Category Archives: Sports

LeBron James Comes to Los Angeles: It’s Good vs. Evil.

Those who follow this blog know that I’m a Cleveland, Ohio boy, born and raised – and a LeBron James fan. Just as I was a Jim Brown fan in my boyhood days. What else can you possibly be when the greatest player in a particular pro sport plays for YOUR hometown team?

But unlike many in Northeast Ohio, I continued to be a LeBron fan even after he left town to pursue championship rings in Miami.

Then, like everyone in Cleveland, I rejoiced in King James’ homecoming – and the fact that he took the Cavaliers to four NBA finals appearances in a row. And, oh yeah, the glorious moment when he brought Cleveland it’s first pro sports championship since Jim Brown led the Browns to the NFL title in 1964.

So, when LeBron decided to take his talents to Los Angeles this summer, I did not waiver in my fandom.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 1990 – but that’s not the reason I’m still a loyal fan of The King.

charlie-hall-nathan-taphorn-0310In fact, the reasons that I approve of LeBron’s move to Los Angeles have been best expressed by the passionate words of a native of L.A., the son of a great friend of mine – and a wise young man who plays varsity basketball for my alma mater, Northwestern University.

Charlie Hall says it better than I could myself. (In bold italics below)

I am a LeBron James fan. I am a Cleveland Cavaliers fan. Despite being from Los Angeles, I have NEVER been a Los Angeles Lakers fan. That being said, this is bigger than me. There is a larger mission here. That mission is simple: restore good in the universe.

ct-northwestern-charlie-hall-tino-malnati-20170317In other words: Beat the Golden State Warriors. The 73-9, adding Kevin Durant, dancing, gaslighting, EVIL Golden State Warriors.

Perhaps shooting threes is more efficient than a hard drive into a contact layup. It’s worth more points and it takes less energy. I get it.

However, jacking up a three point shot from damn near half court and shimmying your way to your bench to high five Kevin Durant? That lacks heart. That lacks integrity. That lacks ANY of the qualities that are consistent with why we love basketball. The grit. The strength in the face of adversity. It’s all gone.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the Warriors are going to win. Again and again. Forever. Or until a core member leaves or gets injured.

ts_lbj18Now, there is ONE other factor that can derail the Warriors. His name is Lebron James. The philanthropist, family man, forceful inside presence. The man that brought a championship to the city of Cleveland. The GOOD GUY.

He needs guys around him and didn’t have that in Cleveland. Let’s get one thing straight, he doesn’t have it in Los Angeles either. However, he CAN attract the talent. The talent needed to dethrone evil. Horrible, horrible evil. 

A part of me wishes LeBron stayed. The little kid from Akron, bringing championships to his hometown, with little to no help? It’s picturesque. It’s gorgeous.

But he’s 33 years old. His time is running out. The chances of him bringing more rings to Cleveland were zero. ZERO.

I’m not sure how much time we have left with this legend, the greatest ambassador the league has ever had — this role model for so many. But I do know one thing: His work isn’t done. We need him to give us one more unforgettable moment. One more.

That moment could’ve happened in Philly, Houston, Boston, San Antonio, anywhere. But now it has to happen in Los Angeles.

Draymond+Green+Golden+State+Warriors+v+Cleveland+GXzIHuIEVQklSo please Mr. James. Whatever you have left. Use it to dunk on Stephen Curry. Use it to defend Kevin Durant. Get Draymond a tech. Do what you have to do. But let’s be clear: You HAVE to do it. There is no other option.

Forever a Cavs fan.

Forever a LeBron fan.

And for the sake of all things good: A newfound Los Angeles Lakers fan. 

Charlie Hall

 

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LeBron James & the NBA Finals = Must-See TV

Banner 2USP NBA: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS-MEDIA DAY S BKN USA CABanner 4Today, LeBron James will play in his eighth straight NBA Finals.

King James and his Cleveland Cavaliers will face the Golden State Warriors for the fourth year in a row.

UnknownLeBron and the Cavs are the clear underdogs.

In fact, the Warriors are historic favorites in the 2018 NBA Finals. The reigning NBA champs are favored by 10 to 1 odds to win their third title. The Warriors are favored by 12.5-points in tonight’s Game One: the largest point spread in recent Finals history.

So, despite the odds — why do I believe LeBron James has a legitimate shot to win his fourth NBA title?

I have three simple reasons:

He’s LeBron James.

He’s having an historic year.

And I hate Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.

AUSTIN-CARRFull disclosure: I’m a Cleveland boy, born and raised. I’ve been a Cavaliers fan since the franchise was launched in 1970 — and Austin Carr led them to the ‘76 Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, losing valiantly in 6 games.

The Cavs had their moments after that — making 10 playoff appearances from 1985 to 1998. But they rarely made it past the first round.

04araton-articleLargeIn 1989, for instance, Michael Jordan famously dashed their hopes by draining a first-round series-winning buzzer-beater over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo. It was Game 5 of a 5-game series. (Remember those?) And Cleveland was playing at home.

Man, that was painful.

Then came LeBron James.

James played high school basketball in Akron Ohio – just 40 miles from Cleveland.

Already a national sensation as a teenage high school player, his hometown Cavaliers made  LeBron the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft .300_003_lg

As a 20-year-old kid – in just his second year in the NBA — LeBron poured in 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, setting Cleveland’s single-game scoring record and was named to his first All-NBA Team. (This year, in his fifteenth season in the league, he earned that honor again.)

In his third season in 2006, LeBron was named the NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player and finished second in the NBA MVP voting to Steve Nash. He led The Cavs into the playoffs for the first time since 1998, losing to the Detroit Pistons in the second round.

LeBron’s fourth year in the league marked him as a true superstar. He led the Cavs to 50 wins for the second year in a row and took his team all the way to the 2007 NBA Finals against one of the NBA’s greatest teams: the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron and his overmatched Cavs were swept in four games – setting the stage for his infamous “Decision” to jump to the Miami Heat.

goneLeBron’s years with the Heat are well documented.

At the time, I went on the record that I didn’t blame LeBron for leaving the Cavs. Far from burning his jersey like some bitter fellow Clevelanders, I cheered him as he won two NBA championships in his four years in Miami – then welcomed his Northeast Ohio homecoming.

It didn’t take long for LeBron to return the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. He did it in his first year back. And if Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had been able to play in the 2015 Finals against the Golden State Warriors they might have won.

20609133-standardAnyway, LeBron led the Cavs to victory the following year – my hometown’s first major sports championship since Jim Brown, Frank Ryan and Gary Collins led the Browns over the Colts in 1964!

Then LeBron and the Cavs lost to Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the Warriors in last year’s Finals. It was The King’s seventh straight NBA Finals appearance.

And tonight’s tip-off marks Lebron’s eighth straight Finals.

Okay, I know that Bill Russell and his 1960’s-era Celtics made a shitload of NBA Finals. In fact, Russell made 10 straight Finals. Bill Russell is certainly one of the all-time greats — but let’s look at a typical NBA playoff bracket from Russell’s playing days.1964nbaplayoffsbracketresults

Do you notice something?

CN73LMUFYWN5IIN7SWW5XC7K7AFor most of those ten dominant years, Russell and his Celtics played just 2 or 3 rounds in the playoffs. And they usually played only two. LeBron James – like all of his modern NBA contemporaries — has faced four grueling playoff rounds every single year. Just sayin’.

And then there’s this business about Kevin Durant vs. LeBron. Don’t compare Durant’s playoff success with LeBron’s. (How far did The Slim Reaper ever take the Thunder?) And please don’t equate Durant’s jump to the Warriors with LeBron’s move to the Heat.

When LeBron went to The Heat, it had been 5 years since they were in the Finals and won an NBA championship. Durant joined Golden State the year after they had made two consecutive Finals appearances and won their first NBA title.

Kevin Durant is a front-runner. LeBron James is something else altogether.

kloveAs both teams prepare for tip-off tonight, I am confident that LeBron James will burnish his legacy in these NBA Finals.

And if Kevin Love is healthy enough to make his usual All-Star contribution on the boards and from the 3-point line – and Kyle Korver or J.R. Smith or Jeff Green or George Hill step up and hit some shots – then I like my team’s chances, despite the long odds against them.

One thing is certain.

I’m not betting against LeBron James.

I’m not betting against The King.

Go Cavs!

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My PyeongChang Diary (Part 8)

My final full day in South Korea was a busy one that would take me from our hotel in Phoenix Snow Park to the Olympic International Broadcast Center, back to Phoenix Park – and on to the Jinbu Station: destination Gangneung.

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I begin my day at 8:00 AM at the International Broadcast Center, about an hour away from Phoenix Park, depending on traffic. On this day, as the 2018 Winter Olympic Games are wrapping up, there’s no traffic. The IBC is a massive structure, built for the Games, which houses the central broadcast operations for NBC — and all the other networks covering the Games.

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When I first arrived at this facility nearly a month ago (to get a bit of pre-Olympic tech training), it was a bustling hive of human activity. Not today. Aside from a few final events and the Closing Ceremony, the Games are at a close — and so is the IBC.  We’ve come to deliver our 15-minute feature “20 Years of Olympic Snowboarding” — scheduled to air before the Closing Ceremony.

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Here’s the edit bay we’ve been assigned to so we can listen to the final audio mix, make any last-minute tweaks, do some color adjustments — and prep the sequence to roll-in on air. This is a luxury mansion compared to the metal box we’ve been working in for the past month.

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Likewise, the NBC commissary at the IBC is a 5-star restaurant compared to our “Kimteen” at Phoenix Park. I got a quality breakfast here to start what would be a long, adventurous day.

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NBC is obviously (and deservedly) proud of its Olympic broadcasting history. I’m honored to be even a small part of such a fine tradition. As jobs go, this gig was one of the coolest ever!

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Here’s the view outside the IBC. I’ve reviewed the audio mix for our feature — and now it’s up to our editor, Kevin, who knows the NBC ropes. I’m going back to my hotel to meet our executive producer and join him for the rest of my last full day on a journey to the east coast of South Korea.

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First, I’ll have to determine which of these shuttles will take me back to Phoenix Park. The drivers speak very little English and I can’t read any Korean, so it won’t be a cinch.

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Luckily, I find the right bus. These are no ordinary rides: they’re all tricked out. Every driver seems to have his own decorating style: lots of beads, fabrics and vibrant colors….

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…and, of course, CURLING on the shuttle’s TV screen. Koreans seem to love curling just as much as Canadians. I’ve seen more curling than any other sport — and I’m COVERING snowboarding!

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After I get back to our hotel, my executive producer, David, and I take a half-hour taxi ride to Jinbu Station — a brand spanking new train hub built to facilitate Olympic traffic.

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We purchase out tickets to Gangneung from one of these competent young men. The process is very efficient — and tickets are not that expensive. Our train leaves in 15 minutes. So far, so good.

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Here I am on the platform at Jinbu Station, awaiting the train to Gangneung. Will our journey be worth the effort? After a month confined to our Phoenix Snow Park compound — will we finally enjoy a legitimate Korean cultural experience? Our hopes run high.

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Of course, like my bright, wonderful grandson — and my dear father before me — I love trains. So, just the sight of these freshly-laid tracks and the tunnel looming ahead fill me with anticipation.

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And then — it’s here! Our train! And what a beauty it is. Check it out, Declan. Have you ever seen a cooler, sleeker train? I think I’m gonna love this trip.

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We’ve got tickets for Car #6. But first, we’ve got to let the disembarking passengers off.

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Here’s my boon traveling companion in his seat — ready for our ride to the coast. This journey was his idea. He has a lot of very good ideas.

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Our train ride from Jinbu Station to Gangneung takes less than an hour. Here’s the inside of the terminal at Gangneung. As I said before — so far, so good.

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David outside the Gangneung Station. Our plan is to take a tour bus, see the sights, find some tasty, authentic Korean food — and have a true Korean cultural experience.

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The Koreans are definitely INTO these Olympics. They line up to have their photos snapped in front of the Olympic rings — flanked by the PyeonChang 2018 mascots.

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Across the street from the train station, we find a “pop-up” cultural festival in what looks like a huge plastic tent– featuring everything from high-end cosmetics to hand-dripped coffee. Yes, there are Korean hipsters. And they LOVE their coffee.

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Right next to the hipsters serving artisan coffees — these ladies in traditional garb serve tea.

Moving on, we discover a traditional Korean market — and encounter these drum and dance performers getting ready to do their thing. Looks like we’re about to have a real cultural experience…

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By the way, Gangneung is a real city. After a month in the remote resort town of Phoenix Park, it’s exhilarating to be in the mix with so many Koreans in an urban environment.

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Then we hit the cultural jackpot: this traditional Korean market is about six blocks long and four blocks deep. And there are very few tourists. This is the heart and soul of Gangneung.

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Here’s a typical stall at the market. I don’t know what any of this stuff is. But David and I are  getting very hungry just looking at it all.

I don’t what this woman was cooking — but just the sound and smell of this boiling pot was exciting. Besides, I thought I glimpsed garlic — and that’s enough for me!

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We stopped at the stall on the right and sampled these skewers in a brown sauce.  Delicious. We would later learn that they were some kind of buckwheat noodle in a spicy fish sauce.

Those who know me know I’d never eat whatever is swimming around in this pot. (Eeels?) But, once again, it was clear that we were deep into real Korean culture now. Next, we’d go EVEN deeper…

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That’s right, folks. You’re looking at boiled ox head. We stumbled on a side street with four boiled ox head establishments in a row. The smell was powerful — the setting was steamy and dramatic. And the taste? Some things are best left a mystery.

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After our trip down Boiled Ox Head Lane, we ran into these helpful ladies, there to provide information to tourists. They spoke quite a bit of English — and  guided us to a local restaurant.

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Not only did our helpful trio lead us to a great, authentic Korean restaurant — they brokered our meal with the proprietor. The haggling went on for about 10 minutes. We were REALLY having an authentic Korean experience now.

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Once our menu was determined, the service was fast and attentive. We were the only non-Koreans in the place: just what we wanted.

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Here’s our main course. All these veggies and lean beef boil down into a sweet and savory stew, cooked right at our table by the restaurant staff.

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It may look like we just ate everything in the restaurant — but the Koreans like to serve a lot of sides: kimchee, rice, soy bean paste (wonderful!) and many other spicy vegetables. It’s glorious. Washed down with beer. (I’ve learned to abandon the white wine thing in Korea.) A wholly satisfying end to our Korean cultural journey. And to our 2018 Olympic adventure. 고맙습니다

 

 

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My PyeongChang Diary (Part 6)

It’s Valentine’s Day here in PyeongChang, South Korea (though not in the U.S. quite yet) – and I began the day hoping it would turn out to be a love fest for Shaun White, the greatest Olympic snowboarder who ever dropped into a 22-foot halfpipe.

I could tell right away that the tempo of movement and people and energy here at our Phoenix Snow Park venue had ticked up noticeably from previous days.2

3The view from just outside our edit bay showed that folks were starting to head toward the halfpipe to see if Shaun White could win his third gold medal in four ties. Or whether his Japanese rival, Ayumu Hirano, would carry the day.

Or who knows? Maybe some dark horse rider — perhaps one of the other three young American boarders who qualified for the finals — would surprise us all and snatch the gold medal from the favorites.

4I tramped through the snow toward the halfpipe, negotiating the crowds that had come to share in the excitement – and to be present when Winter Olympic history might be made.

It’s good to be a credentialed member of the press. You get to pass through your own entrance, and skip the lines to a degree.

But, even with credentials, there are times when you’re packed in with the fans. And that’s cool, too. You can feel the buzz.

Small wonder. People have traveled from all over the world to be a part of this day. This event. This moment.6

9I managed to skip the longest section of the line and take an express route to the pipe – passing a Korean band that must have just played to warm up the crowd. There’s always a musical performance before these events. I wished I had gotten to the venue in time to see these guys do what they do.

Arriving at the base of the halfpipe, the size of the crowd was large – and growing. This was clearly the biggest live audience I’ve yet seen at our venue. They all know that Shaun White is in the house. And something cool might be happening.1011

Here’s the halfpipe. If Shaun’s on today – he’s going to write the greatest chapter in the history of Olympic snowboarding in that pipe. Or, maybe he won’t. After all, he finished fourth at Sochi in 2014, just missing the medal podium.Flags

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The people massing at the foot of the halfpipe are an international combination of tourists, athletes and rabid sports fans from around the globe. They come ready to cheer on their national teams — but they appreciate every Olympian’s effort. You really do feel that world peace is possible when in you’re in a group like this. Which may also be part of why these people are here.

CrewAfter the first run, I spotted my camera crew posted on an overlook above the crowd.

Taking advantage of my trusty press credentials yet again, I joined my talented cameraman, Corey, and my excellent associate producer, Agatha, on their perch to witness the final two runs of the finals.25

red gerard gold_1518317350621.png_12905470_ver1.0.jpgIn these finals, the 12 riders get 3 runs. The best score in any of those runs is the one that counts.

Shaun White threw down a great first run, which put him at the top of the leader board. Then Ayumu Hirano posted a score that knocked Shaun down to #2.

DCIM101GOPROG1302289.

Ayumu Hirano in action in his 2nd run in the PyeongChang halfpipe .

Soon after Ayumu Hirano took the lead, in Shaun’s second run, the Shaun White Coronation Express went off the rails.

27You may not have been able to see it in that video – but the sound of the crowd surely clued you in to the fact that Shaun wiped out mid-run. He would need a clean, stellar third run to best Ayumu Hirano for the gold.

Hirano fell in his third run – and was thus unable to improve upon his lead over Shaun White. To a killer competitor like Shaun, that’s putting blood in the water for a halpipe-eating shark. Here’s my view of Shaun White’s final run of the competition.

imageThat was it. Last ride of the day. Best score of the day. Step up, Mr. White, and accept your third Olympic Gold Medal.

After witnessing that legendary Olympic moment, I was peckish. Luckily, the NBC commissary is not far from the halfpipe, so within minutes I was treated to this…IMG_6209

IMG_6211A Valentine’s Day party!

It always feels like we’re on some far-flung military base and they’re trying to remind us of the comforts and traditions we enjoyed back home.

It’s nice though.

Here’s to all my darling girls: Maura, Emilia, Eva – and most especially, Victoria! I miss you all.

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My PyeongChang Diary (Part 5)

Dateline: Phoenix Park, PyeongChang, South Korea – Sunday February 11, 2018.

Today, on the Olympic Slopestyle snowboard course, two guys from Cleveland shared a moment of Olympic history. To be sure, one of us did far more than the other. But in the end, your author may have played a larger part than anyone might have imagined.

1We begin in the morning. I went through security at Phoenix Park shortly before 10:00 AM – the scheduled start of the men’s slopestyle finals.

As always, after the screening software read my credentials — and my shabby, unkempt photo and vital info flashed upon the screen — I was granted passage onto the venue.

I could tell right away that the environment at the venue was very different from the days before.

There were a LOT more people — many, many more.

An Olympic finals event was about to take place.

Medals were going to be earned.

And many people from across the world were gathering to see if their beloved athletic countrymen would lay claim to gold, silver or bronze.5
7Up until today, there were no crowds at our venue. The only people I saw were NBC employees, OBS folks (Olympic Broadcast employees) and Olympic athletes and coaches. Now, I joined masses of enthusiastic fans as we made our way up the mountain to the grandstand erected at the bottom of the slopestyle course.

As I schlepped my way uphill, I was gratified to see that the police were in force.

They walked up the hill with us and they were stationed at the base of the venue. Nobody seemed concerned for their safety. I didn’t even think about it. The world was gathering to have fun and share the joy of winter sports. And we all appreciated the vigilant security folk.9

8I also appreciated the woven burlap mats that were laid out for us as we made our way up the mountain. Back in Mammoth, California a month ago, I must admit that I did a lot of slipping and sliding on my way up to the halfpipe finals. These burlap mats made our ascent so much easier – and safer.

Up and up and up we went.

This is a mountain we’re climbing, after all.

And if our climb wasn’t as steep as it was — just how dramatic would this slopestlye finals run be?12

Every step we took promised greater drama on the course above.

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Arriving at the base of the slopestyle run, I could see both the course above…

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…the grandstand below.

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And, of course, the boisterous international crowd — proudly representing their counties and getting psyched up to cheer on their nation’s athletes.

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24Unlike many Winter Olympic events, it’s impossible for the live audience at the slopestyle venue to watch the athletes as they make their way through the course.

Those of us in live attendance at the event must watch on video as the athletes make their way down the course.

red gerard gold_1518317350621.png_12905470_ver1.0.jpgWe can catch fleeting glimpses of the boarders in the distance far above us – but it’s only when they launch themselves into the air on that final jump that they come fully into view, rocketing down the hill to the finish.

Sometimes they arrive at the finish upright. Often, they crash land right in front of us. It certainly makes for a dramatic finish.

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1Of course, I was primarily interested in the prospects of the one American in the final: 17-year old Redmond “Red” Gerard.

I met him this past January in Mammoth, California.

When we interviewed Red in Mammoth, the Cleveland native (Rocky River, to be exact) told us that he wasn’t all that into the Olympics.

He was all about the X-Games and the Mountain Dew Tour.

As far as he was concerned, the Olympics were just another contest.

Red’s first two runs spoke to his blasé Olympic attitude. He wiped out both times – displaying none of the free-spirited style, talent, tricks and focus that earned him a spot on the U.S. team – and his berth in the finals. Meanwhile, over the next two rounds, the Canadians in particular were putting down runs that left Red Gerard at the very bottom of the standings going into the final round.

Then Red uncorked the magic in his final run…

gettyimages-916757406red gerard 5_1518324187546.png_12921684_ver1.0.jpg17-year old Red Gerard – too young to vote in the United States – earned our nation’s first Gold Medal in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Sure, he put down an amazing final run.

But what part did Red’s fellow Cleveland native play in his unlikely Olympic victory?

This was the shirt that I was wearing underneath all my layers today…

Wahoo

Chief Wahoo’s days may be numbered – but he hung in there long enough to give Red Gerard the winning edge.

Go Red! Go Tribe! Go Cleveland!

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My PyeongChang Diary (Part 4)

I’ve been in South Korea for almost a week now.

Every day, I’ve been tramping to and from our hotel to the Phoenix Park resort where the Olympic snowboarding events are being held – and where we’re making our brief documentary on the 20-year history of Olympic snowboarding. (To be shown before the closing ceremony.)

I’ve also been taking advantage of the hotel’s gym, knocking off some kilometers on the treadmill – and working up a sweat.

Between my gym clothes and the various layers I wear each day to insulate myself from the chilly winter weather in the snow-covered mountains of PyeongChang, it’s time to do my laundry. Two bags full.

But nothing is easy for this innocent abroad.

And, as you’ll see below, the simple task of washing my clothes turned out to be an adventure…

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To do your laundry, you must first FIND the laundry room. My journey of discovery begins in the 6th floor lobby of The White Hotel. Outside, there’s a haze obscuring the mountains. The location of the laundry room will prove no less obscure.

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The sign next to the elevator indicates several points of interest. The laundry room is not among them. In retrospect, that may only seem to be the case because I can’t read Korean.

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The signage in the elevator gets me no closer to my goal. At left, it’s clear that I should not lean up against the elevator door — and that, perhaps, I shouldn’t stick my hand in it. The sign at right is anyone’s guess. Though not a Korean, of course. A Korean would’t have to guess. But I’m at a loss.

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Emerging from the elevator on the lobby level, I arrive first at this room. But it’s clearly not the laundry. It’s the hotel gift shop. It’s very pretty — but I’ve never seen anyone in it: not a customer or even a clerk. Many very artsy objects are displayed. The whole setup is a mystery to me. So is the location of the laundry room.

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Next to the gift shop is the business center. I have never seen business stuff being done there. Usually, I see one or two Koreans reading there. (Perhaps enjoying Sendak?) And this morning, I saw a gold medal skier walk into this room with a fifth of scotch and a glass. Business? Maybe.

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Moving down the hallway, the signage directs me to several rooms — but not to the laundry room.

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Past the restaurant and banquet rooms — at the end of the hallway — is another elevator. Convinced the laundry room is not on the lobby level, I descend into the basement.

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I rode the elevator with this Korean man. He was bringing kegs of beer to the lobby beer garden. Alas, it was his first time at The White Hotel — so he couldn’t help me find the laundry room.

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As the beer vendor exited to the parking lot, I turned my head to the right — and there it was!

Wash

It looks simple enough. A washer and a dryer, clearly labeled, complete with instructions.

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This may look like a lot of money — but it will take most of it to get my one load of laundry done. The washer is 5,000 South Korean won — and so is the dryer. 5,000 won is about $4.61 in U.S. currency. Detergent cost 500 won — or about 46 cents. Same for a sheet of fabric softener.

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Now, the real trouble begins. After I insert my 500 won coin, I discover that the vending machine is OUT of detergent. The bottom row has laundry bags. The next row up has fabric softener. But the two top rows dedicated to detergent are empty. Completely empty.

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I take the elevator back up to the lobby level and ask these ladies for help. The girls on the right are sweet and want to help — but they have no clue what I’m talking about. Luckily, the older lady on the left (obviously a manager) knows just who to call. Interestingly, when she makes the call, I notice that, as she spoke, the Korean word for “detergent” appeared to “detergent”.

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This fellow was dispatched to assist me. He came down with me to the laundry room, opened a utility closet and presented me with ONE packet of laundry detergent. But he didn’t re-stock the machine. He checked to see that it was, indeed, empty — but evidently stocking vending machines is not in his job description. I was very grateful nonetheless.

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The helpful man instructed me to put the detergent into the bin on top of the machine. However, a sticker on the machine told me to put the detergent in the drum. I took the machine’s advice.

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In went my 5,000 won…

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And now, another conundrum. Instructions on top of the washer clearly say “Press start button”. But there doesn’t seem to be a “start button”. There is, however (written in English!) a “stop/pause” button. I press it — and the washing machine lurches into action. Go figure.

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Success at last!

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After getting my laundry done, I walked down — as I do every day — to The Phoenix Park Hotel: our entrance to the extreme sports Olympic venue.

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As I enter the hotel lobby, bundled against the cold, I ask myself, “How soon will these clothes need to be washed?” and “Do I really need to wear so many layers?”

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My PyeongChang Diary (Part 3)

I’ve been in South Korea for less than four days – and I find that I must already issue a personal apology to the good merchants of PyeongChang and the entire South Korean nation.

IMG_6059But first I must satisfy my wife’s desire for photos taken from inside the “convenience store” that has vexed me since my arrival in country.

CU, which opened in 1990 as FamilyMart, has more than 10,000 stores and is the largest chain store in South Korea. The signage suggests there is some relation to the American chain CVS – but my hasty, haphazard Internet research has not turned up a connection.

IMG_6060The CU store looks like it should have a lot of stuff that you want. It’s crazy colorful, with rows of tantalizing packaging – but nothing is quite as good as it looks.

It’s 85% snacks — and 15% beer. From what I’ve seen, South Korea is a beer drinking culture.

To be certain, there are Ramen noodles for days. In fact, this particular CU store features a display of noodle containers stacked to resemble a Mayan temple complex. Sort of.

IMG_6061And then there is this strange machine, which I suspect is either a lottery machine or something to do with cigarettes.IMG_6066I must admit that I am simply a befuddled American peering into the smallest window of South Korean culture – and unable to see what would be apparent to a wise traveller who actually prepared to go to South Korea beyond bringing warm clothes, thermal socks and two bags of toe warmers.

IMG_6062But, looking at the beverage cases in the back of the CU, we come to the reason for my apology.

In my previous posts I have decried the absence of Diet Coke in PyeongChang. Full of righteous indignation and good old American superiority, I have maligned the CU for not stocking a decent Chardonnay – and for not having Diet Coke.

But let’s look closer at these two Coke bottles side by side. They look almost the same. But if one looks closer (which Americans rarely do) it is clear that these bottles are not entirely alike.IMG_6063 One, in fact, subtly but clearly states that it has “Zero Sugar”. And, if one bothers to actually read the front label, it’s also clear that it has zero calories. It is, in fact, Coke Zero. Not Diet Coke exactly — but entirely deserving of an apology.

I can at least wash down the heaping helping of crow I must eat with a diet beverage, full of caffeine and that great cola taste.

WineOn the other hand, my only Chardonnay options continue to be a terrible Chilean wine – and a semi-potable concoction foisted upon the Koreans by an unscrupulous California vintner.

Then again, maybe I’m not looking closely enough.

Travel is all about learning — and being open to what you don’t know. After four days in South Korea, my education has barely begun.img04

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