Slide, Baby, Slide

January 14, 2011

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The sound of Avril Lavigne’s voice was cut off suddenly when Beth Morgan pull out the earbuds and turned off her iPod.  It was time to rock and roll.

With one run remaining in the Olympics, the battle for the medals in the women’s luge was surprisingly tight.  The iconic German slider, Heidi Jager, had not been her dominant self and held a lead of just .092 seconds over fellow German Katarina Vogel.  Andrea Vogel – yet another German – was in third place, just .124 seconds back.  Beth – the great American hope – trailed by just .191 seconds, but an Austrian was just a hundredth of a second behind her.

The sliders were competing in reverse order of placement, with the best lugers waiting until the tail end for their turn.  Beth had been waiting patiently, and had now nearly reached the most important moment of her life.  She waited for the Autrian to finish her run.  It was a strong run, and Beth would need a mistake-free run to stay in fourth.

“Slide, baby, slide!” she told herself as she prepared for her run.

A moment later, Beth had launched herself down the hill.  She activated her mental map of the course and readied herself for the first turn.  She kept a low line into the corner and exited the curve with her speed still intact.  The adrenaline was coursing through her veins – racing down a sheet of ice at breakneck speed was perhaps second only to busting broncs on her uncle’s ranch in terms of pure excitement.  Beth struggled to keep the adrenaline from taking control – something that could cause her to oversteer and lose her line. 

As she zipped through the corners and straightaways, Beth realized that she was having the best run of her life.  She was perfectly in tune with the course – she was in the midst of a mistake free run, keeping a low line through every curve.  When she crossed the finish line, she glanced up at her time.  46.792!  It was the fastest time of the Olympics so far – and put her in strong contention for a medal.

Andrea Wagner was next on the course.  Beth held her breath as Wagner negotiated the course expertly.  It was a strong performance, but not quite good enough.  Wagner’s run caused her to slip behind Beth in the standings – clinching at least a bronze for the American.

Katarina Vogel had also been paying attention to Wagner’s run.  When Vogel reached the starting gate, she knew that a safe run wasn’t going to be enough to stay ahead of Beth.  She’d need a time of 46.89 or better to avoid slipping in the standings.  Vogel got off to a great start and was soon rocketing down the course.  Beth noticed that the German was taking a high risk, high reward approach.    Vogel made it nearly 2/3 of the way down the course before the risk caught up with her – her sled overturned coming out of a turn.  Vogel quickly righted herself and continued her descent, but she knew that a medal was an impossibility.

Beth Morgan could not contain her excitement!  Who would have ever expected an American to win a silver medal in these Olympics?  She watched Heidi Jager begin her run.  Jager needed a 46.982 to finish ahead of Beth – something she was certainly capable of.  Jager got off to a strong start and ran a low risk run – but, in typically Jager style, was able to get maximum speed out of it.  As the split times popped up, Beth saw that Jager was keeping pace with her time.

Three corners before the end, Jager exited the turn poorly, and it caused her to run bad lines through the final stretch of the course.  Certainly the mistake would cost her – but how much?  When Jager crossed the line, Beth looked up … and saw a time of 46.985!

Beth’s teammates mobed her before the reality sunk in – she was golden!

[Editor’s note: As many of you know, I am a huge fan of luge.  Unfortunately, for fans like myself, there are many good, independent luge sites on the internet – most of the sites are affiliated with governing bodies.  As a result, I have launched LugeFans.com, a place where luge fans can gather to discuss the sports.  I’ll be blogging on luge related topics – and seeking other writers to also write articles – but there are also discussion boards where free-form discussions can occur.  The site is still in its infancy (born yesterday), but expect it to grow considerably in the coming months.  As for Avril Lavigne?  Despite being a country fan for the most part, I’m a big fan of her music and just felt like slipping her into a story.  I always have her music on my iPod.]

Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili Dies in Olympic Accident

February 12, 2010

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Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili from the country of Georgia died when he crashed during a practice run, flew off the course, and hit an unpadded steel pole.

Since luge is my favorite Olympic sport, this news hits me hard.  My thoughts and prayers are with his family.  Rest in peace.

Super Bowl, NASCAR, Olympics, and Baseball

February 9, 2010

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Another Super Bowl is in the books. With a two year old and an infant in the house, I managed to catch a very small chunk of the game – including the critical interception. What a nice post-season by Tracy Porter, with the pick-6 in the Super Bowl as well as the pivotal interception against the Vikings. I was pulling slightly for the Colts, but didn’t mind having Drew Brees and the Saints nab the win.

Danica Patrick finished 6th in a stock car race over the weekend. Before getting too excited, it should be noted that this was not a NASCAR race, but an ARCA race. With absolutely no disrespect to the fine drivers in the ARCA series, ARCA is not at the same level as NASCAR. Having said that, it’s still a nice achievement for someone jumping from a light Indy car into a heavy stock car. That’s one factor that could work against Danica this year as she races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (the second highest series, not to be confused with the Sprint Cup Series). She will be running a full Indy season and a partial NASCAR seasons – jumping back and forth between Indy cars and stock cars. These are types of cars that handle very differently, and the end result could be disappointing seasons in both series as her muscle memory gets all wonked up. (The true NASCAR fans out there are going to realize that this is hardly a unique assessment on my part).

I’m definitely pulling for Danica to make a successful transition. Really, there is no reason why a woman can’t succeed in NASCAR. Women have had success in several other racing series. If we look across to NHRA, Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey have won championships, and Melanie Troxel is a contender in the Funny Car series.

Jimmie Johnson is trying for his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title this year. I’m hoping that Tony Stewart – who led the points race for much of last year – is able to knock him down a notch. The Gatorade Duels (qualifying races) take place on Thursday and the flag drops on the Daytona 500 at noon Eastern time on Sunday.

The Olympics are very nearly upon us. Fire up your DVRs. Coverage will be available NBC, CNBC, USA, MSNBC, and C-Span (OK, maybe not that last one). Go to NBCOlympics.com for details. I’m very disappointed to see that women’s luge (featuring my favorite 2010 Olympian, Erin Hamlin) will be in the 11:30 PM to 1:00 AM time slot in my time zone. The current Sports Illustrated features a guide to the Olympics. USA Today also has a special edition on the new stands. The USA Today edition has some information that is a bit out of date, but it seems to be a good overall reference.

I got my new t-shirt from USALuge.org and will thus be stylin’ while watching the Olympics.

Next week, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training. Expect to see a LOT of baseball coverage this year – even more than last year, since Kosmo will have MLB Extra Innings this year (w00t!). 2010 should be an interesting year. Players like Matt Holiday, Jason Bay, John Lackey, Zach Greinke, Felix Hernandex, and Justin Verlander will be out to provde that they are worthy of their new contracts. Seventeen year old JUCO baseball player Bryce Harper will look to make the leap into the professional ranks – perhaps as the #1 overall pick. Will the McCourt divorce tear apart the Dodgers? Will Sheets and Bedard rebound from injuries and return to their previous levels?  Will the National League finally administer a well-deserved beatdown to their little brothers in the Junior Circuit?

Kosmo’s Sports Wrap

February 2, 2010

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With Johnny Goodman still on leave for medical reasons, Kosmo is jumping in with another sports column.  We miss your articles, Johnny – get well sooon.

A Strong Brees

We’re on the cusp of another Super Bowl.  On one side of the field, we’ll have the Indianapolis Colts, led by Peyton Manning.  Manning is the son of Pro Bowl quarterback, the brother of another Pro Bowl quarterback, and he himself is a Pro Bowl quarterback, Super Bowl Champion, NFL MVP, and #1 overall pick in the NFL draft.  From day one, he has been the unquestioned leader of the Colts.

On the other hand, we have Drew Brees of the Saints.  The Saints themselves are a feel-good story – some good fortune for a city that was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005.  When Brees was drafted, the San Diego Chargers actually had the #1 pick that would have allowed them to pick up Michael Vick.  They traded that pick to Atlanta for the #5 overall pick (which they used to draft LaDainian Tomlinson) and a third round pick.  Having not gotten Vick at #1, they nabbed Brees in the second round.

Unlike Manning, Brees wasn’t given the keys to the kingdom.  His first few years in the league were up and down (eh, OK, so mostly he sucked), and the Chargers felt the need to draft his replacement in 2004.  They wanted Eli Manning, but he didn’t want to sign with them.  So they drafted Manning and traded him to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers (who had been picked #4 overall) on draft day.  Rivers would have been been giving a strong chance to unsteat Brees for the starter’s job – except that he held out nearly all of training camp.

Brees promptly turned his career around and had his finest season in 2004, throwing 27 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions.  After going to the Saints as a free agent after the 2005 season, Brees had TD totals of 26, 28, 34, and 34.  He has topped 4300 yards all four seasons and cracked the 5000 barrier in 2008.

For his career, Brees now has 202 TDs against 110 interceptions, 30000 career passing yards, and a QB rating of 91.9.  Yes, the QB who was nearly thrown to the curb by the Chargers is now on pace for the Hall of Fame.

No League for Old Men

In a move that wasn’t particularly surprising Cardinals QB Kurt Warner announced his retirement.  Ther ultimate feel good story, Warner arose (like a Phoenix) many times during his career.  First, he clawed his way up from stocking shelves at a Hy Vee grocery store (@ $5.50 per hour) to an NFL job.  Then, after injuries caused him to lose his starting job, he regained a starting job with the Cardinals and led the formerly hapless franchise to its first Super Bowl – and nearly won it. 

All told, Warner went to three Super Bowls – winning one and narrowly losing the other two.  He has the record for most career passing yards Super Bowls (1156) due to the fact that he has the highest, second highest, and third highest passing totals in Super Bowl history.  Consider for a moment how statistically unlikely that is to occur …

Off the field, Warner does everything the right way – from the big things like adopting his children to smaller things like picking up the check for random people every time his family goes out to eat.  You’ll be missed, K-Dub (unless you pull a Favre).  (Read my recent article about Kurt Warner, “High Flying Cardinals”)

When my Minnesota Vikings played Brett Favre’s bizarre waiting game last summer and signed him to be their quarterback, I was fed up.  Not only have I never been a fan of Favre’s, but it seemed to me that Favre delayed his decision simply to avoid summer camp.  There’s a four letter word for that – L-A-Z-Y.

I made the somewhat irrational decision to boycott the Vikings until Favre was n longer with the team.  Lots of people questioned this, especially when the Vikings were perched on the brink of the Super Bowl.  I felt validated when Favre threw away another Super Bowl opportunity with yet another poor decision (flashback to the 2008 NFC Championship game, Brett?).  Hopefully Favre will retire again and stay retired.

Double Standard

Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman recently signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds (is anyone else struck by the irony of a player fleeing a communist nation and signing with the REDS?  No?  Just me?  OK, thought I’d ask).  The pitcher’s deal will pay him $30.25 million over 6 years.  Although those in the baseball fandom were very much aware of the deal, it didn’t seem to raise the ire of fans like Stephen Strasburg’s 4 year, $15.5 million deal (see articles “Defense of Scott Boras” and “The Righty and the Lefty”).  (Yes, in theory, Strasburg could earn more money over the six year span if he performs well and gets decent arbitration awards for years 5 and 6 – but if they both flop, Chapman could come out $15 million ahead).

Let’s compare the two players.  Strasburg is five months younger than Chapman.  Strasburg is also the more highly ranked prospect.  So, why, then, is it a sign of the apocolyse for him to get $15.5 million while Chapman’s contract didn’t stir such strong emotions.

Chapman wasn’t subject to the draft, and thus had complete control over his future – unlike players in the US and Canada, who are only allowed to negotiate with the team that drafted them.  My good friend Fulton Christoper opined that this is a good reason to implement a worldwide draft.

Hamlin Heating Up the Ice

US luger Erin Hamlin (@ErinHamlin on Twitter), Kosmo’s favorite winter Olympian, racked up the following finishes in the World Cup season (singles events)

  • November 20/21 – Calgary, Canada – 7th
  • November 28/29 – Innsbruck, Austria – 9th
  • December 5/6 – Altenberg, Germany – 5th
  • December 12/13 – Lillehammer, Norway – 3rd
  •  January 2/3 – Königssee, Germany – 5th
  • January 9/10 – Winterberg, Germany – 3rd
  • January 16/17- Oberhof, Germany – 8th
  • January 30/31 – Cesana, Italy – 3rd

That’s good for an overall finish of 4th place in the standings, and Hamlin finished very strong, with  three podium (top 3) finishes in the last 5 events.  You heard it here first – Hamlin is picking up steam and is going to nab the luge gold in Vancouver.  Watch your rear view mirror, Tatjana.

And in an administrative note, we have a new link partner – Aibal.com.  Aibal is another non-niche blog.  Drop by and visit.

Olympic Anticipation

December 22, 2009

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The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are quickly approaching. I’m really starting to get geared up. Most people are familiar with the more traditional sports of skiing and skating, and today’s kids are familar with the X-games style sports. Today, I’ll introduce you to a few more sports.

Luge

My favorite winter Olympic sport, bar none, is luge. In fact, it’s my second favorite overall sport to watch – behind only baseball. So, then, what is luge, exactly? It’s a bit like the bobsled (bobsleigh) event, except that the repo man took 95% of your sled. You launch yourself from the top of the luge track, quickly get into positon (on your back, feet first) and use your feet to steer the sled as you fly doing the track at speeds that can exceed 90 mph! Sometimes you get to the finish line still atop the sled, sometimes you don’t. There is single luge (my favorite) and doubles luge. I haven’t had the chance to actually try luge personally, but I love watching it. I’ll definitely have my DVR set, so that I don’t miss a moment of action.

I am proposing that The Soap Boxers adopt the USA luge team as our official team to follow in the Olympics. 

Do I have a favorite luge athelete?  Of course.  It’s Erin Hamlin (@ErinHamlin on Twitter).  Hamlin made her Olympic debut as a 19 year old in the 2006 games in Torino.  Hamlin shocked the world by winning a gold medal at the 2009 FIL World Luge Championships.  It was the first time in 15 years that a German woman failed to win at an Olympic, World Championship, or European Championship event.  On December 13, Hamlin picked up her first ever World Cup medal, winning the bronze at an even in Lillehammer, Norway.  I’ll go out on a limb and predict an upset of the Germans and a triumphant Hamlin slide down the course at Whistler.

Skeleton

If you think flying down a hill on an ice track at 90 mph while steeting with your feet … imagine doing it headfirst, on your stomach.  That’s skeleton.  Skeleton, luge, and bobsledding (bobsleigh) all trace their origins to St. Moriz, Switzerland.  Skeleton was an Olympic sport when the games were held in St. Moritz when the games were held their in 1928 and 1942.  In 2002, they were permanently added to the Olympics.  I’m not as much of a fan of skeleton as I am of luge, but perhaps it’s because I’ve been watching Olympic luge since I was a kid.

Biathlon

The biathlon is a sport that involves skiing and shooting.  Seems like an odd combination, doesn’t it?  Who on earth would create such a sport?

The Norwegian military.  It was created as an exercise for soldiers.

Participants cross-country ski a course, stopping to shoot at targets along the way.  If they miss the targets, they face either a time penalty (the time is added to their skiing time) or are force to ski essentially “penalty laps”.

I’m not a big fan of skiing, and really don’t watching shooting events at all – but I’m fascinated by this event, which combines two completely different disciplines.

Luge is my second favorite sport …

March 4, 2009

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Luge

My favorite sport is baseball, America’s Pastime.

My second favorite sport is luge, which is definitely not America’s pastime. It is a sport that is only on TV during Olympic years, and even then gets less coverage than figure skating.

I’m not really sure how I became a fan of luge. I don’t live in a luge hotbed (such as Lake Placid or … Lake Placid) nor are any of my family or friends big fans of luge. Oddly, I hate winter and cold weather. But I love watching people put themselves in danger by jumping on a tiny sled and flying down a hill – within a tunnel of ice – at breakneck speeds. The perfect run is a difficult goal, with the sled having a mind of its own and often disregards the guidance of the rider. This makes the rare perfect run a sight to behold, and something to celebrate. I love to see a perfect run, and will cheer for that luger, regardless of their nationality.

The Winter Olympics are just a year away, and I’m getting excited for televised luge. I have even begun following luge news on the internet. If you have never watched luge, do yourself a favor and make it appointment viewing in 2010.

Luge is not the only unpopular sport that I follow.

Track

At first glance, track would not appear to be an unpopular sport. Track gets a ton of coverage during the Summer Olympics, and everyone saw Usain Bolt’s record-setting run in the 100 meter dash.

However, I’m really not a fan of the sprints. Sure, I’ll watch them, but I’m a fan of the distance runners. On my fantasy Olympic team last summer, my track athletes consisted of 5K/10K runners and a hammer thrower – and all them won gold medals for me.

My favorite track athlete is Alan Webb, who is best known as the US national record holder in the mile. I received a pre-Olympic disappointment in 2008 when Webb failed to qualify for the Olympics in the 1500 meter run.

My interest in distance running – and the mile in particular – does have a logical basis. I ran track in high school, and my event was the mile. My efforts could best be described as “slow”.

My favorite track event, though, is not the mile. It is the steeplechase. The steeplechase is a 3000 meter (nearly 2 mile) race. The race also features 28 heavy duty hurdles (they don’t topple like the hurdles in shorter races) and 7 water jumps. The water jumps are essentially hurdles with water pit behind them – the further you jump over the hurdle, the shallower the water. You can imagine the athletic skills it takes to excel in the steeplechase (as well as the inevitable failures and people experience splashdowns)

Other weird sports

Really, if someone does a good job of televising any sport, I’ll probably enjoy watching it. I even caught myself watching badminton during the Olympics.

One time, my wife happened to come into the room while I was watching something on TV. “What is that?” she asked. Why, the National Lacrosse League, of course!