Olympics: Figure skating, hockey, speed skating and more

Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tracee Hamilton was online Wed. Feb. 24 from Vancouver to discus Tuesday night's figure skating results, the U.S. hockey team's hopes, speed skating, cross-country skiing and all the latest news and her stories from the Winter Olympics.

Full Coverage: 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics


washingtonpost.com: Tracee is just signing on from Vancouver:

Hey everyone, how are things in D.C. this morning? Wondering if the snow will be melted by the time I return. Let's see what people want to talk about.


Washington, D.C.: If you had to pick one event from this Games that's surprised you, what would it be?

Tracee Hamilton: Well, for events, I guess ski cross. Can't decide if I like it or hate it. The first round of boring and then it gets more exciting but it in general seems kind of pointless. I can't get into it. And some of the crashes are awful. That Russian woman who wiped out yesterday -- they had her covered from head to toe when they took her off the mountain and it looked like she was in a body bag. Ugh.

The most surprising athlete, to me, has been Julia Mancuso. Coming off injuries, totally in Vonn's shadow ... she's had a great run.


Washington, DC: I'm a little annoyed with NBC right now. I was really looking forward to watching the women's figure skating competition last night, but they only showed three skaters during the hours of 8:00 and 10:00! (I'm not exactly a night owl, so I couldn't stay up to see the whole thing.) Why would they fill two hours with skiing and bobsledding when presumably the main draw is figure skating?? Also, I don't understand why they can't show a competition in its entirety instead of jumping around to other events in between.

Tracee Hamilton: Can't help you with understanding NBC. I have never understood their approach but it has always seemed that were speaking to their audience slowly and loudly, as if the audience was very slow. There is nothing like watching the live feed because you see every moment of everything and you learn a lot more from that.

In this case, however, by 10 p.m., that was 7 p.m. here and the last two groups of skaters didn't even take the ice by then, so that's part of it too.


Rand, W. Va.: Tracee,

What is the mood like around Vancouver for the monster game tonight?

Tracee Hamilton: This is the game they've wanted, they just didn't want it in the quarterfinals, so people are really worked up. It's been Sidney vs. Alex since we got off the plane as well. I'm heading there later.


Sven Kramer: Ouch! Can you remember anything like that?

Tracee Hamilton: Not for awhile. Made me think of Zola Budd and that whole mess a bit. Felt bad for Kramer but at some point you have to stop pitching a fit. Remember that wrestler who threw his medal on the ground, in Athens, I think?


Who's your winner?: If you had to pick the winner heading into the Thurs. night free skate, who would it be?

And what about hockey?

Tracee Hamilton: Yu-Na Kim, I think. (I am told that is not the proper way to say her name but it is what she prefers to be called.) She has a huge following here and it's hard to imagine anyone beating her. There was some terrific skating last night.


Best outside shot for a U.S. medal: That we don't see coming for the remainder of the Games? It sure looks like curling ain't happening ...

Tracee Hamilton: Well, USA II could win a bobsled medal. That would be a surprise, although I imagine the USOC had counted on a women's bob medal. Just probably from USA I. Other than that, I am not sure we have a surprise coming. Men's aerials, hockey, four-man bob ... all possibilities but not surprises. If the women's aerials won a medal, that would be a surprise.


Still afraid of the big, bad Chinese wolf: I remember hearing early in the Games to watch out for drastic Chinese improvement and more Chinese medals. Has that happened at all? I know it's seen as largely inevitable that the Chinese will dominate the Summer Games, but can you ever see them doing the same to the Winter Games?

Tracee Hamilton: Not yet. They are pretty focused in their plan. Women's aerials is an example. You could see two or three Chinese medals in women's aerials because they imported Western coaches and got a lot of gymnasts to convert to aerials. The U.S. is copying this approach, BTW, hence Ashley Caldwell of Loudoun County. Hard to say if this approach will work across the board, but I think the Chinese are picking their spots and investing in them.


Figure skating outfits: Why can't the ice dancers and pairs dress more like the women's individual figure skaters? I don't see what the problem is. Fairly regular looking dresses for skating, beautiful programs, takes nothing away from the choreography.

What am I missing here? Why can't we take the circus out of this?

Tracee Hamilton: I don't understand why the outfits have gotten so dreadful. Remember Torvil and Dean? Could they have been more perfect? And as I recall, she wore a plain black dress. It's a shame because it's an instant turnoff for a lot of viewers.


Minneapolis: Hi Tracee -- Thanks for your excellent coverage of the games. As an avid figure skating follower (even in non- Olympic years, when coverage is becoming harder and harder to find), I'm wondering if you could give us some idea of what the atmosphere is like in the arena as an audience member. On TV the high drama is very heightened, of course -- especially last night's ladies short program -- but what's it like to be there?

Tracee Hamilton: Figure skating crowds are notable for being behind every performer. Some more than others, of course, but if you have bouncy music, they clap. If you fall, they remain silent, and the next time you hit a jump, they overcompensate. They cheer everything and boo nothing except scores they perceive are low. They are partisan for the hometown skaters, or course, but generous to everyone.


Rockville, Md.: I was so moved when the Canadian skater Joannie Rochette whose mother died on Sunday performed last night. It was remarkable and inspiring to see this brave woman. I hope the love and support from the millions watching is of some comfort to her.

Tracee Hamilton: Yes, that poor woman. She held up remarkably well, I thought.


Leesburg, Va.: Did Bode Miller really mature that much or could he just have been a late bloomer?

Tracee Hamilton: Ha! No, I don't think he's a late bloomer. He had such success on the World Cup circuit for so long but none of it translated to the Olympics. I think he finally realized, as he got older (for a skier), that Olympic success is different than World Cup success, especially for an American, and that he might want to try it. He's still going to be a different cat much of the time, of course.


Leesburg, Va.: What was the sentiment on Kramer tossing away the gold medal that was all-but-on his neck (for listening to his coach and moving to the wrong lane)? Sympathy, stupidity, or coach's fault?

Tracee Hamilton: I think sympathy, for the most part. He's one of the all-time greats and you don't like to see that happen, you'd rather see him win or lose fair and square. But it happened. I can't imagine how crushed the Dutch fans were; they are the highlight of covering speed skating.


Ski jumpers: Are they as tiny -- I think lithe is the word -- as they look on TV? Just seems like they're all Ally McBeal-era Calista Flockharts on skis ...

Tracee Hamilton: Yes, they must be light and they diet like wrestlers. This is why I find Nordic combined interesting; they have to be light like ski jumpers but have great endurance like XC skiers. Interesting mix. But the lightness -- that's why they watch the wind so carefully. A strong gust, and these guys could just blow away.


Nordic combined: I, too, have been enamored with the nordic combined, although it has felt so heartbreaking to watch the U.S. come up in silver twice. Did you sense any feeling of letdown from those medals? Or do you think they were just so excited to actually medal in combined?

Tracee Hamilton: I think Johnny Spillane was disappointed he couldn't hang on for gold and I think Bill Demong felt the same yesterday, but overall, two silvers ... that's a great result. They were happy to finally break the drought more than anything.


I'm begging here: Please take down that photo of the Russian ice dancers from this page. It's been there for two days worth of Olympics chats and I'm starting to see it with my eyes closed.

If it doesn't go away soon, I can't be responsible for my actions anymore.

Tracee Hamilton: I have no control over that but I have sources close to the page and will alert them. Don't blame you; it's a freaky image to carry around. I had to study the original imagine and that one carefully to see the costume changes and I may never be the same.


re: televising all figure skating: I agree w/NBC on this decision. I saw a few mediocre skaters last night and boy was that enough for me. The bottom half is really boring to watch. They look so heavy and tired on the ice.

Tracee Hamilton: The first two groups were pretty average and no one but the most avid fan would have enjoyed it, that's for sure.


More Dutch anecdotes!: I remember Steinberg being fairly well obsessed with the Orange Army in Berlin, too. Are they as great as fans as they seem to be? Which other fan base have you kind of fallen in love with? Or, if love is a bit strong, at least felt yourself pulled toward an allegiance with ...

Tracee Hamilton: No one like the Dutch. No one. I've never seen people have such fun at a sporting event of any kind, ever. They are loud, creative, totally without embarrassment. They are Steinberg's kind of people.


Re: Julia Mancuso: My favorite factoid about her from Wikipedia: "In 2010, Mancuso launched her own lingerie line named Kiss My Tiara. Mancuso also models lingerie and has been memorably quoted as saying, 'I think underwear is my calling. You can be feminine and fast.'"

She sounds like a reality show waiting to happen, but a good one.

You know, you're not going to get this kind of stuff when you come back and go to Redskins Park...

Tracee Hamilton: Exactly! And she's dating Svindal, who has three medals here. Think of the babies!


Ski Cross: Well, last night was my first experience with ski cross, and I was totally getting into it. Like any sport where top 2 qualify in any one heat (see short-track skating) I end up thinking there should be a Wild Card or similar for the finishers who were stuck in a fast "heat" and would have qualified in another heat...

Tracee Hamilton: Yes, a "lucky" loser berth might help. I just can't get into it. Although I was really rooting for Chris Del Bosco in the men's event. He is the recovering alcoholic who has really turned his life around. He went for gold, fell, and ended up with nothing.


New York, NY: Maybe I'm not seeing it because I'm not watching any figure skating, but its shocking how little NBC is showcasing great athletes from other countries. I seem to recall from past olympics that whoever was broadcasting them profiled and promoted the great and memorable non-US athletes (Skiers Alberto Tomba and Herman Meier, and speedskater Johann Olav Koss come to mind). Is it because 20 years ago the US was near the bottom of the medal chart not on top? Yes we are winning a lot more, but other countries win as well and it seems a shame not to give those athletes they're due.

Tracee Hamilton: I'm a little surprised as well, given the hundreds they have covering this and doing the run-up coverage. In women's skating they just about half to cover the non-Americans, since they are doing so well. Yes, probably the US performance in medals has a bit to do with it. If you can remember a non-NBC Olympics, you are doing well. Seems like they've always done it. I liked CBS better but then I was able to watch in those days. I haven't seen NBC's coverage since Sydney.


Exeter, NH: I enjoyed your column about Nordic Combined. This year I became a huge fan of Biathlon. Have you managed to catch any of that sport?

washingtonpost.com: Tracee Hamilton: Americans provide a thrill by taking silver in Nordic combined (Washington Post, Feb. 24)

Tracee Hamilton: Oh yes, the same day I went to my first Nordic combined I went to biathlon first. Love that sport as well. I get made fun of a lot. But I just like it. To have to calm your heart rate and shoot those little tiny targets ... Love biathlon.


Ashley Caldwell: Seemed really cool on a chat last week. Do you get the sense that she is the future of U.S. winter sports -- full commitment away from home and a very gradual building up across multiple Olympics? Seems like she's very aware of the plan ...

Tracee Hamilton: She's not like any 16-year-old I've met in a long time. I think in some sports, this might be the approach. Of course, in some ways, it already is. There are a lot of winter sports athletes based in Lake Placid. Another big group in Utah. Depends on the sport and what's available. Two of the Nordic combined guys are based in Park City, the other two in Steamboat Springs. Because of facilities, this is sort of a natural progression. For Ashley, she has to be up there to train. They jump on water in the summer and snow in winter, of course, and it's easier to live at the facility. She describes it as having dozens of big brothers and sisters. Not every kid could go away at that age and succeed but she's ready for it.


State College, Penn.: I'm with the other chatter about that ice dance picture. Please take it down! I love ice dance and all the drama, but both skaters look completely freaked -- as if they'd been goosed. Many thanks.

Tracee Hamilton: Bosses, please take note!


Speed skating personalities: Is it just me, or do they seem to be more or less sticks in the mud? Sure, Chad Hedrick is kind of the generic, oversized American personality, but everyone else seems really stiff. At least in long track. Can't tell with Apolo. Could be genuine or really contrived.

Tracee Hamilton: I always think of Bonnie Blair as the prototype speed skater -- a nice Midwestern girl, not a ton to say beyond speed skating. That was then, of course. Some of them are, but I really was impressed with Shani Davis. We had a phone conference with the short track team last fall and they were all bright and affable and were thinking of things beyond the ice. Ohno is really delightful, IMHO. He's got a lot of charm and knows how to use it.


washingtonpost.com: The masses have spoken, and we're taking that gallery down. Thanks for piping up!


If you were a Winter Olympian ...: What sport would you have competed in? All potential athletic obstacles aside, which sport fits your personality best? I was playing this game with friends last night and it was really fun (speaking as a cross country skiier who lives with a ski jumper and speed skater, in our alternative universe).

Tracee Hamilton: Gosh, fits my personality? It would have to be hockey. I can't skate, can't ski ... I guess I would have loved to be a downhill skier, but no, hockey would be the best fit.


Fitting Vancouver in with other host cities: Feels like enough of the Games have gone by to start putting this one in perspective with other sites. How does Vancouver stack up to Turin, Salt Lake, etc? Sure, it's no Lillehammer, but what is, right?

Tracee Hamilton: This is always hard because the cities are all so different. I will always regret not getting to go to Lillehammer but that's my idea of the perfect site. Vancouver is so big and everything is so spread out. Turin and Salt Lake had a little more of an "Olympic area" where you felt like you were near events, even if you weren't at them. In Vancouver, people come downtown and mill around, but there's nothing to do but mill around. It's sort of weird but they really enjoy it. I will say I've seen more drinking at this Olympics than others. I guess I should say excessive drinking. But then I'm out more; I used to be locked in an office, so maybe there was drinking and I wasn't aware of it. But I don't think so, not in Salt Lake, not in Turin, and not in Albertville.


Jim McKay and ABC: Did the best Olympics coverage ever. I know I'm showing my age, but how hard is it to pronounce foreign athletes' names. What else is there to that job?

Tracee Hamilton: Ah, yes, Jim McKay. He was the gold standard.


State College, Penn.: "washingtonpost.com: The masses have spoken, and we're taking that gallery down. Thanks for piping up!"

Thank you for listening. I love the picture galleries because I'm unable to watch the Olympics this year (no cable and no tv reception), so I'm getting all my coverage through the Post. But that picture was starting to seep into my dreams at night.

washingtonpost.com: Trust us, the last thing we want is any picture of those aboriginal costumes in anyone's dreams.

Tracee Hamilton: Democracy in action.


The press core: Is how much lighter there this time than in past Olympics? Sure, Beijing was probably the biggest because of the whole China scope, but how does this press core fit in when compared to past Winter Olympics, etc.?

Tracee Hamilton: Oh, much smaller. We always have events that are "ticketed"; that is, you can't get in with your credential, you also have to have a special ticket. This always included both women's figure skating events, the men's final, ice dance final, gold medal hockey, opening and closing ceremonies, etc. etc. Almost all of the ticketing has been canceled this year. Today's Canada-Russia game, however -- ticketed.


Atop Mount Pleasant: I was really into the Nordic combined coverage! Especially, because in relays. they bring teams together, and there is usually a lot of back and forth. But they ought to add up a few different disciplines.

Maybe make the downhill guys tote a curling stone to the top of the bobsled track, put it in a sled, make the XC guys carry it back up, hand it off to ski jumpers, who are trying to dodge getting shot by the biathletes ...

Tracee Hamilton: I have always thought combining the biathlon and ski jumping would be nothing but viewers. (Not with real bullets, of course. Paint ball, maybe?)


Philadelphia: Tracee! Thank you for taking these questions. Since you are on Tony's radio show from time to time - do you feel what he said about Hannah Storm warranted a suspension??

Tracee Hamilton: Well, I don't think commenting on the apparel of TV personalities is that big a deal. Everyone does it. If Tony said I looked like a frump on my ESPN appearnces, I wouldn't bat an eye (because I did!). But ESPN is a different animal. I think two weeks is ridiculous and a suspension is bizarre coming from a media company whose employees, one feels, ought to have the right of free speech.


Bethesda, Md.: Where did the gallery go with the great picture of the ice dancers? Just kidding.

Why does short track speed skating have 500M, 1000M and 1500M races when it seems like all they do is go at a steady pace until the last three or four laps and then they try to pass and get into position? I can't wait to see the relay final with five teams, that should be crazy. Or did I miss it?

Tracee Hamilton: No, the relay is coming up, can't remember which night, but soon. If you talk to a guy like Ohno, he'll tell you strategy for all of those races and it's fairly complex. But when you watch it, it just looks like bumper cars. That said, I really enjoy it.


Best interview so far?: Mancuso? Another surprising athlete who's under the radar? Fill in the great unwashed here :)

Tracee Hamilton: You don't get a lot of interviews here, not one on ones, certainly, but my favorite person I've talked to here is Ashley Caldwell. Just made me laugh, which is rare.


washingtonpost.com: Hey everyone! Tracee just had to race out, but wanted to sign off in doing so:

Sorry, gotta run to the U.S. game, which I am covering, I think, as well as Canada-Russia, so I'd better get crackin'. Thanks for all the questions!


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