Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Very Brief, Non-Nordic Addict's Guide to Sochi

Ok, so maybe you don't read FasterSkier religiously, and maybe you even missed the vigorous yet surprisingly civil discussion about Caitlin Gregg stupidly being left off of the Olympic team despite cleaning up on the domestic circuit this winter. (I mean c'mon, her husband gets named to the team but she stays home?; nicely played on the P.R. front, USSA Nordic. And not even filling out the entire team quota for the U.S.? No wonder Russia has two more total athletes at the Games than the U.S. ...). And maybe you're already tired of images of double toilets, undrinkable water, and stray dogs -- and of NBC's sanitized coverage. Hmm, so much for seeing the ring snafu during the Opening Ceremonies broadcast. And really Matt Lauer -- "I just hope during these Olympics we can talk about the things that really matter." Really? So Russia's autocratic state, the deaths of workers to build the games, the ethnic cleansing of the Circassians, etc., don't matter? No wonder Today Show ratings have tanked.

I don't have much to add on the absurdity-of-holding-a-corrupt-Olympics-in-a-war-zone front, except to stay that I hope in the years to come, the IOC (and FIFA for that matter) add respect for basic human rights to the list of criteria they consider when selecting locales for international sporting events. Well that and my favorite observation so far about the Games was this one from the Times: "Like much of this city, the bus has the Sochi Olympics slogan emblazoned on its side: 'Hot. Cool. Yours.' It sounds like a second-place pitch for the McDLT, the short-lived McDonald’s sandwich that promised to keep the burger side warm and the lettuce side chilled."

With that mini-rant out of the way, I'll agree the Games should primarily be about the games. In that spirit, here is a guide to everything the casual fan will need to know about the Nordic events (which includes biathlon, Nordic Combined, and Jumping) but were afraid to ask. Make that a guide minus the biathlon: I'm no expert there, and the Americans have only remote medal chances.

If you want a full TV schedule for the Games, it's here, and a list of just the Nordic events is here. And if you want to see what life is like in the Olympic Village, the best place to go is US Ski Team member Noah Hoffman's blog. He's already posted tons of images behind the scenes at the Opening Ceremonies and of Kris Freeman in the disco, the ski course, and the food in the dining hall.

My overall advice is: think women. With all apologies to the aforementioned Noah Hoffman, a rising star in distance events, the aforementioned Kris Freeman, a 4-time Olympian who was kicked off the US ski team at the end of the last year for weak results and is the sentimental favorite to miraculously medal (the 15K classic on Feb. 14 is his only remote shot), Simi Hamilton, a sprinter who won a World Cup race last month, becoming the first American male to win a World Cup race in over 30 years, Andy Newell, the most consistent American male sprinter over the past few years who is always a threat to podium, and, finally, the Nordic Combined Team, which won a bucket of medals in Vancouver (and one medal at the World Championships last year) and is getting the ol' band together for one last tour [6-time Olympian Todd Lodwick carried the flag in the Opening Ceremonies], the women's cross-country team is much, much stronger.

Jessie Diggins is a rising star (with her own fun blog) who will do well in the first race of the Games, if you watch it canned later today, Liz Stephen is J and my favorite because she directed us to an awesome pizzeria in Predazzo a year ago, and, above all, Kikkan Randall is badassery on skis. She is the two-time season-long reigning champion in the sprints (races about 1-2 kilometers) and she goes into the sprint race in Sochi, according to the British odds-makers, the favorite to win the gold medal. For a typical example of her awesomeness, copy and paste the below address and start at 1 hour 14 into the clip:

Or see the first YouTube video below.

Finally, you're probably heard about the Women's Ski Jumping Team, which is pretty much a Park City residents' team; this is the first year that Women's Jumping has been in the Games after a long drawn out battle (which included suing the Canadians after being excluded from Vancouver), and Sarah Hendrickson, the best jumper in the world, is back from injury. (American men's jumping, I am afraid, is at a historic low point.)

So the must-see events (all times based on canned coverage: most people don't want to get up at 2 a.m. to stream live) are the Sprint Finals the afternoon broadcast on Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Women's Ski Jumping Final later that night, and, above all, the women's 4x5k relay on the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 15. This is going to be one of the marquee moments of the Games, I promise. The U.S. was fourth last year in this event at World Championships, but they've been third in the last two relays on the World Cup. The relays are always the most exciting (globally, the men's relay a day later is THE x-c event of the Games), and this is one is going to be especially exciting with the U.S. women having a great shot at their first-ever Olympic-relay medal. In addition, the U.S. team of Randall and Diggins won gold in the Team Sprint at World Championships last year (two skiers tag off to each other several times) in dramatic fashion after Diggins lost a pole just a minute or so into this clip:

The Team Sprint in Sochi is classic, not skating, so the U.S. won't be favored, but the event is still worth watching on the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 19.

As of now the schedule does not list a time for the Nordic Combined team relay event on Feb. 20, which is really stupid on NBC's part given the U.S. won the silver in Vancouver.

The concluding long races (30K for the women and 50k for the guys) the last weekend of the Olympics are worth watching, too. It will be fun to see if Petter Northug, who was the Tiger Woods of skiing for a few years (with the same surly arrogance) can still be Tiger Woods. He's lost maybe a half-step, and he's been battling a virus, but when he crushes the field, it's pretty awesome. This is the sheer domination we saw last year at World Championships (start about 1:30 into the clip):

You can watch races after the fact at

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Antithesis of Anticipatory Nostalgia

I was in D.C. over the weekend, in part to celebrate Mom’s birthday. D.C. has a reputation for being a city full of transients with no institutional memory — a way station for 20-something interns and congressional staffers. I was reminded of this very real dynamic about 10 minutes into my trip. Happily sitting at a bar drinking a Troubadour Belgian IPA, and blathering on about how Jever isn’t, in fact, considered a very good beer in its native Germany or among beer snobs, I asked the bartender about the history of DC Brau, one of the good local breweries. “Oh,” he said, “it was one of the first breweries; it opened up about 6 years ago.”

Well, dating the beer revolution to 2008 sure was a 40-something moment. “Listen, you little %$#@,” I wanted to say but didn’t, “back in my day, at the turn of the century, we had beer, too, some of it even local, and some of it even hoppy. You need to honor your revolutionary ancestors!” (The moment also reminded me of the classic 1999 Onion piece about an undergraduate spotting his TA at a bar, which is worth clicking ... You know, we had the interweb back then too. True, it is funny that the excellent beer the student is surprised the TA is drinking is a Sam Adams, but still, he was at a brewpub.) ... The next night, determined to test my theory, I had a Starr Hill Northern Lights, a classic American IPA that dates at least to the turn of the century … but I digress.)

Put in my elder place by this whippersnapper, I settled in for long weekend of anything-but-anticipatory nostalgia. This was the real deal. One of the highlights was breakfast at the Steak and Egg kitchen, a 10-seat diner devoid of irony that has no logical reason to still exist in such an expensive real estate area, and that still uses Sysco hashbrowns from a box. I mean, it’s pretty hard to still get away with that, but they pull it off, mostly because of the awesome sign they’ve had since before I could read.

To celebrate Mom’s birthday, Lydia and Mom and I had dinner at the decidedly un-ironic Le Vieux Logis. This kind of French place could have been in DC in 1960. Who needs Korean chicken wings and offal when one can have classic duck à l'Orange? The place not only has puns on its menu but insisted on using up its holiday placemats. This is the third picture of me and my sister in existence.

Of course, we did see the new Cohen Brothers movie — the pretty fun but also dark Llewyn Davis — so we got our irony fix that way.

By chance, Cedar and Rachel were also in town. Shockingly, the Four Provinces (4 Ps) on Connecticut just closed after being in business since 1976, so we ended up at Nanny O'Brien's, another old-school staple. I’m not sure what Cedar was protesting with the beard, but apparently not paying $7.50 for a Peppercorn Saison from Three Star Brewery. I spend too much time in KS, I guess; Cedar says that’s a fair price for a local saison, even one in a half glass.

BTW, Three Star Brewery may be pretty new, but it bought up the 90s brew Olivers Ale.
Super Bowl Sunday Dad and I went to a Capitals game — my first game, Capitals or Wizards — since the teams moved downtown, to Chinatown, in 1997. I miss the Capital Centre, a true ode to 1970s suburban arena construction. 

Of course, one never saw a Chinese New Year festival walking to the Cap Centre.

Our tickets may have been more expensive than in the 1980s, and the guys in the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union jackets we used to sit behind seem to have been replaced by yuppies, but some things never change: the Caps just aren’t very good on defense. Still, in overtime, Alex Ovechkin (a three-time league MVP and the best player the Capitals have ever had, for the non-hockey fans out there) scored the game-winning goal of a ridiculously entertaining game. (Seeing Ovechkin win a game in overtime is an iconic local sports moment on par with seeing Eddie Murray hit one out of Memorial Stadium or John Riggins break off a long touchdown run at RFK.) Our seats were so high above the ice that the camera balked.

It's always great to see my aunt and uncle, Ellen and Paul, even apart from the pleasure of politically outnumbering Dad. And you can’t go to DC without getting some crabcakes. Not as good as Mom's, but still damn good ...

Finally, I had a chance to have a deeply discounted lunch at Fiola, a Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant that one of my friends named Chris has invested in (thanks Chris). Fiola doesn’t need a plug here, as the space is great, the food is better, it's already ensconced in the Washingtonian Top 20, and it was plenty full of lobbyists, even on a Monday when rain was turning to snow. But still a couple more food photos never hurt.

On the way home I flew through Chicago ...

And then ended up on the same flight home with Stines and Bonnie. Of course, you always run into someone you know flying to MHK. But for the record, that does not make us Flyover Country. Here's the view on the way home.