Thursday, February 6, 2014

Going For Gold

The Winter Olympics from Sochi are underway.

The men's slopestyle qualifying kicked off the two weeks of the Games in the Russian resort town, which may or may not be ready for the crush. The answer to that would be not ready if you were to read the stories by reporters who are telling tales of showers with no curtains, toilets placed side-by-side (and with signs saying not to flush the toilet paper next to them), exhortations not to put the tap water on one's face due to their rather corrosive elements and other harrowing stories.

TigerBlog's prevailing theory is that sportswriters will always complain about a lack of amenities. Hey, he's seen them complain about free food for years.

And TB assumes that the average person's take on complaining sports media types is something along the lines of "shut up." The media is an easy target, with its free admission to events (often in the best seats), availability of prime parking and transportation and inside access to the athletes.

Still, this goes beyond the usual griping about cramped hotel rooms or spotty internet access. This could be an ominous sign for the Games, if the key infrastructure simply isn't ready.

That, of course, doesn't even take into account hovering threat of a terrorist attack, something that has scared off more than one visitor.

The Russians, too, are easy to blame. If there is a problem, then it must be because Putin did something to give his own athletes an advantage.

TigerBlog won't have to worry about any logistical problems for the 2014 Winter Olympics, other than more winter storms that bring more power outages. Yesterday, for instance, he was on his couch enjoying the ice storm by watching "Analyze That" when the power went out, and TB never found out what happened to Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal at the end, though he assumes they lived happily ever after.

TB absolutely loved the Olympics as a kid. And anyone within a few years of TB's age or older knows they will never see another sporting event to rival the Miracle on Ice from the 1980 Winter Olympics.

He went through a phase were he wasn't that into it, and now he's back. He watched a ton of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and even more of the 2012 Summer Games in London, and he assumes he will watch a lot the next two weeks.

Of course, it's not his favorite international sporting event of 2014. That would be the World Cup. Or maybe the World Lacrosse Championships. Nah, the World Cup. 

As for the sports at the Winter Olympics themselves, TB doesn't like any events that are judged, rather than those that have a score or a time to determine the winner. This means that he's never been into the figure skating, and he doesn't like any of the X-Games-type events that 1) have an element of judging to them and 2) were added, he thinks, at the insistence of NBC to boost American medal totals and ratings (he has absolutely no proof of this and just thinks it's the case).

So what does he like?

He loves the downhill. He loves the snowboard cross, which he concedes is an added X-Games event but is just a wild scene. He'll be into the hockey. He is a big fan of the bobsled, luge and sledding events, and he'll be rooting for LoLo Jones.

He's not wild about the speed skating. He likes the giant slalom more than the slalom. He likes regular speed skating more than the short track kind.

Still, he'll watch most anything during the next two weeks, with the real exception of the figure skating. He's always struggled with that, as it's the most-watched event every Winter Olympics, which means there will be a lot of it on, and he just doesn't like it.

He's always liked the Summer Olympics better than the Winter Olympics, and he always chuckles at how important some of the events will be the next two weeks, only to be completely forgotten for four years after that. Like the downhill.

Princeton has no athletes in the Winter Olympics.

Princeton had 16 athletes in the 2012 Summer Olympics, and seven of them won medals.

Of those seven, one is still an active Princeton athlete.

Susannah Scanlan won a bronze medal in fencing at the Olympics two years ago. This weekend, she'll be at Brown along with the rest of the Princeton fencing team to compete in the Ivy League championships.

When Ivy fans talk about the best sport in the league, the one that makes the biggest splash nationally, fencing rarely comes up, probably because it's not exactly high profile.

Then again, in what other Ivy sport is every single league team among the men and women either ranked in the top 10 or receiving votes in the national poll? Fencing can make that claim.

The way the Ivy League awards its championship is fascinating, as each team will compete in a dual match against each of the other Ivy schools in a two-day stretch at the same venue. At the end of the weekend, the teams in first place will be the champions.

Princeton is the defending NCAA champion in fencing, which is also pretty unique, in that it's a combined men's and women's team championship, rather than a men's champion and a women's champion. Were that the case, then Princeton's women would be the two-time defending NCAA champion.

Princeton is the four-time defending Ivy women's champion and is riding a 41-match winning streak. The Tiger women are ranked No. 1 nationally.

The men are ranked third nationally, behind No. 1 Columbia in the Ivy League.

Don't carve Princeton's name on the trophy for the women so fast though. Princeton may be No. 1 in the poll, but Harvard is No. 2. On the men's side, Harvard is No. 5.

If you've never seen fencing, it's incredibly fast-paced and physical, and it'll be a challenging weekend for whichever teams win.

The Princeton-Harvard matches will be Saturday at 1:15. The Princeton-Columbia matches will be the final matches on Sunday (1:45).

When it comes to attention and public interest, fencing isn't quite the downhill or hockey or even figure skating. It's more like the nordic combined or something like that.

It doesn't mean that it's not intense, and it doesn't make whoever wins the gold this weekend any less deserving.

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