Friday, February 26, 2010

The Legacy of the 2010 Vancouver Games

Tonight, the XXI Winter Olympics comes to a close in Vancouver concluding Canada's second Winter Games and third overall. The organizers, or officially known as VANOC, made a good effort to put on a World class event despite the unusal weather. This final post, in conjunction with the Vancouver Games, will talk about how these Games will be remembered in Olympic history.

The competition was full of excitement, emotion, and tragedy. For the first time in Winter Olympic history the United States won medals at the Nordic Combined events while Canada finally won their first golds ever on home soil. Also, the US Bobsled team won it's first gold medal, ending a sixty-two year old drought. Short-track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno surpassed former Olympian Bonnie Blair in the most medals won at an Olympic Winter Games with eight medals. The Ladies Figure skating came with emotion when Canadian Joannie Rochette lost her mother two days before the competition and finished with a bronze medal. Finally, tragic struck hours before the games began when a Georgian luger was tragically killed in a horrific crash on his last training run. May he rest in peace.

Like any other city that hosts a World event, whether being the World's Fair or the Olympics, it transforms the city permanently. Economically, the city faces huge amounts of debt while repeating the benefits of higher employment. In Vancouver, the Games provided thousands of jobs to at risk individuals and trained them in a variety of skills such as carpentry. They built hundreds of podiums and put in many hours of intense labor building World class facilities. Also, when the Olympics conclude, the housing used for both athletes and Olympic officials will be turned into affordable housing for the city's poor. Socially, some of the venues will probably be used for training future Olympians, World class events, and even for the public's enjoyment. It's not for sure what exactly Vancouver's plans are for the future of it's venues. Finally, the World was introduced to one of the most diverse countries in the World with a variety of different culturals that called Canada home for hundreds of years.

In an interview with NBC Daytime host Al Michaels, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell believed that this Olympics has inspired a whole new generation of young athletes. Also, he credited the Games of bringing billions of dollars into the British Columbia province and attracted millions of visitors from around the World to experience BC. Campbell and the organizers wanted all of Canada to become involve with these Games and were able to bring in 25,000 volunteers to Vancouver. It reflected how the citizens of Canada continued to support the Olympic movement.

Also, some portrayed these Games as the weather Olympics because mother nature showed up as a serious competitor. Vancouver experienced one of the warmest months of January and February on record that created multiple problems. Weeks leading up to the Games, many snow events lacked natural snow and over 4.4 million pounds of snow were trucked into the venues. The first week alone, the weather, consisting of heavy fog and slush delayed nine events and provided not the ideal conditions for the competitors. Finally, the Vancouver Olympics will go down as the warmest host city in Winter Olympic history. Will Sochi, Russia, the host of the next winter games, have more ideal weather for the Winter Olympics?

The future of the Winter Olympics looks strong as the torch is passed from Vancouver to Sochi, Russian, the host of the XXII Winter Olympics. It will be the Russian Federation's first ever Olympics in a diverse city of 400,000 inhabitants located between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains, on the Russian Riviera. Currently, all of the venues will have to be built and the budget is around $20 billion. Already, the Russian government committed $12 billion to venue construction. Finally, looking eight years down the road, three cities have seriously started the bidding process for the XXIII Winter Games; Annecy, France, Munich, Germany, and Pyeonchag, South Korea. A final decision by the I.O.C will be made in July 2011.

On behalf of billions of fans, I would like to say a sincere thank you to Vancouver and it's citizens for putting on a World class event. The Olympics were enjoyable to watch along with learning the history and cultural of the United States' northern neighbor. It shows how hospitable the Canadians were to the rest of the World and it reflects on why this was their third Olympics in Canandian history. Goodbye Vanouver, and the World will miss you. Thanks again.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Do you believe in Miracles?"

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the greatest upset in sports and Olympic history that took place right here in the United States. In continuing the special series of Winter Olympic history in conjunction with the 2010 Vancouver Games, it is appropriate to re-tell the "miracle on ice" story that transformed the nation. It took place, not on the battle field, but on an Olympic ice rink between two super-powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. It was more than a simple hockey game but also about national unity and patriotism during a tumultuous period of Cold War history. This posting will be a brief history of twenty college age kids, their disciplinarian coach, and the game that still is recalled in public memory.

In 1974, the International Olympic Committee awarded Lake Placid, NY it's second Winter Olympics since 1932 to take place from February 13 to February 24, 1980. When the Games began, so did the hockey tournament featuring the heavy favorite, the Soviet Union. In a span of 15 years (1964-1979) the hockey team, consisting of veteran players, won 4 gold medals and 11 World titles. The USA Team, however, had only been together for 6 months and played a 60 game World tour under University of Minnesota's Head Coach, Herb Brooks. The American team was made up of twenty college players whose average age was twenty-two, a young team that was not favorite to win a medal in the tournament. Even Coach Brooks believed that they probably would not win a medal before the tournament began knowing that at one point, they would have to face the Soviet Union. He later said, "The Soviets had beaten us 10-3 in an exhibition a few days before the Olympics. They were fantastic and deserved their ranking. I had little hope for a medal. I would have been very happy to have achieved a fourth place finish" but history would say otherwise. (quoted from Bud Greenspan's "100 Greatest Moments in Olympic History")

The hockey tournament was played at the Olympic Ice Center and the first game, the team played Sweden. They started out slow and trailed the Swedes for most of the game until Brooks decided to pull the goalie in the third period. With twenty-nine seconds to go, the team was able to score and the final score was 2-2, a tie. In the second match, Team USA played one of the favorites to medal at the Games, Czechoslovakia. The team crushed the Czechs, 7-3, and many began to take them for real. However, towards the end of the game, Coach Brooks, who had great chemistry with his players ever since the team was formed, became irate when a Czech player took a cheap shot at Mark Johnson, who played at UW-Madison and currently is Team USA's head women's coach in Vancouver. The games against Norway and West Germany both started out slowly but with great coaching the players managed to win 5-1 and 4-2, respectively. Now, it was onto the semi-final game where Team USA faced its biggest test yet in their months of existence. A Cold War showdown with the Soviet Union on a sheet of ice.

Friday, February 22, 1980, the start of the last weekend of the Games, was George Washington's birthday. This day would end as one of the greatest days in both sports and Olympic history as thousands in Lake Placid along with millions around the country united in American patriotism. Throughout most of the game, the US played their hearts out with superb goal tending by Jim Craig but still trailed 3-2 entering the third and final period. Then less then nine minuets into the period, Mark Johnson suddenly scored the tying goal and confidence began to build on the team. With half through the game, team Captain Mike Eruzione would take the shot that was heard around the country as he blasted the puck into the Soviet's net. Now the United States led 4-3, and the Soviet Union attack furiously for the last ten minutes. Finally, with the sound of the buzzer, play by play ABC Sports announcer, Al Michaels (currently hosting NBC's daytime Olympic coverage) screamed "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" that would summon up the most dramatic upset in all of sports history.

After the game, thousands of the predominately American crowed gathered in the streets of Lake Placid walking up and down, chanting USA, USA, USA, singing the national anthem, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America. This game not only allowed the US Team to advance to the gold medal game against Finland (that they won on February 24) but renewed a sense of patriotism during the tense times of the Cold War. It showed that American amateurs could compete against Soviet professionals. Finally, to many Americans, they would never forget where they were that day when the United States defeated the Soviet Union in the game of all games. Even though I was a little more than a month old, reading accounts of this story renews the reasons that I love this country and the Olympic Games. It simply brings a sense of unity and excitement.

In subsequent years, the state of Olympic hockey changed as more professional players were allowed to compete. In 1998, for the first time in history, the NHL suspended the season to allow the players to participate in their respective nations during the Nagano Olympics and still follows this format today. The 1980 "Miracle on Ice Hockey Team" has been honored through out the years. In 2002 it was picked to light the cauldron at the Salt Lake City Winter Games to the standing ovation of Americans who, for most of them, still remembered that historic day. In 2004, Walt Disney Studios produced the movie, "Miracle" to re-tell the story. Fortunately, to this day, all of the players are still alive and tell their stories. Unfortunately, however, a couple of years ago, their beloved and hard nose Coach Herb Brooks was tragically killed on August 11, 2003 in an auto accident. Finally, I hope everybody enjoys the last week of the Winter Olympics and were able to catch the documentary of the story, yesterday, towards the end of the daytime Olympic coverage on NBC. May the spirit of the 1980 Winter Olympics that produced the greatest game ever, be in all of American hearts.

Some links to footage of the hockey game.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Milwaukee, A Speed Skating proving ground

In this post, keeping with our Olympic theme as we enjoy the XXI Winter Olympics from Vancouver, will be a brief history of how Milwaukee served as home to some of our country's top speed skaters. Some came from out of state and others were native citizens of Wisconsin who gained their experience from the renowned West Allis Speed Skating Club. The skaters once trained on lagoons, then on the outdoor oval, and finally on the first indoor oval in the United States, the Pettit National Ice Center.

A turning point occurred in US Speed Skating history in December 1966 as speed skaters took the ice at the first refrigerated 400-meter outdoor Olympic oval on the grounds of State Fair Park. Now, instead of waiting for lagoons and lakes to freeze, the oval provided a longer season for the skaters as it was usually opened by October and lasted through March, providing them with a much longer season to train. The rink was used for the 1968 Winter Olympic trials and every trial since then until the Pettit National Ice Center opened. Also, the Olympic oval became home to some of the top speed skaters, including the legend, Eric Heiden from Madison, Dan Jansen from West Allis, and Bonnie Blair from Champagne, IL.

Even though the rink provided many advantages for the speed skaters, it did, however, provide some disadvantages as well. The location of the rink was close to two infrastructures that periodically affected rink conditions. One was a cement factory and with a certain wind it blew particles of cement dust onto the rink, causing the skaters' ice skates to dull frequently. The other was the freeway, I-94, that contained many vehicles blowing exhaust, sometimes making it difficult for skaters to breath especially during competition. That changed when Milwaukee philanthropists Jane and Lloyd Pettit donated $2 million towards the construction of a World class Olympic Training Facility on the grounds of State Fair Park, the first of its kind in the United States.

The Pettit Center opened on December 31, 1992 with raving reviews by the Olympic speed skaters at the time, particularly Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen who were still active in the sport. Some of the former speed skaters, including Eric Heiden, wish they had trained in this magnificence training facility after years of battling the outdoor elements. Some of the high-profile events since its inception included the 1995 World Sprint Speed Skating Championships, the 2005 World Cup Speed Skating on the long track and also that same year, the National Short Track Championships featuring Apolo Anton Ohno.

Today, the Pettit National Ice Center still serves as a training facility for speed skaters and currently seven are in Vancouver competing in various meets. In Gary D'Amato's Journal Sentinel article previewing the Winter Games on Feb. 9, quoted Brad Goskowicz, President of US Speed Skating, on the legacy of the Pettit Center and what it means to the speed skaters. "Without the Olympic rink, there would be no Pettit Center. I think it's fair to say that the Pettit Center is really the biggest pipeline for U.S. Speed Skating in developing skaters." Randy Dean, who is the director of the Center, describes the importance of the Center by saying "to have seven people who train here go on to Vancouver, it's just terrific" including Shani Davis who just won the gold medal in the men's 1,000 meter race (Wed., Feb. 17, 2010).

Milwaukee can be proud by serving as home for more than forty years for Olympic speed skaters who lived and trained for their events. Without the Olympic Oval at State Fair Park, there would be no Pettit Center as Goskowicz rightfully says. Also, the Center helps bring the Olympic spirit to the city and each time the Olympics take center stage, Milwaukee tends to have one of the highest viewership ratings in the country. Finally, it is important to support the Pettit National Ice Center for years to come as it trains future Olympians and continue the overall success of USA Speed Skating. Enjoy the Games, everybody, and remember when you watch the speed skating events, think Milwaukee.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Welcome to Vancouver, Canada

Tonight, the World will gather at BC Place Stadium or tune into their television sets as they watch the Opening Ceremonies from the host city, Vancouver, Canada. Seven years ago, on July 2, 2003, in the Czech Republic the IOC picked Vancouver over Salzburg, Berne, and PyeongChang to host the XXI Winter Olympics. The city is the largest one to host the Winter Olympics and also the first Olympic Games to have the Opening Ceremonies indoors. For the next two weeks, athletes from around the World will compete in 15 winter sports as millions of spectators will cheer the athletes from the stands and on the mountain sides. For the rest of us, we will be cheering from the comfort of our own homes watching the TV coverage.

This entry is a first in a series of postings for the next two weeks about the different histories of the Winter Olympics, some on specific events and athletes, local connections, and the future of the Winter Olympics. So, I would like to begin this series with a brief history on the origins of the Winter Games.

The Winter Olympics drew on the success of the Summer Olympics (formally referred to by Olympic historians as the Modern Olympics that was first held in 1896 or it could be called the Modern Olympiad). Organizers decided to broaden the sporting events and appeal to northern European countries by adding some, oddly enough, winter events at the Summer Games in London (1908) and Antwerp, Belgium (1920). Ice skating debut at the London Games and the first ice hockey tournament debut at the Antwerp Games.

After World War I, momentum began to emerge to have a separate winter sporting events, but IOC President Pierre de Coubertin denounced the idea believing that winter sports were for the wealthy class only and conducted at lavish resorts. However, the members of the IOC supported the idea for a separate winter sporting events and in 1924 voted for an experimental adjunct to the 1924 Paris Summer Games that would be called the International Week of Winter Sports, hosted by the city Chamonix, France. The events began on January 25, 1924 with 258 athletes from 16 nations who participated in figure skating, cross-country ski races, ski jumping, speed skating, hockey, four-man bobsled, and Nordic combined. A total of 1o,ooo spectators attended the International Week of Winter Sports and two years later, the IOC agreed to name it the first official Winter Olympic Games.

Through out Winter Olympic history, the United States has hosted four Winter Olympics beginning with the 3rd Winter Games that took place in Lake Placid, New York in 1932 and then again in 1980 hosting the 13th Games. The other two sites included Squaw Valley, CA who hosted the 8th Winter Games in 1960 and most recently, Salt Lake City, UT who hosted the 19th Winter Olympics. Will the United States ever host a Winter Olympic Games? Perhaps, but it will not be until 2022 that the USOC will consider another U.S. city to become a candidate city after failing to secure Chicago for the 2016 Summer Games. Finally, I hope everybody takes sometime out of their busy schedules and watch some of the coverage of the XXI Winter Olympics from Vancouver, Canada as new Olympic history unfolds.

Here is the complete list of cities that hosted the Olympic Winter Games.

I Winter Games-Chamonix, France

II Winter Games-St. Moritz, Switzerland

III Winter Games-Lake Placid, NY

IV Winter Games-Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

V Winter Games-St. Moritz, Switzerland

VI Winter Games-Oslo, Norway

VII Winter Games-Cortina d' Ampezzo, Italy

VIII Winter Games-Squaw Valley, CA

IX Winter Games-Innsbruck, Austria

X Winter Games-Grenoble, France

XI Winter Games-Sapporo, Japan

XII Winter Games-Innsbruck Austria (Denver, CO initially was awarded the Games but declined due to high costs)

XIII Winter Games-Lake Placid, NY

XIV Winter Games-Sarajevo, Yugoslavia

XV Winter Games-Calgary, Canada

XVI Winter Games-Alberville, France

XVII Winter Games-Lillehammer, Norway

XVIII Winter Games-Nagano, Japan

XIX Winter Games-Salt Lake City Utah

XX Winter Games-Torino, Italy


XXI Winter Games-Vancouver, Canada

Future cities

XXII Winter Games-Sochi, Russia

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A local university honors the Little Rock Nine

On Tuesday, February 9, 2010, Marquette University awarded the Little Rock Nine with its highest achievement award, the Pere Marquette Discovery Award. The previous winners were Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2003), Mother Theresa (1981), Rev. Karl Rahner, S.J. (1979) and the Apollo 11 Astronauts (1969). The award honors those who accomplish an extraordinary achievement that adds to human advancement. This year's award is awarded to the brave nine high school students, who in September of 1957, challenged the segregation of public schools by enrolling in the all white Central High School, in Little Rock, AR during the Civil Rights Era. Their story is worth telling during this month as we celebrate Black History Month.

Historians contend that the Civil Rights Era of the 20th century formally started after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. The Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas (1954) declared that segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. However, wide-spread opposition from the Brown ruling began to emerge, especially in the South where the segregationists made an all out effort not to comply with the federal order to integrate the schools. They believed that segregation was a state issue and not a federal issue.

That changed when nine students from Little Rock, AR decided to challenge the status quo and tried to enroll in Central High School. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, who faced a difficult re-election bid, decided to obstruct the federal order to desegregate the schools and instead called the Arkansas National Guard to block entrance of the students. "Governor Faubus has placed this school off limits to Negroes," one of the National Guardsman said to the students on September 3, 1957. (quoted from Harvard Sitkoff's The Struggle for Black Equality, 29). Also, as the Little Rock nine prepared to enter the school house building, "a milling crowd of angry whites shouted: 'Niggers. Niggers. They're coming. Here they come.'" (Ibid, 29) and now the federal government had to intervene.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who personally thought that the Brown decision was a mistake because of his belief in states' rights, at first did not want to get involve. As mounting pressure grew, Eisenhower had no choice but to end the situation in Little Rock by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and sent a thousand troops from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock. Once they were there, the troops dispersed the crowd and safely escorted the students to their classes. For the next two months, the black students received federal troop protection within the school and finally, Congress enacted federal civil rights legislation for the first time since Reconstruction.

The legacy of the Little Rock Nine lives on in historic memory through the countless books about the Civil Rights Movement. Also, to learn more about this heroic story, you can visit this "virtual museum" called The Little Rock Foundation to take a walking tour through the story and read the biographies of each student. Also, the Foundation promotes equal justice in education to all members of society no matter their gender, race, or creed. Finally, if you are really inspired by this story, you can make a tax-deductible contribution to help keep this Foundation going to make aware how equal justice under the law is one of the key elements of our nation's identity.

On behalf of the citizens of Wisconsin, we congratulate the Little Rock Nine for receiving the Pere Marquette Discovery Award for their true heroism during the tumultuous Civil Rights Era. Also, we thank Marquette University for picking another outstanding group of individuals to receive this award. May these nine students always remind us how important it is to promote equality in education and in society to help us live out the true meaning of being an American. Finally, I encourage all of you to take the time and read a historical account of the Civil Rights Movement to remind you what makes the United States unique is that everybody is created equally under the law.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Review

Recently, my friend and I went to the Milwaukee Public Museum to attend the largest temporary exhibit, the Dead Sea Scrolls. The "Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible" explores the history of the Holy Land from the third century BC to the first century AD. Then it jumps to the 1940s and explains the first discovery of the scrolls. There were over 160 artifacts along with display boards that gave a clear and concise history of that region during the time the scrolls were written. However, to better understand this mammoth exhibit, it is wise to do some background reading to get familiar with the different themes of that period. Or you can ask for an audio guide that explains each of the archaeological objects and their significance.

The layout of the exhibit was well done with fake palm trees, the desert like walls and flooring along with the sound effects of wind that places you in time when the scrolls were written. Just like traveling through the desert, this exhibit takes on a long journey (some say about two hours) to absorb the richness of the display. It is well worth the time and the exhibit ends with the Dead Sea Scrolls, themselves, that captures the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity and displayed ever so carefully into thick glass cases where one can take in the beauty of salvation history.

Exhibits like the Dead Sea Scrolls are part of the ever developing field of public history. Public history is how the vast majority of the public learn and appreciate the role of history in everyday life by visiting Museums, historical sites and societies rather than reading a bunch of books. Finally, as exhibits like this one continue to come to the Milwaukee Public Museum, not only the institution itself will flourish, but also the publics' understanding of history will flourish too.

I hope that you take the time and attend this exhibit at the Museum which concludes in June. This exhibit is the latest high profile show that is helping the Milwaukee Public Museum to be a world class museum after it suffered some hard times. For more information on the Dead Sea Scrolls please follow this link that I have provided.