COVID-19 still affects our daily lives. However some may not have the same effects they had like say just a month ago. Some things are starting to open up more, but some still remain closed. Even those that have opened up have set restrictions and limits. I will highlight in this blog how much has changed since my first COVID-19 blog.
Reopenings, But With Restrictions
I don’t know how soon we’ll ever get back to normal; the ‘normal’ we had before this pandemic hit. One thing I know is it won’t be anytime soon. Keep in mind that reopening of indoor things and places will be done in phases. I’m sure phases will be based on the maximum capacity allowable with the given square-footage. Statistics of new COVID infections and active infections will also play a factor geographically.
Restaurants are starting to open up more. Even during the worst of the pandemic, restaurants that could offer delivery service still functioned. There were even two walk-in places — a local fast-food place and a Domino’s Pizza outlet — that were open for people to walk in and order. Both times I placed my order, I was told to stand outside to wait for my food to be ready. I didn’t mind because this is a pandemic. However lately restaurants have started to allow people to dine at, if not dine in. When I mean ‘dine at,’ I mean the patio areas of restaurants are set up and open for customers to dine. Outdoors has a way-lower rate of contagion. The restaurants that could allow dining inside had to have a big capacity and I’m sure they had to limit the number of dine-in patrons.
Most stores that were open from mid-March to the end of May did so with the number of people in at one time. However there were some popular stores in Canada that were closed completely during Phase One of the pandemic like Best Buy, Winners and Ikea. Winners reopened, but there was a maximum number of people allowed for a long time. I remember on the day of reopening, I had to stand in a lengthy line and it took fifteen minutes. The maximum allowable was 75 at once.
When Ikea reopened at the beginning of June, it came at the right time as I was planning to put up new curtains. I went on a Sunday 14 days after it reopened to purchase a curtain rod. When I arrived at 4pm, there were gates to mark the line-up where people could stand in line and where to be separate. It wasn’t just on one side. They had that line-up but the opposite side too. That was annoying since the line I was in was lengthy enough. Funny thing is there’s a third line-up area if the line-up gets even longer! Anyways theirs was a situation where there was a maximum and they could only let in ten at a time just after ten were seen exiting. That left me waiting in line for around thirty minutes! Also don’t ask about the returns line-up. I had to wait an hour to return something small!
Medical offices started to reopen at the beginning of June. The only medical office I could enter during the big closings was the blood clinic for donation. Even then, they had to limit the number of donors at once and it was strictly by appointment. Booking appointments were hard as availability could be anywhere from one day three weeks from now to the other option which would be two weeks later. Once I was able to donate, they still had to take my temperature from a distance and have me wear a face mask.
At least they allowed me in. When I had a really painful ordeal with gout in May, I didn’t walk to the drop-in clinic 300m away. I limped there! Only to learn the doors are locked and can only take over the phone. Even when I called, they still had to book an appointment with the drop-in doctor for me and they had to call me at that time. That’s the way it was with a lot of doctors’ offices during Phase One of the pandemic. It had to be either strictly phone appointments or they had to use their smartphone to send images or videotapes of the problem. Mine was strictly a phone call with the doctor. She did forward the prescription to the pharmacy. You can imagine my relief once I got the pills!
They may be a day late and strictly phone only, but it was way timelier than my dental ordeal. My tooth broke in the middle of May. I called up the emergency line and left a message. The dentist then called back and said they can’t work on it until the dental offices open up again. They didn’t open until June 1st. The problem was annoying because the tooth would scrape against my tongue. It was that annoying. You can imagine how relieved I was for my appointment. But even then, I was warned that there was the chance of catching COVID. I had four questions to answer before I could be done. All had to be the No answer. I also had to get my temperature checked from a distance. Then I could get my tooth done.
Reopening With Regulations
Some places have reopened with set limits. Firstly churches are limited in terms of capacity. My own church has two services on Sunday. Anyone who wants to attend has to let the priest know by the day before because there is a maximum of 50 people allowed in the church building and parking lot at one time. Even after you let them know and he says it’s good to come in, there’s still four yes/no questions to answer about your health. Only if you answer no to all four are you fine to enter the church for mass. For those that can’t attend mass, they can view it on the Facebook page or the YouTube channel just like we all did at the start of the pandemic. In addition, the summer used to be a case where there would be a single mass in both languages. Possibly because of the pandemic and to keep as many people from being left out, the two separate masses in English and Ukrainian will continue.
Secondly, it’s not just churches that are reopening with regulations. Barbershops and hair salons reopened at the start of June too. Yeah, we’ve all heard the term ‘COVID hair’ or ‘Corona hair.’ That’s what happens when the hair salons all close. You either have one of your family members cut your hair (One you can trust, I hope!) or you wait. I waited and boy was my hair long and hard to control. After the long wait, I finally got my hair cut in the second Friday of June.
The barbershop I often go to reopened. A lot changed. The barber wears a face mask, clients have to wear a face mask too, and he has to clean and sanitize the seats after every person he works on. On top of it, the price is raised an extra $5 to deal with the new methods of sanitizing.
I have no problem with paying the extra money. I was sensing there would be something like this. The news weeks earlier talked about reopening but charging a ‘COVID tax.’
Libraries closed during the pandemic. I remember well because I was to attend an info session on cryptocurrency in the middle of March. The session was cancelled because the library had to close. Any books to be taken out or viewed had to be online books. Libraries reopened during the last week of May, but it was limited to book pick-up at the entrance. I went to pay an overdue fine but they are not taking it right now. I’m sure even if the library building does open to the public again, there will be a limit on the number of people who can enter and it will be months before the internet computers for public use will be allowed to be used again.
Open But Still Closed Enough
Over time, playgrounds would slowly start to open up for children to play. Swings, spinning wheels and slides are now back and active again. Many natural tourist attractions and natural parks have been reopened. However there are still some closures. I noticed when I went to White Rock a month ago. White Rock is known for having a long beach and many walk-in food huts mostly for ice cream and fish and ships. It also has a lot of dine-in restaurants. At that time, most dine-in places weren’t open. I don’t think many could allow for dining in with that little of space. The small huts for ice cream and fish and chips were good, but there had to be distances in the line-ups. I was able to get an ice cream. For parking, half of the lots were closed off. For beach access, most of the walk-on access was gated and there were limited ways to enter for most of the beach. Also the White Rock Pier was completely closed off due to the pandemic. It’s a narrow pier of eight feet of distance so you can understand.
You remember how in my original COVID blog I talked about cancellations of events? That’s the same thing with July 1st which is Canada Day. Usually there would be parties and picnics and fireworks blown off. This was not the case this year. Instead there were ‘virtual’ Canada Day events for people to do online. There were fireworks shows but they all had to be livestreamed. If there were any fireworks shows for us to visit, they would have to be private. Also any Canada Day picnics would have to be private get-togethers. What can I say? When a pandemic happens, that’s all you can do.
My Own Daily Life
As many of you know, I was put on a leave of absence from my job back in April. It will end this Monday. That makes it a good three months in which I’ve been away from my job. During the time, I’ve kept in contact with my supervisor from my job. She likes to keep in touch. We had two socially-distant get-togethers. I had occasional get-togethers with my cousin. We had to be distant each time. I also had coffee with another cousin. Each time we all had to sit eight feet away. Getting together is possible as long as you’re distant.
A lot of places I like to go to, like libraries and dine-in restaurants, have mostly been closed or delivery only. I only dined out at one place: on Canada Day. Even with dining allowed in the patio, there were chair placements and table separations due to COVID restrictions including the maximum of two at a table. There were also restrictions in the indoor dining room. Whenever I go shopping or for any other errand, I still wear my gloves. Wearing a mask depends on the situation. If it’s a crowded place or there’s a noticeably big amount of people, of course I’ll put it on.
Buses started resuming regular service on June 1st and back to fare paid. I remember going on a bus trip from Surrey to White Rock. It wasn’t packed to standing room only, but all the seats filled up. This was one of those cases I’d put on my face mask. Especially since there was a shady-looking man who sat near me and made a phone call about drugs. I was hoping he’d get off the bus soon. I did get off five minutes after he did. Nevertheless, it becomes nervous when a person with a shady personality is close to you. I’ve seen some shady types who appear like they don’t care if there’s a pandemic or not.
Re-openings and lifting of restrictions happen in phases, and the phases are reliant on statistics. I’m sure no matter where you are in the world you are, the COVID-related restrictions that have happened relate to the deceleration of the frequency of new COVID cases and decline of active cases and will continue to do so as numbers change. There are some places where because of the numbers not being reduced, COVID restrictions remain unchanged. There are even some places like Brazil that have just recently experienced their own COVID ordeal.
Canada is lucky that the numbers of new COVID cases are declining. We did have some increases over the past week, but they are not as big as the new-case statistics of April and May. There were provinces that were hit hard and still have an impact. In BC and Manitoba where my parents live, the COVID cases were not the hugest of impact and experienced excellent rates of decline. That allowed for better phased openings.
I know I talked about being away from my job. During that time, I made some good use out of it. Actually I was lazy the first week. I felt I owed it to myself for working a lot of hours in my life. Just to wake up without an alarm and do whatever I want for a full week. I didn’t sleep in as much as I hoped. It’s hard to sleep in a place with no air conditioning. Nevertheless during the time, I used it as chances to visit as many outdoor places I’ve never seen before or outdoor places I enjoy going to. It worked out great. I added some new photos on Google Maps.
When people are laid off from their jobs during the pandemic, people do a lot of various things with their time. Some did baking, some spent more time with their family, some even resorted to indoor workouts. I did a wide variety of things. Online, I did some teleconferencing with people from a home business I recently took an interested in. I will be taking an online course on mutual funds in two weeks. I was ‘late to the ball’ for other teleconferencing. I received emails from ARMA (Association of Records Management and Administration) about info sessions on Zoom. I only started seeing them in June. Basically the biggest thing I did was apartment repairs. Over the years I left a lot undone. With all this free time, I finally had the chance to do it. I accomplished a lot. Of course there’s more I’d like to do, but I’ll see if I still have the drive, and the money to buy the stuff.
As for entertainment, you could tell with so many cancellations, television and YouTube replayed a lot of classic events. The NFL channel did a lot of virtual games, NBA replayed a lot of great moments and did stats, UEFA did a lot of ‘virtual’ Euro games, and FIFA has #WorldCupAtHome where they replay a lot of great past World Cup games. Right now is World Cup 1990. Even entertainment channels are replaying a lot of past shows. The Eurovision channel has #EurovisionAgain where they replay a Grand Final of the past, get people to vote for their favorites, and have a charity at the end to donate to. All of which remind you if you’re confined inside, you don’t have to compromise fun. Also during this time I’ve become a big fan of the show Ridiculousness. It’s become my new ‘guilty pleasure’ show!
The good news is my leave of absence will end as of Monday. Work at my full-time place has slowly but surely become busier and busier over time. I look forward to starting again. My work computer has been sitting in a box for three months! They say laziness is addictive. I hope that doesn’t happen to me. I hope I can readjust fine. I’m sure it will start as mostly working at home with the possible odd day or two working from the office. I’m sure any place that does have office work will have to have a lot of restrictions and precautions to protect people or they will be fined. Inaddition, I was told that I will be having some new duties to take care of. I’m willing to change or learn new duties, as long as I learn at a pace I can handle. Also you remember I told you about the CERB payments in my last blog? I received two such payments. I’m glad I don’t have to apply for more. Actually if you apply for CERB and you are actively involved, you can be charged criminally. I was reminded right when I applied for my first of the conditions required to eligible and that making a false claim can be subject to criminal penalty. I also heard from one person that with CERB, you will have to pay 20% of it back come next tax time. I have the money in savings set aside in case.
At least I’m working again. If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me, it’s that there’s no guarantee of work back. The pandemic has left a lot of uncertainty behind. A lot of small businesses and a lot of big businesses have had to either file bankruptcy or also completely close. Many have reopened, but it’s a question about how hard did the pandemic hit their business? Will they be able to continue? We’ve seen ads encouraging people to support small businesses. I have mostly shopped at small businesses that I’m familiar with. I hope they stay strong. Even big businesses will have problems as they may get less shipments of items customers demand. I recently went to a major clothing store near where I lived. The aisles and racks are normally loaded, but they weren’t that time. I talked with one of the cashiers and she said that incoming merchandise is less frequent. It used to be daily but not anymore. Something like furniture to sell comes in every week or two. I’m sure that business isn’t the only big business experiencing this. This economic recovery won’t be easy. I think every nation got hit hard.
Cancellation of events still continue, even locally. The fireworks festival of Celebration Of Light that’s held in late-July is cancelled. The Concours d’Elegance classic car show I like to see just before Labor Day is cancelled for the year. My retreat to Palm Springs in August is cancelled. Makes sense because of big-time travel restrictions. The Vancouver Film Festival, or VIFF, will continue but it will be completely virtual with the films they will be showing. I’m going to miss volunteering this year, but I will support the online VIFF.
Since I’m talking about VIFF, there’s a lot of talk about the arts suffering because of the pandemic. It’s easy to see with a lot of planned shows being cancelled and a lot of schools or training centres having to rehearse or work online. That’s become the new norm. Even the choir I sing for had to cancel out its show for June. We did rehearsals via Zoom every Wednesday evening starting in March in hopes of doing a show. When it became obvious a show wouldn’t be possible, our rehearsals became sing-alongs with our favorite songs over the years. My situation with the choir may be minor compared to the more organized arts companies, but this pandemic has the arts communities calling out for help in keeping things alive and active for the future. I don’t think the arts will completely die. I’m sure the arts have taken worse hits in history and have still triumphed. Nevertheless, it will be a fight for the future.
Also there’s talk from health professionals and medical board leaders that there is a big possibility of a Second Wave of COVID that could come in the fall and it could be worse. I hope not with all the prevention we’ve been doing. That will really cause a lot of financial damage that would definitely be irreparable. There’s already a lot of crazy things happening right now. Like just this week as the US saw a steady drop in new COVID cases for the past weeks, there’s now a sudden jump in cases that have reached record highs! Times like these make me glad my Palm Springs retreat was cancelled. Also airlines in Canada and the US have resumed more of their regular business and are accepting up to capacity. I just hope they have regulations like all wearing a mask and the right air filtering on board.
That’s all I have to say for my COVID update for now. There’s a mix of things that either look optimistic or look pessimistic or fearful. Only time will tell what happens as far as how the pandemic goes and its impact on the economy and people’s own lives. Me, I just want them to find a cure and a vaccine fast. Enough is enough!
I’m sure the COVID-19 virus, or as most would call the ‘Corona Virus,’ has changed your life to one almost unrecognizable to the way it was when March started. I know mine has had a lot of changes. However it’s a crazy time we’re living in now. Not as crazy as it was in March or April, but still crazy enough and showing no signs of immediate relief. A virus that seemed to exist in a city half a world away has now infected six million people worldwide. Here’s what I noticed over the time.
I know this will be the wordiest blog I’ve ever written, but I have to get all this off my chest.
The Pandemic Looming
The news of COVID-19 was catching our eyes as far back as February. It made brief news in January, but the news in February was about a pandemic in the Wuhan province of China that was looming. There was the fear that it might be carried to the outside world. Eventually it did hit the outside world and we’re now still fighting it!
News had already hit Canada of our first cases. Our first death happened in the second week of March and it was a 78 year-old in a Richmond hospital. It was evident that our lives would soon change. That would become the case the following week. It was then when things like social distancing, working remotely and the closure or limit of non-essential services. I even remember the last time I ate out. It was a get-together of former employees of my job at a pub just a ten-minute walk away. It was on March 14th and pretty much the last weekend where people could meet inside a restaurant. Then everything changed the following week.
This was a concern for me. For a long time, I’ve compared to COVID to other pandemics or epidemics of the past like the Spanish Flu or the Bubonic Plague or the Plague of Justinian. When we had our social restrictions– actually there are still regulations in BC as I speak– I often wondered “Did they handle it the same way back during influenza?”
Cancellations, Cancellations, Cancellations
To the disappointment of almost everyone, it appears every event worldwide had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. At that dinner with former co-workers, I remember the pub had their television on one sports channel and one golf channel. The news of first the NBA cancelling the rest of their season and then the news of the NHL cancelling the rest of their season sent a message about how serious this problem is. Even the golf channel talked of PGA and LPGA events that were cancelled. Interesting how nowadays, the sports channels have been replaying past sports events. That has been successful in lifting the mood of things, to an extent.
More cancellations were on the way. The Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled, the Euro 2020 football event had to be postponed for the following year. Pressure became a case that the Tokyo Olympics that were slated this summer were also postponed until 2021. Cancellations are also happening locally too. In Greater Vancouver, events like the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in June, the Celebration Of Light in July and the Pacific National Exhibition for around Labor Day had to cancel out as there’s no certainty the pandemic would end around their times. Winnipeg’s Folklorama had to cancel out their festival for August completely. It’s a pain and a headache, but it’s best to do so as right now no relief is currently guaranteed for their times.
I’ll bet there may be just 10% of the world where COVID-19 has not changed their job situation one bit this whole time. They must be few and far between or just plain hermits. If you haven’t lost your own business, or lost your job because of a temporary layoff, then your work setting will definitely have changed.
How many of you have had to move your desks from your office to you own home? How many of you still working use Zoom to communicate with your meetings? If you work for a small restaurant or even a big franchise, has it shut down or is it now just strictly pick-up or delivery? That’s what the normal has been under this time.
As for me, I was informed through my job that I would have to work from home. We would have to have all our computers set up with the right VPNs and the right communicative software to work from home. I remember my supervisor drove me in the afternoon to my home with all my computer equipment in a box. It was a unique three-week experience using all the software. The most I’ll say about my job is that I work for a financial agency that works on behalf of various clients. One thing is that the work slowed down because of restrictions placed in dealing with customers. We all noticed the work getting less and less as the Inbox had little work to do. Eventually I received the call I was placed on a Leave Of Absense. My banked vacation time had to be paid out before I could go into the unpaid part four weeks later. As of now, I’m still waiting for the call back to work. I’m not expecting things to resume once clients want us working for them again.
Right now I’m not too worried about my job. My work computer has been shut down and I have it sitting in a box. I still have my work badge. I also still have my medical and dental happening. Also, I don’t know if your country gives out emergency benefits during a State Of Emergency, but Canada has a wide variety of assistance programs implemented during this time. I applied for the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) which is a monthly income supplement for people that have been either laid off or receiving less than $1000 in a month’s period. Currently that’s my income. We’ll see what time holds.
Social Distancing: You’re Lucky To Get Around
You hear it all the time nowadays: lines like ‘Stay Home’ or ‘Stay two metres apart.’ To think at the beginning of the 2020, there was no such term as ‘Social Distancing.’ However that’s one of the things about this outbreak. Most of us never had to wear a surgical mask in public. That all changed when health officials made speeches recommending us to wear them.
Businesses sure changed. I mentioned about my time in the pub. That was the last dine-in weekend. Now restaurants have either closed completely or they make it strictly pick-up or a delivery service like Skip The Dishes. Fast food or coffee chains like McDonald’s or Starbucks have closed their restaurants and only allowed for drive-thru pick up. Few stores were open, except for those with essential services. Grocery stores and pharmacies were open. Furniture stores or clothing stores were not. Hair salons were closed off completely. Drop-in doctors offices were closed and they could only be a case where the doctor phones you. In some cases, you would have to send a video of your condition or ailment to your doctor. I know I had to do an appointment over the phone when I had a case of gout in my foot and it was too painful to walk.
Also how many of you go into a store and see lines or marks on the floor requesting you to stand 6 1/2 feet or 2 metres apart? I saw that in stores right in the middle of March just shortly when my work-at-home situation started. Even some entrances placed limits on the number of people who can be inside a store and had markers outside signaling where in line to stand. I’m sure there are some buildings that would demand you wear a mask to enter, like hospitals I’m sure.
Bus transportation is still there, but it has limited capacity. For two weeks, I would not get on a bus until I was invited by a family member to visit them. I was nervous when I got on. I didn’t have a face mask so I used my scarf if I had to. Plus I would almost always go outside wearing leather gloves. Buses in Greater Vancouver are free until June 1st. Skytrains and Seabuses are still fare paid. The buses would only allow for entry on the side door and were half-capacity to limit the number of people riding and the space in between them. There were even markers on the chairs which were not to have people sit upon. Skytrains and Seabuses did not have the same signs on seats to limit people, but the capacities were smaller than usual.
Playtime Is Over
The crazy thing about all these social distancing measures imposed by civic, regional or even federal laws is that they kept on getting stricter and stricter as the numbers got bigger and bigger. That’s the nature when a ‘state of emergency’ is declared. I remember leading to the end of the second week of March, the law was that places should have no more than 250 people gathering in one place. Then it became a case of no more than 50 people in one place. It’s not as severe as some places that demanded lockdowns or even a limit of 10 people in one place, but it was still crazy enough to put a limit on things.
I also remember when I went for mass at a Ukrainian church that weekend, the priest gave the option to use a disposable wooden spoon to put into the mouths of people. He was willing to use the common metal spoon used for everyone, but their mouths had to be opened wide. Also at the Roman church that Sunday’s evening, the church was half-filled with people sitting far apart from each other. That was the same in the Ukrainian church with only immediates sitting close to each other. Since then, churches have limited their services to online services. That was the case even during Easter. I know because I’ve watched many a mass online.
However the biggest area you’ll notice it most is in parks and playgrounds. Ever since the pandemic, swing sets, spinning wheels, monkey bars and sandboxes have been closed off. If anyone is to be in a park, they are to do it in the natural areas or on one of the benches. The pandemic was that much of a threat. Even now the swing sets are showing no signs of reopening.
Shopping: All You Can Hoard
It never fails. A pandemic or a problem happens, and then people flood to grocery stores to hoard all that they can. I got my first experience of this type while living on my own not during a pandemic or outbreak, but of a water crisis. Many years ago, Greater Vancouver had a problem with E-coli in the drinking water. People had to boil their water for some time or buy bottled water. You can imagine people would rush to stores to hoard bottled water during that period.
Now we have the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, a lot of stores have had their shelves ransacked for various items. The biggest of this pandemic pandemonium was three to four weeks ago. There was the hoarding of drinking water, of pasta, or rice and of meat. However the hoarding that got the most notice was toilet paper. People rushed in to hoard toilet paper more than any other item during that period. The hoarding of three to four weeks ago got so bad, stores posted signs that said ‘Limit 1 (or 2) per Customer.’ Even then, that was still not enough to prevent the hoarding. I remember going into a pharmacy looking for paper towels two weeks ago. Even a set of two rolls of ‘PT’ was enough for me. When I got there, the store had the ‘Limit 1 per customer’ sign, but a two-pack of paper towels was the only paper product on the shelf! That’s right! All the toilet paper and facial tissue were sold out and this two-pack of paper towels was all that was left. Talk about lucking out!
Now things are a far cry from the hoarding. Toilet paper have found their way back on the shelves, but they still go quite fast as well as paper towels. Cleaning products are one item that aren’t necessarily hoarded as much as they were in March but they still go faster than they did before. Leave it to a pandemic to change everything!
Attention To The Statistics
It’s a question whether paying attention to the daily COVID-19 statistics is a smart idea or not. It could be smart because you need to know where you’re area stands in terms of probability of infection. It could not be smart because it can promote fear and panic. As if this pandemic hasn’t caused enough fear and panic already!
It first started with the live facts on YouTube back in the middle of March. I came across a live video from NAV MED VIDEOS which features live videos of COVID-19 statistics that were constantly updated once each nation released more facts. The NAV MED VIDEOS live video is still live and is still active in updating. However over time, I switched to the Worldometers site. I find a site with the stats more convenient than a Youtube video. Worldometers also gives constant updates about the latest statistics and the latest numbers. They’re also still active. They do a good job of updating the stats for Canada, but I don’t like how they don’t break it down province-by-province the same way they break it down for the US state-by-state.
The biggest reason why I pay attention to the statistics is to get a good sense on how soon things will get back to normal and how soon the numbers will go down. Another reason is also to see just how big of a threat the virus would be. Numbers of cases per population is very telling. I admit the numbers during March and April looked very distressing. However the number of new cases reported on a daily basis have showed an unsteady but sure decline. If there’s one positive thing to say about the overall statistics, it’s that there are more cases of people fully recovered than active cases. Another positive thing is in terms of closed cases, we have an 87% survival rate. Nevertheless we can’t be sitting pretty yet. Actually there’s no such thing as ‘sitting pretty’ as far as COVID statistics go. In fact right now, Canada ranks 11th overall in terms of total number of deaths. All of us have to wait for numbers of active cases and new cases to get lower to resume more activities we used to do.
COVID In My Dreams
Now this is something totally crazy, but it should be seen as eventual. You know a pandemic or an outbreak is a part of your life when it’s in your dreams at night. It happened to me twice during the third week of March:
- During the evening of Monday that week leading into the morning of Tuesday (St. Patrick’s Day), I dreamt I was traveling by automobile through various areas of the city of Vancouver. I then found myself about to enter a library in a new building in South Vancouver. When I enter the library, I found it very hard to breathe; almost impossible to inhale. I think I struggled in taking three breaths. Then my alarm clock went off. I woke up and I was breathing normally. You can imagine my relief! Looking back, I don’t think it was exactly a dream about me having COVID-19 exactly, but shortness of breath is a COVID symptom.
- The evening of the Friday that week leading into the morning of the Saturday, I dreamt I was going to a community college of various buildings and floors. The whole time, I attempt to practice social distancing despite having to move fast from place to place. I’m by the elevator of the second floor of some building. The door opens up and a young woman comes to me in a hostile manner: “You! You bumped me! You jerk! Don’t you know it’s dangerous? You could’ve infected me!” You can imagine my relief when I woke up.
I haven’t had any other memorable dreams of COVID-19 since then, but it’s interesting how an outbreak can be part of your dreams so soon.
Those Risking Themselves
For the first 2 1/2 months, almost everything was closed down or in limited function. The biggest business that did not see business decline with the pandemic is the health system. Now more than ever, nations need health officials and hospitals functioning like never before. The problem is it’s extremely tiring for health officials and nurses constantly tending to patients. I’ve heard of hospitals reserving a single floor as a COVID ward. Those nurses would be working the most hours, be under the most stress and would be under the most threat to catch the virus themselves.
Nurses aren’t the only ones who face threats of COVID on the job. Despite seating restrictions on public transit, bus drivers also face threats of contagion. That was especially highlighted in April when Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove died of COVID. Just a week and a half before his death, the 50 year-old Hargrove posted a video where he talks of the difficulties doing his job during this pandemic. He even talked of a female passenger coughing without covering her mouth. I was upset with his death but I was most shocked to hear of a full-grown adult not covering their mouth when they cough.
Grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores still operated during the pandemic, but they had to take precautions and limit their hours. Cashiers would have to work behind a plastic protector or wear a see-through visor to protect themselves. They would only handle cash if they wear gloves. If you have a credit card, you had to run it through yourself with no putting it through any plastic. Some places won’t even allow paper or coin money for fear of contagion. Also at convenience stores and gas bars, no more self-serve coffee. The cashier does it for you. That’s what happens when a contagious disease hits.
The COVIDiocy Of COVIDiots
I don’t know what you’ve been doing for precautions. As for me, I’ve been doing my utmost. I think it was the dreams I had that most did it to me. Or it could be because I know a COVID test involves inserting a cotton swab far into your nasal passage. I sure as hell don’t want something like that! That explains why I’ve been doing my best to keep 2 metres apart. When I meet up with people, I keep the space standard of 2 metres. I try to be preventative instead of afraid. I take my vitamins as I normally do, I still go out shopping, I still jog down the sidewalks of Burnaby and New Westminster, but I make sure I’m a good distance away from others each time. Plus I still wear my leather gloves when I’m outdoors.
I will admit I do get nervous especially if I’m in a crowded area with a lot of people. I’ve seen it many a times. I see groups of people at a beach or park. Whenever I see that, I think ‘I hope they all live together in the same house.’ I also still see people either crowding or too close to each other at bus stops, I see some grocery stores with too many people inside. Whenever I’m in such a place, I make sure I get away from it as soon as I can as well as avoid close contact to others. Even when a single person goes in the same direction I’m going in an indoor place, it makes me nervous. I impulsively think they have disregard to social distancing measures and I feel like saying to them: “What the hell is wrong with you?” I don’t say it to them, but I’m tempted to.
And then there are those that are either careless, ignorant, or defiantly rebellious. Those are the subject of the new word created for 2020: COVIDiot! Some of the most noteworthy is young people. Now don’t think I’m knocking this generation of young people; the belief of ‘Live fast, die young, leave a pretty memory’ has transcended generation after generation. However the constant belief of being young and invincible doesn’t even change during a pandemic. We see it as groups of young adult crowd close together at a beach or public place. Just two weeks ago, I saw a group of twelve teens meet together outside my apartment building door. Only two live inside any of the apartments.
However the biggest news of the ignorance of COVIDiocy has to be during March when spring break in Florida still continued and beaches were still crowded. Further firestorm came when one of the partiers said in a news interview: “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, it won’t stop me from partying.” The news stories also showed how the reporter was talking to the partiers about the possibility of contagion. The young man said “Well, let us handle it in our own way.” I know young people don’t want to stop partying, but a pandemic should make one think twice.
And COVIDiots include the pundits, the fringe media and conspiracy theorists. They’re a class of COVIDiocy of their own. They include American religious ministers who say this pandemic is God punishing America for tolerating abortion and same-sex marriage. Please, COVID is a virus! Not a punishment! There are even people that are denying COVID exists and that it’s all a conspiracy to hoard rights. Alex Jones must be desperate for a crowd. It’s sick he brings his own children to the rally and hugs supporters. Besides, some that claimed it to be a hoax have made themselves sick of COVID, and some even died. There are those that stormed state halls to protest the social restrictions, claiming it’s unconstitutional. There are a lot of right-wing types that believe that state and federal laws protecting from a health hazard is a threat to constitutional rights. And finally there are religious ministers who violate state regulations on indoor gatherings and open their doors to their churches. Some number to over 1000 and there’s no social distancing at all. I take it they forgot the scripture “Thou shall not put the Lord God to the test.”
First Signs Of Relief
This past month of May, we’ve been seeing the statistics of new contagion go down steadily. The daily statistics are still high enough to keep certain restrictions active, but allow some restrictions to loosened. This week, churches will reopen, but to a maximum capacity of 50. Transit will resume to regular fare paid, but with seating restrictions still implemented. Hair salons are reopening, but some will charge a COVID tax and all will demand their clients wear a mask. Some non-essential stores like Winners opened last week, but with limitations on how many can enter. The number of people allowed depends on the square footage of the store. Dental offices will reopen starting June 1st. That’s beneficial for me because I have a cracked tooth and I will get it fixed on Friday the 5th.
Reopenings are not immediate. In a pandemic, they have to be gradual. I’ll admit it has been annoying having such a limit of places to go to and waiting outside. I’ll admit it’s annoying not being able to have a haircut. I even dream of the day I can return to dining in at a restaurant. However I will gladly comply as this is about preventing a pandemic from reaching devastating numbers at home.
Despite all the chaos and bad news that has happened, there has been a lot of good during this pandemic. People and companies have become more charitable and groups have supplied food donations to others. There have been nations during frightening contagion rates put under lockdowns or confinements to their homes and buildings. The confined responded by singing from their balconies or even doing aerobic classes to other tenants across to the other apartment. The human spirit won’t die! There’s also a greater appreciation for nurses and health professionals. They, more than anyone else, have the hardest duty of fighting the pandemic up front with the patients they see. They have to work longer hours and under harsher conditions. Here in Canada, we have a habit of thanking them every evening at 7pm when we go out and bang the drum or clank the pots. We want them to know how thankful we are for them. I’m sure there are other salutes of ‘thank you’ done differently around the world.
So for my concluding paragraph, I just have to say the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It shows signs of waning down, but reopening things will be a slow steady process. Despite things not being as bad or as fearful as it was in March, it’s still something worth taking seriously. We may not have the same big numbers of daily new cases, but the new case rates are still worth taking seriously. Plus it’s only now they’re testing out possible cures or vaccines for COVID-19. It’s frustrating trying to protect yourself. It’s also frustrating for the doctors, nurses and hospitals too. It’s most frustrating for those with the COVID-19 and their families. Nevertheless it’s important to stay strong right now. The statistics of COVID-19 have been ugly and are still worth keeping an eye out for, but we should remember all this is to protect ourselves until a cure and a vaccine is found. We also shouldn’t forget that the human race has been through worse. There was the Influenza epidemic of 1918 to 1919 that killed around 100 million. There have been smallpox epidemics many times in history including one in Japan in the 8th Century that killed 1/3 of the nation’s population. There were Cholera pandemics in Asia in the 19th Century that killed millions of people. There’s especially the Bubonic Plague or Black Death in 14th Century Europe that killed 1/3 of the continent. Or even the Plague of Justinian that ended the Roman Empire.
We all have to stay strong and be as preventative as we can. We have the chance to prevent COVID-19 from claiming even its FIRST million lives. There have been excellent efforts of people doing their parts and there have been people acting careless with a false sense of invincibility. We should all work to make this pandemic a thing of the past. When they stay at home and you live in a high-risk area, you stay at home! All I can say right now is whatever the situation is in your home country right now, stay cautious and continue to protect yourself.
All too often whenever we hear of a disaster, it’s miles away. All too often it seems it’s at the other end of the world. However something happened just two months ago that hit close to home.
Wednesday April 8, 2015 was supposed to be like any other day including around English Bay: a beach located close to downtown Vancouver. Unfortunately bad news struck. A freighter called the Marathassa accidentally spilled 2700 litres of bunker oil into the waters of the Georgia Strait near the English Bay beaches. The biggest shock is that the federal government authorities did not alert the public about this for 12 hours.
Those enjoying leisure activity around the waters could have been affected. This oil is harmful if inhaled, can cause fertility or organ damage and could cause cancer. The oil would wash up on surrounding beaches creating a slick six to eight inches thick. At least twenty seabirds were affected by the spill. When news hit that day, the whole city was in shock. Especially since English Bay has been very popular with tourists and residents for leisure. For at least, ten days, the beach was closed off to the public warning them not to engage in any activities in the water.
No doubt that this was huge news that week. Even bigger was the shock that this incident wasn’t alerted to the public by the federal government until 12 hours after it happened. Already people were outraged. Even the decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard base two years ago was to blame. Both the municipal and provincial governments through Gregor Robertson and Christy Clark, environmental scientists and an international shipping expert criticized the federal government’s lack of immediate response. However Roger Girouard, Assistant Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, defended it and said: “You don’t contain 80 per cent of a spill inside 36 hours and call that inadequate. I will not accept that definition of my team in the ops centre or on the water. Look at the normal standards throughout the world and what we achieved over the last couple of days, it was exceptional.” Okay, it’s exceptional in terms of containment but notifying the city 12 hours later exceptional? Even our national Coast Guard leaders as Coast Guard Commisioner Jody Thomas described the response as ‘exceptional.’ Makes you question our current Coast Guard heads.
On Saturday the 11th just three days after the incident happened, I walked English Bay to see for myself any noticeable aftermath. I didn’t get anything too tragic or too graphic-looking. What I did get was enough to give me quite a picture. Freighters were all along the bay. Business as usual in Canada’s busiest ports. Recreation as usual but only as far as people sailing recreational ships. People wanting to do recreation on the beach were warned not to do so by signs. The beaches of English Bay were lifeless except for a few people that just want to visit. I didn’t notice any blotches of oil or sludge washing up on the ricks at the beach. News reports at the time said that they’ve cleaned up over 95% of the spill. However I did notice something unpleasant: foam. Foam had just washed up and right on top you can see dirt of a black or grey dinge. An ugly reminder of what happened. I was looking around to see any birds or other animals around the beach. I didn’t find any. Actually a map of the spill would show that more areas around the coasts of West Vancouver or Stanley Park would be hit bigger.
It’s going to be hard to try and calculate the whole damage of what happened. There were no fatalities and no record of illnesses caused by the spill. As for environmental damage and its effect on wildlife, that also remains unanswered. Even though there hasn’t been too much reported two weeks after the spill, two months is still not enough time to tell the whole story. In fact it was later reported on April 29th that a slick 80 metres long and six to eight inches thick made its way the Sandy Cove in West Vancouver: the other side of the shore. English Bay was not the only area hit. New Brighton Park, ten miles away from the spill, was even hit.This will really affect the Burrard Inlet.
I don’t even know if the crew of the MV Marathassa have been arrested. They should be and they should go on trial for this, more than anyone else. Canada’s laws ensure that polluters are held financially liable, and the operators of the MV Marathassa have agreed to pay for clean up and to appear in future legal proceedings that could lead to fines. Further news revealed this was actually the Marathassa’s maiden voyage.
I did return to English Bay just two weeks ago. The signs are no longer there. They were taken down after April 19th. The shores no longer have that dirty foam. There wasn’t too huge of a turnout at the coast that sunny Monday which happened to be a national holiday: Victoria Day. There was a mother who took her toddler child to the coast. That was something you couldn’t do over a month earlier. I saw a bird flying over the coast and even walking close to the shoreline. Seeing that made me hope the water’s safe. I don’t know how long it will be until English Bay will become swimmable again.
The oil spill isn’t that colossal of a disaster as say recent disasters like the earthquakes in Nepal or even the train crash in Philadelphia. It was chicken feed compared to legendary spills like the 210 million liters from BP off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 or even all that spilled from the Exxon Valdez disaster. Nevertheless it did hit close to home and it’s going to affect a lot of attitudes in the city towards oil.
Mackin, Bob. “Feds On The Offensive Over English Bay Fuel Spill” Vancouver Courier. 10 April 2015<http://www.vancourier.com/news/feds-on-the-offensive-over-english-bay-fuel-spill-1.1820657>
WIKIPEDIA: 2015 English Bay. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Bay_%28Vancouver%29>
Canadian Press. “The MV Marathassa given the all clear to return to normal operations” News 1130. 25 April 2015<http://www.news1130.com/2015/04/25/the-mv-marathassa-given-the-all-clear-to-return-to-normal-operations/>
Change is good. So they say. Change is sometimes good, sometimes bad, but it’s unavoidable. There will be two notable changes–one in Greater Vancouver and the other all across Canada–that are products of the signs of the times.
CANADA POST’S FIVE-YEAR PLAN
It’s been official since March 31st to be exact. However it was in November when the news hit the fan. Then Canada Post announced major changes that would take place: some that would take place within months and some within years. One was the reduction, if not the complete elimination, of mail home delivery and designating it to neighborhood post office boxes. This was something to affect 80% of Canadian households over a five year time. Another was a do-away with thousands of postal jobs. Canada Post plans to ‘retire’ jobs just as many of its employees are reaching retirement age rather than have huge layoffs. However the biggest news had to be huge increases to the price of postage–the biggest ever in Canada Post’s history– for the average customer. One example is the price of single Canadian stamp for a simple basic letter anywhere in Canada to be $1 each or $8.50 for a book of ten. That’s up from $.63 each the year before.
No kidding it was a shock to all those that heard it. But in all fairness, it’s pretty much a sign of the times, albeit a rude sign. When you look at it, less people–especially the young– send out lettermail. They send it via email, whether it be in the form or regular mail-style communication or greeting cards. Even payments are sent by cheque less often and have mostly been replaced by wired payments. In fact Canada Post announced the billions of dollars in total it has lost over the last few years. If you saw things through Canada Post’s point of view, you could understand why these shocking changes. One increase in postal use has occurred in recent years has been the increase in parcels and packages. You can thank modern technology for that too. More specifically online shopping that has resulted in the increased packages. that’s one thing that’s keeping the postal workers in business and working.
Before Canada Post would make changes they’ve been intending to do for a long time, they consulted the public. They had group meetings with people from all around the country. They even invited feedback via email. So this isn’t something that they did as run-of-the-mill. They actually paid attention to what was out there and took note. However it’s not to say they may have missed some details. The biggest flack came in concern of elderly people who can’t make it to those anticipated boxes, or not without huge effort.
If there’s one saving grace about this, it’s that businesses get a bigger break from this. Businesses also have their own dealings with the new postal rate increases. Fortunately Canada Post is very understanding how businesses rely on paper mail. I myself work for a business that sends out a lot of paper mail and I know of the graces given to businesses. One is postal rates given to businesses using indicia print mail. Businesses can pay anywhere between five to twenty percent less than what the average customer pays at the counter. One example is while the average person pays $.85 per stamp for a book of ten, businesses can pay $.75 per piece even if it’s just one to go. The savings get even better in terms of bulk mailing on the Electronic Shipping Tools (EST). Sending bulk mail via EST was already a good savings before as businesses could save two cents per piece as long as the batch was a minimum of 5000: a savings of at least $100 per batch. Now the price is $.70 per piece–a savings of five cents each– and the batch minimum for this savings has been reduced to 1000. It looks as though Canada Post was most prepared for businesses and did what it could so they wouldn’t take as huge a blow as the customer.
No doubt there have been complaints about this all. I cannot blame the people for complaining. In fact I don’t like paying $1 for a single stamp, and this is as a basic customer. Nevertheless I think of all the changes that have occurred on how people deal with mail, especially in terms of technology, and I sometimes feel like saying to them: “If you decrease the postal system’s usefulness to yourself and others, you have this coming.” Sometimes I really feel like saying just that. One more thing. American conservatives have liked the new system and some are considering it as a template for changes in the American postal system.
Oh, a footnote. You know how I mentioned Canada Post’s plans to ‘retire’ certain positions than lay off. Well there were was an announcement of a certain number of carriers in three major Canadian cities being laid off. I guess they didn’t want to wait.
TRANSLINK GOES ELECTRONIC
Okay, I’ve already talked about one change that’s already happened. Now I’ll talk about a change that was supposed to have happened fully already but is only happening partially. For those who don’t know Greater Vancouver transit system, people simply buy their tickets and board the trains. Sounds like a good opportunity for freeloading but Transit Police frequently board the trains to inspect. Those caught without proof of appropriate fare get fined $160. Buses are pretty regular where customers pay up front, allowing little opportunity for fare evasion.
Just two years ago, Greater Vancouver’s transit authority TransLink started set up of new turnstiles for the Skytrains. It’s not just for the sake of restricting access to people who have paid their fare but also to equip for for the new electronic way of boarding transit. TransLink announced plans to start the new Compass program where people use a computer sensor card to tap in and tap out of buses and trains. Compass cards and their value are paid for at special fare booths at Skytrain stations. The cards are a lot like how some use a chip credit card to tap in their charge at some terminals.
TransLink had plans for the program to start on January 1, 2014. However they invited people from the general public to become testers of the Compass card system during a three-week period starting in September 2013 and ending October 1st. I was one of the people who signed up to volunteer and I was selected to participate in the testing period. I received my card in the mail and used it tapping in and out of buses and SkyTrains. Tapping in wasn’t the hard part. Tapping out was as I forgot at least five times completely. There were a few times I’d forget to tap out of the SkyTrain and then head back to the turnstile to register.
One purpose was for TransLink to get an understanding of people’s transportation patterns. Another was to get a sense of how transit passengers dealt with and felt about the upcoming system. they even invited emails under usernames to get the feedback they wanted. It was a mixed bag of what to expect. Even before the testing period, I remember one bus driver saying that the Compass system is going to create mayhem. I take that with a grain of salt because I’ve lived in Vancouver long enough to know there are lots of Vancouverites that mourn “Doomsday!” over everything.Actually I’ve seen people in Quebec City use a fob-style method of payment on buses as far back as 2009. I’m sure there are many more cities in Canada and around the world that have adopted their own electronic fare system. So this Compass thing is actually something Vancouver and TransLink should have caught onto a long time ago. However I don’t feel Compass should replace fare payments as some people may not need the card due to infrequent TransLink travel. Compass is more for people like me who bus day in-day out.
One drawback about this is that TransLink users that were part of an employee pass program–where employees received passes for a monthly fee that was a 15% discount from monthly bus pass rates– were told the employee pass program would expire December 31st of the year. Many people, including myself, were disappointed but TransLink made it clear that this was a sale and sales do end. The public were told people would pay a monthly rate via Compass that’s less than that of the current regular bus passes.
Anyways it’s May, more than four months after the original planned date of the Compass changeover, and I’m still waiting. I’m also back to paying the regular monthly bus pass rate. Compass may not be available to the general public as of yet but it is open to certain people. Some people who are part of disability programs or assistance programs already have access to Compass as the general public are still waiting. TransLink even admits on their website that they’re ‘rolling out Compass one group at a time.’ Now that we’re talking about TransLink’s website, TransLink also has a section on their website devoted to Compass and their answers to FAQs like security and privacy concerns. One thing that’s still unanswered is the start date for the general public. They say the start will be spring/summer 2014. It’s already May and there’s no official start date yet. Guess it’s just the waiting game right now.
So there you have it. Changed happening in 2014. One nationwide, one strictly in Greater Vancouver. One partially for the better, one for the worse. One happened on their projected start date, one is still four months past it’s official start. Both however are signs of the changing times and changing needs of the public.
DISCLAIMER: I’ll admit that I originally planned to post this blog on the day of the opening ceremonies. In retrospect, I’m glad that I waited until the halfway point because I learned more about them in the last while.
The Olympic Games are being held in Sochi, Russia from February 7th to 23rd. 2800 athletes from 88 countries will be competing in the 98 medal events in fifteen different sports. In this, I will look at the city of Sochi, the new events, what Russia and especially Putin plan to get out of these games and the side-news that has been making headlines before the Olympics.
SOCHI THE CITY:
Sochi is a city in Russia with a population of 420,000. Sochi sits at the foot of the Sochi River on the east coast of the Black Sea just 20 miles north of the Russia-Georgia border with the Caucasus Mountains on the horizon. The city had been formed over various years of wars and conquering tribes. It was after both the Caucasus War and the Russo-Turkish War that was ceded to the Russians back in 1829. British intervention would occur in monitoring the weapons of the war. The Fort of Alexandria would be constructed in 1838 at the mouth of the Sochi River. That would later have an impact on forming the city. Many more forts would be set up close to the Fort of Alexandria including the Fort Dakhovsky. Fighting would continue until the end of the Caucasus War in 1864.
Starting in 1866 people of various ethnicities settled around the coast of the Black Sea. In 1874 the first Russian Orthodox church was built on the former Fort Dakhovsky and the settlement was renamed the Dakhovsky Posad. The Sochi Lighthouse was built in 1890 and the Dahkovsky Posad renamed themselves the Sochi Posad and incorporated themselves into the Black Sea governate. Sochi opened its first sea resort in 1909 and the town was granted full town status in 1917. Then came the war between Russia and Georgia. The war ended in 1923 with Sochi declared Russian territory. Joseph Stalin helped promote Sochi as a fashionable resort. After the fall of the USSR, Sochi has been promoted in Russia as the capital of summer.
THE GAMES AND THEIR HOPES:
These Olympic Games cost $51 billion to build: $39 million more than originally anticipated and more than any other Olympic Games in history. This was not only for the sake of building more facilities for hosting events. This also included telecommunications improvements in the region, power infrastructure upgrades, transportation improvements on all means of transportation, over 10,000 additional hotel rooms and six additional post offices.
The Olympic sites have been divided into two clusters: the Coastal Cluster inside the town and the Mountain Cluster into the Caucasus Mountains. The Coastal Cluster consists of the Olympic Park containing the Olympic Flame, the Fisht Olympic Stadium, two hockey arenas, a figure skating arena, a speed skating oval, a curling centre, the Olympic village, and the International broadcasting centre. The Mountain Cluster–located in the area called Krasnaya Polyana or ‘Red Hills’–consists of five venues including a Nordic skiing complex, a ski jumping centre, an alpine resort including an extreme park for snowboarding and freestyle skiing, a sliding centre and an Olympic village.
This isn’t all completely in vain for the sake of these seventeen days, or at least they’re not intended to be. The city of Sochi is expecting to make big improvements and grow considerably after the Olympic Games. Fisht Olympic Stadium plans to be continued as a football facility after the Olympics and is even one of the venues for the 2018 World Cup. The city of Sochi itself is signed on to be host of the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2014 to 2020. The RusSki Gorki ski jumping hills are to be used as a training facility for jumpers and two smaller hills for youth training are planned to be added after the Games. The ski hills at Rosa Khutor have been designed by a 1972 Olympic champion and plan to be part of future World Cup seasons. In fact Vladimir Putin is hoping to have Sochi become a winter resort that can compete with the resorts of France, Switzerland and Italy. In fact Putin had a conversation with one world leader where he said: “The rich travel to France and Switzerland to go skiing. Why not Krasnaya Polyana?”
Even as shown in the Opening Ceremonies, the Games hope to present a positive picture of Russia especially since it has made a lot of bad news in terms of politics, social problems, alcoholism, poverty, crime and even terrorism. Putin is hoping to improve ties with other countries. Putin is also hoping to improve the family structure in Russia with declining birth rates. Putin is also hoping these Games will stimulate the Russian economy. Let’s hope those $51 billion pay off, Vlad.
Even for venues planned for just those seventeen days, they too have post-games uses planned for them. The Bolshoi Ice Dome, the biggest of the hockey/skating venues, has plans for further ice events and concerts. Shayba Arena is a temporary hockey venue which is planned to be dismantled and shipped off to another city. The Iceberg Skating Palace has two post-games options of remaining an ice arena or a cycling velodrome. The Adler Oval for speed skating is slated to be an exhibition centre after the Games. The Ice Cube Curling Centre plans to stay a sports facility but can be moved to another location. Whether the plans will follow through and whether they will pay off in the end is something only the future will tell.
NEW TO THE PROGRAM:
Back in Vancouver there were 86 events. Here in Sochi there were an additional 12 events added to the program:
- Figure Skating Team Event-There will be three mixed events where both men and women compete together contested for the first time here in Sochi. The Figure Skating Team event consists of ten countries competing in both short programs and free skates of men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs and dance. Points are based on the country’s entry’s placeage in each program. Team with the highest total of points wins the gold.
- Freestyle Skiing Halfpipe (men and women)- The halfpipe event that’s one of the highlights of the snowboarding events have now been added to freestyle skiing.
- Slopestyle events in snowboarding and freestyle skiing (men and women)- It’s like skateboarding on snow. Consists of first skiing or boarding on rails and then doing daring jumps off the three kickers. Points are scored on difficulty and execution.
- Snowboarding Parallel Slalom (men and women)- Since 2002, snowboarding has had the Parallel Giant Slalom where two racers are paired together for two runs with last racer standing as winner. This Olympics marks the debut of the Parallel Slalom with tighter turns. Same method of deciding the winner as the Parallel Giant Slalom.
- Biathlon Mixed Relay-two women on each team ski and shoot for 6 km, two men ski and shoot for 7.5 km. Not even cross-country skiing has a mixed relay.
- Luge Team Relay-the relay consists of a men’s singles sledder going down first, touches a touch-sensitive pad that releases the gate for the next sled, the ladies’ singled sledder, to go down and then she touches the pad to let the men’s doubles sled go. The team with the fastest combined time wins.
- Women’s ski jumping (normal hill)-You may remember before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics there was a brouhaha about getting Women’s Ski Jumping added to the Olympic program. The IOC decided the event wasn’t competitive enough to be added to those Games. Since then the event has become competitive enough to be added to the Olympic program. Women will compete in one event: the normal hill.
With every Olympic Games come problems and they will get a lot of notice in the months leading up to an Olympic Games. Same with Sochi and there were two issues that received huge notice:
PUTIN’S ANTI-GAY LAWS
The administration of Vladimir Putin has not sit well with the many human rights groups on various issues but the biggest firestorm in the last few months came because of recent laws passed against the GLBT population and didn’t appear to make tourists immune to those laws. The laws were the prevention of distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, which effectively makes it illegal to suggest that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships or to distribute material on gay rights and even bans gay pride parades. The media has reported of an arrest of a gay rights activist and an increase in ‘hate crimes’ against the GLBT population including against GLBT minors.
The laws have been protested against a multitude of people including GLBT rights activists and their supporters, famous celebrities like Lady Gaga and 27 Nobel Prize winners from arts and sciences. Putin has responded to the pressure by saying that GLBT tourist during the Sochi Olympics will not be under threat. Some heads of state chose not to come to these Olympic Games allegedly because of the laws. Thomas Bach wants to keep the Olympic arena free of politics just like past presidents of the IOC and has even threatened to ban athletes who protest the laws. As harsh as that is, we shouldn’t forget we’re dealing with the same IOC that punished the two black sprinters from 1968 that gave the ‘black power’ salute on the victory podium. I’m sure most of you know the story. Bach has responded back to the protests both in pre-Olympic announcements and in his speech during the opening ceremonies: “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of these athletes.”
My Personal Vent: Personally I wasn’t happy about all those protests over Putin’s anti-gay laws. Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, it is a problem. However it’s one of a whole whack of human rights problems inside the Russian Federation under Putin right now. The GLBT community isn’t the only set of people being hit hard or legally punished in Putin’s regime. Remember the free speech problem many months ago involving feminist punk band Pussy Riot? Even that’s one of many. The reason why I found it irritating is because I saw it as another case of the GLBT community ‘hijacking’ issues. Much the same way they ‘hijacked’ the issue of Eminem’s lyrics in 2000 while the GLBT people were one of many groups of people verbally slammed in Eminem’s records. And how they ‘hijacked’ the bullying suicides issue in 2010. It didn’t last as recent suicides from bullying involving non-GLBT teens like Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons reminded the public that bullying suicides occur indiscriminately. I don’t have a problem with pre-Olympic protests but I do wish other groups of people were just as loud at speaking their concerns rather than GLBT activists hogging the show.
ETHNIC CIRCASSIAN DISSENT:
A bit of a history lesson. The Circassian peoples used to have the area around Sochi and the Krasnaya Polyana as their own centuries ago. Unfortunately most Circassians were killed during the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Russian-Circassian War from 1763 to 1864. Today there are 900,000 ethnic Circassians in Russia.
Some Circassian groups objected to the Games being held on land that was held by their ancestors before the war. There are two other factors that also leave many Circassians unhappy with the Games. One is the fact the Games are being held in 2014 which coincides with the 150th anniversary of the end of the Russian-Circassian war. The second being events held on the Krasnaya Polyana which were named the ‘Red Hills’ because of the bloodshed of a group of Circassians that attempted to return to their homes in a bloody battle in 1864.
Reactions amongst Circassians have been mixed. Some demand the Games be moved outside Russia unless Russia apologizes. Some accept the Games but want symbols of Circassian history be included the same way indigenous culture was included in past Games like Vancouver in 2010 and Sydney in 2000. There has been no response as to what has been done in this matter.
THREATS OF TERRORISM
The threat of terrorism has been taken seriously since the death of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Sochi is located in an area prone to terrorism. It’s located close to a set of provinces in the North Caucasus such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia to name a few. A lot of them have been fighting over their rights of their ethnicity and of their religion. Chechnya has been in the news the most firstly because of the First Chechen War that occurred between 1994 and 1996 just as Russia was defining itself in the post-USSR era. Wars have continued and Putin has responded with many human rights group call brutal force.
Islamic Chechen terrorists have declared a jihad and created a lot of terrorism since the First Chechen War which first started with hotel bombings in Russia in 1999 and has consisted of many incidents since. Most within the past five years like numerous car bombs, an express train bombing, Moscow subway bombings, an attack on Chechen parliament, a bombing at Moscow’s international airport and even links to last year’s Boston Marathon bombing.
The Chechen Islamist commander Dokka Umarov called for an attack in the Games back in July 2013 stating that the Games will be held: “on the bones of many Muslims killed.” Athletes that were to compete before the Games and many national Olympic Committees received threatening e-mails from terrorist groups threatening to blow them up. It got to the point the US ski and snowboard agency hired a private security agency to protect them during the Games. Even the US government added to the scare a week before when they talked about the possibility of ‘toothpaste bombs’ that can be made in tubes of toothpaste of 100ml or more.
Security during these Games will be handled by 40,000 law enforcement officials including police and the Russian Armed Forces. Putin even signed a Presidential Decree at the beginning of the year declaring that any protest in Sochi or the surrounding areas be approved by the Federal Security Services. There’s also an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron with defense rockets to protect Olympic airspace. There are four gunboats along the Black Sea to protect the coastline. Forces are also set up along the Russia-Georgia border and even the US has agreed to lend Navy ships and other assets for security purposes.
The closest thing to an incident was on February 7th during the opening ceremonies when a Pegasus Air Line from Kharkiv, Ukraine to Istanbul, Turkey was hijacked by a person claiming to have a bomb and wanted it flown to Sochi. The plane arrived at its destination in Istanbul and the passenger was arrested with no weapons or bombs found on the place. Since then there have been no incidents occurring.
The Sochi Olympics sure made a lot of news in the months leading up to their opening. They are currently making news mostly for the good in the days of competition held. The Games end on February 23rd with the Paralympics opening on March 7th. It remains to be seen whether the Games will pay off, whether they will continue to run smoothly without incident and whether Sochi and Russia itself make improvements in the months and years after.
WIKIPEDIA: 2014 Winter Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Winter_Olympics>
You all remember Vancouver 2010. Canada won the most ever Winter Olympic golds in a single games with 14. Canada is not the host nation for the Winter Olympics anymore. That pressure now belongs to Russia. Nevertheless Team Canada will face pressures of its own over in Sochi both as individuals and as a team. One thing we should take into account is how some countries perform in the Olympics after they were host nation. Below is a chart of host countries and their various medal hauls. The #/# guide is golds/total medals:
As noted in that chart, some get better like Canada in 1992. Some still stay the same and some do noticeably worse like Japan in 2002 and Italy in 2010. Sports Illustrated predicts Canada to win a total of 31 medals including eleven gold. That’s an awful lot but not impossible.
In the meantime, here’s a look at some Canadians favored to do well in Sochi, if not win:
Patrick Chan – Figure Skating: Canada has a proud legacy in figure skating. So proud you could say figure skating is rightfully third behind hockey and curling as our national sport. Our legacy is there. Canada has also left every Winter Olympics since 1984 with at least one medal in Figure Skating. Canada is one of only five countries to win twenty or more Olympic medals in figure skating. We have Olympic champions in three of the four returning figure skating categories. The only one we don’t have is in the Men’s Singles event. Four bronze medalists, two double-silver medalists but never a gold medalist. This could finally be the year.
Patrick Chan has Canada’s best chances. He’s been national champion since 2008 at the tender age of 17, a world Championships medalist every year since 2009 and a World Champion three times starting in 2011. He has looked good this season, winning two of his three international competitions this year losing only the Grand Prix of Figure Skating.
He has looked good in practice here in Sochi and appears confident he will win. However he will have rivalries from Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten who finished behind him at last year’s Worlds and Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko who’s making a comeback. Also expected to challenge is Spain’s Javier Fernandez and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu: the latter two of which are coached by Canadian double-silver medalist Brian Orser. In fact it was Hanyu who gave Chan his only defeat this year at the Grand Prix back in December. So will he be the first Canadian men’s champion or the seventh medalist? It will all be decided on the 13th and 14th.
Erik Guay – Alpine Skiing: Remember the Crazy Canucks? Yeah, Canada had an impressive legacy in Alpine Skiing on both the World Cup circuit and the Olympic Games in decades past. Nancy Greene, Kathy Kreiner, Ken Read, Steve Podborski, Kerrin Lee-Gartner, we all remember them. Problem is it seems like it’s all in the past. The last Olympic medal was a 1994 bronze in Men’s Downhill by Ed Podivinsky.
Canada’s top bet to get back on the Olympic podium is Erik Guay. Guay is 2010 World Cup winner in the Super-G and 2011 World Champion in the Downhill. This year he has ranked in the Top 3 in the men’s downhill on the World Cup circuit. However he was sidelined temporarily in January due to a minor knee injury. But he’s confident he will be ready to perform on February 9th. Actually Erik is not the only Canadian alpine skier with good chances to win a medal. Healthy medal chances also come with Marie-Michele Gagnon who is currently ranked fourth in World Cup standings in the slalom and just won her first ever World Cup race–a super-combined event–just last month in Austria. Will a new generation of Crazy Canucks arrive in Sochi? The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort will set the stage.
Alexandre Bilodeau – Freestyle Skiing: Alexandre isn’t just simply the first Canadian to win gold during Vancouver 2010. He’s the first ever to win gold on Canadian soil as the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary failed to produce a Canadian Olympic champion.
Since Vancouver he has made many public appearances and has graduated from college. His competitive drive has not deterred. He has won moguls silver at the past two World Championships and has already won three of the six moguls events on the World Cup circuit. He is a big favorite to win at what he says will be his last Olympics but his top challenge will come from fellow Canadian Mikael Kingsbury who is 2012 and 2013 World Cup winner in moguls, World moguls champion in 2013 and has won the other three World Cup events from this year. In fact Sports Illustrated predicts Kingsbury to win gold and Bilodeau to win silver. The stage for Canadian vs. Canadian will take place February 10th.
Charles Hamelin – Short-Track Speed Skating: There’s a lot of talk for the possibility of the first ever Canadian four-time Olympic champion. One possibility, actually three, is in women’s hockey which I will talk about later. Another possibility is in men’s short track speed skating with Charles Hamelin.
You could say that short track is in his blood. His younger brother Francois was part of Canada’s gold medal-winning relay and his father Yves is the current national director of the national short track team. Hamelin has had an illustrious career which includes two Olympic golds from Vancouver and a silver from Turin in 2006 as well as 26 World Championship medals, eight of them gold. In fact at last year’s World Championships, Hamelin was part of the gold medal-winning relay and won three individual bronzes.
Charles comes to Sochi as the reigning leader in the overall World Cup standings as well as leading the 1000m and 1500m. His path to more gold will not go unchallenged. His top threats come from Russia’s Viktor Ahn and South Korea’s Sin Da-Woon. Plus there’s the sport itself which is known for its slipperiness and frequent falls. It will all be decided at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
Alex Harvey – Nordic Skiing: Skiing sure runs in the family. It was natural that Alex Harvey take up cross-country skiing. His father Pierre was Canada’s best ever cross country skier when he was competing during the 80’s. In fact I myself remember back during the Calgary Olympics Pierre was giving Canada its best-ever finishes in the cross country events. Sure they were between 14th and 20th but they were still new achievements for Canadian skiers.
Alex, who was actually born in September of that year, has taken achievement to new levels. He now has Canada’s best ever men’s finish at an Olympic Games: fourth in team sprint with teammate Devon Kershaw. He and Kershaw would become World Champions in that event in 2011. Harvey won bronze in the sprint at last year’s Worlds. This season he has won two World Cup races. Sports Illustrated predicts him to win bronze in the sprint. However he’s pressed to win Canada’s first even men’s cross country medal by teammate Devon Kershaw who finished second to Harvey in a World Cup sprint event. He will also be challenged in winning the sprint event by World Champion Nikita Kryukov of Russia, World Cup sprint leader Josef Wenzl of Germany and Italy’s Federico Pellegrino who’s ranked second in the sprints. The Laura Biathlon and Ski Complex is the stage.
The Dufour-LaPointe sisters (Justine, Maxime and Chloe) – Freestyle Skiing: It’s not uncommon that you have siblings competing together at the same Olympics. Sometimes in the same event. But three? And all three of them in the same event? That’s the case of the Dufour-Lapointe sisters in moguls: Maxime who turns 25 on the 9th, 22 year-old Chloe and 19 year-old Justine.
The first excitement came when Chloe qualified for the Vancouver Games. Bigger excitement came when Justine won bronze at last year’s World Championships. However the excitement has been happening this year on the World Cup circuit. All six World Cup meets this year has seen at least one of the three on the podium with Justine winning two events and Chloe winning one. Currently on the World Cup circuit Justine ranks second, Maxime third and Chloe fourth. It’s possible the sisters could even sweep in Sochi. However blocking their path is defending Olympic champion, 2013 World Champion and World Cup leader Hannah Kearney of the U.S. American Heidi Kloser of the U.S. who is ranked fifth in the World Cup also poses a challenge as well as Japan’s Miki Ito who finished second at last year’s Worlds. It will all be decided February 8th.
Canada’s Hockey Team (men and women): Every Winter Olympics you can’t avoid the talk of Canada’s chances in hockey. Especially in men’s hockey. Hey, our national pride is at stake and winning it makes our OlympicsEver since NHL players were allowed to compete for the first time back in 1998, it’s always the challenge to prove themselves first among at least six equals. But we’ve succeeded with wins in 2002 and back in Vancouver. However we’ve found ourselves off the podium in 1998 and ousted in the quarterfinals in 2006.
Team Canada’s 24 members are all NHL players and eleven were part of Canada’s gold medal-winning team from 2010. Sidney Crosby who scored the ‘golden goal’ back in Vancouver is the captain this time. Team Canada has failed to win a World Championship medal ever since Vancouver but is predicted by Sports Illustrated to win bronze. They face challenges from 2013 World Champions Sweden whom SI predict to win and from the home country of Russia. It will all be decided at the Bolshoi Ice Dome by the 23rd.
As for the women, Canada has very good chances to win gold again. If they do, three women–Haylee Wickenheiser, Caroline Ouellette and Jayna Hefford–could become the first Canadians to win four Olympic golds. However their top rival as always is the United States. In fact the U.S. beat Canada for the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. It’s just a question of which of the two will take it on the 20th. Or a question of if a European team will upset. It’s possible.
So there you go. Those are some Canadians to look for at the Sochi Games. I know they’re more than seven but I couldn’t resist adding more. Besides people who like my Olympic writing probably don’t mind anyways. Besides since I wrote about the athletes from around the world yesterday, I figure you were due some Canadians.
They should provide for a lot of great moments and more national heroes. Interesting how ever since the 90’s Canada has become a superpower in winter sports like Austria and Norway. Before them we either had a lousy winter and a good summer or a good winter but a lousy summer. There have been one or two years where we had both a lousy winter and summer but that’s in the past. Anyways let the Games begin!
I can tell that a lot of my visitors liked my blogs to do about the London Olympic Games. Heck, the last time someone clicked on one of my ‘athletes to watch’ blogs from those games was just today! Even my blogs reviewing the London Games of 2012 and the other two times still received recent hits. Seeing that has inspired me to do more Olympic writing. And it definitely inspires me to write about these ones to watch for the Sochi Games of 2014.
I know there’s been a lot of talk about outside factors involving the Sochi Games. In this blog I’m sticking to talking about what the Games are supposed to be about: the athletes. Here are ten athletes who are poised to dazzle us or even thrill us from February 7th to the 22nd.
-Marit Bjorgen/Norway – Nordic Skiing: Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other nation. And it’s no wonder. Winter sports are in their blood with their biggest legacies in Cross Country Skiing, Ski Jumping, Nordic Combined and Long Track Speed Skating. Even recently they’ve been showing excellent prowess in Alpine Skiing and Freestyle Skiing. One of the best female skiers ever, Marit Bjorgen, will be competing in her fourth Olympics here in Sochi.
Marit has an illustrious career starting quietly with silvers in 2002 and 2006. Vancouver 2010 was her moment as she won five medals, three of them gold. She has also won the overall World Cup title three years and nineteen World Championship medals including twelve total gold. At last year’s World Championships, she really had the show in her hands as she won four gold and a silver.
Here in Sochi, she comes with probably the most expectations of any female Nordic skier. She’s expected to perform big and has the credentials for it. However she does face rivalry. She is currently ranked third in the World Cup overall standings with her 25 year-old Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug leading in the distance events and 25 year-old German Denise Herrmann leading in the sprint events. She’s also expected to receive rivalry from her traditional rival Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk. Nevertheless if there’s one female skier who can most rise to the challenge, it’s her.
-Ted Ligety/U.S.A. – Alpine Skiing: The United States has always been a force in Alpine Skiing. This century has seen a lot of big names like Lindsay Vonn, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso. Another name on the list is Ted Ligety. At the 2006 Olympics, Ted came from nowhere to take gold in the combined event. Since then he has been most dominant in the giant slalom event but has had seasons with ups and downs. He was finished on top of the World Cup giant slalom event in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. However he had a lackluster 2010 Winter Olympics where his best finish was fifth. 2013 not only saw him win his fourth World Cup giant slalom title but a third place finish overall and winning three gold medals at the World Championships.
Interesting is that he has his own ski business. As for this season, it hasn’t been so easy for Ted. He’s had four World Cup wins but finds himself fourth overall and third in the giant slalom. He faces a strong challenge from Austrian Marcel Hirscher and France’s Alexis Pinturault in the giant slalom. It will all boil down on each race day. Especially the giant slalom on February 19th.
-Tina Maze/Slovenia – Alpine Skiing: Slovenia has never won a Winter Olympic gold medal. Two silvers and five bronzes but never a gold. That could change thanks to Tina Maze. She has had an excellent career as a skier that includes Slovenia’s two silvers, both won in Vancouver 2010, and six World Cham,pionship medals. Two of them gold. However her biggest year was 2013 when she won three World Championship medals including gold in the Super-G and the World Cup overall title which she won with the highest total points ever.
This season has been a difficult one for her as she has struggled in consistency in races and it wasn’t until just two weeks ago she finally won her first World Cup race of the season: a downhill. She will be hard pressed to repeat her winning with threats from Germany’s Maria Riesch-Hoefl and 18 year-old American sensation Mikaele Shiffrin. Also it may be possible Slovenia’s first ever Winter Olympic gold could be won by another athlete like ski jumper Petr Prevc or snowboarder Žan Košir. Nevertheless the Olympics can be anyone’s game in Alpine Skiing and it just could be Tina’s.
-Shaun White/U.S.A. – Snowboarding: What else is there to say about the ‘Flying Tomato?’ His has definitely been one of the most popular Winter Olympians in recent years, if not the most. He has won numerous X Games medals, he has made the cover of Rolling Stone twice and is commonly seen in endorsements. Already he has made Olympic history as the first snowboarder to win back-to-back gold medals, in the Halfpipe event. This year is a unique year as he will be trying for a threepeat in the halfpipe.
Shaun has been absent for the 2013 World Championships but has continuous won events in X Games competitions. He is expected to win the halpipe again but he does however face some hungry young guns like Switzerland’s Yuri Podladchikov and Japan’s Taku Hiraoka trying to take him down.
He was also expected to be a top contender in the new slopestyle event this year. However it was not to be as he fell days ago after hitting the rail hard during a training run and was injured. He chose to withdraw from that event but reassures all that he will be ready for the halfpipe. However there have been other boarders who suffered falls on the course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park and their injuries caused them to withdraw before even competing and two even requiring hospitalizing. His fate will be decided on the halfpipe on the 11th.
-Shani Davis/U.S.A. – Long-Track Speed Skating: The threepeat in Olympic Long Track Speed Skating is a feat only accomplished twice and by women. First was by American Bonnie Blair in the 500m from 1988 to 1994. The second was Germany’s Claudia Pechstein in the 5000m from 1994 to 2002. We have the chance for a male to do it here in Sochi with Shani Davis.
Davis has been a speed skater known for a controversial career. First came before the 2002 Winter Olympics when he was a short track speed skater. He finished second in a race at the US Olympic trials but it was under investigation of race fixing between him and club teammates Rusty Smith and Apolo Anton Ohno. It was taken before a court of arbitration and none of the skaters were found guilty. Davis however would not skate in Salt Lake City.
Davis would later switch to long track speed skating and became the fastest at the 1000m. For the 2006 Turin Olympics Davis qualified for three individual events and won gold in the 1000m and silver in the 1500m. However it was his non-participation in the Team Pursuit event that caught a lot of flack. Many people felt he should’ve been put on but David neglected making room for some skaters who were just competing in pursuit. The incident has kept him being at odds with U.S. Speedskating. Under less controversy, Davis again won 1000m gold and 1500m silver.
Here in Sochi, Davis is expected to win 1000m and become the first man to win three consecutive golds in a single event. It’s not without its challenges. At last year’s World Championships, he finished third behind Kazakhstan’s Denis Kuzin and South Korea’s Mo Tae Bum. However Davis has won the 1000m in three of the four World Cup meets this year. Plus he is still strong in the 1500m winning silver at last years’ Worlds. It will all be decided at the Adler Oval.
-Germany’s Luge Relay Team: There are five new events at the Sochi Winter Olympics. One of which is the Team Relay event in the luge. In this event there’s one male luger, one female and one doubles team. Each have a single run but when one luger finishes their run, they hit a touch-sensitive pad to open the start gate for the next sled of the team. Fastest total time wins. It should be no surprise that Germany is the team expected to win. German lugers have won 27 of the 40 gold medals in luge since it was added to the Olympics back in 1964. Germany also won all three singles and doubles categories at last year’s World Championships. So it’s no surprise they won the Team Relay at those championships too using the sledders that won the single-sled competitions in the relay.
One thing we should take note is that the relay will take place the day after the last single-sled competition–men’s doubles–will be held. It is possible that the three World Championship-winning sledders–Felix Loch in men’s singles, Natalie Giesenberger in women’s singles, and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt–could either win gold or be Germany’s best finisher in their respective event and thus on the relay team. But anything can happen in the heat of Olympic competition and there could be a different German competitor that finishes best on the team. Whatever sledders they include in the relay, you can be sure they’ll win it.
-Kim Yu-Na/South Korea – Figure Skating: Those of you remember the Vancouver Winter Olympics will remember a figure skater from South Korea named Kim Yu Na. She not only won gold but took figure skating to a new level of excellence with new world records in points. She became the first South Korean to win a figure skating medal.
Continuing after the Vancouver Olympics has not been easy. There was period for the first few years she lacked motivation and even sat out the 2011-2012 season. By the 2012-2013 season, she decided to return not just to competition but to her childhood coaches back in Korea. It was successful as she returned to her title of World Champion winning by the biggest margin since the new scoring system was adopted in 2005.
However the 2013-2014 season has been rather challenging. She actually had to drop out of the Skate Canada competition because of a metatarsal injury on her right foot. She recovered in time to compete at the Golden Spin of Zagreb competition in December and won. Nevertheless she’s expected to be rivaled by Japan’s Mao Asada who won silver behind her in Vancouver, 15 year-old Russian newcomer Julia Lipnitskaya who just won the European Championships and American Gracie Gold. Kim plans on becoming a member of the IOC after the Sochi Games. In the meantime, she has one last thing to prove in the Olympic stage.
-Sara Takanashi/Japan – Ski Jumping: Women’s Ski Jumping makes its debut in Sochi. There will be only one event: the Normal Hill. The heavy favorite to win is 17 year-old jumper Sara Takanashi. Last year she won the World Cup in women’s Ski jumping and won a silver medal in the Normal Hill event losing to American Sarah Hendrickson. This year Takanashi has had a stellar year with ten international victories including her most recent wins last weekend in Austria.
Despite her stellar year, she is not alone at the top. She’s expected to receive a challenge from American Sarah Hendrickson who beat her at the World Championships as well as challenges from Austria’s Jacqueline Seifriedsberger and Germany’s Carina Vogt. Nevertheless it will all be decided at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre. Watch herstory be made February 11th.
-Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov/Russia – Figure Skating: You can’t expect a list of athletes to watch not to include those from the host country, can you? Russia has a legacy in pairs figure skating going back as far as the days of the U.S.S.R. It all started with the Protopopovs in 1964 and 1968. It continued with Irina Rodnina and her male partners from 1972 to 1980. Continuing on in 1984, the dominance continued even after the break-up of the U.S.S.R. as pairs competing for Russia would continue to finish on top. By the 21st century it looked like Russia’s dominance was waning as a Russian pair tied a Canadian pair for the gold in 2002 and the Russian pair that won gold in 2006 was the only Russian pair to even make the podium. Then in Vancouver 2010, not a single Russian pair made it on the podium for the first time since 1960.
With the Sochi Olympics coming, you could bet they want to bring Russia back on top in pairs figure skating and they found it in the pair of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. Back at the Vancouver Olympics, they not only skated with different partners but different countries. Maxim finished in 7th competing for Russia and Tatiana finished 8th competing for Ukraine. She then made the trip to Russia shortly after Vancouver when it became obvious there were no male partners in Ukraine for her to progress further. Since her teaming up with Trankov, it’s been victorious as the two won world Championship silvers in 2011 and 2012 and then won the World last year: the first Russian pair since 2005 to win the World Championships.
This year the pair have been solid winning all but one of the five competitions they’ve entered. They come to Sochi as the heavy favorites and the ones to bring Russian superiority back to pairs figure skating. However it will not go unchallenged as their top threat has been their traditional rivals of Germany’s Savchenko and Szolkowy who were World Champions in 2011 and 2012 and have given the Russians their only loss this season. Nevertheless it will all be decided at the Iceberg Skating Palace on the 11th and 12th.
-Russia’s National Hockey Team (men and women): I’m sure all of you can remember the days of Soviet dominance in ice hockey. Ever since the U.S.S.R. started competing at the winter Olympics in 1956, their hockey team was invincible with players that were better than even the best NHL pros. In the ten Winter Olympics they played, they won eight times losing only to the Americans in the two Olympics the U.S.A. hosted in 1960 and 1980. Since the Unified Team’s win of the gold in 1992, Russia has since found itself amongst equals in the hockey world but have not returned to the top. Since Russia first competed on their own starting in 1994, the men’s hockey team have only won 1998 silver and 2002 bronze with the gold medals divided amongst Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic.
This time Russia has the whole nation expecting them to win here. And I mean whole. Even Vladimir Putin told Aleksandr Ovechkin that he wants to see Russia’s team win the gold. Sixteen of the 25 members play for the NHL. Other NHL stars on the team including Ovechkin are Evgeny Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk. The other nine players are from Russian professional leagues. They come to Sochi as 2012 World Champions and they’re expected to repeat here, even though they finished off the podium last year. It is possible as the men’s competition is usually a competition of at least six equals. Sports Illustrated predicts Sweden to win with Russia coming in second and Canada third. Only the next two weeks will tell the tale.
As for the women, women’s hockey has traditionally been a case of Canada vs. the U.S. with one other Scandinavian team as a lightweight rival. Russia has only competed in three of the four times women’s hockey has been contested and has never made the semi-finals. The women are hoping things will change especially after winning bronze at last year’s World Championships. The women have nowhere else to go but up and I’m confident they can make their country proud here.
So there you have it. Those are ten athletes to watch out for in Sochi. I know they’re not guaranteed to win. I know the Olympics that the gold medal doesn’t go to the one with the most pre-Games accolades. The gold medal goes to the one who’s the most there at that moment. Nevertheless it will be interesting to see whether they seize it or not these two weeks.
Also those of you wondering why no Canadians on my list? Well I have a separate blog of Canadians to watch.
Been to New Westminster lately? If you haven’t been there, what images first comes to mind? Are they positive or negative? If they’re negative, you’d be in for a surprise with the changes that have happened in the city. Big changes.
New Westminster was once the pride of British Columbia. It was proclaimed by Lieutenant Governor Richard Moody in 1859 to be the official capital of the Colony of British Columbia. It was official recognized as a city in 1861, exactly 25 years before Vancouver was established as a city. A lot of history is in that town which currently has a population of over 65,000.
It was seen as a great pathway with being located by the Fraser River. Excellent for transportation of goods through the waters and great links by rail service. It’s area rich in trees was especially beneficial for the logging industry and for the pulp and paper industry. Many pulp and paper mills were build around New Westminster and the Fraser River. Its railway system would also be built around the various mills.
As many of you have noticed in your own cities, the older buildings would face a neglect for some time. Much during the 60’s and 70’s. New Westminster faced a neglect during the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of the times the areas would be some of the sleazier areas of town often the scene of drug deals or crime. Even the older buildings would start to look shabby over time. The area around New Westminster Skytrain station used to be a popular hangout for young thugs. Some former residents of New West may remember that.
One thing many people will notice is the many improvements made in New Westminster over the last ten years. Columbia Street has definitely made big improvements in the last ten years. Before 1964, Columbia St. used to have many department stores and was the downtown attraction of New Westminster. The area consisting of the major stores around Columbia St. which also linked with South Burnaby and North Surrey was known as the Golden Mile. That changed after 1964 when the Highway #1 freeway was completed and allowed people to travel to Vancouver faster. Many of the department stores along Columbia St. closed up and moved themselves to the Uptown area. The nearby landmarks like Douglas College, the Courts and the City Hall were the places still keeping it active mostly.
Things really improved since Wayne Wright became mayor of New Westminster in 1999. Columbia St. has recently gone under a ‘facelift’ in the last ten years. One of the things Columbia St. is noted for is their array of wedding and bridal shops. It has become a major area for wedding planning and fashion. Housing along Columbia St. has also sprouted out with new developments happening. Even older buildings were renovated or given new life for attracting new and current businesses. There’s even an annual automobile festival in July, the ‘Key West Show & Shine’, that attracts people to the street.
The biggest boost on Columbia St. was the Plaza 88 along the New Westminster Skytrain station. A multi-storied condo was built there five years ago with the anticipation of an adjacent outdoor shopping mall along the Skytrain levels. Back in winter 2011, the New Westminster Skytrain station opened Plaza 88 and has since become a common shopping place with a Safeway and a Shoppers Drug Mart. A movie theatre opened there last year as well as various other stores and medical businesses and new businesses continue to come in. Ten to even five years ago, the area was very run down full of old crumbly buildings and was a common hangout for people into drugs or causing trouble. Now the place makes for a for comfortable setting for people and even includes a play area for children.
Another bustling area is the New Westminster Quay market alongside the Fraser River. The Quay market had a slow period roughly six years ago as businesses left many vacancies behind. A major renovation of the market area from July 2007 until its reopening in September 2010 has succeeded in attracting new businesses in especially with having an ‘anchor store’ with Donald’s Market.
Another redeveloped in New Westminster as of recent is the Brewery District. The Brewery District used to be the pride of the town of Sapperton after the Sapperton Brewery was opened in 1879. The brewery was owned by many brewing companies with Labatt’s Brewing Company being its last one in 1958. The brewery was closed in 2004 after Labatt’s decided to withdraw its business. The area that used to be part of the brewery has been redeveloped in the last few years. The area was recently revived with the opening of a Thrifty Foods and a Toronto Dominion bank. A Brown’s Social House restaurant and a Shopper’s Drug Mart were also opened months ago. Nearby is the office for the Greater Vancouver Transit Police and Translink with office room for more businesses. There’s already a condo area in existence to the surrounding area and more homes are planned in the years to come. Even with the surprising news in the past two months of Thrifty Foods being sold by its umbrella company Sobey’s, the area still shows potential for consumer business to increase over time.
It isn’t just new buildings and businesses that New Westminster is proud to show off. Recently it has also developed a sense of pride for its past. Back in 2009, the Royal City celebrated 150 years. The Irving House on Royal St., now a museum, is its most classic building and open to the public and even has a Victorian style Christmas. The New Westminster Heritage Centre runs guidelines for running and developing its classic homes and buildings. This allows for buildings like the BC Penitentiary to be converted into an office or even the CPR station on Columbia St. to be converted into a Keg Restaurant for some time. There are also tours of heritage homes which still keep their own facades and designs despite renovations and modernizations for current occupancy. The New Westminster Mayday festival started in 1870 and still continues today as a tradition with participating children still wearing the traditional uniform and dancing around the maypole.
It’s not only what has been completed in the last five years or past buildings and traditions revamped that has caught a lot of buzz for New Westminster but also what’s planned for the future. Being constructed nearby Plaza 88 will be the brand new New Westminster Civic Centre or the Anvil Centre as it’s commonly called now. That area too was once part of an area that had a lot of old buildings that were also looking run down and also a common spot for homeless people and drug addicts to loiter around. The centre is designed in the shape of an anvil commemorating the Anvil fired off annually during the Battery Salute of the annual Hyack Festival. The centre which is expected to open next year promises a 350-seat theatre, art studios, multi-purpose rooms for arts and performing arts development, a conference space with banquet seating for up to 500, a new location for Tourist New Westminster on ground level, and a new home for both the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum of New Westminster.
There was one negative note. Back in October there was a fire that burned down the E.L. Lewis Building, one of Columbia St.’s older buildings still put to good use. The fire devastated the building and surrounding area leaving 30 businesses displaced. It was an unfortunate happening. This could however lead to promise of a new development in terms of businesses or housing.
New Westminster has developed a new sense over the years. It’s a city with a proud and celebrated past with a highly ambitious future. Despite the negative impact in the past 20 to 30 years, the city has made big improvements and promises more in the future. The Royal City is becoming Royal again.
For more information about New Westminster, click the link to the official website.
“It’s one of those moments everyone remembered where they were when he won.”
-Toronto Star journalist Mary Ormsby
It’s funny how time passes. We always think that way whenever we remember a great moment in sports. It’s that same feel whenever we remember one of the more infamous moments in sports too. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the 1988 Olympic 100m dash final: a moment that would eventually become Canada’s most infamous moment at the Olympic Games. Any Canadian who was around at the time will remember that moment whenever you bring it up. However I was reminded of it two months ago when I saw an ESPN 30 For 30 film about it entitled 9.79* It was a film I watched repeatedly on Youtube. The film brought back a lot of memories for me but it also showed me there was more than met the eye at the time.
THE START OF IT ALL
Here in this blog I will reflect on my memories of that moment, the years leading up, the years since, and my own thoughts while watching 9.79*. I was a teenager around the time of the Ben Johnson/Carl Lewis rivalry. I was one who followed the rivalry rather closely. I still remember how it was first a case of Carl Lewis and how he matched Jesse Owens’ feat of four gold medals at the Los Angeles Games of 1984 in the same four event Jesse won gold in 1936. I knew of the Canadian named Ben Johnson who won bronze in the 100m dash during those Games. Back then, Ben Johnson’s bronze and the bronze of Canada’s 4*100 relay was good news but quiet news. Thanks to the boycott of the Eastern Bloc nations, Canada won 44 medals in Los Angeles including ten gold.
A RIVALRY IS BORN
I remember around 1985 reading about a Canadian named Ben Johnson who won a big 100m race and beat Carl Lewis along the way. Already that would catch some Canadians’ attention, including mine. A Canadian that could beat the great Carl Lewis. Attention from Canadians grew in 1986 when Ben Johnson continued his winning streak against Carl in 1986. I even remember reading of a meet Ben won with a time of 9.95 which was just .02 seconds shy of the world record. I sensed Johnson to be a possible Olympic champion in 1988 at that time and maybe a possible world record breaker.
Then came the 1987 World Championships in Rome. There are only two competitions in an Olympic sport where one can truly prove themselves the best in the world: the Olympic Games and the World Championships. It’s especially memorable not only for Ben Johnson’s win but for breaking the world record with a time of 9.83: one tenth of a second. I myself remember the World Championships of that year and CBC’s live broadcast. There was additional excitement to this showdown as Carl and Ben were assigned in side-by-side lanes which added more excitement. I was hoping to see the final live but I went away for something at the time. I don’t remember exactly what I left for. That night I saw the race at the end of a news broadcast. Before they were to show the race at the very end of the news show, the man made mention of the ‘9.83 seconds of Ben Johnson.’ I thought to myself: “9.83? That can’t be. You can’t break a 100m dash world record by a full tenth of a second. That’s too much. That has to be wind-aided.” I saw the rebroadcast of the race. I heard it was legit and I took it at face value at the time. For a year, I felt the same excitement as the rest of Canada knowing that we had the fastest man in the World. I think Ben even stole a lot of attention away from Wayne Gretzky. How often does a track athlete get more attention in Canada than a star hockey player? It made the anticipated Olympic showdown in Seoul that more exciting.
1988 AND THE BUZZ BEGINS
The Olympic showdown in Seoul was definitely something to wait for in big anticipation but it was still one year away. And a lot can happen in a year. First off was the Calgary Olympics. Canada again failed to win a gold medal. The months and weeks leading up to the Seoul Olympics would provide both excitement and drama. First there was excitement of the anticipated Johnson/Lewis duel. Then there was mention of another Canadian, Desai Williams who was also Johnson’s teammate from the Scarborough Optimists track club, being another potential threat to the field. There were the two Angelas–Bailey and Issajenko– who were both threats for the women’s 100m dash. For the record, the two Angelas did not get along well off the track. There was the CBC Olympic preview show Road To Seoul which showed the potential medalists for these Games, both Canadian and foreign in the various sports, and them telling their stories of their training, competing and their goals for the 1988 Olympics.
Then there was the drama of learning of Ben Johnson’s injury: a pulled hamstring. I didn’t learn about his injury until I was watching an Olympic preview show and it talked of Desai winning an international track meet as an injured Ben was a spectator in the stands. It left a big question mark whether Ben would heal in time for Seoul, not just for the sake of their own competition but drawing excitement and big-time attention to the Seoul Olympics. During Ben’s healing process came some more exciting news. In addition to Desai’s win, Angella Issajenko won the 100m at an international meet beating 1984 Olympic champion Evelyn Ashford of the US. The US Olympic trials also added to the excitement as Carl Lewis won the 100m in a wind-aided 9.78. Even though the time was not legit enough to be a world record, it sent a message to Ben which Ben naturally brushed aside. Another surprise moment at the US Olympic Trials was the 10.49 world record of Florence Griffith-Joyner in the 100m. It chopped more than a quarter of a second off the world record and is still questioned to this day, even though Griffith-Joyner’s autopsy results from 1998 declared nothing of steroid abuse.
Another note: I also remember one Olympic preview show talk about doping procedures and how they’re conducted. After a sporting event the athlete would produce their sample and it would be divided into two testing samples. If the first sample called the A-sample tests positive, only the athlete is notified and they are given two options. I forget what the first option was but I know the second option was reproducing a sample. If the second sample called the B-sample is positive, it’s confirmed and the necessary penalties and suspensions are carried out.
I was reminded in 9.79* of one key competition weeks before Seoul that would have a bearing on the story: the Weltklasse in Zurich. It’s funny how Zurich’s Weltklasse competition would provide a lot of key moments in the years of the Johnson/Lewis rivalry. In fact it was the 1985 Weltklasse where Ben’s first victory over Carl occurred. 1988’s Weltklasse was yet another focus of the Lewis/Johnson rivalry especially since this was Ben Johnson returning to competition since his hamstring injury. The Lewis/Johnson duel got even more attention than American sprinter Butch Reynolds breaking the 20 year-old world record in the 400m dash at that meet. I still remember CBC stopping broadcast of a soap opera at that time to show live telecast of that competition. I remember first seeing the warm ups and then seeing all of the runners shown lane-by-lane. Funny how the other sprinters who were in the same events of the Lewis/Johnson rivalry like Brit Linford Christie, American Calvin Smith and Jamaican Ray Stewart were frequently regarded by most as simply “lane-fillers” as Dennis Mitchell put it. I remember that Ben and Carl were again in opposite lanes and they both received the biggest cheers in the stadium when their names were announced. Then the run took place and Carl won with Ben third. That was Ben’s first loss to Lewis since 1985. I know it had some of us Canadian’s nervous. Hey, it was natural for us to want Ben to win in Seoul.
SEOUL 1988: THE MOMENT ARRIVES
Then came the Seoul Olympics. Sure enough the Lewis/Johnson rivalry was probably the most hyped-up rivalry before the Games. I can’t think of any other rivalry for Seoul that was more hyped-up. There were even the sentimental stories added to the hype of the rivalry. First was the constantly repeated story of Johnson being an immigrant and finding his place in track and field. As for Carl Lewis, his story was that his father died the year before and Carl put the 100m gold medal from 1984 into his coffin. He told his surprised family: “Don’t worry. I’ll win another.”
Even before the final, there was drama in the preliminary races. First was the quarterfinal Johnson ran in. Johnson finished third and with there being six quarterfinals, the Top 2 automatically qualified for the semi while the last four qualifiers would be the four fastest of those that finished between 3rd and 6th. Ben ran the first quarterfinal and would have to wait until all six were run to know if he qualified. You could bet it was an agonizing time not just for Ben but for Canada too. Even after it was clear Ben’s time was fast enough to qualify, many of us Canadians including myself were still nervous. After seven days of Olympic competition, Canada was still waiting for its first medal of any color at these Games and we didn’t know what to expect from Ben the next day. As for Carl, he not only won his quarterfinal easily but was the only one to run it under 10 seconds. Anyways Ben and Canada could breathe a sigh of relief in the semis the next day as Ben won his semifinal. However Carl also won his semi and just like in the quarterfinals, he was the only one to run it under ten seconds. The heavily-anticipated Lewis/Johnson rivalry in Seoul would finally be a reality in the final but the world would then have to wait an hour and a half for it to start.
THE FINAL: THE HYPE IS NOW A REALITY
I remember where I was during that exact moment too. It was a Saturday afternoon in Seoul when the event happened which meant because of the time difference, live broadcast took place late evening on a Friday for us Canadians. I don’t remember exactly too much about what I saw before the race started. I remember that my mother, my sister and I gathered around the television set. My father was at work doing overtime. Talk about hard luck that day. I remember the lane-by-lane rundown of all the finalists. I knew all their names but 9.79* reminded me of which runner was in which lane. I never forgot Carl was in Lane 3 and Ben was in Lane 6. I was also reminded by 9.79* of the starter and how he said “Take your marks” and “Set” in Korean. The film has made the memory hard to forget since.
Then the start. Surprisingly there was not a single false start beforehand: just one bang and it started. Then the race: I could remember Ben in the lead right at the start of the gun. All of us were glued to the television set in both excitement and nervousness. Once Ben crossed the finish line, we all jumped up and cheered loudly in celebration. I was also stunned to see the world record from Rome broken. My father even called from work as he heard it on the radio while working. I remember he asked me: “Did you see it?” in excitement. I remember going into a conversation though I forgot all we talked about. The following night I went to a party. We were all drinking and dancing. I remember one guy saying “Yeah! Ben Johnson!” Euphoria continued on the Sunday as well as relief that we were now winning more medals in other events.
THE TRUTH IS UNRAVELED
Then the bombshell. Everybody may remember where they were when they were when the final was contested and I’m sure most, if not everybody, may remember where they were when they heard the shocking news. I remember where I was when I received the first hint. It was late Monday afternoon and I returned home from school. My mother came and said: “I heard some bad news.” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then she said: “There’s news of a positive drug test and they think it’s Ben Johnson.” I was surprised but I thought to myself; “It can’t be.” I then turned on the television. Within time I learned that it was true. Ben Johnson had tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. I believe at first I didn’t want to believe it. However it was there on the television right in front of my face.
I remember switching between the channels showing Olympic coverage that evening. It was all the same. Both CBC channels, the English and French-language ones, had the story. Even NBC was showing it. I also remember CBC’s live broadcast from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Main Press Centre. It first started with an official announcing the sanctions to Ben: disqualification which included being stripped of his gold and a two-year ban from competition. It was followed by Alexandre de Merode, head of the IOC Medical Commission, being asked questions in various languages and responding in French. I was flicking between the three channels at that time. One station returned attention to the Olympic competition with the start of the men’s road race in cycling. Very ironically, it was won by Olaf Ludwig of East Germany. You’ll what I mean by ‘very ironically’ in my follow-up blog three days from now. That day did have some redeeming competition moments like Greg Louganis completing diving’s double-double of gold medals by winning platform diving and Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux receiving a porcelain box from the IOC for saving the life of a Singaporean sailor in danger of drowning days earlier.
The aftermath was ugly. I remember Ben’s sister constantly saying: “No! No! He would never do anything like this!” I remember many people were saying it’s possible to be sabotage. I remember news footage of Ben making his way to the Seoul airport and Ben’s arrival in Toronto. Both times he was met by news people that were both hungry and hostile. I remember hearing of all the professional companies that endorsed Ben Johnson including Diadora withdrawing their endorsements to him almost immediately. Most Canadian athletes tried to compete without letting the news affect their own performances. The Canadian team would leave Seoul with a total of ten medals, three of them gold. The Canadian track team struggled to compete in the wake of that debacle. Canada’s only legit medal in Track and Field was decathlete David Steen’s bronze. The sprinters just fell apart. Canada was medal favorites in both 4*100m relays but the scandal just caused the sprinters to fall apart. The women’s team failed to qualify for the final and the men’s team could only muster 7th.
Outside of Olympic competition, I remember a lot of news stories continuing. I remember Ben publicly declaring he had never knowingly taken steroids. Charlie Francis added to the alleged insistence of sabotage. But Angella held nothing back when she returned back to Canada. She declared that Ben took steroids and he knew about it. I remember news talk about Charlie’s team doctor Jamie Astaphan. I don’t remember of any mention of Dr. Astaphan before the news of the positive. If there was any, it may have been footnotes. After the news of the positive, you can bet there was focus on him. All this would pave way to an inquiry to get answers. Did Ben knowingly take steroids? Or was it sabotage? Who else was involved?
On a comedic note, I remember watching the first Saturday Night Live of that season. There was the Weekend Report with Dennis Miller and he did some post-Olympic humor. First was of the American Joyner family. The second was on Ben Johnson. You’d figure SNL wouldn’t dare miss a chance on this. And they delivered as they had a segment where Ben inspired the All-Drug Olympics. The competition was held naturally in Bogota, Colombia and there was ‘live footage’ of a Soviet weightlifter attempting to lift a huge weight. The sportscaster detailed all the drugs the lifter took and said: “but it’s legit, actually it’s enouraged, here at the All-Drug Olympics.” The lifter didn’t just simply fail in his lift but his arms fell off, leading him bleeding from the joints. Miller ended the segment cracking: “With the Games half-over, Canada leads in total medals.” Further cracks from SNL on Ben Johnson would continue over the episodes which would piss my teenage sister off a lot. I don’t think she got it at the time but the reason why Ben Johnson and Canada got a lot of pot shots on SNL was because creator-writer Lorne Michaels is Canadian.
AN INQUIRY GETS TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS
The Canadian government set up an official inquiry at the start of 1989 to get the answers on Ben’s positive results. The inquiry would be conducted by chief justice Charles Dubin and would be officially known as the Dubin Inquiry. The Inquiry turned out to expose more than just the answers to the Ben Johnson scandal. In fact I remember one of the athletes testifying one month before Charlie Francis was a Canadian weightlifter who had nothing to do with the Ben Johnson scandal. Even some doctors involved in outside doping cases were interviewed. Shows that the inquiry was more than about getting answers to a positive drug test at the Olympics.
In March 1989, almost five months since the test results were made public, Charlie Francis took the stand to testify. He admitted that he gave steroids to his athletes and that Ben knew all along that he was taking them. He even said that steroids gave a one-meter advantage in an event like the 100m dash. Simultaneously I remember reading that Desai Williams, who was preparing for a track meet in Europe, confessed his own participation in taking the steroids given by Charlie Francis. His reason: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I also remember Carl Lewis’ reaction in response. He declared Ben: “a liar and a cheat. At least I have the world record by a clean athlete.” Angella Isajenko testified the following week. She even went as far as bringing her diary where she documented her steroid intake since 1979. I never saw live broadcast of the inquiry or even news coverage of that event. I did however read about it in the local newspaper. That’s the most I remember of that, and the tears she shed for her teammates the following day.
There was one athlete not directly connected to the Ben Johnson scandal that caught my attention. It was Canadian sprinter Tony Sharpe. He competed at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and qualified for the 100m dash final and would run as part of Canada’s bronze medal-winning 4*100m relay team. He stated in his testimony that steroid abuse gave him physical complications and would eventually lead to his premature retirement from the sport back in 1985. Serves as a reminder that for all the physical advantages steroids give, they also cause a lot of physical problems too.
Funny thing is right when the Dubin Inquiry was happening, an American sprinter named Darrell Robinson said he saw Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith-Joyner purchase vials of steroids. I remember that story quite well. I also remember reading in Sports Illustrated that Robinson and Griffith-Joyner, who retired shortly after Seoul, were both interviewed on the Today show where Griffith-Joyner called Robinson a ‘lying lunatic.’ Robinson responded: “The truth will come out.” I remember hearing many stories about Carl threatening to sue Robinson but I don’t think it ever came about. I never did learn the end result.
Back to the Dubin Inquiry, Dr. Astaphan finally testified. He admitted of all the steroids he gave to Charlie Francis and his athletes but the biggest shocker is that he gave some steroidic medicines that were veterinarian medicines: not meant for humans! I also remember him talking frequently of Winstrol. The bizarre thing I remember about this was that after he talked of all that he administered, he said he was keeping in line with the Hippocratic Oath he swore under. Funny. Since when did giving athletes performance enhancing drugs become in allegiance with the Hippocratic Oath?
The crazy thing about this is that with every athlete or professional connected to the Ben Johnson scandal giving testimony, it made me more and more impatient in waiting for Ben himself to testify. Ben finally testified in June. I remember on that day, someone in my family was watching something else on television. It was the only television in the house at the time. I then turned on the radio and I could hear Ben Johnson examined by the justice. Later on he would admit to taking them. When asked why he said he never knowingly took them upon arriving home, he said it was because he was tired and frustrated from all that was happening. He also told the youth of Canada not to take steroids. Funny thing is even after Ben Johnson had completed his testimony, there were still people and doctors that testified some time after. Also I remember just shortly after Johnson’s testimony, Geraldo Rivera did a show about steroids on his talk show Geraldo. I remember at the conclusion of the inquiry, Justice Charles Dubin stated his conclusions and verdicts. He also blamed the cutthroat competitiveness of competitive sports and even things like the Olympic Games and high-payout athletic endorsements for the rampant use of steroids.
There were additional penalties after the Dubin Inquiry. Both Desai and Angella were banned from competition for two years and were stripped of all their records. They would retire in that time. Other Canadian runners such as Mark McCoy who didn’t run his relay leg in Seoul in the wake of the scandal also received a two year ban. Charlie Francis would soon be banned from coaching for life. He appeared to have come clean after he admitted giving his athletes steroids. However he’d be disgraced again when he announced that he’d continue giving his athletes steroids. Once that was made public, he was banned for life. Ben Johnson’s world record from the 1987 World Championships was also stripped from the record books. The new record was the 9.92 run by Carl Lewis in Seoul. Ben was however allowed to keep both of his Olympic bronzes from Los Angeles. Desai and Angella were allowed to keep their 1984 Olympic medals too.
There are some interesting footnotes. One is that there were three books released in a matter of two years since that were either about the scandal or made mention of the scandal. The most notable was Carl Lewis’ autobiography Inside Track released late in 1990. In that same time period Charlie Francis released his book Speed Traps. However the biggest one for me was Angella Issajenko and her book Running Risks which was released around the same time as Inside Track. I remember she even had a radio interview on a Winnipeg station while promoting her book. She made mention of a meet where Canada’s senior women’s relay team finished behind East Germany’s junior relay team. That’s when she made the decision to go on steroids. She also said she believed the world has learned nothing from this. I admire Angella for most telling it like it was.
For years after Seoul, there was the big question about Ben Johnson running again. For a long time, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) was saying he can’t run for Canada again. Jamaica said they didn’t want him back. That changed when Carol Anne Letheren was made head of the COC. Johnson was allowed to compete for Canada again. I even remember a news story of Ben Johnson with his new coach in 1990. Ben’s comeback began at an indoor meet in the winter of 1991. I remember tracing Ben’s comeback attempt at the time. Upon returning, Ben looked less bulky since Seoul. Ben lost the race by a close margin. Ben would continue competing. However reality sunk in when there was a meet in France which was to be the first Johnson/Lewis rivalry since Seoul. It was actually won by American Dennis Mitchell. Carl Lewis finished second and Ben finished eighth and last. I was really hoping for Ben to come back from this and I was starting to lose hope in him. Further hope was lost when I learned he finished fourth at the World Championship Trials. His only berth at the Worlds came on the men’s relay. For the record, Canada had a new national fastest man: Bruny Surin. Ben was still persistent. He would qualify for the 100m dash at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona while Carl Lewis was ill at the US Olympic Trials and missed qualifying. Johnson only got as far as the semifinals in Barcelona. At that time I sensed some hope for Ben in the future.
Unfortunately the Barcelona Olympics would be the last major competition Ben would appear in. Months later, he allegedly failed another drug test. This time he was banned for life. I was shocked myself because I wanted to see him come back a winner. He protested his innocence but declined to fight the charge since he was nearing the end of his career. He did fight the charges five years later and won only to test positive again in 1999. By then, I just shrugged it off. I didn’t have to worry. Canada already had a new World’s Fastest Man in Donovan Bailey and he never failed a doping test. It was obvious that steroids made Ben.
So there you go. Those are my memories of the final in Seoul and what happened in the years leading to it and the years leading since. If I wouldn’t have seen that film 9.79*, I wouldn’t have remembered that today’s the 25th Anniversary of that moment. My how time flies. Anyways you heard my thoughts on the big moment today. I also posted my thoughts on doping in sport on Friday.
The members of the International Olympic Committee will meet in Buenos Aires from September 7th to 10th for their committee Session. This will be the 125th Session the IOC has held since 1894. Usually there’s your typical IOC business to discuss at the Session but this is one Session where there will be three high-focused issues.
Host City Of The 2020 Summer Games:
The IOC Sessions are where the elections are held for the host cities of future Olympic Games. They’re voted on usually six or seven years beforehand. The bidding process officially begins two years earlier when the IOC sends letters to the national Olympic Committees to submit bids. Bid confirmations and seminars follow and then the field gets narrowed down to a shortlist of candidates. This time it’s three. All three cities were visited by the IOC’s Evaluation Commission in March during three separate four-day periods and the report of the cities would be delivered in June followed by a briefing session of the candidate cities with IOC members in Lausanne. On Saturday the 7th, the vote for the host city of the XXXIInd Olympics will come down to three cities:
- Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey is the one country amongst the bidders that has never hosted an Olympic Games. However Istanbul has a good reputation of hosting events such as many soccer events and even a swimming World Championships. Also Turkey’s worldwide reputation has improved a lot in the past thirty years especially amongst joining the EU.
- Tokyo, Japan – This is the heavy favorite. Tokyo actually has hosted the Summer Games before back in 1964. Japan has continued to be a good host for sporting events like two Winter Olympics (Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998) and co-hosting the 2002 World Cup. However the earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear plant catastrophe still hang like a dark cloud over Japan and this may cause some to be weary of voting for Tokyo.
- Madrid, Spain – This is Madrid’s third attempt at hosting the Summer Olympics. It is given the least odds of the three host cities but don’t rule it out. We shouldn’t forget Rio had the third-most odds before the vote for the 2016 host. Both Madrid and Spain have a stellar record of hosting sporting events. Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics. Spain hosted the 1982 World Cup and the final was held in Madrid. Madrid has also hosted World Championships in Aquatic sports, basketball and even major tournaments in track and field and tennis. Madrid enters this race as the city that has proven the most in hosting sporting events.
The 26th Sport For 2020:
Usually an Olympic Session votes on including sports in the Olympic program. Here there will be a vote on including a 26th sport for the 2020 Summer Olympics. However that inclusion risks causing a highly-publicized exclusion. Months ago the IOC announced the Top 25 ‘core’ sports that made the cut for being contested for the 2020 Summer Olympics. What made the biggest noise was the one sport that didn’t make the cut: Wrestling. Wrestling has been part of the Olympic Games even up to its ancient contests in the 7th century B.C. It was included in the modern revival of the Olympic Games ever since the first Olympics in 1896 and has been part of every modern Olympics except for 1900. Wrestling was again contested at the London Games of 2012 where 29 nations won at least one Wrestling medal. Only Track and Field put more nations on the podium in London.
However it was not seen as Olympic enough to be a ‘core’ sport. Many National Olympic Committees have spoken their disappointment with this decision. Even the president of the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) resigned in disappointment. However Wrestling has been given a second chance as a sport up for the vote for the ’26th sport’ for 2020. The only other two sports rivaling wrestling are Squash which has never been contested at the Olympics and Baseball/Softball: sports contested from 1992 to 2008 and seeking to return to the Olympic program. The structuring of inclusions and exclusions of sports really shows how much the IOC has changed in the last 20 or so years. It also puts into question the future of other sports. I know the IOC is trying to keep the Olympics from getting too big but is exclusion of sports really the answer?
The New IOC President:
Tuesday September 10th will be the vote for a new president of the International Olympic Committee. After 12 years, Jacques Rogge will step down as president of the IOC. Rogge leaves a legacy of improving sports in developing countries and of making efforts for hosting the Olympic Games to be less costly. It’s not to say he’s had some controversies of his own. He had been rumored to participate in a discussion about Chinese internet censorship as they we about to host the Beijing Games in 2008. Nevertheless I consider him to be the least dictator-like IOC president in history.
Now on to selecting a new president. There are six men from six countries up for the position:
- Thomas Bach – Germany: Four months ago he was actually the first person to announce his run for the IOC presidency. He is an IOC member since 1991 and the President of the Arbitration Appeals Division for the Court of Arbitration of Sport. He is also an Olympic champion. Back in 1976, he was part of West Germany’s gold medal-winning Foil Fencing team. He’s the heavy favorite.
- Ng Ser Miang – Singapore: Ng has been an IOC member since 1998 and has been part of the Executive Board since 2005.
- Richard Carrion – Singapore: He has been a member of the IOC since 1990, currently chairs the Finance Commission and is a member of the IOC’s Marketing, TV and International Rights Commission. He’s also the CEO of financial holding company Popular, Inc., one of the most powerful financial companies in Puerto Rico.
- Wu Ching-Kuo – Taiwan (Chinese Taipei): He has served as an IOC member since 1988 and has served as the president of the International Boxing Association.
- Denis Oswald – Switzerland: He has served as an IOC member since 1991 and is the current head of the International Rowing Federation.
- Sergei Bubka – Ukraine: He has served as an IOC member since 2008 and is current head of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee. He is also considered to be the greatest pole vaulter in history. He was Olympic Champion in 1988 and has set 35 pole vault world records in his career.
One of these six will be the new president. It’s possible we could have the first president ever that was a former Olympic champion. It will all be decided Tuesday.
The 125th IOC Session has lots in stock when the various IOC members meet in Buenos Aires. There’s the usual admission of new members and there’s also the big matters I talked about. No kidding that lots need to be taken care of here.