Friday 28 February 2014

Bikini Island: Paradise Lost

"For the good of mankind and to end all world wars..." 
(reasons given by American military to do nuclear testing)

French engineer Louis Reard, designer of bikini, courtesy

According to historian Richard Rhodes, early on in the testing of the atomic bomb, "the A-bomb spelled excitement -- even sex appeal."  (  So,while nuclear experiments were going on in the South Pacific, a designer in Paris decided to name the two piece bathing suit after the "sexiest place on the planet", the Bikini Islands.

The Bikini Islands are a "necklace" of 23 islands in the Pacific where a series of atom and hydrogen bombs were set off during the 1940's and 1950's.  At first considered a success, by the 1970's, the American government would discover that they had another Love Canal on their hands.

One hundred and sixty-seven natives used to fish and grow small crops on the islands when the American military approached them with a request to do nuclear testing.  Given that the islands were far away from air and sea routes, the Americans thought they were a good choice.  King Juda, the ruler at the time, agreed to the testing.  In 1946 the natives were moved eastward to Rongerik Atoll.

Evacuation of Bikini Island courtesy  

The military wanted to see how a fleet would stand up to an atom or hydrogen bomb.  Dubbed "Operation Crossroads", they brought in 242 ships, 156 aircraft, 25,000 radiation recording devices,  5,400 experimental rats, goats and pigs and 42,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel.  One by one, they detonated a total of 23 atom and hydrogen bombs, like a little boy playing with fireworks in his swimming pool filled with toy boats.

Potential ships anchored at Pearl Harbor for Operation Crossroads courtesy  

The cost, however, was much deadlier.  The Bikinians did not fare well on Rongerik Atoll where the trees nor the crops were fruitful.  In 1948, the American government transported them to Kwagalein Atoll where they camped out in tents beside the American airstrip.  However, they still struggled to survive.  Six months later, the natives were moved to Kili Atoll where the fishing was meager.

Finally, on March 1, 1954, the American military detonated the bomb of all bombs, a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb nicknamed "Bravo" (compared to Hiroshima's "Little Boy" which was 15 kilotons).  Millions tons of coral, sand, plant and sea life blasted miles into the air.  A three mile-wide fireball erupted into the sky.  Snow-like ash fell on the neighbouring Rongelap Island.  A gaping, blue sea-filled crater measuring a mile wide and 200 feet appeared on the island.  

"Bravo" crator courtesy

Residents of the neighbouring islands were later evacuated, experiencing radiation like symptoms of nausea, diarrhea, hair loss and skin burns.  A Japanese tuna boat, 90 miles east of the Bikini Islands, experienced similar symptoms.  Many were hospitalized and one slipped into a coma and died.  While the American government wouldn't accept responsibility for his death, they did send the widow a cheque for 2.5 million yen.

Bikini Lagoon became a veritable playground for Jacques Cousteau types with a ghost fleet of the world's most historic war vessels resting at its bottom, including the U.S.S. Saratoga and the Nagato.  The latter was the ship on which the Japanese sailors screamed "Tora! Tora! Tora!" before their attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The natives returned to Bikini Island in 1978 with the hope of continuing life as they once knew it.  However, wildlife was not healthy.  And soon the natives were not healthy.  Eight years later, the natives abandonned the Bikini Islands once again as American testing proved that cesium 137 had contaminated both the soil and the food chain.  Once dubbed "the sexiest place on the planet", it was now a ghost island, all "for the good of mankind".

For more information, read:

1.  The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes, 1986 (Pulitzer Prize winner).
2.  For the Good of Mankind:  A History of the People of Bikini and Their Islands, Jack Niedenthal, 2013.
3.  Ghost Fleet:  The Sunken Ships of Bikini Atoll, James P. Delgado, 1996.

Thursday 27 February 2014

A Lightning Strike, A Plane Crash & An Asteroid Apocalypse

There is a new ticket wicket at the Food Basics where I shop.  An elderly lady was excited to hear last week that the wicket would be selling Lotto 649 tickets.  I asked the cashier how many they sold in a day and she said about 50.  I began to wonder how many tickets sold at the ticket wicket inside the mall.  And how about at Shoppers Drugmart?  Or the cigar store?  Or the Canadian Tire Gas Bar across the street where my brother-in-law works?  He listens to the annoying sound of "Winner" coming from his cash register all day long.

But just how many "winners" are there?  I visited the website to find out.  According to the official Lotto 649 website, the jackpot for March 1 is 5,000,000.  However, the odds of winning the jackpot (or to be more precise, 80% of the jackpot) are:

1 :  13, 983, 816

Then I googled "statistics on events which are more probable than winning the lottery".  Here is what I found:

1.  Becoming President of the United States                 1  :  10 million
2.  Being Struck by Lightning                                       1  :  1 million
3.  Dying on the Job                                                    1  :  48,000
4.  Dying in the Bathtub                                               1  :  840,000
5.  Dying from a bee/wasp sting                                   1  :  6.1 million
6.  Dying in an asteroid apocalypse                              1  :  12,500
7.  Dying from a flesh eating virus                                 1  :  1 million
8.  Dying in a plane crash                                             1  :  1 million
9.  Dying from being a left-handed person who uses
     a right-handed product incorrectly                           1  :  4.4 million
10.  Becoming a movie star                                          1  :  1,505,000  

Sobering statistics, eh?


Wednesday 26 February 2014

Life in a Jar

"Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory." 
(Irena Sendler)

Irena Sendler courtesy

It was National History Day in the United States and four Kansas students decided to do a project on Irena Sendler, a social worker who saved 2500 Jewish children from Nazi death camps.  The four girls had trouble digging up information; the Internet offered only one website about Mrs. Sendler.  But the students persevered and because of their efforts, a book was written and a play was produced about the Polish woman.  Today, there are over 30,000 websites devoted to the topic.

Irena Sendler was an only child born in Warsaw Poland in 1910 to a doctor father and a housewife mother. Her dad treated typhus patients during the First World War, many of whom were Jewish.  Other doctors refused to treat them for fear of contracting the disease.  This is how Irena's dad died.  Warsaw's Jewish community was eternally grateful and gave Irena money to attend university where she studied Polish Literature.

Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto courtesy

During the Second World War, Nazis rounded up Warsaw's 450,000 Jews and placed them in the ghetto, an area the size of New York's Central Park.  With unhygienic, overcrowded conditions, many Jews got sick.  Starvation was prevalent.  Irena Sendler signed up to be part of the Jewish community called Zegota where she headed its children's division.  Irena dressed as a nurse to gain access to the ghetto where she would give food and find shelter for Jewish children.

Irena posing as a nurse to enter the ghetto

Irena used a nurse's uniform to gain access to the ghetto courtesy

Irena fabricated over 3000 false documents to spare the Jews from the Nazi death camps.  She also developped a way to smuggle Jewish children out of the ghetto.  Irena hid some under stretchers in ambulances.  She smuggled other children through the courthouse.  Still others she smuggled through the sewer or another underground passage.  She accompanied some on a trolley where she stored them in a sack, trunk or suitcase.  Finally, she had some children fake illness to be given permission to leave.  There was a church sealed off by the Nazis at the edge of the ghetto.  Irena would teach some children a Christian prayer.  If the child could recite it effectively, he was sometimes given access to the church where he escaped to the outside world.

For every child that Irena saved, she would write his/her name on a piece of tissue paper, roll it up, place it in a jar and then bury it, as a means of keeping a record (hence the play's name "Life in a Jar").

Warsaw Courthouse where Irena submitted her fake documents courtesy

On October 20, 1943, Irena saved her last child.  She was arrested by the Nazis.  In prison, she refused to give away the names of any of her accomplices, giving her interrogators fake names instead.  Her execution was planned; she even saw posters announcing her death.  But at the last minute, the Zegota bribed her executioner and she was set free.  Irena spent the duration of the war in hiding.  After V-E Day, Irena started digging up the bottles she had buried, trying to reunite children she had saved with surviving parents.  Sadly almost all of the parents had died at Treblinka.

Irena with one of the Jewish children courtesy 

Irena went on to have three children of her own.  Warsaw's Jewish community would remain eternally grateful to Irena Sendler's effort to save 2500 of its children.  She received several awards, had a tree planted in her honour and was sent a congratulatory letter from Pope John Paul II.

But it was a report by U.S. & News World Report from 1994 titled "Other Schindlers" which caught the attention of the four students from Kansas.  Their history day project blossomed into a play, "Life in a Jar" and a book Life in a Jar:  The Irena Sendler Project (Jack Mayer).

Irena passed away in 2008.  Thank you, Irena, for your courage!


Note:  For more information about heroes who saved Jews during the Second World War, visit:

1.   "Schindler's List" at
2.   "His Only Authority was His Courage" at

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Winter Olympics Trivia

 Here are ten facts about the Winter Olympics.

1.  The Sochi Games, with 11 venues and a $51 billion price tag, were the most expensive Olympics ever.

2.  The gold medals handed out at Sochi were made up of 516 grams of silver and only 6 grams of gold.  The Russian government promised a staggering $122,000 for each gold medallist; the U.S. gave $25,000 to its gold medallists in London.

3.  Twelve new events debuted at the Sochi Olympics including women's ski jumping.

4.  Bjorn Daehle of Norway, the most decorated Winter Olympic athlete, has 8 golds and 4 silvers.

5.  Snow machines, imported from Finland, were on standby just in case the subtropical Sochi climate didn't comply.

6.  The only athlete to win gold at the summer and winter Olympics was Eddie Eagen, who was the champion in boxing at the 1920 Antwerp Games and in bobsledding at the 1932 Lake Placid Games.

7.  The American bobsleds, covered in carbon fiber, were built by BMW.

8.  The richest winter athlete is Shaun White who was worth $20 million when the Vancouver Olympics opened.

9.  An airplane crash in 1961 killed 18 American Olympians who were preparing to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Games.

10.  The Olympic torch had 14,000 bearers, was carried over 65,000 kilometres, through 2900 cities, in 123 days.


Monday 24 February 2014

"Sorry Boys, Curling is Our Sport"

"I know the British are here, but sorry boys, curling is our sport and it's staying in Canada."  
(E.J. Hamden)

Great Britain curlers courtesy

The Canadian men have never lost to Great Britain in Olympic curling.  That tradition continued today at the Ice Cube Center in Sochi.  The Sault Saint Marie team of Brad Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J. Hamden and Ryan Hamden never trailed in the final match.  By the third end, the Canadians already led 5-1.  The Canadian team capitalized on the errors of the British team, led by two time world champion David Murdoch.  The final score was convincing:  9-3.  Congratulations, boys!

Images of Sochi

Here are 10 images from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

SOCHI, RUSSIA: February 7, 2014 -- Canadian athletes enter the stadium lead by flag bearer Hayley Wickenheiser carrying the flag into the Opening Ceremony in Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, February 7, 2014. (Ed Kaiser-Postmedia Olympic Team)

1.  The Opening Ceremonies courtesy

Alex Bilodeau of Canada competes in the Men's Moguls Finals on day three of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) 

2.  Dara Howell courtesy

Canadian speed skater Denny Morrison (left) won a speedskating silver medal at the Sochi Olympics thanks to a generous gesture by his teammate and friend, Gilmore Junio (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press).

3.  Speed skaters Denny Morrison and Gilmore Junio courtesy

Canada's Jan Hudec holds up a Loonie he buried at the finish line of the Super G competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics Sunday February 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

4.  Jan Hudec's Lucky Loonie courtesy

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada compete in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

5.  Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir courtesy

team pursuit

6.  Speed skating team pursuit courtesy

7.  Moguls queen Justine Dufour Lapointe courtesy

8.  Denny Morrison jumps on the podium to receive his silver medal courtesy

9.  Curler Jennifer Jones raises her arms in victory courtesy

10.  Canada's men's hockey team sings "O Canada" courtesy

Bonus:  Curlers pose inside Olympic rings at Sochi courtesy

Sunday 23 February 2014

The Maple Leaf Dominates the Rink

"In 2010, Crosby capped a towering pyre of emotion and terror and excitement with a goal every Canadian will remember.  In 2014, Crosby scored in the gold medal final too.  So did Jonathan Toews.  And instead of a ride, it was a bloodless, dominant, crushing affair."
(Bruce Arthur, National Post)

Jean Levac/Postmedia News

It was the last day of the Sochi Olympics.  Athletes were packing up to go home -- all except the hockey players.  They were sharpening their skates, putting on their equipment, and perfecting their game plan. Could Canada, the defending gold medallists, beat the Swedes?

The Canadians had taken awhile to warm up, awhile to gel as a team.  Their non-committal coach, Mike Babcock, wasn't willing to give much away.  Their captain, Sidney Crosby, had not scored to date.  Time would tell.

My family, like so many Canadians, got up early this morning to watch the game.  Our neighbour, David, worked the night shift and then joined us for the Canada-Sweden match.  My teenager, Thomas, hopped out of bed like a spring chicken and was already showered and dressed by the time I walked downstairs.  My husband, Rob, skipped the shower and headed straight for the T.V.  My daughter, Jacqueline, joined us after a few minutes.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

About twelve minutes into the first period, Jonathan Toews scored.  But the Canadian coach Mike Babcock refused to react.  The Swedes were capable of tying it up at any time.  But the tide seemed to change in the second period when, on a breakaway, Sidney Crosby raced to the net, held onto the puck, and then tipped it in off the back of his stick.  The Canadian bench erupted in cheers.  But Mike Babcock stood, his face emotionless, his hands in his pockets.

The final goal came when Chris Kunitz scored in the third period.  Once again the Canadians players cheered, their arms upraised.  Now it was just a matter of hanging on to the lead.  That was up to the goalie, Carey Price.  Calm, cool and collected, the young Price earned every penny of his salary today as he shut out the Swedes.  


Finally, the clock ran down to nothing.  Gold for Canada!  The first back to back Olympic golds for a nation since the Soviet Union did it in 1984 and 1988.  The fans erupted in cheers, waving giant maple leafs.  The Canadian players on the bench jumped over the boards to hug the players on the ice.  The cameramen closed in for a series of close ups.  And Mike Babcock finally took his hands out of his pockets and cracked a smile.  Wait to go, Canada!

Jean Levac/Postmedia News

Saturday 22 February 2014

Canada's Hockey Team Wins in Overtime

"And Canada, if you didn't know Marie-Philip Poulin after the Vancouver games, you better know her now."  (Cassie Campbell-Pascal)

The fans were on the edge of the seat at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Thursday.  Canada was down 2-0 with less than four minutes left in the game.  And yet the unthinkable happened and Canada came away with a win, in large part thanks to heroine Marie-Philippe Poulin.

Canada was undefeated in Sochi and had already beat the Americans once.  But they knew that the Americans could beat them at any time.  Canadian Meaghan Mikkelson would be playing with a broken right hand.  But veterans Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette, who had already won three Olympic golds, would be relied on heavily.

For the gold medal match in Sochi, things started off slowly.  The Americans scored a goal.  Then they scored a second goal.  For the longest time, the score remained 2-0.  However, with 3:26 minutes remaining, Canada scored a goal and the momentum seemed to shift to their side.  A flurry of activity ensued with the Canadians scoring the tie breaker with only 55 seconds left in the game.

Into overtime they went.  Hayley Wickenheiser had a breakaway, but was taken down by an American. The result was a 4 on 3 during which Poulin (the heroine from the Vancouver games) scored the go-ahead goal.   The crowd erupted.  Canadians took to their cell phones, recording a plethora of texts.  The Canadian hockey team was mentioned 121,000 times on social media.  The Canadians were golden for the fourth time in Olympic history.

Friday 21 February 2014

Part Roller Derby, Part Drag Race

"Marielle, she's so calm.  I wish I had her nerves." (Eric Archer, ski cross coach)

Marielle Thompson sat in her Whistler living room four years ago and watched fellow Canadian Ashley McIvor win gold in ski cross in Vancouver.  She loved the giant jumps and the tight turns in ski cross.  Some call it part roller derby, part drag race.  It's pure excitement.  From that moment on, Marielle set her sights on Sochi.

On a cloudy day, with a light drizzle, the ski cross racers lined up at the top of the mountain.  The spectators waited in anticipation below, ready to watch a sport that is a real crowd-pleaser.  Canadians Marielle Thompson and Kelsey Serwa stood in the gate with Swede Anna Holmlund and France's Ophelie David.  Down the hill they raced, Marielle and Kelsey skiing so close together they were almost touching.  Marielle's dad waited at the bottom of the hill, his heart pounding.  Marielle crossed the finish line first, her dad commenting:  "I'ts so hard to believe.  I can't even fathom it."  Kelsey followed claiming the silver.  Sweden claimed the bronze.  The crowd erupted in a chorus of "O Canada".

Marielle fulfilled her dream, duplicating Ashley McIvor's performance.  Kelsey, despite enduring knee surgery only a year ago, dominated the race as well.  Congratulations, ladies!  You've made Canada proud!

Canada's silver medalist Kelsey Serwa, left to right, and gold medalist Marielle Thompson celebrate their win following the Ladies Ski Cross final at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014.

Jubilant Jones Jumps After Throwing Last Rock

"I would never want anyone else throwing that last rock.  I have 100 percent confidence in every single shot she throws." (Jill Officer regarding her skip, Jennifer Jones)

Jennifer Jones wins gold for Canada

A jubilant Jennifer Jones jumped after throwing the last rock in the women's curling final at the Ice Cube Center, securing a 6-3 win over the defending gold medallists, Sweden.  Tears flowed as the Canadian women celebrated their victory, the first since Nagano in 1998 led by the late Sandra Schmirler.

The Winnipeg Rink, composed of Jennifer Jones (skip), Kaitlyn Lawes (third), Jill Officer (second) and Dawn McEwen (lead) were undefeated with an 11-0 record at the Sochi Olympics.  Jennifer, who failed to qualify for the Torino or the Vancouver Games, remained focussed on the task at hand.  Canada had won bronze in 2006 and silver in 2010.  While Jennifer and her team had secured four Canadian titles and one world championship, Jennifer knew that they would have stiff competition from the Swedes, gold medallists in the past two Olympic games.  After five ends, Canada and Sweden were tied 3-3. However, Jennifer and her teammates stole two in the ninth to gain some much needed points and securing their win.

Tears flowed as the Canadians celebrated their gold medal performance.  Some talked about children back home.  Jennifer mentioned her 18 month old daughter who would try to kiss her mom when she saw her on T.V.  Soon the toddler will be able to kiss her mommy in person.  Congratulations, curlers!

Thursday 20 February 2014

Ski Halfpipe Makes Debut Under Heavy Snowfall

"Just to be here is unbelievable and then to get a medal -- I'm speechless." (Mike Riddell)

Thick, clumping snowflakes fell from the sky at the halfpipe ski slope.  The thin crowd, given there were no Russians competing, huddled under umbrellas and raincoats.  It would be a challenge for the crowd to see the competitors and for the competitors to the see the halfpipe.  But the show must go on.

The skiers lined up one by one, skiing onto the halfpipe, and then performing a series of tricks.  The tricks were limited yesterday, given the poor visibility.  Skiing for Canada were Noah Bowman, Justin Dorey and Mike Riddell.  Mike, a 27 year old from Sherwood Park, Alberta, was no stranger to international competition.  The veteran had clinched the World Cup Crown in 2011.  He was not about to be deterred by the heavy snow, having competed in all types of weather.

Mike was disappointed with his mediocre first run, placing only sixth.  He knew that he had to impress the judges with his second run.  He came out with back to back double cork 1260's.  The rest of his run was strong and clean.

After two runs, American David Wise captured gold with a 92.00 score.  France's Kevin Rolland earned bronze with an 88.60 score.  And Canada's Mike Riddell claimed silver with a 90.60 score. Congratulations, Mike!

Mike Riddle of Canada on the podium after winning the silver medal during the Men's Ski Halfpipe in Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, February 18, 2014.

Mike Riddell courtesy

Bobsledders Defend Gold Medal

"I drove that track the very best I knew how; when we got out of that sled on that fourth run, both her and I knew..." (Kaillie Humphries)

Coming into Vancouver, Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse were considered underdogs in bobsledding.  But they proved naysayers wrong when they captured the gold  Could they repeat their gold medal performance in Vancouver?  The world was watching.

Coming into Sochi, Humphries and Moyse were considered to be the favourites.  On Day 1 of the bobsledding event, heavy rain wreaked havoc with the course at the Sanki Sliding Center. The chief rival to the Canadian sled was the American one which set a start and a track record in the first heat.  The Americans continued to lead in the 2nd heat, but with Canada close behind.

On Day 2, the rain had stopped.  The Americans led again in the 3rd heat.  The Canadians had 11/100ths of a second to make up to close the gap.  Known for her composure under pressure, Kaillie Humphries knew what she had to do.  The Canadians, going second to last, had 17 turns between them and a possible gold medal.  The nailed a quick start and a smooth run.  Now it was up to the Americans to do the same. However, the American sled wobbled down the track, giving the Canadians the victory by only 10/100ths of a second.

Kaillie and Heather ran to the flag waving spectators to hug their families.  Meanwhile, in Calgary, Alberta and Summerside, P.E.I. celebrations were underway to honour the hometown heroes.  Congratulations, Kaillie and Heather!

Canada's gold medalists in bobsled courtesy

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Twenty Seven Laps Around the Arena

Marianne St. Gelais courtesy 

Canada's short track relay teams have won a medal at every Olympics since the sport was introduced in 1992.  This time it was Marianne St. Gelais, Jessica Hewitt, Valerie Maltais and Marie-Eve Drolet who skated 27 laps to capture silver.

Marianne St. Gelais, the girlfriend of short tracker Charles Hamelin, just turned 24 yesterday.  She had just seen her boyfriend crash in his strongest event the 500 metres.  Now it was her turn to race the 3000 metre relay.  The pressure was on as she had won silver four years ago in that event.  Marianne, one of five children, started skating at the age of 10.  She has a brother and sister who also skate competitively.
Now she lives in Montreal with her boyfriend Charles.

Teammate Jessica Hewitt grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia.  She also won silver in the relay event four years ago in Vancouver.  Now she lives in Montreal like Marianne.

Valeri Maltais has six world championship medals to her credit.  Born in Chicoutimi, Quebec, she started skating at 6 years old.  Sochi marks her Olympic debut.

Marie-Eve Drolet, also born in Chicoutimi, won bronze in the Olympic relay in Salt Lake City in 2002.  She retired from sport the following year to pursue a degree in psychology.  However, she missed skating and returned to the rink in 2007.  She moved away from her family to train at the Olympic oval in Calgary.  The move paid off as she is a three time world champion medallist in the relay event.

Today, the four women lined up for the 3000 metre relay.  For much of the race, they held the third place position behind Korea and China.  The Italians trailed behind in fourth place.  And that is how they ended the race.  However, the Chinese were disqualified, bumping the Canadians up to second.  The Italians clinched third place.  It was a sweet victory for Marianne, helping her to erase the recent memory of her boyfriend falling in the 500 metre race.

 As they found out they won silver, Marie-Eve Drolet, Valerie Maltais, Marianne St. Gelais and Jessica Hewitt, left to right, celebrate at the Winter Games in Sochi on Tuesday.

Photo courtesy

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Subtle Perfection

Kurt Browning best described the skating style of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as "subtle perfection".  The couple's subtle perfection led them to capturing silver yesterday in the ice dance competition at the Iceberg Palace.

When my husband Rob drives by the Arva Firestation outside of London, Ontario on his way home from work, he notices the sign:  "Good Luck, Tessa & Scott!"  It is hard to believe that the current world champions live in nearby London and Ilderton.  Virtue and Moir's career has spanned 17 years.  Four years ago the confident couple skated their way to a gold in Vancouver.  But they felt that they still had a lot to give the sport of ice dancing.  So they set their sights on Sochi.

They set to work training in Canton, Michigan with American rivals Meryl  Davis and Charlie White.  The two pairs have pushed each other to the limit.  And the results have shown their hard work.  Both have benefitted from the new judging system implemented after the judging scandal in the Salt Lake City Olympics.

It all came down to the competition in the Iceberg Palace.  The American couple, standing first after the short program, skated to "Swan Lake", giving a flawless performance.  The Canadian couple stood second after the short program. Tessa and Scott's families sat together in the arena, holding up a Canadian flag and cheering them on.   Tessa took the ice in a pale pink dress while Scott wore black pants and a navy blue shirt.  They skated to "The Seasons".

Like the Americans, the Canadians were flawless.  But on this day the judges ruled that the Americans had the edge, giving them 190.99 versus the Canadians' 195.52.  Tessa and Scott can hold their heads high. Canada is proud!

Monday 17 February 2014

Dominique's Dance

Women snowboarders at Sochi courtesy

It is hard to believe that four years ago snowboarder Dominique Maltais was lying in a heap on Cypress Mountain after a crash during an Olympic qualifying run, coughing up blood from a collapsed lung.  It was there that she vowed to come back stronger than ever in Sochi.  Yesterday, Domique's drive paid off as she danced at the bottom of the Caucasus Mountains, capturing silver in snowboard cross.

The 33-year-old from Petite-Riviere-St.-Francois, Quebec had earned a bronze medal in Torino eight years ago.  Disappointment followed in Vancouver where she failed to qualify.  Coming into Sochi, Canadian Maelle Ricker, the defending gold medalist, was the favourite.  However, she crashed in the quarterfinals. Another favourite, American Lindsey Jacobellis, crashed in the semi-finals, right in front of Maltais. However, Maltais hung on and crossed the finish line in second place behind Czech Eva Samkova and ahead of France's Chloe Trespeuch.

Once Dominique collects her silver medal, she will return to Canada where she is a firefighter.  Her father, the mayor of their hometown, cheered for his daughter at the bottom of the mountain yesterday.  "It is the most beautiful day ever!" exclaimed the proud papa.  Felicitations, Dominique!

Sunday 16 February 2014

Jan Hudec's Lucky Loonie

After seven knee surgeries, Canadian skiier Jan Hudec was wondering if he could even climb the Olympic podium let alone earn a medal.  Shortly before Sunday's race in Sochi, Jan buried a loonie at the base of the ski hill for good luck.  After the race, he was standing on the podium, a bronze medal around his neck.


Canadian Ken Read wins World Cup downhill race in 1975 courtesy  

For decades, the Austrians, and other Europeans, ruled the mountaintops in downhill skiing.  No North American had ever won a World Cup downhill.  All that changed with the arrival of Canada's Crazy Canucks (see post "Whoever Believes Will Achieve"  Ken Read broke the European domination when he captured gold at a World Cup downhill in Val d'Isere, France in 1975.  Others followed including Steve Podborski who won the overall World Cup title in 1982.  Both Read and Podborski also captured Olympic medals.

Steve Podborski wins bronze in Lake Placid Olympics 1980 courtesy

However, with the retirement of the Crazy Canucks, Canada's alpine ski team seemed to lose momentum. Even so, Edi Podivinsky captured bronze in 1994 in Lillehammer, France.  A twenty year drought followed for the Canadian men.

That all changed with the arrival of 32 year old Jan Hudec from Calgary.  Hudec has been skiing for years. Plagued by knee injuries for the past decade, an Olympic medal has eluded him.  Married with one son, Hudec knew he could not rely on downhill skiing for an income.  Last year he opened an optometry business in Calgary.  At the same time however, he was bound and determined to give the Olympics another shot.

His right knee was in such bad shape that a fellow skiier joked that it was held together by elastic bands and paper clips.  While Hudec did not have youth on his side, he did have heart.  It was not until two days before the event, that the Canadian finally felt confident about the race, after laying down a great training run.  But he didn't want to leave it to chance.  So he buried a lucky loonie at the bottom of the ski hill (likely inspired by the lucky loonie buried in the ice at Salt Lake City before Canada's gold medal game).

Jan Hudec's lucky loonie courtesy

Canada did not fare so well on race day.  Favourite Erik Guay unfortunately caught an edge and wiped out on race day.  Manual Osborne- Paradis placed 24th and Morgan Pridy came a respectable 10th.  But Jan Hudec burned down the course, tying with American Bode Miller for bronze.  While he would have preferred to share the podium with a fellow Canadian, Hudec was still smiling.  His lucky loonie had done the trick.

Jan Hudec wins bronze in Sochi's Super G Downhill courtesy

Saturday 15 February 2014

Canada's Speed Skaters Fight Back

Gaetan Boucher in Sarajevo Olympics 1984 courtesy

Since Denny Morrison suffered a broken leg a couple of years ago he has struggled to regain his Olympic form.  However, Denny's drive was evident today as he raced to a bronze medal in the 1500 m at the Adler Arena.  Denny reminds us of another Canadian Olympic speed skater, Gaetan Boucher.

When Gaetan arrived at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, he too was battling back from an injury, a broken ankle.  He had only returned to the ice the previous October.  Gaetan, like Denny, had medalled at the previous Olympics (a silver in Lake Placid).  And like Denny, Gaetan had a burning desire to climb back on the podium.

Unlike Denny, however, Gaetan competed on a shoestring budget.  Canada had not yet introduced the "Own the Podium" program.  Gaetan did not receive the depth of the support that Canadian athletes receive today.

Nonetheless, Gaetan had heart.  He strapped on his skates in Sarajevo, steam coming out of his mouth on that frosty day, and blistered 1000 metres down the track, beating Russian Sergey Khlebnikov and Norwegian Kai Arne Engelstad.  Similarly in the 1500 metres, he once again outskated Khlebnikov and Russian Oleg Bozhev.  He beamed as he donned his Canadian red parka and climbed up on the podium to listen to the strains of "O Canada".

It is 30 years later.  Canadians are back in eastern Europe for the Winter Olympics.  This time the players are different.  Denny Morrison has come to Sochi as somewhat of an underdog given his recent results. While his leg has healed he hasn't regained that Olympic form that won him two medals at the Vancouver Olympics.

Denny straps on his skates for the 1000 metres, up against some stiff competition from the Dutch who have ruled speed skating.  However, Denny, skating smoothly and confidently, outskates favourite Michel Mulder to claim a silver medal.  Only Dutchman Stefan Groothuis is faster.

Three days later Denny is on fire again.  This time he posts a blistering time of 1:45:22.  For quite a time, he sits in gold medal position.  However, dark horse Pole Brodka races down the track in 1:45:00.  The final pairing sees Dutchman Koen Verweij tie Brodka for first.  However, a recalculation says that Brodka beat Verweij by 3/1000ths of a second.  Morrison, slightly disappointed, still smiles at his bronze medal.

Retired Olympian Gaetan is in Sochi reporting for Radio-Canada.  I'm sure he had a sense of deja vu as he watched Denny Morrison skate.  Both Canadians have four Olympic medals.

Denny Morrison in Sochi Olympics 2014 courtesy

Friday 14 February 2014

Patrick's Silver Lining

World Champion Patrick Chan courtesy

Today Patrick Chan thanked the hockey player who told him he should try figure skating when he was a kid, pointing to him as one of the individuals who led him to the Olympic podium.

Patrick Chan is the son of Canadian immigrants from Hong Kong.  His father moved here when he was only four years old and grew up in Montreal.  His mother moved here in her 20's.  While his father studied to be a lawyer, his mother was known for her athletic ability, winning both singles and doubles tournaments in her native country.

Growing up in Ottawa, Patrick tried skiing at five years of age along with skating as well.  For a short time he thought he would be a hockey player.  But someone suggested that he try figure skating.  Later the family moved to Toronto where Patrick attended a French language school and now is trilingual (French, English and Cantonese.

Patrick quickly moved up in the skating world, winning the Canadian championships in 2008.  In 2010 he was a silver medalist at the world championships.  At the Vancouver Olympics he placed fifth.  Then he went on to win the world championships three years in a row, a title he currently holds.

He arrived at Sochi hoping to dominate.  Along with the Canadian team, he clinched a silver in the team event.  In the men's short program he placed second.  Skating to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Patrick aimed for gold in the long program.  He looked nervous as he took his position at the centre of the ice.  While he landed his first two jumps, he stumbled on his third and fourth.  The result was a second place.

Patrick was disappointed that his missed the gold by only five points.  But in the hearts of his fans, he is still number one.  Patrick Chan joins the ranks of Elvis Stojko and Brian Orser.  Felicitations, Patrick!

Patrick Chan's Olympic skate courtesy