By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - 0 Comments
The things we’re most afraid of are usually the least likely to kill us
When 29-year-old Canadian skier Nik Zoricic was killed last Saturday coming off the final jump at a ski-cross race in Switzerland, the reaction was swift and predictable. Coming after the accidental death of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke in Utah two months ago, outcries about an epidemic of fatalities in extreme sports were heard far and wide. The only people who were temperate in their reaction were Zoricic’s fellow skiers. One of them, Ashleigh McIvor, a gold medallist in ski cross at the Vancouver Olympics, emphasized the misguided alarm she saw in the general public by comparing competitive ski dangers to the perils of everyday life. “The fact is,” she said, “there are risks associated with our sport and practically everything I do in life. We’re probably just as safe doing our sport as we are driving down the highway.”
Are they really?
The question is less glib than it might seem. In 1999, American author Barry Glassner argued in his book, The Culture of Fear, that the things we’re most afraid of (crime, rare diseases, plane crashes) are usually the things least likely to kill us. For example, he writes about an especially common fear: “The average person’s probability of dying in an air crash is about 1 in 4 million, or roughly the same as winning the jackpot in a state lottery.” According to Glassner’s findings, if the U.S. government really cares about its citizens’ health, it should probably abandon its war on terror in favour of a greener Earth: the average person is far more likely to die in a car crash than in a terrorist attack.
By Jason Kirby - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 10:44 AM - 7 Comments
Few events generated as much buzz in Vancouver
Well, the official debut of ski cross as an Olympic sport is over. Canada’s ski cross dream team, assembled a couple of years ago with the express purpose of bringing home lots and lots of shiny round metal disks, didn’t quite live up to expectations. There’d been talk a few weeks ago of three or even four medals, but the men’s team was completely shut out. Whatever. Ashleigh McIvor more than made up for it with her dominating victory over the women’s field.
So what have we learned from these two days of Olympic ski cross?
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN
The sport sounds simple enough. Four skiers start at the top, race to the bottom, first across the line wins. It’s just that in between there are steep jumps, hard bank turns and three other people who’ll do just about anything they can to make sure you don’t get down before them. Canadians learned that watching Chris Del Bosco’s gutsy push for silver on Sunday, which unfortunately cost him a podium position when he crashed on the second-last jump. Here’s something else that sets ski cross apart, though. In most sports losing an almost guaranteed bronze in pursuit of a silver or gold just isn’t done. But in the adrenaline-addicted ski cross community, Del Bosco’s all or nothing push earned him more props than if he’d settled for third. Even Entertainment Weekly dubbed him the Olympic Stud of the Day.
MORE CRASH CAMS, PLEASE
Some ski crossers wear tiny video cameras atop their helmets. They’re there ostensibly so viewers can get a feel for what it’s like to hurl down the side of a mountain at 80 km/h. In reality, they’re much better at showing what happens when you go from 80 to zero in less than five seconds, straight into the side of a snow bank. Other sports should follow suit: bobsled, moguls and short track speed skating. And what the heck, let’s wire up the goalies, too.
THERE’S ROOM TO GROW
Ski cross as a sport is a work in progress. It’s still a toddler in terms of official competitions. The sport debuted at the Winter X Games just over a decade ago. But it does have some limitations in its current incarnation, as some critics have pointed out. One complaint is that whoever gets the fastest start will often win the race. That’s not always true, but in heats with lower caliber skiers, barring a magnificent crash, the race is often determined in the first few seconds. Expect those kinks to be worked out in coming races away from the glare of the Olympic spotlight.
In the end few events at the Vancouver games generated more buzz than ski cross. And with Games organizers and the networks gambling billions of dollars to attract young viewers, any sport that packs excitement, danger, triumph and heart-break neatly into two-minute, easily-downloadable morsels is pure gold. That fact alone will guarantee its return in Sochi in four years.
By Jason Kirby - Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 6:55 PM - 5 Comments
A moment in the media mixed zone
For those athletes who come into the games with high hopes, only to see them dashed, there is always the prerequisite “How do you feel?” question. It’s one that infuriates viewers watching their TVs at home—“How do you think she/he feels, you bloody morons?” But the intent, if not the execution, is honest. Many athletes devote years of their lives and make untold sacrifices to get this far. This moment, with the microphones shoved up in their faces, is often the final inglorious closing page of their Olympic stories.
For Veronika Bauer, a Toronto native and Canada’s sole entry in the freestyle ladies’ aerials competition, the story arc involved a remarkable comeback from multiple concussions over the last two years. During the last 13 months, Bauer has managed just four weeks of training leading up to the games. Yet despite having so much stacked against her Saturday afternoon on Cypress mountain, the 31-year-old skier finished the first of two preliminary jumps sitting comfortably in third place with a score of 94.47. People had used the word “miracle” to describe her comeback. The miracle looked like it was coming true. But when Bauer attempted her second jump, she failed to muster enough speed. As she landed, she fell backwards against the snow. The flub cost her dearly. Her total score of 160.46 put her fifteenth, and out of the running for Wednesday’s finals.
Eventually Bauer wound her way through the blue plastic barriers to the small contingent of Canadian reporters waiting for her. Often, it seems, it’s not the direct questions that evoke the raw emotion athletes are feeling at that moment. Sometimes it’s the innocuous ones. So it was with Bauer. After calmly fielding queries about her performance—she was “disappointed” but has enjoyed her time here at the Olympics—a local radio reporter simply asked Bauer what she planned to do during the rest of the games. She paused.
“I don’t know. I feel like I can’t even think straight. I can’t believe this has happened. If I would have done anything on that second jump, it would have been finals. I can’t believe it yet. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it when it sinks in.”
And basically, with that, the press attaché for the Canadian freestyle team put her hand on Bauer’s shoulder—the international signal to reporters that face time is over. And then Bauer turned and walked away.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 7:12 PM - 16 Comments
“Please can you tell me,” the Serbian journalist asked me, “is this jewelry store company based here? Or is it more… East-coast?”
“Birks?” I replied. “It’s based in Montreal.”
“Ah. So, East-coast,” he said, with an I’m-a-man-of-the-world, you-don’t-have-to-spoonfeed-me glint in his eye. “Well, closer to the East coast, anyway.”
My Serbian colleague, who soon introduced himself as Vladimir Petrovic from DSL Sport newspaper, was, with me, one of the very few men attending the unveiling of a new Jennifer Heil line of silver jewelry at the Vancouver Birks flagship outlet on West Hastings. There was Starbucks coffee in silver puts. There were smoked-salmon canapés. There were many online style writers. “Oh yes! I read you on Twitter,” one said to another.
Making small talk, I asked Petrovic how many athletes there are on the Serbian Olympic team. “Eleven,” he said. “I’d have thought Serbia could field a hockey team,” I said.
“Slovenia can. Under the old Yugoslavia, 90 per cent of our hockey team was Slovenian. Now we don’t have enough,” he said. His paper used to be called JSL Sport, for Jugoslovenski Sporti List, or Yugoslavian Sporting Newspaper. Now it’s called Dnevni Sporti List, for Daily Sporting Newspaper.
I was scribbling something else in my notebook so I set out to reassure Petrovic. “I’m not taking notes about this.”
He shrugged and smiled. “Oh, you can make jokes about this! I don’t mind. I make jokes all the time. In Salt Lake City, Grimaldi, from Monaco, he finished the bobsled race on his head. He was one of a two-man bobsled and it turned over and he ended the race on his head. With the sled on top of him. And he still finished ahead of the Serbians.”
The main event, of course, was the arrival of Jenn Heil, whom the Birks publicity material identified as Gold Medallist Jenn Heil. Not incorrectly, either: she won gold in Turin. Here of course she won silver, Canada’s first medal of the games, and when she showed up, all bright eyes and wide smiles, she was wearing her medal, which was about the size of a pie plate and had an uneven, curvy surface.
Fiona Forbes, a local TV personality, approached a lectern near the coffee. “Please turn off your phones,” she said. “Especially if you have a Lady Gaga ringer.” Busted.
There were remarks from assorted jewelry dignitaries. Turns out this is the first time in Olympic history that the Games have designated an official supplier in the category of luxury jewelry. Really, you’d have thought they’d done it earlier. It turns out, too, that Jenn Heil’s line of products is in silver, but that this was going to be the case even before she fetched up silver at Cypress Mountain. There were no gold or bronze contingency plans.
She designed them herself, “in collaboration with the Birks design team.” Everything’s based on five rings, which is Olympic-ish and also reflects five “core values” Heil wanted to promote: courage, joy, focus, team and hope. “We are constantly inspired by her,” one Birks guy said. “As genuine a human being as you’d ever want to meet.” A Birks PR lady from Montreal pointed out to me that a line of jewelry associated with a 26-year-old athlete is pretty handy for the company, which doesn’t want to seem old and fusty.
Heil made grateful remarks and unveiled two new products—stackable bangles and stackable rings. There were many, many photos. The wee Olympian stayed cheerful through it all.
“She’s clearly, how do you call it, a hot dog,” Petrovic said as we watched the mogul star. “That’s why she can do her sport. It’s why she enjoys this.”
By Ken MacQueen - Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 11:48 PM - 9 Comments
‘The party is just getting started’
Bilodeau scorched down the Olympic moguls course in 23.17 seconds to snatch the gold medal from a tough field of contenders—to win, finally, Canada’s first ever Olympic gold on Canadian soil before 8,269 delirious fans.
“There’s so many golds to come,” an exuberant Bilodeau said moments later. “The party is just getting started.”
And indeed it was. The Molson was flowing at the West Vancouver site before, and certainly afterwards. And crowds erupted at celebration sites across Vancouver, and most certainly in his home province of Quebec.
By Ken MacQueen - Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 1:43 PM - 6 Comments
Ken MacQueen reports from Cypress Mountain on Canada’s first medal
Alex Bilodeau, Canadian mogulist Jennifer Heil’s friend, teammate and training partner almost got his prediction right. Asked earlier in the week if and when Canada would get its first ever Olympic gold medal on Canadian soil, he broke into a grin and turned to his friend “My sense is that it’s going to happen,” he said, “and I would bet a lot of money on the first day.”
Heil put in a brilliant run on an otherwise dismal, rainy Saturday night, on a Cypress Mountain course built with hay bails, imported snow and seeded with dry ice, but it fell just short. Heil held the lead for 27.86 seconds, the time it took for American Hannah Kearney to snatch it away, on the strength of a well-executed but risky flip on the upper jump.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper—who had hoped he was in the soggy presence of Canada’s first gold—instead gave her a hug of congratulations on her silver medal performance. “You made us very proud to be Canadian,” he said.
It was a performance delivered under unimaginable pressure in front of a rollicking, standing room only crowd on the first official day of competition. It was an event where the Canadian Olympic Committee had already penciled in a podium finish for Heil, as an essential first step in its ambitious plan to top the medal count at the Vancouver Winter Games for the first time in history.
As for Heil she accepted the results with grace. “I did what I wanted to do and I’m really proud,” she said, though she conceded, “no doubt about it, I was going for gold.”
Canada has never been better prepared, and athletes have never had better support, she said. Music to Harper’s ears.
“I felt like I was standing on the shoulders of so many Canadians. I felt like I had their wings on my back.” This is Canada’s medal, she said. And while it’s silver, she added, “Canadians can be assured that the gold medal is coming on home soil. Canadians have such a strong team.”
Indeed there were signs of future greatness. Chloe Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal, who at 18 is one of the youngest members of the Canadian team, put in a surprising fifth-place performance.” It was an echo of Heil’s fourth-place performance in Salt Lake City, when she was an 18-year-old Olympian.
Heil went on to win Canada’s first gold in Turin in 2006 on the first day of competition, helping inspire a medal run that gave Canada its best-ever Olympic result, third in the medal count.
As for Saturday’s U.S. gold, perhaps Canadians can make a minor claim. “I’m half-Canadian,” said Kearney, whose mother, Jill, is from Montreal, “so I pretended the Canadian cheers were for me.”