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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Medal Times part II: awards for the best amnd worst of week two of the Vancouver Games

Posted By on Sat, Feb 27, 2010 at 4:31 PM

As a dedicated Nordic nerd, the best story of the entire games for me was the success of the U.S. men's combined team. What's so notable about their impressive showing is how long and hard they worked towards a goal of winning Olympic medals.

The team got an early, and historic, boost with Johnny Spillane's silver the "small hill" event. Teammate Todd Lodwick's fourth place (a mere 1.5 seconds out of first) and Bill Demong's sixth place finish made for a impressive overall showing.

Then Spillane, Lodwick, Demong were joined by teammate Brett Camerota for a silver medal in the combined team event. Bad skis did Demong during the ski leg of the two-part event.

And just when Nordic ski fans didn't think it could get any better, Demong bounced back and he and Spillane went 1-2 in the "large hill" combined event.

When all was said and done, it was a spectacular overall showing for a group of well-deserving, athletes in a very demanding sport.

And to make sure that there's Bend twist to the story- Demong rode in the 2009 Cascade Cycling Classic.

Moving on to the alpine side, how about double platinum for Bode Miller? What a showing for a guy whose career was on the rocks (allegedly) after the 2006 Torino Games.

A former Olympian e-mailed from Vermont after Miller's combined gold: "Bravo Bode. Now maybe the U.S. Ski team will let him use his bus again."

The bus reference is to Miller's pre-Torino Games World Cup season where he traveled race-to-race in his own camper van defying U.S. Ski Team rules and regulations.

Bode's showing at Whistler eased golden girl Lindsey Vonn off the front pages and enshrined him as America's all-time best male alpine skier.

Now to lead and double lead medals to NBC-TV for yet again completely misjudging the American viewing public and not moving with the times. And easily the worst moment of any Games of late was the Bob Costas on a seaplane/Al Michaels on the shore lead in to last Monday's prime time broadcast. Silly, stupid stuff at best.

For an interesting take on NBC and their failure at the Vancouver Games, go to

Back to platinum, this one going to the Canadian cross-country team for their overall excellent finishes and performance. No, they didn't win any medals but they proved competitive.

But what, you might ask, happened to the U.S. Cross-Country Team despite the happy face being put on their performance by those in the ski blogosphere?

America's best performance in cross-country came 34 years ago when Bill Koch won a silver medal in the men's 30km at the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

A couple of years later Koch and current MBSEF cross-country coach Dan Simoneau went 1-2 at the Swedish National Championships and it looked like America's cross-country program had arrived.

Perhaps it was too much too soon and it'll be years before another podium finish.

Platinum to two rookie Olympians, twenty year olds Alex Harvey and Tommy Ford.

Canadian cross-country skier Harvey placed 9th in the 30km Pursuit and was on the fourth place finishing relay team. He is the son of two-time summer (cycling) and two-time winter (x-c skiing) Olympian Pierre Harvey, who also happens to be of the nicest people you can imagine. According to athletes at the Games, Alex Harvey inherited not only his father's amazing athletic ability but also his fine character.

Tommy Ford's platinum is well deserved as he showed that he has a very promising future.

Expect to see Ford and Harvey on or near the podium in 2014.

And finally, double lead to NBC-TV and it's hockey commentators calling the US-Canada opening round game, the new "miracle on ice". It was very good game but had not nearly the same impact of the fabled USA-USSR medal round game at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

And least we forget, what about the 1960 U.S. hockey team's miraculous gold medal performance at Squaw Valley?

Now off to watch USA-Canada gold medal game. Let the pucks fall where they may.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Medal Time: awards for the best and the worst from week one of the Winter Olympics

Posted By on Sat, Feb 20, 2010 at 5:04 PM

It's time to award platinum medals to the best and lead medals to the worst the past week at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver

Platinums for guts go to Petra Magjic, Annya Pearson and Lindsey Vonn.

Slovenia cross-country racer Madjic took a horrific fall into a ditch during training for the women's sprint competition and was airlifted to the hospital. On her return to the venue, she was allowed, under Olympic rules, to get a start in the event finals and took the bronze despite having three broken ribs and a punctured lung. Epic.

Swede Pearson took a bruising fall in the women's alpine downhill (in which she broke a ski) and came back for bronze the next day in the super combined.

Vonn gutted it out despite her painful shin injury winning the downhill and being competitive in the super combined until hooking a gate.

Platinums for stick in your ear got to Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller.

Four years ago in Torino, NBC talking heads ragged on Mancuso for being, "too loose" and for wearing a tiara during the alpine ski slalom final. Ooops, she won. So tiara (now painted on her helmet) in place she gets two silvers in Vancouver.

Also the subject of much network negative talk, Bode Miller came back to prove he's the real deal and now the most medal winning U.S. alpine skier ever.

Platinums for a great repeat performances under pressure to Shawn White and Shani Davis.

White simply killed it in the snowboad halfpipe and Davis remained unflappable in his quest for a repeat speed skating gold.

Platinum for reporting goes to The Oregonian for not going all Oregon-o- phobic about each Oregon athlete participating in the Games. Instead the paper gave readers an honest appraisal of each athletes chances. Further kudos to the paper for stating, correctly, that" "Tommy Ford is the only born and raised Oregonian at the Games."

Platinum to men's Super G winner Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal for a compelling comeback story and for being one good looking big dude who gives a great interview. If he lived in the U.S. he'd be a media darling.

Platinum to Swiss jumper Simon Amman whose win of both jumps in 2002 in Salt Lake was called a fluke. Then he flubbed at Torino and got more heat. So what's he do? He comes back to win the small hill gold at these Games. A super geek with an infectious sense of joy, Amman is a super flyer.

Platinum to Canadian x-c skier Sara Renner for her excellent tenth place finish in the women's 15 km pursuit. Renner's family runs the Mount Assiniboine Lodge, one of the coolest places to backcountry ski in the world.

Platinum to the curlers for making sure there's one sport you don't have to be in great shape to participate in. Noted one U.S. men's team members: "nobody would take us for athletes when we walk down the street."

Now to the lead medals.

Lead to KTVZ for perpetuating the myth that Chris Klug is a "Bend native". Wrong. Klug was born in Vail, Colorado was raised in Bend and now calls, except for a few weeks a year in Sisters, Aspen, Colorado home. (best wishes to the former Mt. View quarterback and all-state footballer in his races yet to come)

Lead to the Olympic organizers for staging the hockey event on a small (read NHL sized) rink. The beauty of Olympic hockey is the big ice sheet and more of a passing and finesse game.

Lead to El Nino for the weather, which while great for spectators in many instances was tough for on-snow competitors.

Lead to America's on-line cross-country press for putting a happy face on the U.S. Team's lackluster performance. After a 56th place finish, one female skier was quoted as saying: "the Games were the dawning of a new era for the U.S. team in internationally competition." Really.

Now to NBC-TV which gets a few platinum and a few lead.

Platinum for their website which was packed with stories and videos minutes after an event ended.

Platinum for decent coverage of low profile (read no figure skating) sports like biathlon.

Lead for yet again trotting out the tried and now very tired studio host, emotionally charged athlete profile, sappy format. It hasn't changed since I worked for the network at the 1988 Summer games. It's time for an update folks.

Finally on a somber note, just prior to the Games, 1964 alpine ski slalom bronze medalist Jimmy Huega passed away. One of ski sport's nicest people, Huega was diagnosed with MS near the end of his competitive career and spent the rest of his life as an advocate for MS research and treatment.
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Monk and Pops: Two American masters profiled in new biographies

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 12:12 AM

When it comes to musicians who left an indelible imprint on America music, jazzmen Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk come to mind. Yet both have, to a greater degree, been widely overlooked and/or misunderstood by the general public.

USC professor Robin D.G. Kelley sets out to shed new light on Monk in his new book "Thelonious Monk, the life and times of an American original (ISBN 978-0-684-83190-9).

Not so much uncovering covering new material, writer Terry Teachout "Pops, the life of Louis Armstrong (ISBN 978-0-15-101089-9) brings renewed insight into the man and his music.

In Armstrong's (Pops) case that means emphasizing the tremendous effect he had on jazz and jazz musicians long before he became the famous for his gravelly voiced interpretations of popular songs. It was during the late-in-life pop period of Armstrong's life as an American pop icon that he was denigrated by younger African-American musicians for being a "Tom". In fact, as Teachout points out, Armstrong was far from a "Tom" instead being a naturally a happy go lucky guy who loved putting on a show.

Several years ago, a PBS show paid tribute to Armstrong. Universally the trumpeters interviewed from old schoolers to avant-garde players Lester Bowie of the Chicago Art Ensemble praised Pops as an influence and the man who took jazz in a whole new direction in the late 1920s much as Miles Davis would do in 1960 with the issuance of "Kind of Blue".

In the "Pops" afterward section, Teachout notes: "one of the purposes of this book is to explain to a new generation why all the praise of Armstrong still rings true."

For Monk, Kelley gets behind the pianist's often-weird hipster persona and into the fact that his music bridged the gap between the old and new in a most unique way.

The longstanding myth about Monk is that his music was totally original. Kelley puts that to rest noting: "The myth is attractive as it is absurd. The truth is Thelonious Monk possessed an impressive knowledge of, and appreciation for, Western classical music, not to mention an encyclopedic knowledge of hymns and gospel music, American popular songs and a variety of obscure art songs that defy categorization."

Monk also paid tribute often and humorously to the grand masters of stride and other early forms of American jazz piano and well as making technically masterful yet hilarious takes on schmaltzy old pop songs.

In regard to paying tribute to the great stride tradition. Monk followed classical composer Igor Stravinsky's dictum that tradition: "is not a relic of a past irretrievably gone: it is a living force that animates and informs the present."

"Monk" took Professor Kelley fourteen years to write and is an absolute marvel of detailed information. The book has an academic tone that makes the reading 451 pages of small type sometimes a bit of a slog.

On the other hand, Teachout's book has a strong narrative feel to it making it an easy read.

In both books, there's the similar theme of early poverty and the numerous obstacles faced by African-Americans during both men's lifetimes. A sidebar to Monk's musical life is his battles with drugs, the police and a never properly diagnosed bi-polar condition.

As for Armstrong, he was perhaps the greatest champion of smoking weed to ever come onto the planet. Once it became illegal in the early 1930s, he too had his share of run-ins with the law but remained a faithful "Viper" to the end.

Pops was, according to friends and musicians he played with, the sweetest most genuine person imaginable. Who else could have gotten away with saying: "no daddy but we're working on that," when the Pope asked him if he and his wife had any children.

Later he told the Pope, "Hey Pops, I gotta split to get to my gig."

Listening to Monk playing "Blue Monk" today proves that his work is timeless. And seeing the Clint Eastwood produced film on Monk ("Straight No Chaser") or "A Great Day in Harlem" are nice waya to enhance reading Kelley's book.

Listening to Armstrong 1928 recordings of "Potato Head Blues" and "West Ends Blues" show the pre-pop song master playing like a man possessed and pushing jazz in a whole new direction.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Firing Line: guns ablaze at the Maston

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2010 at 6:56 PM



A year ago a father and son were mountain bike riding on the Maston trail when the father heard a bullet zing overhead.  He braked to a halt and grabbed his son off his bike and both fell to the ground. 


Moments later a woman riding with her dog came on the father and son and hearing a gunshot, joined them prone in the dirt.


When the shooting subsided and the mountain bike riders felt it safe enough to ride the short distance half mile to the informal Maston Trailhead, the father called the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Department who dispatched an officer to the scene. The deputy checked the area for shooters and made an incident report.


After hearing about the incident I went out the next day and found a target practice site strewn with a couple of dozen recently fired large caliber shell casings.


More recently Phil of Phil’s Trailhead fame came close to some heavy target shooting on a seldom-used section of Maston trail. Other local mountain bikers have reported the same situation.


So what gives? Is shooting allowed on the Maston Allotment? And if it is, shouldn’t it be in a restricted area? If not, why isn’t the area posted and some form of enforcement in play?


My first conversation with Bill Dean of the BLM office in Prineville yielded: “there are no restrictions as to target shooting or hunting on the Maston. “


He added that there are no plans to change that policy. That noted, he did indicate that when the Cline Buttes Recreation Plan is finalized in the near future and a permanent Maston trailhead is established: “there’s a good chance the target shooting will go away.”


Most of what Dean said was rescinded later that day in a follow-up call. After checking further into the Bureau’s policies, he stated that: “the Maston is indeed closed to the discharging of firearms unless a person is legally hunting.”


That’s somewhat of a relief but it doesn’t mean target shooters are going to suddenly disappear from the Maston. Dean was quick to note that the BLM had, to date, done little to get the word out to shooters in general that target practice is a no-no at the Maston. That will change, he reiterated, when the Clines Buttes Recreation Plan is adopted.


Until then riders need to be wary, particularly on spur trail sections of the Maston closer to the Deschutes river canyon.


In spite of interjecting a note of paranoia, the primary trail at the Maston is riding extremely well these days.


And if the Maston isn’t appealing, the Horse Butte loop is in great shape.  Note that given the mild winter, both the Maston and Horse Butte will probably be no longer suitable (read dusty and sandy) by early April instead of early June as in years past.





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Firing Line: Guns Ablaze at the Maston

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2010 at 4:18 PM

A year ago a father and son were mountain bike riding on the Maston trail when the father heard a bullet zing overhead. He braked to a halt and grabbed his son off his bike and both fell to the ground.

Moments later a woman riding with her dog came on the father and son and hearing a gunshot, joined them prone in the dirt.

When the shooting subsided and the mountain bike riders felt it safe enough to ride the short half mile to the informal Maston trailhead, the father called the Deschutes County Sheriff's Department who dispatched an officer to the scene. The deputy checked the area for shooters and made an incident report.

After hearing about the incident, I went out the next day and found a target practice site strewn with a couple of dozen recently fired large-caliber shell casings.

More recently, Phil of Phil's Trailhead fame came close to some heavy target shooting on a seldom-used section of Maston trail. Other local mountain bikers have reported the same situation.

So what gives? Is shooting allowed on the Maston allotment? And if it is, shouldn't it be in a restricted area? If not, why isn't the area posted and some form of enforcement policy?

"Currently, there are no restrictions as to target shooting or hunting on the Maston," says Bill Dean of the BLM office in Prineville.

And, he added, there are no plans to change that policy. That noted, he did indicate that when the Cline Buttes Recreation Plan is finalized in the near future and a permanent Maston trailhead is established: "There's a good chance the target shooting will go away."

So until then riders need to be wary, particularly on spur trail sections of the Maston closer to the Deschutes river canyon. In spite of interjecting a note of paranoia, the primary trail at the Maston is riding extremely well these days.

And if the Maston isn't appealing, the Horse Butte loop is in great shape. Note that given the mild winter, both the Maston and Horse Butte will probably be no longer suitable (read dusty and sandy) by early April instead of early June as in years past.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Five Rings: Non-Medal Winter Olympic Moments-Part II

Posted By on Tue, Feb 16, 2010 at 5:16 PM

Easily the most fun Winter Olympics I ever worked were the 1988 Calgary Games. The organizers of those Games came up with the brilliant idea of erecting a big tent at most venues for pre- and post-event parties. Granted, the pre-event parties were more coffee-and-donut affairs, but the post-event parties were like mini Mardi Gras celebrations particularly when a crowd of spectators from the nation whose athletes had done well that day showed up ready to let 'er rip. And they did.

Weaving my way back home on a path along the Bow River after the post men's 30-kilometer cross-country celebratory party at the Canmore Nordic Centre, I came on odd sight- five fur-glad Russians surrounding a fifth person who had stripped down to his briefs.

For a second, he stood in the sub zero temperatures in his Soviet version of tighty whities before tiptoeing down the riverbank in his bare feet and diving into the river. After a short swim, the man got out of the water and crawled back up to his friends who thrust a bottle of vodka in his hands.

"It's bet," one of the fur-glad Russians said to me in his best English, "If boy he coach gets medal, he swim."

I dismissed swimming as a way to stay fit during the Games in favor of cross-country skiing on the Spray Lakes trail network a few kilometers above Canmore. Everything was going along smoothly until I ran two armed men blocking the trail.

"So this is how it all ends," I said to myself, "Not with a whimper, but with bang."

The gun-toting gents quickly explained that they weren't there to shoot but to kick everyone off the trail system, all 35 kilometers of it, while Great Britain's Princess Anne got in her afternoon workout.

I've always wondered if the princess was surprised that she never got passed or passed anyone during her workout.

So much for that it was time to drive to a Calgary suburb for dinner at a house rented by a ski company to entertain clients and the press during the Games. At dinner, the ski company 's president announced that Italian alpine ski slalom superstar Italian Alberto Tomba said he might drop by the house that evening.

Having been given an assignment by a New York fashion magazine to try and get a photo of playboy Tomba off the slopes in a party setting, this looked like a chance to get the "big" shot.

Tomba finally arrived accompanied by the squeal of tires and the slamming of car doors. He burst into the house and headed straight for the living room where he gave everyone the Euro two-cheek kiss hello.

Sensing that this would be one of those in-out wham-bang celeb walk throughs, I begged two attractive women who had arrived at the house just after Tomba to stand by the front door for ten seconds.

They agreed just as Tomba came striding toward the door yelling "Ciao" at the top of his lungs. I got his attention, pointed to the girls and my camera and he obligingly put his arms around both them and smiled happily. Two shots and he was gone.

Tomba's ritual house tour took all of one minute and fifteen seconds. The images made it into print two days later and a nice check awaited me when I got back to Oregon.

That was it for celebrity moments other than when the King and Queen of Sweden deigned to come to the cross-country ski venue party tent after one of their countrymen (Gunde Svan) won the men's 50-kilometer race.

I would have asked the queen dance, but those scary secret service guys who had guarded Princess Anne had switched allegiance to Sweden and had her majesty surrounded.

Moving west and fourteen years later, the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City will always stand out in memory because of me being bamboozled big time.

It happened at the men's 30-kilometer race on a picture perfect clear, cold winter day trackside where I was joined by my best pal from Rhinelander, Wisconsin and a couple of old friends from California.

Some sixty skiers surged forth in a mass start and within the first 500 meters the German-turned-Spaniard, Johann Muhlegg had charged ahead. By the time he reached the long kilometer plus uphill where we were stationed, he had a 100-meter lead on the field.

By lap two of four, he had a 300-meter lead. It was then I got out my cell phone and called Gary Bonacker back at Sunnyside Sports in Bend.

"Gary, I've never seen anything like it," I yelled, "This guy is destroying the field. It's like Jordan scoring a hundred points against the best team in the NBA or some African distance runner winning the New York Marathon by 10 minutes. It's the most lopsided and impressive win in the history of cross-country ski competition."

And I was there to witness it and had made some great action images. Ca-ching.

Well, not so fast. After the race my friends and I went for an informal ski with retired Norwegian superstar Bjorn Daehlie, the most medal-winning Winter Olympics athlete in history.

That evening, at dinner my friend from Wisconsin asked Daehlie what he thought of Mulegg's performance earlier in the day.

"Well," Daehlie said calmly, "He seemed to have had a bit of assistance."

Looking back my friend from Wisconsin says: "I'll never forget Daehlie's discomfort afterwards in talking about it. I thought at the time he was simply miffed about the Norwegian boys not doing well but I felt that he somehow knew that Muhlegg was juiced."

Juiced? Turns out Muhlegg was running on jet fuel while his competitors were running on low-octane unleaded. He got caught and his 30-kilometer, and later his 50-kilometer, gold medals were taken away. And I still have some 40 valueless images of him and feel cheated after thinking his performance was extraordinary.

Far better in one sense, but equally deflating in another, was an experience at the 1980 Lake Placid Games with a "clean" skier.

I arrived at Placid feeling pretty fit having trained hard knowing that there'd be little time for any form of exercise, save for schlepping camera gear to venues, once the Games began.

I decided to get in one last cross-country ski before the games started and to do it on the designated Olympic 15-kilometer course.

It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon as I skied off at what I considered race pace. With burning lungs and sweat pouring down my face I had just gone by the 12-kilometer mark when I was passed by then reigning world 50 - kilometer champion Sven Ake-Lundback of Sweden.

I knew it was Lundback because of his skiing style that had been described by one of his coaches as: "Like a monkey having sex with a basketball."

Whatever his style, he went by me like I was standing still and quickly faded out of sight.

That night Lundback and his wife Lena came for a sauna and dinner at the house where I was staying. After dinner, I mentioned that I'd seen him out training that day and wondered if he was skiing at race pace.

"No," he replied, "I was just having a relaxed tour."

"A relaxed tour." It was then I that there was this immense gulf between the cross-country sport's greats and way back, also-rans like me. Any thought that I could really ski fast was dashed.

And that feeling only got worse as Lundback proved to be a middle of the pack skier at those Games.

I began to wonder what it would have been like to be passed by one of the medal winners. The wind they generated would have probably knocked me ten yards off the tracks into the soft snow only to be buried and found frozen solid during the spring thaw.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

A Ride For Life: Back to mountain biking after cancer

Posted By on Mon, Feb 15, 2010 at 6:03 PM

On November 9, 2008 one of my favorite mountain biking partners called to say that he couldn't ride that day as he was dealing with a bad strep throat.

It became so bad that two days later he went to see a doctor and by day's end had been given the news that he had stage three, rapidly advancing to stage four, throat cancer.

He called to give me that news several days afterward and then literally fell off the radar as he began to undergo chemo and radiation treatment.

I'd call him from time-to-time and leave a messages offering to do what I could but I never got a call back. Unknown to me, he'd made decision to go through his battle with the aid from only his immediate family and doctors.

Then this past October I got a call from him saying he would be ready to ride again soon. That call was followed by silence until last Wednesday when he called and said, "I'm ready. Let's go."

And we did this past Saturday, the two of us joined by a longtime mutual friend. It was as if nothing happened. We chugged along at a moderate pace making with the nasty wisecracks about each other's riding ability, retelling the latest bad jokes we'd heard and solving the world's problems.

Our ride took us down a seldom, if ever, used singletrack in the middle Deschutes River canyon. It was a fun ride with my cancer survivor friend riding with the same abandon he ridden with before his protracted battle.

At one point, he took a huge beater fall that landed him ten feet down a steep bank. Once we ascertained that he was o.k., our mutual friend quipped: "all we need is for you to get killed riding your bike after beating the big C."

We rode on without incident and ended the day with beers at a local pub. It was a joyous occasion. A friend was back and doing well despite some hair loss and shedding twenty pounds.

On Sunday, he and I took another ride. This one a bit harder with a couple of major climbs that test bike handling skills and your fitness. He passed both tests with flying colors.

During the ride, he talked about how much of his life for the past 14 months were somewhat of a blur. Now his stated focus was on being fit once again and enjoying not only being back in the saddle but also being out with friends.

From friend's point of views, having him back and back in the saddle is a true blessing.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Games On: A Look Back at One Winter Olympic Game's Non-Medal Moments

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2010 at 6:57 PM

As the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games approach, memories of the five games I've worked came flooding back. And like most memories, those from my very first (winter 1980) Olympic Games are still the most vivid.

The 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics are best known to most Americans for the U.S hockey team's "miracle on ice" gold medal quest. Those who follow individual winter sports closely best remember the games for American speed skater Eric Heiden's ( record five gold medals. Those of us who worked those games will always remember them for the lack of organization that led to chaos, gridlock, frayed nerves, and two long weeks.

Even before the competitions began, the Olympic bus system that was supposed to whisk people around venue-to-venue had become a disaster. It simply wasn't functioning. Spectators and reporters trying to get to the opening ceremonies had wait three to four hours to get a bus.

The story of how bad things were transportation wise in Lake Placid became front-page news and grist for the nightly television news shows.

Tempers flared and fights broke out at bus stops. And to make matters worse, there were dozens of vans running all over town empty. The vans belonged to ABC-TV (The official Games host country broadcast network) and even though they ran empty ninety percent of the time were off-limits to everyone but ABC staff.

The afternoon of the day the first events were scheduled, a frustrated mob of officials from various nations and the press corps reporters started giving the ABC-TV van drivers a hard time at the Press Center bus stop.

I was standing near one of the ABC vans when eight huge, mean looking Albanian Olympic team officials dressed in full-length fur coats and fur hats a la baddies in a James Bond movie bulldozed past me, knocked an ABC van driver out of the way and got into his van.

The driver began yelling and pleading with the Albanians who sat there in stony we-know-no-English silence.

The biggest and meanest looking Albanian (remember this was still the Soviet days and Cold War Communist paranoia still lurked in many minds) motioned to me and said: "you help us. We go Keene, New York."

I told the now near hysterical van driver, " you see those guys? If I were you, I'd take them to Keene."

"Keene," The driver squalled, "That's over a two-hour round trip and if I make it I'll lose my job."

The driver looked at his potential passengers and let out a defeated sigh as he decided it was a no-win situation. As he closed the van's side door the biggest and probably the meanest Albanian stopped him and said to me, "You come with us. We take you home."

I hoped that meant to where I was staying and not Keene, and sure enough fifteen minutes later I was waving goodbye to the fur clad Albanians on their way to Keene.

That's how the Games began. Two days I got another ABC-TV van ride, this one legitimate with two network's color commentators, Peter Graves and "Dandy" Don Meredith.

At the time, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback was the toast of the network for his unscripted, and often off-color, commentator work on Monday Night Football.

In their infinite wisdom, ABC execs had decided to add Meredith to the Olympic broadcast team to bring in viewers who might not otherwise watch any Olympic coverage.

Meredith did bring in viewers and also make a lot of ridiculous on-air statements and observations about the athletes and the sports. Some of his poor performance was due to his lack of interest and background work, and some was due to the fact that he was hitting the juice pretty hard.

When the van arrived at ABC broadcast headquarters, Graves and I assisting the former Cowboy great out of the van and onto a snowmobile where he promptly passed out.

I snapped a few photographs of America's favorite football announcer and hoped I'd find a market for them. I didn't.

Meanwhile things were getting interesting back at the house I shared with an American ski writer and a contingent of Finnish ski and winter sports representatives.

The Finns had rented the house and added a first class sauna. As pre-Games training got underway, athletes from Finland, Sweden and the Soviet Union started coming to the house at all hours to take a sauna.

Their presence made some of my reporting work much easier as I could interview them, through the multi-lingual Finns who had rented the house, in an informal setting.

When I wasn't doing interviews, I was down at either the Kodak or Ilford photo labs checking on film since my primary job at the Games was to document much of it photographically for Ski magazine. Since Ski wouldn't use the images for some time, there was no real rush on them.

There was a second job taking images for Ski Racing's daily newspaper. Ski Racing ran black and whites so I'd shoot an event and then hustle down to the Ilford lab to sit to wait for negatives to be exposed. Then I'd pick what I thought best for printing and shipping across town to Ski Racing's presses.

It was nerve-racking work. An event might end at noon, then it'd take and hour to get to the lab, an hour wait and then fifteen minutes of picking images all to meet a 3 p.m. press deadline.

Kodak's color lab was located in the basement of the local high school whose upper two floors served as the pressroom. So you could take film in, drop it off, and then head upstairs to eat and lounge around the pressroom until your film was ready.

The main (upper) press room was linked by an enclosed skywalk to the ice rink. A reporter or photographer could walk over to catch a hockey game or figure skating and be back at work writing a story or going over film in a couple of minutes.

As the first week unfolded, all the big names in sports writing and sports photography showed up in the press room - icons like Jim Murray of the L.A. Times, Walter Looss of Sports Illustrated and Red Smith of The New York Times.

Smith was the recognized dean of American sportswriters and a legend in the newspaper business. I wanted to meet him so one day I ventured upstairs to the area where Times photographers told me he worked.

Sure enough, he was there - asleep, head down on his typewriter with a still smoldering cigar in an ashtray next to a glass half full of whiskey.

Perhaps the most memorable N.Y. Times moment came days later when my pal Glenn Jobe, a U.S. biathlete, was interviewed by a Times reporter.

Jobe, a California rancher's son, had a mischievous streak so when asked what type of rifle he used for biathlon, he told the earnest Times reporter: "It's some old can plinker I had laying around the ranch."

The next day, a short Times profile on Jobe dutifully reported the lanky Californian used an exotic, one-of-a-kind "Canplinker" rifle.

Most reporters weren't interested in can plinkers but in the developing Eric Heiden story. Wisconsin native Heiden was on track to win five gold medals, the most ever by an athlete in a winter Olympiad.

The speed skating oval was packed every time Heiden raced and the medal ceremonies the evening after each of his wins was a crush of people.

Figuring I needed to get to the medal ceremonies well ahead of time to get a good sightline for photographs of Heiden's fifth and final medal award, I arrived at the podium area an hour before the medal presentation.

I got a front row position in the photographer's area knowing that I would get the money shot. Minutes before the ceremony began four photographers from a Soviet bloc publication pushed their way through the crown of photographers and lifted me up off the snow and deposited me about twenty feet back from my prime photo location.

As they took over my place, it dawned on me that Darwinism applied to photographing big sports moments and that I need to develop sharp elbows and a menacing presence to survive.

The Games slogged towards the start of their second week with slightly improved bus service and more of a party atmosphere. Taking the edge off the daily pressure to get film out and deal with lack of sleep, bad food and crowds, the nightly press parties given by different countries winter sports federations began.

Norway kicked things off with a formal-coat and tie required-stiff evening. The food was OK, the after-dinner speeches long and clichéd.

Italy's big press bash was way different. Dress was casual and the food and wine incredible. Then came the dreaded speech time, only in this case a pleasant surprise.

The chairman of Italian Winter Sports Federation began his remarks with the usual stuff about being happy to be in Lake Placid, happy for his fellow countrymen, etc.

Then he got off on a tangent about his love for winter sport and how deeply sport had affected his life. The more animated he became the more emotional he became. He arrived at the end of his remarks with tears streaming down his face and his audience erupting in wild cheers.

Wow, how to top that? No way, so it was time to shift gears and start the party earlier. That meant Best visiting the cross-country waxing cabins early in the morning with Hans Tobler, president of the Swiss wax company Toko.

Tobler carried wax a large duffel bag I assumed was full was full of sample waxes. It wasn't.

And at every stop he'd chat with the wax technicians and then pull a bottle of brandy out of the duffel and present it to them. They would respond by offering us a cup of coffee with a splash of the amber liquid and the day was off to a boozy start and me wondering how the hell the wax masters ever got their work done.

At night the booze flowed freely at the Finlandia house where the vodka company of the same name welcomed one and all. One evening after being getting edged out for the gold medal in the closest individual cross-country ski race in history (the men's 15 kilometer), 6 foot 6 inch 220-pound Finn Juha Mieto raised a glass and said of his narrow defeat, "Well, at least I beat the Soviets."

The next morning, bleary-eyed and all, I accompanied former Swedish cross-country team member Jarl Svenson to the Swedish house.

It was like visiting a college frat house. At the breakfast table sat a lone person eating a bowl of Cheerios while a couple of guys sat around watching T.V in the living room.

But this was not your typical frat house, as the guy at the breakfast table was none other than Ingemar Stenmark, arguably the greatest alpine ski racer ever, who grunted, by way of welcome something like, "Boy you guys are sure up early."

We were, and it was for me to photograph cross-country skier Thomas Wassberg with the gold medal he'd won by a nose over Finn Mieto the day before in the instantly famous men's 30-kilometer race.

We found Wassberg who when asked to produce and pose with the gold medal reached into his rear pocket of his jeans and extracted it, rumbled ribbon and all.

"That's just the way he is," Svenson said, "Laid back, not too pretentious."

Back at my Placid house, Svenson joined in what had now become known as the daily sauna contest. Athletes were challenging one another to see who could take the most heat. It was usually the Finns versus the Soviets in an unspoken battle for the rights to being the most sauna macho.

One afternoon as a thick steam vapor enveloped the sauna, American biathlete John Ruger crept off the sauna's lower bench and wriggled underneath it.

There he lay as the heat level rose and one by one the Soviets quit the sauna followed closely by the Finns. Then when all had vacated the sauna, Ruger crawled out from under the bench and strode triumphantly out of the sauna into a room of stunned sauna machos.

The sauna encounters wound down the evening before the final Games competition: The men's 50-kilometer cross-country race.

Rather than try to get a bus to the cross-country venue, I decided to hitchhike. I stuck my thumb out and was immediately picked up by three reporters for Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet daily newspaper.

As we drove to the venue they talked about how rough the past two weeks had been, how tired they'd become of all the pettiness of the security personnel, their lack of sleep and the inability to get decent food, etc and how, as a reward for delivering under such stress, that they had been given a week's vacation in the Caribbean by their publisher.

We rolled into the cross-country venue and were immediately hassled by a security guard asking for a parking permit and identification. That cut it. Without a word, the three Swedes piled out of the car and started moving menacingly toward the security guard.

The guard backpedaled for a few steps then turned and started running as fast as he could with the Swedes chasing him screaming like madmen.

As the security guard faded from view, the Swedes returned to the car and asked that I forgive them for their display brought on by, "How do you say it in English? " asked one, "Enough is enough?"

The race over I was going to hitch a ride home when a representative from Adidas-Germany asked if I would take photos of Soviet skier Alexander Tikanov who had won his fourth Olympic biathlon gold medal the day before.

That meant going over to the official Soviet house for a party honoring Tikanov. It also meant a ride to the party in an Adidas van stuffed with shoes and cross-country ski boots.

The man from Adidas-Germany drove, U.S. Adidas rep John Estle rode shotgun and I rode in the back with the shoes and boots.

Moving slowly out of the venue parking lot, the van was suddenly surrounded by a group of about forty Soviet spectators demanding free shoes and boots. They could not be not be dissuaded by the Adidas man despite his fluency in Russian.

When they started rocking the van, I got Estle to crawl into the back with me and on the count of three we kicked opened the van's rear doors and quickly jettisoned about three dozen boxes of shoes and boots which the mob descended on allowing us to escape.

It was an escape to Moscow and the big party meant lots vodka was in order and an insight into what wimps we Americans are when it comes to drinking.

All I remember is after a hour of warm-up boozing with the Soviets they were ready to get to the real partying while I found myself wobbly legged and delirious on the snow in front of the house with a couple of equally impaired American biathletes.

The next day a van was assigned to take a group of press people including me to Burlington, Vermont to get flights home.

It was a somber lot completely beaten down by two weeks of grueling work. Too many late nights, too many boozers and working under what often seemed like dire circumstances.

A pall hung over the ride until we entered passed a sign saying "Welcome to Vermont". Then a man sitting behind me asked the driver if he'd please pull over.

When the van rolled to a stop, the man asked that everyone join him outside on the roadside. We did.

Once assembled, he pointed to the Vermont welcome sign and screamed: "Don't you realize we're out of that hellhole of Lake Placid, that we're free people again, that the f_____g Olympics are over."

He then pulled a half dozen bottles of champagne from the backpack he was carrying and we all began to shout, hug, dance and drink. The Games were indeed over and what a relief.

So ended my 1980 Winter Olympic Games. By the way, I didn't see the famous USA-USSR "Miracle on Ice" game. I walked over and caught the first period and then headed back to work, only to have that interrupted by the mass press uproar that occurred two hours later when the game ended.

Hey, work came first.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Big Adventure: going high, going solo, saving your neck, and some boozing.

Posted By on Sat, Feb 6, 2010 at 4:16 PM

Here in the dog days of winter it's fun to learn how some adventurous people have been spending or plan to spend their time.

For starters alpinist Apa Sherpa is planning to go for a record twentieth successful ascent of Mount Everest this spring. Nepal native Sherpa, 50, now resides in Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile after setting the world record of 1,000 days at sea (that's 2 years, 7 months and 4 days), New York Artist, adventurer and ace sailor Reid Stowe has decided to stay afloat until June 17, 2010 at which time he'll sail into New York harbor.

The previous record for continuous sailing without touching land was a mere 657 days. When he set off, Stowe's girlfriend was with him. When it became apparent that she had become pregnant, a rescue boat was called in to retrieve her. The couple now have a 19-month old son.

Moving onto snow, American Ryan Waters (27) and Norwegian Cecilie Skog (35) have completed the first unassisted ski traverse of Antarctica. The 840-mile trip took them 70 days.

About the time Waters and Skog were off on their ski adventure, a group of Aussie scientists in Antarctica found the wreckage of the first plane ever flown there in 1912.

And what would an adventure story about colder climes be without something about the epic Ernest Shackleton expedition of yore.

A team of New Zealanders recently uncovered ten crates of whiskey and two crates of brandy stashed by the expedition. Which leads to speculation as to the fact that the booze may have been the thing that kept Shackleton's crew alive while they were stranded for a year.

Finally, for those who venture into the backcountry to ride or ski, there are two new avalanche airbag products to consider.

The first, from German company ABS, can be wirelessly activated by a guide or fellow member of your skiing party. The company claims a 98 percent survival rate among the product's users to date.

The other new airbag to the North American market comes Swiss company

When deployed from its pack, this bag covers the skier/rider closer to the neck and head.

Snowpulse's literature states: "You must not take more risks just because you have a Snowpulse airbag." Good advice. Any airbag is just an added form of avalanche insurance you never want to have to use.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Down And Out Or Coming Back: is Bend in as bad shape as we're being led to believe?

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 8:11 PM

Down And Out Or Coming Back: is Bend in as bad shape as we’re being led to believe?


Last Friday night a friend and longtime journalist who, like me, is slipping intoSenectitude, decided to give the Below bar at the new Oxford Hotel a try. Why not, we reasoned, see if the place is attracting any business.


It was. In fact the bar was jammed with people happily imbibing pricey cocktails and munching on expensive hors d’ouevres. It was a scene reminiscent of Bend’s now past Gold Rush era when every bar and restaurant in town was packed with wheeler-dealers celebrating the latest rise in the Dow, housing prices and their egos.


What seemed most ironic to the two of us as we imbibed a well-prepared martini was the juxtaposition of the go-go scene at Below with the news that had been reported earlier in the day.


First there was the Oregonian’s front-page story stating that Bend’s economy had yet to bottom out. That was followed by news of more local layoffs in the wood products industry.


That bad economic news was just the latest in a string of same. But head downtown on any night of the week and you wouldn’t think so. On any given night, there’s not a parking space to be found as hundreds of people are out dining or attending an event at the Tower.


So what is happening here? Are we becoming a town of a small number of haves and a much larger number of have-nots? Will the party for the haves never end as surely as the struggle for the have-nots become more intense and intolerable?


For all the talk about Bend as boomtown gone bust, it looks, at least on the surface, as if all is well. But dig below the surface and things aren’t that rosy.


And for those looking at a future that’s not so rosy, how long will it take before the local economy is back to being vibrant. Five years say the proverbial real estate industry and tourism flaks. Ten years say some hardcore business realists.


If indeed it’s ten years, a lot of plans for those hoping to retire are on hold and perhaps American dream of retirement will become an illusion for them.


Stuck with that sodden thought, I headed out of the Oxford and down the alley towards Franklin Street only to find the way blocked for the most part by a moving van.


“Somebody moving out? “ I asked one of the movers.


“Surprise, “he countered, “ we’re moving somebody in.”


Was this a small sign that things are starting to come back? Maybe yes, maybe no, it’s hard to tell these days.







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