Tag Archives | Olympics

Should the Olympics Have a Permanent Home?

Before I get started, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I love the Olympics. I mean, what’s not to love? In this summer’s Games, for example, we get to see the best athletes in the world competing in 300 events in 35 sports. There are amazing contests of skill, inspiring back stories, and heart-stopping finishes. And best of all, for 16 days, the focus of the world is on something that doesn’t have to do with war, political upheaval, or some other horrible disaster. We’re all in this together, and it’s just plain fun.

But in all honesty, the Olympics are a mess. Take this summer’s games in Rio. From Zika and infrastructure problems to pollution, crime and politics, it’s like a perfect storm of nearly everything that could possibly go wrong. Some athletes have elected not even to attend. And given the situation, I’m not sure I entirely blame them. Really, it’s sad.

Traditionally, cities have vied for the honor of hosting the games. It’s a matter of civic and national pride. The Games provide them with a terrific showcase and can potentially bring in millions of TV and tourist dollars. But in recent years, a growing number of cities are giving them a pass. Oslo, Stockholm, Lviv, and Krakow all withdrew their bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving only Beijing and the Kazakh city of Almaty in the running, two undemocratic cities with less than stellar human rights records. This is hardly a surprise. Both have autocratic governments that can pretty much spend money as they like, without answering to the public.   (Here’s a spoiler alert: Beijing won, and the mountains where the events will be held have an average annual snowfall of less than two inches. Crazy, right?).

Why the change? A look at previous Olympic sites can give us some insight. Host cities often face corruption, ballooning costs, underinvestment in public services, and projects that don’t help — and sometimes even harm — much of the population. What’s more, the Olympics are not the job creators one might imagine. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Games typically create anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 jobs, but most are just temporary and go to people who already have work (only 10% of the 48,000 jobs created by the London Olympics, for example, went to previously unemployed people). In the end, host cities are often left with tremendous debt that they usually can’t afford to pay, and white elephant structures that cost too way much to maintain. Photos from Athens, Sarajevo, Sochi, and other locales bear this out, showing crumbling, abandoned structures just a few years after the games.

Athens

Athens

Sarajevo, during the games and after @AP, Reuters

Sarajevo, during the games and after @AP, Reuters

In a 2006 paper, “Mega-events: The effect of the world’s biggest sporting events on local, regional, and national economics,” Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson had this to say:

“Public expenditures on sports infrastructure and event operations necessarily entail reductions in other government services, an expansion of government borrowing, or an increase in taxation, all of which produce a drag on the local economy. At best public expenditures on sports-related construction or operation have zero net impact on the economy as the employment benefits of the project are matched by employment losses associated with higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere in the system.”

The solution: a permanent Olympic location
It only makes sense. Instead of building new facilities and creating entirely new infrastructures every few years — and incurring millions of dollars in debt — why not build, maintain, and re-use a permanent Olympic venue? This could overseen by the IOC and financed by all participating countries. And as for hosting, the IOC could sell rights to a different country for each Olympic Game, thereby giving the licensee the showcase they would have otherwise enjoyed. Another solution: A decentralized Olympics, with different cities hosting different events. This would result in a more diverse Olympics than we’ve had in the past, create showcases for multiple cities, and spread the cost out over more than one locale.

I’m not an economist, and I surely don’t have the knowledge that’s required to figure this out. But it’s clear that a different approach is needed for the Olympics to remain sustainable. Let’s hope someone comes up with one soon.



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What you may not know about Sochi.

I don’t know about you, but until they announced the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, I’d never heard of Sochi. I mean, it might have been on the moon, for all I knew. Which I guess only displays my ignorance of Eastern Europe. Since I figure I’m probably not alone, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give all of us a crash course on things that might be worth knowing about Sochi, so we’re ready when the Olympics begin.

sochi02

  • Sochi is pronounced SOH-chee, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Not SOW-chee. Not SOO-chee. Which is good to know, since you’ll probably be talking about it a lot in the months ahead.
  • Sochi is located in Krasnodar Region in Russia’s south, just north of Russia’s border with Georgia. It’s about 1,000 miles south of Moscow, which is like driving from New York City to Orlando, Florida.
  • Sochi has a semitropical climate: winters average 52°F during the day and 39°F at night. Luckily, the games will be held in the mountains. So even though there are palm trees in the city, there could be plenty of snow on the slopes. That said, pray for a big dump.
  • Sochi is regularly subjected to strong earthquakes. That’s because it’s located at the juncture of two major tectonic plates: the Arabian and the Eurasian. Let’s hope only the records will be earth shattering.
  • Sochi claims to be the longest city in Europe (90 miles!), so getting cross town could be a challenge.
  • Sochi’s population of 343,334 is about the same as Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • Sochi is sometimes referred to as the Russian Riviera or the Black Sea Pearl. It became famous as a fashionable resort area under Joseph Stalin, who built his favorite dacha there. Stalin’s study, complete with a wax statue of the leader, is open to the public. It’s also said that Stalin’s ghost walks around the place  at night. Oooooooooooooo (well, Stalin was pretty scary.)
  • The most famous Russian saying about the city is “If I could read the cards, I would live in Sochi.” Initially coming from the Preference card game, this saying shows the association of Sochi and its inhabitants with luck, moreover, with an accidental and unpredictable fortune.
  • The territory of today’s Sochi has been inhabited for thousands of years, first populated by Caucasian mountainous tribes. It’s been under the influence and dominion of ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Abkhazian and Ottoman civilizations. A few landmarks of antecedent civilizations remain, including bronze age table-stones and medieval Byzantine temples.
  • The first Russian outpost was set up in central Sochi in 1838 as a part of the Russian expansion along the Black Sea coast. The local resistance to this process resulted in the Caucasian War of 1817–1864, which ended in a Russian victory and the expulsion of the local population, mostly to Turkey.
  • An oak grove on the slope of Mount Batareika, the highest mountain in the center of Sochi,  is regarded by  locals as a sacred place. Earlier pagans offered prayers and brought gifts there to propitiate the trees’ spirits, and  the local rulers who later converted to Christianity built a wooden church on the mountain peak.
  • Sochi is one of the most multinational cities in Russia with people of more than 100 ethnic groups living there. Most of them are ethnic Russians (68%), the important minorities are Armenians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Greeks, Ciscassians, Belorussians, Tatars, and Jews.

So there you have it. Now you can impress your friends and family when you’re all gathered around the tube watching  the Olympics. And if you know anything else Sochi-related, post it here. That way we can all benefit.



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Women Ski Jumpers Defy Gravity and Sexism.

Got ten minutes?

Good. If you don’t, though, set this aside for when you do. It’s that worthwhile.

A bit of background: Until recently, women’s ski jumping wasn’t allowed in the Winter Olympic Games. You read that right: men’s teams, yes; women’s teams, no. In fact, ski jumping and nordic combined, which includes ski jumping, were the only sports in the Winter or Summer Games that did not offer events for women. The IOC twice rejected women’s ski jumping for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, saying the sport lacked enough elite competitors and its inclusion would dilute the value of the medals. But this was totally bogus. Because although IOC President Jacques Rogge argued that the sport only had 80 competitors worldwide, Women’s Ski Jumping USA said the US had at least 150 jumpers and Norway, between 500 and 600. This gave ski jumping more seasoned competitors than women’s bobsled and skeleton had when those sports were added to the Games in 2002.

But there’s a happy ending. In April, 2011, the fight finally paid off. Women ski jumping will be included in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

In the video here, first aired on NBC’s Rock Center, Lindsey Van (no, not Lindsey Vonn) — the very first women’s world champion — and others talk about the spirit of sexism that long kept women from competing in the Olympics, and the grit it took to get the IOC decision overturned. It’s an eye-opener, that’s for sure.

Yes, there’s an ad first. But hang in there. And prepare to be inspired.


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A conversation with Suzy Chaffee

Everyone has their heroes – people who’ve inspired them to take a certain path.

One of mine is Suzy Chaffee. Granted, this goes all the way back to the late 60’s, but Suzy was one of people who inspired me to take up skiing. And that’s had an incredible impact on my life.

Suzy Chaffee

For those of you who need reminding, Suzy was captain of the US Women’s Alpine Team in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. A miscalculation in ski wax kept her off the podium, but her silver racing suit got the attention of the press and helped launch an astonishing career.  Although Suzy’s endorsement of ChapStick lip balm earned her the name Suzy Chapstick, her accomplishments extend way beyond just being a celebrity endorser. In addition to her participation in the Olympics, consider these:

  • First female member of the US Olympic Team Board of Directors
  • Member of the President’s Council for Physical Fitness, serving through four administrations
  • Three-time world freestyle skiing champion (1971-1973)
  • Co-founder of the Native American Olympic Foundation
  • Inductee in the US Ski Hall of Fame in three categories: Alpine, Freestyle, and Sports Building
  • Inductee in the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sportswoman’s Hall of Fame
  • Ski film star
  • Ski ballet pioneer, and helped start the Olympic Women’s Freestyle Division

An impressive list. But perhaps her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs.

I spoke to Suzy recently from her home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Q: Suzy, can you tell us how you got involved as an activist for Title IX?
A: I had a wake up call in 1964, when I was at the University of Denver. I chose Denver because it was the Rocky Mountain ski mecca, and my [future Olympian] brother, Rick, was part of their invincible ski team. His coach, Willy Schaeffler, promised me training as one of the top skiers in America. I enjoyed their dry land training, where I carried guys up the stadium steps, but when it came time for on-snow training an hour away at Evergreen Ski Area, I wasn’t allowed to ride in the team car because I didn’t have NCAA insurance. The reason: I couldn’t biologically pass the male physical. Since there were no sports scholarships for girls back then and my family couldn’t afford a car, I had to hitchhike.

In 1977, I was asked by the president of the PE Teachers of  America to help lead a march in support of Title IX in Washington, DC.  Thousands of people showed up, and it made the national news. I realized that unity brings power, so after the march I called the White House and set up a meeting with Vice President Walter Mondale. I brought in Billy Jean King and the PE teachers, who had their lawyers for Title IX, and we got the ball rolling. It was a hard fight. Around that time I was on an elevator with Walter Buyers, the head of the National Collegiate Athletic establishment, and asked him, “What would be a reasonable percentage of the men’s budget for the women since it was still one percent after five years?” And he replied, “One percent is just fine.” We got a lot of powerful legislators behind us — Ted Kennedy, for example, who worked for Title IX for almost four decades, including restoring it after President Reagan got it overturned by the Supreme Court.

Q: Why is Title IX so important?
A: Studies have proven that investing in girls’ sports improves the health of families, delays pregnancy, reduces population, and transforms communities and countries from poverty to productivity. Title IX has also been a boon for the US sports industries — especially skiing, since moms who fall in love with skiing not only help create Olympians, but help decide where their families go on vacations.  So protecting Title IX and girls’ ski opportunities is priceless to states like Colorado, where 64,000 jobs depend on snow sports tourism.

Q: You co-founded the Native American Olympic Foundation. What is this and what does it do?
A: Just as Title IX legislation gave women a chance, the Native American Olympic Foundation aims to give Native American youth a chance to develop their talents and compete in the Winter Olympics. According to a senate study by Olympian Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Native youth lack opportunities in sports and jobs. This contributes to the highest suicide rate of any race for the last hundred years. One  in three Native girls attempt suicide, and 1 in 4 Native boys. Snow sports build health, self-esteem, leadership skills, and lasting friendships, as well as provide greater accessibility to educational, job, and career opportunities outside the reservation. They’re also a super way to show appreciation to the Native American ancestors, who gave us the roots for eleven of our Olympic sports. Since ski lift tickets are out of reach of most tribal youth, especially girls, our foundation urges ski areas and communities across America to welcome home their nearby children with a free day of skiing and boarding on their ancestral lands.

Q: I know you also champion environmental causes. Can you tell me more about this?
A: It’s a delicate time for our planet, and we have to do what we can to protect it. The mountains are our source of drinking water, agriculture, and food. If we keep going in our present direction, we’re going to run out of snow. And that means water. So it’s crucial that we shift funding from military defense to climate change defense. We women are the protectors of nature. We need to create a sustainable world so we can live better in the future.

Q: Tell me, do you ever get tired of the name Suzy Chapstick?
A: No, not at all. The endorsement opened many doors for me. It was a great opportunity. In fact, when I was on the U.S. Olympic Committee board, I wrote the rule that allowed Madison Avenue to sponsor Olympic teams and individuals, which helped open the international playing field to people from all economic classes.

Q: Puerto Vallerta  seems far removed from skiing. Why are you there?
A: Because I can see whales jumping from my terrace. It’s a slice of paradise — relaxed, friendly, and affordable.  I missed out on 16 years of vacation pouring all my resources into joyfully giving my gift back to humanity.

For more information on the Native American Olympic Foundation, go here.

 

 

 



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Why I’m a little in love with Lindsey Vonn.

Lindsey Vonn

Okay, not to sound all stalker-ish and creepy about this, but you have to admit: It’s hard not to be a little in love with Lindsey Vonn.

I don’t think you can blame me. After all, Lindsey’s won four overall World Cup championships — one of only two female skiers to do so — three of them consecutively (2008, 2009, and 2010). She’s also the first American woman to win the Gold in the Downhill (2010 Winter Oympics), as well as the winner of five consecutive World Cup season titles in the Downhill, four consecutive titles in the Super G, and three consecutive titles in the Combined.

Makes me woozy just to think about it.

All this is more than enough to earn her the admiration of just about anyone with a pulse. But it’s not the only reason I love Lindsey. Here are a few more for you:

1) She doesn’t indulge in the drama queen stuff that other racers (* cough * cough * Bode Miller * cough * cough) do. She trains like crazy, goes out to compete, and gets the job done, all without being a prima donna. It’s refreshing, to say the least.

2) She’s a great role model. Female superstar athletes are few and far between, and it’s wonderful to see someone who girls can look up to, especially in snowsports. She says that she, herself, was inspired by Picabo Street. Here’s hoping she’s an inspiration to loads of young girls, too.

3) She’s bringing a lot of positive press to skiing. And more importantly, to women’s skiing. I love that people who might not otherwise pay attention to skiing know who Lindsey Vonn is, and follow her, too.

4) She’s tenacious. There’s nothing I respect more than someone who doesn’t let a little setback hold them down. For example, before the 2010 Winter Olympics, Lindsey suffered an extreme contusion to her shin. Did that hold her back? No. Did she whine and complain? No. She got out there and won.

5) She was asked to a homecoming dance by a 16-year old boy, and she accepted! Not because it got her a lot of attention — which it did — but because she found his sweetness hard to resist. The eptiome of graciousness.

6) She’s gorgeous, so she turns the oft-held stererotype of the ugly female jock on its head. I love that someone can be that great at sports and that beautiful, too.

So even though it’s sort of too bad she didn’t break the 2,000 point record for one season, overtaking Austrian great Hermann Maier’s 12-year-old mark, that’s fine by me. She still had an amazing season. And the idea that she didn’t win something sort of humanizes her. I said sort of. As does her divorce and her rocky relationship with her father.

Of course, no one’s perfect. And really, I don’t know Lindsey at all. Perhaps I’d be terribly disappointed if I did. Maybe she has annoying habits, like cracking her gum or using “Like” all the time. It’s possible.

But all in all, this is someone whose career is a pleasure to follow. And if it all ends tomorrow, we can all say she’s had a great run. Excuse me — I mean many great runs.

And that’s why I love Lindsey Vonn.

 



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My Own Private Whiteface

Have you ever wished you had your own private ski resort?

Who hasn’t?

For one glorious morning recently, I had my wish. And it wasn’t just any resort: it was Whiteface, site of not one, but TWO Olympic games, and the ski resort with the highest vertical in the eastern US (3,400 feet).

Whiteface

Let me explain: Last week I was at Whiteface for a New England Ski Media Day. The New York Olympic Regional Development Authority, of which Whiteface is a part, invited members of the ski press (that’s me! :)) to see what’s new at the mountain this year.

For those of you who are unfamilair with Whiteface, let me tell you a bit about it. I went there last year and absolutely fell in love. It’s located in Wilmington, NY, just 8 miles from beautiful (and I do mean beautiful) Lake Placid. Rather than going into the whole thing again, you can read my post here.

The trouble started with the weather. The day of the event was windy. Not just a little bit windy, but great, big howling gusts that knocked the power out throughout the greater Lake Placid area. This meant — you guessed it — none of the the lifts were running.

A snowcat. Not the one we went on, but a good example.

Did this stop the Whiteface crew? No. They transported us up to the summit via snow cat. Mind you, the mountain is completely closed. So there we were: A total of seven people at the top of Whiteface, all by our lonesomes.

I know cat skiing is common enough out west, but trust me, this does not happen at Whiteface. And to ski the mountain with no one else on it at all — truly  a unique experience. I felt exhilarated. Privileged. And incredibly lucky.

Fortunately, the wind had died down a bit, so the trip down was fine. No, it was better than fine. It was A+. After all, this was my own private ski resort. I just might let them have the World Cup there some time 😉

Okay, so aside from a fantastic ski experience involving a snow cat, what did I learn while I was there? A couple things well worth noting:

They gave us a tour of their Kids Kampus, a section of the mountain that’s a dedicated beginners’ area. I don’t have little kids, so my experience with this is pretty limited. But trust me, if I did have small children, this would be a great place for them to learn. The whole area is set apart from the rest of the mountain, so you don’t get high speed skiers and boarders racing through on their way down the mountain.  The lodge is lovely, featuring day care, a special kid-friendly dining area, ski school check in, rentals for all ages, and accessible parking. The beginning ski area features several gently sloping trails that meander around large stands of trees, for added interest. If you drop off your kids — for either lessons or daycare — they give you a beeper so they can get in touch with you quickly if needed. Which I think is a great idea.

Kids Kampus Lodge

 

The second thing of note is that they’ve completely upgraded their rental fleet  to Rossignol Experience rockered skis. Remember how shaped skis completely transformed the market a while ago? I think we’re heading the same way with rocker. The raised tip reduces the area that the ski engages with the snow, so you’re able to get on edge and turn a lot faster. It also keeps the ski from diving in powder, so float is improved, too. The end result is improved stability, a better ride, and a whole lot of fun for a great learning experience.

So do yourself a favor. Visit Whiteface. I know it’s my private mountain, but on the day you show up, I just might open it to the public. You’ll have to go and find out.

 

 

 

 

 



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A conversation with Donna Weinbrecht

Donna Weinbrecht

 

Like anyone else, Donna Weinbrecht, Olympic gold medalist, needs new furniture now and then.

I reached her recently at her home in New Jersey, where she was waiting for a new couch.

New Jersey? Yes. Donna lives in The Garden State, home of The Boss, Frank Sinatra, Tony Soprano, and years ago, even me. “It’s my home in the off season,” she said. “My fiancé is a musician and needs to be in and out of New York, so it’s convenient.”

Makes sense. And it all sounds so ordinary. But there’s nothing ordinary about Donna Weinbrecht’s life.

Winner of the first freestyle gold medal in the Winter Olympics, in 1992,  Donna has seven national titles and 46 World Cup wins, and is a member of both the National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Hall of Fame at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. She’s also listed as one of the Ski Channel’s Top 50 Olympians of All Time.

Donna will be leading Killington’s Women’s Weekends, two weekend clinics scheduled at the resort this season. I asked her a few questions about her career and the upcoming clinic.

Q: So how’d you start skiing?
A: My parents fell in love with it when they were adults. My father bought land in Killington in 1979 and built our house in 1980, so skiing became a family sport. We were weekend warriors. We’d get in the car on Fridays and drive up 4-1/2 hours to go skiing.

Q: What attracted you to the moguls? And how’d you learn?
A:  I don’t remember ever being taught how to ski. I loved figure skating, and some of those skills, like good balance, carried over to skiing. I think sometimes people are just born with ability. I see it in my nieces and nephews. Some of them have that gene and pick things up quickly.

I learned to ski in the 70s, when hot-dog skiing was booming. I’d see these photographs in the ski magazines of the hot-doggers smiling and having fun, so I gravitated to that.

Q: Freestyle can be tough on your knees. How are yours holding up?
A: After I won my medal I had a bad ski injury, so I missed the ’93 season. I was practicing a new jump during a fall camp in Breckenridge.  I was a little pitched forward in the air, and when I landed my leg hyperextended. It was a contusion of the tibia plateau, plus I messed up my ACL, meniscus, medial ligament, and I had a fracture, too.  That was tough, because my comeback was in 1994, another Olympic year. Despite that, I had a great comeback,  I won the overall World Cup, so I jumped right back in.  My training was a little hesitant, but that was it.

Q: Do you have one win that really stands out for you?
A: I have 46 world cup wins, so it’d be hard to say. But the Olympics were like a childhood dream come true. I never felt more perfect as a person that whole season. There was pressure, but I always had the feeling of being centered.  I was on Cloud Nine.  It was incredible.

Q: So when did you retire from competition?
A: I stopped competing after ’98. I took two years off, but they left the door open for me, so I went for it in 2002. I came very close to making my fourth Olympics. It was fine that I didn’t; I was psyched that I went for it.  The team was fantastic. There was so much talent that we could have had an Olympic team within the Olympic team.

Since then I’ve been doing all sorts of things: a lot of events, alumni work for the US Ski Team,  and Powdergirls, a fundraiser for the ski team that’s held in Aspen.

Q: Tell me about Killington’s Women’s Weekend Clinic.
A: I coached at the Killington Mountain School in 2008, and I had all these mothers saying they wanted to ski with me. So I talked to the people at Killington, and we put together a nice fun package for a ladies’ weekend. There’ll be two sessions, one in January and one in February. Each will have a maximum  of 30 people. We’ll be working with Killington’s snow director and some of the elite instructors at the resort. We’ll split in groups according to levels, intermediate to experts, and we’ll work on whatever anyone needs – everything from moguls and the shape of turns to the way to carry your poles, pole plants, flat training, and so on,  I’m self taught, so I have very organic methods.

Q: What’s the most important advice you can give people who want to master the bumps?
A: That’s tough. There’s so much going on.  In moguls, you’re absorbing, you have to look ahead, you have to make sure you’re not being pushed into the back seat.  They always say that if you have a bad habit, it’s going to be pronounced in moguls. You need to work on your balance, use your vision, and work on your pole plants and the cadence of your turns. Practice in the flats, where you have to do some turns to fall into a nice line.

Q: What do you look for in a mogul ski?
A: An all mountain ski is better than a carving ski. I ski on the Chickadee, an all-mountain ski from Ramp, a new online ski company. The main thing is you don’t want anything that’s too wide or too stiff, because a lot of times you’re driving your tips into the  moguls and you don’t want them to push you into the back seat.  As for length, I started my career with I think it was 195, ended with 169. I also use shorter poles in moguls. If you start getting really good and you have those early plants on the backside or the tops of the moguls, you don’t want to have to lift a longer pole. You want to be able to swing out and have it connect.

Q: What do you prefer: machine-made or naturally made bumps?
A. I prefer natural. But machine-made can be a lot of fun, too. It’s all good.

Q:  If you weren’t a professional skier, what would you be?
A:  After high school, I went to art school, but my art school folded so I moved up to Vermont and worked at a small restaurant near Killington, The Pasta Pot. I made nationals in ’86 and then the following year I thought if I didn’t make the team I’d go back to art school. In ’87 I made the team — they took just one mogul skier out of the east coast  My rookie year was 1988 and everything fell into place, and I’ve never looked back.



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Meet Tracy Evans, Female Athlete Philanthropist of the Year

Being an Olympic athlete takes an incredible amount of self focus. All day, every day, you have to concentrate on your training, your diet, and the attitude you need to win the competition. It’s me, me, me, all the time.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s what separates the great from the super-great. And it’s what gets the job done.

Yet as self-involved as this sounds, many of these athletes go on to do incredibly altruistic things. Take three-time Olympic aerialist Tracy Evans. Tracy competed in the ’94, ’98, and ’02 Olympics, then went on the World Cup circuit where she achieved a host of top then results.

Tracy Evans, Olympic Aerialist

But Tracy’s accomplishments don’t end there.

In 2008, Tracy founded Kids Play International (KPI), a foundation that uses sports to educate and empower Africa’s youth. KPI’s mission is to teach life skills and impart the importance of physical fitness and healthy living through the use of sports. It’s also established a scholarship fund to help girls achieve a comprehensive education.

Recently, Tracy was named Female Athlete Philanthropist of the Year by the United Athletes Foundation, a group whose mission is to empower athletes to impact communities through education and social development.

I spoke to Tracy to learn more about her involvement with KPI.

Q: First of all, Tracy, congratulations on your award. KPI sounds like a fantastic organization. Can you tell us what motivated you to start it?

A: I was exposed to volunteering from a very early age. My mom is a registered nurse who’s done volunteer medical work all over the world. She always encouraged me to go on a volunteer trip of my own. For a long time I thought volunteering was for people who were teachers or in the medical field, so I wasn’t sure I had the appropriate skills. Finally, in June, 2008, I decided to go on a trip with an organization to Malawi in Africa. I came up with the idea of bringing over some sports equipment to play with the kids in the orphanage. My team leader loved it, and it turned out to be an incredible success.

For me, it was life changing. These kids had never had anyone interact with them like this. A lot of the games I introduced were completely new to them. I loved exposing them to sports they hadn’t played before. Gender equality is a big issue over there, so picking a sport where boys and girls can learn together creates a whole new dynamic. When they played a familiar sport, they reverted to traditional gender roles. For example, girls don?t play soccer, so the boys don’t want girls to play. But with a new game, this wasn’t an issue.

When I left after two weeks, I could see I wanted to pursue this further. My father helped me set up a non-profit organization called People Helping People International. Kids Play International is actually part of that. A year later I assembled a group of volunteers and went back to the same orphanage. We brought over all sorts of sports equipment and set up a sports room so the kids could continue to play even when we were gone. These kids don’t have any after school programs, community centers, or Girls or Boys Clubs. So what we were doing made a huge difference.

Tracy Evans in Malawi.

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Q: How has the program developed?

A: Right now we’re trying to get over there twice a year with volunteer groups. The trips are great, but since they’re only for two weeks, our impact is fairly limited. It’s a great way to introduce people to the program and see the country. But I want to make an impact that’s more longer lasting. So I’m currently developing a pilot program in Rwanda. It’s an after school education program that would run all the time, even when I’m not there. I’m at a point where I’m getting funding to train in-country coaches and program directors — local staff who can run it so kids have a place to come after school. And I’ve developed a curriculum.

Q: What do you want kids to come away with?

A: Essentially, we’re using sports as a vehicle to teach them life skill lessons that they can use on a daily basis to improve the way they handle conflict and work with one another. It’s also a way to teach them leadership skills and gender equality. We want them to learn by doing, and sports is a great way to do that.

We’ve also set up an education scholarship fund for girls, because these are the ones who are not typically in school. It’s been shown that if you educate the women, you?ll change the country. The other alternative is to have them learn a trade.

Q: This sounds very ambitious. Do you have any help?

A: I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel here, I?m bringing in a lot of partners, like the World Olympians Association (WOA). I love how they work at bringing athletes and their foundations together to see what synergies exist, so you don’t have to do it all yourself.

Q: As if KPI isn’t enough, I see you’ve also started something called the Golden Games. Can you tell me about that?

A: That’s a local program here in Salt Lake City, Utah, geared to seniors in nursing homes and assisted care facilities. It’s a one day event that brings them together to compete in a host of events.

Q: How has being an athlete had an affect on the way you work?

A: My education is in marketing, and all through my competitive career, I’ve found that you have to be aware of what’s going on; you can?t hand it over to anyone else. You have to be very hands on and knowledgeable about what you’re doing. I’ve brought that same mindset to KPI. It’s served me well.

Q: Sounds like you?re really busy. Do you have any time to ski anymore?

A: My boyfriend is an avid skier and is always trying to get me out to ski. I do love to get out on the slopes, but it’s more of a social thing for me. One of the things I love about skiing is that it’s something people of all ages and abilities can do. For me, it’s not about how many days I can get in. I’m not the first person on the lift or the last one off. It’s just something I do for fun.

A: Do you do freestyle any more?

Q: Here in Park City, we have our summer training facility at the Utah Olympic Park. It’s a ramp with a plastic surface that goes into a big swimming pool. There’s a big day lodge, and a lot of corporate groups come in throughout the summer. We put on a water ramp show set to music for them. We’re the entertainment. Freestyle just isn’t as big a part of my life because I’ve been so busy. Between my casting company [Athlete Source Casting] and my work in Africa, I just don’t have the time. But I still love to jump. It’s by far the best adrenaline kick there is.

Q: You’ve been in three Olympics. Do you have one that stands out for you?

A: Lilllehamer was extra special. It was my first Olympic games, my brother was there coaching, and my folks were there, too. It was an amazing venue. But you know, the flip side was the Olympics in Salt Lake. It’s rare for an athlete to compete in your own country, let alone in your own back yard. My extended family could come out and see me. It was an incredible experience.

Q: So what are your hopes for the future?

A: With the pilot program in Rwanda, I want to get a really nice, easy model to replicate so I can expand into other areas of the countries I’m working in, as well as into other countries, too. Basically, I want to provide a Boys and Girls Club for Africa; an after-school community program so these kids have a safe place to come, play and learn and have opportunities and resources so they can be successful and industrious.

I also want to connect the youth of the US with the youth of Africa. I think that’s an important part of it. Right now, through my volunteer trips, I’ve had a few kids from Park City come along with me. One of them was so inspired that she started a Kids Play International club at her high school to boost awareness about what’s going on over there.

Q: Thanks, Tracy. And congratulations again on your award.

You can make a tax-deductible contribution to Kids Play International at their website. Go here.



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You MUST Go to Lake Placid.

Sometimes it really pays to be the Ski Diva.

Take recently. The Olympic Regional Authority (ORDA) of New York State invited me to take a press tour of Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain. I’d never been there, so I figured why not.

A better question is, why hadn’t I been there before? If I knew what I’d been missing, I wouldn’t have waited so long.

Some of you are already familiar with the area. You’re either local or have already paid a visit. Well, you’re smarter than I am.

I was positively smitten with the whole Lake Placid experience. The legacy of the Olympics permeates the place. You feel like you’re in the presence of giants. Olympic champions, and those who are associated with the Olympics, are as common as dirt. For example, Ed Weibrecht, owner of the Mirror Lake Inn, where I stayed, is the father of Andrew Weibrecht, winner of the bronze in the Men’s Super-G in Vancouver. They even have his medal on display:

And the woman whose family owns the Crowne Plaza Resort tells us her dad either coached (or coached the coaches) for such champion skaters Paul Wiley and Sasha Cohen. Hannah Kearny comes and stays at her house. She even dog sits for her. As I said, mind boggling. (The Crowne Plaza is also very nice, by the way.)

Olympic facilities are everywhere. You can ski the Olympic Downhill, take the Olympic bobsled ride (which I did, without throwing up OR screaming. Go here), see the HUGE Olympic ski jumps (holy height anxiety), cross country ski where the Olympians do. It’s incredible and humbling –- all at the same time — that mere mortals can play where Olympians play.

Here’s a picture of the ski jump, by the way, which does not do it justice. I skied with a young woman who was an ex-ski jumper. She seemed to think it was nothing out of the ordinary. Can you imagine??

My trip started with check in at the Mirror Lake Inn. Let me say at the outset, this is not your Econo Lodge. And though they do offer some incredible specials from time to time, it’s not for the budget minded. It’s first class, all the way. The Inn is located on the shore of Mirror Lake, and it’s absolutely beautiful:

Here are some pix of the inside, though you’ll find much better ones at the Inn’s website:

If you’re looking for a special place in a gorgeous setting, this is it. Conde Nast named it one of the best places to ski and stay in North America (it was #12), and I’m not surprised. The service is stellar. The staff is attentive, friendly, and willing to do anything to make your stay as pleasant as possible. There are home-made chocolate chip cookies at the front desk, all day long. A four diamond restaurant with terrific food. A great bar and a pub across the street. Ice skating. A fantastic spa, where I had the most amazing facial and chilled out (or heated up) in a eucalyptus steam bath. Amazing rooms, with a few extra-spectacular ones in a couple free-standing buildings across the street, directly on the lake shore (yes, we were given a tour). I could see this as being a great destination, whatever the season. Seriously, this is one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. I know I sound like I’m gushing, but really, it’s that good.  HIGHLY recommend. I will be back, next time with my husband in tow.

So, now for the activities.

1) Skiing. At Whiteface. For years I’ve heard Whiteface dissed as Iceface. Which is one of the reasons I never wanted to go there. To that I now respond: they had the Olympics here for a reason. Twice. So don’t sell it short.

As for “Iceface:” if that referred to conditions, well, this is the East. Like it or not, you’re going to get ice…..er, I mean hardpack. But there have been tremendous advances in snowmaking and grooming, so let’s give it up already. If “Iceface” refers to cold, well, yes, you’ll find that, too. Again, this is the Northeast. You either get used to skiing in the cold, or you stay home and wait for summer. That’s just how it is. That’s why God invented things like down and boot heaters. And there is a Gondola, which definitely helps.

To be honest, I think I probably hit the three best days of the year, weatherwise. The first day it was sunny and clear, not cold, and no wind. No one could believe how fantastic it was. From the summit, you could see all the way to Mount Mansfield in Vermont (that’s where Stowe is), a distance of I’d guess about 80 miles. The second day it snowed like crazy all day: 20 inches of fresh powder. And the third, well, we reaped the benefits of Day #2.

Here are some of the views from the top:

The skiing was positively awesome. Yes, I skied the Olympic Downhill, singing the Olympic theme song while imagining a cheering crowd and a gold medal waiting at the bottom. But I skied lots of other trails, too. There’s enough variety to keep you interested, and tons of fun.

The only downside I can think of is that some of the lifts are kind of slow. But there is the gondola that I mentioned, which gets you to the top in a hurry. And the runs are nice and long, so that sort of makes up to it.

The bottom line: this is one big mother of an Eastern mountain. Whiteface boasts the East’s greatest vertical drop (3,430′). There’s a tremendous amount of great skiing here. You will have a blast.

2) The Olympic Bobsled.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about this. I’m not a roller coaster person. But the bobsled action is more side to side than up and down, and before I got on I kept telling myself not to be scared. So I wasn’t.

I’m glad I didn’t chicken out. It was an absolute blast.

You don a helmet and squish in with two of your all of a sudden best friends, along with a guy in the front, who steers, and a brakeman who pushes you off and then hops on. People said it’d be over in a flash, and though it wasn’t quite like that, it was pretty quick, though you do have time to experience some amazing G-forces. Plus at the end they give you a T-shirt, a pin, and a picture of yourself, looking positively exuberant after your ride. How can you beat that?

3) SPA!!!!! I’ve already talked about the Spa at the Mirror Lake Inn. To be honest, at first I wasn’t too keen on taking time away from skiing to do this. My husband had some advice, “Pretend you’re someone else. Someone less obsessed with skiing.” I think he meant enjoy what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, even if it’s not skiing.

He was right.

Consider me a convert. It was wonderful. So relaxing and great for your skin. You could feel the toxins and anxiety slipping away. After five minutes I was sure I must look five years younger. Why haven’t I been doing this all along? I could definitely get used to having facials on a regular basis. Why not. And the spa there is lovely. If you go, you have to give it a try.

4) Cross Country Skiing. Again, something I didn’t think I’d like. I mean, you’re on skis and you’re not going downhill? Give me a break. Consider me wrong about this, too (hey, at least I admit it!). There are miles and miles of cross country ski trails in Lake Placid. You could ski yourself silly. We had a wonderful guide at Mount Van Hoevenberg, which is part of the Olympic Sports Complex, who gave us excellent instruction and took us through miles and miles of winding, wooded trails. The snow was falling, the woods were beautiful. Ahhhhhhh. Another thing I could get used to.

So there you have it. A trip that was absolutely stellar. If the intent of the Olympic Regional Development Authority was to get me excited about Lake Placid and all its wonderful activities, consider it done. There is so much to do that I missed: dog sled rides on the ice, toboggan rides, ice skating (at the Olympic oval!). I think I’ll have to go back.

Be sure to visit TheSkiDiva.com, an internet forum especially for women skiers, where women skiers can connect with one another to talk about everything and anything ski-related.



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A conversation with Olympian Sarah Schleper

A conversation with Olympian Sarah Schleper
Competing in one Winter Olympics is pretty big stuff. But Sarah Schleper, member of the US Ski Team, has competed in not just one, or two, or even three Olympic games. Vancouver was her  fourth Winter Olympics. And that’s not all. She was also the only mom on the US Ski Team in Vancouver, and the only one born in the 1970’s.

A Colorado native, Sarah started with Ski Club Vail at age 11 and made her World Cup debut just five years later. In between, she won five Junior Olympics gold medals and was the Whistler Cup slalom champ in 1994. She also won a Junior Worlds silver medal and a World Cup race, and is a four-time US slalom champion. Skiing magazine dubbed her as “the great blonde hope … part Rasta, part Harpo, part Medusa, all Sarah.”

I recently asked this remarkable skier some questions:

Q: What’s your life been like since the Olympics?
A: Life is life. I keep on living, being a mother, a wife, and a ski racer. I finished out the World Cup season over in Garmisch, and the US Nationals at Lake Placid, New York. When Vail closed for the season, my family and I headed south for our favorite pastime, surfing. I would be in the water all day if it wasn’t for giving my husband a chance to surf while Lasse [her son]and I build castles in the sand.

Q: What was the Olympic experience like for you? Did you do as well as you expected?
A: All four of my Olympic experiences have been some of the most memorable competitions of my life. I always go to the Olympics gunning to win a medal, and for this I maintain a focus that is determined and blinded to a lot of the commotion surrounding an event as big as the Olympics. I enjoyed the Whistler venue and being at a mountain comparable to Vail in skiable acreage. The entertainment in Whistler was unbelievable. Junior Gong, one of my favorites, played a free concert that I saw with my brothers and my pa.As for the races, I was disappointed in my second run in the GS. I put myself in a great position to attack for a medal after the first run. I just didn’t let it run on the second run, which happened on the following day, because the weather was foggy and the visibility was zero. In the slalom, I opened my chin with a gate on my way down my first run. I think this actually relaxed any anxiety I had for the race. My face hurt and I had to concentrate on getting it patched. I made a super fast first run. In the course report for the second run, it was radioed up the hill that there was a hole on this hairpin on the last pitch. I really blew it because I hesitated going into that hole and just lost all my speed and moved from what could have been a medal position to 17th place. Of course, we always dream of gold medals and if we didn’t we wouldn’t be going to the lengths to train hard and go faster everyday. I tasted my dream, and I can live with the experience of racing as a mother, and being proud of myself for undertaking a comeback, with my family always a fast first ahead of my agenda to be number one.

Q: What was your favorite Olympic moment?
A: Team processing with teammates Hailey [Duke] and Megan [McJames]. The three of us have really become close. Sharing the experience with them was incredible — from team processing through the opening ceremonies, training, and races; in fact, all the way to the White House. It was great to share this part of my life with some great people.

Q:  You let out this sort of roar when you come out of the gate. Can you explain how that started and why you do it?
A: It’s the inherent nature of a lioness about to attack, and when I race my lioness comes out to play. It started a long time ago. At times I have felt too reserved to actually do it, but in the end if you can let out a roar before you go it releases the tension of the race and allows for a fluid mentality going through the gates.

Q:  I know you were the only one on the team born in the 70’s. What was it like being the “old lady” of the team? Are challenges different for you now than when you were younger?
A: I wouldn’t go as far to say I am an old lady. Sure, I’ve been around that block a few times, but I am as young as they get, really. Age is a number and my age comes from the seventies, but in reality I am infinite and I just like to go fast. My teammates are my closest friends and I hope I can help create a team that can charge in Europe. I am proud to be teammates with Lindsey Vonn who has achieved the unachievable. I have seen her grow from an innocent 7 year old little racergirl into a very well spoken champion and that has been an experience that changes lives; not only her’s but those around her, including inspiring teammates and anotehr generation of racers. I hope I have also inspired kids to go fast and maybe some mothers, as well.

Q: What are the challenges of being a ski racer and a mom? How do you balance the two?
A:  Thanks be to fate, my husband has been the key to our balance. Both Federico [her husband] and Lasse come on the road. We base out of Innsbruck, Austria, in the winter and live the circus lifestyle. Parenting has come very natural to both my husband and me. We are so proud of our son, and he is the most important part of our lives in every way. It’s hard to get going and get to the gym and things like that, but I have always had a strong will. When I set my mind to something I go at it with all my heart until it’s done. Being a mother has made me a stronger athlete in the end, the balance of life.

Q: You’ve had an incredible career. What would you say has been the highlight so far and why?
A: Highlights and lowlights, as long as we spread the light and share our insight.

Q: Have you started your son skiing yet? Any advice for moms getting their kids started?
A: My brother, Hunter, had Lasse in ski boots and outside Buzz’s [her dad’s shop in Vail] on skis at 14 months. He’s had over 30 days of skiing this winter, both with reins and in between my and my husband’s legs. We never push him to ski. If he wants to go in after one run, we take him in. And when he wants to stay out, we let him rip. I found when we ski with other kids he’s inspired to ski by himself. He loves being with kids so he wants to ski in ski school. I told him he has to be able to stop by himself before he can start ski school. He practices stopping in his shoes. I used the reins, but in the end I found it easier just to have him in between my legs and then when we hit catwalks or places where he can go by himself, I can let go but just stay around him to catch him.

Q: How do you keep in shape during the off season? What’ s your favorite activity?
A:  I would surf every day, every hour, if I could. It’s my passion and I have a love affair with the ocean. I also like riding mountain bikes, water skiing, dirt bikes, swimming, basketball, weightlifting, runnning, doing quickness excersises, circuits, core every morning before I ski, volleyball. I love it all. I am very competitive and very focused.

Q: How would you compare surfing to skiing?
A: My skiing is very jealous of the piece of my heart I give to surfing. They are both spiritual. Being outside with nature and being a piece of the bigger planet and universe has me captivated for life.

Q: What’s next for you?
A:  I won’t be sure if I’m going to continue as a ski racer until later in the summer. I gave this last year everything I had and I am still decompressing and thinking about where I want to be in ten years. I feel I could go on to Sochi, but I want my body to agree.

Q: For the gear heads out there: what do you ski on, when you’re not racing? And when you are?
A: I race on 158 Rossignol Slaloms and 182 Rossignol GS skis. I like the S7’s for deep powder days, and S5’s for an all mountain day. I love running my GS skis for cruising Vail.

Q: You have this amazing hair. Do you do anything special to keep it that way?
A: Au natural, I guess. I never brush it. and I like it when it’s a little frizzy.

I also asked Sarah to complete the following thoughts:

My favorite guilty pleasure is: dancing.
If I wasn’t a ski racer, I’d be: lost.
My favorite after ski meal is: Pasta when in Italy. knoedel when in Austria, my pa’s elk stew when I am at home.
Don’t ask me to: stop.

Don’t worry, Sarah — we won’t!

If you’d like to find out more about Sarah, be sure to visit her website here.



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