events is crushing. If the US hadn't won any medals whatsoever so far in this Olympics, the majority of the country would not know and would not care, as they're mostly watching the Lakers, the Celtics and the Heat (as I am tonight), perhaps the Black Hawks or the Flyers, or else University of Kentucky or UCLA. But trust me on this....when Herbst and Raich take to the slopes, virtually every TV set in Austria will be tuned to the ski racing on ÖRF.

Why are the AUTs so good? It was explained to me by an Austrian friend. In the US, virtually every kid grows up with free sporting facilities either down the street or at their school, or both. Virtually all American kids, no matter how rich or poor, have either tennis courts, a baseball field, hoops courts, or an athletics field available nearby, facilities they can use either for free or for a nominal fee. Our long-suffering parents dump us off at tennis practice or baseball practice to get rid of us after school. In Austria, there's none of that. Baseball is non-existent, and sports like tennis and basketball are played only at expensive private clubs. But something like 70% of Austrians live within a 20 minute drive of a ski hill. It may not be much - maybe one or two old rope tows, but virtually all have junior programs, so it is a cultural custom that Austrian parents dump their kids off at the local ski hill after school the way American parents take their kids to baseball practice and Canadian parents schlepp their kids to hockey practice.

Speaking of Canadians, where have they been this Olympics? I feel bad for them. They are one of the best-coached, best-managed teams on the World Cup, and Eric Guay's two fifths are all the CANs have to show so far for an Olympics on home turf. Hopefully Canada will win the hockey, because that will kick off a huge national celebration, and the sub-par performance of the ski team will be forgotten.

Friday, February 19, 2010

While We're on the Subject of Weather......

Live in NY or Washington (or Dallas during the NBA All-Star Game)?

Having a tough winter? Having your doubts about this global warming stuff?

This one's for you (and you too, The Big Guy):

link to YouTube

:=)

Mens Super-G with Spectators in Golf Shirts

Andrew Weibrecht, whom I picked as a dark horse for a medal in Vancouver a few posts ago, won bronze today in the Mens SG. Good for him. He's 100% unbridled rage out on the race course, but really, really talented. To me, he's probably the most entertaining World Cup skier to watch, except for maybe Bode. During WC races where we're doing the timing & scoring, no matter how busy I am, I try to look up and watch those two if nobody else. Weibrecht is the favorite skier of my bro CoopFromCowberg, who regales us "timing tower rats" with rehashes of the amusing repartee he has with Weibrecht in the starthaus @ World Cup.

Today's race was again decided partially by the weather. A friend of mine, who has seen and worked at way more World Cup races than I have, was actually there in person today. He said it was 50 degrees, and the course was toast by #20.

There's been a weird dynamic in all these races that has contributed to an extraordinary performance by the US team. In order to understand this dynamic, you've got to understand the basics of the "bib draw" process. For TV and for the crowd, FIS wants the "top seed" to run with bibs 16-22. So in other words, if you're the WCSL points leader and you want to ski early because you know the course is going to turn to mush, the lowest bib you can draw is 16. If the top WCSL skiers had a choice of any number, knowing how slushy the course has been, skiers like Cuche and Riesch and Vonn and Svindal would be choosing bibs 1-2-3. Julia Mancuso has been doing so poorly this season that she's out of the "top seed" and has been "stuck" with a low bib (1-7). But when you're racing in May weather (or Pissler in February), the early bibs are the ones to have. Same thing happened today with Weibrecht as happened with Mancusco in the DH. He was bib #3, as was Mancusco. He put down an extraordinary run, which in cold weather with a consistent course would have put him solidly in the top 10. But meanwhile, the course was softening quickly and was slowing down maybe 0.10 with every competitor. The sun and the warmth did the rest. Not to take anything away from Mancuso and Weibrecht, because everybody with bibs in the top 10 and certainly in the top 5 have had the same opportunity. They were both good and lucky.

In the womens DH, the bib disadvantage to the fastest skiers was exacerbated further by a series of crashes, each of which took about 10-12 minutes to clear. In the womens DH Vonn was able to win the DH from bib 16 by putting in a blistering run that I think would have been 2 seconds faster than anybody else (except maybe Riesch) had the weather been cold. Given the crushing pressure on Vonn, for her to put in the run she did, in that situation, was nothing short of sensational. To me it puts her up there with athletes like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, who go into events like Wimbledon and The Masters with absolutely nothing to gain for anything other than victory. For Federer to lose in the Wimbledon Final is a disaster. For anybody else, it's probably the highlight of their year.

Today in the mens SG, with a medal already in hand, Svindal said his plan was to go 10/10ths, either win or crash. He won.

As I stated in an earlier post, this is one of the reasons that ski racers consider the World Cup "crystal globe" way more prestigious than an Olympic medal. An Olympic medal of course looks good on your palmares, and is great for endorsements, but it's only one race and ski racing can be flukey. If you win the crystal globe, you've won all season long, in all kinds of conditions, on a bunch of different courses, across continents. THAT is what makes you the best. Nobody has ever won a crystal globe under a cloud of "lucky" or "fluke". Coincidentally, Svindal and Vonn currently hold their respective crystal globes.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Womens Super Combined: Paerson Surges Back Through The Ruts on Another Soft Pissler Course

Again, I was able to watch todays Womens SC live on Eurosport 1 France.

Phenomenal skiing. For those of us who know exactly what we're looking at and tend to nit-pick mistakes, the girls have been putting on quite a show. There aren't many nits to pick. It makes me want to put on my pads and go bash a few gates.

The SC DH was a lot more fair than yesterday's DH, because it was held two hours earlier, so the course was still snow (rather than slush) when the Top Seed came down. Again, Mancuso put down an almost perfect run. I don't know where that's coming from, because she hasn't been able to get arrested for the last two seasons. Either she's been smoking some great stuff in Whistler, or she stopped smoking whatever she's been smoking since Torino, because she's now, out of nowhere, the most precise skier on the hill.

Unlike the DH, the SC DH course was still in good enough shape for Maria Riesch to keep herself in contention as the Top Seed wound down. Most of it was still in shade when Riesch ran. I don't think Riesch skied any better or any worse than she did in yesterday's DH, but the difference was the course wasn't 2 seconds slower due to slush. Anja Paerson also had a remarkably good DH run, considering she got her bell rung so badly in that spectacular crash yesterday.

The slalom leg was another story. It started past noon, the course was sunny and clearly getting mushy. The FIS live ticker showed +3.6C, and I believe every bit of that. The ruts were getting really bad toward the end. Paerson was ragged on her turns in the middle section and put herself into a vulnerable position. Mancuso, who literally has not finished a slalom all season, had a superb top part, but was even more ragged than Paerson in that middle section. Mancuso got way late approaching I2, and I thought she was done. Somehow, she stayed on course and her time was still fast. Reminds me of that old song "when you're hot, you're hot". Riesch was as close to perfect as you can get in semi-shitty, soft Pissler conditions. Her upper body was quiet, her timing was flawless, and she totally charged. A study in strength, skill, quickness, and controlled aggression. I'm sure her biggest fan, my friend JimmyBobBillyRay from Detroit, was stoked. Then it was all up to Vonn. Vonn lost time on the upper half, and then she hit a nasty rut and straddled a gate, and it was abruptly over. I think she knew she was losing time and, rather than backing off from 10/10ths to 9.5/10ths and settling for maybe bronze, she pushed even harder to try to make up time, and she went out. That's the way she is: go big or go home. She's already got a gold medal from skiing's premier event in her back pocket, she's going to win the World Cup crystal globe (again) for sure, so she can afford to just go for it. A more calculating skier like Benni Raich or Paerson would have temporized and settled for 3rd or 4th.

I've watched exactly 5 minutes of the Olympics on NBC. The internet is full of thousands of bitter rantings about how bad the NBC coverage is, and about their tape delays, so I won't expound on that. If it weren't for these proxy servers I've found and being lucky enough to watch these races live, I would have missed a lot of great racing.

Tonight I'm off to Deer Valley to do some actual skiing myself, so I'll miss the Mens SG tomorrow. I'm still looking for the Canadian Mens team to come out big in one of these races, so maybe tomorrow will be the day. Canada is much stronger in speed events, so they'd better make a move soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Womens DH - A Sucky Race Thanks to Pissler

Again, I was able to find a reasonably stable proxy server and watched the Womens DH race live on Eurosport 1 France.

The womens DH sucked. It was a classic case of the Pissler weather deciding a race. Totally unfair, but sometimes DH happens that way.

As soon as I saw Lindsey Vonn chose bib 16 (the earliest bib she could have chosen) I knew this race was going to be a battle against a quickly softening course. The FIS live-to-web showed a temp of +1C. I knew then that the early runners were the only ones who would be skiing on actual snow.

My thoughts proved prescient. Fucking Pissler.

With due respect to Mancuso's talents, her being on the podium was due to Mother Nature and Father Pissler smiling on her. After Mancuso's solid performance at Bib 10, I figured her run would get her firmly into the Top 10, maybe 7th or 8th. But then a series of crashes, stop-starts, and a TV breaks pushed back the top seed to a solid 20 minutes behind schedule. Two girls (#11 Gisin and #13 Merighetti) hit the nets, each losing Vonn and the Top Seed racers precious time as the course quickly turned to mush. If I was Atle, I would have canceled the TV break after bib 15, because the race was dragging, the course was turning to spooge, and the TV guys already had had plenty of break time (too much, in fact) from the crashes. But he didn't.

Lindsey stepped up to the wand and just killed it. No pressure, girl. She made one minor mistake that I saw. No more. If she'd skied on the same course as Mancusco, I estimate she'd have beaten Mancusco by more than 2 seconds.

At that point, even with the course quickly turning into a Slurpee, I fully expected Riesch and Paerson to knock Mancuso off the podium, as well as maybe Jacqemod. But Lindsey's dominance hid the fact the the course had turned to glue. When Jacqemod skied the top half cleanly and was 2 seconds out by I2, I knew the course was toast and the race was over. Paerson might still have nipped Mancuso down to a Bronze, she was running 2nd within sight of the finish line, but she then destroyed her race and whatever slim chance Riesch still had by taking a wickedly nasty faceplant off Boyd's Chin and sliding into the finish area on her face. The subsequent delay pushed Riesch back another 10 minutes. If Riesch had skied the race of her life, I doubt she'd have made the podium. Riesch skied cleanly, with only a few tiny mistakes. When she crossed the finish line and saw how slow she'd been, she shrugged her shoulders and threw her arms up into the air, as if to say "WTF"?

Oh well, it's ski racing. It happens.

It will continue to happen all week. For the next 3 days, Pissler is supposed to be clear, sunny, and 45 degrees.

This Guy Is An Embarrassment to the United States and to the US Ski Team

link

This article is complete crap. 100% bullshit. This guy is a disgrace. I hear him screaming his inane rantings from the starthaus over the headset during World Cup; it embarrasses me that this fuckwad is an American.

He is the ultimate ugly American. The other coaches are not emulating his style, that's a complete fabrication of this article. They roll their eyes and shake their heads sadly when this idiot walks by.

It is a symptom of the mis-management of the US Ski Team and of the executive incompetence of Bill Marolt that this moron has a US Ski Team credential.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Some Back-Of-The-Envelope Calculations: Pissler is Starting to Run Out of Time


After thinking about my previous post for a few minutes and having a quick look at the alpine schedule, a very grim thought started to congeal in my fetid, leaky brain: Pissler is starting to teeter on the brink of running out of time. The idea that The Olympics will finish with alpine races having to be canceled is starting to vaguely come into focus. It's not in sight yet, but like a shark circling off in the distance as you tread water with a bleeding foot, it's starting to close in.

I haven't read anything about this in the media yet, probably because there are few (if any) journos out there who have the faintest clue as to the factors involved. Gianfranco Fucking Kasper, the President of the FIS, is such a corrupt vapid dumbass that he made a comment about how inconceivable it is. His words may just come back to haunt him. Kasper wouldn't know a developing scheduling catastrophe if it swam up to him in the hot tub and bit a chunk out of his pudgy ass. Kasper's comment reminded me of Village Idiot Bush inviting terrorists to "bring it on". Guess what, Gianfranco....Pissler just might, in fact, "bring it on". Pissler has thoroughly and crisply kicked your ass for the past week.

Doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations, here's what I'm thinking, in no particular order of priority:

1) With today's cancellations (Tuesday) there are now 12 days remaining in the Olympics.

2) There are still 9 alpine races to run.

3) Having skied Pissler quite a bit and worked races there a lot, I would predict that in 12 days of skiing @ Pissler, on at least 6 of those days, the weather would be so bad that I wouldn't bother walking out the front door of the hotel. Whether those averages hold up, and whether the weather (pun intended) will be awful enough to cancel those days or merely just be awful, remains to be seen.

4) Races cannot be moved up on the schedule, they can only be moved back, because the public has bought tickets. For example, this Friday and Saturday are the two Super-Gs. Let's say the weather is perfect on Friday and the weather is forecast to be terrible on Saturday. Since Super-G is a one-run discipline, you could, in theory, run the men at, say, 10 AM Friday and run the women at 13:00. But in practice, you can't, because 7,000 paying customers have bought tickets to the womens Super-G on Saturday. You have to wait until Saturday goes all Pissler on you, and by then it's too late to do anything proactively about it.

5) More than half of the remaining races are two-run races (SL x 2, SC x 2, GS x 2). Three are one-run races (Womens DH, SG x 2). In a pinch, with a little luck, you can double up on one-run races in a day (as long as at least one has already been postponed), but you can't double up two-run races on the same day.

6) Having all the race courses finish in a common area is a big advantage in many ways. However, it cuts off a lot of options, specifically, it's impossible to run two races simultaneously.

7) The weather has to be really bad to cancel a slalom. I've seen a lot of slaloms in Austria run in absolutely appalling conditions. It can be foggy, raining, snowing, windy, and you can still run slalom. It may not be a fair race, but nobody is going to die in a slalom, so they go almost no matter what. Also, in terms of maintenance, you can work pretty fast on a course that's only 300m long; whereas with, say, downhill, you've got 4 Km of course to deal with. The exception is a big powder dump. If you wake up and there's 40cm of fresh glop on the course and it's still puking, you're hosed, even with the vaunted Weasel Workers in your quiver.

The next two or three days are supposed to be somewhat clear and somewhat cold (as good as it gets at Pissler), so Greg, Günther, and Atle can make up a fair chunk of lost ground. But as the weekend approaches, do not be surprised if more cancellations rear their ugly heads. And the Olympics are starting to run out of wiggle room.

Tuesday is Hosed Already

The Sun isn't yet up at Pissler, and already the mens Super-Combined and the Womens DH training have been canceled. Too much gloppy snow fell last night.

Sheeesh.

Pissler.

This latest delay of course really helps Lindsey Vonn. There might still be one or two people in the civilized world who don't know she's recovering from a nasty case of shin bang. The dreadful weather at Pissler (which isn't any worse than normal by the way) has given her an extra more-than-a-week off for recovery.

The continuing weather disasters at Pissler were overshadowed yesterday by a different kind of disaster at speed skating. Evidently the electric ice surfacing machines ("It's NOT a Zamboni!!!") weren't up to the job. I was at a friend's house for dinner and we flipped NBC on with the sound off (the only way to watch NBC sports). We saw a bunch of slush on the ice surface and a Dutch coach throwing a hissy-fit. Having gotten our fill of the Olympics in 15 seconds, we turned it off.

Mens DH Finally Happens

This morning I was lucky enough to find a stable proxy server with pretty decent fidelity so that I could watch the mens DH live on Eurosport 1 / France. I even considered live-blogging the race, but I was reasonably sure my proxy would shit the bed after a few racers, so I just watched. Miraculously, I made it from bib 3 to bib 30 with only one refresh.

A really fascinating race, although a bit strange. First of all, the only guys in the field who had run DH races at Pissler were the Canadians and the old guy Patrick Jaerbyn, and, surprisingly, they all did pretty lousy. So much for the home court advantage. Second of all , there were about 7 or 8 guys who I though had near-perfect runs, and the times between them varied widely, so there was some "X" factor going on I didn't understand. Wax?

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Canadians just got their ski prep wrong. Osborne-Paradis was just a little bit ragged, but that should have put him out of the top 5, not 17th. Dixon was clearly going for it, but pushed a little too hard. He hit a gate and got twisted around at I1, recovered, then eventually planted face near I4. Eric Guay skied as well as anyone, and he's not even really a downhiller, so congratulations to him. Of the others, Heel looked really smooth to me, and only finished 12th. Walchhofer looked strong and smooth, but his time didn't reflect it. Cuche, after the race, pretty much said what I just did - he felt smooth, he executed his game plan, and he couldn't figure out for the life of him how he lost half a second in the last 20 seconds of the race. Walchhofer said the same thing in his post-race press conference. He just can't figure out what he didn't do right.

Anyway, Defago is a worthy champion, he won Wengen and The Hahnenkamm back to back last year, so congratulations to him.

The secret, super-fast downhill suit Spyder claims to have developed was a load of bullshit. Eric Guay and Bode were the only Spyder athletes in the top 15, so the rumours about the Spyder suit were wrong.

The "meat" of the threats to win are racers 15-22, but I didn't declare the race over until Jan Hudec came down. Hudec was bib 31 and ostensibly not in the hunt, but more than anybody I can think of (except maybe Bode), Hudec consistently pulls amazing races out of his ass, so Defago wasn't the winner in my mind until after #31.

All in all, it was a really fun race for me to watch, because I know the course well and I never get to watch races when I'm working at them. Fun to kick back with a cup of tea (sweetened with Trampass' homemade North Carolina honey) and actually watch a race carefully.

The weather is supposed to be crappy again tonight, warmer and raining, so we'll see what happens tomorrow with the womens DH training.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pissler Takes A Mulligan


In golf, when things go completely scheisse-poopie, you can take a "mulligan". In tennis, it's called "playing a let". Regardless of what it is called, it's a do-over, and Whistler is faced with one. The alpine skiers have been there a full week, and have accomplished basically nothing. Those of us who have been through trying to race at Pissler knew that there was a far better than 50-50 chance this would happen. I would have been shocked if it didn't happen. Whistler sucks.

It would be interesting to know how the racers are holding up through all this. I think they're probably having a blast. For starters, it's Sunday night and nobody has to pack. That's unusual. On the World Cup, the "speed" skiers do things in one-week blocks. They arrive Tuesday, race training runs Wed-Thurs-Fri, then race DH on Saturday, SG on Sunday, then they pack up, move, and do it all over again at the next venue. "Technical" skiers are on a different schedule. Typically they arrive Friday, race GS Saturday and SL on Sunday, then they leave and go train somewhere for a few days until they leave for the next race weekend. The technical schedule is a little more varied, since there are often mid-week races such as Zagreb, and mid-week night slaloms, like Schladming.

Right now, the racers know they're in one place for at least two weeks. They have the best training facilities in the world at their fingertips. Many have friends or family in town. Food and entertainment is free. They have credentials to get them in to watch any event they want (for those events not canceled due to weather). There are lots of young, good-looking, hard-bodied athletes from other sports around everywhere. Hell, if you'd offered even super-cynical me that deal - a week in Whistler at the Olympics with full credentials and absolutely nothing to do - I'd have taken you up on it. But I'd have packed a good raincoat and a couple of umbrellas.

I read today that the Canadian womens alpine team rode the lifts up to the very top of Whistler Peak yesterday, where there is actual snow, and went powder skiing. Good for them. It's 25 degrees colder up top than down at Creekside (where the grandstands are), so the massive amount of rain that has turned most of the downhill course into a giant Slurpee this week has fallen as snow up there. At Pissler, where there is over 5000 feet between the very bottom and the very top, the start of the downhill isn't even close to the top of the mountain. I bet the girls had a blast. I'd have loved to have gone with them. The Canadian womens team is a rowdy bunch, which I can testify to firsthand, having witnessed their "line dance" at the Lake Louise World Cup Sled Dogs banquet the last two seasons. The Canada-ettes know how to have a good time. While they were line dancing, I was stuffing my face with thick slabs of seared cow flesh presented to me at the end of a pitchfork. I am not making that up. Brauchen zee ein kleine kuhfleisch am heugable?

Against my better judgement, I attempted to watch a little bit of NBC's painfully bad Olympic coverage last night. I figured since I'm writing about The Olympics so much, I might as well try to watch a little bit of it. I quickly grew sick of commercials, and even sicker of Bob Costas and his bad hair-dye job. After about 5 minutes I flipped the channel and watched Chris Webber and Kevin McHale discussing the NBA All-Star Game practice. Sad that watching two retired NBA players talking about a meaningless practice for a meaningless game was far more palatable than NBC's Olympic coverage.

I did manage, however, to see Hannah Kearney's gold medal run in moguls. I could be mistaken, but it looked to me like Kearney forgot her ski clothes and competed in her pajamas. Her PJs were a patriotic shade of US blue with cute little stars all over them, which I thought was a nice touch. I wonder if her PJs had those little closed feety thingies so she didn't have to wear ski socks? I thought it was mighty accomodating of the normally half-witted morons at the US Ski Team to let her compete in her pajamas. This is the same US Ski Team that prohibited Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller from following the alpine World Cup tour in their rock-star motorhomes. I mean, Bode and Rahlves are merely two of maybe the 4 best US skiers ever, and only wanted to have a comfortable bed and consistent nutrition and to not have to pack and unpack two or three times a week over the course of the 4-month World Cup. Silly things for an athlete to want. When the US Team banned the vehicles, Rahves retired and Bode quit the team. Bode competed the following year as "Team America", a team he formed himself under FIS's hardship rule. And he lived in his motorhome. And he won the World Cup. Repeat.....he won. The World Cup. He won. He won the crystal globe, the most coveted prize in alpine ski racing. And he won NOT representing the US Ski Team, because they are a bunch of nimrods. From what I've seen, the US alpine team is one of the worst-managed teams on the World Cup. Ironically, the Canadian team is one of the best-managed teams.

Another thing I noticed during my brief sojourn into NBC-induced hell was that about half the spectators at the moguls venue were wearing Hefty garbage bags to keep from getting soaked through to their underwear by the constant rain. That brought back memories of the one and only time I actually tried to ski at Whistler, about 15 years ago, before I knew better. It was pissing down rain at the bottom about half the days, and the lifties were giving out.....50-gallon Hefty garbage bags....to people riding the lift up to where it was colder and snowing. Nice guys. Free Hefty bags. Good idea.

Today I tried to watch a little of the biathlon, but I couldn't take it due to the presence of a commentator named Al Trautwig. Trautwig is one of the least talented "hosts" in the business. Ironic for a guy holding a job known within the industry as "talent". He's so annoying, so smug, and so banal that his presence on VERSUS during the Tour de France caused me to skip almost the entire race for a couple of years. Fortunately, he's been fired from the Tour de France and has been kicked downstairs to biathlon, which is a sport in which I have little interest. I watched with the sound off for a few minutes, and those poor biathlon guys were having one helluva time. It was absolutely pissing down a kind of Whistler-specific rainy slush, pissing down so hard they could barely see the target. I've never attempted to fire a rifle with my heart rate at 175, but I imagine trying to hold the rifle steady while somebody is spraying you with a fire hose spewing 33-degree (1C) water doesn't make it any easier. Especially if you're wearing a water-permeable lycra suit.

My colleague and friend The Big Guy, a network engineer who is hip-deep in NBC production onsite at the Olympics and is documenting his experiences on quite an amusing blog of his own, turned me on to an interesting blog written by a person or persons calling themselves The Gormogons. The gist of the Gormogon blog entry I found so interesting was their opinion that many Olympic sports, both winter and summer, are just plain dumb due to the fact that they aren't athletic contests, they are opinion-gathering focus groups. "Judged" sports like synchronized swimming, diving, snowboard halfpipe, figure skating, and ski acrobatics simply do not belong in The Olympics. I thought my colleague and friend JimmyBobBillyRay put it well when he opined "Real Sports are Timed, Not Judged". But The Gormogons put it even more elegantly:


I’m an Olympic junkie but I don’t watch certain events because I personally don’t consider them sports. For me an Olympic sport must meet three simple rules:


1. If you have to wear a costume and makeup it’s a performing art, not a sport.


2. You must race a clock, score points against an opponent or physically do more than your competition.


3. At some point during your competition your heart rate must break your aerobic threshold.


I realize figure skaters are great athletes but so are ballet dancers. Sorry folks, figure skating is a performing art. Curling is a game, not a sport. Needless to say I don’t watch a lot of prime time Olympic coverage.




I'm certainly a member of that club.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

News Flash: Honolulu Announces Bid For Winter Olympics 2018


Honolulu, February 13, 2010 (Reuters). In a joint press conference held today at the Iolani Palace near Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawai'i Governor Linda Lingle and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced Honolulu's bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

"After watching the Opening Ceremonies from Vancouver and reading accounts in the media of conditions at the ski venues at Cypress & Whistler" stated Hanenmann, "we realized that having an actual winter has ceased to be a requirement for hosting the Olympic Winter Games. Therefore we decided that now is the time for the State of Hawai'i, including the City of Honolulu and it's neighbor islands, to throw our hats into the ring to serve as host."

Lingle continued "Currently, as the 2010 Winter Games open in Vancouver, the snow is deeper and the temperatures 15 degrees (7 degrees Celsius) colder at our ski venue atop the Mauna Kea volcano, on The Big Island, than at Whistler. It's more than 20 degrees (10 Celsius) colder over in Hawai'i County than at Cypress Mountain, venue for the snowboarding and freestyle events. Therefore, we have every confidence that we can hold the best winter Olympics ever here in the Hawai'ian Islands."

The pair then introduced William P. Kenoi, Mayor of Hawai'i County, which encompasses Hawai'i's largest island, including the cities of Hilo and Kailua-Kona. Kenoi spoke live via satellite from a helicopter hovering above The Gemini Dome Observatory atop the 14,000 foot summit of the extinct Mauna Kea volcano. Kenoi aimed a camera out the cargo door of the hovering helicopter, panning it around at the snow-covered vista encompassing the former World Cup snowboard venue just below the observatory.

"Brrrrrrrrrrrr! Check it out dudes!" shouted Kenoi. "Surf's up for 2018!". Kenoi, belying his 79 years of age, dressed in a PeptoBismol-colored ski jacket with goggles and wearing a full set of snowboard gear, launched himself out of the helicopter's door, landed on the snow below, and proceeded to carve a series of big mountain turns in the fresh powder while the cameras rolled. He finished with a McTwist 720 Beebop-To-Faceplant off an adjoining volcanic ridge.

Hanemann then described some of the major venues for 2018.

"Ice skating, hockey, and all the indoor stadium sports will be played at Blaisdell Arena next to world-famous Waikiki Beach". He said. "Speed skating, curling, and a practice ice surface will be built next to the Aloha Bowl (site of NFL's 'Pro Bowl'). The main alpine venue will of course be the 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea, with training held at nearby Mauna Loa, which also reaches 14,000 feet. And finally, I'm proud to announce our showcase for The Games. For the first time in Olympic history, the slalom and the Super-Combined events from the alpine discipline will be held at an indoor ski hill to be built in Kapiolani Park, across from the Duke Kahanomoku War Memorial Pool. Our indoor ski venue will be cooled through geothermal energy piped over from the constantly-erupting Kilauea volcano on the South end of The Big Island and from wind energy harnessed from above Ma'alea Harbor over on the Valley Island of Maui."

Lingle and Hanemann closed the press conference by hanging traditional Hawai'ian leis around ech others' necks and flashing the "shaka" for photographers and assembled media.

It's "Game Over" for the Weekend Already at Pissler


Greg and Günther pulled the plug on the whole weekend this morning (Saturday) at 4AM. The hill is a Slurpee. No racing until at least Monday.

A decisive move, one that I'm sure will be appreciated by the competitors, but one that has NBC executives organizing a ski jumping contest from the roof of 30 Rock down into the street below.

When we (TAG Heuer) were at Pissler for World Cup, the typical day was:

1. Get up on the hill before dawn.

2. Get ready for a 10:30 start

3. Delay an hour due to fog

4. Delay another hour due to fog

5. Delay another hour due to fog

6. Finally give up around 13:00

This drove the athletes bananas. Downhillers are an edgy bunch anyway, but milling around up in the start for 4 hours was like being in a cage with lions every day. When school was declared out for the day, they'd go pouring out of the start en masse, like a 50-racer skiercross. I remember AJ Kitt and Kristian Ghedina doing helicopters off the Hot Air jump on their 223 cm race skis.

Hot Air no longer exists, as the course has been re-routed to allow for a slalom course and for a women's course to join the men's at the bottom. Hot Air was in between Boyd's Bump and Murr's Hop, and you can still see the breakover to the right of the tree island in the above photo.

Anyhow, good call by those guys, because now nobody (including The Weasels and Swiss Timing) has to get ready to race and then sit there all day in the pouring rain. At least until Monday.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ramblings

Well, the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run kind of puts things into perspective, eh?

The fact that NBC will probably lose an extra $50,000,000 this weekend because the womens SC has been postponed at least until Monday due to the shitty Pissler weather, and NBC for sure won't have any skiing segments of Lindsey Vonn for the weekend, doesn't seem so relevant in light of what transpired at the luge track today.

The question of the hour is.....will the mens DH happen tomorrow? Or perhaps Sunday? Postponed to Monday (gah!)? The weather at Pissler continues to sucketh dot com. Fog and rain, the course is mush, and the forecast LOW temperature at Creekside tonight is 38 degrees Farenheit. Yikes. They'd have had better luck holding the downhill in Washington DC or Dallas.

Daron Rahlves is an interesting name to watch. Rahlves was a fantastic American downhiller who retired from the alpine World Cup about 5 years ago. He was really, really fast. Fearless, too. Even the Austrians respected Rahlves. The spectacular crash he took at the GS in Adelboden (aka Rattle-boden) is the stuff legends are made of (check it out on YouTube). Rahlves was so fast, in fact, that he won the Hahnenkamm DH, which is downhill's ultimate. It's The Super Bowl, the World Series and the NBA Finals all rolled into one, if you're a ski racer. Rahlves has served drinks at The Londoner, an honor given only to Hahnenkamm DH champions. No American ski racer other than Rahlves has served drinks at The Londoner for a long time. (NOTE: Bode Miller has consumed drinks at the Londoner many, many times. Possibly too many times. I've even seen Bode do that myself. But he hasn't served them) Anyhow, Rahlves now races skiercross, a combination of skiing and roller derby. I personally think skiercross is incredibly dumb, but I'm 49 years old. The teen crowd thinks it's rad, man. If I was 19, I'd probably love it. Rahlves was named to the US team a few weeks ago, and then promptly dislocated his troublesome hip, which is something that plagued him during his World Cup alpine career. He's touch-and-go for the Olympic Skiercross, but if he goes, watch out.

Rahlves is a potential big US story for NBC, should Lindsey fizzle.

Olympic ski racing is known for unknowns, if you'll pardon the pun. Good ski racing courses are difficult to find, and many Olympics have had - to put it kindly - makeshift courses. In Nagano, for example, Jean-Luc Cretier won the mens DH on a really mediocre, milquetoast course. He'd never won a World Cup race up to that point, and never won again. He retired the next season knowing that he'd won in a fluke, and there was simply no way he'd ever achieve anything even close to an Olympic Gold Medal again. He deemed it ridiculous to continue trying, so he quit. Hans Petr Burras won the Nagano slalom. He won exactly one other race his entire career.

Unfortunately, the woman I picked at the beginning of the season as a sure thing to come out of nowhere to win a medal for Canada in Vancouver is hurt and can't compete: Kelly Vanderbeek. There was something about the way she was racing, and about the way she was talking, and even about the confident way she was walking at the season opener at Lake Louise that shouted "I'm going to win". A shame she can't compete. Canadian John Kucera, the current DH World Champion, hit the fence at Lake Louise during the Super-G in November and broke his leg badly, so he's out too. Another bummer for Canada there.

The possibility of a talented (relative) unknown like Steve Nyman or Andrew Weibrecht winning a DH medal at Whistler is very real. The conditions are going to be lousy, and amazingly shitty weather and course conditions adds another level of uncertainty, favoring the random result.

Somebody once told me that getting a racer to a "real" downhill and giving him a run costs about $5,000. Alpine Canada has invested a lot of money in their athletes, so guys like Robbie Dixon, Jan Hudec, and Manuel Osborne-Paradis have raced more than anybody at Whistler. I'm putting my money on Canada.

Friday - Both Trainings Canceled

They blew off both the mens and womens training runs early today. It's either pissing down rain or puking gloppy slush. Can't tell from the webcams.

So now the questions are....

(1) What will the weather be like tomorrow? Enough visibility to race?

(2) Will the course be usable tomorrow, even if the weather cooperates?

Whistler has a fantastic, well-trained, super-enthusiastic group of course workers called "The Weasel Workers" (closely related to "The Sled Dogs" at Lake Louise) and I'm sure they'll be out there, literally, all night, if necessary. If it's snowing they'll be shoveling the new snow off the course. If it's raining they'll be attempting to sop up the water with ammonium nitrate.

Or perhaps the weather is just such sheisse that Greg will order everyone off the course (lest they ruin the surface for all the subsequent events) and they'll just put themselves at Mother Nature's mercy for tomorrow.

Will be interesting. Wish them luck, because NBC desperately needs that mens DH race on Saturday, and they need either Bode or Vonn to win this weekend, preferably both. As for me, I'll be rooting for Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Eric Guay, Jan Hudec, and Michael Walchhofer.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mid-Day Update from Pissler


Yup, exactly as I predicted. It's not that I'm The Amazing Kreskin, it's just that I've sat through my share of endless weather delays and cancellations at Pissler downhills, and I could see this one coming from a mile away. Actually, from 2500 miles away.

I was watching the FIS live ticker. Compressing 90 minutes into 30 seconds, this is basically what happened:

First forerunners were delayed due to fog.

Sent a few forerunners.

Another delay ("Start Stop" in FIS parlance) due to fog.

Sent one racer, Recchia, bib #1. Her time was 1:52, so she was cruising easy, focusing on just not crashing.

Another Start Stop, for about 20 minutes.

Sent a forerunner.

Sent bib 2.

Bib 2 (Stacey Cook) crashed. Probably because she couldn't see shit.

Another Start Stop.

Wait.

Wait.

Wait.

Game over. Training canceled 90 minutes after it started. Two racers out of the gate.

If the weather forecast is anywhere close to reality, they're fucked for the weekend.

Whistler has one thing going for it. That one thing is a guy named Greg Johnson, the FIS TD, who is one of the best TDs in the business. Greg, who is head of the Race Department at Beaver Creek, will be advising Günther Hujara, the FIS referee, and Greg really knows his stuff. Another thing Greg's got going for him is he's one of the few people in the world who actually likes and respects Hujara. Pretty much everyone else I know in ski racing thinks Günther is a hopeless douchebag.

Another random thought - I hope Stacy Cook isn't hurt. Racing at 100 KmH when you can't see the next gate is a sure ticket to getting pulled out of the nets, possibly one body part at a time.

Update: I saw the video. Cook hit the nets hard. She was conscious, but she took a big hit. The visibility wasn't nearly as bad as what I'd anticipated from my experience racing at Whistler, which surprised me. The start and the first few gates were marginal when Cook started, but it was perfectly clear in the section where she augered in.

The head of I.T. at FIS, Francesco Cattaneo, screwed up on the FIS web site today. His link on the FIS live-to-web page to the mens training was broken, so both the womens live link and the mens live link brought up the women. As a result, I do not know what happened with the men. But I think I can safely assume that the men did more or less the same thing (canceled), since they race on the same course at the same time.

Update: I was wrong. I just read that somehow, the men completed their training run. But I do not think it was a start-to-finish complete run, as the winner's time was only 1:34, so they still have problems. The men supposedly were going to run from the DH start to the slalom start. If so, they still need to either run another full training or a mini-training on the slalom-start-to-finish section of the course prior to Saturday's race. Or waive the requirement, which has never been done to my knowledge. It's possible. Years ago , at Lake Louise, the one training was run I1-to-finish. Then, early on race day, we ran a start-to-I1 training run (approximately 10 seconds) and the afternoon race was legal. Stay tuned. Who knows, perhaps the weather will cooperate tomorrow.

Nah. It's Pissler.

It's ironic, because at World Cup, when our DATA partners make even a minor mistake, Francesco is the first one to bitch and whine like a spoiled little girl whose miniature pony has been swiped. But there's no recourse when Francesco, who must have ordered one too many bottles of champagne at his local titty bar last night, screws the pooch.

Anybody who knows jacques schitt about ski racing could have told you the odds were overwhelming this was going to happen. So NBC is almost surely fucked for the opening weekend, as their marquee event, alpine downhill, is almost surely delayed into mid-week.

But there are a few positives:

1) With Greg running things, they'll get the DHs run at some point. There's a reason DH is scheduled for the opening days....it gives them two weeks worth of makeup days.

2) The cancellations will give Lindsey Vonn an extra 4 days for her injury to heal.

An Alpine Ski Racing Primer: Kombined vs Super-Combined




In a previous post, I mentioned an alpine discipline referred to as “Kombined”. That's not a typo. There is also another alpine discipline called “Super-Combined”.

There's a difference.

In simple terms, the difference is explained thusly: Kombined (also referred to as “Classic Combined”) is a downhill (DH) race and a full two-run slalom (SL) race, usually on consecutive days, added together. Three runs, two days. A Super-Combined can be one DH + one slalom run, or it can be one Super-G (SG) + one slalom run, on the same day, added together. Two runs, same day.

Kombined is often referred to as Kombined, rather than Combined or Classic Combined, because its origins lie deep in Austrian history; in the German language, Combined is spelled Kombined. Kombined is a ski racing anachronism which originated a century ago at Europe's winter “Super Bowl”, the Hahnenkamm-Rennen races at Kitzbühel (HKR). (NOTE: HKR is highly esteemed customer of mine; the timekeeping, speed measurement, and video wall software used there is 100% Broder's Skunkware Scoring & Timing Software.) The Hahnenkamm, which celebrated its 70th running last month, started in about 1910, and by about 1930 evolved into more or less its present form. By 1930, there was a speed race (more or less DH, held on The Streif) and a technical race (more or less SL, held on the adjacent Ganslern). Each had its own champion. But the really big deal was at the end of the weekend, times for the two were added together, and the combined winner was awarded The Hahnenkamm Trophy. Fans came from all over Tirol to celebrate the crowning of The Hahnenkamm Champion. Now they come from all over the globe, while tens of millions watch on TV.

The Hahnenkamm Trophy still exists. Bode Miller has won it, although he has neither won the Hahnenkamm DH nor the Hahnenkamm SL. He simply was the guy who placed highest in both in the same year. The Hahnenkamm Trophy celebrates the guy who is the fastest, most versatile racer, over a variety of conditions, on the weekend.

link

The Kitzbühel HKR is the only regular yearly venue on the World Cup to still hold a Classic Combined. Since the HKR is men only, the women do not have a seasonal Kombined. The World Alpine Ski Championships also still stages a Kombined, for both men and women.

So, basically, Kombined is ski racing's tip of the hat to Kitzbühel, to The Hahnenkamm, and to its Austrian roots.

Kombined is a software & scoring nightmare, and very difficult to stage. For example, racers who may not qualify to even compete in the 2nd run of slalom (flip 30) are allowed to race if they are eligible for the Kombined. They ski their 2nd SL run after the slalom race is over, but their times don't “count” toward the slalom results. In addition, most World Cup venues are either speed or technical, not both, and even if they do have both courses laid out on the mountain, the two courses frequently have finish stadiums in different physical locations. Lake Louise, for example, is a Club 5 DH (Club 5 is an exclusive designation given the World Cup's best races), but the venue doesn't even have a homologated slalom course.

So a few years ago, the astonishingly incompetent brainless idiots at FIS came up with the Super-Combined (SC). SC is one of the few good ideas to come out of FIS in the last few decades. It's far easier to stage than Kombined, because the “speed” run can be a Super-G if the mountain or the weather won't cooperate. These days, downhill courses are a vanishing breed, but Super-G courses are a dime a dozen. It only takes one day instead of two. There are no bookkeeping nightmares, as it's just another two-run race. It still rewards the most versatile racer, and it's easier for the casual fan to understand than Kombined. SC has become quite popular, and in fact this year's Olympics has dropped the Kombined and replaced it with a Super-Combined.

Ironically, with the US team in disarray, with very few World Cup results this year not involving Lindsey Vonn, being woefully mis-managed by the former ski-coach who is currently calling himself CEO, America's best chance for a mens medal is the SC. Both Bode Miller and Ted Ligety are amongst the most versatile all-around skiers on the World Cup. Although they each have only one World Cup victory apiece this year, it would be a surprise if one or the other doesn't wind up on the SC podium. Lindsey Vonn, if healthy enough to race full-blast, is also a favorite to podium in the womens SC.

"We're Never Coming Back Here" - Günther Hujara, FIS Alpine Referee, at Whistler in 1998


Snowmaking.
Kitzbühel, Austria, January 2007



In terms of actuarial tables, my lease on life is due to expire somewhere between 2040 and 2050. I believe by that time, three of the biggest American cultural and financial powerhouses of the 20th Century - TV networks NBC, ABC, and CBS - will be bankrupt, worthless relics of another age.

Like the American railroads and American car companies, those three networks are doomed to ride a tsunami of their own overconfidence, criminally poor management, and changing technology straight into bankruptcy court.

It is also likely, when NBC's corporate obituary is written, that Lindsey Vonn's appearance on The Today Show this morning will be worth a mention.

Please indulge me while I meander across several digressions to my point.

NBC paid approximately $800,000,000 for the rights to televise the 2010 Olympics. That's almost a billion dollars. That was just one in a long, sad series of colossal NBC gaffes. No other country pays even 10% of that amount. US networks perennially overpay for Olympics rights by several hundred percent, then they botch the coverage to the point where it's unwatchable by putting in 20 minutes of commercials every hour to pay for their folly. But NBC lost this game of musical chairs worse than any other network in history; they got stuck holding the 2010 bag at a moment in time when the bottom fell out of the planet's economy.

NBC has already admitted that they are going to lose at least $250,000,000 on the deal. That's a quarter of a billion dollars. In a historically tight economy. I would venture to say that if the the 2010 Olympics are spectacular beyond NBC's wildest dreams, they will lose "only" that amount. Realistically, they will lose almost double that.

NBC's chances of an extraordinarily great Olympics are partly dependent on the weather in Vancouver, and if you've read anything on the subject recently, you know the weather in Vancouver usually sucks. It is forecast to suck even worse than usual for at least the first 5 days of The Games. The weather at Whistler (site of alpine skiing), dodgy even at the best of times, is terrible and getting worse. There's a very good chance that the downhills scheduled for this weekend will not come off, for reasons I'll get into later. The weather at Cypress Mountain, site of the halfpipe and acro ski events, is so warm that VANOC is flying in snow by helicopter. If you've ever seen a helicopter ferrying snow, it's a pitiful sight. Take it from somebody who lived through the 2007 Hahnenkamm races in Austria, with 4 choppers working dawn to dusk in a futile attempt to save the race. A chopper can only handle maybe a ton of snow at a time, and a ton of snow is about half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. In other words, not much.

One of the few potential lifelines NBC is clinging to is a possible record-setting performance by Lindsey Vonn, the statuesque World Champion downhiller with an All-American smile who has dominated alpine ski racing for the past three seasons. Up until today, NBC thought Vonn stood at least a decent chance of having a Michael Phelps Olympics, running the table of all 5 of her events. NBC has been promoting the hell out of this possibility, hoping against hope that they can parlay Vonn into enough viewers to keep their losses to “only” a quarter-billion. This morning, Vonn went on The Today Show and dropped a bombshell: last week she sustained a serious injury while training in Austria, and she might not even compete. Vonn has a shin injury, which for a skier is one of the worst injuries possible. It's like a tennis player who injures the palm on her racket hand. Skiers “feel” the snow through their shins, and their shins take a terrible beating when they race. They simply can't race with a bad shin.

If Vonn is out, or even injured to where her performances are compromised, then NBC goes from seriously fucked to totally, completely, historically, interplanetarily, intergalactically fucked.

Now for the weather. As I've mentioned repeatedly in previous postings, Whistler has the worst weather of any major ski resort in the world. The weather at Whistler is consistently atrocious. The problem is two-fold. First of all, Whistler is too close to the coast. It gets all the weather coming in off the Pacific Ocean. And it's too low. Whistler Village is only 2,000 feet above sea level. Whistler has got a simply awesome mountain (> 5000 ft vertical drop) with a superb downhill course, however, nobody ever gets a chance to race there, because it's always either pissing down rain or fogged in. Or both.

As I wrote previously in this space, my Winter Sports Group went there three years in a row to race World Cup (1996-7-8), and we never got a racer out of the gate.

World Cup and OWG ski events have a protocol for downhill (DH). The protocol states that for safety (and marketing) reasons, a downhill race is preceded by three “training runs”. These training runs take place on the DH course and are timed (some, such as the training runs for the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel, are even televised). Training is usually held over three consecutive days. In order for the downhill to take place, at least one of the training runs must take place, and a competitor must at least start at least one training run in order to be eligible to compete in the race. (NOTE: I used "at least" twice in that previous sentence because in order to be legal, a racer has to start, but does not have to finish.) Placings in training don't matter; the training runs simply give the racers an at-speed look at the course to reduce the chances they'll wind up in the nets (and therefore in the medical evacuation chopper) when it comes time to race.

In basketball, the expression "nothing but net" means something very good. In DH.....not so much.

So...the Mens DH is scheduled for Saturday, and the Ladies' Super-Kombined DH is scheduled for Sunday. (Note: the “kombined” DH and the DH are not the same thing, but they're both DHs. I'll explain that in another post later in the Olympics). Mens training today (Wednesday) was canceled due to fog. Big surprise. Both the men and women will attempt training Thursday and Friday. The men have reserved Saturday morning for a desperation training run if the schedule gets completely hosed by the weather. The women are also scheduled to train Saturday.

Already, all the remaining training runs and both races are in doubt. A big front is blowing in which may cancel training on Thursday and Friday with rain and fog. The front will then turn to wet gloppy snow, which will dump on the water-injected course all weekend, possibly rendering it too dangerous to race on (think wet, gloppy snow on top of an ice rink with a hockey game scheduled).

Guenther Hujara, the FIS referee, the guy quoted above vowing never to return to Whistler's shitty weather, has already rescheduled tomorrow's training to 10:30 from 11:45 in an effort to beat the incoming weather front.

And so it starts.

From FIS Alpine News:

Three training runs are planned to be carried out between Wednesday, February 10, and Friday, February 12. The men's downhill competition is scheduled for Saturday, February 13, a day after the official opening ceremony of the Games.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the next few days is not favorable for the region north of Vancouver as rain and snow are both projected to continue through Sunday.


From EarthTimes.org:

Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the next few days is not favorable for the region north of Vancouver as rain and snow are both projected to continue through Sunday.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lindsey Vonn: WhoTF Is Inventing All of These "Controversies"?


Lindsey Vonn Captured on our PhotoFinish at FIS World Cup @ Lake Louise, Alberta


I can't understand, and am infuriated by, the controversy(s) being invented out of whole cloth in the media about Lindsey Vonn.

There's the controversy about her Sports Illustrated cover:

link

Then there's the controversy about her appearance in the Sports Illustrated Bathing Suit Issue:

link

And the controversy about her estranged relationship with her father:

link

And the controversy about her weight and size:

link

Sporting media, get a grip. Let's review a few facts, shall we?

1) She's the best female alpine ski racer in the world. By far. Nobody else is even close.

2) She is a threat to win any World Cup, World Championship, or Olympic race, in any discipline, in any conditions, anywhere, at any time. She's actually more than a threat; for many, she's a foregone conclusion. When she shows up at a speed event (Super-G or Downhill) these days, many in the media write their stories about her victory before the race even starts, and then re-write in the unlikely event that one of her rivals - such as Maria Riesch or Anja Paerson - wins. She swept, for example, all three World Cup speed races held on consecutive days at Lake Louise, Alberta earlier this season. Then she did the same thing at Haus im Enstal, Austria a few weeks ago. A clean sweep. Twice.

3) This is the third straight year she's achieved the rarified status described above in point #1.

4) She long ago achieved the status of becoming the winning-est American female ski racer ever. She is one World Cup victory from passing Bode Miller as the winning-est American ski racer ever, period.

5) Last week she clinched the Super-G crystal globe (World Cup Season Trophy), and the season doesn't end for two months.

6) She is a ferocious competitor. At the Torino Olympics, after a bad crash, she literally went from a hospital bed directly to the slopes to race an Olympic event. She didn't win, but she placed in the top ten. She won multiple World Cup races in 2009 and 2010 with her hand in a cast from various injuries.

7) She is known for superb sportsmanship. Her BFF is none other than Maria Riesch, a German racer who is her closest rival for the FIS World Cup Overall crystal globe. Riesch's family in Garmisch tends to Vonn's cows (yes, her cows), which she was awarded for winning a series of World Cup races in Val d'Isere. The two usually spend the holidays together, when the World Cup break is too short for Vonn to go back to The States.

8) She happens, incidentally, to be almost 6 feet tall and drop-dead gorgeous, with a 1,000-watt smile worthy of a supermodel. She also speaks fluent German.

9) Unless the above-referenced Sports Illustrated photos have been retouched, she apparently has buns of steel, six-pack abs, and looks terrific in a bikini.

Now we move away from facts and into opinion.

Lindsay Vonn is the best international ambassador for American sports I can think of. She's a better athlete than James Blake, she doesn't threaten to kill umpires like Serena Williams, she isn't a stoner like Michael Phelps. This is not a made-for-TV invention, like Anna Kournikova or Alexandra Stevenson. She's more along the lines of Chris Evert or Lisa Leslie, a phenomenal athlete who just happens to be a hottie.

I can't say I know her, but I've chatted briefly with her a few times at the World Cup races in Lake Louise. The racers, the coaches, the technicians, and the race support people all stay at the same hotel (Chateau Lake Louise) for those two weeks, so it's impossible not to occasionally bump into a Julia Mancuso or a Benni Raich or a Didier Cuche in the buffet line or just wandering around the hallways. She seemed friendly, laid-back, and genuine, as much as I could tell in a couple of 30-second conversations.

The thing about ski racing is that it's so horribly ephemeral and fleeting; she could hit the nets tomorrow and not win any of the 3 or 4 gold medals many expect her to win. Hell, she could hit the nets tomorrow and never walk again. Tragically, alpine ski racing is a sport where sometimes racers go down and they don't get up again. This isn't swimming or ice skating; storied careers end in the blink of an eye with alarming frequency. If you don't believe me, just ask Matthias Lanzinger or Silvano Beltrametti. So to the writers and flesh-police zealots stirring up all this sheisse, I say to you all: just STFU. Don't be so lazy, do some research, write about somebody who needs the ink.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

FedEx Delivery Exception: A Play in Two Acts

Act 1

Bought two off-lease laptops on eBay to add to my event stock. Day of delivery comes. No delivery. E-mail seller, get tracking number. Plug tracking number into FedEx web site. Get this:

"Unable to Deliver Shipment. Return To Shipper. Recipient Unknown".

Grrrrrrrrr.

Get on the horn to FedEx with a good head of steam. Tell FedEx Chick "WTF? How can the recipient be unknown? I live in a dinky little town, two FedEx guys, I know them both by name, they know who I am."

FedEx Chick: "Wellllll - there are some notes in the record. Let me see.... it says 'overturned trailer' ".

Me: "They tried to deliver my pkg to a trailer? I don't live in a trailer. I live in a house. And trailer homes are illegal here."

FedEx Chick: "Still reading....OK, what happened is the pkg was out for delivery on a FedEx delivery truck, which then got into a big crash, and it rolled over. All the boxes onboard are being returned to their shippers."

Me: "Hmglymph. {working...working.....working} Are you sure?"

FedEx Chick: "That's what it says".

Me: "OK, thanks."

Act 2

Redial FedEx. Get another rep on the horn.

Me: "Hi, I'd like to give you a tracking number, and perhaps you can tell me what happened to this shipment. I just had a conversation with another FedEx rep about this, and I'm not sure I believe what she told me."

FedEx dude: "OK, sure, what's the tracking #?"

{looks it up}

FedEx dude: "Yup, I see what you mean. FedEx truck crashed, rolled over a few times, boxes damaged, all returned to shipper".

Me: "Hmglymph." {working...working.....working}

FedEx dude: "Yeah, I know, it's rare but it happens. I've been here ten years, saw it once before. FedEx truck had a fuel leak and burned to the ground."

Me: "Just for the sake of my own curiosity, why were all the boxes returned to their shippers? Why not deliver them and let the recipient make a claim if the contents are damaged?"

FedEx dude: "It's company policy. FedEx returns the parcels because in most cases the contents are purchased goods. It's easier for buyers to make a refund claims on their credit card if the goods are never delivered at all than if they're delivered damaged. Once they're delivered, then the buyer has to document the damage, file a claim, possibly return the goods at their own expense, and it can be a lengthy and costly process."

Me: "Wow. Never thought of that. That's possibly the first time in 49 years that somebody has explained something by saying 'it's company policy' and the company policy actually made sense."

FedEx dude: {laughs} "Yes, sir. Can I help you with anything else today?"

Me: "No, thanks for your help. Aloha".

FedEx dude: "Thanks for calling FedEx".