I love the Winter Olympics. For me, it all started with the remarkable Franz Klammer downhill race in 1976 and became a lifetime addiction with speed skater Eric Heiden and the “Miracle on Ice” hockey team at Lake Placid in 1980.
This year, I must admit I’m glad to see the Games come to an end.
While the 13-hour time difference between here and Beijing made it a short night if I wanted to see certain events live, it’s not just about the return of normal sleeping hours. No, the problem this year was more than time-zone issues.
The Games themselves, most years a television smorgasbord, were often a dud this time. Certainly, the absence of fans diminished the excitement of the events. Then, the Connecticut-based television commentary on events half a world away provided a lesser version of the coverage as compared to when athletes and announcers share the same space.
The commentators were all capable, I thought, but didn’t add to the coverage, except perhaps Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir who are such a quirky on-air couple that they have become a part of the event.
Then, there were the surroundings of the Games. Restrictions at the venues created a sterile environment, very different from the appealing interactions in Games past.
Apart from the surroundings, and the non-sport issues that darkened the competition, the Games themselves unfortunately were a downer, from Mikaela Shiffrin’s disappointing stumbles to the Russian debacle in women’s figure skating.
Those will likely be the lasting memories of Beijing 2022.
Now, certainly, it wasn’t all bad, as there was plenty for Americans to cheer for in the Games. Nathan Chen almost single-handedly rescued the first week of coverage for Americans by living up to his pre-event hype in men’s figure skating. Snowboarder Chloe Kim defended her Olympic title with enthusiasm and a gold medal smile.
Then, there were other standouts such as 500-meter speed skating champion Erin Jackson, Rochester native aerialist Chris Lillis, bobsled drivers Kallie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor, Alpine skier Ryan Cochran-Siegle, cross country racer Jessie Diggins, snowboard cross veteran Lindsey Jacobellis and more who were the best they could be in the competition.
Then, there was curling!
It was everywhere. Turn on TV in the morning and there were two teams working the rock into the button.
Afternoon and after dinner, the same thing.
Tune in late at night, they were sweeping away again.
Now some people thought it was too much.
Not me. Not now.
I think curling is one pure Olympic sport: no seeding issues, no judging controversies, no oversized egos.
Just a straight-up competition for teams of men and teams of women competing with equal equipment in equal environments. Match strategy was important, and evident.
Besides myself, there are others in the area who agree there wasn’t too much curling coverage.
The Schenectady Curling Club started in 1907 as part of the Mohawk Golf Club. It moved to Front Street after a fire in 1923, then to its current location on Balltown Road in 1954. Locally, there is also the Guilderland-based Albany Curling Club.
Right now, the Schenectady club has four sheets of ice with some 270 members ranging in age from 6 years old to lots older than that. There have been both male and female curlers in the club since 1953.
“I love the Olympics,” club president Dion Warr said last week. “It always drives a big spike in interest in our sport and our club.”
According to Warr, there are more than 25,000 people involved with curling in the United States today. The center of the sport is in the upper Midwest; the best compete as teams for a spot in the Olympics, and those chosen this year are all from Wisconsin and Minnesota. No Capital Region curler has ever made the U.S. team, but Glenville’s Chrissy Haase came close several years ago.
While curling was a part of the original Olympics in the 1920s, it was dropped from the competition and only brought back to the Games in 1998 at Nagano, Japan. Since then, there has been competition for men and for women with a two-person mixed doubles event added in 2018. The U.S. men’s team won the gold medal in 2018, but finished fourth this time. The women and the mixed team did not make the final medal round in Beijing
Because of the number of teams competing, curling started before the opening ceremonies and competed for the full two weeks of the Games. If you couldn’t get enough on network TV, every match was streamed live for viewing.
With its wide variety of winter sports, curling can seem out of place up against the clearly exhausting competition in events such as biathlon, cross country skiing and speed skating, and the drama-producing judged events such as figure skating and freestyle snowsports.
But Warr feels that most people don’t understand the physical demands of the sport. It is a team effort over a long match with sweepers especially working hard, applying both speed and pressure over the length of the pitch.
MUCH HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
“The sport is so much harder than it looks,” said Warr, who has been a competitive curler in the area for the past 25 years.
The Winter Olympics features many competitions that most of us can’t imagine attempting: bobsled, luge, skeleton, slopestyle and big air.
But there are some where you can get a taste. Curling is one of them, and the Schenectady Curling Club is offering an open house each evening through Saturday this week. For $15, you can get a 45 minute introduction to the sport.
Just don’t expect to be on television.
For more information, check www.eventbrite.com/olympic-curling-open-house.
Then, get some rest. The Winter Games won’t be back until 2026.
STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS MONDAY AND TUESDAY AT GORE
The state high school championships in both Alpine and Nordic will be held Monday and Tuesday at Gore Mountain.
In the Section II girls’ Alpine championships last week, Shenendehowa junior Micaela Leonard won the slalom and giant slalom events, followed by Queensbury junior Meredith Montgomery in both races.
In the boys’ competition, Broadalbin-Perth’s Colin Cotter took the giant slalom title by more than 1.5 seconds, while Shenendehowa’s Braden Kruk edged Cotter in the slalom for first place by 5/100th of a second. In the slalom, 25 racers did not finish their run, including defending champion Matthew Moeckel of Saratoga who also didn’t defend his area title in giant slalom when he skied out of the course. He will still ski in the state championships, having pre-qualified with regular-season results.
In Nordic, Hadley-Luzerne senior Katrin Schreiner, as expected, won the girls’ title, while Queensbury’s Ben Jenkin edged Shenendehowa’s Philip Mathews in the boys’ race.
Local organizers had hoped to re-open the Hickory Ski Center outside Warrensburg this winter, but difficulties getting the lifts inspected and acquiring insurance for the area have ended the effort for this season.
Hickory has been closed since 2014, but there was a plan to open the lower part of the mountain as a community-based outdoor area this winter as well as the more challenging upper terrain for advanced skiers.
Hickory is still open to uphill hikers with $10 access passes available in the area parking lot.
NO LOPPET THIS YEAR
The Lake Placid Loppet, made up of a 50K and a 25K race that regularly attracts cross country skiers from throughout the Northeast, will not be held this winter.
This is the second year in a row that the endurance competition held on the site of the 1980 Olympic races has not been held due to COVID considerations.
Organizers in Lake Placid expect to hold the event in 2023.
Contact Phil Johnson at [email protected]
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