Saturday, February 27, 2010

Olympic Athlete Profile (25 of 25)-Kwame Nkrumah-Achepong/skier/Ghana

First of all, we thought this day would never come! A part of me wants to apologize to Scandanavian athletes, since we only featured one in our series, but instead I will simply mention that the Finnish women's cross-country skiing team featuring Pirjo Muranen won bronze during the Olympics on Thursday.

Unlike Finland, the west African nation of Ghana does not see snow, which makes Kwame's story all the more unique. The skier, 35, nicknmaed The Snow Leopard, told the BBC last year that for an African athlete in Vancouver simply proving you belong on the slopes in the most important thing:

"My hope is to ski very well and prove to people that I deserve to be on the hill with other top world athletes."

Kwame, who ironically shares his name with a Kenyan politician, first learned to ski on artificial slopes in the United Kingdom where he has spent much of his adult life. He told the BBC that the sport fits his thrill-seeking personality:

"It's an extreme sport and I've always liked challenges and it was more difficult than the traditional sports I was used to," Kwame said. "I just wanted to see if I could cut the real thing."

Kwame hooked up with Denis Grigorev, a coach from Uzbekistan who he met during a trial competition in Iran.

"My coach told me to avoid any embarrasment," Kwame said. "I should just go straight down, so that's what I did just go straight down."

The skier from Ghana initially tried to compete at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, but his flight to an Olympic trial was postponed at the Amsterdam airport due to ice on the wings.

Kwame told "The Canadian Press" that he aims to have a blast in Vancouver:

"I just into skiing for fun," Kwame said. "It's just turned into something else now."

As one might expect, Kwame has become a sensation in Vancouver with tourists buying him lunch. Canadian fiddler Ashley Maclsaac actually wrote a charity song entitled "Dreams" to help with the skier's Olympic expenses.

MSNBC reported that Kwame is not interested in becoming a mere novelty athlete, like ski jumper Eddie the Eagle who became a sensation at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary:

"For me, sports are competition," Kwame said. "It's not about all the funny things can do to create loads of money, I think the teams around me understands we are not a joke."

After the Olympics, Kwame wants to open a grass ski slope in Ghana so his countrymen can learn to ski like him.

Kwame is also popular with local stores as Chackas, a gift shop in downtown Vancouver, has dedicated its entire store-front window to "The Snow Leopard."

He is set to ski for the first time at the games this afternoon.

Olympic Athlete Profile (24 of 25)- Muhammad Abbas/skier/Pakistan

We are heading down the proverbial slopes as we get ready to conclude this lengthy series on Olympic athletes competing at the Winter Games in Vancouver.

Today, we profile Muhammad Abbas, 24, an employee of the Pakistani Air Force who is also the first Pakistiani athelete to compete in alpine skiing for his country.

Abbas finished 79th in the competition earlier in the week. The giant slalom event featured 103 skiiers from 60 countries. Abbas finished higher than some other low-ranked skiers, including Dow Travers from The Cayman Islands and Jamyang Namgiel from Pakistan's traditional rival India.

According to the English-language Pakistani news web site, Abbas said he was thrilled to be on the same as American skiing sensation Bode Miller and Norwegian great Aksel Lund Svindal (whom we profiled earlier).

Abbas fist skied on the hills of his Himalayan mountain village in wooden skis which his father made for him.

One of the challenges for Pakistani skiers is finding the time and place to train as Abbas' coach Zahid Farooq told

"In the last two years, we have trained only eight weeks," Farooq said. "We had two weeks in Austria in '08, and six weeks in '09."

Farooq also told Reuters that there is only one small slope, which is 500 meters long, in Pakistan.

The Pakistani coach told that in addition to arranging training time for Abbas, he also helps him by cooking, cleaning and interpreting for him.

Farroq added that he hopes to have a female skier on the Pakistani Winter Olympics at the 2014 games in Soshi, Russia.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Olympic Athlete Profile (23 of 25)- Wang Meng/women's short-track speed skating/China

Whew! We had tremendous problems trying to find an image that worked for this one, but I think after literally going through 15 different images we finally found one.

And, hopefully since Wang Meng, 24, is a short-track speed skater from China, a country with over a billion folks, I will be rewarded with more web hits than normal for a Friday afternoon!

Wang (in Chinese, one is refered to by first names) is considered to be the best women's short-track speed skater in the world. Before today's competition, she had earned 14 total medals in her career.

The Chinese skater has already won individual gold in the 500-meter race at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, and she is expected to win more medals today as she competes in two separate events.

Additionally, Wang won a team gold in the 3,000-meter relay when a South Korean skater crashed into one of Wang's teammates causing her team, which would have won gold otherwise, to be disqualified.

Wang got into short-track speed skating at age nine.

Her hero is English soccer star David Beckham.

She told the AP through an interpreter that she was elated and relieved to win gold in the 500-meter race:

"On the final two laps, I still felt my legs shaking," Wang said. "I guess when you're so close to what you've always wanted, it's natural to be shaken."

Olympic Athlete Profile (22 of 25) Robel Teklemariam/cross country skiing/Ethiopia

Robel Teklemariam, 35, seen here waving the Ethiopian flag in the stands during the Vancouver Olympics' opening ceremonies, finished 93rd out of 95 cross country skiers in the 15-km freestyle competition on Feb. 15, but his story is quite a unique one given that he represents a country in sub-Sahara Africa.

Robel (we'll use his first name to make life easier) has spent a considerable amount of time in America as he is an alumnus of The University of New Hampshire.

"The Richmond Times-Dispatch" reported that his mother Yeshaneg Demisse, who was in attendance to watch her son at the games, owns a restaurant called The Nile which serves Ethiopian food near the Virginia Commonwealth University campus in Richmond, Va.

Robel competed in his second Olympics after making his debut in Torino.

Dario Cologna of Switzerland won the gold in the 15km free-style with Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer getting silver and Czech skier Lukas Bauer taking bronze.

Robel told "The RTD" that he hoped to expose more Ethiopians to skiing, and that the diaspora community in British Columbia was very welcoming of him.

On Robel's wikipedia page, he is quoting as saying that his mission is a minimalist one:

"I'm a realist," Robel said. "My goals are for further down the road. I want this Olympics to open my eyes and hopefully the eyes of other Ethiopians."

Robel has also a kept a blog of his expeirences as part of the 5 Dreams project, which includes blogs from for other Olympic athletes. One of the other four is Turkish figure skater Tugba Karademir, whom we features in our second entry in this series. Karademir's short program was actually televised in prime time on NBC even though she was not a medal contender.

The story of how Robel flew in from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa (ninth grade geography teachers may want to make this a bonus question on their next test!) to Dubai to Toronto to Vancouver is one that any road-weary passenger can relate to.

Robel said that an expected 20-minute stopover in Dubai became a two-hour nightmare because of the extensive time it took him to go through customs. Then, he boarded what would be an exhausting 14-hour flight to Toronto. After that, he had to get on a domestic Canadian flight to Vancouver which took yet another four hours.

But, he made it in time for the opening ceremonies, which were in his own words an unbelievable experience.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympic Athletes Profile- (21 of 25) Michael Schmid/men's skicross/Switzerland

We are getting closer to the proverbial finish line with our 21st profile (this was a crazy idea, actually!), and since we looked at Jamaican skicrosser Errol Kerr in Entry 3 of the series, we thought we'd look out at the man who ended up winning the competition (though Kerr performed quite well, advancing to the finals of the event).

Schmid, who turns 26 on March 18, won the gold medal at the Vancouver games over fellow skicrossers Andreas Matt of Austria (silver) and Audurn Groenvold of Norway (bronze) on Monday. These Olympics marked the debut of skicross, which had previously been known mainly to Winter X-Games spectators (the event is held annually in Aspen, Colo.).

The Swiss skicrosser debuted in 2004, and he finished fifth the following year at the sport's world championships in Ruka, Finland.

Schmid consistently ranked in the top ten, and he won his first World Cup race in 2009 in Austria.

During the Olympic competition, Canadian Chris Del Bosco, a Winter X-Games gold medalist, fell on his next to last jump which allowed his competitors to move up in the rankings.

According to the AP, Schmid handled a series of jumps and banked turns which allowed him to win the gold medal.

"It was not easy," Schmid said. "You must have a perfect day when you go to the Olympic competition."

Olympic Athlete Profiles (20 of 25)- Andre Lange/men's bobsledding/Germany

I was initially hoping for a photo of Andre Lange, 36, performing in his sport, but this image was too good to pass up!

Lange won his fourth gold medal (over a span of several Olympics) at the Vancouver games in the two-man bobsled competition. With his achievement, Lange became the first man to win three consecutive gold medals in the two-man competition.

The German bobsledder is in his third cosnecutive Olympics, and at the Turin games, he won the four-man competition with teammates Kevin Kuske, Rene Hopper and Martin Putze.

In total, Lange has won 14 medals, eight of them gold, in his international career.

He may add to his total if the German team wins the four-man bobsled competition before the end of the Vancouver games. They were first after a preliminary run in which the American team, helmed by Steve Holcomb was in second place.

Canada's bobsled driver Lyndon Rush told NBC that Lange is essentially the Michael Jordan of the sport:

"Andre is the great one," Rush said. "The say the cream rises to the top, Andre Lange is the cream."

Lange told NBC that he was amazed by his good luck streak in Olympic competition:

"When I started bobsledding 17 years ago, I would have never thought of such a victory," Lange said.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Athletes Profile (19 of 25)- Martina Sablikova/women's speed skating/Czech Rep.

We have not posted as many entries as I would like for both Eastern European and Scandanavian countries, but today we will try to mend those proverbial fences by profiling Czech speed skater Martina Sablikova, 23, who has already won a gold medal in Vancouver.

Her brother Milan Sablikova is also competing at the Winter Olympics.

Martina won gold in the 3,000 meters competition on Feb. 14 by beating out German Stephanie Beckert (silver) and Canadian Kristina Graves (bronze). The AP said the Czech speed skater dominated the event with her trademark turns and wide sweeps through the corners.

In Turin, Martina finished fourth behind Canadian Clara Hughes (gold), German Claudia Pechstein (silver) and Canadian Cindy Klassen (bronze). Martina missed a bronze medal in Italy by a mere second.

Hughes and Klassen competed against Martina again in Vancouver. But, both faltered as Hughes finishes fifth and Klassen finished 14th.

Martina was named Sports Person of the Year in the Czech Republic in 2007 and in

Olympics Athletes Profile (18 of 25)- Meghan Agosta/women's hockey/Canada

Tommorow night, Team Canada will face Team USA in the gold medal game for women's hockey in Vancouver. The Americans will want revenge since the Canadian women's team won the gold medal over Team USA during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Meghan Agosta, 23, has been the main star of the Canadian team as she has scored nine goals in the competition so far. So far during the games, Agosta, an Ontario native has scored two hat tricks: one against Slovakia and the other against Sweden.

During the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Agosta scored a hat trick on her 19th birthday against Russia.

Agosta started playing hockey at the age of six. In 2004, she moved to Calgary to train for the Canadian national team.

She has also played college hockey for Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., where she became the first freshman nominated for player of the year.

Agosta lead the Lakers to an NCAA Division 1 title game against Wisconsin in 2009, but they fell to the Badgers by a 5-0 margin.

Expectations are high for both men's and women's Canadian hockey teams since the games are in Vancouver. Both Team Canada and Team USA have had little difficulty winning in women's hockey, so tomorrow night's game will be the first true test for both teams.

And, as the old Abba song goes: "The Winner Takes it All." (hmmm.....sorry for that!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic Athlete Profile (17 of 25)- Ashley Caldwell/women's aerial skiing/USA

Take Two! Boy, we've had our struggles posting entries in this series (I'll be so glad when the Olympics end on Sunday). My sister is actually at the Vancouver games as a spectator. We are eagerly awaiting her reports.

Since we profiled the oldest member of the American Olympic delegation (see entry 11), we thought we'd mention Ashley Caldwell, an elite gymnast turned aerialist skier who is merely 16 years old. (And, we hope she is the one pictured here!).

Initially, Caldwell was only focused on the 2014 Olympics in Russia, but her surprisingly strong tenth place finish at the last World Cup made her qualify for the current Olympic team.

On Saturday, Caldwell finished 12th in the first round of women's freestyle aerials and was able to capture the last spot to qualify for the final medal round.

Caldwell, who is from Hamilton, Va, near Washington, DC, told Tracee Hamilton of "The Washington Post" that the Olympic experience has tested her emotionally.

"It's day by day and I'm freaking out," Caldwell said. "My coach tells me to chill out, but I'm like 'Oh my God I'm at the Olympics.'" She added that she normally gets a bit nervous, but the Olympic experience has added significant pressure on her.

On her second run during qualifying, Caldwell executed a back sommersault with a full twist, then a double twist before landing cleanly.

Caldwell competed for Apex Gymnastics in northern Virginia before turning her attention to aerial skiing. She said she simply saw the sport on tv, and thought it would fun to try it out. Caldwell started competing in 2008.

Her teammate Emily Cook said she was impressed by Caldwell's ability to mature in the difficult sport:

"She's grown up extremely quickly," Cook said. "It's pretty unprecedented."

Olympic Athlete Profile- Aksel Lund Svindal/men's slalom/Norway

For those of us watching the Olympics in Vancouver, Norwegian skier Aksel Lund Svindal might be known as the man who beat Bode Miller, but he has a very unique personal story and he is one of his sport's greatest champions.

Lund, 27, lives in Kjeller, Norway. He beat out Miller (silver) and American skier Andrew Weibrecht (bronze) to win gold at the Super G with a time of 1:30.34.

Svindal has won five World Championships and 13 World Cup races. Additionally, he won four medals at the 2002 World Junior Championships.

The Norwegian skier crashed badly during a downhill race at the Beaver Creek ski resort in Avon, Colo., in 2007.

Despite many broken bones and numerous surgeries, Svindal returned to the sport in October of 2008, and ironically won one of his first comeback victories at Beaver Creek.

In Vancouver, Svindal also won a silver medal in downhill skiing, finishing behind Swiss skier Didier Defago, but beating out Miller by 0.02 of a second.

Svindal won his first Olympic gold medal while competing at the Vancouver Olympics.

On his own personal blog, which is in English, Svindal said that it 'has been a great Olympics so far, and it can only get better.'

Olympic Athlete Profiles (15 of 25) Gregor Schlierenzauer/men's ski jumping/Austria

When we first started this epic project of Cecil B. Demille proportions, we went through a list of some potentially interesting Winter Olympics athletes.

I was particularly fascinated by Austrian ski jumper Gregor Schlierenzauer both because he was a gold medal favorite and because his last name is VERY hard to spell, but then again so is the surname of Icelandic women's slalom skier Iris Gudmundsdottir!

The Austrian skier nicknamed Schlieri (it should be pointed out that the ski jumping is that of a Polish ski jumper) just turned 20 on January 7th, but he has already son 32 World Cup Victories which only four other ski jumpers have done.

At Vancouver, Schlieri has won two bronze medals (actually, this number is subject to immediate change as he is ski jumping again today) so far. In the Men's K-120, on Saturday, he finished third behind Simon Ammann of Switzerland and veteran Adam Malysz of Poland.

Schlieri broke Finnish ski jumper Jsanne Ahonen's record of 12 World Cup victories, with his 13th win. The Austrian ski jumper also won gold at the world championships in 2007, and he won both team and individual medals at the 2008 world's.

He is deaf in one year, and began ski jumping at the age of 8.

I was really looking forward to watching ski jumping as it is one of my favorite events. But, as those of you who watch the Olympics realize, one can watch one of their least favorite events (for me, it's ice dancing) yet miss their favorite sports entirely!

When we lived in Poland in 1976 (when I was six years old), I watched ski jumping all the time. But, when I asked my mom if I could try ski jumping, I believe she said no in a very adamant way!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Olympic Athlete Profile- (14 of 25). Sandrine Aubert/women's slalom/France

There are some very attractive female athletes at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, including American luger Erin Hamlin and Bulgarian snowboarder Alexandra Jekova, whom we've both refered to before.

But, it is perhaps French slalom skier Sandrine Aubert, who posts pictures of herself in a bikini on her web site ( who is the most gorgeous of them all.

Oddly enough even though Aubert, 27, won a major slalom event in Zagreb, Croatia, beating out American Lindsay Vonn, this January, there is very little about her on the web.

Aubert keeps a blog, but it is in French. Even though I speak a foreign language (Turkish), I must admit my French was barely good enough to pass a community college course in Virginia.

But, according to Wikipedia, Aubert ranks third in the world.

She won her first World Cup race in Germany on March 7, 2009, and she also won a major competition in Sweden.

Aubert seems to be one female athlete who could one day become a runway model in Paris. She really is that gorgeous!

Interestingly enough, she will be competiting (or has already competed) against Iranian skier Marjan Kalhor whom we profiled earlier.

Olympic Athlete Profile (13 of 25)- Sven Kramer/men's speed skating/Netherlands

Has anyone ever felt like calling a reporter stupid? (Actually, I used to be one, but I get that feeling as well sometimes!).

Well, apparently Dutch gold medal-winning speed skater Sven Kramer did just that to an NBC reporter who asked him essentially who he was after he won a gold medal in the 5,000 meters competition on the first official day of the Vancouver Olympics.

Kramer later told a Dutch interviewer that the incident was just ridicilious because he had just won a gold medal and suddenly he was expected to provide a mini-bio of himself on the spot.
(The reporter reportedly was also unaware that Kramer was Dutch!).

Kramer, 23, is the current Dutch, European and world champion in his sport and he is also a world record holder.

He is the son of Dutch speed skater Yep Kramer, who competed for Holland in the
'80s, and against American legend Eric Heiden.

Kramer's personal life was of interest to the Dutch media while he was dating supermodel Doutzen Kroes, but now he is romantically linked to Dutch field hockey player Naomi Van As.

During the competition, Kramer beat out South Korean Lee Seung-Hoon (silver) and Russian Ivan Skrobev (bronze).

Kramer is the most recognized athlete in Holland, where speed skating is considered to be the national sport.

Heiden told "The New York Times" that he was impressed how well the Dutch speed skater handles the pressures given his celebrity status back home.

Olympic Athlete Profile (12 of 25) Kim Yu-Na/women's figure skating/South Korea

The 'Princess Diana' of South Korea, as her Canadian coach Brian Orser calls her, Kim Yu-Na, 19, will be performing soon in Vancouver.

She is the gold medal favorite in women's skating, which could be a jinx since no favorite has won the event since Oksana Baul in 1994.

Kim trains in Toronto with Orser and she was won the last nine of 11 world competitions she's been in.

She began skating at the age of 11 and Kim won her first South Korean title at age 13 in 2003.

Kim has become quite a sensation in South Korea where she appears in commercials for products such as Samsung Electronics.

Orser told "The New York Times" that she is aware of how Koreans are watching how she performs with high anticipation:

"I think she realizes that she has made a difference in that country," Orser said. "She's changed the morale there during this global recession."

Kim told the media that she felt nervous about the Olympics, but that she was focused on the task at hand.

Her top rival is the Japanese skater Mao Asada, who is a silver medal favorite.

Kim will skate her long program to music from George Gershwin, but her short program, which features theme music from James Bond movies seems to get her more attention.

The South Korean skater added that there is more to life than what happens in Vancouver:

"Even if I don't win the gold medal, I would (pause) I would not be disappointed too much."

Winter Athlete Profiles (11 of 25)- Tracy Sachtjen/Women's Curling/USA

The first attempt to post this entry failed yesterday, but we are going through with it nonetheless.

Alas, the United States' women's curling team had their own frustrations as they lost to Team Canada by a 9-2 margin yesterday, but that does not take away from the human interest involving American curler Tracy Sachtjen, who just turned 41 on Saturday.

Sachtjen, pictured here (it should be pointed the image of the curling team is that of Great Britian's) is the oldest member of the American Olympic delegation. The oldest male athlete is also a curler as John Benton is 40. The youngest American athlete is female aerialist skier Ashley Caldwell, a former elite gymnast, who is just 16.

The American women's curler lives in Lodi, Wisc., where she works as a sports and events coordinator at a local YMCA.

She started curling in 1982, and made her junior debut five years later.

Sachtjen's team placed sixth at an international competition in Switzerland at the 1997 curling championships. During her career, she has won one gold medal and one silver medal from competiting internationally.

On her team's web site, Sachtjen said that 2009 was an inspiritanional year for her and her curling teammates.

In her spare time, the curler enjoys playing golf and swimming.

Sachtjen is married with one daughter Sierra (16) and one son Desmon (9).

Other international curlers have unique careers away from the ice. Canadian Colleen Jones, 46, is a weather woman for Canadian television. Danish curler Angelina Jensen sells insurance.

SIDEBAR: American moguls skier Shannon Bahrke founded the Silver Bean Coffee Company with her fiance Matt Happe in Salt Lake City, Utah. Interestingly enough, though she is a skier, Bahrke professes to hating the cold!

SIDEBAR TWO: We almost profiled Sidney Crosby, the Canadian superstar hockey player for the Pittsburgh Penguins, as an American! But, in spite, Team USA pulled a shocking upset last night by defeating Canada 5-3.

Winter Athlete Profiles (10 of 25)- Marjan Kalhor/slalom skiing/Iran

Due to a technical glitch, we are going to profile Iranian slalom skier Marjan Kahlor, 21, the first woman to represt Iran at a Winter Olympics, a bit earlier than anticipated.

Kahlor carried the Iranian flag for a delegation of five athletes. Some in Iran have criticized Kahlor for competiting as an athlete as a woman because of the country's strict Isamic cultural values, but Kalhor told "USA Today" that coming to the Olympics was very important not just for her, but for the women of Iran:

"I am very glad to be here, not just for myself, but it can be a very good incentive for women in Iran."

Kahlor is not exactly Lindsay Vonn when it comes to winning major international competitions though she has won medals at skiing events in Turkey and Lebanon.

She told "USA Today" that putting in her best effort was vital:

"I can't think think about a gold, silver or bronze," she said. "But I have some competitiors that were close to each other," Kahlor said. "I hope I can perform better than them."

According to the blog site Muslim Women in Sports, Kahlor will wear the traditional Islamic headscraf in the Olympic Village, but she will dress like everyone else on the slopes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Winter Athlete Profile (9 of 25) Philip Boit/Cross Country Skier/Kenya

I first heard about Philip Boit on the NPR news program "The World" a few weeks ago when he wasn't entirely sure if he would be able to compete as a cross-country skier at the olympics.

The good news is that Boit, 38, will be competing in his fourth consecutive Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

Along with fellow Kenya distance runner Henry Bitok, Boit was part of a Nike program to have Kenyan runners train in Finland to become cross country skiers.

Boit became the first Winter Olympic athlete to ever compete for Kenya. During his first Olympics, Boit finished 92nd but Norwegian cross country skier Bjorn Daehle who won gold in the event delayed the award ceremony so that Boit could finish his run. For that noble gesture, Boit named on his sons Daehle Boit.

The Kenyan athlete finished 64th at the '02 Salt Lake City Olympics and 92nd at the last winter games in Turin, Italy.

According to the web site, one of the challenges for African winter athletes is actually having the funds to travel to the Olympic host cities.

Winter Athlete Profile (8 of 25)- Martins Dukurs of Latvia

Martins Dukurs, 25, of the former Soviet republic of Latvia, a small country in the Baltic region, is winning the men's skeleton competition so far.

Latvia's capital city of Riga is perhaps the population size of Omaha, Neb. (ok that would need verification!), and he is among Latvia's top atheletes at the games. Both the men's and women's skeleton races were aired circa 2 a.m. last night on NBC, and I did actually watch the coverage!

According to the AP, Dukurs has a chance to add to an almost perfect season with a gold medal in Vancouver. The final runs are scheduled for today (Friday- perhaps, they have already happened, but we can't confirm or deny that).

Dukurs' sled was designed by his father. His older brother Tomass Dukurs, who finised 21st at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City is also competing for Latvia in Canada.

The younger Dukurs is .26 seconds ahead of second place finisher Jon Montgomery of Canada, while Russian Alexander Tretyakov is in third just .84 seconds behind the Latvian skeleton racer.

American Zach Lund, who is in 8th place in the skeleton competition, told the AP that Lukurs will be hard to top:

"It's like when I was No. 1 in the world," Lund said. "Once you know you can win, your confidence is through the roof."

But, Dukurs told the same media outlet that he is being cautios:

"It's only a three-tenths of a second lead," Dukurs said. "I'm on Montgomery's track. In skeleton, five-tenths is nothing. In skeleton, anything can happen."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympic Athlete Profile (7 of 25)- Daisuke Takahashi/Men's Figure Skating/Japan

I was initially going to post an entry on American men's figure skater Johnny Weir, who has his own show on The Sundance Channel, but we decided to go with one of his rivals Daisuke Takahashi of Japan since he is more likely than Weir to medal tonight based on the short program which was performed on Tuesday.

Along with current leader Evgeni Plushenko of Russia and Evan Lysacek of the United States who is in a VERY close second, Takahashi, who is in a VERY close third, gave an amazing performance which included a triple-axel and a triple lutz-triple toe-loop.

Takahashi, 23, told various media outlets that it was his best performance of the season. He added that he was pleased to see many fans supporting him:

"The audience was really good, there were lots of Japanese fans and Japanese flags and that really helped," Takahashi said. "I am glad because I haven't scored so high in a long while."

Takahashi, a four-time Japanese national champion who also competed during the 2006 Turin Olympics, began skating when he was eight years old. Initially, he was going to try ice hockey but he didn't like the sport's protective gear.

As for Weir, his Sundance Channel show airs at 10:30 on Mondays. He is assuredly not the only Olympic athlete we will have to snub due to time and space constraints, and we apologize for that!

Olympic Athlete Profile- Erin Hamlin/Women's Luge/USA

According to the Twitter page for American women's luger Erin Hamlin's hometown newspaper "The Observer-Dispatch" (Utica, NY), the medal favorite will be coming home as a hero in spite of her disappointing 16th place finish at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver:

"The only one disappointed with Olympics luger Erin Hamlin is probably Erin Hamlin. In the hearts and minds of everyone else in central New York, she's nothing short of awesome."

Hamlin, 23, was unable to get off to a good start at the outset of her run according to "USA Today."

The tragic death of Georgian men's luger Nadar Kumaritashvili on the first day of the Olympics lead officials to make dramatic changes to the luge track which caused distractions for Hamlin and other lugers.

Hamlin told "USA Today" that it was just an ordeal which had to come to terms with:

"I'm not going to argue with the fact that it was done," Hamlin said. "But, that doesn't make it easier to swallow."

Julia Clukey, Hamlin's teammate who finished just behind her in 17th place said that Olympic officials should have consulted with the lugers before the changes were made.

The race was won by German luger Tatjana Huefner. Austrian luger Nina Reithmayer got silver while another German Natalie Geisenberger took the bronze medal.

Hamlin told "USA Today" that she will be back to compete in the 2014 Olympics:

"I was planning on it before," Hamlin said. "And, now I'm sure I'm going to be back in four years."

Hamlin was profiled in "The Observer-Dispatch" in March of 2009 shortly after she had become the first American woman to win an international luge championship near Lake Placid, NY.

In the piece, her older brother Ryan Hamlin said that both siblings explored luge on a whim when they were children:

"I think it was the fact that we wanted to try something different," said Ryan Hamlin "We all have a competitive edge. I don't think being sedentary is wired into us."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Athlete Profile-Maelle Ricker/Women's Snowboarding/Canada

Maelle Ricker, a Canadian snowboarder, is the first gold medalist (so far) that we are profiling her. She won Canada's second gold medal of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics yesterday. Ricker also became the first Canadian woman to win gold in either the winter or summer games on Canadian soil.

The competition featured many outstanding snowboarders including Deborah Anthonioz of France who won silver, Olivia Nobs of Switzerland who won bronze, defending world champion Helen Olafsen of Norway and Lindsay Jacobellis of the United States.

Jacobellis, who was a medal favorite, fell in the semi-finals and failed to qualify for the final run. A similar affected Ricker's teammate Dominque Maltais who fell during a qualifying run.

Ricker was born on Dec. 2, 1978, in British Columbia where she still resides. Her first Olympic competition was at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. During the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, Ricker was hospitalized for a concussion.

The Canadian snowboarder has also competed at several Winter X Games competition's in Aspen, Colo., where she won a bronze medal in 2007. But, she skipped a trip to Colorado this year to focus on Olympic-training.

Ricker told "The Toronto Sun" that getting off to a good start was vital to a positive run:

"I tried to explode out of the gate. I really wanted to get out of that gate as fast I can," Ricker said. "It was really, really hard today to get a clean run all the way down the course, but I just held on and did my best."

Ricker also told the Toronto newspaper that her serious fall at the Italian Olympics was a prime factor for her:

"Turin was such a motivator for me, it just made me work that much harder for today."

Her victory is considered the biggest snowboarding win for Canada since Ross Rebagilati won gold in Nagano.

SIDEBAR: Heather Richardson, the High Point, NC, speed skater who we profiled in our first entry in this series finished a strong sixth in the 5,000 meter competition yesterday. The gold medal in that event was won by South Korean speed skater Mo Tae-bun, and it was considered to be a surprising result.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Athletes Profile (4 of 25) Alex Ovechkin/Men's Hockey/Russia

Most of the Winter Olympic athletes we profile here are struggling to make ends meet as they train for their respective sports. That can not be said for Russian star hockey player and Washington Capitals' captian Alex Ovechkin, who is making $9.5 million a year, but he is also scoring more goals than anyone else in the NHL.

Ovechkin was born on Spet. 17, 1985, and he is the son of former pro Russian soccer player Mikhail Ovechkin and Tatyana Ovechkin who competed for the Soviet women's basketball team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the 1980 Moscow Olympics (Misha the Bear, those games' mascot is pictured here).

It is amazing for those of us who grew up during the Cold War (I turn 40 in 15 days) that two Russian hockey players playing for their national team in Vancouver, Ovechkin and Alexander Semin also play with the Washington Capitals, the NHL pro team in the American capital!

Apparently after he was dealing with questions about jabs at the Barck Obama administration from the ever-restless Dick Cheney, Vice President Joe Biden was asked on "Meet the Press" if it was ok to be an Ovechkin fan and still be patriotic. As A Caps fan himself, Biden said that of course it was.

Ovechkin started playing hockey in Moscow at the age of 8. According to Wikipedia, he was encouraged by his older Sergei who died in a car accident when Alex was just 10.

Ovechkin actually began his pro hockey career at age 16 with Dynamo Moscow in 2001. He won the Russian Superleague's MVP in his third season. His first game with the Caps was on Oct. 5, 2005, when he scored two goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets for a 3-2 win.

The Caps star would lead rookies in goals, points, power-plays and shots. Ovechkin was named NHL Rookie of the Year. He would appear in his first all-star game, which was held in Dallas, in 2001.

He became the first player to score more than 60 goals in a season (in 2008) since former Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr achieved that milestone during the 1995-96 season.

Ovechkin broke the Caps' team goals in a season title in 2008 as well. He ended up socring 65 goals in a season which lead him past former Caps' record holder Dannis Morok who scored 61 in a season during his playing days.

The Russian star captured both the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies in 2008.

He scored his 200th career goals against the L.A. Kings on Feb. 5, 2009, and he won the Rocket Richard Trophy again last season. The Caps' season ended sooner than the team would have liked though as they fell to the Penguins in seven games.

This NHL season, Ovechkin reached the 500-point milestone during a Feb. 5 game against the New York Rangers, a month after he became the Caps' captain on Jan.5.

Internationally, Ovechkin has played in the 2006 Olympics, which were disappointing to the Russian team because they failed to medal.. But, the Caps' star scored five goals including a game winner against New Jersey Devils' goal-tender Martin Brodeur, who was playing for Team Canada.

Ovechkin lead Russia to team gold in the 2008 World Championships.

He has been given the Key to the City from Washington, DC, mayor Adrian Fentry.

Ovechkin has also been named as Russia's ambassador for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

A fan web site ( quotes him as saying: "My weapon isn't my shot. It's me."

SIDEBAR: Ovechkin has been relatively silent on his Twitter page lately, but the same can not be said for his Capitals and Team Russia teammate Alex Semin. He took a dig at American hockey players Andrew Orpik and Sidney Crosby who also play for the Pittsburgh Penguins:

"At my hotel room in Vancouver, and I hear crying through the wall. I had no idea Crosby and Orpik were sharing the room next to me.

And, he also talked about how 'he was fine-tuning' his hockey skills in the time for the team's first game:

"My first 2 goals were products of my God-given talent, but my 3rd was all hard work. I finally figured out the Wii Motion on my stick."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Olmpic Athlete Profile (3 of 25)- Errol Kerr, a Skier from Jamaica

In our third installment of our series on Winter Olympic athletes at the Vancouver 2010 games, we examine Errol Kerr, who is not a mere novelty athlete even though he is a skier from Jamaica. I had the opportunity to become Facebook friends with Kerr, who finished ninth in the skicross competition at the recent Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo.

Kerr was born on April 12, 1986, in Truckee, Calif., to a Jamaican father and an American mother. He maintains dual citizenship. Kerr told the English newspaper "The Times" that he decided to represent Jamaica as a skier because of his father who died when Kerr was 14:

"He (my father) never skied a day in his life," Kerr said in the interview. "But, I'm doing this for him. I'm proud of my heritage. It's in my blood."

Kerr told the blog "Black Political Thought" ( that he loves being a minority in winter sports, especially in in skicross, which is the only new sport in Vancouver this year:

"I just think it is very exciting," Kerr told the blog. "It lays the groundwork for more and more people to come along and do what I have done. Someone always has to do it first and then it seems easy."

Kerr is the first skier for Jamaica, and he is the only athlete representing the island nation at the games. He has also emphasized that as much as he admires the famous Jamaican bobsled team which competed at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, there are significant differences between them and his efforts as he has placed fairly high in international competitions.

Recently, Kerr finished 28th at the 2010 World Cup held at Blue Mountain, Ontario (Canada) and he came in 15th at a global competition in Lake Placid, NY, in January.

While he was in Canada for the World Cup of skiing, Kerr talked to inner city youths in nearby Toronto. According to his own web site, Kerr said that he told the Toronto youths to 'be the best at whatever you do.' Kerr added: "Even if you aren't that good, you will be some day if you keep trying."

Kerr has become quite a media sensation as his web site has discussed his interviews with tv stations around America, including ones in Denver and Sacramento, as well as other media outlets around the world.

The Jamaican skier started with the sport when he was four years old, and he began competitive skiing by age 11. Kerr has a unique breakfast routine. According to, he eats five to seven eggs for breakfast each morning. Kerr then goes snow training. After lunch, he then goes bicycling. Kerr told the web site that he typically skis downhill at a speed of between 70-80 miles per hour.

Kerr will be competiting in skicross on Sunday (Feb. 21). One can join his Facebook fan page to get updates from Vancouver on his schedule and his preparations for the proverbial big race down the hills.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympic Athlete Profile (2 of 25)_ Tugba Karademir-Figure Skater from Turkey

Many folks might be surprised that Turkey, a country with relatively few ice-skating rinks, has a competitive Figure Skater named Tugba Karademir (pictured) who placed 21st in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

I have a special interest in Turkish athletes because I am a Turkish-American. No Turkish athlete has ever medaled at the winter games though quite a few, including legendary weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu (who first won gold at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul) have won Olympic medals in the summer games.

Karademir, who is also one of five Turkish Winter Olympic athletes, is competing again in Vancouver. The skater who will turn 25 on March 17 actually resides in Canada and is attending college at York University in Toronto where she is studying biotechnology. Karademir is also Turkey's first ever international ice skater.

According to Turkish Canadian blogger Sertac Sehlikoglu Karakas, Karademir began ice skating at the age of five in 1990 at the first ice rink which had just opened in Turkey.

But, international skating for Karademir started shortly thereafter when she was eight and she skated at a competition in Holland.

Karademir went on to win a gold medal at the Balkan Games when she was 10, but due to the fact that Turkey lacked training facilities for a skater of her caliber, her family decided to move to Canada where she was coached by Robert Tebby.

There were some trials along the way as Karademir got injured, but she began skating again in 2000. She placed fifth on the Canadian junior team, but she ultimately decided to represent Turkey.

Her major breakthrough performance came during the European Championships in 2006 where she placed 13th. As a result, the Turkish Olympic committee decided to make her carry the flag in Italy for the 2006 Winter Olympics.

In a 2002 interview with, the then teenage Karademir said that she loved reading, rollerblading and spending time on Turkish beaches, presumably the likes of resorts like Bodrum and Kushadasi.

She also said that performing in front of an audience was a genuine, fulfilling experience:

"I love doing shows. Presentation and the crowds are probably my favorite part of skating."

On her Twitter page, Karademir said the opening ceremonies in Vancouver 'were a blast.'

SIDEBAR: There were many medal events today in Vancouver, but we are going to focus our attention on a very exciting men's mogul skiing competition. Alexandre Bilodeau (pictured here) was able to pull off a moderate upset by beating previous champ Dale Begg-Smith of Australia, who actually grew up in Vancouver before moving to the land down under.

Bilodeau became the first Canadian to win a gold medal on Canadian soil even though the 1988 Winter Olympics were held in Calgary. Begg-Smith got the silver, and American Bryon Wilson of Butte, Mont., who like Bilodeau was not favored to medal according to "Sports Illustrated," got the bronze.

Bilodeau told the AP that the victory was a personal triumph for him and for Canada:

"I don't think I really realize it. It's too good to be true."

Olympic Athlete Profile (1 of 25)- Heather Richardson (USA, speed skating)

Since we are generally based in North Carolina, I thought a profile of American speed skater Heather Richardson, 20, of High Point, NC, would be a great place to begin with our series which will profile Winter Olympic athletes from around the globe. She is an alumnus of High Point Central High School.

Richardson, who turns 21 on March 20, currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she worked at a Bed, Bath and Beyond part-time during her training. She clinched a place on the US Speed skating team in three events (500 meter, 1,000 meter and 1,500 meters) during the U.S. Speed Skating Championships in Kearns, Utah, in December.

The North Carolina native actually stared out as an inline skater before switching to the ice two years ago. She will compete on Tuesday in the 500 meters race at 4:00 p.m. (eastern time). Richardson will round out her Olympics debut with the 1,000 meters race on Thursday, also at 4 p.m. and the 1,500 meters on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.

Richardson is the second speed skater from the Triad region of North Carolina to compete at the Winter Olympics. Speed skater turned Darfur political activist Joey Cheek from Greensboro won gold at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

When asked by the local newspaper "The News-Record" what she missed most about home, Richardson replied: "A Cheerwine slushie would be great right now."

Her teammates include Jilleanne Rookard and Jennifer Rodriguez, also known as J-Rod.

In an interview with Winston-Salem NBC affiliate WXII, Richardson said she was both nervous and excited about competing in Vancouver, adding that she was amazed that her journey which started at a roller skating rink in High Point had taken her to the Winter Olympics.

Richardson is not the only female speed skater from a Southern state. Long-track speed skater Lauren Choewinski, 21, who now also resides in Utah, grew up in Rock Hill, SC, (my mom's hometown) just outside Charlotte, NC. Like Richardson, Choewinski started out roller skating. She started her journey at the Roller Magic roller skating rink in Rock Hill.

OLYMPICS UPDATE: I actually experienced one of those proverbial busy days where not much got accomplished, so I wasn't able to watch any Olympic footage.

But, I did find out that American short track speed skater Apolo Ohno became the most decorated American winter athlete ever when he won a silver medal in the 1,500 meters. On his Twitter page, Ohno congratulated the gold medal winner Lee Jung-Su of South Korea. "The Vancouver Sun" reported that Canadian Charles Havelin, a pre-Olympic favorite failed to get passed the semi-final rounds in the short track event.

American Hannah Kearney won gold in women's free-style skiing, but the big news in Canada was that their competitor Jennifer Heil (pictured) got a silver.

Heil told "The Vancouver Sun" that while she wanted to win gold, she was pleased with the outcome:

"Of course, I wanted gold but I won silver----I'm happy with my performance---I really felt like I was standing on the shoulders of so many Canadians."

The Twitter page for Team USA hockey reported that players Phil Kessel, Brian Burke and Ron Wilson had arrived in Vancouver.

Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer set an Olympic record with his gold-medal performance in the 5,000 meter race.

Anastazia Kozmin won Slovakia's first Winter Olympic gold in the 7.5 kilometer biathlon.

"The Washington Post" reported that Romanian women's luger Violete Stramaturaru crashed during her competition which forced out of the games, reminding spectators of the tragic event that claimed the life of a Georgian men's luge competitor during the games' opening day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vancouver Winter Olympics Preview

Unlike my sister Lale, I will not be attending the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, which got underway yesterday, but hey- I can still blog about them even though I am over 3,000 miles away in Wilmington, NC (not where I actually live, but close enough!).

As many readers know, the games were marred by tragedy yesterday as luger Nodar Kumaritashvili from the former Soviet republic of Georgia died during a practice run. He was only 21 years old.

But, the games must go on.

We are going to attempt to profile 25 Winter Olympic athletes starting with speed skater Heather Richardson from High Point, NC, tomorrow. We will also attempt to cover any interesting breaking news as it happens from Vancouver. The result of today's women's hockey game between Sweden and Switzerland, which will be broadcast at 5:30 p.m. (eastern time) on CNBC is probably not going to be in that category!

Some of the other athletes I hope to discuss are American snowboarder Shaun White, aka "The Flying Tomato" and "Animal" (named from the drummer on "The Muppet Show"), Russian hockey player Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Norwegian giant slalom skier Alex Lund Suindal (hope I spelled his name right!) and Finnish ski jumper Janne Ahoren.

Two of the more interesting features I hope to post about will include a profile of Turkish women's ice skater Tugba Karademir, who has quite a loyal following in Turkey. My late father immigrated from Turkey, and Karademir is arguably the country's most accomplished winter athlete though she is not in medal contention. Karademir lives and trains in Canada, and she will turn 25 on March 17.

And, I found out, much to my surprise that there is an Iranian female skier named Marjan Kalhor who posed with a head scarf in her team picture. As many might expect, she is the first female winter Olympic athlete to represent Iran which is in the middle of political upheaval.

I would also like to profile Austrian ski jumper Gregor Schlierenzauer, a gold medal favorite, but I am not sure I can consistently spell his name right! In fact, we had to double-check it four times just now!

There is also North Korean speed skater Ko Hyon-Suk, but being that he is from North Korea, arguably the most isolated country in the world, there is probably not much information on him.

Lastly, we should mention the athletes who we will alas have to snub due to time constraints (in fact, I think I'm pressing to try for 25). I must start off with the very attractive Bulgarian snowboarder Alexandra Jekova (pictured here) who would be a dream date of mine for Valentine's Day! But, I doubt if she would have time to meet for lunch at Applebee's, especially since I am snubbing her!

We are also going to by-pass German luger Felix Loch (also pictured) who is expected to perform very well in Vancouver and the eccentric Australian moguls skier Dale Begg-Smith (pictured here) who is a serious medal contender.

Time permitting, we may also post an entry about the Danish women's curling team, expected to medal though they will likely have to contend with host Canada. One Danish curling team member Angelina Jensen actually sells insurance!

Alabama Wins Big Gym Meet Over Florida

Whew! We almost had a "Dewey Beats Truman" moment, as I came close to stating in the header that Florida won the meet. I'm sure Alabama women's gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson would have been quite upset with me if that had happened! I must also tell Florida Gators fans (shh! I am one of them) that I could find any decent images of their gymnasts on the net so we have to go with the mascot who was probably not in attendance since the meet was in a surprisingly snowy Tuscaloosa, Ala., last night.

The Gators-Tide meet will be broadcast on ESPN 2 at 11:30 a.m. on Sun., Feb. 21.

The Tide won the meet by a 197.425-196.600 score. Before the night's meet, Alabama was ranked #2, and Florida was # 6. New national rankings will be announced on Monday.

In other gym meets last night, West Virginia won over Ohio State, Auburn won over Kentucky and Utah defeated Utah State. Despite two inches of snow in Athens, Ga., the host GymDawgs won over visiting Arkansas.

Sophomore Geralen Stack-Eaton tied her career best score on all four events, and she posted a career high in the all-around competition according to the official web site of Alabama gymnastics.

In spite of the inclement weather, 12,446 fans showed up to the delight of coach Patterson:

"I can't say enough about the 12,000 people that came tonight, even when everything is closed and they are being told to stay home."

Stack-Eaton also expressed delight that she was able to perform exceptionally well Friday night:

"I was trying not to think about it too much all night. But, when I got on floor and I stuck my first pass, I really started feeling good about my chances."

For the Tide, senior Ricki Lebegerm won vault. Stack-Eaton, junior Kayla Hoffman and senior Kassi Price tied for top honors on the uneven bars.

Sophomore Ashley Priess (pictured here) won the balance beam event, while senior Morgan Dennis came in first on the floor exercise.

But, the Gators put in an impressive effort as well in spite of coming up short on the road.

Florida coach Rhonda Faehn told the Florida Gators athletic department that her team performed well in their rivals' home gym:

"I was really proud of our team tonight. They competed aggressively, and did not hold back in this environment."

For the Gators, gymnasts Amanda Castillo and Maranda Smith scored a 9.825 on the uneven bars, and Liz Green scored a 9.875 on the beam.

Both teams are likely contenders for the NCAA Championships which be held on the Gators' home floor in Gainesville, Fla., this April.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Actual Church Sign I Saw Today....


I spotted it on Route 220 between Greensboro, NC, and Roanoke, Va., in the hamlet of Ridgeway, Va., which is near the speedway town of Martinsville.

We're not sure what it means. But, if you know, by all means leave a comment here!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Special Quote of the Day- Keith Knight

Normally, we post the Quote of the Week segment on Mondays (or if I'm busy as hell, on Tuesdays). But my Facebook friend Keith Knight, 43, an extraordinary talent who is the cartoonist behind the new, hip comic strip "The Knight Life," and the cutting edge political cartoon series "The K-Chronicles" as well as a musician in a hip-hop band called The Marginal Prophets, volunteered this quip for Black History Month which I simply loved too much. So hence I am posting it now today!:

"Talk to any black person 60 or older for 10 minutes and you'll learn more about Black History than you ever learned in school."

SIDEBAR: I recently decided to follow the comic strip character Zippy the Pinhead, created by Bill Griffith, on Twitter. He sent me a message which said: "I see we are both mutual friends of Paris Hilton." While I don't know the rich media starlet personally, I also follow her on Twitter as well! I'm not sure Zippy (who I really think is Griffith) is aware of this!

SIDEBAR TWO: The Brady Network, one of the leading gun control lobbies in the country, has raised an issue with the Starbucks coffee chain, a favorite hangout for Ms. Hilton, over the fact that they apparently allow folks who want a lattee to walk into their establishments with loaded guns! Perhaps, some of these people are police officers, which I could understand, but I certainly see the Brady Network's concerns though I have not read a newspaper story detailing both sides of the issue. The Brady Networks contends that this has an intimidating effect on customers, and I can imagine that would certainly be true in rural Georgia (persuming they have Starbucks stores in rural Georgia).
My favorite Starbucks happens to be in Front Royal, Va., with the Starbucks in High Point, NC, (well there are more than one of them) being a close second. I'm not exactly sure why though........?!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Semi-Annual Oscar Rant

For starters, it should be pointed out that I am/was one of the people who thought that expanding the field to nominated films for Best Picture Oscar to ten was a good idea.

Perhaps this was because I felt that one of the great talented directors of my generation Wes Anderson had been snubbed once too often. Well, Anderson made yet another solid film this year in "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" but even with an expanded field, it was still snubbed! The film is nominated for Best Animated Feature, but the odds of it upsetting "Up" are about the same as North Carolina Central University, the 'other school' in Durham, NC, winning the NCAA tournament!

But, my main beef with the Academy Awards is that "The Blind Side," a film which appears to be nothing more than a two hour "ABC Afterschool Special" actually landed a nomination for Best Picture! One could say I am being very pre-judgmental because I haven't seen the film myself, but I thought the 30-second trailer was painful enough! Somehow, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Sandra Bullock, who has done some fairly good acting here and there given her limited range, wins the coveted Oscar over Carey Mulligan who gave a wonderful performance in "An Education."

This is also the first year that my choice for best film of the year ("Up in the Air") and worst film of the year ("Avatar") have both been nominated for Best Picture. I can't say enough negative things about "Avatar" which is somehow an even more annoying over-the-top boring spectacle than director James Cameron's (pictured) previous epic box office champ/Oscar winner "Titanic." Of course, "Avatar" will win Best Picture which is almost enough to make me think I would vote for "The Hurt Locker" by Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow even though it ranks eighth on my Ten Best List. "Up in the Air," on the other hand, is a truly wonderful film in every regard. At least, it got nominated.

I also disapprove of the Oscar nomination for "District Nine," my second least favorite film of 2009. Like "Avatar," it's a completely fake film with no interesting characters which moves at an agonizing slow pace. The only impressive thing about either film seems to be their special effects, but if looks alone were a criteria for selecting a nomination then one should nominate Sandra Bullock for Best Actress (oh wait, they did that, didn't they?!).

I must profess that there were some pleasant surprises from the Oscar nominations this year. "An Education," "A Serious Man," "Up in the Air," "Inglorious Basterds" and "The Hurt Locker" are deserving of Oscar nominations even though I personally had qualms with the final act of Quentin Tarantino's film ('Basterds).

Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones"), Matt Damon ("Invictus") and Christopher Waltz ("Basterds") are terrific nomination choices in the Best Supporting Actor category. The same can be said for the cast of "Up in Air." George Clooney was nominated for Best Actor and his co-stars Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick were nominated for Best Supporting Actress. I was also delighted to see Jeff Bridges get a Best Actor nomination even though I have yet to see his film "Crazy Heart." And, with a few major exceptions, I was pleased with the Best Director and screenwriting nominations as well as many of the technical categories.

And, lastly it was great to see the great Austrian director Michael Haneke's film "The White Ribbon" get nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film.

Of course, there's no way in expletive H-E-DoubleL that the film will actually win what many of us film fans consider to be the category with the most dubious history (at least in recent years). But, there is always a chance that your horse can win the Kentucky Derby, and I suppose that is the reason why we always watch the Oscars. But, this year, I might actually turn off the set before the Best Picture Oscar is announced.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Turkish Futbol Update- BursaSpor Hanging Tough

Cyprus. Greece. Armenia. The Kurdish Situaion. Spat with Israel. Spat with Iraq.

Yes, most headlines in Turkish online newspapers can give one a headache (well, the one I have at the moment is being caused by being on the net for freaking four hours!), but that is not the case with Turkish soccer.

Futbol in my father's country is always an interesting affair and that appears to be the case again this year.

My two favorite teams GalataSaray (Istanbul) and BursaSpor of Bursa, Turkey, with team vice captian Omer Erdogan pictured here, both tied this week. BursaSpor's star Bulgarian goalkeeper Dimitar Ivankov held Ankaragucu scoreless, but the team got no offensive input from the likes of midfielder Ali Tandogan. BursaSpor is having a banner year as the team is currently in third place. Other players on the team, nicknamed the Crocidilees, include Turkish nationals Yavuz Ozkan, Volkan Sen and Ceyhun Demircan as well as Romanian star Giani Kirita.

But, traditional Istanbul power Besiktash woke up to score a big 4-1 victory over Ankara Genclerbirligi this weekend. League leader Fenerbahce (Istanbul) tied Diyarbakir 1-1.

Galatasaray's coach former Dutch soccer star Frank Rijkaard told "Hurriyet" newspaper that his team's performance against KayseriSpor should have been good enough to win, but the team's partisan fan base is getting restless as they remain in second place in the Turkish Premiere League standings.

Here is a complete list of the Turkish Premiere League scores for the weekend of Feb. 6-7, with some other international leagues scores thrown in for good measure:

Turkish League

Besiktash 4 Ankara Genclerbirligi 1
EskisehirSpor 1 Istanbul BB 0
GalataSaray 0 KayseriSpor 0
BursaSpor 0 Ankaragucu 0
Kasimpasha 2 AntalyaSpor 0
Sivas 2 Denizli 0
Trabzon 3 Manisa 0
Fenerbahce 1 Diyarbakir 1

English League (some scores)

Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0
Liverpool 1 Everton 0
Birmingham City 2 Wolverhampton 1
Burnley 2 West Ham United 1
Manchester United 5 Portsmouth 0

Other International Scores:


Juventus 1 Livorno 1
AC Milan O Bologna 0
Inter Milan 3 Cagliari 0


Barcelona 2 Getafe 1
Real Madrid 3 Espanyol 0


Lorient 3 Paris SG 0


Ajax Amsterdam 3 Twente Enschede 0


Bayern Munich 3 WFL Wolfsburg 1


Guadalajara 2 Gallos Blancos 0
Puebla 1 Atlante 1

Dead or Alive? _ Entry 10 of 12 (Jerry Lee Lewis)

Since the New Orleans Saints are now Super Bowl champions, we figured we'd focus an entry on a native son of Louisiana, and one person who I honestly wasn't sure_ if there were dead or alive.

Alas, the subject of our last entry Soupy Sales died last year.

While, we can't reveal the fate of singer Jerry Lee Lewis, best known for his smash hit "Great Balls of Fire!," we can give you the following information on him:

_He was born on Sept. 29, 1935, in Ferriday, La.

_Cousing of both the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, who doesn't seem to like gay people, and singer Mickey Gilley.

_Lewis was brought up in very religious home

_ Got married for the first time at age 17. It lasted seven months. He has been married a total of six times?!

_The late singer Janis Joplin took him to her tenth year high school reunion

_Played by actors Dennis Quaid ("Great Balls of Fire!" and Waylon Payne ("Walk the Line") on film.

Silly Photo to Fill Space_ Kissing Booth

Yes, it's that time of the year again. I think Valentine's Day is pretty much a no-win situation. If you are in a relationship, you have to get the proverbial roses and choclates. If you aren't, you feel lonely and sad. And, if you're John Edwards or Larry Craig, you have to realize that politics and rendez-vouses don't mix! Incidentally, Craig is still in the U.S. Senate and he is still 'not gay.'

Monday, February 8, 2010

Quote of the Week- Spike Lee

Today, in honor of Black History Month, we quote two African-Americans with seemingly entirely different views of the world, both culturally and politically.

We start with filmmaker Spike Lee, who I saw in person during a talk at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., several years ago.

Our post on our sister blog "Politics, Culture and Other Wastes of Time" will be from ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and it will be quite a shocker! It actually relates to the subject of one of Lee's films?!

Thomas gave the commencement speech a few years ago at High Point University in High Point, NC. I was not in attendance!

Lee's latest film "The Miracle at St. Anna" (2008) is available on dvd. His beloved New York Knicks host the Sacramento Kings tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. The Knicks, who are having yet another tough year, are ranked 26th out of 30 teams by but the good news for them is that the Kings are ranked 28th!

Lee is known for breakthrough films like "Do the Right Thing" (1989), but he has never been nominated for an Academy Award, according to our records. This is perhaps a good time to plug my Oscar rant, which is still in production (pardon the pun). It should be posted here soon. In the meantime, here is our Quote of the Week from Mr. Lee:

"A lot of times, we censor ourselves before the censor gets there."

Who Dat? Nobody!

We are borrowing the headling from today's online edition of "The Times-Picyune," the daily newspaper for New Orleans, a city celebrating in sheer jubilation since the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 yesterday in Super Bowl 44. The game was played in Miami. The Saints were a 10-point underdog.

In accordiance with an agreement he made with out-going New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (see profile on our sister blog "Politics, Culture and Other Wastes of Time") will be giving Nagin a variety of items from local establishments, including cookies from IndyAnna's Catering and pork tenderloins from Indy restaurant Mug N' Bug.

Ballard's spokesperson Lacy Everrett told Franceca jarosz of "The Indianapolis Star" that while disappointed with the game's outcome, Mayor Ballard was excited to be sharing gifts from his city with New Orleans.

Chris Kirkman of "The Times-Picayune" reported that the Saints' celebration parade will begin at 5 p.m. on Poydres Street in front of the Superdome, according to the New Orleans Police Department. It will end at Convention Center Blvd. Many of the Saints' players, including Super Bowl MVP quarterback Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush (pictured here) are expected to ride on floats.

The Super Bowl ads are also a point of water cooler discussions today. Lana Groves of "The Deseret News" (Salt Lake City, Utah newspaper) reported that local marketing group Letter23 determined that the ad featuring people acting like dolphins and jumping through hoops was the best Super Bowl ad.

"The perfect commercial is a mix of monkeys, attractive women and monster trucks," said Letter23 president Kelly Cassady.

The Super Bowl ad featuring former University of Florida quaterback Tim Tebow and his mother which endorsed pro-life political views was expectedly criticized by Nancy Keenan president of the pro-choice advocacy group NARAL, which is starting a 'Throw a Penalty Flag against CBS' fund-raising campaign of its own.

Though generally supporting liberal and Democratic cnadidates politically, NARAL has been criticized by Democratic party partisans for supporting moderate Republicans like New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee (both now independents)in the past.

The group Focus on the Family, a right-wing Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo., started by evangelical psychologist James Dobson sponsored the $3 million ad which told the story of how Tebow's mother Pam Tebow, who was advised by her doctors to have an abortion because of a medical complication, but she decided otherwise.

NARAL stated that the ad does not reflect the harsh reality that many women face when placed in challenging circumstances.

In an online column on the liberal blog "The Huffington Post," Keegan said that Focus on the Family uses sexist language on its web site by stating that women should seek out 'wise advice' because 'the hormones of pregnancy make reasonable decisions more difficult.'

CBS has previously declined ads from progressive groups, such as, which made this decision even more controversial than it may have been otherwise.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

UNC Tarheels Caught in Snowmageddon

It's been a long time since we used four images in one entry! But, the third major storm to hit the mid-Atlantic region, which has been called 'Snowmaggedon' by none other than President Barack Obama, has dumped 26.5 inches of snow in Baltimore, Md.,12.5 inches in Staunton, Va., ( a city in the Shenandoah Valley) and 10.5 inches in my hometown of Roanoke, Va., some four hours south of Washington, DC.

The storm reached as far south as Mount Airy, NC, the real-life Mayberry where Andy Griffith hails from, which reported at least three inches of snow there.

Coincidentally, this was the weekend when both the University of North Carolina's women's gymnastics team and the Tarheels' men's basketball team, coming off a heart-breaking loss to Virginia Tech by a 74-70 margin in Blacksburg, Va., (which also got plenty of snow) were both headed to College Park, Md., to compete in their respective sports with the University of Maryland Terps.

The gym meet, scheduled for Friday night, was postponed, but the UNC basketball team's plane successfully arrived at BWI Airport yesterday afternoon. So, the ACC has decided to go ahead with the UNC-UMD basketball game at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon.

One DC-area tweeter said that there were 1,100 car crashes in the metro area plus there were 155,000 residents without power. The Fruit of the Spirit Baptist Church in northeast DC had a roof collapse due to the snow. NPR reported that a snowball fight arranged through a Facebook group met in Dupont Circle where hundreds of people actually showed up to hurl snow at each other.

The BBC reported that empty-shelved grocery stores in suburban communities like Arlington, Va., and Bethesda, MD., made residents think what it must have been like during food shortages in the former USSR!

But, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouir) in a rare non-political tweet said she was able to buy onions at a DC area grocery store today, which effectively made her day.

Another prominent Democratic politician House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in attendance during Georgetown University's home game with Villanova, which the host Hoyas won 103-90.

A tweet from a Hoyas Twitter page complimented the Georgetown fans who made it to the game at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, DC:

"A terrific effort by the Georgetown students getting here. Some drove, some walked to the Rosslyn Metro station and some just walked."

But, the most startling story I came across on Twitter was that of the UNC Men's basketball team. The defending NCAA champions have had a very harsh year as it is. They are now 2-5 in the ACC and in serious jeopardy of not making the NCAA tournament in March. Assuredly, they probably wish Ty Lawson, now a rookie with the surging Denver Nuggets in the NBA, could rejoin the team in time for the ACC tournament in Greensboro, NC.

This weekend though, the 'Heels problems were off the court. According to the Twitter page, the team's entrance to their hotel in Beltsville, Md., was blocked in. Then, the team was holed up in their hotel room wondering just how much snow would fall.

They would then cancel their scheduled team practice at 11 a.m. today, even though the hotel is only five miles away from College Park. The 'Heels got the cooperation from University of Maryland officials so the game could met its scheduled 2 p.m. tip-off on Sunday afternoon.

The good news is that the team was finally able to dig their team bus out from the snow a short while ago, and they will hold a practice this afternoon, some five hours later than they had initially hoped.

Assuredly, their fans back in Chapel Hill, NC, will be hoping that the team can improve its play on the court in spite of all the distractions.

But, there is one game that will not be played in the DC area. The Washington Wizards have called off their home game with the Atlanta Hawks tonight. It's the NBA's first postponement since Decemeber of 2006.

SIDEBAR: Of course, since Washington, DC, is first and fore-most a political zip code, one has to wonder if the Sunday talk shows will be affected. I, for one, would love to see the likes of Cong. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), both of whom I follow on Twitter, defend the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays and lesbians serving in the military on tv as they have done in Congress. The measure initiated by President Bill Clinton in the first term of his office is considered to be a political failure today. To me, nothing is more ironic than watching members of one political party defend a policy failure developed by their rival political party. If that is not funnier than the "Cathy" strip in the Sunday comics page, I don't know what is!

UPDATE: In spite of everything they endured, the Tarheels lost to the Terps by a 92-71 margin in College Park, Md., on Sunday afternoon!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Team Colbert?!

Whew! I am not having much like with loading images these days, but nevertheless I had to mention this news item about comedian/talk show host/political satirist Stephen Colbert's involvement with the U.S. Speedskating team. The speedskaters would be competing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. My sister Lale and her husband Matt will be in Canada to watch curling, a sport that they have developed a foundness for. And, Heather Richardson of High Point, NC, will also be at the Olympics, but as a competitor representing the United States in the 500 meter, 1,000 meter and 1, 500 meter speedskating races.

Those of you who live in Park City, Utah, Steamboat Springs, Colo., Nashua, NH, Duluth, Minn. or Eau Claire, Wisc., might be surprised to learn that Richardson will not be the first North Carolinian competing in speedskating at the winter Olympics. Joey Cheek, who has been a vocal human rights activist with regards to the genocide in Darfur (Sudan), won a gold medal during the last winter games. Cheek is originally from Greensboro, NC, which is an adjoining community with High Point.

Colbert, who has recently been profiled in "Rolling Stone" and "Sports Illustrated" for his involvement with trying to raise $300,000 for the U.S. Speedskating team. He is stepping because the team fell short of its budgetary needs when their sponsor the Dutch banking giant DSB went under.

Richardson has faced her own financial struggles as she relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, to train for the winter games. She was initially working for a Bath and Body Wax store in SLC in 2008, but she had to quit her job to focus on speedskating training.

When asked by "Rolling Stone," why he chose to support the speedskating team Colbert responded by saying that (paraphrase) 'men who wear unitards are the most macho of men.'

In today's edition of "The News-Record" (Greensboro's main newspaper), reporter Gerald Witt interviewed local auto dealer Tim Ilderton who is trying to raise individual funds for Richardson. Her father Jeffrey works for Ilderton. High Point University is working to raise funds for the North Carolina speedskater as well.

Colbert said his favorite speedskater was Richardson's teammate Katherine Reutter because she 'allowed him to sign her titaniumhard thigh.'

The comic talk show host added that is was 'ok for liberals to wear American flags during the Olympics' because they were in a foreign country, and Canada (no less).

Regardless of one's politics or nationality for that matter, if you wish to contribute to Richardson's fund, you can long on to her Facebook page, visit or write a check to: Go Heather Fund (put Heather Richardson in the header) PO Box 350 High Point, NC 27261.