Not your usual Morning Links, but hey, it's Sunday and think of it as a break from the usual roundup of Korean TV commercials featuring Brian Orser.
About last night - at Richmond Olympic Oval, where some remarkable back and forth came out of the Canada camp following Denny Morrison's disappointing ninth-place finish in the 1500m (pictured), following on his demoralizing 13th-place finish in the 1000m, which made for a - can we think of a third synonym here? - let's just say a downer of a night for the Maple Leaf. Randy Starkman's report is excellent, and makes for the kind of reading that should make Own the Podium officials choke on their Bran Flakes. Again. The contrasting post-race talk out of the winner's camp and their Canadian counterparts points to if not some solid explanations, then at least a case study in how and how not to stick with the programme approaching the Olympic Games.
First, from Morrison, who made the remarkable admission that he gave up in a training session the day before, or as he said, "put on quite a show". Not good, that:
“I don’t know, in the last lap, you saw I just lost all my speed. I basically exploded is the term. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying hard, it wasn’t that I gave up. I wasn’t putting it technically in the ice the way I should have been.
“That’s something that for whatever reason I’ve lost the last 12 or 15 months. It’s kind frustrating to be getting closer and closer to the Olympics and knowing I’m skating poorer and poorer, especially when I get tired.”
Morrison went on to say he was affected by Own the Podium rules splitting up his training relationship with American star Shani Davis, but that began three years ago and these are issues that should have been put to bed long before this point.
Here's coach Marcel Lacroix, absolving himself:
"The program was giving him what he needed for the last three years,” said Lacroix. “He got a world record with his technique in the program. He was the silver medalist in the world championship last year in the 1,000. Bronze medallist in the 1,500 metres. So, what? Before it was working? Now it’s not working? Now it’s the program?”
Lacroix went on to describe Morrison as being lost, in Randy's words - I wasn't there, having gone on Shani Davis duty - a vague term that suggests more questions than it answers.
So what's this all about?
It's easy, and almost always wrong, to point the finger solely at an athlete when performance doesn't peak. Even a recreational athletes understand the value of a good, consistent and well-thought-out programme for the best chance of hitting the optimal result on the day. In the case of an elite athlete and support staff, where hundredths of a second figure in the outcome, even minor details can be significant. Lacroix doesn't think missed workouts or a poor taper, say, are the culprit. I'm no expert in this sport, but I can't see how training couldn't have played a part.
But here's something to consider: On the clock, anyway, Morrison's 1500 time Saturday night (1:46.93) was actually better than the 1:47.05 he finished third with last year in Richmond's test event, the world single-distance championships (his 1000m last week, which he took responsibility for, was 1.3 seconds slower than that time).
Last night's winner, 29-year-old Dutchman Mark Tuitert, was a surprise to finish on the podium, let alone defeat the heavy favourite Shani Davis (in winning, Tuitert was almost two seconds faster than in 2009 at Richmond, a huge leap). Tuitert has ability - he was the Euro champion in 2004, a long time ago, but bad luck (his pro team's sponsor, the Dutch bank DSB went bankrupt in October - yes, that's the same one that backed the U.S. team; an ad agency jumped in to back Tuitert's team, while Stephen Colbert rescued the Americans) sickness (a debilitating mono eight years ago) and close losses have bounced him around some. The Dutch I talked to after in the MPC and out in the streets were stunned by his showing.
Here's Tuitert, on the programme that got him here (my italics added):
The last eight years I didn't win much in the 1500. I was really good - two times second in the world championships - but what can I say? I always had the confidence that I would be able to win the 1500 in a big competition, whether it's the world championships or the Olympic championships. Every training I did last year was with that in mind, with that confidence. This year didn't come out that way, but I kept training. We devised a plan together with our staff and Jac Orie, the coach, a plan from many years back and we have had a lot of lost races the last two years ... but the last couple of weeks it came together and I felt good. This was the first time I really felt like I was holding back in training. I haven't felt like this in years. This is what I've trained for. The programme we designed worked. It's so rewarding to see it come together on this day."
Quality training = result. No high-priced sports psychologists or CO2 tracking or state-of-the-art training ground can paper over that essential. Tuitert will be back as part of the Dutch pursuit team, reprising a role that landed him and his mates a bronze medal in Turin four years ago. The Canadians will be in that pursuit race, too. They talked bravely last night of turning it around like they have at World Cups - only, this ain't the World Cup.
Whew. On to the links (Finally!):
Kevin Martin is a perfect 6-0 in men's curling, and was inspired Saturday in a tense encounter against Britain by a crowd that spontaneously burst into O Canada when the game came down to the last rocks.
French-language RDS commentators have been slapped for making stale Johnny Weir references. JABS (RIP) blogging buddy Neate Sager wants a moratorium on Weir sniggering - hear, hear. Perhaps they were just listening to these guys.