New Events at the Sochi Winter Games

Though curling has grown beyond a cult following into one of the more “prominent obscure” events at the Winter Games, many may not know that it was reintroduced as a medal sport only recently – in 1998 in Nagano, Japan – after a 64-year hiatus. Just 16 years later, it’s one of the more anticipated events of the Winter Games, depending on who you talk to (but really…it’s highly anticipated).

It can be hard to keep up every two years as both the Summer and Winter Olympics continue to embrace new disciplines and new audiences. For this year’s Winter Olympics, there are 12 new events to introduce you to in the three disciplines of skiing, snowboarding and ice skating.
(Videos courtesy of the International Olympic Committee)

Women’s Ski Jumping

The addition of women’s ski jumping – which is a no-brainer in my opinion – has been heralded in commentary and advertising. Ski jumping has been a mainstay at the Winter Olympics since the very first Games in 1924, generally the province of the alpine countries, like Austria and Switzerland, and the Scandinavians. But women were not allowed to compete. Women’s ski jumping debuted at the 2009 Nordic World Ski Championships, and though the IOC rejected initial bids for women to compete for medals at the Olympics on the grounds it was not widespread enough and lacked a deep competitor pool, it was finally authorized as a medal sport for the Sochi Games in 2011. Advertisers have piggybacked off the addition of the women’s event (here’s Visa’s cool commercial juxtaposing the ski jump with audio of Amelia Earhart).

Team USA’s best shot at a gold medal is 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson of Salt Lake City, though she’s just five months out from a serious right knee injury in which she tore her ACL, MCL and cartilage. Hendrickson is the reigning World Champion, however, and has the ability to bring home the gold if her knee holds up. She’s joined on Team USA by Jessica Jerome and Lindsey Van. The strongest international threat to Hendrickson is 17-year-old Sara Takanashi of Japan, who won silver at the 2013 World Championships.

Here’s some commentary on why women’s ski jumping is late to the game, or why it shouldn’t have been.

Figure Skating Team

The actual on-ice execution is the same, but now individual and pairs skaters’ scores are aggregated for a team competition event, making the air around the discipline much more intense than ever. The team event includes selected competitors from each country in men’s, women’s and pairs’ figure skating and ice dancing. This adds a whole new competitive dynamic to one of the signature events at the Winter Olympics, much in the way Gymnastics encompasses both individual and team intrigue for the Summer Games.

Slopestyle – Snowboarding and Skiing (Men’s and Women’s)

This exhilarating snowboard/ski discipline combines speed and style elements as competitors navigate a downhill course with multiple jumps, attempting to land the most difficult moves in the smoothest fashion. Slopestyle has been a popular event at the Winter X Games, and was added for both skiing and snowboarding for the Sochi Games.

While Shaun White was forced to withdraw from the event in Sochi after hurting his wrist on the course, he’s a top competitor in the discipline, evidenced here by his Winter X Games Triumph in 2012.

Slopestyle Snowboarding – Shaun White

Slopestyle Skiing

Ski Halfpipe (Men’s and Women’s)

If you’ve paid any attention to “extreme” sports since we were kids in the 1990s, whether you went to a skate park or played Tony Hawk’s video games, you know what a halfpipe is. Halfpipe has been a snowboarding medal event at the Winter Olympics since 2XXX, and Team USA has dominated, largely thanks to Shaun White’s two-straight gold medals in 2006 and 2010. The halfpipe will now host athletes on skis, and as is the case with many of the style sports, Team USA is a serious threat to medal on February 18.

Snowboard Parallel Slalom (Men’s and Women’s)

Akin to the giant slalom, the parallel special slalom features head-to-head snowboard racing through a course of flags that are placed closer together than the giant, forcing snowboarders to cut in and out with agility at high speeds. The qualifying rounds are timed, with a knockout stage of head-to-head races. This will make for an entertaining watch in the second week of the Games for those who enjoy fast-pace sports.

Biathlon Mixed Relay

If you’re unfamiliar with biathlon, it’s simply skiing and shooting – a Russian hunter’s dream. There are a number of disciplines of biathlon, including sprint and pursuit, but the newest discipline added to the Games is a mixed relay. In it, two men and women compete for each country, with women skiing 6 km each leg and men skiing 7.5 km, with shooting segments included. According to the International Biathlon Union, the two women will ski first, followed by the men, and each participant must tap the other in after their leg. Shooting segments occur at 2 km and 4 km, and there are penalties for shots missed.

Luge Team Relay

The luge is one of the crazier sports, in my opinion, and the addition of the luge team relay just makes it that much crazier. This is a mixed event, with a female and male individual luge running before a men’s double luge. The previous sledder will touch a pad at the end of their run to open the gate for the next sled to emerge. Times will be compiled, and the fastest aggregate time wins. Team USA should contend for a medal here, though Germany is favored.

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By the Numbers: A Spotlight on Sochi

Sochi, Russia, provides the ideal combination of resort-town feel and proximity to mountains and snowbanks necessary to host a successful Winter Games. (Photo property of Nick DeLuca, BostInno.Streetwise.co)

With the first images of Sochi coming across our television sets, millions the world over have gotten a glimpse at a Russia we’ve never known existed. Of course the frozen Siberian tundra and pop culture images from James Bond films, and the World War II/Cold War eras are conjured. But we forget that it’s 2014 and Russia is the largest country in the world – its borders span farther south than the frigid Arctic Circle.

When the city of Sochi placed its bid in 2007 for the XXII Olympic Winter Games, it promised the world a new Russian experience. Here’s a little bit to know about the town:

Location

(Courtesy of Google.com)
(Courtesy of Google.com)

Sochi is located in the Krasnodar Krai federal subject, in Russia’s Southern Federal District. It sits on the east banks of the Black Sea, mere miles from the border with Georgia. It is one of the southernmost points on the Russian land that juts south between Russia and the Ukraine, a far cry from the frozen tundra we’re used to knowing. It sits south and west of the Caucasus Mountains, encircled perfectly to host a series of winter sports events.

Population

Sochi is a mid-sized city, with a population of nearly 350,000 people, a slightly smaller population than that of New Orleans, La. As of the last census-taking in Russia, it is the country’s 52nd most populous city. Sochi residents should by now be prepared for the expectation of more than 120,000 spectators filling in the Olympic complex each day. Having experienced a similar regular influx of people for events like LSU football games in Baton Rouge, La., and the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, I can tell you that this often brings traffic, tension and irritation, but it also has the potential for some pretty great memories and cultural experiences.

Setting and Culture

As mentioned, Sochi enjoys some pretty warm temperatures for what we’d expect from Russia (it’s 50 degrees as of this typing), and it’s Russia’s largest resort town. Nearly two million people visit annually, and regularly hosts tourists and Russians looking for a break from daily life, as well as a prominent Russian film festival. The city has hosted a major sporting event before – the Silk Way Rally road race – and will also host the Russian Grand Prix Formula One race later this year, with the 2018 FIFA World Cup coming its way in 2018.

Time

Sochi is in the Moscow Time Zone (UTC+04:00), nine hours ahead of the United States’ East Coast. So expect some early morning watching or set your DVR and enjoy the prime time coverage.

Here’s some more By the Numbers facts pulled together by NBC New York.

2014 Winter Olympics – Daily Schedule for February 8

Good morning y’all!  The 2014 Winter Olympics are off and running, and as promised, we’ll be providing daily schedules of the rundown of events, highlighting medal rounds and giving you times and TV listings.

Sochi, Russia, is nine hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, so while there are a number of events that you will be able to watch live on NBC and affiliates (they provide thorough real-time coverage on the weekends and some during the week), the network will use its primetime slot (typically beginning at 8 p.m. ET) to re-air the day’s main events via tape-delay. Check out your local TV listings here.

For today (Saturday, Feb. 8), there’s a full slate of events, but thankfully the Winter Olympics features a much smaller variety of events than the Summer Games, so the list will be short. Unless otherwise indicated, the listed event time will also be its TV airtime (events slated for tape-delay re-air during primetime will be noted).

2014 Olympic Winter Games – Day 2 Schedule
(ALL TIMES EASTERN)

* – Medal Event

  • 12:30 a.m.: Snowboarding, Men’s Slopestyle Semifinals. Americans Chas Guldemond, Ryan Stassel and Sage Kotsenburg compete for a spot in the final later this morning.
  • 1:00 a.m.: Alpine Skiing, Women’s Super-Combined Training
  • 2:00 a.m.: Alpine Skiing, Men’s Downhill Training
  • 3:00 a.m.: Women’s Hockey, Team USA takes on Finland in Group A Play
  • *3:45 a.m.: Snowboarding, Men’s Slopestyle Finals
  • *5:00 a.m.: Cross-Country Skiing, Women’s Skiathlon 15km (Classic + Free) Final. Americans Liz Stephen, Jessica Diggins, Sadie Bjornsen and Holly Brooks will go for Team USA’s first-ever cross-country skiing medal, though none are expected to seriously contend.
  • *6:30 a.m.: Speedskating, Men’s 5000m Final. 
  • 8:00 a.m.: Women’s Hockey, Canada vs. Switzerland in Group A Play
  • 9:30 a.m.: Figure Skating, Team Ice Dance Short Dance
  • 9:30 a.m.: Luge, Men’s Singles Run 1
  • *9:30 a.m.: Biathlon, Men’s 10km Sprint Final
  • 11:10 a.m.: Figure Skating, Team Ladies Short Program
  • 11:30 a.m.: Luge, Men’s Singles Run 2
  • 11:30 a.m.: Ski Jumping, Men’s Normal Hill Qualifying
  • *1:00 p.m.: Skiing, Women’s Moguls Finals
  • 1:05 p.m.: Figure Skating, Team Pairs Free Skate

Crisis/Contingency Planning is Always a Good Idea

Crisis/Contingency Planning is Always a Good Idea

While NBC hasn’t yet shown the Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics to America yet (7:30 p.m. ET), one spoiler we’re glad to know is that the ceremonies occurred without a security incident. Sochi and the Russian leadership have been scrutinized globally for shoddy infrastructure and perceived security lapses in the face of bold terror threats, but so far, so good.

That’s good news for the sponsors who have shelled out millions of dollars to be part of the Games, and many who do so every two years. It’s a good time to be an advertiser, but this year, it comes with a greater risk.

I’m sharing USA Today’s piece, “Olympic sponsors on edge before Winter Games,” but I think it’s important that the need for contingencies and crisis management should be emphasized in all communications campaigns, whether they involved a high-profile global event like the Olympics or a consumer product line launch. Things happen that we can neither predict nor control, but if we know there’s even the slightest possibility our best-laid plans could be derailed, why would we not prepare for it?

Often communications teams will want to push for these plans, but be spurned in the process. It doesn’t need to be a massive, written plan; in fact, it can’t be, as crisis response is an ongoing and living situation. But even the most skeletal of contingency plans is better than no plan at all. 

2014 Winter Olympics Podcast – Day 1 & 2

2014-sochi-logo

Welcome to my blog coverage and commentary for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia!

If you’re familiar with my Olympics blogging from two years ago in London, welcome back and thanks for reading! I plan to bring back several of the features from 2012, including the daily rundown of events and TV listings, as well as guest posts on the winter sports, life in Russia, Team USA fashion and much more.

Additionally, I will post a podcast each morning highlighting the previous day’s events and plugging the current day’s schedule and TV listings.

Here’s today’s podcast, summarizing Day 1 and leading into Friday’s Opening Ceremony, which you can watch tape-delayed on NBC’s coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time. (The Ceremony begins at 11 a.m. ET if you want to find a live stream online.) Sochi, Russia, is 9 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the U.S., so get used to the tape-delay, or inform your employer you’ll be sick “for the next two weeks or so” to catch the streams online.

Thanks for listening!

UPDATE:  The podcast indicates that only Jamie Anderson and Karly Shorr of Team USA qualified for the slopestyle final round. Anderson’s and Shorr’s performances earned them automatic bids in the final heat for slopestyle, while the five remaining Americans on the slopestyle team have the opportunity to earn bids via the semifinal rounds this weekend. Shaun White has already withdrawn from this event due to an injured wrist, but he’s good to go thus far for the halfpipe – his signature event.

PR Knuckleballs: Hidden Communications Opportunities

With a growing number of voices shouting for attention in a shrinking world, it can be a task to get messages across. We have to get creative. Much like baseball pitchers, it helps to have a varied arsenal of tactical approaches. But it doesn’t always take a fastball – a headline in The New York Times or a glitzy campaign – to score a win. Sometimes, it just takes a keen eye and an opportunistic approach, like a knuckleball.

Here’s a post I authored for the Kellen Company blog on some “hidden” communications opportunities to watch out for.

Requiem No. 10 – Farewell to Chipper Jones (Immediate reactions from NL WC Game, more to come)

Well that’s that. Sam Holbrook is a good umpire – I’ve watched him many times – but that’s a shamefully terrible call. But you don’t leave 12 runners on base and make three errors and blame the game on a blown call – though it was a badly blown call. They owned it. Another promising postseason lost to defense. Brooks Conrad is laughing somewhere and I hate him for it.

Shame on MLB for not upholding the protest anyway. And shame on you Atlanta-based Braves fans for trashing the field – you’re lucky to have the chance to go to games millions of us would love to go to, though you hardly show up during the season. You’re an embarrassment.

Chipper may have made an error, but that’s not what we’ll remember him for. We’ll remember the Met Killer, the high socks, the sly grin, the hilarious tweets, the batting title, the All-Star Game HR, the 1999 MVP and the 1995 World Series. Fitting he ended his career with an infield single and was stranded at third base – which he manned reliably for so many years. Thank you Chipper Jones for 19 years of phenomenal baseball – timeless play, and I am so thrilled to tell my children one day that I got to watch you play, many times, that we made eye contact and I urged you to hit a double (not a HR, weirdly enough) and which you did, weirdly enough. You’re the last link to my childhood, when baseball became such an important part of my life. I’m looking forward to being there in Cooperstown 5 years from now, when you’re enshrined with the other greats of the greatest game ever.

Cheers to 19 Years, Chipper Jones.