• Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    MLK’s Children Feuding Over His Legacy … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have felt constrained to write far too many commentaries on the family feud the children of Martin Luther King Jr. have been waging for years in the media and courts over his legacy.

    By way of background, here are excerpts from three of them:

    • From “Children of Martin Luther King Jr. Fighting Over His Estate,” July 14, 2008:

    King’s legacy has not been enhanced by the squabbling among his four children: pitting two who regard it as their inheritance to use for their personal benefit against the other two who regard it as a public trust for them to manage as zealous trustees.

    • From “MLK’s Kids Continue Family Feud Over His Legacy,” October 15, 2008:

    Last July, when I wrote about the latest spectacle the children of Martin Luther King Jr. were making of his legacy, I really didn’t think they could do any more harm.  But that all changed yesterday when they showed up in court to air more of their family’s dirty laundry

    Bernice has vowed not only to screw Dexter but also to defy any court order to turn over the documents. And her other brother, Martin, is supporting her as if MLK’s legacy depended on it.

    MLK and Coretta must be rolling over in their graves.

    • From “Now MLK’s Kids Settle?!” October 14, 2009:

    For over a year I’ve been chronicling their family feud over everything from royalties from book deals to proceeds from the sale of MLK’s papers.

    From the outset I despaired over their failure to settle their differences – if only to preserve the integrity of their family’s good and historic name

    It seems a pitiful and regrettable delusion that yesterday, the first day of their latest court battle, the kids finally decided to settle all of their outstanding differences out of court, claiming that they want to avoid harming the legacy of their parents and begin their healing process as siblings…

    ‘Love compels you to take a higher road. We love our brother and the legacy of our parents. At the end of the day, we’re still a family.’ (Bernice King)

    Of course, one wonders why love did not prevent them from doing so much over the past year to destroy that legacy.

    In any case, it does not bode well that there’s still so little trust and respect among them that the only way they could settle their differences was to agree that none of them should be involved in managing their parents’ estate, which includes love letters and broadcast rights to MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech…

    What an embarrassing farce!

    mlk-3-bernice-king-dexter-king-ap

    Sadly, I was right to greet Bernice King’s declaration – that love for her brothers and regard for her parents’ legacy caused the remaining three of them to finally settle their differences – with informed cynicism. Because here is the declaration of rekindled war she sounded just weeks ago to prevent her brothers, Martin III (center) and Dexter, from selling off MLK’s Nobel Peace Prize (the medal) and traveling Holy Bible:

    ‘While I love my brothers dearly, this latest decision by them is extremely troubling. Not only am I appalled and utterly ashamed, I am frankly disappointed that they would even entertain the thought of selling these precious items…

    Our Father must be turning in his grave.

    (My Fox Atlanta, February 11, 2014)

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
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    Continue family feud
    Kids settle

  • Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 11:26 PM

    UPDATE: Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I usually reserve updates for my books, but in light of the unusual amount of feedback/concern my original commentary generated, I’ve decided to make an exception.

    Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

    (Winston Churchill, House of Commons, May 2, 1935, Courtesy of the National Churchill Museum)

    This was Churchill’s take on the famous truism George Santayana coined in The Life of Reason, namely, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    _60621261_crimea-sevastopol-gBut never before in the history of mankind has this truism been truer (and more foreboding) than it is with respect to the latest development unfolding in Ukraine:

    President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered massive exercises involving most military units in western Russia amid tensions in Ukraine.

    Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said … that the maneuvers involve some 150,000 troops, 880 tanks, 90 aircraft and 80 navy ships…

    A senior Russian lawmaker on Tuesday told pro-Russia activists in Crimea that Moscow will protect them if their lives are in danger.

    (The Associated Press, February 26, 2014)

    Anyone who knows anything about the causes of World War II will appreciate my casting Vladimir Putin as Adolf Hitler testing the will of his European adversaries. And, just to be perfectly clear, I’m analogizing here to Hitler the bullying military adventurer, not the butchering genocidal maniac.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 5.06.57 PM

    Never mind that Muslim Tatars could be forgiven fears that Putin might purge them from Crimea the way his predecessor, Joseph Stalin, purged them from Russia; or, perhaps more to the point, that Tatars have faced subjugation, displacement, and even extermination throughout history much as Jews did until they settled in Israel.

    But, like Hitler, who wanted to dominate Europe, Putin wants to dominate the former republics of the former Soviet Union. And like Hitler, who appointed himself father protector of Germans living in the Sudeten region of Austria, Putin has appointed himself the father protector of Russians living in the Crimea region of Ukraine (just as he did with those living in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia).

    obama-putin-faceoff1I’m not going to insult your intelligence by delineating the obvious symmetries/analogies any further.

    I’m merely imploring Western leaders — who might eventually have to play Churchill and FDR to Putin’s Hitler — to show that they’ve learned from history by standing up to this bully if he even attempts to take Crimea. (The president of China might have to play Stalin….) I pray they don’t stand by and let him take it, as their respective predecessors did when Hitler took Sudetenland; and the rest, as we say, is history.

    That said, I shudder to think what concessions Putin could extract — given the myriad concessions successive presidents of North Korea have extracted from Western leaders by merely threatening to continue developing/testing nuclear weapons. After all, insofar as the capability to intentionally inflict existential distress over nuclear weapons is concerned, Russia makes North Korea look like Switzerland. Still, the sooner Obama calls Putin’s bluff, the further the world will remain away from the brink of nuclear war.

    NOTE: After floating Soviet-style propaganda about the CIA harboring the fugitive Yanukovych, Moscow just confirmed that he’s enjoying refuge in the bosom of Mother Russia.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    Gay Civil Rights: from Media Stunt in New York to Witch-Hunt in Uganda

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Media stunt

    Collins is a 12-year journeyman who has played for six NBA teams, and is currently looking for his seventh. Therefore, his courageous stand is undermined by the fact that he waited to take it on his way out of the league.

    Still, I’m cynical enough to believe that, given the way he’s being hailed as the Jackie Robinson of gay athletes, an NBA team would sign him as much for his pioneering PR value as for what little contribution he could make at this point as a glorified bench warmer.

    (“NBA Player Comes Out as Gay. Great! But Courageous?” The iPINIONS Journal, April 30, 2013)

    usa-basketball-nbaEveryone in the mainstream and social media is hailing the Brooklyn Nets for making Jason Collins the first openly gay player in professional sports:

    Jason Collins broke an incredible barrier on Sunday, becoming the first openly gay athlete in one of the United States’ four major professional sports when he checked in for the Nets.

    It was a big moment not just for the NBA, but in sports history.

    (CBS Sports, February 24, 2014)

    Of course, I predicted it would be thus – as my opening quote affirms.

    Except that, just as Collins undermined the historic nature of his coming out by waiting until he was leaving or, more accurately, getting cut from the NBA, the Nets undermined the historic nature of his signing by offering him only a “10-day contract.”

    Jason CollinsWhich is why, far from applauding them, gay activists and sports commentators should be condemning Collins and the Nets for using the noble cause of gay civil rights for little more than a PR stunt.

    Frankly, the Brooklyn Nets seem only interested in claiming historic symmetry with the Brooklyn Dodgers – who made history in April 1947 by signing Jackie Robinson as the first Black player in professional sports. The glaring difference, however, is that the Dodgers did not sign Robinson as a token Black, hoping to profit from whatever media coverage and public goodwill it generates. They signed Robinson to help them win Baseball games, which he did … and then some.

    By contrast, Collins got cut from the NBA last year because he was washed up, not because he “came out.” Accordingly, nobody should expect him to do anything but serve as the token gay in the NBA. And he immediately proved himself worthy of this dubious distinction, scoring zero points and having zero impact during the 11 minutes he played in his first game back on Sunday night.

    michael-sam-2-600Moreover, let’s not overlook that, by participating in this stunt, Collins denied Football player Michael Sam this acclaim of becoming the first openly gay player in professional sports. Sam is the defensive lineman from the University of Missouri who made national news by coming out three weeks ago; not least because he did so just months before the NFL Draft in May. Now that, Jason Collins, was courageous!

    Indeed, you could be forgiven the suspicion that Collins, the Nets, and the NBA actually concocted this signing so that they, not Sam, his draft team, and the NFL, would go down in history as doing for gays in professional sports what Robinson, the Dodgers, and MLB did for Blacks.

    Incidentally, let’s overlook reports that Sam is performing so poorly at this week’s NFL combine (aka tryouts), he’d be lucky to be drafted at all instead of in the early rounds as generally expected. He will be drafted!

    Witch-hunt

    Uganda’s president has signed a controversial anti-gay bill that allows harsh penalties for ‘homosexual offences’ calling them ‘mercenaries’ and ‘prostitutes’.

    Yoweri Museveni on Monday signed the bill, which holds that homosexuals be jailed for long terms, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires people to denounce gays.

    (Al Jazeera, February 25, 2014)

    Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.55.12 PMThis new law will surprise nobody who knows anything about the growing hostility towards homosexuals across Africa, where homosexuality is taboo in every country and already illegal in 37.

    For example, to facilitate the witch-hunt it sanctions, a Ugandan newspaper published the names and pictures of hundreds of homosexual “suspects.” But it would not surprise me if newspapers in other countries, like Nigeria and Gambia, ape this perverse form of informing the public.

    Sadly, apart from urging LGBT people living in Uganda to either stay deep in the closet or get the hell out of the country, I don’t know what anyone can say or do to protect them. After all, Western leaders have spent the past three years condemning Syrian President Assad for massacring women and children but doing nothing to stop him. Therefore, that they’ve begun condemning Ugandan President Museveni for oppressing homosexuals is hardly worthy of note.

    What is noteworthy is that this law is just the latest manifestation of the oppressive governance China – as a super power rising – is enabling throughout the developing world. Because the only reason Uganda is defying the West like this is that China has made it clear  – to everyone from genocidal maniacs to homophobes and kleptomaniacs – that it will more than compensate for any financial or economic sanction Western countries impose pursuant to their political, social, and moral values.

    Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 11.47.30 AMIn fact, during an interview with CNN on Monday, reporter Zain Verjee asked Museveni if he was at all concerned about this law incurring the wrath of the United States. This question was especially pertinent in light of the fact that, according to a February 18, 2014 Reuters report, President Obama personally called to lobby him against signing the bill and warned of financial reprisals if he did.

    Yet I watched as Museveni took newfound pride in dismissing (or dissing) Obama’s call as tantamount to blackmail unbecoming of dealings between friendly nations, before telling the United States to mind its own business:

    Respect African societies and their values. If you don’t agree, just keep quiet. Let us manage our society… just the way we don’t interfere with yours… [Of course I dislike homosexuals] they’re disgusting!

    Mind you, homosexuality is as deeply rooted in Uganda as it is in the United States. But it’s no accident that the president of Uganda is now using the same words to defend his country’s abuse of homosexuals that the president of China uses to defend his country’s abuse of political dissidents.

    What’s more, this is the same president of Uganda, who, just years ago, the president of the United States was hailing for his progressive policies towards treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS:

    President Bush praised Uganda for its handling of the AIDS pandemic, saying the East African country was leading the world in combating its spread.

    ‘You have shown the world what is possible in terms of reducing infection rates,’ Bush told Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Friday.

    (CNSNews, July 7, 2008)

    This is why the only way even the mighty United States can influence government policies in an increasing number of developing countries is to seek China’s blessing … and assistance.

    article-2567963-1BCDA6E000000578-354_634x499Meanwhile, given that gays are still fighting for their civil rights in most Western countries, Westerners condemning this Ugandan law risk being accused of brazen hypocrisy. American evangelicals – who spread their gospel of homophobia throughout Africa faster than the spread of HIV/AIDS – personify this hypocrisy.

    In fact, this law reflects the success these crusaders have had imposing extreme Christian values on Africans that they’ve been unable to impose on Americans. The Christian jihadists in Arizona – who are trying to enact a bill making it legal for them to refuse public services to gay people – will attest to this. Because, despite the media stoking conflict and suspense for commercial purposes, it’s patently clear that the pragmatic governor of Arizona will veto this bill.

    Not to mention the Coalition of African American Pastors who are trying to impeach (Black) U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for entreating state attorneys general to ignore state laws banning gay marriages.

    In other words, Museveni could be forgiven for telling Obama to deal with homophobia in America before trying to deal with it in Africa.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    Ukraine’s Orange Revolution Turns ‘Red’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Par7798141Tensions that were simmering between anti-government protesters and riot police for the past three months finally erupted into revolutionary conflict in Ukraine last week.

    Street clashes leave at least 26 people, including 10 police officers, dead and hundreds injured. The violence begins when protesters attack police lines and set fires outside parliament after it stalls on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

    (The Associated Press, February 20, 2014)

    It is impossible to fully appreciate these revolutionary developments, and what they portend, without knowing a fair amount about developments over the past decade that led inexorably to them.

    And, even if I do say so myself, I don’t think you can do much better in this respect than to read the commentaries I’ve written on Ukraine. Better still, I wrote one just three months ago that should serve as a CliffNotes-like primer.

    After reprising it below, I’ll give my take on why last week’s overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych by pro-Western protesters is no cause for celebration.

    With that, here is “Ukraine’s Never-Ending Europe Spring,” (December 3, 2013) for your edification:

    ______________________

    I’m on record hailing Ukrainians as my favorite ex-communists. Alas, I’m also on record lamenting that, ever since their triumphal Orange Revolution in 2005, they have done nothing but trample all over my hopes for the political development of their country.

    Just two years after that revolution, which was supposed to set them on an inexorable path towards a thriving democracy, it became agonizingly clear that Ukrainians are more divided among themselves than they ever were with the Russians who once lorded over them.

    No American politician could have anticipated the obsession fractious Ukrainians evidently developed for elections after their split from the former Soviet Union. After all, Sunday’s national poll was the third in three years, which puts the Ukrainians on track to make the Italians’ promiscuous penchant for changing governments seem positively chaste.

    (“My Favorite Ex-Communists: the Ukrainians,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2007)

    Specifically, Ukrainians have been beset by irreconcilable differences between Ukrainian-speaking citizens in the West – who long for their country to be fully integrated into Europe, and Russian-speaking citizens in the East – who long for it to rekindle Cold War ties with Russia.

    article-2516473-19C22A9E00000578-178_964x642Which is why there’s a Groundhog-Day spectacle about the latest protests, which began 10 days ago, to bring down yet another Ukrainian government:

    Ukrainian protesters blockaded the main government building on Monday, trying to bring down President Viktor Yanukovych with a general strike after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against his decision to abandon an EU integration pact.

    Demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, which saw violent clashes with the police, drew as many as 350,000 people, the biggest public rally in the ex-Soviet state since the ‘orange revolution’ overturned a stolen election nine years ago.

    Yanukovych’s decision to abandon a trade pact with the European Union and instead seek closer economic ties with Russia has stirred deep passions in a country where many people yearn to join the European mainstream and escape Moscow’s orbit.

    (Reuters, December 2, 2013)

    Only God knows how this will turn out. But I would bet my life savings on Ukraine ending up in Europe; even if Russian President Vladimir Putin tries, again, to freeze it out and extort its loyalty by cutting off the gas Russia supplies – not just to Ukraine but many countries in Europe, including France and Germany.

    All the same, it would not surprise me in the least if Putin does to Ukraine what he did to Georgia; namely, deploy troops to cut off the pro-Russian parts of the country….

    In the meantime, I shall suffice to share excerpts from just a few of my previous commentaries, in chronological order, that should explain why Ukrainians seem caught in a vicious cycle of political unrest.

    Yushenko-1From “Viktor Yushchenko Comes to Washington,” (April 7, 2005):

    Yesterday, the newly elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, received a hero’s welcome before addressing a Joint Session of the United States Congress. Yushchenko thanked President George W. Bush for standing firm in his support for Ukraine’s peaceful Orange Revolution and vowed to build a resolutely American-style democracy in heart of the old Soviet Union.

    From “Putin Fires First Salvo in New Cold War in Europe,” (January 3, 2006):

    Putin made Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko an offer he could not refuse: Like a true dictator, Putin told Yushchenko that if Ukraine’s 47 million ‘orange revolutionaries’ wanted to continue receiving gas from Russia to cook their food, heat their homes, and drive their cars, they would have to pay four times as much. When Yushchenko refused, Putin made good on his threat and cut off the gas supply!

    images-1[Incidentally, it should have come as no surprise when Bloomberg published a September 17, 2013 report headlined, “Vladimir Putin, the Richest Man on Earth” – with an estimated fortune of $40-60 billion. And bear in mind that he comes from peasant stock and has never held a non-government job in his life.

    But the reason Putin is now the richest, and arguably the most powerful, man on earth is that, in addition to using Russia’s vast oil and gas resources as political weapons, he has been using them as personal commodities to enrich himself ever since his first term as president in 2000.  Most notoriously, this included confiscating the oil company of Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and throwing him in the gulag in 2003, where he’s still rotting away to this day.]

    From “Update on My Favorite Ex-Communists,” (October 2, 2007):

    Only months after his election, Yushchenko’s myriad failures as a leader became so untenable that many erstwhile ‘orange revolutionaries’ (i.e., Ukrainians who risked their lives to support his call for democracy) were already pining for a return to communist rule.

    In fact, Yushchenko spent so much time trying to manage the grandiose ambitions of his government ministers that he was utterly incapable of delivering on any of his election promises: most notably, to eradicate corruption, establish fiscal transparency, and set Ukraine on a path towards sustainable economic development.

    ukrainecIt was not surprising, therefore, that Yushchenko’s most decisive act as president was sacking Yulia Tymoshenko – the charismatic woman he appointed prime minister and who, to his understandable chagrin, many Ukrainians thought personified the spirit of the Orange Revolution.

    Unfortunately, this only deepened disaffection with his leadership and exacerbated the democratic growing pains of all Ukrainians. To make matters worse, instead of going quietly, Tymoshenko led a mutiny against him, which caused their governing coalition to crumble in abject failure.

    This in turn led to new elections held in March 2006, which resulted in the improbable return to power of unreformed communists led by Viktor Yanukovych – the man Yushchenko claims headed the Russian-inspired attempt to assassinate him.

    ukraineb-300x222From “Update on My Favorite Ex-Communists,” (September 24, 2008):

    There were great expectations last year that the gunshot re-marriage between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the two leaders of Ukraine’s democratic forces, would last. But I was more cynical. In fact, despite writing that ‘perhaps this third time will prove a charm,’ I ended last year’s update as follows:

    ‘Chances are even better, however, that I’ll be writing a similar update a year from now after another round of elections are called to end yet another period of political deadlock….’

    And, sure enough, here I am.

    It is noteworthy, however, that this third divorce was caused by far more than persistent irreconcilable differences between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Because it was triggered by Tymoshenko’s refusal to stand by Yushchenko when he went out on a limb in June to support another ex-communist, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in his failed attempt to oust Russian forces from his country.

    Yushchenko claims that Tymoshenko not only betrayed him (and Ukraine’s democratic forces) but was actually plotting ‘a political and constitutional coup d’etat’ by joining Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of Ukraine’s pro-Russian party, in accusing Georgia’s democratic forces of provoking the Russian invasion.

    ukrainefFrom “Alas, Most Ukrainians Believe in Constant Change, if Not in Chaos,” (March 4, 2010):

    Well, it’s little more than a year, but this latest update brings more of the same. Because, after joining forces to utterly frustrate Yushchenko’s presidency, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych immediately began plotting against each other to replace him.

    This led to new presidential elections last month, which resulted in Yanukovych defeating Tymoshenko.  Yet, true to form, this latest change has only ushered in a new term of political chaos and dysfunction.

    In this case, just as she defied Yushchenko, Tymoshenko defied Yanukovych’s demands for her to resign as prime minister so that he could appoint someone whose sole ambition was not to take his job…

    This means that Ukraine is probably in for another round of snap parliamentary elections before summer.  And so it goes….

    ukrainb-300x205From “Rise and Fall of Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko,” (October 14, 2011):

    A judge sentenced former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison for abusing her powers, by signing a sweetheart oil deal with Russia, while in office. And to compound her woes, the state security service filed additional corruption charges against her only yesterday, claiming that she misappropriated over $400 million from the government’s budget to pay off a debt owed to Russia by an energy company she once ran…

    Tymoshenko denies everything of course, claiming that she’s being persecuted for her political beliefs by Ukraine’s unrepentant communist president, Viktor Yanukovych. Whatever the case, these new charges mean that she could end up spending the rest of her life in prison.

    Mind you, such a fate would be entirely in keeping with the Joan-of-Arc persona she has cultivated over the years. And she will doubtless spin her imprisonment as martyrdom for the noble cause of Ukrainian democracy, which she and her fellow Orange Revolutionaries were mandated to usher in six years ago.

    Never mind that all of her former political partners would probably describe her as more of a cross between Mata Hari and the Black Widow; and that her imprisonment is her just deserts…

    ukrained-300x193Clearly, when all is said and done, Tymoshenko is learning the hard way that the difference between a democratic president like Yushchenko and a communist one like Yanukovych is that the former just fires public servants who refuse to carry out his political agenda; the latter throws them in prison.

    This brings us full circle – with former Orange Revolutionaries fighting to overthrow the pro-Russian Yanukovych once again.

    ‘Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration; it’s not a reaction; it’s a revolution,’ said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader.

    (The Associated Press, December 1, 2013)

    ukraine-300x141Never one to be sidelined during a national fight, Tymoshenko went on a hunger strike in solidarity with these anti-government protesters. She’s in her eighth day and is probably wondering why the international media are spending more time covering their protests than her strike.

    For his part, Yushchenko led negotiations with European leaders to formulate terms for Ukraine’s Association Agreement with Europe, which Yanukovych balked at signing at the eleventh hour (showing himself more fearful of Russia’s cold shoulder than solicitous of Europe’s warm embrace).

    Thus continues the political triangle among these three, which has only reinforced Ukraine’s reputation as being either a Russian lapdog or an ungovernable mess ever since its disassociation from the Soviet Union in 1991.

    _____________________

     

    Given that background, here’s what I think about the latest:

    Pro-Western Ukrainians are establishing (through “blood, toil, tears, and sweat”) the plainly untenable precedent that, if enough people are upset about a wholly legal government initiative, they can:

    • march on the nation’s capital and turn it into a mass political mosh pit;
    • build a warlike garrison in response to government entreaties to evacuate in the interest of the general welfare;
    • prevent duly elected politicians from conducting any government business;
    • refuse all government offers to compromise, including invitations to join a government of national unity and proposals for new elections to have the initiative at issue ratified or rejected by democratic means;
    • retaliate in kind when police resort to force to evict them;
    • storm government buildings (in ways, forgive the mixed allusions, reminiscent of the “storming of the Bastille”) when government shows unwillingness to use military means to evict them (in ways reminiscent of the Chinese government evicting protesters from Tiananmen Square); and
    • force a democratically elected president to flee for his life.

    Ukraine_Presidential__Inauguration_.sff.xlgraphic.prod_affiliate.4Remember, as politically loathsome as Yanukovych might be, he was elected president in free and fair elections. Which is why it reeks of political hypocrisy and opportunism for Western leaders, most notably President Obama, to be voicing support for this de facto coup, no matter how popular, instead of condemning it.

    After all, this is the equivalent of millions of Republicans – who oppose Obamacare – amassing in Washington, DC and behaving in similar fashion in a misguided attempt to force Obama to repeal the law. Frankly, supporting these Ukrainian protesters is just encouraging this kind of mob rule, which is so anathema to democracy and the rule of law.

    Not to mention that there’s a critical mass of pro-Russian Ukrainians in the East of the country (most notably in the Crimea region) who strongly supported Yanukovych’s initiative to form closer ties with Russia. Granted, Russia’s $15 billion inducement probably softened a few hearts.

    article-2566502-1BC8DAD100000578-422_964x663

    And it hardly bodes well for national unity in Ukraine that the pro-Western parliament is now calling not only for closer ties with Europe but also for Yanukovych’s arrest on charges of mass murder.

    FE3B393A-1636-4AF1-A607-1C998FE85A2C_mw1024_n_sIndeed, bear in mind that the country was virtually split down the middle at the last election in 2010 – with those in the West voting for Tymoshenko and closer ties with Europe (and the United States), those in the East for Yanukovych and closer ties with Russia. Yanukovych won. Therefore, despite open and notorious flirtation with European leaders, it should have come as no surprise that he ultimately got into bed with Vladimir Putin, who clearly fancies himself the de facto leader of a Soviet Union that, in his mind, never died.

    But what if Tymoshenko had won and got into bed with … Obama, which in turn incited pro-Russian Ukrainians to do to her what pro-Western Ukrainians are doing to Yanukovych? Do you think Western leaders would be voicing their support?

    Incidentally, I readily concede that my simplified references to pro-Western and pro-Russian Ukrainians overlook the fact that this schism is as much generational as it is geographical — with older Ukrainians, East and West, retaining greater affinity for Mother Russia based on nostalgia for the former Soviet Union they knew so well; and younger Ukrainians, East and West, displaying greater interest in Western assimilation based on, well, their hope for a more progressive, democratic future.

    The far more important and pivotal question, though, is: What will Putin do? Not least because it would make a mockery of the Cold-War principles he governs by if Putin allows these Ukrainian revolutionaries to put his puppet Yanukovych on trial – the way Egyptian revolutionaries are doing with their former leaders Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi; or worse, if he allows them to execute Yanukovych in the streets like a bunch of hungry hyenas devouring a gazelle – the way Libyan revolutionaries did with Muammar Gaddafi.

    After all, Putin has made no secret of his contempt for what he decried as Obama’s failure to protect America’s puppet leader, Mubarak, from avenging mobs.

    Let me hasten to clarify, however, that Putin’s contempt was and remains entirely self-interested. For example, he makes quite a show of standing in solidarity with despots like Ben Ali of Tunisia, Yanukovych of Ukraine, and Assad of Syria. But he does so only because he lives in mortal fear of popular uprisings of the sort that toppled them toppling him too. Period.

    This is why he must’ve been a little unnerved yesterday when even pro-Russian Ukrainians began calling for Yanukovych’s head. This, after they got a glimpse at the obscenely opulent, Louis-XVI lifestyle he was living at their expense. So just imagine what Putin’s peasant supporters in Russia would want to do to him. After all, he lives a lifestyle that’s a thousand times more extravagant than Yanukovych’s, having amassed billions in ill-gotten gains over the years as a KGB officer turn politician.

    After eight years in power, Putin has secretly accumulated a fortune of more than $40bn. The sum would make him Russia’s (and Europe’s) richest man.

    (“Putin, the Kremlin Power Struggle and the $40bn Fortune”, The London Guardian, December 21, 2007)

    russian-troops-ossetiaTrust me, Putin lords over a kleptocracy that has fleeced public funds on such an unprecedented scale, it makes kleptocracies African despots lord over seem petty. Which of course is why he is so anxious to stoke the combustible geopolitical crisis in Ukraine to deflect the international media from drawing unavoidable parallels between Yanukovych’s dubious accumulation of wealth and his. Far better, for example, to get Russians drunk with pan-Russian pride than to have them pose sober questions about the billions he and his cronies embezzled from the $50-billion price tag for the Sochi Olympics.

    But this crisis demonstrates that the value of a nation’s character is being measured these days by the extent to which its citizens will go to get rid of a corrupt leader. Therefore, Russians must count their nationalism cheap when they see that their Ukrainian counterparts risked (and, in many cases, sacrificed) their lives to get rid of their corrupt leader—who, compared to Putin, was a veritable Honest Abe….

    More to the point, though, most political pundits appear to have forgotten that the imperial “Czar” Putin has established his own precedent for dealing with former Republics of the former Soviet Union that turn their backs on Russia to embrace closer ties with the West. Hint: it involves Russian troops.

    Specifically, here are a few instructive excerpts from commentaries I’ve written on what I call the Georgia precedent:

    • From “Tensions Simmering Between Mother Russia and Her Former Dependent Territory, Georgia,” (June 6, 2008):

    To be fair to Putin, he has just as much moral authority (and military power) to do what he’s doing in Georgia as President Bush had to do what he did in Kosovo (i.e., to use force to facilitate independence for a province [or in this case two provinces] within an independent state).

    • From “Russia Invades Georgia Under Cover of Beijing Olympics,” (August 8, 2008):

    Georgia calling on the United States and Europe to come to its aid is rather like the tiny Caribbean country of Grenada calling on the Soviet Union to come to its aid after the United States invaded in 1983.

    • From “With Mission Accomplished in Georgia, Putin Orders Ceasefire,” (August 13, 2008):

    Western leaders have responded with nothing more than hollow words to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s cries for help in repelling the Russian invasion of his country… And no one knew this would be the case more than Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. That is why he made this Clausewitzian move to invade and occupy almost half of Georgia while engaging Western leaders in a diversionary war of words…

    Putin’s message to Georgia and other former Republics of the former Soviet Union (like Ukraine) is crystal clear:  If you think you’re so far beyond Russia’s Cold-War sphere of influence that you can rub your political and military alliances with the West in our face, think again!

    Accordingly, I predict that it’s only a matter of time before these two (de facto independent) provinces [namely South Ossetia and Abkhazia] formally reunite with their Mother Russia.

    In fact, to this day the pro-Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain more Russian than Georgian. And it hardly matters that only Russia and a few anti-American states like Venezuela and Nicaragua recognize them as independent states.

    On Monday the Russian President sent addresses to Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab and South Ossetian President Leonid Tibilov. In the messages the Russian leader wrote that the decision to support the two nations’ struggle for independence, made in 2008, was not easy but it was the only right option. Such a move was crucial for the young states because it allowed them to take independent decisions on their future, Vladimir Putin added in his message.

    (Russia Today [RT], August 26, 2013)

    Barack ObamaTherefore, bear this Georgia precedent in mind when you hear Obama warning that it would be a “grave mistake” for Putin to order Russian troops to invade and occupy pro-Russian provinces in Ukraine.

    And Ukraine’s pro-Russian province of Crimea might just be where the rubber hits the road. Because Crimea is not only where Yanukovych is reportedly hiding out, but also where Putin is hearing South Ossetian and Abkhazian-like cries from people for Mother Russia to rescue them from their fascistic pro-Western brothers and sisters.

    article-2565489-1BBEF82800000578-418_634x762In the meantime, I have no reason to believe that the pro-Western revolutionaries who ousted the pro-Russian Yanukovych last week will be any more capable of governing Ukraine than the pro-Western revolutionaries who ousted this same pro-Russian Yanukovych 10 years ago.

    This is especially so given the return to Ukrainian politics of the perennial femme fatale Tymoshenko – who the new parliament ordered to be released from prison last week with the same revolutionary exuberance with which it ordered her fleeing nemesis, Yanukovych, to be arrested:

    Yulia Tymoshenko has a record allegedly as shady as any politician’s in Ukraine, and that’s saying something…

    Don’t let her looks fool you. The woman of the moment in Ukraine, whose crown of braided golden hair is calculated to evoke mythical memories of rural strength, has always been a better icon than a politician.

    (Daily Beast, February 24, 2014)

    article-2544474-1AE7310200000578-258_964x660In any event, parliament has scheduled new presidential elections for May 25. But, as I delineated in previous commentaries, and as the Daily Beast echoed yesterday, it behooves new revolutionaries, like former heavy boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, to be wary of establishing common cause with a self-righteous political black widow like Tymoshenko. Because unless they do her bidding, including allowing her to stand as their candidate for president by acclamation, she will sabotage their efforts to govern just as she sabotaged those of the father of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko, and those of his successor, the fugitive Viktor Yanukovych.

    By the same token, however, it behooves the United States and other Western countries to be every bit as wary of supporting the fractious opposition forces (which include neo-Nazi nationalists) who got rid of Yanukovych in Ukraine as they are of supporting the fractious opposing forces (which include al-Qaeda jihadists) who are trying to get rid of Assad in Syria.

    Stay tuned.

    Related commentaries:
    Rise and fall of Tymoshenko

  • Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    Sochi Olympics Closing Ceremony

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    474385717_10It would be remiss of me to begin commenting on the Closing Ceremony without first acknowledging that Canada triumphed today in the last event of these Games, Men’s Hockey. By defeating Sweden (3-0), it repeated its Vancouver feat of winning gold in Women’s and Men’s Hockey, affirming my claim that, when it comes to Hockey, Canada rules!

    Apropos of countries ruling a particular sport, I also feel obliged to acknowledge the historic success the Netherlands had in Speedskating. Dutch skaters won 23 of the 36 medals awarded, including 8 of 12 gold, dominating this sport like no other country has dominated any sport in Olympic history.

    That said, there was so much media scaremongering about the prospect of terrorist attacks that the mere fact of a Closing Ceremony being held today punctuates the success of the Sochi Olympics.

    Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 2.55.30 PMUnfortunately, reporters and pundits trade on making provocative statements and predictions they know even gnat-brained critics in the mainstream media, let alone selfie-obsessed twits on social networks, will never call them on.

    But I urge you to recall those who were all over TV and the Internet warning about impending doom in the run up to these Games – complete with U.S. congressmen and senators declaring the potential for danger so great that they would not let any of their loved ones attend. After all, it wasn’t terrorism, but the eyesore of empty seats because of such scaremongering that marred these Games.

    By instructive contrast, try to recall any reporter or pundit on TV or the Internet who offered this kind informed and sobering perspective:

    The irony seems completely lost on American media that they’re the ones terrorizing us by featuring so many politicians and security experts stoking mundane fears about Russia’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks during next month’s Winter Olympics…

    [G]iven the way terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon last year and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, to say nothing of the epidemic of gun violence, it’s arguable that visitors to America have far more to fear than Americans visiting other countries do. In fact, Americans who fear getting killed by bombs at venues in Sochi probably have more to fear from getting killed by guns at cinemas, malls, and even schools in America.

    (“America, Stop the Scaremongering Over Sochi Olympics! The iPINIONS Journal, January 22, 2014)

    article-2566056-1BC4267C00000578-559_964x641

    In any event, try as host countries might to make them interesting, closing ceremonies invariably take on the spectacle of a gathering where most people would rather be elsewhere, like home already. Lord knows I could do without watching any more pantomimes about Russia’s glorious history and significant contributions to mankind (to boost national pride) or staged commercials about its rich culture and natural beauty (to boost tourism).

    BhLA575IUAAUrnXExcept that I must give kudos to the Russians for making obvious fun of that glitch with the Olympic Rings in the Opening Ceremony; not least because this made the Western media look even more petty and self-righteous than usual.

    No doubt you recall how far too many commentators reacted as if that glitch portended doom for these Games. Not to mention the nuts who accused the Kremlin of a conspiracy because Russian state TV did not make as much of it as their TV stations back home.

    slide_338740_3460922_freeReally, the only thing left to be said is to congratulate Russia (and its vainglorious president, Vladimir Putin) for putting on a successful Olympics … against considerable geographic and geopolitical odds.

    What took decades in other parts of the world was achieved here in Sochi in just seven years.

    (IOC Thomas President Thomas Bach, Huffington Post, February 23, 2014)

    And, of course, winning the overall medal count by beating out the United States, its quadrennial nemesis, must make success for Russia in this context especially sweet.

    OVERALL MEDAL COUNT

    Russia: 33 (13 gold, 11 silver, 9 bronze)

    United States: 28 (9 gold, 7 silver, 12 bronze)

    Norway: 26 (11 gold, 5 silver, 10 bronze)

    Mind you, the United States will be in fourth place on some medal charts – behind Norway and Canada (10 gold, 10 silver, 5 bronze). Because some media organizations will choose to list winners of the overall medal count according to the number of gold, not the number of all, medals won.

    Anyway, for a little perspective, the United States (or Canada depending on how you count) won the overall medal count at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with 37 medals (9 gold, 15 silver, 13 bronze); Germany was second with 30 (10 gold, 13 silver, 7 bronze); and host country Canada was third with 26 (14 gold, 7 silver, 5 bronze). To appreciate how truly successful these Games were for Russia, compare its first-place haul at these games with its sixth place in Vancouver with 15 (3 gold, 5 silver, 7 bronze).

    See you in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018 for the next Winter Olympics!

    b1664b30-9cbd-11e3-9758-0daeba2f5eb2_474431307

    Related commentaries:
    Scaremongering

  • Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 6:20 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 15

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Men’s Hockey

    usafingetty8It seems those pesky Finns arrived in Sochi hell-bent on being giant slayers: after humiliating the mighty Russians by eliminating them from medal contention on Day 12 (3-1), they humiliated the even mightier Americans by denying them even a consolation bronze medal today (5-0).

    Surely, if any team can boast of having the best Olympics ever without winning a gold medal, it’s Finland’s Men’s Hockey team, no?

    To be fair, though, I noted in my Day 8 commentary below that the Russians and Americans were acting as if their qualifying game was for the gold medal. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that after winning that game, the Americans played as if no other mattered; or that after losing it, the Russians played the same way.

    Women’s 4×6 Biathlon Relay

    All of the media scaremongering before the Opening Ceremony about violence marring these Games pertained to the Damoclean prospect of Islamic radicals detonating bombs in Russia, if not in Sochi itself.

    Thus far, however, the only violence of note has played out in the neighboring country of Ukraine, where pro-Russian and pro-Western Ukrainians have been locked in civil strife months.

    In fact, one pro-Western Ukrainian athlete garnered her 15 minutes of fame by making quite a show of withdrawing from the Olympics in protest; never mind that her chances of winning any medal were nil.

    470931597_10_0Indeed, by instructive contrast, her teammates on the Women’s 4x6km Biathlon Relay stayed; and they not only competed but paid the highest possible tribute to their country in the circumstances by winning gold yesterday. What’s more, the symbolism was not lost on anyone when political leaders back home struck a compromise on paper to avert all out civil war within hours after these female Olympians made them all so proud.

    Great proof of how sport can unite the nation.

    This was how Sergei Bubka, former Olympic champion in the Pole Vault and current leader of the Ukraine Olympic Committee, hailed the occasion.

    But I’ve written many commentaries on the never-ending cycle of political turmoil and violence that has beset Ukraine ever since it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991. And, unlike Bubka, I’m not at all sanguine that this admittedly glorious Olympic victory will have any lasting impact.

    I’ll be addressing the latest on the Ukrainians, my favorite ex-communists, next week. (For the record, I’ve always felt that, if terrorists were going to strike Sochi, they would wait for the Paralympics when there would still be an unprecedented amount of international coverage, security would be more relaxed, and the psychological impact would be even greater.)

    Speedskating: Payback’s a Bitch

    One of the more interesting narratives of these Games involves two athletes who were effectively discarded by their home countries only to find Olympic glory competing for host country Russia.

    OLY-2014-SSKATE-SHORT-MENIn my Day 8 commentary below, I hailed the sweet vindication Ahn Hyun-Soo of South Korea was experiencing as the only reason for commenting on short-track Speedskating, which I dismissed as little more than Roller Derby on ice.

    I wrote then that Hyun-Soo, who changed his first name to Viktor, must have had all of South Korea suffering pangs of regret after he won gold for Russia in the Men’s 1000. Well, the sports geniuses who decided Ahn was no longer good enough for South Korea must have handed in their resignations this morning. Because he only sweetened his vindication on the last day of competition in Speedskating yesterday by winning gold in the Men’s 500 and then leading his new Russian teammates to gold in the Men’s 5000 Relay.

    Add to these gold-medal performances his bronze in the Men’s 1500 on Day 3, and it’s easy to understand why The Associated Press quoted Ahn saying, perhaps with unwitting double meaning, that these Olympic Games will be the best of his life. After all, his payback is all the more poignant given that his old South Korean teammates will be returning home without a single medal, of any kind.

    Snowboarding: Payback’s a Bitch

    Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 10.40.04 AMNo less vindicating are the gold medals Vic Wild won in Men’s Parallel Giant Slalom on Day 12 and Men’s Parallel Slalom today. Ironically enough, like Ahn, he too found open arms and lots of support in Russia after leaving his home country, the United States, feeling unsupported and unappreciated.

    Never mind suspicions that Wild might’ve been the target of a good old-fashioned honey trap, given that he was lured to Russia with love from the beautiful Russian blonde he now calls his wife.

    390-snowboard-0222Except that, unlike the South Koreans, I doubt a single member of the selfie-obsessed Team USA is feeling any regret over his defection. But there’s no gainsaying the unbridled pride and schadenfreude Russians will feel if these two adopted sons help them dethrone the Americans as the reigning Olympic champions in the overall medal count. Such an outcome might make Wild an even more celebrated American defector than Edward Snowden.

    Indeed, no less a person than President Vladimir Putin telegraphed as much when, unable to resist poking Russia’s finger in the eye of the United States, he praised Wild, in vintage Cold-War rhetoric, as follows:

    [You] withstood a fierce battle and formidable rivals… With your win, you have proved that the sports fate smiles on the most talented, driven and strongest in spirit.

    (The Associated Press, February 22, 2014)

    But, when you see Russia atop the overall medal count at the end of these Games, you should bear in mind that six of its medals (four of them gold) were won by athletes it adopted after their home countries discarded them.

    The Most Accomplished/Decorated Athlete

    I appreciate why the American media are hailing 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin as the most accomplished female athlete of these Games for winning just one gold medal in Alpine Skiing.

    Except that I asserted in my Day 2 commentary below that Cross-Country Skiing is not only the most challenging sport to compete in but also the most exciting one to watch. Therefore, with all due respect to Shiffrin (and, more appropriately, to Viktor Ahn and Vic Wild), my choice for the most accomplished and most decorated athlete is one who competed in Cross Country.

    2014-02-22t105229z_1620918392_lr2ea2m0u769r_rtrmadp_3_olympics-crosscountryFrankly, the feats Marit Bjorgen of Norway performed were so extraordinary that denying her this acclaim would be like denying Michael Phelps the acclaim of being the most accomplished and most decorated athlete of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After all, her gold today in the Women’s 30k was her third of these Games.

    What’s more, her 10 Olympic medals, six of them gold, put her in a tie with Russian skier Raisa Smetamina, who competed over two decades ago, as the most decorated female Winter Olympian in history. It would seem that Bjorgen, at 33, has no choice but to settle for this shared acclaim, especially if, as she says, she wants to start a family. But this would be like Phelps settling for a tie with former Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most accomplished and most decorated Olympian of all time.

    Granted, even if he wanted to start a family, Phelps wouldn’t have had to put his rigorous training on hold to do so. But, for inspiration and guidance, Bjorgen needs only look to women like Anna Chicherova of Russia – who won gold in Women’s High Jump at the 2012 London Olympics within two years after giving birth. Not to mention compelling evidence indicating that athletes competing in endurance events like Cross Country are just hitting their prime in their late-30s.

    hi-res-7226aaaf1d48eb9ab461a5f1fd1c0703_crop_exactApropos of which, Bjorgen could derive inspiration from her own teammate, Ole Bjoerndalen. After all, this 40 year old outclassed and outlasted men half his age to win gold in the Men’s Biathlon 10k at these Games on Day 1. And, with another gold in the Mixed Biathlon Relay on Day 12, he became the most decorated Winter Olympian in history with 13 medals.

    I duly heralded Bjoerndalen’s quest for Phelpsian glory in my Day 1 commentary below.

    MEDAL COUNT

    Russian: 29; United States: 27; Norway: 26

  • Friday, February 21, 2014 at 9:49 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 14

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Alpine Skiing

    I’ve heard about “saving the best for last,” but this is ridiculous. Recall that Team USA’s skiers managed to win only one silver and two bronze medals in the first seven Alpine events of these Games.

    slide_338550_3456013_freeBut then they won gold in two consecutive events:

    • Ted Ligety repeated his gold-medal performance from the 2006 Torino Olympics in Men’s Giant Slalom two days ago (Steve Missillier of France and Alexis Pinturault of France won silver and bronze, respectively); and
    • Mikaela Shiffrin (18) not only lived up to her billing as Lindsey Vonn’s heir apparent, but also became the youngest Alpine champion in Olympic history by winning the Women’s Slalom today (Marlies Schild and Kathrin Zettel of Austria won silver and bronze, respectively).

    The Americans will be seeking further redemption in the final Alpine event tomorrow, the Men’s Slalom.

    Despite falling far short of their great expectations, however, Team USA’s 5 overall medals in Alpine skiing is second only to Team Austria’s 7.

    Men’s Hockey

    usacanap10Like I said, when it comes to Hockey, Canada rules. (Having threepeated in Men’s Curling at these Olympics, I suppose Canada rules when it comes to that sport too.)

    In any event, its men picked up today where its women left off yesterday by beating the Americans 1-0 in one semifinal game. The Canadians will now defend their Olympic title against the Swedes – who beat the Finns 2-1 in the other semifinal game.

    But Canada might come to rue celebrating today’s semifinal victory over the United States as if it were the final game. Sweden is no pushover, and I’m betting on the Swedes to have the last laugh after the real final game is played on Sunday.

    MEDAL COUNT

    United States: 27; Russia: 26; Canada: 24

  • Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 11:01 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 13

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Figure Skating

    As consolation prizes go, this is one for the history books.

    Recall that Russians were in mourning yesterday after Finland eliminated their celebrated Men’s Hockey team from medal contention. In fact, watching Russians burst into tears gave credence to journalist Vladimir Posner’s prediction that, if Russia fails to win gold in Men’s Hockey, nothing else matters.

    e3fa2269328262074c0f6a706700b4afPerhaps. But watching Russians beam with pride after Adelina Sotnikova won gold in Women’s Figure Skating today suggests otherwise. You’d never know that this is just their consolation prize – not only because Russia failed to win gold in Men’s Hockey, but also because Julia Lipnitskaya, the one it seemed all Russians hoped would win gold in Figure Skating, wilted under pressure.

    So here’s to Sotnikova for doing for Russians what neither the nation’s favorite team nor its favorite daughter could do: make them feel proud again….

    6998c718328d62074c0f6a7067003eb3I gloated in my Day 12 commentary below that I wanted Yuna Kim of South Korea to win. She certainly skated her heart out and gave the very best she could. It’s just that it was only good enough for silver.

    And, as she bowed to polite applause at the end of her performance, I got the palpable sense that she was bowing to what she knew was a better performance. Sotnikova, Russia’s first-ever queen of the ice, was that good, which even the American commentators begrudgingly conceded.

    figure-skating-winter-olympics-day-20140220-184303-170Apropos of which, the American princess, Gracie Gold, was neither graceful nor golden. She fell on her butt, and finished off the podium in fourth. This result is especially noteworthy because it’s the first time since the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics that no American made the coveted podium in men’s or women’s competition in this feature event.

    Carolina Kostner of Italy won bronze.

    Incidentally, commentators continually speculated on how results at these Games would affect competition in this event at the next Winter Olympics in South Korea. But as I listened I couldn’t help thinking that, given all of the scaremongering about security in Sochi, holding them in Pyeongchang seems a case of going from the frying pan into the fire.

    imagesAfter all, instead of a few insurgents in one region of Russia threatening to dispatch female suicide bombers to terrorize Sochi, foreign athletes and spectators attending the Pyeongchang Games will have to worry about a notorious North Korean regime across the boarder threatening to launch nuclear missiles to obliterate all of South Korea.

    And the United Nations indicting that regime this week on crimes against humanity, which harken back to Nazi Germany, is hardly reassuring. After all, if North Korea’s preternaturally paranoid and genocidal leaders fear Western powers are laying the legal framework for military action against them, they might just begin laying the ground work for preemptive strikes against Westerners when so many of them would be assembled like sitting ducks in Pyeongchang.

    Women’s Hockey

    Canadians often betray the inferiority complex that seems a natural condition of living in the attic of their putative American betters. Not so, though, when it comes to Olympic competition in Hockey, where Canada is like David and the United Sates like Goliath. Well, at least when it comes to their women players.

    slide_338382_3451743_freeFor the fourth Olympics in a row, the Canadian Women’s Hockey team slew all opponents to win gold. They wrapped up this quadruple-quadrennial feat today in thrilling fashion against their American nemesis.

    But this loss must have been particularly devastating for the Americans. Not least because they so dominated the entire game that they were leading 2-0 with just three minutes to go. That’s when the Canadians took out their proverbial slings and struck with two quick pucks, forcing sudden-death overtime. At that point, I suspect the Americans could see the proverbial writing on the wall: overtime was just prolonging their anxieties and intensifying the agony of their fated defeat.

    Frankly, after getting their butts kicked four consecutive times in this fashion, even the Americans must now see the folly in casting the Canadians as the underdog in Women’s Hockey at the Olympics.

    It’s too bad that, like Russia, Canada seems interested only in how its Men’s Hockey team fares against the Americans. Which is why national celebration of the women’s triumph today will get short shrift as all Canadians focus their attention on the men’s semifinal game against the Americans tomorrow. Never mind that winning will only provide premature vindication – assuming that winning gold, not just beating each other, is their respective goal.

    For now, though, here’s to these Canadian hockey players – who might end up giving their nation in mourning something to cheer about tomorrow, just as Russian figure skater Sotnikova is giving hers something to cheer about today.

    MEDAL COUNT

    United States: 25; Russia: 23; Canada: 22

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 12

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Men’s Hockey

    ‘If Russia wins gold in Hockey, nothing else matters. If Russia loses, nothing else matters.’

    (NBC, February 15, 2014)

    This was how acclaimed Russian journalist and talk-show host Vladimir Posner reacted to this loss, making the extraordinary admission that, no matter how many other gold medals Russians win, unless Team Russia avenges [the loss to the USA in Group play on February 15] by winning gold in Men’s Hockey, the country will consider these Games a national failure.

    So forgive me for rooting for any team but Russia to win just to see President Vladimir Putin’s notorious swagger turn to squirm – as he tries to explain to his inconsolable country why the $50 billion he invested in these Games do not amount to the biggest waste of public expenditure in the history of mankind.

    (“Sochi Olympics: Day 8,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 15, 2014)

    Although cold-hearted, the Posner quote cited above reveals the all-consuming importance Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, placed on winning gold in Men’s Hockey at these Games.

    slide_338148_3443087_freeTherefore, I’m sure words do not exist in English to express the national humiliation Russia must be feeling after getting knocked out of the medal round today by “lowly” Finland, 3-1. Not least because, still feeding off that famous 1980 “miracle on ice” game, so much was made of a potential match-up for gold between Russia and the United States.

    Never mind that this hype overlooked the fact that Canada is the defending Olympic champion and that Finland is the defending bronze medalist, having been bested only by Canada and the United States, the defending silver medalist, in Vancouver.

    images-1In any event, failing to even make the medal round makes a mockery of all hope and glory Russians vested in winning gold in this event. And, forget poking him in the eye, it would be rubbing salt in Putin’s terminally wounded pride for the United States to go on now to win this coveted gold medal – not just on Russian soil, but in the Olympic venue he built as a monument to himself. I look forward to buying my pound of salt.

    It’s not a day of national mourning, flags are not going to fly at half-staff, but it comes pretty close to that. It’s devastating.

    (Posner, NBC-SN, February 19, 2014)

    Many NHL-playing Russians (like Alex Ovechkin who plays for my Washington Capitals) flew home to avenge Russia’s national pride and vindicate Putin’s ego. I now urge them to take the first flight leaving for America, lest they find themselves recovering from this loss somewhere in Siberia.

    Women’s Figure Skating

    Given Posner’s take on the unqualified importance Russians placed on winning gold in Men’s Hockey, you could be forgiven for thinking that winning gold in Women’s Figure Skating, easily the most glamorous event of these Games, hardly matters to them.

    yulia-lipnitskaya-2.siAfter their big hockey-playing men let them down so spectacularly, however, despairing Russians are probably now looking to their little figure-skating girls to give their national pride a vodka-like shot by winning gold. Except that this too seemed like more fool’s gold when 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya aped the hockey players by falling apart during competition in the short program today. After all, even Western commentators touted her as the Russian ice princess who would soon be Olympic queen.

    But her teammate, Adelina Sotnikova, rescued Russia from complete despair with a rousing performance, which placed her in a great position to capture gold with the performance of her life in the long program tomorrow.

    yuna-kim-usatodayFor the record, though, I’m looking to Yuna Kim of South Korea to defend her gold medal in this event. Of course, if she does, she would not only strip the Russians of all jingoistic pride but also serve the Americans (and their wonder girl, Gracie Gold) a big whole humble pie.

    More importantly, Kim would become the first women to defend her title since Katarina Witt of East Germany won gold in Sarajevo in 1984 and again in Calgary in 1988.

    Women’s Bobsled

    To her credit, though, Jones appears so determined to vindicate her celebrity fame with Olympic glory that she has placed herself in contention to join Vonn as a member of the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, competing in Bobsled.

    (“The Lolo Jonesing of Lindsey Vonn,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 4, 2013)

    hi-res-5a0ba945360cbc5d1c9ccb2c7d65bac8_crop_northLolo Jones is arguably the most polarizing, if not the most hated, athlete in America … after Alex Rodriguez. But I see no point in commenting on the enmities and jealousies that have made her so. I simply marvel at the determination and resourcefulness she has exhibited in pursuing her dream of Olympic glory, come what may.

    Of course, her frustrations in the Women’s Hurdles at two Summer Olympic Games are well documented. Alas, they continued in the Bobsled at these Winter Olympic Games, no doubt to the delight of her snarky detractors. In fact, her 11th place finish (with her partner Jasmine Fenlator) is worse than any she had in the Hurdles, including when she fell and had to crawl over the finish line in Beijing. Perhaps Lolo should now try Rhythmic Dancing, where beauty counts for a lot more than talent.

    Sochi Olympics Bobsleigh WomenIronically, the fact that another track athlete-cum-bobsledder won silver in this event probably compounded Lolo’s disappointment. Especially considering that Lauryn Williams (second from left) had already experienced Olympic glory by winning silver in the 100m at the 2004 Games in Athens and gold in the 4x100m Relay at the 2012 Games in London.

    Never mind that her glory here would have been golden and historic (as the first woman to ever win gold at a Summer and Winter Olympics) if she and her partner Elana Meyers hadn’t “saved their worst run for last,” committing surprising mistakes that blew the led they held after three of four runs.

    Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse of Canada won gold; Meyers and Williams settled for silver; and their wholly unsung American teammates Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans won bronze.

    Americans Skipping Town

    What does it say about the camaraderie among members of Team USA that so many of them have already flown back to the United States. After all, others are still competing in Sochi and, at this rate, there’ll be nobody behind the USA flag during the Closing Ceremony’s march of nations.

    Perhaps they skipped town to escape the terrorist attacks so many think will still come or to suck up as much of the quadrennial media attention being lavished on Olympians on American TV these days. Either way, it reflects poor esprit de corps for some members to be yucking it up on back home while their purported teammates are still waging Olympic battle on behalf of the Team USA over in Sochi.

    MEDAL COUNT

    United States: 23; Russia: 22 Netherlands: 22

  • Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 10:41 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 11

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Figure Skating Pairs Ice Dance

    The fix was in. In fact, this suspicion hovered over all events in Pairs Figure Skating even before competition began.

    According to L’Équipe, which quoted an unnamed Russian coach, the United States intended to help Russia win the overall team event and the pairs competition. In return, Russia would make sure the Americans Charlie White and Meryl Davis won the Ice Dancing competition.

    (New York Times, February 8, 2014)

    And, lest you think L’Équipe is just some tabloid that peddles in rank speculation, I remind you that this is the same newspaper that was reporting on Lance Armstrong’s doping regime even before anyone else in the media dared to broach the subject.

    1392662547001-USP-Olympics--Figure-Skating-Ice-Dance-Free-Dance34Sure enough, just as the alleged fix called for, Russia won the Team Competition on February 9, the Russian pair of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won Pairs on February 12, and the American pair of Meryl Davis and Charlie White won Ice Dancing last night, giving the United States its first gold medal in this event in Olympic history.

    Mind you, having watched the competition play out in all of these events, I never saw why any fix was necessary to guarantee gold for the Russians or the Americans. I fully appreciate, of course, that Canadians watching saw exactly why it was.

    Here, for example, is the imperious way columnist Rosie DiManno propagated this conspiracy in the February 16 edition of the Toronto Star (i.e., before ice dancers competed in the long performances for gold on the 17th):

    The villainy of Ice Dancing knows no bounds. If the fix is not in against [Canadian pair] Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, then I’m the Princess of Wales.

    Of course, that DiManno is far from being any kind of princess does not mean that the fix was in against Virtue and Moir. Frankly, any complaint in this respect can only amount to sour grapes. Not least because, unlike judging Pairs with its tricky jumps, twists and twirls that clearly separate the wheat from the chaff, judging Ice Dancing is rather like judging beauty: it’s in the eye of the beholder.

    Ice Dancing long programWhich is why the far more intriguing aspect of this competition was the incestuous nature of the relationship between the teams from Canada and the United States. After all, it’s curious enough that they both trained for these Games at the same skating center just outside Detroit, Michigan; but training with the same coach … who happens to be Russian?!

    Hell, if the fix were truly in, you could be forgiven for thinking that the ice dancers themselves were wholly complicit. Especially when you consider that they merely switched positions from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where Canadians Virtue and Moir won gold and Americans Davis and White, silver. Perhaps this is why the only Canadians not complaining about Team Canada getting robbed last night are the Canadian ice dancers themselves.

    BgE03nxCAAAKCPVMeanwhile, notwithstanding the Tonya Harding precedent, if you think these skaters were too focused on training to pull off such a scheme, consider that Davis and White have been pulling the wool over the public’s eye about their relationship for years.

    They’ve gone to great lengths to give the impression that the love affair they portray on ice exists off it too. Therefore, they were probably more relieved than annoyed by the constant media references in the run up to these Games to their relationship, which began with puppy love 17 years ago when she was 10 and he, 9.

    belbin6Except that the plain-Jane, dark-haired Davis has had to contend with the hot, blonde-haired Taneth Belbin with whom her ice-dancing Romeo has been doing the horizontal mambo since 2009. Belbin (29) is a former Olympic ice dancer who won silver for the United States with her partner at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

    When asked by Yahoo Sports recently about the fact that during the last Olympics his relationship with Belbin was kept on the ‘down low,’ White said: ‘It actually still is. So probably … we don’t really talk about it. As an ice dancer, we take our on-ice relationships so seriously, and that’s really the way we like to go about it. [Meryl and I] are just presenting ourselves as a team, and all the rest of that [with Taneth] can wait for later.’

    (Yahoo Sports, February 10, 2014)

    How very grown up, eh?  Still, based on what I’ve seen of their interaction off the ice, I suspect Davis has been simmering with jealousy, if not nursing a broken heart, ever since White turned their relationship into an unrequited love triangle. Things that make you go, hmmm.

    Women’s Giant Slalom

    I fully intended to limit my commentaries during this second week of competition to Hockey and Women’s Figure Skating, which are arguably the two premier events at every Winter Olympics. But, given the way things played in Women’s Giant Slalom today, I couldn’t resist.

    201402180004002807498-119ski2-master675You probably know that Lindsey Vonn of the United States was being billed as the darling of these Games until a recurring injury prevented her from even participating. What you probably don’t know is that, despite the participation of far more accomplished Alpine skiers like Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, Anna Fenninger of Austria, and Tina Maze of Slovenia, the jingoistic American media anointed first-time Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States as Vonn’s heir apparent.

    Well, Shiffrin made her big debut today and was properly left in the snow by Maze, who became the queen of the slopes, if not the darling of these Games, by adding gold in this event to her gold in Downhill. Not that she needed these Games to feel like royalty.

    tinamazeAfter all, I gather from my Slovenian readers (yes, I have a few) that they already considered the multitalented Maze the queen of pop. In which case, for them, her winning gold in Downhill and Giant Slalom at the Winter Olympics is rather like Rihanna winning gold in the 100m and 200m at the Summer Olympics.

    I just hope Maze doesn’t mind sharing some of her Olympic glory when she gets back home with the Slovenian hockey team that performed their version of “the miracle on ice” by defeating Austria today to make it into the quarterfinals. It might be helpful to know in this context that the American hockey team performed their more famous “miracle on ice” at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics – not for winning gold, but for merely defeating the Soviet Union in their semifinal game. They then went on to defeat Finland in the final for the gold. But I digress.

    Anna Fenninger of Austria added silver in this event to her gold in the Women’s Super-G (on Day 8); and Viktoria Robensburg of Germany, the defending Olympic champion in this event, won bronze.

    Incidentally, Shiffrin has one more event, the Women’s Slalom, not only to live up to her billing as Vonn’s golden heir but also to salvage what little remains of Team USA’s reputation for having the best Alpine skiers in the world. For, of the 22 medals that have already been awarded in this sport, Team USA has won only 3 – none of them gold.

    Men’s Speedskating 10,000 (long track)

    USATSI_7554331After the Netherlands swept the Women’s 1500 (long track) on Day 9, I wrote that the Dutch speedskaters were just rubbing their superior performances in the faces of their competitors, especially the Americans.  Well, what can I say now that they’ve followed up with another sweep in the Men’s 10,000 today? Don’t be surprised if they sweep all of the remaining Speedskating events?

    Olympics: Speed Skating-Men's 10000 mThey have already established themselves at these Games as the most dominant team in any sport in Olympic history – surpassing the 14 medals Austrian Alpine skiers won at the 2006 Torino Olympics with 19 (and counting) here, including four podium sweeps.

    Perhaps the more interesting thing to note is that Jorrit Bergsma denied teammate Sven Kramer the redemption he so devoutly sought. Recall that, after easily winning this event at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Kramer got disqualified and lost gold for having committed a silly, incomprehensible lane violation. Bergsma won gold; Kramer settled for silver; and their teammate Bob De Jong completed their Dutch sweep with bronze.

    But I am telling you, something is rotten in the state of … the Netherlands.

    MEDAL COUNT

    Netherlands: 20 United States: 20; Russia: 19

  • Monday, February 17, 2014 at 10:07 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 10

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Jamaican Bobsledders slide from novelty to farce

    As a native of the Caribbean, I find nothing endearing about the way the Jamaican Bobsled team is providing tabloid fodder for amusement worldwide.

    CoolRunnings FrontLet me hasten to clarify that I fully appreciated the novelty of having a team from one of our tropical islands participate in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada; I got the comic relief those “fish out of water” Jamaican bobsledders provided; and I got why a shrewd producer thought he could make a mint by turning their Olympic misadventure into the farcical, slapstick comedy Cool Runnings.

    Incidentally, listening to all of the nostalgic swooning over this movie today, you’d think it reflected Jamaica’s intrinsic cool just as surely as The Comedians reflected Haiti’s terminal despair. But, as I recall, Cool Runnings portrayed the Jamaicans involved as little more than minstrel fools and made a mockery of their national pride. Imagine a feature-length episode of “Amos ‘N Andy Go to the Winter Olympics” and you’ll get the idea.

    More to the point, though, Cool Runnings was based on the hapless and laughable efforts Jamaican bobsledders displayed over a quarter-century ago. Which is why, instead of laughing along with everybody else, I am constrained to wonder why the efforts Jamaican bobsledders are displaying today seem every bit as hapless and laughable.

    It’s bad enough that they became the butt of stereotypical jokes after losing their luggage en route to Sochi. Mainstream and social media alike could not resist propagating paternalistic stories about the poor, lost boys begging other teams for clothes to stay warm and equipment to compete. The only thing missing from their condescending narrative was a story about these Jamaicans being stranded like Sochi’s stray dogs because of a mix-up with their hotel accommodations. (Or maybe I just missed it.)

    Still, what I find most dispiriting is that Jamaicans bobsledders appear to have done nothing since 1988 to make their national team anything more than an international joke. Only this explains why the difference between first and last in this event was being measured in seconds instead of hundredths, even thousandths of a second — as should’ve been the case.

    201402171112403276172For example, after yesterday’s second qualifying run in the Two-Man Bobsled, Team Russia posted a first-place time of 1:52.82; Team Jamaica posted a last-place time of 1:57:23. The Jamaicans were spared any further embarrassment by failing to qualify to even participate in the final two runs for the medals.

    Now, consider that success in bobsledding requires basically two things: strong, fast legs and upper body strength to push the high-tech, soap box-like sleds for about 40 meters to get a quick start; and steady hands to then steer it down an ice track with banking turns generating g-force acceleration up to speeds in excess of 80 mph.

    Sochi Olympics Bobsleigh MenYou’d think Jamaican bobsledders had a national, if not a genetic, advantage in speed and strength, given the way Jamaicans have performed in sprint events since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. And Jamaicans inspired by that pioneering Cool Runnings team have now had over 25 years to develop the subtle steering skills necessary to drive like a bobsledder at the Olympics instead of like a bumper-car driver at the Carnival.

    What’s more, they surely had enough time to make Jamaican participation in this sport more than the novelty it was decades ago. This novelty in Sochi went to Cross-Country skiers from Nepal and Dominica who finished well behind the medal winners in the Men’s 15km Classic.

    LincolnsBut nothing betrayed just how ill prepared these Jamaicans were to compete as bona fide Olympians quite like their international pleas, just weeks before the Opening Ceremony, for money to pay for equipment and travel expenses.

    Trust me folks, if the Jamaican people thought for a moment that these were serious athletes who had done all of the training necessary to compete as Winter Olympians, their government (or local donors) would have spared them this indignity of going cup in hand, virtually around the world, on the eve of the Games.

    Therefore, I submit that the reason for their lack of national support is that the people of Jamaica regard them as nothing more than a national embarrassment and an international joke.  And so do I.

    Alas, neither personal nor national pride is preventing these bobsledders from parading around Sochi as if they were the unofficial mascots of these Games. Apropos of which, they are trying to justify their pitiful performance on the track by claiming, rather fatuously, that medals don’t matter because they brought so much love to Sochi. Except that, according to reports, there’s always a “whole lotta love” going on in the Olympic village at every Olympics. The irony is that these Jamaicans are probably missing out on the action because they’re always too busy looking for the nearest TV camera.

    But I’m sure I detected more than a little resentment in the voice of one Bobsled commentator who remarked on the disconnect between people treating them like “rock stars” and and what little they did to earn so much attention and adulation. And, if a commentator is dissing them like this, just imagine the resentment of real bobsledders – who spent years training for their moment in the sun only to have upstart Jamaicans (providing fodder for “Cool Runnings II”?) suck up all the rays.

    For the record, the Russian two-man team won gold today; the Swiss team, silver; and the American, bronze.

    Skeleton/Luge vs. Bobsled

    Am I the only one who wonders why bobsledding is even worthy of Olympic competition?

    2D11610990-today-questions-tripane-140212.blocks_desktop_mediumAfter all, Skeleton/Luge involves athletes sliding down the same ice track at similar speeds – not sitting snugly in soap box-like sleds, but lying face down, head first (or flat on their backs, feet first in Luge) completely exposed on snowboard-like sleds. Which makes it fair to assert that Skeleton/Luge is to Bobsled as the NFL is to Touch Football, no?

    Skeleton/Luge is clearly more dangerous to race. Indeed, Georgian luger Nodar David Kumaritashvili suffered a fatal crash during a practice run on the day of the Opening Ceremony for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. His death effectively turned the ceremony into a wake.

    But it’s this obvious danger that makes Skeleton/Luge so much more thrilling to watch than Bobsled.  Which makes it fair to question why Bobsled is getting so much more media attention, no??

    MEDAL COUNT

    Russia: 18; United States: 18; Netherlands: 17

  • Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 9

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Snowboard Cross

    Snowboard Cross, like short-track Speedskating, seems like little more than roller derby on ice. Only instead of on skates around an oval, they compete in this sport on snowboards down a mountain.

    But the real drama was in watching to see if Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States would finally exorcise her Olympic demons. After all, she crashed in the final just yards from winning gold in Torino, and then got disqualified in the semifinal when she was heavily favored to redeem herself four years later in Vancouver. Not to mention watching to see if she would vindicate all of the media attention and corporate endorsements vested in her over the past eight years (at the expense of certified Olympic champions like Shani Davis).

    lindsey-jacobellis-2014-sochi-olympics-snowboard-cross-finals-2Sochi Olympics Snowboard WomenAlas, those demons had their way with her again. She crashed in the semifinal this time – just yards from the finish line and half a football field ahead of her nearest competitor. She finished 7th, effectively ending all hope of Olympic redemption for this now relatively aged 28-year old. But to appreciate her Olympic frustrations and shortcomings, imagine that, instead of winning gold in the Men’s 100m in Beijing and again in London, Usain Bolt got disqualified on both occasions for running outside his lane. Jacobellis was that dominant in Snowboard Cross going into Torino and Vancouver, and she was that favored to win gold on each occasion.

    To be fair, though, chances are very good that if Jacobellis were at her best, and managed to avoid crashing this time, she still would not have won gold. Because 20-year-old Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic so outclassed the entire field that she looked every bit as invincible as Jacobellis did eight years ago in Torino. She won gold with ease; Dominique Maltais of Canada, silver; and Chloe Trespeuch of France, bronze.

    Women’s Speedskating 1500 (long track)

    Olympics: Speed Skating-Ladies' 1500 mNow they’re just rubbing their superior performances in other countries’ faces. Because speedskaters from the Netherlands reinforced their dominance by sweeping this event … too – with Jorien ter Mors winning gold, Ireen Wuest, silver; and Lotte Van Beek, bronze. But, just for good measure, their Dutch teammate Marrit Leenstra finished fourth.

    Incidentally, of the 24 medals awarded in this sport so far, the Netherlands has won 16, including 5 of the 8 gold medals.

    Meanwhile, proving (as their male counterparts did in this event yesterday) that their suits had nothing to do with their lousy performances, the American women came up lame again – with Heather Richardson finishing 7th; Brittany Bowe, 14th; and Jileanne Rookard, 18th. Enough said.

    Men’s Super-G

    A medal at last, a medal at last, thank God almighty, Team USA has won a medal at last!

    My earlier commentaries will attest that the spectacular failure of Team USA’s male Alpine skiers to win any medal, let alone gold, has been one of the most surprising narratives of these Games. After all, this is akin to Team USA’s male Basketball players failing to win any medal at the summer Games, let alone the gold they’re always expected to win.

    bodemiller4_reuters_0Unfortunately, vindication at this point is impossible for Team USA’s Alpine skiers in Sochi. But just as the women managed to wipe a little egg off their faces on Monday when Julia Mancuso won bronze in the Super-Combined, the men managed to do so today  Andrew Weibrecht captured silver and Bode Miller (tied with Jan Hudec of Canada) captured bronze in this event.

    After two missed opportunities at the Sochi Winter Olympics, Bode Miller won a bronze medal in the men’s super-G, upping his U.S. record to six career Alpine medals, tying him with Bonnie Blair for the second-most ever by an American Winter Olympian behind Apolo Anton Ohno’s eight. The achievement, in what is likely his last trip to the Games, left Miller in tears after the race.

    (NBC, February 16, 2014)

    Of course, it’s debatable whether those were tears of joy or relief. Whatever the case, this bronze also made Miller (at 36) the oldest medalist in Olympic Alpine history.

    Apropos of unbridled joy, Kjetil Jansrud of Norway followed up his bronze in Downhill by winning gold in very impressive fashion.

    I’m pooped

    Watching (or staring at) as much streaming video as I have over the past two weeks is probably not good for my health … to say nothing of my already failing eyesight. Never mind the irony inherent in the cause for this being my addictive interest in watching the healthiest people on the planet compete in their respective sports.

    Actually, I believe I deserve a gold medal – not just for watching so many events but for actively participating by writing so many commentaries on them as well (i.e., instead of sitting passively and eating it all up like a couch potato): over 150 hours of viewing and 14-consecutive days of commentaries. Bolt thinks he’s the friggin’ greatest thing on two legs; well, let’s see him do that!

    (“London Olympics: Day 14,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 10, 2012)

    olyc1-150x150-1Evidently, like the relatively old Bode Miller, I can only accomplish half the physical feats I used to. After all, where I made it through two weeks of London before pooping out, I’m only half way through Sochi and I’m already pooped. Of course, I’m also wise enough now to appreciate that it would’ve sufficed, and been more prudent, for me to watch only half of what I did during those London Games.

    Thankfully, I’m interested in seeing only three events that have yet to play out in Sochi, namely, Men’s and Women’s Hockey and Women’s Figure Skating. I shall try very hard to muster what little residual energy I have to comment accordingly.

    MEDAL COUNT

    Netherlands: 17; Russia: 16; USA: 16

    Related commentaries:
    London Olympics

  • Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 10:43 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 8

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Men’s Hockey

    Given all of the media hype, you could be forgiven for thinking that today’s qualifying game between Russia and the USA was for the gold medal. And the way the U.S. media and few Americans in Sochi celebrated after the USA won (3-2) only added to this mistaken impression.

    Olympics: Ice Hockey-Men's Prelim Round-USA vs RUSTo be sure, it was an exciting game – complete with an overtime shootout. But I’ve seen this type of qualifying game and premature celebration play out before:

    Last night’s USA vs. Canada game had to have been the most hyped and celebrated non-medal event of these Olympics.  Yet all it did was to seal the triumph of national pride over Olympic glory…

    Frankly, to see the Americans celebrating their 5-3 upset victory, and the Canadians mourning their surprising loss, you’d think they had just played the gold-medal game. Or, given that it came on the eve of the 30-year anniversary of the Cold-War gold medal match between the USA and Russia, a more fitting analogy might be that all involved were acting as if this were a second miracle on ice.

    Whereas, this was only a preliminary-round game, which means that even though the Americans won this battle, the Canadians can still win the war. And I’m betting on it. But, woe Canada….

    (“Men’s Hockey 2010 Vancouver Olympics,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2010)

    See what I mean. Just imagine the pressure Team Canada was under after losing that qualifying game on home soil. Yet it won when it really mattered, taking gold and, more important, imbuing that country with national pride the likes of which not seen since, well, since Russia beat the United States to the moon.

    Except that, where I was pulling for Canada to avenge that loss in Vancouver, I’m hoping Russia fails to avenge this loss in Sochi.

    If Russia wins gold in Hockey, nothing else matters. If Russia loses, nothing else matters.

    (NBC, February 15, 2014)

    imagesThis was how acclaimed Russian journalist and talk-show host Vladimir Posner reacted to this loss, making the extraordinary admission that, no matter how many other gold medals Russians win, unless Team Russia avenges it by winning gold in Men’s Hockey, the country will consider these Games a national failure.

    So forgive me for rooting for any team but Russia to win just to see President Vladimir Putin’s notorious swagger turn to squirm – as he tries to explain to his inconsolable country why the $50 billion he invested in these Games do not amount to the biggest waste of public expenditure in the history of mankind.

    Men’s Speedskating 1500 (long track)

    It might be that their high-tech Under Armour racing suits, billed as the fastest in the world, are actually slowing these skiers down too. This, after all, is the excuse their highly touted Speedskating teammates are proffering to explain their failure to win any medals at these Games so far.

    (“Men’s Super Combined, Sochi Olympics: Day 7,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 14, 2014)

    Olympics: Speed Skating-Men's 1500 mEvidently it wasn’t the suit after all. Because even after resorting to the old suits in which they won Olympic and World Championships, American skaters were still shut out of the medals. Brian Hansen finished 7th, and gold-medal hopeful Shani Davis finished 11th – leaving him 0-3 for medals of any kind at these Games. (Perhaps he can go drown his sorrows in a bucket of those McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets he and his teammates have been advertising on TV during these Games.)

    Meanwhile, I was surprised and profoundly disappointed when Michel Mulder, who led a Dutch sweep in the 500, poured scorn on the Americans’ misfortunes by gloating that it’s not their suits; they’re just being outclassed. I never imagined the erstwhile genteel Dutch could or would talk American-style smack like that.

    This is why, like me, the Americans probably derived a little consolation from seeing Zbigniew Brodka of Poland finally knock the flying Dutchmen off their pedestal, winning gold by just three one-thousandths of a second (aka less than the blink of an eye) over Koen Verweij of the Netherlands – who settled for silver. Denny Morrison of Canada took bronze.

    Men’s Speedskating 1000 (short track)

    In my Day 3 commentary, I dismissed this style of speedskating as little more than roller derby on ice. And, with all of the body blocking and crashing that went on, it duly lived up to my analogy.

    Short Track Speed Skating - Winter Olympics Day 8The only reason I’m commenting on this race is to revel in the sweet vindication Ahn Hyun-Soo must be feeling after winning gold today. After all, despite winning three gold medals for his native South Korea at the 2006 Torino Olympics, Ahn was booted off the national team after injury made it impossible for him to qualify for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

    Understandably frustrated, he moved to Russia, where he became a naturalized citizen, changed his first name to the more nationalistic Viktor, and promptly made his way onto the Russian national team. Now he’s a Russian gold medalist too, no doubt to the chagrin of his former South Korean compatriots and teammates – who were shut out in this event.

    Ahn’s new Russian teammate Vladimir Grigorev won silver; and, no they weren’t shut out, Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands, won bronze.

    MEDAL COUNT

    Russia: 15; Netherlands: 14; United States: 14

    Related commentaries:
    Vancouver Olympics

  • Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 6:47 AM

    Happy 9th Anniversary iPINIONS!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Dear Readers,

    gcu_9-year-anniversary-road-signAs improbable as it seemed when I launched this weblog, today marks the 9th anniversary of The iPINIONS Journal.

    Remarkably enough, I enjoy writing my commentaries even more now than I did back then. It might be a little more challenging, but I have no doubt that I’ll be doing so for at least another nine years.

    Apropos of which, I marveled when I read in his CBS obituary (dated November 5, 2011) that Andy Rooney, one of my favorite commentators, wrote 1,097 commentaries during his 30 years at ’60 Minutes’. Therefore, imagine my shock and delight when I learned that I have written almost three times as many in just nine years – 2,936 to be exact.

    Of course, I’d consider myself very lucky indeed if you find my commentaries half as interesting as I found Andy’s.

    Thank you for your support, especially the cherished few who have read every commentary and provided feedback from day one!

    Cheers,

    ALH

  • Friday, February 14, 2014 at 10:38 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 7

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Men’s Super-Combined

    Upsets continued to abound….

    Ted Ligety of the U.S. reacts in the finish area after competing in the downhill run of the men's alpine skiing super combined event during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine CenterNot only is Bode Miller America’s most decorated Alpine skier, he’s the defending Olympic champion in this event. What’s more, after finishing out of the medals in the Downhill, there were great expectations that he would vindicate his skill and fame by capturing one here. He finished 6th.

    Remarkably, the Americans have won only 1 of the 12 medals awarded in this sport so far. Which makes a mockery of their boast, coming into these Games, of being the best Alpine skiing team in the world; not least because that one medal is the lowly bronze Julia Mancuso won by the skin of her teeth in the Women’s Combined. Ted Ligety, who won gold in this event at 2006 Torino Olympics but finished 12th here, probably spoke for all Team USA skiers when he summed up his performance as follows:

    To put it simply, I choked — for sure. That’s disappointing.”

    (The Associated Press, February 14, 2014)

    imagesOn the other hand, it might be that their high-tech Under Armour racing suits, billed as the fastest in the world, are actually slowing these skiers down too. This, after all, is the excuse their highly touted Speedskating teammates are proffering to explain their failure to win any medals at these Games so far.

    According to three people familiar with the U.S. team, these suits — which were designed by apparel sponsor Under Armour and billed before the Games as a major advantage — have a design flaw that may be slowing the skaters down. These people said that vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are allowing air to enter the suit and create drag that keeps the skaters from staying in the ‘low’ position they need to achieve maximum speed.

    (Sports Illustrated, February 14, 2014)

    This might seem like the kind of laughable excuse Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon (“It’s gotta be the shoes, man”) would come up with … to get them to switch to Nike wear. It’s gotta be the suits, right? It could be; because, trust me folks, racing suits really can affect performance to a significant degree. This was demonstrated in blazing fashion when whole-body polyurethane suits helped swimmers break so many records at the 2009 World Championship that FINA banned them, especially after Michael Phelps vowed to boycott the 2012 London Olympics if they weren’t.

    Perhaps Shani Davis should prevail upon Speedskating’s governing body to ban these slow suits, eh? At the very least the USOC should force Under Armour to explain to the American people why this highly anticipated roll out of their highly touted suits was even more disastrous than the Obama Administration’s roll out of healthcare.gov.

    OLY-2014-SKI-ALPINE-SUPERCOMBINED-MEN-PODIUMMeanwhile, not only has Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway been the most dominant Alpine skier in the world since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, he’s the reigning world champion in this event. What’s more, after finishing out of the medals in the Downhill, there were great expectations that he too would vindicate his skill and fame by capturing one here. He finished 8th.

    Therefore, it’s fair to say that Sandro Viletta of Switzerland shocked the world by winning gold. But nobody seemed more shocked than Viletta himself; after all, he had won only one World Cup race in his entire career, and that was three years ago. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia won silver; and Christof Innerhofer of Italy added to his silver in Downhill with bronze in this event.

    Men’s Figure Skating

    I vowed in my Day 6 commentary below that I would have no further comment on this event. Having written so much, however, I thought it would be unsportsmanlike for me to refuse to share the final results.

    yuzuru-hanyu-free-japan-usat_featpatrick_chan_1.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoMost noteworthy is that the Sochi upsets continued. In fact, three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada (r) practically ceded gold to Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. Because he only had to skate a mediocre long program to become the first Canadian in history to win gold in this event. Yet he fell on his ass on one jump and botched two others. I agree with the flabbergasted commentators who gasped — as he was making mistake after mistake — that he was skating like he didn’t want gold.

    Sure enough, Hanyu, who merely botched fewer jumps, won gold; Chan settled for silver; and, providing the only thing to cheer about, Denis Ten of Kazakhstan won bronze, giving his country its first medal in Winter Olympics history.

    The Stray Dogs Games?

    Russians must have found it irritating enough that, in the run up to these Games, the foreign media were dedicating more coverage to stray dogs on the streets of Sochi than to the spectacular sports venues that were all ready and waiting for competition to begin.

    BgN0Fe8IEAA8jx_But Russians must now find it downright rude that foreign reporters in Sochi are hailing an American Slopestyle skier more for fashioning himself the Mother Teresa of local stray dogs than for winning an Olympic medal. This presumptuous, self-promoting do-gooder (who I refuse to dignify by naming) was all over mainstream and social media today bragging about his intent to have a family of strays cleaned up and vaccinated to take back to America with him.

    Never mind that, as the BBC reported today, Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska had already volunteered to fund shelters for all of Sochi’s stray dogs (i.e. the one’s Putin’s street cleaners do not catch and “put down” first).

    Frankly, what this American Olympian is doing is not only rude; it’s arrogant, self-righteous, and hypocritical – all reinforcing that notorious image of the ugly American presuming to behave in every foreign country as if it were his own.

    But I ask my American friends to consider how they would have felt if, in the run up to the 1984 Games, the foreign media were dedicating more coverage to homeless people (stray humans?) on the streets of Atlanta than to the spectacular sports venues that were all ready and waiting for competition to begin.

    More to the point:

    • What if the foreign media were hailing some Russian athlete more for fashioning himself the Mother Teresa of these stray humans than for winning any Olympic medal?
    • What if this Russian had persuaded a few of these poor, misguided souls to take shelter with his team in the Olympic village, where they were cleaned up, fed, and clothed (in Team Russia uniforms no less)?
    • And what if he then seized every media opportunity to broadcast to the world that he was making arrangements with U.S. authorities for them to be granted refugee status so he could take them with him back to Russia for a better life?

    Enough said?

    Accordingly, I say to this self-styled Mother Teresa (or Pied-Piper) of Sochi’s stray dogs, get over yourself, and leave those friggin’ dogs alone!

    Actually, instead of providing the clearance he clearly presumes he’s entitled to, Russian authorities should tell this American skier, in no uncertain terms, that he has even less chance of leaving Russia with those dogs than CIA agents hiding among the Team USA delegation have of leaving with Edward Snowden.

    MEDAL COUNT

    Norway: 13; United States: 13; Netherlands: 12

  • Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 10:22 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 6

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Cross-Country 10k Classic

    Winner Falla of Norway and her team mate, second placed Oestberg celebrate after competing in the women's cross-country sprint free final at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Rosa KhutorI continue to marvel at the way Cross-Country events are bringing out the best of the Olympic spirit – complete with competitors displaying unbridled grit during races, as well as the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat after them.

    Again, if you have yet to watch any of the Cross-Country events, you owe it to yourself to do so before the end of these Games, even if that means foregoing more popular events in Figure Skating and Slopestyle skiing.

    Apropos of marveling, I did a lot of that watching this race today as Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland bested or outlasted the competition to win gold; Charlotte Kalla of Sweden won silver; and Theresa Johaug of Norway, bronze.

    Women’s Speedskating 1000 (long track)

    Besides hot weather melting the snow and spectators failing to show, a running meme of these Games is the way upsets continue to grow.

    Olympics: Speed Skating-Ladies' 1000 mTherefore, Heather Richardson of the United States, the reigning world champion in this event, could be forgiven fears about being upset too. She apparently tried to increase her odds by getting engaged to a Dutch speedskater last year, hoping perhaps to acquire some of whatever is running through the veins of athletes from the Netherlands that is making them skate so fast. Hell, they’ve already won 12 of the 18 medals awarded in Speedskating in Sochi. (I hope it’s not some special juice they imported from Jamaica….)

    Olympics: Speed Skating-Ladies' 1000 mIn any event, it didn’t work for Richardson. She was upset too. But it might’ve been some “ancient Chinese secret” that helped Zhang Hong overcome the Dutch hegemony at the skating venue. She won gold, becoming the first Chinese to win Olympic gold Speedskating (long track). But, sure enough, two Dutch skaters were on her heels – with Irene Wuest of the Netherlands winning silver and her teammate Margot Boer, bronze. Richardson finished 7th – behind two other Dutch skaters who finished 5th and 6th, respectively. Amazing!

    Men’s Figure Skating

    Vladimir-Putin-hugs-gay-athleteGiven all of the pre-Games furor about Russia’s anti-gay laws, some might be shocked by the openly gay spirit that seems to be thriving in Sochi. Nothing demonstrated this quite like President Vladimir Putin warmly embracing openly gay speedskater Ireen Wuest as he congratulated her on her gold medal win in the Women’s 3000.

    Granted, macho-man Putin might’ve been thinking that just one hug from him would be enough to turn her straight. Whatever the case, I’ll be really impressed if he’s caught warmly embracing an openly gay male athlete.

    Mind you, I’m convinced that Vladimir Putin endorsed laws banning the promotion of non-traditional lifestyles for the same politically expedient reason Barack Obama endorsed laws defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman (during his first presidential campaign in 2008).

    p1.plushenkoAfter all, if Putin were really concerned about the gay lifestyle influencing Russian culture he would’ve banned Men’s Figure Skating from his Sochi Games, no? Because what could be more gay than men skating around in sequins and tights looking like fairy queens on ice? Oh right, the comically homoerotic Men’s Double Luge. Things that make you go, hmmm.

    That said, much is being made of how Russian figure skater and national hero Evgeni Plushenko showed up on the ice today only to withdraw from the competition. I watched him hobble, in very dramatic fashion, over to the judges’ table, where he reportedly informed them that his aging body was still aching too much from the team event four days ago. To be fair, he is 31-years old, and the likely gold medalist in this event is a 19-year-old Japanese boy; on the women’s side, it’s a 15-year-old Russian girl.

    Still, the visceral reaction among Western commentators was that his move smacked of a planned stunt. Recall that Shaun White withdrew from Slopestyle instead of risking humiliation. Plushenko was probably similarly motivated. Whatever the case, I side with his critics – not because of what they’re saying, but because I’m on record calling out another national hero for pulling this same cowardly stunt:

    Easily the most dramatic moment of the day came when Liu Xiang, China’s only hope for a gold medal in Track and Field, pulled up lame in his first qualifying race of the Men’s 110 Hurdles. He then hobbled out of the stadium without saying a word…

    Call me cynical but I believe Xiang decided it was better to claim injury, which might inspire sympathy, than to lose this race, which would incite national shame.  Frankly, the fact that Dayron Robles of Cuba recently broke Xiang’s world record might have inspired his dramatic passion play on this world stage.

    (“Beijing Games: Chines Hero Liu Xiang, Comes Up Lame,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 19, 2008)

    201402131011366758198-p5This was no way for Plushenko to end his career. He is, after all, the first figure skater in the modern era to win medals in four Olympics: gold in 2006 and 2014, silver in 2002 and 2010.

    Incidentally, it appears many jingoistic Russians believe that, even if he were in pain, he should have competed through it for the honor of Mother Russia. Some reporters are even insinuating that this is a classic case of the triumph of personal ego over national pride; not least because his move left Russia with nobody competing in one of the signature events of these Games.

    Here, according to The Associated Press, is how Elena Vaitsekhovskaya, the figure skating correspondent for Russia’s Sport-Express newspaper, damned his stunt and bade him good riddance:

    All of this was reminiscent of an incompetently directed stage show… It became harder and harder to sympathize with the athlete. The one-man show in Sochi has concluded; real sport has begun.

    But frankly, I cannot bring myself to comment any further on him or this two-day event, which concludes tomorrow. My preference is to reserve what little additional commentary I care to make on this sport to the Women’s Figure Skating event, which shall play out next week.

    MEDAL COUNT

    Norway: 13; Netherlands: 12; United States: 12

    Related commentaries:
    Beijing

  • Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 9:54 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 5

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Men’s Speedskating 1000 (long track)

    hi-res-80f90552427901969732e67c544a769f_crop_northShani Davis is one of the most accomplished athletes competing at these Olympic Games  highlighted by his gold-medal wins in this event at the 2006 Torino Olympics and 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Therefore, he could be forgiven a little chip on his shoulder watching far less accomplished athletes get lucrative commercial endorsements that should’ve been his.

    Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.53.27 PMFrankly, I cannot think of any reason, except racism, to explain why Visa, a major sponsor of these Games, would run commercials featuring Sarah Hendrickson, who had never even competed, let alone won a gold medal. And when she finally had a chance to become an Olympic champion in her only event in Sochi, Women’s Ski Jumping, she placed 21st. What, pray tell, does a brother to have do?!

    Meanwhile, like Shaun White, Davis came into these Games hoping to pull off the hallowed feat of winning gold in the same event at three consecutive Olympic Games. As I duly noted in my Day 4 commentary below, White failed in his bid, spectacularly. Therefore, Davis entered today’s event knowing that, if he wins, he’d be the first (male) Winter Olympian in history to threepeat.

    In Olympic history, Germany’s Claudia Pechstein and the U.S.’ Bonnie Blair are the only two long-track speed skaters that have won three gold medals in the same event at consecutive Olympic Games.

    (Bleacher Report, February 12, 2014)

    Olympics: Speed Skating-Men's 1000 mIncidentally, after listening to commentators and reading news reports, you might think no athlete had ever accomplished this threepeat feat. Yet no less an Olympian than Michael Phelps did it at the London Olympics just two years ago in not just one but two events: the 100m Butterfly and 200m Individual Medley. But such is the nature of fleeting Olympic glory.

    Alas, Davis wasn’t even close; in fact, he fared even worse in his threepeat bid than White did. Davis finished eighth. He’ll be lucky now to get any recognition at all from the media that have always given him short shrift and corporate sponsors that have always treated him like, well, a token Black Winter Olympian.

    Stefan Groothuis continued the Netherlands’ dominance in Speedskating by winning gold. Actually, Denny Morrison of Canada only narrowly foiled a Netherlands one-two punch by winning silver. Groothuis’s teammate Michel Mulder won bronze.

    Women’s Downhill

    Just as the combination of power and finesse makes women’s Tennis far more entertaining to watch than men’s, this same combination, plus speed, makes women’s Downhill far more entertaining to watch than men’s.

    212_XX_1749_KELLOGGSMORNING_1280x720_148571715536This was borne out in unprecedented fashion today as Dominique Gisin of Switzerland and Tina Maze of Slovenia finished in a tie, making this (according to NBC) the first time in Olympic history two gold medals were awarded in the same event. Olympic competition could not possibly get any more thrilling than that; well, unless we see two female Olympians battling to a tie in one of those grueling cross-country events — with Chad Salmela doing color commentary.

    I was pulling for my favorite Winter Olympian, Julia Mancuso of the United States, to win. And I was very encouraged after she posted the fastest Downhill time in the Women’s Combined on Day 3. Unfortunately, she lacked speed and control when it really mattered. She finished eighth.

    Pairs Figure Skating

    Figure Skating is arguably the most popular sport at the Winter Olympics, but it does not come even close to being my favorite. Mind you, having spent more time on my butt than on my skates trying to do just a little of what figure skaters do, I really appreciate the skill and athleticism they display on ice. Therefore, it’s more out of respect than interest that I’m commenting on this event.

    628x471After performing a nearly flawless routine to help Russia win gold in the inaugural Team Figure Skating event on Day 2, the Russian pair of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov were heavily favored to win gold here too. But they were helped by a distinct advantage all Russian athletes are enjoying at these Games.

    The reason successful athletes invariably thank their fans is that home fans not only boost their confidence and lift their performance but also influence referees to make calls and judges to give scores in their favor. No less significant, though, home fans often unnerve opposing athletes and frustrate their performance. For obvious reasons, this home-fan factor is especially effective at indoor venues like those where figure skating competitions are held.

    Granted, athletes from the host county always enjoy an advantage in this respect. The difference at these Games, however, is that so many fans from other countries have been scared away that, instead of the normal 2-to-1 ratio, Russian athletes are enjoying a local-to-foreign ratio among fans of more like 10-to-1. Indeed, one would have been hard-pressed to see banners from any other country waving in the arena throughout this competition.

    imagesBut let me hasten to clarify that Volosozhar and Trankov deserved to win gold (they are reigning world champions after all). What’s more, their teammates won silver fair and square. In fact, winning gold was merely restoring the old world order in this event, in which the Russian pair won gold for 12 consecutive Olympics from 1964 to 2006 – often with another Russian pair standing on the podium too, taking either silver or bronze.

    The point is that the German pair of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy had a legitimate shot at … silver. But entering that skating rink in Sochi today must have felt for them (and all non-Russian pairs) like entering a lion’s den. The way they skated showed that they were duly unnerved.

    To be fair, the Russian fans were relatively hospitable. And they became especially so after the German pair tripped over themselves just seconds into their routine, assuring the Russian pairs of silver and gold.  Indeed, given that the German pair tripped over themselves at the end of their routine as well, it’s arguable that the (pitying) cheers they got from the Russian fans influenced the judges to award them bronze.

    Send in the Clowns? Where are the Crowds?

    sochi-empty-seats-4I promised in my Day 1 commentary below not to harp anymore on the eyesore of empty seats at so many venues during these Games. But I cannot resist commenting on what I saw when I tuned into NBC, the official network, this morning. Because I was greeted with the utterly surreal image of the TODAY team sitting outside looking like clowns who showed up for the party after all the kids had already gone home.

    Bear in mind that the TODAY team is famous for taking the show outside the studio to mingle with gawking fans. No doubt this is what they had in mind. Except that there was nobody there. But it was 6pm Sochi time, at the friggin’ Olympics, when you would’ve expected the grounds to be teeming with spectators (local and foreign) – many of them fighting to be caught on TV. Nothing, nobody!

    Of course, NBC anchors dare not complain. After all, they were among the Chicken Littles scaremongering about terrorist attacks in the run up to these Games. And, once they arrived, they only scared off more visitors with snarky reports that made it seem like Sochi had little to offer them beyond broken toilets, undrinkable water, and stray dogs. Which is why Russians outnumber foreigners at most sporting venues 10-to-1. Indeed, spotting a foreign fan at these Olympics is like spotting an oasis in the desert: beware the mirage….

    MEDAL COUNT

    Norway: 12; Canada: 10; Netherlands: 10

  • Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 10:33 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 4

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Ski Jumping

    In my Day 1 commentary below, I mocked the way the International Olympic Committee was “gilding the lily” by adding so many redundant events (like Team Figure Skating) to the Winter Olympics this year. This is why I feel so incredulous that the (mostly male) members of the IOC forced women ski jumpers to wage a civil rights struggle to have their event added.

    Of course, from the marathon to weightlifting, women demonstrated long ago that they have the mental strength and physical toughness to compete in any Olympic sport men compete in.

    Yet:

    The IOC argued ski jumping was simply too dangerous. The female jumpers repeatedly found themselves responding to the idea that jumping would injure their ovaries – a claim the former U.S. women’s coach, Larry Stone, scoffs at.

    (CBS News, February 9, 2014)

    ski-jumping-winter-olympics-day-20140208-134342-601Indeed, that women are finally jumping 90 years after the men is thanks in large part to women jumpers responding to that ignorant and chauvinistic idea with cogent and unassailable declarations as follows:

    My baby-making organs are on the inside. Men have an organ on the outside. So if it’s not safe for me jumping down, and my uterus is going to fall out, what about the organ on the outside of the body?

    This was no less a person than pioneer jumper Lindsey Van sounding off on the February 13, 2013 edition of Rock Center on NBC. It’s probably the bane of her competitive life that her name is so similar to that of another more famous Lindsey. But Van’s name will go down in the annals of history along with those of women like Patsy Mink and Edith Starrett Green. Recall that Mink and Green fought for the passage of Title IX, which guaranteed girls and women in the United States the same opportunities as boys and men in any field of education – particularly in high school and college sports.

    Alas, competing as a pioneer in this sport did not guarantee she’d win gold, or any Olympic medal. She placed 15th. Also noteworthy is that Sarah Hendrickson, whose good looks made her more the face of this pioneering sport than the pioneer Van herself, finished 21st.

    Carina Vogt of Germany won gold; Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, silver; and Coline Mattel of France, bronze.

    Women’s Speedskating 500 (long track)

    Olympics: Speed Skating-Ladies 500mListening to commentators remark on the lighting speed of, um er, speedskater Sang-Hwa Lee of the Republic of Korea, I could not help thinking of similar remarks during the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia on the lightening speed of sprinter Marion Jones of the United States.

    Except that Jones turned out to be nothing more than the female heir to the Olympic legacy of Ben Johnson. And, even though the way Lee skated was like poetry in motion, I’m not alluding here to the poet Johnson.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve heard nothing so far of the doping controversies and disqualifications that attend most Olympic Games these days. Not that Lee’s unbelievable performance screamed out for investigation, mind you. Indeed, if athletes are doping, it’s probably those competing in the Tour de France-like Cross-Country events, which is second only to Weightlifting in the number of athletes in one sport who have had Olympic medals revoked for doping since the IOC instituted drug testing in 1968.

    At any rate, it came as no surprise when Lee ended up winning gold in record-setting fashion. Olga Fatkulina of Russia won silver; Margot Boer of the Netherlands, bronze.

    Men’s Halfpipe

    I don’t mind admitting that, in my Day 1 commentary below, I joined the peanut gallery of those heaping scorn on Shaun White, easily the biggest name in snowboarding, for withdrawing from Slopestyle (claiming it was too dangerous) to give himself a better shot at gold in Halfpipe.

    article-2557024-1B65E0AD00000578-789_636x382Well, after watching snowboarder after snowboarder crash land all manner of exotic tricks, I was beginning to think that White unwittingly ended up competing in the more dangerous event. Which constrains me to note that, with Slopestyle, Halfpipe, and other snowboarding events, the IOC is clearly trying to grow interest in the Winter Olympics by featuring events that have made the Winter X-Games must-see TV.

    No doubt White fully appreciated that, if he did win Halfpipe after pulling out of Slopestyle, his agony of defeat would be surpassed only by his stigma of humiliation.

    Well, here’s to the schadenfreude I fully anticipated would come: White did not even make the podium in Halfpipe! Frankly, I think it’s fair to say that never before in the history of the Olympic Games has an athlete so hyped to win gold failed to even win bronze. He finished fourth.

    ‘Fourth was a gift, man,’ U.S. teammate Danny Davis said of White. Davis finished 10th and Greg Bretz 12th as the United States failed to medal for the first time in the event.

    ‘We let America down,’ Davis said. ‘Sorry, America.’

    (Yahoo Sports, February 11, 2014)

    snowboard-winter-olympics-day-4-20140211-190648-922The reason for Davis’s apology, of course, is that these snowboarding events were invented in the United States. Therefore, getting shut out in this fashion is rather like American Basketball teams getting completely shut out of the medals. In any case, I wish White lots of luck in pursuing what seems to be his greater interest these days anyway, namely, becoming a rock star!

    Louri Podladtchikov of Switzerland won gold; Ayumu Hirano of Japan, silver; and Taku Hiraoka also of Japan, bronze.

     

    MEDAL COUNT

    Norway: 11; Canada: 9; Netherlands: 8

  • Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 3

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Super Combined

    I got a lot of fatuous, politically correct flak for declaring that it’s more exciting to watch men compete in Slopestyle than it is to watch women. Flak, incidentally, that made about as much sense as getting flak for declaring that it’s more exciting to watch men race down a regular slope than it is to watch women race down a bunny slope.

    2014-02-10T123614Z_228396984_LR2EA2A0Y0SL5_RTRMADP_3_OLYMPICS-ALPINESKIINGWell, perhaps my critics will appreciate my declaring, as I did four years ago, that it’s even more exciting to watch women compete in Olympic Alpine skiing as it is to watch men. For there’s no discernible difference between the sexes in the technical skill and daring speed they display when racing in Slalom and Downhill events. And to see so many beautiful women performing such feats of athleticism is, well, very thrilling indeed.

    article-2555789-1B3756E300000578-429_634x822That said, I was especially thrilled to see my favorite Olympian, Julia Mancuso, competing in this, her first event of these Games, which combines both Alpine disciplines.

    Given all of the media focus on Vonn these days, you’d never know that Julia Mancuso is America’s most decorated female Olympic skier: gold in Giant Slalom at the 2006 Torino Olympics; silver (behind Vonn) in Downhill and silver in Super Combined at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

    What’s more, she was likely to win more medals than any other American skier in Sochi even before Vonn re-injured her knee.

    (“The Lolo Jonesing of Lindsey Vonn,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 4, 2013)

    201402100602217507274Well, having won silver in Super Combined in Vancouver, Mancuso surely hoped to do better in Sochi. Except that defending Olympic champion, Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, proved even more invincible this time. She defended her title, despite finding herself out of medal contention after the Downhill.

    ‘It’s unbelievable. Of course, I was the big favorite for today,’ said Hoefl-Riesch, who retained her Olympic title in an event designed to test the best all-around skier. ‘But I had some problems on the downhill course.’

    (The Associated Press, February 10, 2014)

    Nicole Hosp of Austria won Silver. But Mancuso still padded her tally as America’s most decorated female Olympic skier by winning bronze. And she’s poised to pad it even more in the Women’s Downhill on Wednesday.

    Men’s Speedskating 500 (long track)

    It’s a shame Davis is not more of a household name in America. He’s clearly a very disciplined and polite, even if somewhat guarded, athlete. Of course, with Football, Baseball, Basketball, and many other sports competing for popularity, it’s understandable that Speedskating is virtually unknown here. But to the extent it is, I wonder why Davis does not get even one-tenth of the media coverage, to say nothing of the commercial endorsements, Apolo Ohno gets.

    (“2010 Winter Olympics…,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2010)

    shani_davis_coverI suppose there’s some consolation in United Airlines now featuring Shani Davis among other U.S. Olympians in a commercial, in which they’re all pretending to board flights to Sochi fully dressed for competition. But this is hardly as prestigious or lucrative as featuring him alone: the way Chobani is featuring snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, who is more famous for losing than winning Olympic gold medals; or even the way Kellogg’s, NyQuil, and Walgreens are all featuring Alpine skier Ted Ligety, who at least won gold in Men’s Combined at the 2006 Torino Olympics.

    Meanwhile, as improbable as it may seem, this Black American rivals the “flying Dutchman,” Sven Kramer, as the face of Olympic Speedskating. Kramer, a one-time defending champion coming into these Games, has already defended his Vancouver title in his signature event, the Men’s 5000. Davis, a two-time defending champion, will be defending his Vancouver and Torino titles in his signature event, the Men’s 1000, on Wednesday.

    Olympics: Speed Skating Men's 500mBoth men are so good, however, that they were deemed bona-fide contenders in other events: Kramer in the 10,000, where he’s actually favored; Davis in the 500, where he failed to medal today, placing 24th. (He said afterwards, perhaps a little too glibly, that he only participated in this event as part of his preparation for the 1000.)

    For the record, though, the Netherlands continued their dominance in this sport by emulating their sweep in the 5000 with a sweep in this event too, complete with twin brothers Michel and Ronald Mulder winning gold and bronze, respectively. Their teammate Jan Smeekens completed the trifecta with silver.

    Men’s Speedskating 1500 (short track)

    article-2555791-1B5B084000000578-191_634x390I confess that I knew little about this event until the media began covering Apolo Ohno at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City the way they began covering Usain Bolt at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Ohno won gold in this event in Salt Lake.

    For the uninitiated, short track speedskating is to long track speedskating what Arena Football is to the NFL or what Bumper Pool is to Billiards: it’s quicker paced and, as much as some might resent it, more like Roller Derby on ice.

    J.R. Celski hails from the same town (Federal Way, Washington) as Ohno and is America’s top hope at these Games. He became Ohno’s heir apparent after he won bronze in this event four years ago in Vancouver. Alas, he failed to even medal this time, placing a disappointing fourth.

    Charles Hamelin of Canada won gold; Tianyu Han of China, silver; and Viktor Ahn of Russia, bronze.

    Men’s Moguls

    ALeqM5iFkj4x8wMZMU40lGbw6lGUehTeOgIronically, Alexandre Bilodeau of Canada is known more for his endearing and celebrated relationship with his older brother, who was born with cerebral palsy, than for his gold medal in this event at the Vancouver Games.

    And, sure enough, commentators seemed to be talking more about that relationship than about Bilodeau’s skiing during today’s competition.

    APTOPIX Sochi Olympics Freestyle SkiingAll the same, he led another one-two punch for Canada in moguls, emulating the Dufour-Lapointe sisters by winning gold with teammate Mikael Kingsbury winning silver. Alexandr Smyshlyaev of Russia won bronze.

    After completing his podium duties, Bilodeau then went over to hug his older brother, Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and helped him over a barrier to celebrate his medal.

    ‘It was amazing. My brother is my everyday inspiration,’ said Bilodeau.

    ‘Like I say all the time, if he had the life that I have lived, he would be a three-time Olympic champion.’

    (Agence France-Presse, February 10, 2014)

    How’s that for the spirit of an Olympic champion!

    MEDAL COUNT

    Canada: 7; Netherlands: 7; Norway: 7

    Related commentaries:
    Jonesing Vonn
    2010 Olympic

  • Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:06 PM

    Sochi Olympics: Day 2

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Men’s Downhill

    201402090315117503208This is easily the premier event at the Winter Olympics, much as the Men’s 100m is at the Summer Olympics. A better analogy, though, might be to assert that the Downhill is to ski racing what Formula One is to car racing. This clearly makes the former inherently more dangerous, but it also looks more thrilling to perform; it is certainly more thrilling to watch.

    Alpine Skiing - Winter Olympics Day 2Bode Miller is the most decorated Alpine skier in U.S. history. And, with the exception of Lindsey Vonn, nobody had more media attention and greater expectations coming into these Games. Miller only increased both by winning two of the three training runs before today’s actual event.

    Mind you, such was the hype surrounding his winning form, that I wondered aloud if he wasn’t being goaded into leaving his best runs on the mountain during those training runs; or if his competitors were just playing possum.

    Whatever the case, my favorite to win this event was Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. Which is saying a lot considering that he was dating my Olympian crush, Julia Mancuso, for years until they broke up last September.

    Norway's Svindal skis in the men's alpine skiing downhill race during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine CenterBut seriously, the only reason Svindal was my favorite is that he made a lasting impression when I saw a documentary years ago on the dedication and effort he put into his rehabilitation. He suffered what should have been a career-ending injury during a Downhill training run in Colorado in 2007. Lindsey Vonn, who had to withdraw from these Games to continue rehabbing a less serious injury, can attest to the superhuman feat it took for him to return to form, which Svindal did by winning silver in this event at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. What’s more, he seemed poised to do at least as well today, given training runs that had him finishing close behind pace-setting Miller.

    Alas, it was not to be: neither for Miller nor for Svindal. Because Matthias Mayer of Austria came out of nowhere to win gold; Christof Innerhofer of Italy, silver; and Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, bronze. (Miller finished eighth; Svindal fourth, just off the podium.)

    Women’s Slopestyle

    1391694196000-jamie-andersonAs best as I can tell, American men and women sweeping gold medals in this debut event is about as surprising as them sweeping gold in Basketball at the Summer Games.

    To be fair to the men, though, watching women ski Slopestyle is rather like watching women play Basketball. Have you ever seen any woman “play like Mike”?

    slide_336706_3406532_freeThat said, Jamie Anderson of the United States won gold; Enni Rukajarvi of Finland, silver; and Jenny Jones of Great Britain, bronze.

    But I cannot resist observing that Anderson should allay all sponsors’ concerns that this Winter Olympics without Vonn would be like a high school prom without the queen. Because not only is Anderson more beautiful and charismatic, she’s also now the golden girl of the coolest sport in Olympic history.

    Women’s 3000 Speedskating

    163398139_10Well, I suppose it’s fair to assert now that the Dutch are as dominant in Olympic Speedskating as the Jamaicans are in Olympic Sprinting. Because Ireen Wuest followed up her male compatriots’ sweep in the 5000 yesterday by winning gold in Women’s 3000 today. Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic won silver; and Olga Graf of Russia, bronze.

    But, given all of the condemnation Russia’s anti-gay laws incited worldwide, Wuest will have to forgive the Western media stoking the fact that she’s the first openly gay athlete to win gold in Sochi.

    Men’s Skiathlon

    A relatively new Olympic event (it began in its current format in 2006), the Skiathlon requires that skiers race the first half of the course on classic technique skis, then swap them for skating skis at the halfway point, and finish the race using the free technique.

    In the women’s race, the skiers cover 7.5 kilometers in each half of the race. On Sunday, the men will ski twice as far in their event.

    (New York Times, February 8, 2014)

    usatsi_7724400I wrote above that the Downhill is like Formula One car racing on skis. Well, Skiathlon is even more analogous to car racing in that it combines cross-country skiing at “full throttle” with pit stops.

    Trust me folks, if you haven’t watched any of the cross-country events, you’re missing out on what Olympic racing is all about. For example, Skiathlon has unyielding skill struggling to keep unbridled guts in check over a grueling course that ends with competitors displaying the very best of the thrill of victory and the very worst of the agony of defeat. The obvious athleticism and stamina (including mental) required to compete in cross-country/biathlon/skiathlon skiing at this level make even Iron-Man competitors look like mere weekend warriors by comparison.

    But, if nothing else, you’ll find the excited utterances of NBC’s color commentator for the cross-country events, Chad Salmela, entertaining enough. Trust me, he’s even more entertaining than John Madden providing color commentary for Football games, or John McEnroe doing so for Tennis matches.

    09skiathlon2-articleLargeAnyway, apropos of impressive and inspiring rehab stories, “super” Dario Cologna of Switzerland recovered from an ankle injury he suffered just two months ago to win gold. Marcus Hellner of Sweden won silver; Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway, bronze.

    Incidentally, even though I watched it, I neglected to comment on the Women’s Skiathlon yesterday. But Marit Bjorgen of Norway who won gold, Charlotte Kalla of Sweden, silver, and Heidi Weng also of Norway, bronze, all deserve honorable mention.

    NOTE: Russia got on the medals board in big fashion today, winning four medals, including gold in Team Figure Skating competition.

    MEDAL COUNT

    Norway: 7; Netherlands: 4; United States: 4

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