sports

The Olympics, Part II: Inspiring Or Discouraging?

There was a lot of complaining – justifiable complaining – about the media coverage of the recent Rio Olympics. The coverage was sexist; a television commentator attributed the success of swimming gold medalist Katinka Hosszu to her husband’s coaching, and a Tweet referred to bronze medalist trapshooter Corey Cogdell not by name but as the “wife of a [Chicago] Bears lineman”. The coverage was ageist; 56-year-old coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willey, competing in her eighth Olympics, was characterized as “old enough to be the competitors’ mother” in a story headlined “Too old for the Olympics”? And then there was the NBC network’s chief marketing officer for Olympic coverage, who got roundly criticized for claiming that women, the primary viewers of the Olympics on TV, were “not particularly sports fans” and “less interested in the result and more interested in the journey”.

But it wasn’t just the media coverage of the Olympics that had problems. The Olympic Games themselves have very big problems, to the point where (more…)

The Olympics, Part I: Insights from Marc Kennedy

The 2016 Summer Olympics happened while the blog was on vacation. I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about the event, for many of the same reasons that were so eloquently expressed by fellow blogger Caitlin Constantine. And after the event ended, I read a very thoughtful and critical article which got me thinking about how the Olympics  affect the structure and funding of amateur sports in Canada.

So I’m going to write two posts related to the Olympics. This, the first post, is about a wonderful speech by an Olympic athlete that I heard earlier this year. The second, which I’ll post later on, is about how, while the Olympics are supposed to inspire people to get active, their effects on amateur sport may be making it more difficult for non-elite athletes to do that.

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In June, I had the privilege of hearing a talk by world and Olympic champion curler Marc Kennedy.

This wasn’t the first time that I’ve been at a presentation by a high-achieving athlete. My cynical self was expecting a recycling of the usual themes in these speeches: “work hard”, ”have a dream”, ”fight through setbacks”, ”never give up”. But instead, Kennedy’s speech was a very insightful and honest look at the realities of performance at an elite level  – and a lot of what he said has relevance to work and to life, as well as to sports. These are the points from what Kennedy said that really stuck with me. (more…)

Compulsory Figures: Technical Guidelines, Diagrams, and Tests

When I was researching my blog posts on compulsory figures in skating, I discovered that there was very little information on the Internet about the content of compulsory figure tests, or about the technical guidelines that were used to assess figures in tests or competition. I suspect this might be because compulsory figures were eliminated from international competition in 1990, before the Internet was a major source of information and archived data. But with the creation of the World Figure Championships this year, historical information on figures is more relevant than ever before.

So, for anyone who might be seeking information on how figures were once tested and competed in skating – or for anyone who might just want to learn more about compulsory figures – here is the information on figures from the 1995 Canadian Figure Skating Association (now Skate Canada) official rulebook. I’ve subdivided it into “technical guidelines”, “diagrams”, and “tests”. Enjoy! (more…)

The World Figure Championship: An Interview with Pamela Giangualano-Roberts

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about figures in figure skating, and why I missed them. I thought the post wouldn’t be interesting to that many people – figures haven’t been part of international skating competition since 1990, and skaters now have very little opportunity to even practice figures. But much to my surprise, that post turned out to be one of the most popular posts ever on this blog. That indicated to me that within the skating world, and among skating fans, there was still a lot of love for figures.

This year, a group of professional skaters decided to bring figures back into competition, and organized the inaugural World Figure Championship. To qualify for this event, skaters either had to have competed at the Olympics or the World Championships before 1992, or had to have passed the gold (eighth) figure test, which was the highest-level figure test in the US and Canada. So, as you can imagine, all the participants were very experienced skaters, and the competition itself was intense. The Championship was held in late August in Lake Placid, New York – site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics – and my friend Pamela Giangualano-Roberts was one of the competitors.

I first met Pamela in the early 2000s in Lethbridge, Alberta, at one of the very first adults-only skating competitions in Canada. Pamela had come to the event with her skating friends from Calgary, and although she wasn’t competing, I could tell from how intently she watched us that she was thinking about whether she could do this. So I sat next to her and gave her my enthusiastic “skating is really fun, anyone can do it, you should give it a try” spiel. Imagine how stupid I felt later on when I found out that Pamela was the 1986 Canadian national junior ladies’ champion, and as a senior-level skater had represented Canada at international skating competitions. Pamela kindly overlooked that gaffe on my part, and she did come back to skating. And all of us adult skaters who know her are in awe of her drive and determination. At age 27 – much older than most of her competitors – she qualified for and competed at the 2002 Canadian national skating championships, 13 years after her last appearance at that event. She is now a tireless advocate for adult skating, as a coach, as an event organizer, as a club administrator, and as a skater herself.

Pamela agreed to let me interview her via email about her journey to the World Figure Championship, and her experiences at that competition. As you will see from her answers, Pamela not only has an extensive technical knowledge of figures, but she also truly appreciates why figures are so important to skating. (more…)

The Dark Side of Workplace Wellness

The Report on Business section of the Globe and Mail newspaper recently ran an interview with the authors of a provocative new book, The Wellness Syndrome. The authors, Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer,  argue that the ideal of “wellness” has become distorted into a “dangerous ideology”. Promoting “wellness” as a virtue, they suggest, implicitly promotes discrimination against those who have difficulty being “well”, such as people with chronic weight or health issues. And framing “wellness” as an individual issue deflects attention from larger societal conditions, such as poverty, that have much more impact on an individual’s health than their individual choices. (For example, it’s hard to get regular outdoor exercise if you live in an unsafe neighbourhood, or to eat well if the stores in your area don’t stock healthy, affordable food.)

The authors’ perspectives make a lot of sense. And, I would argue, their take on the misuse of “wellness” is also applicable to many “workplace wellness” initiatives.  There are good employers with sincere intentions who run “workplace wellness” programs because they genuinely care about their employees’ well-being. But there are other, less admirable aspects to some of these programs. (more…)

D.F.L. (Dead F***ing Last)

When you look at competition results, there are several acronyms that you might see next to athletes’ names, such as DNQ (did not qualify), DNF (did not finish), and WD (withdrew). But there’s also an unofficial acronym, and it represents a placement that most competitors will experience at least once in their careers. That acronym is DFL – dead f***ing last.

In the “winning is everything” ethos of competing, DFLing is something to be ashamed of, to avoid, to move on from. We assume that the DFLer choked, or didn’t train hard enough, or shouldn’t have entered the event in the first place. Sometimes we celebrate DFLers for their persistence and determination, like ski jumper Eddie the Eagle at the 1988 Winter Olympics. But more often than not DFLing is an embarrassment, and the only response that’s considered appropriate from the DFLer is either to quit competing or to work extra hard so as not to finish last again.

However, there’s another way to think about DFLs. As described in a recent article by runner Lauren Fleshman, a DFL placing can turn out to be (more…)

A Step Forward

As an adult figure skater, and an avid skating fan, the world figure skating championships are always an incredibly exciting event for me to watch. The 2015 world championships in March were particularly interesting, because they were the first world championships of the four years leading up to the 2018 Olympics. As usually happens after every Olympics, many recent world and Olympic competitors have retired or have decided to take a break from competition. So the 2015 world championships were one of the first opportunities for skaters to begin establishing themselves as potential contenders for 2018.

But something else important occurred at the 2015 world figure skating championships. It’s something that didn’t get a lot of attention in the media, but it should be acknowledged. And that’s the fact that Eric Radford, who won the pairs event with his partner Meagan Duhamel, is the first openly gay skater to win a world championship. (more…)

What Skating Judging can Learn from Workplace Performance Evaluation

At every Winter Olympics, it seems, there are complaints about figure skating judging. Occasionally those complaints lead to something more – as in 2002, when a second gold medal was awarded in the pairs event because of alleged bias in the judging. But usually the complaints are along the lines of “The judging was unfair because my favourite skater lost”, or “The judging was unfair because I didn’t understand it” – that second one often coming from sportswriters and commentators who don’t regularly follow figure skating, or who can’t be bothered to learn how the judging system works.

At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, there were complaints about the judging in every one of the figure skating events, including allegations of fixed results in at least two of the events.  The purpose of this post isn’t to argue about those results. Instead, I want to look at the judging system itself, and analyze it using the model of an effective workplace performance evaluation system. I’m using this model for two reasons: (more…)

How Latvian Mythology Contributed to the Olympic Silver in Bobsleigh

Fascinating insights from the designer of the graphics on Latvia’s Olympic bobsleds. And how great is it that all that attention to detail helped the Latvian bobsled team win a medal!!

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These past Olympics have been mind-blowing for the Latvians. A very small country, with the third most medals per capita of all participating countries, Latvia also managed to induce partial heart attacks to 35million Canadians with the show-stopping Canada vs. Latvia hockey game, drawing all eyes on Latvia (similarly to the last summer Olympics when Latvia won gold in men’s Volleyball – “Wait, do they even have summer?”)

Edit: not gold in volleyball, bet bronze in beach volleyball, beating the US team in the quarter finals. Thanks to the readers that spotted that mistake!

Bobsleigh Ornaments

A satisfying end to the Olympic run was when team Latvia’s bobsleigh team nabbed Silver on the last day. The bobsleighists had been a favourite and everyone had hopes for the team. They didn’t let us down, and just missed gold by a sliver.

But my rooting for the Latvian Bobsleigh team has a backstory, and…

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Behind the Music (and Other Stuff): Creating a Skating Program

During the 2014 Winter Olympics, a lot more people than usual will be interested in figure skating. As an adult skater, I appreciate any attention that my sport gets –  but I also realize that occasional watchers don’t always know how much has to happen off the ice for skaters to look so good on the ice. So I thought I’d give some insight, from my own experiences, into how a competitive skating program is created. (more…)