Great thing about the Olympics is that you are going to meet tonnes of athletes you never even knew about before then.
For instance, a diminutive 5'2 rising star from Australia by the name of Britteny Cox.
Cox cmes to Vancouver Olympics as a 15 year old. She did not have any expectations of being here, her sights were set on Sochi in 2014. Yet she qualified for Vancouver & is just thrilled to be here.
I watched Britteny do a couple interviews for various media outlets, which she really seemed to handle like a real pro. At the end I asked her what her name & even was, she told me in such a soft shy voice, that I barely heard her the first time, luckily I had video running and was able to decipher who it was later on.
Britteny comes to Vancouver probably just happy to be here, thinking about taking this experience in to prepare her for 4 years from now in Sochi.
Australian fans should start paying attention to Britteny Cox, because come 2014 you might see her make it to the podium in Sochi, and a lot of that will have to do with her experience in Vancouver in 2010.
Today was supposed to be a day the City of Vancouver was going to celebrate. It was supposed to be the start of a 17 day party. Ignorant protesters who are determined to ruin a once in a lifetime experience for onlookers, veterans & schoolchildren dampened things, but the party still seemed set to be amazing. Then there was a report of a serious crash on the luge course in Whister. Soon after, news of the severity of that crash started to come to the forefront. And that party, that has been planned for several years, has been pushed to the back burner for now on the news that for the first time since 1964, an athlete has died in Olympic competition.
On the opening day of the 2010 Winter Olympic games, a 21 year old luger from Georgia died of injuries he received during a horrific crash in a practice run on the luge in Whistler, B.C.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, from Georgia, a small country south of Russia was in his 1st Olympics & came here ranked 44th in the world. He likely was looking forward to this event since he was old enough to know what a luge was. He came to Vancouver, likely thrilled & amazed to be here, like many of the athletes I have met have felt. He maybe even had dreams of being in todays Olympic Ceremony that will take place under now with heavy hearts.
I met several lugers in the past few days as they came into town for their events. All of them were incredibly personable & friendly. All seemed thrilled to be here. I now wonder how each of them feels about this. It is one of their comrades that has passed away & in the case of some of them, like the recently blogged about Shiva Keshavan, they even witnessed it.
Several accidents have already happened on this course, deemed to be the fastest course ever. In fact Kumaritashvili had an accident just the day before as well. But like a true competitor, he went right back out there today. He truly loved doing this. Anyone that can rip down an icy corse on a glorified 1/2 toboggan with skates at around 80-90 MPH must love it, and to do it again the day after having an accident you must really love it.
I wonder if I crossed paths with him at the airport. I have probably seen hundreds of athletes there, but only have been able to accurately ID a few dozen of them. So many I have simply asked "are you an athlete here" & got a "yes" & I wished them good luck. It never crossed my mind, that it could be the last time I see them.
Nodar Kumaritashvili will be missed by many people. His family. His friends. His fans. His team mates. His competition. He will be missed by anyone who had anything to do with these games, even if they never met him or had any interest in the luge before today.
I have hounded a lot of sports, and people from a lot of countries. The other night, I obtained my first ever luge autograph, and my first ever autograph from someone born in India. I did both at the exact same time.
Indian luger Shiva Keshavan came thru & a small pile of media were eager to greet him, get some photos & interviews. Not knowing anything about his sport, or him, I was fascinated by the excitement of the mainly south Asian reporters who were even getting posed pictures with him afterwards.
I got him to to sign a couple Olympics postcards, just to say I got him, then went on my way looking for more athletes. I came back a few minutes later & saw he was still there, so I took the chance to snap a few pics of him before I left.
Afterwards I was more amazed to hear about the incredible journey recently for Keshevan (whose full name on the Olympic site is Shiva Keshevan Kannan Palan) just getting here. Just weeks ago he fractured a vertebrae in his back (as someone who fractured multiple vertebrae himself when he was younger, I know what an ordeal that can be) & was told by the doctors "dont race", but he told them this is what he had worked for the 4 years & was not going to miss it for anything. So he came, with a new sled as well. Another hurdle he overcame to get here was breaking his last sled recently. But thanks to the help of a few lawyers from his homeland who pooled the money together to get a new one for Shiva, he is in Vancouver & ready to compete. One of only 3 Olympians representing India at the 2010 Winter Olympic games, Shiva has been to the Olympics several times now. First competing in Nagano during the 1998 games, he was only 16 years old at the time.
I am sure at the end of the games, I will look back & think of Shiva Keshevan when people ask me if I got anyone interesting during the Olympics, because I am pretty confident I will never get an Indian luger autograph again.
On Tuesday the city of Vancouver had one of the biggest names in the winter sports world arrive, Lindsey Vonn, the supermodel looking superskiing star from the U.S. arrived to a throng of media, fans & autograph collectors all hoping for a moment of her time.
While Ms. Vonn was extremely classy is taking the time to sign autographs, much to the detest & constant pleading of her handlers not to, I found it interesting that she did not take much time to talk with the media themselves. Perhaps she found them to be too aggressive, as it was noted by multiple people there that the NBC team were physically pushing & pulling fans & other media members out fo the way to try & get their own shot. If I were Ms. Vonn, I too would have evaded any talk time with the American Olympic broadcaster.
Today it came out that Lindsey is suffering from a serious shin bruise & her Olympics is even in jeopardy because of it. perhaps this was part of what prevented her from wanting to stand around & do interviews?
What was clear from this breif encounter with her is that she was all class with the fans & autograph collectors there. Not leaving a single request hanging for a signature on any item, including brand new fresh off the shelf Sports Illustrated swimsuit poses.
So far these Olympics I have seen many athletes, most of which have been complete class, but Ms. Vonn really won me over considering the demand on her time, the insistence of signing despite her staff telling her not to sign & even physically pushing autograph collectors away from the 4 ft high glass rail securely seperating them from Ms. Vonn anyways. When you add that up with the injury shes working thru & the pressures of being expected to perform up here for the Winter Olympics, she really is a class act.
I hope for the sake of the Olympics & Lindsey, she can go in her events. The staff that Team USA employs, the station broadcasting the games for Americans might all be full of asses, but at least the athletes are still class acts.
The undisputed #1 goalie for the Team Finland Womens hockey squad at the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver. Noora Raty has a lot of pressure on her. She seems up to the challenge.
No stranger to North American hockey, Noora is honing her skills at the University of Minnesota in between starts for the Finnish womens team. Already a veteran of 5 years of National team experience, Noora is not a stranger to Olympic play either. At only 16 yrs of age she started for Finland in the 2006 Olympics helping the Finns to a 4th place finish.
With 2 World Championship Bronze medals, and with multiple wins over the #1 IIHF ranked Team U.S.A. in tournament games, Raty has no lack of confidence going into the 2010 games. Named the tournaments best goalie in 2007 & 2008, Raty could be arguably the best goalie in women's hockey, certainly without question the best goalie in Finnish womens hockey.
If Finland is going to get back to the podium in Vancouver after narrowly missing it the last 2 Olympics, Noora Raty will have a lot to say in that happening.
If Finland is going to have any hopes of a medal, they need some offense. Their top hope is Michelle Karvinen.
Of the big 4 nations, Finland is the one that finds itself most offensively challenged on most nights, but they do still have scoring talent. Saara Tuominen, Karolina Rantamaki & Michelle Karvinen making up the majority of that scoring.
Karvinen, a 19 year old Danish born Finnish winger, who spends her time playing for the Espoo Blues in the Finnish Womens league when she is not competing for Finland in international tournaments has already chalked up some decent stats in her hockey career. She was the leagues top point scorer in the playoffs 2 seasons ago, the same year she was picked as Rookie Of The Year. She has lead or tied Finland in tournament points in practically every tournament she has competed in. She was in the top 10 in scoring at the last 4 Nations Cup in her home country of Finland, as well as in the top 10 last World Championships.
In Vancouver, the Finns will be looking to generally muck out low scoring, tight checking affairs. They will rely heavily on their offensively talented players to step up their game as much as they can. Not even 20 years old yet, Karvinen is already one of the teams top producers, her upside is still growing, the Finns might have a legitimate gamebreaker in Karvinen.
Finland has their eyes on a medal, and hopes of knocking off one of the two super powers perhaps along the way. If Michelle Karvinen is at her best, Finland might be able to do that.
You can follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/M3Karvinen
If Sweden plans on repeating as silver medalists, Maria Rooth will be part of that. As a two time Olympic medalist. She is one of Swedens most experienced International players.
Already a silver & bronze medalist at the Olympics, Rooth will be aiming to try & help Sweden get somewhere they never have been in a tournament featuring the U.S. & Canada, the top.
A former star member of NCAA hockey power University of Minnesota-Duluth, Rooth now showcases her skills for a womens team IN Sweden AIK Solna, where several other Swedish Olympians play. They have helped the club team become a powerful force over there, winning last seasons Swedish womens championship, as well as having 3 straight European championships. Much of this success is because of Rooth.
In international play Rooth is one of the best. At the 2006 Olympics she was the top scorer outside of Canada in the tournament with 9 points in 5 games. This helped her make the tournament all-star team.
In Vancouver Sweden will be expecting a medal, and will be hoping to become the first country outside of North America to win a gold. The odds are slim of such a feat, but the same odds were placed on them in 2006 of finishing 2nd. Which they did, thanks in part to Maria Rooth.
The goalie for Sweden in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics will be Kim Martin. Really, can you blame them?
Kim is the goalie who helped the Swedes win a silver medal in 2006 at the Torino Olympics. With a silver & bronze medal on her Olympic resume, she certainly will be looked at by her country to bring them another medal this Olympics.
After a couple years of sluggish play after & even during a knee injury that kept her out for the 2009 Worlds, Martin seems to finally be getting her game back on track. She backstopped her country to a bronze at the last big tournament before the Olympics in the 4 Nations Cup over in Finland.
Often discussed as the "best womens goaltender" by those who follow the sport, Martin is starting to live back up to the hype that followed her before her injury. The hype that started with a 2002 Olympic bronze medal, the hype that snowballed after the world saw her help her team steal a silver in 2006 & lead University of Minnesota-Duluth to the 2008 NCAA championship.
For Kim the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will probably feel like its own reward after being on the shelp not too long ago. But she wont be happy unless there is a medal around her neck. She likely wont be really happy unless its silver or higher.
If womens hockey is looking to showcase the game & get the attention of the men, maybe Sweden can play Valentina Lizana a bit more?
Sweden at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will rely on Kim Martin to carry the load. Understandably, she is clearly one of the top goalies in womens hockey, if not the best. But the Swedes have another pretty decent goalie in Valentina backing up. With a resume that sports multiple European Womens championships, Swedish womens league championships & over 30 National team games, including 4 shutouts, Lizana has a pretty nice resume of her own...and shes still only 19.
What garners her more attention however is off the ice, her looks. The 5'7 dark brunette beauty looks more like a model than an elite athlete. The sport of womens hockey is always looking to market itself to get into the mainstream, this girl could be the answer for hockey that Anna Kournikova was for tennis. She has the looks, and talent.
Last year, while Kim Martin was recovering from an inury, it was Lizana that backstopped the Swedes. With an impressive .933 SPCT & a 1.25 GAVE, it was certainly cant be blamed on her they limped into a 4th place finish.
I got to see first hand this unknown gem in Vancouver this summer. In the game I watched she played against the powerhouse U.S. team. In the end, the result was an unflattering 7-0 defeat, but her play, especially in the 1st period where it could have easily been a romp already, was nothing short of stellar.
Sweden right now has their saviour Kim Martin. But the future might already be here in Valentina Lizana.
Hard to imagine a 2 time MVP of the World Championships being overlooked often, but this is often the case for Jennifer Botterill.
Playing in the shadows of womens hockey icon, Hayley Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill has put together one quite spectacular resume of her own. Going into her 4th Olympics, Jennifer has 2 Gold medals, and a silver. She has 5 World championships. She also has those two World Championship MVP titles.
During her college career at Harvard University, Jennifer won the Patty Kazmaier award as top collegiate womens hockey player. Twice. A feat never done before, or since. She holds the NCAA record for most consecutive games with a point at 80 (scored a point in 106 of her 107 career games), has the NCAA all time record for points with 319, and has an NCAA championship.
She has been a CWHL league scoring champion while playing for her club team, the Mississauga Chiefs. She won the Esso National Championship with that team as well in 2008. She simply wins at every level she plays at.
With all this on her resume, she is often overlooked when people talk about who are the best womens hockey players. Of course, when you play with Hayley Wickenheiser, possibly the greatest womens hockey player of all-time, that tends to happen. But dont be fooled, Botterill is herself, one of the greatest ever.
Team Canada will certainly he aiming for Gold on home soil in Vancouver this February. With talent like Jennifer Botterill on the team, you can see why they have such expectations.
You find out more about Jennifer on her official website http://www.jenniferbotterill.com/
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