With Regards to the Winter Olympics, my ABC of the Games

Posted by martin.parnell |

I did a little research and discovered that, five years after the birth of the modern Olympics in 1896, the first organized international competition involving winter sports was staged in Sweden. Called the Nordic Games, only Scandinavian countries competed. It was then staged every four years, always in Sweden. In 1908, figure skating made its way into the Summer Olympics in London, though it was not actually held until October, some three months after all the other events.

A is for About the Winter Olympics and being”Alternative”

In 1911, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) proposed the staging of a separate winter competition for the 1912 Stockholm Games, but Sweden, wanting to protect the popularity of the Nordic Games, declined. Germany planned a Winter Olympics to precede the 1916 Berlin Summer Games, but World War I forced the cancellation of both. At the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, ice hockey joined figure skating as an official Olympic event, and Canada took home the first of many hockey gold medals.

On January 25, 1924, the first Winter Olympics took place at Chamonix in the French Alps. Spectators were thrilled by the ski jump and bobsled as well as 12 other events involving a total of six sports. The “International Winter Sports Week,” as it was known, was a great success. Soon after the Antwerp Games, an agreement was reached with Scandinavians to stage the IOC-sanctioned International Winter Sports Week. It was so popular among the 16 participating nations that, in 1925, the IOC formally created the Winter Olympics, retroactively making Chamonix the first.

Modern-day Olympians tend to be recognised, at an early age for their talent at a particular sport. They will often spend all of their teens and into young adulthood training with the aim of, one day, becoming an Olympian. They are driven by a passion to succeed.

I tend to think of myself as an “alternate’ or “reverse” Olympian. As a child and teen, I took part in many sports and had no particular talent in any of them.

I was a very late starter when it came to my sport, running, and as for success, I am not the fastest, but I can run along way over a long period of time. My passion is driven by the knowledge that I can use running to improve the lives of children around the world. 

B is for Bobsleighs and Beer 

Most of us who were around in 1988, when Calgary hosted the Winter Olympic Games, will remember the debut of the Jamaican national four-man bobsleigh team.

Their story was retold in the popular movie, “Cool Runnings”. 

Promotion for the film reads, “Four Jamaican bobsledders dream of competing in the Winter Olympics, despite never having seen snow. With the help of a disgraced former champion desperate to redeem himself, the Jamaicans set out to become worthy of Olympic selection, and go all out for glory.” 

I was reminded of this story when I read this piece from the International Business Times: 

Cool Runnings II: Beer Company keeps Jamaican bobsleigh's Olympic dream alive

Dan Cancian 16th, February 2018.

The Jamaican women's bobsleigh team's Olympic dream is still alive after a beer company has offered to buy them a new sled.

Their participation was thrown into jeopardy after their coach, Sandra Kiriasis, an ex-Olympic and European champion, threatened to take the team's sled with her after claiming she had been marginalised. The German said she had been forced out of the team when her role was changed from driving coach to track performance analyst, giving her no access to the athletes.

Kiriasis also added she was legally responsible for the sled used by the two-woman team and would take it with her, unless she was reimbursed for it by the Jamaica Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (JBSF). The JBSF, however, refused to pay her and disputed her ownership of the sled. The stand-off looked set to threaten the team's involvement in the games.

However, beer company Red Stripe has stepped forward and offered to buy the team a new sled. The brewer made the offer on Twitter, inviting JBSF to put the cost of a new sled on "Red Stripe's tab". "We have been gifted a bobsled from Red Stripe," JBSF president Chris Stokes told Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner.

"We have accepted their generosity and we are currently preparing the sled. The team is in competition mode and we are focused on one goal - coming to the start line prepared mentally and physically. We have had some challenges in Pyeongchang, but we stand united and thank our fans and colleagues for their unwavering support". The Jamaican women hope to become the first female competitors from the Caribbean island to appear in the Winter Olympic sport.

At the beginning of this blog, I wrote about the commitment needed to become an Olympian.  The following article, from the CBC website is a fine example:

How the salesman and the actor came to live their crazy skeleton dream: Sean Ingle Pyeongchang Friday February 16th.


Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong (right) and Jamaica’s Anthony Watson 

One is a former illegal immigrant from Ghana who sold vacuum cleaners door to door to fund his “crazy” Winter Olympic dream. The other is a Jamaican who turned down a role as a hyena in the Broadway production of The Lion King to pursue an identical, if seemingly impossible, goal. Yet somehow Anthony Watson of Jamaica and Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana ended up pinging around a skeleton track at the Winter Olympics on Thursday, turning heads and creating history. It barely mattered they were the slowest by some distance, because when they hugged and told the world how their stories had converged there was barely a dry eye in the house.  

Frimpong’s extraordinary journey began in  a tiny one-bed home in Ghana, which he shared with 10 others as a child. Aged eight he had come to the Netherlands with his mother, where he lived as an illegal immigrant, but while he soon made waves as a talented sprinter he had a massive problem: he feared competing internationally because he worried he would never be let back into his adopted country. 

His solution was to tell his coaches he had lost his passport. It took until 2008, when Frimpong was 22, before he gained residency but his hopes of competing as a sprinter at London 2012 ended when he ripped his achilles tendon. Two years later, when he missed out on the Dutch bobsleigh team for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he thought his career was over. His wife Erica had other ideas.  “In July 2015, she told me: ‘I don’t want you to be 99 years old and still whining about your Olympic dream,” he said, choking back tears. “So I spent two years going door to door selling vacuums to pay for my Olympic dream. 

I’d probably be still doing that now if I wasn’t here.”   He loved skeleton but knew it was not cheap. “And no one wanted to sponsor me, nobody believed I could do this. Everyone thought I was crazy but I proved to the world I wanted to do this and sponsors came on board. Now I am getting so emotional …” At this point Frimpong cried. Later, he was hugged by his wife and their nine-month-old daughter Ashanti, along with Watson, who has become a good friend since they met in September 2017 with the crazy plan to both make it to South Korea. “Since then we have been rooming together to keep costs low,” Frimpong said. “I always yell for him on the start. 

We want to get the best out of ourselves and also get a bit of diversity in the sport, inspire people in our country.”  When he competes he wears a helmet bearing an image of a rabbit escaping from a lion’s mouth – something that seems appropriate given his journey. “We know we are here on the bottom of the list and that is OK,” Frimpong said. “The best guys have been doing it 12-plus years. This thing is bigger than ourselves.” 

Watson has an amazing tale of his own – having turned down a role in The Lion King last summer to train for what looked like an unlikely ambition of competing in the Winter Olympics. It looked like a disastrous decision, until a few athletes dropped out late on. “Maybe you’ll see me holding a Tony 10 years from now, I don’t know,” he said, laughing. Watson also plays eight instruments, including the ukulele, and has an album on iTunes called Dreaming Wide Awake, which rather sums up his life philosophy. 

He laughed too, when asked whether he had heard from Jamaica’s most famous athlete, Usain Bolt, the triple Olympic 100m and 200m champion. “No calls, no texts, not even a shout out on Twitter,” he said, jokingly. “But I know there will be a lot of Jamaicans including him who are watching and cheering and that means a lot to me.” Every Olympic Games has its unlikely heroes, athletes who are catapulted into international stardom like Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards and the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team but Frimpong and Watson insist they have greater goals than being one-day internet sensations. 

Their plan is to return to the Winter Olympics in 2022, when they hope to have the experience to be far more competitive – and to also inspire more people. “For me, being at the Winter Olympics is about breaking barriers,” Frimpong said, “to show black people, people from warm countries, can do this as well. Second, I want to motivate and inspire people in my country, to show kids in a little corner what they can do. That little kid was just like myself, living with 10 other kids in a 4x5m room that would never see snow before. “Look at the world championships a year ago I was terrible,” he said, laughing, “but I am improving and that is what sport is about.” 

And he was just as self-deprecating when he was asked by one wag whether he would be pleading with Team Gb to borrow one of their skin suits. “You have to stop hitting walls first before you can go fast,” he sighed, “but I don’t mind. I want to show dreams can come true if you are resilient and work hard.” 

C is for Calgary, Cost and Clara 

Sarah Rieger recently reported, on CBC News that Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi along with other officials from Calgary, Canmore and the federal and provincial governments are currently in Pyeongchang this week as part of the Winter Olympics Observer Program.

"The program is a unique opportunity to experience the Games first-hand to learn how we could host a successful Games in Calgary — if we pursue a bid," Nenshi said in a statement on Friday. The program is estimated to cost $135,000, which will be split between Calgary, Canmore and the provincial and federal governments.

These costs are simply to find out whether or not it might be worthwhile putting in a bid to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.  Current estimates show that it would cost Calgary only around 4.6 Billion dollars to host the games.

I say “only” because, as stated by The Associated Press in mid-December and reiterated by Money Talks News week, it cost about $12.9 billion for South Korean, to host this year's Winter Olympics. A good chunk of those funds went toward transportation from the capital to Pyeongchang. There was also the cost of building six new venues and refurbishing six others. To get athletes and spectators to venues there is a brand new $3.7 billion express train running from Seoul to Pyeongchang. 

Now I’m not suggesting that Calgary would have to build a new railway, but there would obviously be huge costs associated with hosting the games.

And so, I have a suggestion. Instead of committing billions of dollars, why not buck the trend and have a “low-cost” Olympics. We could re-cycle all the old equipment, there’s lots of it sitting idle in the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, located at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary and I notice Sport Chek have weekly deals on winter accessories. 

I know there would be a need to have more venues as there are some events that weren’t included in 1988 e.g. the Women’s ice hockey. But, there are place available. Cochrane has a wonderful facility at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre which has 3 Totem ice hockey arenas and a 4th arena off site. The Curling Centre features six regulation sheets of ice plus three junior sheets of ice.

If they got really stuck for space, there’s Mitford Pond, where this year 56 teams played in the Kimmett Cup Pond Hockey Tournament.

I’m sure accommodation wouldn’t be a problem, those Airbnb’s are springing up all over the place and as for sponsors well, I suggest they contact No Frills, Budget Car Rentals and the Dollar stores could donate all the bunting and flags they have left over after the previous year’s Canada Day. Tickets should be cheaper too, so that more people could attend the events. How about a dollar a seat and promote it as “A Buck A Butt”.

Anyway, that’s all hypothetical, we don’t even know if Calgary will decide to bid.

In the meantime, I hope, like me you’re all enjoying the sports and following our wonderful Olympians and looking forward to the upcoming Paralympics.

And, if you’re wondering why athletes put themselves through all those years of training and sacrifice. It’s in the hope that, one day, it will pay off and they’ll get to experience something that most of us never will and is perfectly expressed in the words of a friend of mine:

 “I still can't believe I won the Olympics. That's what I feel right now - completely alive as a human being. It's a really beautiful moment.” Clara Hughes”

Go Canada Go!!!!!!!

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