Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reflecting on the Olympics

First, I wrote something about the Olympics here

Earlier, I wrote in my last blog post that Manusco was a jerk. In the last interview I saw her in, she was much better.

I enjoyed the Olympics tremendously. Here are some highlights:
1. Bode Miller made a comeback, in the process, teaching us (or at least me) never to count someone down and out, that winning and losing is secondary to how you thought of your performance, etc.

2. Apollo Anton Anno and the short-track speed skating. The guy got 3 medals, none of which were Gold, yet you watch him and think he is the most amazing athlete in the sport. How is that? We acknowledge it's a sport of random results and the guy not only has the skill to persevere, but he has ability to recover from spills, adapt, and think on his feet. If some perennial favorite like Michael Phelps is James Bond, Apollo Antohn Ohno is Indiana Jones. He gets pushed around quite a bit and somehow managed to find a way through three out of four times.

3. Canada's late medal surge. They had their owning the podium program that looked destined for failure. In the snow cross, Seth Wescott dashed the Canadians hopes, Jeremy Wotherspoon failed to medal for the third Olympics in a row, the Canadian alpine team proved a bust, and potential Canadian Olympic hero Chris del Bosco made it to the finals, only to wipe out. Poor Canada publicly insisted that their initiative of winning the Olympic hunt was unrealistic.
A 1-2 finish in women's bobsled, Jasey Jay Anderson's snowboarding victory in parallel giant slalom, an insanely surprising series of upsets for men's team speed skating, and one hell of a night at the short track oval suddenly made the goal realistic again. Canada didn't win the medal count but they jumped from 6th to 3rd and they won the Gold medal count with a record-setting 14. The Gold medals went to: Men's Skeleton, Short-track 3000 relay, Curling, Freestyle Moguls, Parrallel Giant Slalom, Hockey, Short-Track 500, Speedskating Pursuit, Women's Hockey, Speedskating 1ooo, Ski Cross, Snowboarding Cross, 2-Woman Bobsled, and Pairs Icedancing.

4. Shani Davis and Chad Hedricks combine for four medals in speed skating-Last Olympics they combined for five medals but they're a little older and Chad was an underdog in his events. Shani Davis set a track record and beat a tough field in the 1500 with a silver. Best of all, the two got along quite well. Hedricks acted as the mentor to two very young up-and-comers in almost bringing home a Gold in the team event.

5. The men's 30K race in cross-country skiing. You have no idea how off the hook this race was. i was glued to the screen for like an hour. This was an 18-mile race that was far more exciting than a marathon because the field was tightly packed for over 45 minutes. Around halfway through the race, Swede Marcus Olsson took a sizeable lead from the field and about 15 other skiers stayed back in what appeared to be a race for Silver.

6. Kim Yu-Na and Jeannie Rochette light up the figure skating-South Korea's Kim Yu-Na is considered one of the best the sport has ever seen and even if you're not an expert in figure skating, it's apparent watching her how in control she is. It was also nice to see a sweetheart of the Olympics come from a country like South Korea and watch the world embrace her. Jeannie Rochette lost her mother and managed to maintain her poise and earn a bronze. She was one of the clear heroes of the Olympics and people were thrilled at her bronze.

7. Alexander Bilodeau wins Canada's first Gold-It was hard to believe that Canada had never had a Gold on home soil. Being the home country gives you an advantage so the fact that Canada squandered that twice got my attention. What's more, they didn't just host the winter olympics but the Summer Olympics in 1976. The Summer Olympics have tons of events and it's much harder to NOT win a Gold. Nonetheless, Despartie was the third Gold medal hopeful to compete and after the upset of her female counterpart in the moguls and Kristina Groves failed to medal in speed skating. Despartie upset defending Gold medalist Dale Begg-Smith and seemed like a great guy. He has an autistic brother who inspires him, he was good with the press, and he had a full grasp of the gravity of the moment

8. Jarett "Speedy" Peterson's Hurricane-Two great things about this guy who won a Silver for the U.S. in aerials 1) He hadn't landed his patented jump in 3 years competition in three years

9. The Snow Leopard-The Ghanan skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong was determined to not finish last and he did it. After beatng Tola Erjon from Albania by 23 seconds, he gleefully exclaimed that he could retire. Now his post-Olympic goals include creating an snow mountain in Ghana. Good luck with that.

10. Andrea Fischerbacher winning the Super-G. It was a perfect run and the Austrians made it to the podium in Gold when the pressure was on.

11. The thrills and spills of the bobsled run-Russia won the bronze in 2-Man bobsled after Canada took a spill. The Russian driver inappropriately cheered when Canada took a spill. In the 4-man bobsled, Russia took a spill so it was a little bit of karmic justice. It looked like the people who had gotten banged against a track at 60 miles an hour, heads bouncing against the sides of the track. It looked tragic except when the bobsled stopped, the people just got up and walked out. Two or three other bobsleds also took spills on the track including one of the US sleds.

12. The hype surrounding the hockey game-I didn't actually watch the final hockey game and never really watched the hockey much. However, I could appreciate the hype surrounding the thing with people feeling like it was a big repeat of the Miracle on Ice moment. It wasn't so much that we were playing our political enemy, but rather seeing if we had it in us to beat the best and originator of the game. It was like South Korea in Beijing having the gall to think that they could beat the traditional powers of the game in baseball and actually pulling it off with wins over Cuba and the U.S.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Julia Manusco is threatening her good will

Julia Manusco and Lindsay Vonn have both been heroes who've led the US Skiing program to history, but i'm not on board Julia's whining over what happened yesterday. The U.S. Media is portraying it as though Manusco and Vonn were somehow ripped off yesterday. Bob Costas introduced a video about how sometimes athletes can't always control things that they train for and grouped Netherlands' Sven Kramer and Manusco together. The theme of the video was people who's Olympics dreams were fairly denied from them.

The headline on NBC Olympics' article says:
"The crash also affected her U.S. teammate Julia Mancuso, who was forced to stop her run when she had one of the fastest times"

Later in the article:
"Of course, I wish I could have this morning happen over," Mancuso said. "That was probably the worst possible thing that could happen in the Olympics -- to get flagged on ... your defending gold medal run."

That's a little short-sighted and cements the image I already had of her as someone who's a little spoiled. She used to wear a tiara onto the podium, referred to herself as a ski queen, and was somewhat unpopular among fellow skiers before finally winning a suprise Gold in Torino. Add to that, Manusco also complained that Lindsay Vonn is making it difficult for her because she has a lot of the attention already. That's the kind of feud that hurt the sport of speedskating in 2006 when Davis and Hendricks were remembered more for their feuding than their haul of 5 medals between them.

Let's just review the first incident:
There are four intervals in which your time is recorded so analysts (and people following on the internet like myself) can see mid-race how you are doing. Lindsay Vonn was ahead of the leader's pace all the way through the third interval. Then she skied off course. A commentator said "Lindsay almost had it but then the medal fell out of her grasp": I don't agree with that necessarily, the faster you ski, the more risk you're going to go out of control.

Then Manusco got flagged on a run. Manusco got flagged only a fourth of the way through the course. Vonn fell after the 3/4 mark. There's a big difference. She was ahead of the pace by 0.16. There were a very high number of skiers who were ahead of the pace by that interval who ended up falling behind the leader. The odds that Manusco would have held onto that lead are slimmer than is being portrayed by commentators.

Manusco's three other complaints (or, in some cases, complaints made on her behalf) were that 1) by restarting, it took her out of the zone, 2) she had trouble getting up. she was initially told to take a snowmobile than took the gondola and that was an inexcusable distraction and 3) she complained that the conditions were harder later in the race. At the same time, being able to go down a course a second time, means she knew the lay of the course better than any other competitor, or at least the part she skied.

It sounds like she's taking out her distractions on others but at least she acknowledged that a little bit. "Shortly after her run, Mancuso posted an angry tweet with an obscenity. Several minutes later, she filed a cleaned-up dispatch: "that yellow flag in the GS was such... I just want to scream. I'm really miffed. Anyway, gotta take that energy and focus it for 2nd run."

Sounds like someone on the verge of losing her temper. We've all been there before, but I hope she doesn't continue to complain. Skiing is very random and she's emerged on the better side of it twice already this Olympics. That's worth celebrating.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bode Miller: A hero of mine

First off, click on this to give me revenue, please

I've watched so much of the winter Olympics, you wouldn't believe it. I was nearly oblivious to it before it happened and now it is the #1 reason to get up in the morning for me. I love the pitting of countries against each other (it's so much cheaper than war, isn't it?), I love many of these sports, and I love the winter scenery.

I could talk at length on the Olympics, but I just want to talk about Bode Miller at the moment. Someone was recently asking who my role models were. It was hard to answer a question like that off the top of my head. Looking at Bode at the Olympics, I'd have to put him up there.

Bode Miller is a hero because he wins at what he does but he also knows that winning isn't everything. He regularly says in interviews that medals are not important but how he feels when he's winning and if he's enjoying what he's doing. I'm not sure how many adult athletes out there really preach, "It's not whether you win or lose but it's how you play the game" and there are even fewer athletes who can make us believe them when they tell us that they're considering quitting in their prime because the sport.

I love how he does whatever he wants regardless of what other people think of him or say and he win on his own terms. What's more, he is also very self-aware of how people (mostly sports media) try to construct his story into their own. The classic storyline a sportswriter would use is "Bode fails, buckles down on himself, rights his wrongs and four years later comes back to win." But wait! Bode never said that he considered 2006 a failure. He never said he changed his radical views or dislikes the media any less. I've heard commentators attribute the change in Bode to his marriage and the inclusion of a son in his life, but not that Bode has never said that. Bode draws our attention to how he was close to winning anyway and that their theories about why he is successful now and now then, are only theirs alone. It's so interesting to watch the creators of the story try to bill it as such because it fits their story and conception of a hero better and Bode resist their characterization of him at every turn.

Bode's responses in his interview with Tom Brokaw and Matt Lauer could be characterized as somewhat antagonistic. He's virtually disagreeing with those guys at every turn, and the reason that the two reporters and the NBC anchorman who did the introductory segway never commented on how disagreeable Bode was, was because Bode's a champion now and his eccentricities are more acceptable. That just illustrates Bode's point further: that there's not too much difference between a champion or a failure but a couple seconds at most. What's more important is character.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Supporting Actress '09 thoughts

,The main suspense with the Oscars was the supporting actress category in my opinion: Anna Kendrick, Vera Farminga, and Monique were locks but there were a lot of great and bad possibilities which could have taken the fifth slot.

Under great, Samantha Morton, Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent
Under bad Marion Cortillard and Judi Dench
Under not good timing Julianne Moore and Penelope Cruz:
Julianne Moore would just get and lose her fifth nomination making it so that every year afterwards, every Moore film would call for Oscar voters and buzzers to desperately want to give her an Oscar as soon as possible because it's a crime against humanity otherwise. Better save the fifth nomination for something remotely winnable.

Cruz is an actress I've always felt would be great for a supporting actress Oscar so I was somewhat glad to see her nominated in 2006 but thrilled to see her nomianted in 08 and even more thrilled to see her win it. Now she's won 2 and 3 in 4 years is a little unnecessary. I still think she might deserve it, but it's not something I'm rejoicing for.

I wanted to see Morton or an Inglorious Basterd girl get one, but I'm glad it's not Julianne Moore or Marion Cortillard (who I don't like at all for some reason).

As for the nominees:
Penelope Cruz is someone I'm happy to see nominated except that it's three noms in 4 years is more then she'll need over a lifetime. Oscars are based on performances and not bodies of work and I respect when Oscar makes decisions based on the present. Under that philosophy, I don't have a problem with the nomination but I'm also not particularly happy about it except for the fact that it could have been someone worse.

Maggie Gyllenhall has always been on my list of people I'd like to see get a nom some day, but it's the exact same role Marissa Thomei had last year in Wrestler so it feels rediculously cliched. Also, how the heck did she pull that off? What's up with Monique? If Eddie Murphy lost the Oscar because he reminded Oscar voters of his unrefined tastes by releasing the movie Norbit during awards seasons, is anyone going to bother checking out the Parkers or watch Soul Plane? Also, who does she think she is not having a last name?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Is a 2nd nomination harder for an actor or easier?

Someone asked this question on a message board:

I think the second nomination is humongous because it t shows you're not just a one-hit wonder. I feel like 2-time noms like Brad Pitt, Rob Downey Jr, Joaquin Pheonix, Samantha Morton, Amy Adams*, Catherine Keener and now Matt Damon are now members of the club of established actors because they have two and if you look at their filmographies, it felt like they were being increasingly recognized for notable work around the time they earned their second nomination. I even feel like the above list of names is more established than a one-time winner like Rachel Weicz, Jennifer Hudson, Halle Berry, Helen Hunt, or Cuba Gooding Jr, because they've shown they can reach the threshold of Oscar nomination twice.

As a result, I think it's not hard to get a second nomination if you've deserved it but I think a voter would think twice if you're not a one-hit wonder (someone who had a really good role just once). I can't imagine someone like Eddie Murphy, Dan Akroyd, Sandra Locke, Casey Affleck, Sophie Okendo, even Alan Alda, getting a second nomination if they suddenly did a great film tomorrow unless it was amazing like Charlize Theron in monster. It would fall a little under the well they already have a nom rule.

To look at this further:
-Brad Pitt got nominated in Benjamin Buttons after turning in notable leading performances in Assassination of Jesse James and Babel. Babel was significant because he almost got nominated for it and the picture got nominated for an Oscar and won the golden globe that year.

-Catherine Keener got nomination #2 for Capote after she had one of those prolific years that people take note of: She was also in 40-Year Old Virgin and Interpreter and won the NBR prize for all three

-Rob Downey Jr. had the upcoming lead in Soloist (this was a little bit of reverse dues because the film was scheduled to be released in 08 and if the trailer doesn't make your heart melt alone, I don't know what would). Downey Jr. also had just become Tobey Maguire 2.0 by hemming a megablockbuster in Iron Man. Three years prior he garnered some note in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Good Night and Good Luck

-Matt Damon already had an Oscar in writing and acting but a decade later it was clear that he was one of the most respected and prolific actors in Hollywood and needed more to show for it. Bourne Ultimatum, Good Shephard, Syrianna and Departed were all memorable turns (he got zero Oscar buzz for the latter two because George Clooney and Leo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg outshone him for the Oscar buzz). Even his role in All the Pretty Horses could have made a decent case for an Oscar nom. By 2009 with fading buzz for Informant, his best role to date, the voters needed to apologize to him by sticking him in the supporting category for a role that was (at least, in my opinion) pretty forgettable.

-Amy Adams filmography might be a little short compared to others on the list but she only started acting this decade and wasn't a commodity until 2005. She had been in a consistent number of pictures sup to 2008 where she has shown range and expanded her resume: She did a comedy with Will Ferrell, a Mike Nicholls picture with Hanks and Roberts, starred in a Disneyesque flick, did another indie in Sunshine Clearing, and shined in a theatrical piece in Doubt.