2014 Winter Olympics Mailbag!

Olympic Rings and the Olympic flame

LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images

Given Team USA’s recent struggles in the world of curling (both men’s and women’s teams in the last two Olympics are a combined 7-29), how reasonable do you think it is for me to start training now and be ready for the 2018 Olympics to represent the U.S.? I see an awesome sport ready to captivate the nation, we just don’t have a team to get behind. Say I get a group of four guys started on training right now, do you think we have a shot at future Olympic glory? I feel like this is the one sport I have a chance to make a difference in.
—Kirk M.

I say do it, especially because another person wrote in to make the excellent point that curling is probably a great way to meet chill and attractive chicks. (Seriously, that Russian team is smoking!) I agree that people would go crazy for curling if the U.S. team were better — it’s the perfect TV sport. You get close-ups of people as they do silly-looking things, and you can argue over strategy and act like you know more than the professionals, which Americans love to do.

(My secret favorite thing about curling is the official score sheets they provide. There’s a section called “Most Important Shot” that includes a diagram and everything and has THE BEST descriptions of what went down. Here are a few:

“The Swiss Skipp OTT M made a perfect Promotion Takeout to take out the half covered shot stone of the Chinese team. With this the Swiss team scored two and took an advantage of three points to the second half of the game.”

“The Danish Skip NIELSEN L played a perfect Raise to tap her stone to the button, forcing the British Skip MUIRHEAD E to attempt a difficult Hit and Roll that did not work, allowing Denmark to win the game.”

“The Swedish Fourth PRYTZ M makes a delicate Draw to the button, hidden along the centre line with her first stone. The Japanese Skip’s attempt to follow her was heavy, so the Swedish Fourth was able to draw again with her second stone and have both stones count, opening up a 4-2 lead.”

“Facing two Russian stones, the British Skip MUIRHEAD E made a spectacular Double Takeout to score two points and to win the game.”

I recommend reading all these aloud while lying naked in front of a fireplace on a bearskin rug.)

In other news, curling and I are currently at odds; I planned to spend yesterday at the venue watching 12 hours of the glorious sport, but I misunderstood the schedule and got there just in time to watch … the Swiss and British women’s teams practice. If you think curling competition seems laid-back, this was like popping a quaalude. It was actually the perfect place to get work done, though I could have done without getting locked in a bathroom and having to bust my way out. Call me, Johnny Quinn!

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Do hipsters in Russia also drink PBR?
—John D.

The majority of the beer here is called Baltika, and the different kinds are marked by numbers. (All I can ever remember is that no. 8 is the Hefeweizen-style beer.) The most notorious, however, is the no. 0, which is what they serve at all the arenas. It’s zero because it’s nonalcoholic, which has created much consternation — particularly among curling fans. Russia apparently has laws forbidding alcohol sales at sporting events, though I could swear I had a beer at an SKA St. Petersburg game? Maybe they make exceptions for Putin’s favorite team.

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Why do athletes leave the Olympics early? If I’d spent years training, preparing, and stressing over this potentially once-in-a-lifetime event, I think I’d want to decompress after my event. Yet many of these great athletes are back home a day or so later. From what I’ve heard, if you’re not competing, it’s pretty much party, eat, work out, and hop on Tinder to find a hookup. Why wouldn’t you stick around for as long as possible and enjoy the experience and the closing ceremonies?
—Ian H.

I think marketing has lots to do with it: Someone like Sage Kotsenburg gets whisked back to the States to do the whole talk-show circuit; if he stayed in Sochi for two weeks, he might miss his chance. (That guy just wants to get back to the mountain, though. His media blitz was his first time ever in New York.) But I agree with you: If I won a medal, I’d be walking around the Olympic Village with no clothes on and the thing around my neck.

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It seems like the Winter Olympics, more than anything, bring out intrasquad rivalries. What are your favorite Olympic teammate rivalries ever? (Mine is Vonn/Mancuso.)
—Andy R.

I dunno, the Summer Games have them, too — are we forgetting Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, or the awkward Dawn Harper–Kellie Wells–Lolo Jones brouhaha? (I like Jones a lot, and have never found her malicious, but controversy sure does seem to follow her around.)

But obviously, no. 1 all-time was Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Can you imagine if the Games had a team event back then like they do now and they had to sit together in a tiny box? Brian Boitano would have made a hilarious buffer. (I imagine him standing between them like Bill Clinton between Arafat and Rabin.) More recently, though, I’ve kind of been enjoying the U.S. snowboarders vs. Shaun White. He may be the undisputed king of snowboarding, and he very literally changed the game, but you can tell he isn’t exactly popular. Snowboarders are the most loving dudes ever, and even they get passive-aggressive when his name comes up. The word “Shaunference” is the best new entry to the Olympic lexicon.

Quick note regarding Julia Mancuso: It’s such a mystery to me why she never gets the same appreciation as Lindsey Vonn. She’s won more Olympic medals than any other female American skier ever! Yet she gets treated like a second fiddle. She’s eminently quotable and unafraid to speak her mind. She HAD A LINGERIE LINE PRODUCED CALLED “KISS MY TIARA” FOR GOD’S SAKE. You can’t even cynically postulate that looks have something to do with it, because she’s drop-dead gorgeous. Julia forever.

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My favorite thing about Sochi so far (aside from Meryl & Charlie killing/‘fixing’ it & T.J. Sochi) has been the swarms of hockey players riding bikes that are too small for them. How would you rank the Olympic national bike gangs in order of swag exuded?

I’m going with Sweden for Henrik Lundqvist hitching a ride but only because I haven’t seen any pictures of Chara on a bike yet.
—Chan E.

I don’t know why, but Patrick Kane on a bicycle completely cracked me up. I’d also give Teemu Selanne high marks, but no one matches the power of the Dutch team. There are orange bikes EVERYWHERE you look. Those guys do three things in life, as far as I can tell: drink beer, ride bikes, and dominate long-track speedskating like nothing you’ve ever seen. They’ve got it figured out.

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Hi Katie,

You saw it. I saw it. We all saw it. Was the fix in to job Tessa and Scott?
—JP C.

In addition to this query, I also received a (very polite!) 631-word email from another man who took exception with how I presented the latest ice dance vote-fixing controversy. I feel bad for having come across as too dismissive of the very real possibility that something shady was afoot, and that my American bias was showing … but on the other hand, I’m just still not entirely convinced there really was a rigged result.

I think the best thing I’ve read on the subject was written by John Doyle of the Globe and Mail:

Was it fixed in Vancouver when Moir and Virtue won gold? Over the years, was it fixed when they came first in World Championships or fixed when they came second? There is as much legitimacy to that question as the one asking if the fix was in when the duo lost in Sochi.

They’ve experienced both triumph and podium-missing finishes. On every occasion, they tried, they were lovely together and they lost or won on the whim of judges or some technical fault that’s obscure to you and me. Maybe there was no fix, and perhaps, as the New York Times suggested in a story predicting an American win, the judges have been signalling a change in emphasis for two years now.

At any rate, I actually wish we could go back to the old days when you could see each judge’s score. I have fond and heartwarming memories of my kind mother screaming things like, “OH, THAT POLISH JUDGE CAN GET BENT!” Our children deserve to know this joy as well.

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Please talk about Gus Kenworthy and puppies.
—Mike R.

Not only did the guy win a silver medal, he basically staged a save-the-puppies sit-in here in Sochi. What a hero. (Lindsey Jacobellis is also bringing a dog back with her.) My favorite part of the whole thing was David Backes, dog lover extraordinaire, tweeting at Kenworthy to say that some members of the men’s hockey team wanted to adopt strays, too. I am hoping against hope that Phil Kessel comes home with another dog. A Phil Kessel + puppies Tumblr: instant gold.

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There appears to be very little competition for the U.S. and CAN women’s hockey teams. Is the future of women’s Olympic hockey in any jeopardy? As a Canadian, even I’m becoming bored with another “epic showdown.” It seems other countries will never catch up for a variety of reasons.
—John E.

What, you don’t think a 70-9 shot differential in an Olympic semifinal is good competition? The problem isn’t even that other countries haven’t improved since women’s hockey first debuted at the Games, it’s that the USA and Canada have also gotten better at an astounding rate. At this point, I’d rather see a seven-game series between the rivals than watch either country demolish their opponents.

That said, you really only need like two other countries to turn into legit threats to make it a better tournament, particularly with the revised format that puts the best countries in one early bracket. The blowouts are more high-profile, but the new round-robins have actually provided for some good hockey games. U.S. coach Katey Stone had an interesting point when she was asked about the imbalance after the USA-Sweden game: She noted the importance of college hockey, and the scholarships NCAA schools give to international players.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel had the strongest words of support for the sport, saying that eliminating women’s hockey at the Olympics “will never happen. I can guarantee that will never happen.” Let’s hope he’s right.

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On a scale of 1 to 10, how annoyed are you by fair-weather hockey fans that jump on their country’s bandwagon every four years? Are you happy to have them on board or are they infringing upon hockey fan territory?
—James H.

Unlike most hockey fans, who — as we all know — resemble indie-music lovers outraged when someone deigns to like their favorite band, I’m pretty low on this scale — like a 3. The more the merrier, man! Some of them will actually stick around and learn to love the game, and that’s great. That said, if I were back in the U.S. and watching at a bar and having to overhear pompous idiots incorrectly dissecting play like they’ve been NHL fans for decades, I’d probably be upgrading to an 8.

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What’s a typical day in the Bake Life in Sochi like?
—Anthony A.

10 a.m.: Shoot awake with the same awful urgency as Kevin McAllister’s mom on the plane. Vow to never drink again.

11 a.m.: Take bus to the press center, an enormous and gleaming building just outside the Olympic Park that is going to be converted into a mall. Resist the urge to eat a McBreakfast, assuming I’ll find something better and more authentic later. This will turn out to be a mistake.

Noon: Begin the schlep to Olympic Park. (It’s not even that long, but I’m getting my exercise at this place. Before I lost my Fitbit at a bus stop, I was hitting my daily step total by lunchtime every day.)

1 p.m.: Show up at a venue and spend several minutes circumnavigating to find the media entrance and collecting unapologetic “nyets” from various volunteers.

2 p.m.: Write, and feel depressed that I’m missing 700 events while I do so.

4:30 p.m.: Begin to worry about what time I’ll finally take my first bite of food. Start trembling, thanks to low blood sugar. Drink my 500th bottled water of the day.

6 p.m.: Finally go to a restaurant. Actual exchange I had the other day:

Me: “Hello, may I please have a menu?”
Waiter: “… Maybe.”

7 p.m.: Figure skating, usually.

11 p.m.: Wonder whether today will be the day I finally get trampled in the mixed zone, where reporters are corralled like wild animals and IOC volunteers patrol to make sure no one captures an instant of forbidden video. (At the halfpipe the other night, I unknowingly violated video-capture rules and the reaction I got from workers made me worry I was about to get deported.)

Midnight: Take the bus back to my dorm room. “u out?” texts all around.

12:10 a.m.: Stick my head into the random “Wines of the Krasnodar Region” pop-up bar nestled in the middle of our media complex. Listen to Russians singing karaoke. Run into the nice Dutch and Serbian photographers I met my first night. Rejoice that a bottle of wine costs 200 rubles — or roughly six bucks.

2 a.m.: ??!?!

4 a.m.: Look at watch and say, “OH MY GOD HOW IS IT 4 A.M.?”

5 a.m.: Look at watch and say, “OH MY GOD HOW IS IT 5 A.M.?”

5:30 a.m.: Bedtime.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Filed Under: 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi, Katie Baker

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Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes