Category Archives: Current Issues

Disaster Close To Home

The tourism activities in English Bay were suspended by the spill for at least eleven days.

The tourism activities in English Bay were suspended by the spill for at least eleven days.

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.

Most of the oil washed up on other shores but the dirty foam was enough of a reminder of what occurred three days earlier.

Most of the oil washed up on other shores but the dirty foam was enough of a reminder of what occurred three days earlier.

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.

Leisure activity did eventually return to English Bay. This photo taken on Victoria Day (May 18th).

Leisure activity did eventually return to English Bay. This photo taken on Victoria Day (May 18th).

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.

WORKS CITED:

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/>

The Times They Are A Changing

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

Mailing a letter in Canada became a lot more expensive as of March 31st.

Mailing a letter in Canada became a lot more expensive as of March 31st.

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

The Compass card from TransLink. The program was expected to start January 1st but still lacks a definite start date.

The Compass card from TransLink. The program was expected to start January 1st but still lacks a definite start date.

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.

Sochi 2014: Making Press For More Than Just The Games

The Sochi Olympics has made news who won what medals. And a lot more.

The Sochi Olympics has made news who won what medals. And a lot more.

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.

GAMES PROBLEMS:

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.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 2014 Winter Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Winter_Olympics>

Sochi 2014: Seven Canadians To Watch

Canada Olympic

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:

Olympic Chart 1

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!

Sochi 2014: Ten To Watch

Olympic Flame

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.

Royal City No Longer Royal Slum

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 Plaza 88 Shopping Mall (shown here) and condo development has helped to give new life to the New Westminster Skytrain Station and Columbia St.

The Plaza 88 Shopping Mall (shown here) and condo development has helped to give new life to the New Westminster Skytrain Station and Columbia St.

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.

The addition of new buildings and new stores like Thrifty Foods has helped give new life to the Brewery District since the brewery closed in 2004.

The addition of new buildings and new stores like Thrifty Foods has helped give new life to the Brewery District since the brewery closed in 2004.

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.

The Anvil Centre, slated to open later this year, is slated to be the city's new civic centre.

The Anvil Centre situated across Plaza 88, slated to open later this year, is to be the city’s new civic centre.

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.

9.79: Has It Been Exactly 25 Years Ago?

Ben Johnson (right) beat Carl Lewis (left) in the heavily hyped Olympic final of the 100m dash. A shocking truth would be unraveled three days later.

Ben Johnson (6) beat Carl Lewis (3) in the heavily hyped 1988 Olympic final of the 100m. A shocking truth would be unraveled three days later.

“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.

THE AFTERMATH

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.

Three Important IOC Decisions This Week

London Flame

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:

The fate of Wrestling's Olympic sport status could make as much news as the vote on the host city of the 2020 Games.

The fate of Wrestling’s Olympic Sport status could make as much news as the selection of the host city of the 2020 Games.

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.

The Trayvon Martin Case Should Make Lawmakers Rethink Stand-Your-Ground Laws

The shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has sparked outrage and anger across the US towards racial stereotypes and faulty self-defence laws.

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin has sparked outrage and anger across the US towards racial stereotypes and faulty self-defence laws.

How many of you were surprised to hear of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death? How many of you were surprised to hear of the motives? And now how many of you are shocked over the verdict? I can’t blame you. I won’t talk of this being an issue of racism but I will talk about this being an issue of faulty self-defense laws. Even if racism was an issue of this, it wouldn’t be the only issue. These laws need to be looked at in good detail.

First of all let us have a look at the Stand Your Ground law in the state of Florida that started this hullabaloo. It’s a law passed into legislation in 2005 while Jeb Bush was governor of the state at the time. If you want to have a look at the exact text of the law ,click here. The law states deadly force is unnecessary unless it appears the person feels such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. The law appears to pretty much set the grounds for self-defense and its boundaries, right?

Obviously not. This was brought to my attention from a year-old video from Adam Buckley of A Dose Of Buckley. In that video he pointed out that in the year the Stand Your Ground law was enacted (2005), the number of murders in Florida increased by over 25%. He also pointed out that the per-year number of ‘justifiable homicides’ in the five years of the passing of the law was triple the number of justifiable homicides in the five years before the passing. That’s sad. Stats like those should make anyone want to reconsider either the law or the police and legal system involved in this. Also I liked how he referenced the mentality of the state of Florida. That could have something to do with it!

Now onto the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin side of that law. It was February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon Martin had celebrated his 17th birthday three weeks earlier. He lived in Miami Gardens with his mother and brother. He was an A and B student at Dr. Michael Krop High School. However it didn’t stop him from succumbing to the typical peer pressures of a teen like spray-painting graffiti and owning a marijuana pipe. He was also suspected of burglary once because of police searching him and finding jewelry and a screwdriver. However no evidence was found against him and he was dismissed.

Born to a German-American father and a Peruvian mother, 28 year-old George Zimmerman was an insurance underwriter on his way to completing a degree in criminal justice at the time. He had been married for years and had just moved to The Retreat at Twin Lakes just three years earlier. The previous year he was part of a citizens forum and even protested the fatal beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white police officer. Zimmerman had a history of violence such as assaulting a police officer while intoxicated in 2005. That same year he was also charged with assaulting his ex-fiancée.

Then there’s the neighborhood of Twin Lakes. The Retreat is a gated 260-home community in Sanford. The community was racially mixed with almost half the population white with 23% Hispanic and 20% black. Both George Zimmerman and the fiancée of Trayvon Martin’s father rented homes in The Retreat. The Retreat however had an unsafe feel for many of the residents. From the beginning of 2011 up to the date of Trayvon’s shooting, there were eight burglaries, nine thefts and one shooting. Police received over 400 calls to The Retreat during that period of time, mostly for suspected burglaries. Twin Lakes decided to start a neighborhood watch in September of 2011 and Zimmerman was selected to be the program’s coordinator. During the six-month period Zimmerman, who has been licensed to own a gun since 2009, made seven calls to the non-emergency line to the police. The most recent was more than three weeks before the shooting

Then the evening of February 26, 2012 was the moment when all hell started to break loose. Martin was returning to his father’s fiancée after leaving a convenience store. Zimmerman was driving by on a personal errand. Zimmerman then called police about what looked like to be a ‘suspicious person’ in the neighborhood. Zimmerman observed that Martin was walking around homes with his hand in his waistband. Two minutes later he told the police martin was running. Zimmerman followed him but was told by police not to do so. He stopped and the call ended. However Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other again, things turned violent and that’s when Zimmerman drew out his shotgun and fatally shot Martin. The bombshell: all Martin had on him was a can of Arizona ice tea and a pack of Skittles.

It took weeks of court meetings and legal discussions before Zimmerman was finally arrested for second-degree murder. Zimmerman pleaded ‘not guilty’ due to self-defense. The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was not used by Zimmerman’s defense team during the trial but is part of the required Jury Instruction of all Florida murder trials. Zimmerman even requested a ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing but his defense elected to bypass it. Nevertheless Zimmerman was found not guilty.

I’m not going to deny that racial stereotyping may have something to do with the whole mess-up of justice but if it does, it’s not the only thing that is a mess-up. Just as much of a mess-up is the Florida self-defense laws like the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. In fact current Florida Governor Rick Scott responded to the heat of the highly-publicized news story by commissioning a 19-member task force to review that law just three weeks after the shooting. There were seven public hearing held all around Florida and there was a total of 11,000 comments from the public with three comments opposed to the law for every comment in support. Nevertheless the task force recommended against repealing the statute defending the use of self-defense. Several bills attempting to revise or repeal the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law since the task force have died before a committee hearing.

To sum it up, the shooting of Trayvon Martin was the result of a very paranoid person. George Zimmerman acted before he thought. He caused many alarms in the past and the shooting of Trayvon Martin tragically was his actions coming back to bite him. However a declaration of innocence would not be considered valid, except in the state of Florida. I’m confident in most other states, George Zimmerman would be found guilty and would receive a stiff sentence. They would see his shooting as a result of his paranoia rather than justifiable self-defense. Many people would believe that a black teenage boy in a hoodie is no excuse to panic and suspect crime in one’s area. However the jury in Florida thought otherwise. This is a failure of the law.

The Stand-Your-Ground law was already showing signs of the problem but were overlooked. The verdict of ‘innocent’ on George Zimmerman shows that the law cannot be overlooked any more. Not while someone like Trayvon Martin would be a victim of this. Will they revise the law, or bring it up for debate at the very least? Only time and the efforts of the state of Florida will tell.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Shooting Of Trayvon Martin. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trayvon_Martin#Trayvon_Martin>

Cory Monteith’s Death All Too Common

Cory Monteith hit the big time with the TV series Glee but his death last week at the age of 31 ended it all.

Cory Monteith hit the big time with the TV series Glee but his death last week at the age of 31 ended it all.

I’m sure all of you know the news by now, especially Glee fans. Star Cory Monteith was found dead in a Vancouver hotel Saturday night. He was 31. I know because I live in Vancouver so that news hit fast. Toxicology results came immediate: it was an overdose of alcohol and heroin. It was a shock to many. Problem is this tragedy is way too common in the history of entertainment.

The arts and showbiz are known for great lives being cut short due to substances or their own personal demons. They go far back to such greats like composers Mozart and Schubert who never made it to their 40th birthday. They include poets like Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Dylan Thomas…the list is lengthy. They include artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and Frida Kahlo. Actually it was right after the release of the 2002 film Frida that I made the comment: “A tortured soul makes an artist.” Young showbiz deaths include singers like Sam Cooke, Mario Lanza, Marvin Gaye and Amy Winehouse. They include rappers like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. They also include actors like John Gilbert, Marilyn Monroe and River Phoenix.

Also unique about celebrities and artists is that quite often their young death can add to their mystique as an artist. Many people feel know of Jackson Pollock’s struggle with alcoholism and that it led to him to paint his feelings out. Many people are awestruck by the personal troubles of Kurt Cobain who sang out his troubles: troubles that eventually led to his suicide. Marilyn Monroe’s mystique of being the Hollywood beauty whose fame and fortune couldn’t save her from her personal struggles has added to her legend since her suicide. James Dean epitomized the popular 50’s belief  ‘live fast, die young’ upon his death in a high-speed car crash. Even Tupac Shakur’s knowledge that he would die an early death because of his bad attitude but still went for it anyways also mesmerizes fans to this day. Sometimes an entertainer dying young of natural causes like Bob Marley from cancer can leave us in amazement about what they did in their short life. Early deaths linked to a particular profession create a mystique too. We know of the ’27 Club’ of rock musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain who died at the age of 27. We also see how some of the greatest divas in history like Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland and most recently Whitney Houston failed to reach their 50th birthday. Even early deaths of the biggest of the big like Elvis Presley at 42 and Michael Jackson at 50 capture our intrigue.

The most recent celebrity to be amongst entertainers and celebrities who died a young death was Cory Monteith. Cory was a young actor who had been in the business since he was 22. He was mostly cast in minor roles but received a big break in 2009 when he was cast in the lead role of Finn Hudson in the TV series Glee. The success of the musical TV series took off instantly with huge fanfare and hit records of song they performed on the show. There was even a Glee tour and a 3D concert movie. Things appeared to be going very well for Cory. He appeared to be handling fame well, was in a relationship with fellow cast member Lea Michele and appeared to have overcome a lightly-publicized substance problem within a month earlier this year.

Then the news hit in the evening of July 13, 2013. 31 year-old Cory Monteith was found dead in his room at the Fairmount Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver. An autopsy was completed in less than 48 hours. Cause of death was ruled to be a mix of heroin and alcohol. It was ruled to be an accident. Cory became yet another young celebrity who died an early death to drugs and alcohol.

The big question was did celebrity have to do with it? I’ll admit that on the day of his autopsy results released, I posted on my Facebook status:

On the subject of Cory Monteith’s toxicology results, you hear of celebrities past who died early deaths of drugs and various substances and you’d think the next generation will learn the lessons and avoid it, only to see them make the same dumb mistakes!

However if you read stories about him, you will hear that Cory had problems with alcohol and marijuana since he was 13. It should be too surprising knowing he was raised in Victoria when that happened. BC is known for its substance abuse problems. Since then he attended 16 different schools until dropping out at the age of 16. Cory continued to fuel his drug habit by stealing off of family and friends until his family staged an intervention when he was 19 and attended a rehab program that was successful in helping him recover. However his problems would come and go. One news source said his problem would actually disappear when he was in Hollywood but would recur when he was in BC. This may be true or not but one thing’s sure is that his death at the Vancouver Fairmont would make that statement look right.

I’ll admit I was erroneous in my Facebook update but it was nevertheless an easy assumption to make. When I was younger, it appeared that celebrities dying young deaths from drugs and alcohol would serve as a lesson to the younger stars that it’s not worth it. Boy was I naïve. The last ten years has shown us a lot of stories of young celebrities, especially the likes of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, who kept on getting themselves into substance problems again and again. I even remember a quote from actress Barbara Eden just after Lindsay Lohan’s DUI arrest in 2007. I don’t remember the exact words but it went something like: “I feel sorry for those young girls in Hollywood. You just can’t simply do some coke. You have to do a whole lot.” It left me with the impression that stardom is still something people feel is worth putting your life at risk for. Even with all these gossip blogs of other celebrities dealing with their substance issues you’re left with that impression. It’s because of all that in which Cory’s death from that lethal mix of heroin and alcohol led me to think it was showbiz again doing its thing. However I’m willing to agree that it has more to do with Vancouver as I’m very familiar with its drug abuse problems. I see it almost every day.

Whatever the situation, or however it happened, Cory was nevertheless a life cut short. Apart from his celebrity, he left behind a mother, father and a brother having to deal with this. His father had an additional dealing as he was not invited to Cory’s viewing. Lea Michele has to deal with her boyfriend gone. The official Twitter accounts of top Glee stars like Lea, Chris Colfer and Kevin McHale have not had a tweet since July 13th: the day of Cory’s death. Lea however has had an official statement wishing for privacy at this time. The future of Glee also remains in question.

Cory Monteith may have shocked all with his death coming at a time of fame and fortune. However a young death is a young death. One can’t help but be left wondering what could’ve been, celebrity or not. I remember a quote from Stevie Nicks when she talked about her cocaine addiction and how she said part of her wanted to die but part of her made her think if she died young, people would say: “That was stupid of her,” and it made her recover. Did that ever cross Cory’s mind?

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Cory Monteith. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Monteith>