Saturday, February 26, 2011

Free Range Stories

If I had a list of people who I'd like to have lunch with, the author of the Free Range Kids website, Lenore Skenazy, would be on it. Her blog,,  is one of my favorite sites.  Ms. Skenazy posts a lot of items about the culture of fear and helicopter parenting in the States. Parents in the States don't let their kids do what they did as kids, such as walk to school alone or ride their bikes to a friend's house, because they are so afraid of pedophiles and kidnappers. Stateside schools seemed to have stepped into the role of an overprotective parent through such things as: no recess when the temperature is below 10 C (50 F) because a kid may get cold, no Valentine's Day parties because a child in the class may have allergies, and rules about teachers not talking about themselves or touching a child on the shoulder. In the States there is such a fear of "stranger danger" that even senior citizens who smile and say, "Hello" to a child are viewed as potential perverts or kidnappers. Ms. Skenazy has posted stories of children who ran to their parents screaming, "Mom! That stranger talked to me!" when a senior citizen smiled and said, "Hello" to them in a store. I must be a horrible parent because I let my son accept candy from grandmotherly-looking ladies on the train when he was younger (it's a requirement for every German woman over age 60 to have a stash of candy in her purse to give to children that she encounters). Ms. Skenazy also posts positive stories of kids whose families are bucking the helicopter parenting trend.

Here in Germany kids grow up free-range. They walk to school by themselves starting in first grade. In fourth grade they can start riding their bikes to school without parental supervision. In fifth grade kids start taking the public bus or train to school if they don't live nearby. My son rides his bike to school when the weather is nice, usually meeting up with a friend or two along the way. Kids here grow up with a sense of independence. When my son was 10, he rode the train by himself for the first time and loved it. When I picked him up at the station, the first thing he told me was, "I want to ride the train by myself again. That was fun." He skis with friends at the local ski area without adult supervision and knows what to do if someone gets hurt.

Here are a couple of Free Range stories that would probably get me turned in to the Child Protective Services people if they happened in the States. Let's see the violations: leaving a child unsupervised, letting a child talk to strangers, and inviting a child to be kidnapped because of being in a crowded area.

Last September, my family (husband, son) and I went on vacation in Italy. We were near the three big amusement parks in the Lake Garda area. When we were at Gardaland, the biggest park in the area, my husband and I wanted to go on the roller coaster with the loops. My son didn't want to go on it, no matter how hard we tried to convince him to do it. We decided that it was best not to force him to go on that roller coaster because he would be too scared to enjoy it. Next to the roller coaster there was a teacup ride, exactly like the teacups at Disneyland. My son really wanted to go on the teacups. My husband and I decided that our son could go on the teacups while we were on the roller coaster. We picked a place to meet when our rides ended, then went our respective ways. When my husband and I got off the roller coaster, my son was waiting in the appointed spot. We all then went on the teacups together because my son said that he wanted to share his enjoyment of them. OK, he really wanted to ride in them again. Nobody questioned an 11-year-old boy standing by himself for three minutes about where his parents were. All of the other families at the park were minding their own business. There was no park security waiting to haul my husband and me into his office for child neglect. When I was about my son's age, I was allowed to go off  by myself or with a friend at Disneyland. I just had to meet up with my parents at a designated place and time, which I always did. This was back in the days before mobile phones, so my parents couldn't check up on me.

My next Free Range story happened last Sunday. The 2011 Alpine Skiing World Championships were here in Garmisch. We had tickets for the men's slalom race, which was the last race of the championships. My son loves collecting autographs and autograph cards from the skiers. After the race concluded, my son wanted to take his autograph pad and go to where the skiers exit the stadium so that he could catch them for autographs. We let him go. My husband and I stayed in the stands to watch the medal ceremony. Every skier that my son approached obliged him with an autograph or card. None of them questioned a child on his own with an autograph pad and pen. Nobody said anything to my son about talking to strangers. After all, he doesn't know any of the professional skiers personally. Therefore, they're strangers. I thought that it was wonderful that my normally shy son would ask the athletes that he watches on TV every weekend from November to March for autographs. When my husband and I finally caught up with him, he was bubbling with happiness about his autograph pad being almost full. He showed us all of the autographs and cards that he collected.

I may never have lunch with Lenore Skenazy. But I will contine to read her Free Range Kids website and feel sorry for children in the States who are so overprotected. Those kids with helicopter parents and overprotective teachers are really missing out on life.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Final World Championship Thoughts

Here are some random final thoughts about the 2011 Alpine Skiing World Championships.

Best Post-Race Celebration: Tie between Tina Maze (Slovenia) and Didier Cuche (Switzerland). When Maze realized that she won the gold medal in the giant slalom, she did a roundoff. It was especially impressive because she was wearing heavy ski boots. Cuche is a real showman and has a special ritual that he performs after every race. He loosens one ski, kicks it into the air so that it flips a couple of times, then catches it with one hand.

Best Trick Skiing: Bode Miller of the USA in the men's Super-G event. About halfway down the course he hit a gate, which knocked one of his poles out of his hand. Up until he lost his pole, he had the fastest run. Even after losing his pole, he had the fastest split times until the final one, when he had to make a big turn toward the finish area. He lost his momentum on that turn, but still did well enough to finish 12th. Miller skied better with one pole than most people do with two.

It's a Family Affair: There are several sets of siblings on various ski teams. Some of them competed in Garmisch, while others didn't make the team. Here are some sets of siblings: Matteo and Francesca Marsaglia (Italy), Maria and Suzanne Riesch (Germany), Mariles and Bernadette Schild (Austria) Manfred and Manuela Moelgg (Italy), Marc and Sandra Gini (Switzerland), Christian, Macarena, and Maria-Belen Simarni Birkner (Argentina), Britt and Michael Janyk (Canada), Elizabeth and Stefan Goergl (Austria), Lena and Katarina Duerr (Germany), and Marc and Dominique Gisin (Switzerland). The Gisins have a 17-year-old sister named Michelle who we may see on the Swiss team in the near future. World Cup overall leader Ivica Kostelic of Croatia is coached by his father. His sister Janica was one of the greatest skiers of all time.

The Odd Couple: Christof Innerhofer of Italy and his teammate Peter Fill. Innerhofer and Fill are best friends and often share a room while on the road. Innerhofer describes himself as an extrovert and the one with the messy side of the room. Fill is an introvert and keeps his side of the room clean. He'll often clean Innerhofer's part of the room too. Innerhofer describes Fill as "a good wife." Move over, Oscar and Felix!

Biggest Whiner: Lindsey Vonn of the USA. Before the championships even started, she complained about the course being too fast, icy, and bumpy. Vonn went so far as to say that the Kandahar course was unsafe and posted her complaint on her Facebook page. Her comments practically went viral on the Internet and newspapers around the world. She said that the International Skiing Federation (FIS) did a poor job preparing the course and had no consideration for skier safety. The Austrian and German newspapers had a field day with Vonn's complaints and her fans who wanted her to encourage the other athletes boycott the championships. The Austrian women and Garmisch native Maria Riesch (the overall World Cup leader this season) said that the course was challenging but fine. The Austrians had a point because they won 3 out of 4 races on that course (I'm including the downhill portion of the super combined here). Riesch also earned two bronze medals on it. Even men's combined champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway said that world class skiers should be able to handle any course. Despite Vonn's complaints about how bad the course was, she still opted to race on it and earned a silver medal in the downhill event. So it seems like all of that whining about the course was done to create drama, which Vonn and her husband/coach also did at the 2010 Olympics.

The Mighty Austrians: Before the championships, four Austrian skiing stars were injured severely enough to miss the championships. Speed specialists Hans Grugger, Mario Scheiber, and Georg Streitberger, plus slalom specialist Marcel Hirscher all got injured and will miss the rest of the season. Super-G silver medalist Hannes Reichelt hurt himself in training for the giant slalom and Benjamin Raich tore knee ligaments during a fall in the team competition. A lesser team would be devastated, and possibly wouldn't even be able to field a team, but Austria is at the top of the medal table. The Austrians are so strong that they are almost interchangeable. The "depleted" Austrian men earned two individual medals and contributed to the team silver.

Say Hello to Some Future Stars: Anna Fenninger of Austria is one of the young skiers who achieved her junior potential with a gold medal in the combined event. Lara Gut of Switzerland had 4th place finishes in the Super-G and downhill races. She is only 19 and has a bright future now that she has recovered from an injury. Lotte Smithest Sejersted of Norway showed that she will be a contender soon when she had the best second downhill training run. She won the junior world downhill championship earlier this month.  Emilie Wiekstroem of Sweden is another promising young skier and is being touted as a replacement for superstar teammate Anja Paerson. Frederica Brignone, another junior world champion, won a silver medal in the giant slalom. On the men's side Nolan Kasper of the USA could be a medal challenger in the slalom very soon. Bjorn Sieber and Joachim Puchner are young Austrians who also have star potential. They both got to compete in Garmisch due to injuries to their teammates and performed creditably. Justin Murisier of Switzeland also showed some promise. Another skier to watch in the near future is Paolo Pangrazzi of Italy, who was 6th in the combined.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye: Michael Walchhofer of Austria announced that this season would be his last back in the fall. Garmisch was the last world championship event for the 35-year-old. Others for whom 2011 could be their last world championship include: Patrick Jaerbyn of Sweden (41 years young!), Didier Cuche of Switzerland, Bode Miller of the USA, Kalle Pallander of Finland, Urs Imboden of Moldova, Mario Mott  and Benjamin Raich of Austria. On the women's side, Anja Paerson of Sweden hinted at retirement when she was asked about going for a record-tying 20th medal in World Championship and Olympic competition and said that she wasn't planning on it. She already has the women's record with 19--17 individual and 2 team medals. Team USA member Sarah Schleper and Tania Poutiainen of Finland are both over 30, though Poutiainen shows no signs of slowing down with age.

Final Medal Count:
Austria: 8  4 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze
Italy: 6  1 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze
France: 4  2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
Sweden: 4  1 silver, 3 bronze
USA: 3  1 gold, 2 silver
Germany: 2  2 bronze
Slovenia: 2  1 gold, 1 silver
Canada: 1  1 gold
Croatia: 1  1 bronze
Norway: 1  1 gold
Switzerland: 1  1 silver

Multiple Medalists:
Christof Innerhofer, Italy:  gold in Super-G, silver in combined, bronze in downhill
Elizabeth Goergl, Austria: gold in Super-G and downhill
Tina Maze, Slovenia: gold in giant slalom, silver in combined
Anja Paerson, Sweden: bronze in combined and  team competition
Cyprien Richard, France: gold in team competition, silver in giant slalom
Marlies Schild, Austria: gold in slalom, silver in team competition
Tessa Worley, France: gold in team competition, bronze in giant slalom
Maria Riesch, Germany: bronze in Super-G and downhill
Anna Fenninger, Austria: gold in combined, silver in team competition
Marie Peitilae-Holmner, Sweden: bronze in slalom and team competition

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More World Championship Stories

As I said in a previous post, every skier at the World Championships has a story. Here are more stories about some of the skiers at the 2011 World Championships.

Jaroslav Babusiak (Slovakia): According to the commentator on German Eurosport, Babusiak is a student in the off-season. He is planning to become a teacher.

Elizabeth Goergl (Austria): Before the women's Super-G race on the first day of competition, Goergl had a hard time deciding which pair of boots to wear. She was torn between two pairs. The ones that she chose were obviously the right ones because she won the gold medal in that event and also in the downhill. In addition, she enjoys singing. Goergl sang the song, "You're the Hero (Between Heaven and Hell)," a song specially written for the World Championships, during both of her award ceremonies and at the opening ceremony.

Andre Myhrer (Sweden): The Swedish slalom specialist is also an accomplished guitarist. His band was featured at one of the local clubs a few days ago.

Laurenne Ross (USA): Ross is one of the more recognizable members of the US ski team because she wears her hair in dreadlocks. Like Myhrer, she is also a musician. Ross plays the piano, violin, and cello.

Aksel Lund Svindal, Kjetil Jansrud, Lars Elton Myhre (Norway): These three skiers made a Michael Jackson tribute video during 2009 fall training in South America. All three, along with their coach, made up a dance routine to "Beat It." The skiers wore their speed suits and ski boots. Unfortunately, it's no longer on YouTube due to copyright issues.

Alexandra Coletti (Monaco):  Coletti is not the only one in her family who is a sports star. Her brother, Stefano, is a very successful Formula 1 auto racer.

Mirko DeFlorian and Urs Imboden (Moldova): Neither of these skiers is Moldovan. DeFlorian is Italian and Imboden is Swiss. DeFlorian was a member of the Italian ski team until he received an 18-month suspension for cocaine use in 2008. He got Moldovan citizenship this season. Imboden briefly competed for Switzerland then became a Moldovan citizen before the 2006-07 season. Both of these men comprise the Moldovan ski team.

Jean-Pierre Roy (Haiti): Roy is a Haitian citizen who has lived in France since he was two. He is 47 years old and the only athlete at these championships who is a grandfather. His skiing experience is the annual week-long family ski trip that he has taken since he was eight. Roy is the Haitian Ski Federation president, the Haitian team captain, and the Haitian ski team. He will be trying to qualify for the giant slalom and slalom events later this week.

Silvan Zurbriggen (Switzerland) and Felix Neureuther (Germany): Both of these men have relatives who were big skiing stars. Zurbriggen's cousin is Pirmin Zurbriggen, who is an Olympic and World Championship gold medalist and 4-time overall World Cup winner. Neureuther's mother is 1976 Olympic gold medalist Rosi Mittermaier. His father is 1972 and 1976 Olympian Christian Neureuther. Both Zurbriggen and Neureuther have really come into their own and are no longer being compared to their famous family members.

Hans Olsson and Matts Olsson (Sweden): Both of these Olssons are cousins. They competed together in today's team parallel giant slalom event and were instrumental in Sweden's bronze medal performance.

Ivica Kostelic and Natko Zrncic-Dim (Croatia): They grew up together because their parents were good friends. Kostelic describes his younger teammate Zrncic-Dim as a perfect training partner who pushes him to excellence.

There are many more untold stories from these World Championships. Even though most of the athletes here in Garmisch won't earn a medal, they are still interesting people.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gymnastics and Skiing

Two of my favorite spectator sports are gymnastics and skiing. I've been watching gymnastics since 1970 and ski racing since the 1990s. When I was younger I did gymnastics and now I ski. Even though both of these sports seem quite different, they actually have a lot in common. I don't just mean that both of them require coordination, agility, balance, strength, and overall athletic ability. Here are some other ways that these two sports are alike:

Each event requires different skills: In women's gymnastics there are 4 events: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. Each event is unique and takes different skills. Vaulting requires sheer power, floor exercise takes a combiniation of power, grace, and endurance, beam requires balance and precision, bars require split second timing and agility. Gymnasts tend to be grouped into either being power gymnasts who excel in vaulting and floor exercise or more artistic ones who are better on the balance beam, bars or floor exercise. Many gymnasts only specialize in one or two events. There seem to be just a few who excel in all events and are great all-arounders.

Skiing has 5 different events: downhill, Super-G, giant slalom, slalom, and super combined. Super-combined is one run of downhill and one run of slalom. Like with gymnastics, each skiing event uses different skills. Downhill and Super-G are speed events. They require the ability to think quickly at high speeds while hurtling down an icy course, plus muscular strength and endurance. Super-G has the speed of downhill with the coordination and technical turning skills of giant slalom. Giant slalom requires some speed, but also the ability to turn around gates on a narrow course. Slalom is the slowest event, but probably the most difficult. It requires the ability to turn around gates that are spaced at different intervals while keeping a constant rate of speed and rhythm. Super-combined requires both the speed and split-second timing of downhill and the technical skill of the slalom. Like gymnasts, there tend to be two groups of skiers: speed skiers who excel in the downhill and Super-G or technical specialists who are better at the giant slalom or slalom. There are just a few skiers who are great all-arounders who can excel in all of the disciplines. They are the ones who are also best in the super-combined event.

Evolution: Both gymnastics and skiing have come a long way in the past 50 years. When I did gymnastics in the 1970s, I trained on a hard gym floor or two-inch mats. Now gymnasts train on Tumble-Traks or into foam pits to protect their bodies. The bars and beam were made of wood and were inflexible. Now the beam has springs and has a leather covering. The bars are now flexible and not simply men's parallel bars with different settings. The vaulting board was less springy than what is used now. Even competition floors now have springs in them, which allow for higher and more difficult tumbling. The newer equipment, like hand grips used for the bars, has allowed gymnasts to do much more difficult skills than they did back when I did gymnastics. The skills that were considered difficult in the 1960s and '70s are now being done by beginning and intermediate-level gymnasts now. Here are some different routines to show just how much gymnastics has changed:
Vera Caslavska (Czechoslovakia) vault 1968 Olympics:
Monica Rosu (Romania) vault 2004 Olympics:
Uneven bar developments 1950s to 2005:
Cathy Rigby (USA) balance beam 1970:
Ana Porgras (Romania) balance beam 2010:
Natalia Kuchinskaya (USSR) floor exercise 1966:
Viktoria Komova (Russia) floor exercise 2010:

 Ski racing has also evolved from its early days. Back in the 1930s and into the '60s, many races were held on intermediate-level slopes. One of the fairly easy intermediate-level runs that I ski on here, called "Olympia," was the run used for the women's downhill competition in the 1936 Winter Olympics. Now racers hurtle themselves down steep expert slopes at speeds of up to 130 km/hour (about 80 mph). There was no course preparation in the early days. Racers had to ski on courses however they were. Now World Cup courses are prepared weeks in advance so that they will be fast. As speeds increased,  the safety equipment improved. Old-time racers wore beanies and regular ski clothing and used wooden skis. Now all ski racers wear helmets, back protectors, high-tech boots, bindings, and speed suits. Ski racers also wear special arm and leg guards in the giant slalom and slalom events. Their skis are made of the latest high-tech materials and waxes are specially formulated for every snow condition. In old-time World Championship or Olympic competitions there were no safety fences along the courses. Spectators could stand at every point of the course and hope that a skier didn't fall into them. Spectators also came right up to the finish line. Fortunately for them, skiers back in the day didn't go as quickly as they do now. Today's finish lines are about 200 meters from the stands and the only non-racers allowed on the courses are the officials. Here are videos from the 1958 Worlds and some of more modern skiers. Skiing starts at around 1:20 in the 1958 video. It's in German, but you don't really need to understand German to see ski racing.
More modern skiers:
Hermann Maier (Austria) super-G 2006:
Elizabeth Goergl (Austria) downhill 2011:
Ted Ligety (USA) giant slalom 2010:
Marlies Schild (Austria) slalom 2010:
I included women in some of the modern videos to show that they are faster and more aggresive than men were back in the 1950s.

Dominant Teams: From 1952 to 1992 the Soviet Union was the dominant team in gymnastics. Soviet gymnasts won the most Olympic and World Championship medals in that period. Starting in the late 1970s the Romanians were the only team to challenge the Soviets' dominance. Both of these countries had an organized system for developing gymnastics talent. As senior gymnasts retired, new ones took their places on the team. Both of those teams were very deep, with many talented gymnasts who would be the #1 from any other country not being able to make a Soviet or Romanian Olympic or world championship team.

Austria is the dominant team in skiing and has been for at least the past 50 years. The Austrians have a very successful system for developing Alpine skiers. When one Austrian skier retires, there is someone who comes up from the junior ranks to take his or her place. Austria has a very deep team. There are so many great Austrian skiers in each discipline, some of the best in the world get left off of Olympic and world championship teams. Austrian skiers have also won the most medals in Olympic and world championship competitions. Switzerland also has a strong, deep ski team that always has skiers in the running for medals. If skiing was gymnastics, Austria would be the Soviet Union and Switzerland would be Romania.

As a former gymnast, I would loved to have trained and competed on the equipment that is used now. I remember doing rolls on hard wooden beams and tumbling on mats that had no spring to them. When I started skiing, it was customary for recreational skiers like myself to have long, straight skis. Now the trend is to have shorter skis that designed to turn easier. I can't imagine skiing on wooden skis, though the gymnastics equimpent that I used was almost that same vintage. It will be interesting to see how both gymnastics and ski racing evolve in the next 50 years.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

World Championship Stories

While the media focuses only on the top athletes at the Alpine Skiing World Championships, I think that every skier has his or her own story. It doesn't matter if that skier is a gold medalist or the last place finisher from a small country who is just here for the experience. Here are some interesting stories about some of the skiers at the World Championships:

Erik Guay (Canada): This season has not been his best due to a back injury. But as the Austrian commentator on ORF said, "Erik Guay and Garmisch go hand-in-hand." Two out of his three World Cup wins have been on the Garmisch Kandahar course, one in a downhill and the other in a Super-G. On Wednesday he had a poor performance in the Super-G and wasn't among the favorites for the downhill. But he had a blistering run in today's downhill. Guay ended up breaking the course record and winning World Championship gold. As I said in my last entry, Guay also speaks a little bit of Norwegian. It seems like commentators can't figure out how to pronounce his name. The German-speaking ones say, "Gay" and the English speakers say, "Guy."

Werner Heel (Italy): My son has a friend whose father has a house in the Italian Suedtirol (Southern Tirol) on the Italy-Austria border. Werner Heel is the friend's father's neighbor. Last summer Heel gave my son's friend extra Italian ski team posters and photo cards so that my son could have some.

Sarah Schleper (USA): In addition to being one of the oldest women on the pro skiing tour (32 next Saturday), Schleper is also a mother. She has a three-year-old son named Lasse. He was named after Norwegian great Lasse Kjus. Schleper is a slalom and giant slalom specialist whose ritual before each run is to let out a scream or war cry.

Aksel Lund Svindal (Norway) and Julia Mancuso (USA): They are dating each other. Mancuso spent last Christmas at Svindal's home in Norway. Mancuso also has a lingerie line called "Kiss My Tiara." At the 2010 Olympics Mancuso wore a small tiara under her helmet.

Benjamin Raich (Austria) and Marlies Schild (Austria): Raich and Schild are engaged to each other.

Anja Paerson (Sweden): Paerson is one of the all-time greats. After winning the bronze medal in yesterday's super-combined, she broke the all-time women's record for World Championship and Olympic medals. She has 17 individual medals and one team medal. Only Norwegian star Kjetil Andre Aamodt has more with 20. She earned medals in 3 Olympics (2002, 2006, 2010) and 5 World Championships (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011). She is the first skier in history, male or female, to have World Championship gold medals in all 5 Alpine events.

Dominique Gisin (Switzerland): Her helmet has photos of various children on it. When my husband asked if the kids in the photos were family members, she said, "No." Gisin has a website where fans can send photos of their children. If her fans like the photos, she will wear them on her helmet in competition. Gisin speaks perfect, almost unaccented, English. She placed 4th in yesterday's super-combined race.

Ivica Kostelic (Croatia): Kostelic is currently leading the overall World Cup standings. If he ends up winning the overall title, he will be part of the second brother-sister pair to win World Cup overall titles. His sister Janica won World Cup overall titles in 2001, 2003, and 2006. In 1980 Andreas and Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein won World Cup overall titles. He would also become the first Croatian man to win a World Cup overall title.

Patrick Jaerbyn (Sweden): At age 41 he's the oldest competitor at the World Championships. He has been competing in World Championships since 1996. In the 2007 World Championships he won a bronze medal and became the oldest podium finisher in a world championship at 37. In December 2008, at age 39 years and 9 months, he became the oldest podium finisher in a World Cup race.

David Chodounsky (USA): Chodounsky was not a full member of the US ski team at the beginning of the season. His father was traveling with him and financing him so that he could compete. He earned his first World Cup points this season in a slalom race in Wengen, Switzerland and was so excited when he finished the second run. It was a refreshing change to see the joy on his face at getting points because so many of the big stars pout when they don't win a race. Here is a video of that run. Chodounsky's nickname is "Chowder."

Daniel Albrecht (Switzerland): I'm saving the most inspirational story for last. Two years ago during downhill training in Kitzbuehel, Austria, Albrecht lost control on the last jump and landed in a heap by the finish. He had to be put into a coma to prevent his brain from swelling. Nobody knew if he would have permanent brain damage or if he would even be able to walk again. Here is the video of that crash.  At the beginning of this season Albrecht came back and was good enough to make the mighty Swiss Alpine skiing team. In his first race coming back from his horrific injury, a giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colorado, he placed 21st and was thrilled about earning World Cup points. He has happy to be back racing and has a new perspective. For him it doesn't matter if he gets on the podium or even places high enough to earn World Cup points (the top 30 get points).  Here is his comeback race. The commentary is in German. A loose translation is that he placed 21st in the race and was very surprised at how well he did considering that he hadn't raced for two years and also that he was close to 2 seconds behind winner Ted Ligety in the qualification run. Daniel Albrecht is one of the best comeback stories in sports.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Photo Day at the (Training) Races

Today was a downhill training day for both the men and women at the World Alpine Skiing Championships. Training was open to the public free of charge. My husband and I decided to take advantage of it and get autographs from the skiers and also their photos. I could only attend the men's training session because I had to go to work in the afternoon. Living 400 meters from the gondola to the ski area where the championships are being held has its advantages. I could see a training session and still be home in time to have lunch and get ready for work.

On our first chairlift ride we sat with a skier from Uzbekistan who was doing slalom training on the easy slope. Between his few words of English and my pidgin Russian, he told us that skiers in his country only do slalom and giant slalom. He was going to be in both of those races next week. Then it was up to the top of the Kandahar run to see if any athletes were making their way to the start house. It was pretty early and we saw a lot of course monitors and slippers. For those who don't know about ski racing, a slipper goes on the course after a racer and smooths down any rough spots. Since it was early, we decided to go to the top of the Kreuzeckbahn gondola station. The athletes had to take that gondola to get to the start house. We just missed the Swiss team; but we saw skiers from: the Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Germany, Slovakia,  Bulgaria, Austria, France, and Italy. We got autographs from many of them. The Italians were especially friendly. I got my photo with Matteo Marsaglia and 2011 Super-G world championship gold medalist Christof Innerhofer. Marsaglia gave us one of his photo postcards. I also had my picture taken with Austrian skier Bjoern Sieber, who recently moved up from the junior squad and was here for world championship experience.

A funny story about meeting Christof husband started asking the skiers their names so that he could decipher their autographs. When we saw the very tall Italian skier, my husband said, "Excuse me, what's your name?" When he replied that he was Christof Innerhofer, I congratulated him on his gold medal from yesterday and wished him good luck in the downhill race on Saturday. He was very nice and let my husband take a photo of him and me together. It turned out that Innerhofer had the fastest training run today, showing that his gold medal in the Super-G was no fluke.

When the racers all departed, it was time to go to the finish area to watch the training races. After the first 30 racers did their runs, we started seeing some of the racers who had already completed their training runs starting to leave the area: Eric Guay and Jan Hudek from Canada, Swiss veteran Ambrosi Hoffman, and top Slovenian downhillers Andrej Sporn and Alex Gorza. We got to speak a little bit with the Canadian skiers. I noticed that Hudek skis on Rossignols, which is what my skis are. He told me that my skis looked nicer than his. I replied that his skis were much faster.  Eric Guay said that he spoke a little bit of Norwegian. He told us that the universal language on the pro ski tour is German. More pro skiers speak German than English, which makes sense because there are so many from German-speaking countries. The two Slovenians had a friend with them who took a photo of my husband and me with them. Then it was time to head home.

In the gondola station I saw a female Austrian skier. We got into the gondola after hers and saw her at the top outside the station after we got off. It was one of the big Austrian stars, Michaela Kirchgasser. She seemed friendly and gave us an autograph and let my husband take a photo of me with her. My husband also got a photo of Swiss speed specialist Dominique Gisin and her autograph. It turned out that he had ridden in the same gondola with her on Monday and had chatted with her quite a bit. He told me that she spoke perfect English and hardly had an accent.

The skiers that we approached were all so gracious about signing autographs and having their pictures taken. Even big stars like Innerhofer and Kirchgasser were happy to do it. In the States it seems like most of the big sports stars charge for their autographs. But the skiers, who are major stars in their countries (especially Austria and Switzerland), let fans have their autographs for free. The only skier who snubbed the fans was US star Bode Miller, which wasn't really a surprise. My son was in school during the men's training session. But he was so thrilled when I showed him all of the autographs we got in our little booklet.

I just got tickets to see the men's slalom race on the 20th. It's the last race of the world championships and to me the most interesting. There are about 10 skiers who have good chances to earn a medal. Slalom is also the most technically challenging of the 5 Alpine skiing disciplines. In the past I thought that slalom was the most boring discipline until I realized just how tough it really is. I'm looking forward to seeing that race.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Star Sightings

The World Alpine Skiing Championships start tomorrow. Actually the opening ceremony is tonight, but the first race is tomorrow. This competition is second in prestige to the Olympics. If all goes well, it will look good for the Munich/Garmisch bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. In the downtown walking zone there is already a real party atmosphere. My husband and I walked there and checked it out. We got free Swiss cowbells and samples of Milka chocolate. Milka is a major sponsor of World Cup skiing. In this part of Germany, and in neighboring Austria, skiers are treated like American football, baseball, or basketball players in the States or hockey stars in Canada. Many of the skiers on the German national team are from the Garmisch area. Double Olympic gold medalist Maria Riesch and national team member Felix Neureuther, who are Garmisch-Partenkirchen natives, have their pictures all over town on banners, posters, and store window displays.

This morning I went skiing with my husband and saw a lot of the athletes training. Some of the men were training on one of the easier slopes to test out their skis and wax. We could watch them from the chair lift and also from the run. My local ski area has two expert slopes. The Kandahar is the one that will be used for all of the races except for the slaloms. The other advanced run, The Horn, has been closed to the public and is being used for giant slalom training. Skiers are also training on the Kandahar to get a feel for it in advance of their races and figure out which skis and wax would work best for the unseasonably warm conditions.

We saw Canadians, a Czech, an American, and a team in black speed suits that we didn't recognize testing out their skis and wax on the easy slope. When we came off the gondola that goes up to the ski area (the one closest to my house called the Hausbergbahn), I recognized Austrian star Elizabeth Goergl. When my husband and I skied down to the valley to the other gondola (called the Kreuzekbahn), we saw Slovenian star Tina Maze. She is pretty much the Slovenian women's ski team and, like Goergl, one of the very best in the world. When I rode up in the gondola to go back to the ski area, I sat next to Maze and wished her luck in the championships. There was also a Swiss athlete in the gondola with us, who I think was speed specialist Fabienne Suter.

What surprised me was how petite Maze, Goergl, and the Swiss skier were. I'm used to seeing Maria Riesch, who is very tall. American star Lindsey Vonn is also an Amazon. Downhill specialist Anja Paerson of Sweden is a big woman, as is Finnish technical specialist Tania Poutiainen. Therefore, I've come to expect that most female skiers would be bigger women with huge thighs. I'm very small and Maze, Goergl, and the Swiss skier were not much bigger than me. Even their thighs didn't seem much larger than mine. Perhaps it just seemed that way because they were wearing speed suits and I was in baggy ski pants. When I saw Goergl, she looked almost like a teenager.

I'm looking forward to the races and have my favorites who I will cheer for: Maria Riesch, Viktoria Rebensburg (Germany), Ted Ligety (USA), Ivica Kostelic (Croatia), Aksel Lund Svindal (Norway), Felix Neureuther, and Didier Cuche (Switzerland). I hope that all of the athletes will have a successful World Championships.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Facebook, Food, and Friends

I'm very new to Facebook, having finally signed up for it just after Christmas. I have a small friends list and am still figuring out how it all works. There are a few things that I've learned about Facebook in the short time that I have been on it.

If you want to get lots of comments from your Facebook friends, post photos of whatever you're eating. I never understood the whole phenemenon of photographing your meals and posting them for all to see. When I'm eating a meal, I want to live in the moment and enjoy it. My first thought isn't, "I must photograph these chicken fajitas so I can post them on my Facebook page when I get home." I guess Facebook photo ops of your food are the Kodak moments of this millenium. To be fair, people generally post positive comments about food photos that a friend posts, or they'll ask about the restaurant that the meal came from. If I think that a certain meal looks like a greasy, nasty-looking calorie bomb, I don't say anything at all. Most other people seem to be the same. If I find a good recipe, I'll share it. But you won't find me photographing my meals.

The other thing about food and Facebook is that people like to post when and where they went out to eat. A typical post would be, "Went to Belly Buster Burgers for lunch." Again, when I go out to eat, I want to be in the moment enjoying myself with my family or friends. I don't think about rushing home to post on Facebook that I had Gulaschsuppe or Wiener Schnitzel mit Pommes at one of the local eateries. If I went somewhere and had a truly outstanding meal, that would be one thing. But it seems like every time someone goes out for a meal, he must post about it on Facebook. Appreciation for the excellent seems to be lost when every mundane restaurant experience is elevated to grand status. To me it's like writing about my training runs. If I wrote about every training run that I did, the non-runners (and runners too) who read this blog would be bored to tears. The only training runs that I write about are those that stand out because they were either excellent or horrible. Average training runs just aren't worth writing about. I believe that the same thing should apply to restaurant meals. Judging from what I read on my friends' Facebook pages, I'm evidently in the minority when it comes to food and restaurant meals.

There are two types of people on Facebook: friend collectors and people who are very selective about their friends. I fall into the latter category. I only friend people that I know. There are only two people on my friends list who I've never met in person, but I "know" one through a mutual friend and the other through a long-time acquaintance on an online forum. But there are others on Facebook who have hundreds, and even thousands, of friends. They'll accept anyone who sends a friend request. If the person requesting friendship says, "I met you at Joe Shemanski's party in 1982; don't you remember me?" he gets accepted.

A lot of people on Facebook are also game players and post the latest scores or promotions in games that they're playing. I must admit that some of the games on Facebook looked interesting. But in order to play them, you must let Facebook share your personal information. The people at Facebook don't have the need to know my information, so I won't be playing their games. There are plenty of online game sites that I visit regularly (e.g. Sporcle) that don't require users to provide personal information. I'll stick with those.

Despite this cynical-sounding post about Facebook, so far I've had a positive experience with it. I've reconnected with old friends, some of whom I lost track of in the '80s. It has also been nice to get back in touch with friends who left Germany and went back to the States. Facebook has also been a good way to communicate with my brother and cousins. The benefit of staying in touch with friends and relatives outweighs the food photos.