February 14, 2006


The Winter Olympics are slippery and very fast. Today the danger of that combination was front and centre in Turin and the surrounding area.

At the downhill in San Sicario, four women crashed during a training run, and three of them had to be carried off of the hill. Canada's Alison Forsythe tore her ACL and will return to Canada for surgery; American Lindsey Kildow drew gasps from the crowd for her fall, but appears to have only a bruised hip.

At the luge track in Cesana, six of thirty competitors crashed or fell off their sleds on the first or second run, and several others had close calls. American Samantha Retrosi had a sickening crash and appeared to be unconscious when she finally came to a stop. Fortunately, she appears to have escaped serious injury.

Updated Predictions

Canadian medal prediction, 2006 -- Updated 13 February

Figure 1 — Probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total.

Back here I made a probabilistic estimate of the number of medals Canada would win in Torino. I'm updating that estimate as events are decided. The blue curve shows my original (a priori) prediction, and the red curve shows the current prediction, accounting for events that have already happened.

Canada lost half a medal today in the men's 500 m speed skating. The expected number of medals stands at 19.7.

I didn't see this one, but an injured Japanese athlete was also taken away on a stretcher from the snowboard halfpipe; and there was some high-speed sliding at the long track speed skating oval, too.

In most sports, of course, falls — especially the kind that need medical attention — put you out of contention. Not so in figure skating. The top Chinese pair, Zhang and Zhang, badly bungled a throw in their long program this evening; Zhang Dan limped to the edge of the ice surface with her partner and spoke with the on-site paramedical team for a couple of minutes. The pair then returned to complete their program … and were rewarded with the silver medal!

Getting back to sports where the outcome of the competition is decided on an objective basis: it was interesting to watch for the effect of the crashes on subsequent competitors at the downhill and the luge track. I'm only speculating here, but it seemed to me that the sliders at the luge track got more and more rattled with each crash, whereas the downhillers mostly kept their fear under control. Of course, the skiers were only doing training runs, so they weren't facing the same kind of pressure. It's also possible that the skiers who became worried about falling just slowed down; I am not a luge expert, but there does not appear to be much you can do to reduce your speed to any great degree. And finally, it might be that frightening crashes are simply more common in alpine skiing; the skiers who make it to the Olympics have certainly learned that damaged and (hopefully) repaired bodies are part of their sport.

Over at sportsFilter, some are speculating that NBC has been timid about showing the most spectacular crashes. I didn't notice CBC shying away from the slow-motion replays; they showed Kildow's crash several times, including a close-up of Renata Goetschl's reaction from the bottom of the hill. And NBC has posted a slideshow of Retrosi's accident on their web site.

I've got two things to finish up. First, Sean at sportsBabel has a new post called The New Temporality of Olympic Triumph, which addresses the tension between the increasing speed of Olympic sport, and the increasing slowness of the anti-doping process:

The Games have been officially opened! For the armchair athlete, the next few weeks will provide a feast for the eyes, as winners are determined and medals handed out at a number of Olympic and Paralympic sporting events in Torino, Italy. We must note, however, that these will only be the interim winners of the XX Olympic Winter Games. We won't know the true victors for another eight years.

I wish I had thought of that.

Finally, yesterday I addressed the freshly manufactured controversy about the Canadian women's hockey team's "unsportsmanlike" behaviour. Today, CBC.ca ran this anonymous column on the subject, opening with the question on nobody's mind:

What would Don Cherry do if he was coach of the women's hockey team in Turin and his players mounted a 7-0 lead in the first period? Would he tell them to coast or would he encourage them to score more goals?

So here's an unnamed CBC writer wondering aloud what a high-profile CBC employee would have to say about the Canadian national team. There is not a single current quote from Cherry himself, although the article does remind the reader that Cherry has a regular feature on Hockey Night in Canada.

I've forgotten: which network is HNIC on, again?

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