The GSB Interview: Chris Mazdzer, US Olympic Medal-winning Luger & Eco-Athlete

Chris Mazdzer is a true pioneer.

He became the first American male to win an Olympic medal in Single’s luge when he took home silver at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games. And he is leading a burgeoning movement among world class lugers to engage fans on the climate change fight.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Mazdzer about his work on the luge track and as an environmental activist.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Chris, before we get into your very important work with your fellow lugers on the environment and on climate, I’d like to know how you got into the sport in the first place.

Chris Mazdzer: Thanks, Lew. So I grew up in Peru, New York near Lake Placid…

GSB: …Site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice” — “Do you believe in miracles?? YES!!!!” — and one of the few places in the U.S. with a bobsled/luge run.

Chris: That would be the place. I was exposed to luge at eight years old and it was natural for me. I loved sledding — would go sledding through apple orchards for hours. Luge was like ultimate sledding for me. Anyway, I showed some talent for it at a young age. I was on a development team when I was 12; at 13, I showed enough promise that I was picked for a junior team that went to Europe for a competition.

GSB: Sliding down a sheet of ice on your back, with no protection. Yikes! I guess when you’re young, you’re more likely to be fearless, right? How come you picked luge over bobsled?

Chris: First of all there were many more kids bobsledding so there was a long line and not as many runs. Plus you’re only driving 50 percent of the time — that’s really where the action is. And luge was just SO MUCH FUN! It’s as simple as this: two runs with bobsled or ten with luge. Anyways, when I was 17, I was having a breakout season and tried out for the Olympic team for the 2006 Torino Games. I missed the last spot by 0.161 seconds total over three runs; lost out to my roommate.

GSB: You must’ve been devastated…

Chris: …Disappointed but not at all devastated. It gave me motivation and the confidence to really believe, “Hey, I can do this!” So I made the team in 2010, finishing 13th in Vancouver. Same thing happened in 2014 in Sochi. Finally, I broke through last year in Pyeongchang, winning silver

GSB …In the process, becoming the first American male luger to win a medal of any kind in singles. Congratulations! Do you compete in doubles?

 

Chris Mazdzer

Chris Mazdzer (Photo credit: USA Luge)

 

Chris: Thank you, Lew. I did doubles in juniors but ended up specializing in singles, until now that is. My goal is to give the Olympics one more shot in Beijing in 2022, both in singles and for the first time in doubles.

GSB: How about medaling in both? Not to put any pressure on you or anything like that! OK, now pivoting to the environment. How did you get involved?

Chris: I’m 30 years-old. Growing up in the Adirondacks and being involved in winter sports, I’ve seen changes to our winters just in the time that I’ve been active. From bigger thaws to more rain during winter when it would normally snow. But it’s not just in winter. I travel a lot — I was in Indonesia and saw massive amounts of plastic on the beaches, in the oceans. I live in Salt Lake City these days, and the air quality is really, really bad. I don’t need the science to tell me — it’s clear, the climate is changing, the environment is worsening and it is humans that are helping to cause these adverse effects. And studying the science only confirms this. Without a doubt.

GSB: So what did you do, what are you doing to have an impact?

Chris: Well, I started out looking to offset the carbon emissions for which I’m responsible from all my flights. But, because I fly over 150,000 miles per year, that becomes quite costly. So I try to offset at least half for now. But then I became an athlete member on the International Luge Federation (FIL), sitting on a lot of committees. And I realized this is where I could have an impact! We’re starting small, working to have reusable cups at major competitions. But then I saw a video featuring several skiers at the World Championships in Finland, talking about why they love winter and why it’s important to take action on climate to protect it. I thought to myself, ‘We could do something similar.’ People don’t believe politicians; they don’t believe scientists. Who do they trust? Their peers and athletes! Scary but true: They trust athletes more than scientists. Thing is, athletes generally don’t engage on climate. And so I aimed to change that, at least with lugers.

GSB: You’ve put yourself on the hot seat, Chris: Qualify for the Olympics and getting athletes — in this case — lugers to care about and talk about climate. How are you doing the latter?

Chris: Well, I started in January by putting together a seminar for lugers competing at the 2019 World Championships in Winterberg, Germany. I was able to secure funding from one of my personal sponsors and brought in an expert and amazing speaker, Michael Pedersen of M Inc., a leader in sport governance. Tragically and unbelievably, Michael passed away suddenly a few weeks after our event due to a heart attack. He was 43.

GSB: I heard about that. What a tragic, unfathomable loss.

Chris: It’s still hard to believe. And his presentation to our group was incredible. He shared that athletes are in a unique position, with a powerful megaphone. He showed videos of people who’ve stood up and spoken up on a variety of issues, including climate, including Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish girl who recently was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for starting what has virally become a global student “climate strike” movement.. He did not focus on the science — the athletes are already on board there — but rather the need to use our platform to talk about the environment, whether it be climate, plastic ocean waste, pollution, etc.

 

Michael Pedersen

The late Michael Pedersen (Photo credit: M Inc.)

 

GSB: How did the lugers react and how many showed up?

Chris: Michael did such a great job — they really bought in. We had 15 lugers there. It was not as many as we would’ve liked but it was World Championship Week, the guys had to train, had media requirements so it was tough to get a bigger group. And it was a first time, so we learned a lot and am confident we’ll do better going forward.

GSB: How did you do on the track in Winterberg?

Chris: I only competed in doubles and doubles sprint this year due to a neck injury I sustained earlier in the week.  My partner Jayson Terdiman and I finished fifth in the Doubles sprint and eleventh in Doubles. Being it was our first year together I felt that we did we really well.

GSB: Good to hear. What else are you working on, sustainability-wise?

Chris: I’m working on the single use plastic issue among athletes and also with the IOC to see how they can help athletes reduce their carbon footprints. It’s a bigger issue than you might think — we get killed by some critics. Because of going from event to event all over the world, my carbon footprint is 10 to 15 times that of the average American. I think that finding creative ways to partner with the IOC, FIL and sponsors to help fund the offsetting of athlete travel-related emissions will allow athletes to stand on firmer ground when discussing this important topic.

 

Luge - Winter Olympics Day 1

Chris Mazdzer navigates Turn 14 at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: USA Luge)

 


 

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International Ski Federation President Denies Climate Change; Protect Our Winters Urges Him to Resign

Gian Franco-Kasper, the President of the International Ski Federation (FIS¹), showed himself in an interview last week to be a virulent denier of climate change. His comments were made at the beginning of the 2019 FIS Alpine World Championships in Åre, Sweden. Ironically, the organizers had recently earned ISO 20121 certification as a sustainable event.

Almost immediately after the Franco-Kasper story broke, Protect Our Winters (POW) launched a campaign that is pushing for his resignation.

 

The skiing story of the week was the bronze medal earned by Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. in the final race of her storied career, the downhill at the 2019 FIS Alpine World Championships in Åre, Sweden.

Unfortunately, Vonn’s farewell had to share the stage with the news that the President of FIS¹, the governing body of international skiing, has views on climate change that mirror those of noted denier-skeptic, President Donald Trump.

Gian Franco-Kasper’s climate change-denier bona fides came to light in an interview with René Hauri in the February 4th issue of the German language, Zurich-based newspaper, Tages Anzeiger. The next day, Dvora Meyers posted a column in Deadspin that, along with her biting analysis, translated the 75 year-old FIS leader’s comments into English.

 

Gian Franco-Kasper

Gian Franco-Kasper, President of FIS (Photo credit: Mark Runnacles, Getty Images)

 

Here, from Meyers’ piece, is Franco-Kasper expressing climate change denial, using the old it’s-cold-out-somewhere-so-climate-change-can’t-be-happening” trope:

“There is no proof for it. We have snow, in part even a lot of it. I was in Pyeongchang for the Olympiad. We had minus 35 degrees C. Everybody who came to me shivering I welcomed with: welcome to global warming.”

And here he links his disdain for environmentalists to a fondness for dictators:

“It’s just the way that it is easier for us in dictatorships. From a business view I say: I just want to go to dictatorships, I don’t want to fight with environmentalists anymore.”

And then, for good measure, Franco-Kasper added this note on immigrants to Europe:

“The second generation of immigrants has nothing to do with skiing. There are no ski camps anymore.”

All of these quotes could easily have come from the current occupant of the Oval Office. Yet, even Trump hasn’t made the climate denial-dictator connection, at least as far as I’m aware. Per a CNN report, Franco-Kasper tried to walk back the Love-A-Dictator comment — I’ll leave it to the reader to judge his sincerity — but not his climate change denial nor the immigrant-bashing.

Two days after the Deadspin story broke, Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit made up of elite winter sports athletes who advocate on behalf of systemic political solutions to climate change, issued this call for Franco-Kasper’s resignation:

“The snowsports community should be demanding climate action, and not tolerate those who dismiss science to remain in positions of leadership. That’s why are asking the newly formed Outdoor Business Climate Partnership² and the outdoor and snowsports community at large, all of whom rely on a stable climate to power our $887 billion industry, to join us in calling for Mr. Franco-Kasper’s resignation.” 

According to POW, the Franco-Kasper interview brought out into the open what had been whispered about in ski industry circles for years: That FIS leadership is still unwilling to acknowledge — let alone act upon — the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the reality of human-caused climate change that threatens the entire snowsports industry.

Franco-Kasper’s climate change denial stands in stark contrast to the strong sustainability leadership displayed by the organizers of the 2019 FIS Alpine World Championships in Åre, Sweden, taking place now through the 19th. It recently earned certification as being compliant with the ISO 20121 standard for sustainable events.

 

Are 2019

Riikka Rakic (r) sustainability manager for Åre 2019, helped lead the effort that resulted in the championships earning ISO 20121 certification as a sustainable event (Photo credit: Iana Peck, Åre 2019)

 

GSB’s Take: This one is easy. Franco-Kasper’s climate denial, along with his preference for dealing with dictators rather than democracies, make him 1) scarily Trump-like, and 2) clearly unfit to be the leader of the governing body of a sport that is suffering consequences of climate change in the here and now. 

What is not easy to comprehend is how this man, whose views on these issues apparently have been well-known inside international skiing circles, has been able to remain in office since 1998.

POW has started a letter-writing campaign to FIS, urging Franco-Kasper to resign. If you agree he should go and would like to participate, click here.

If the letter-writing effort proves successful and the Franco-Kasper Era (Error?) finally ends, here, in no particular order, is an admittedly U.S.-centric list of three potential successors FIS should consider:

  • POW’s Executive Director and avid snowboarder Mario Molina, 
  • Longtime skier John Kerry, who, as Secretary of State under President Obama, was a driving force behind the ultimate adoption of the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Val Ackerman, first commissioner of the WNBA and currently commissioner of the Big East Conference. She would bring trail blazing executive experience, has a global perspective³, and, based on a brief conversation I had with her in 2018, gets it on climate change.

 

¹ FIS =The French version, Federation International de Ski
² The Outdoor Business Climate Partnership is comprised of the National Ski Areas Association, Outdoor Industry Association and Snowsports Industry America
³ Ackerman, during her days at the WNBA in the late 90s, worked closely with then-NBA commissioner David Stern, arguably the person most responsible for the explosion in the global popularity of the league.

 


 

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Eco-Athlete’s Journey: Stacey Cook, Olympic Skier, Climate Activist

One of GreenSportsBlog’s major initiatives this year is to feature “eco-athletes” whenever we can. They are a small but growing breed and they need the oxygen to share their views and passions when it comes to the climate change fight and other environmental issues.

Winter sports athletes make up a big percentage of the eco-athlete”population. That is no surprise since their playing fields — snowy mountains or valleys — are at high risk due to the effects of climate change. It is great to see alpine and nordic skiers, snowboarders, and more, go outside of their comfort zones by lobbying for climate action in Washington and in state capitols. One such athlete is the recently retired U.S. Olympic downhiller, Stacey Cook.

GreenSportsBlog chatted with Stacey about her journey from tagging along on ski outings with her big brother to developing her own talents on the slopes to discovering her voice beyond skiing through climate change.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Stacey, I am so heartened to see so many elite winter sports athletes getting involved with the climate change issue. And that’s why I am happy to talk with you, an Olympic alpine skier who went way beyond her comfort zone to get involved with climate activism. My guess is you’ve been skiing your whole life. Is that right?

Stacey Cook: Right you are, Lew. I grew up in the Lake Tahoe area of California in a tiny town called Truckee. Snow was a constant so I got into winter sports, skiing in particular, from the time I was four years old. Dad taught my older brother and me — that was the only thing to do in winter — and I had a raw passion for it almost from the get go. And I grew up with great skiers — Julia Mancuso, an Olympic gold medalist in giant slalom, is a lifelong friend.

GSB: Did you go for the alpine events from the beginning — downhill, giant slalom, and slalom — or did you try cross country?

Stacey: Alpine all the way! I loved it. It was total freedom. I was on a team with my older brother and his friends — I was on the slopes from 9-to-5, basically.

 

Cook_Stacey

Stacey Cook (Photo credit: US Ski Team)

 

GSB: Did you know you were good? Were you kicking your brother’s backside?

Stacey: No clue. I did some recreational racing when I was a kid, nothing serious. But I really owe a lot of my success to my older brother Gary — a very strong skier who ended up focusing on football, playing at UNLV plus one season with the Oakland Raiders — I spent so much time chasing him around that I had to get good just to keep up. Someone told my dad he should enter me into a race when I was ten. He did and, you know what? I won!

GSB: WOW!! Did that get you into the competitive youth skiing circuit?

Stacey: Not really. Tell you the truth, I was oblivious to all that. Really, I was passionate but I wasn’t on a travel ski team at all. But what happened was that, in my teens, people I used to beat started to beat me. They were on a team and took it more seriously than I did. And you know what? It pissed me off! So I committed, when I was 16, to make myself a real skier.

GSB: How did you do that?

Stacey: Well, I had a great coach who gave me confidence. So I made a presentation to my parents. I wanted to move to Mammoth Mountain three hours away. I went into the costs, the benefits…

GSB: …How old were you?

Stacey: I was going into my senior year in high school. I had enough credits to graduate after the fall. So after my fall soccer season, I moved to Mammoth on my own and lived with a host family along with other athletes from Washington. Mammoth Resort was founded by Dave McCoy (now 103 years old), who helped back me. It made things much cheaper for my family. So I could follow my passion and become a strong racer. I stayed there and two years later, I made the national team. And from there I went from being unranked to the 2006 Olympics in Torino.

GSB: What event?

Stacey: I was all about the speed events — downhill and Super G.

 

Cook_Stacey 2015

Stacey Cook in action at the 2015 Alpine World Championships in Vail, Colorado (Photo credit: Nathan Bilow, Getty Images)

 

GSB: Wow! A daredevil. High risk, high reward?

Stacey: You know what? I was abnormally healthy over my career — no surgeries — but unfortunately, my crashes came at the Olympics. I crashed in Vancouver in 2010, crashed in practice in Sochi in 2014 and then, in Pyeongchang this year, I got something called “compartment syndrome” in my legs two days before the Games.

GSB: Never heard of it. Sounds serious.

Stacey: It can be very serious. It cuts blood flow to the nerves and muscles. I did 12 hours of rehab a day to try to compete but I couldn’t even do a training run. I was in tears but I was able to make it to the Opening Ceremonies. Which was huge because that was my last Olympics.

GSB: So what to do next? And where does the environment and climate change come in to the mix?

Stacey: Well, I’ve been outside in nature basically my whole life. And my dad was a water fowl hunter, the California Waterfowl Association has a great wetlands and species preservation program. That was my introduction of sorts into environmentalism. But it was traveling all over the world over the many years of my career that really drew my attention to climate change. I saw firsthand how ski communities were being impacted by snow shortages and how that problem was increasing over time.

GSB: That is something I’ve heard from talking to a number of your friends-competitors. So what spurred you to action?

Stacey: I really have to thank Clif Bar, which sponsored me. They were the impetus. Clif makes it easy for athletes to join the climate conversation. I mean, we live in our own bubbles and to take on a complicated issue like climate change is not easy at all. That’s why their resources allowed me to expand my horizons. Plus they have many other athletes in similar situations.

GSB: When did your relationship with Clif, the company with a quintuple bottom line ethos, start?

Stacey: I met folks from the company back in 2008 and loved what they were all about. But Nature Valley was still the US Ski Team sponsor in that category at the time. But when Nature Valley dropped out and Clif replaced them, the door opened and I walked through.

GSB: They are an incredible company.

Stacey: They really are. I spent a lot of time at their headquarters, talking with sports marketing and other folks. They actually listen to your concerns.

GSB: What a concept!

Stacey: Right?? Clif really educated me on climate change. So I was ready this spring when I went to Washington with Protect Our Winters (POW) for the first time to lobby Members of Congress on climate change from a snow sports perspective.

GSB: How did that go?

Stacey: I hate to say it but I was scared. I’m from a tiny town and I’d never done anything like this. I mean, talking to congressmen and women? Senators? Are you kidding?

GSB: I can understand that to a point. I mean you’ve been in the Olympic downhill. THAT’S scary…

Stacey: To you, maybe. But I’ve been skiing my whole life. No, talking to congress members about climate change was much scarier.

GSB: So how did you do?

Stacey: I was a little shaky at first but became energetic by the end. What turned it around was simply telling stories — stories about the changes we’ve seen to the environment. This turned out to be easy. I mean I’ve seen glaciers recede past chair lifts in some areas. And that change happened within the time span of my career. In the end, winter sports athletes are canaries in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. We see its effects first.

 

Cook_Stacey CCL

Stacey Cook (center), alongside four other U.S. Winter Olympians for their lobbying day on Capitol Hill this spring. From left, it’s Maddie Phaneuf (biathlon), David Wise (halfpipe), Stacey Cook, Arielle Gold (snowboard) and Jessie Diggins (cross-country skiing). Protect Our Winters and CLIF helped organize and fund their trip (Photo credit: Citizens’ Climate Lobby)

 

GSB: With whom did you meet?

Stacey: Senators and House members from states with big winter sports industries. We met Dean Heller, Republican senator from Nevada…

GSB:  …He will soon be an ex-senator as he lost his race to Democrat Jacky Rosen…

Stacey: True. We also met with House members from Colorado, Minnesota and New York. We impressed upon them the economic costs of climate change on their economies. We weren’t making any hard asks but I believe we get them and their staffs more engaged on climate than.

GSB: That’s a great start and then I heard you followed it up by lobbying for the bill in the California state legislature in Sacramento that the state be powered 100 percent by renewable energy by 2045.

Stacey: It really was incredible. Ceres, the nonprofit that is helping to transform the economy to build a sustainable future, led the lobbying effort. Clif, Target and Kleiner Perkins

GSB: …The venture capital firm?

Stacey: Yes…They were all involved. I got to learn what big companies are doing around climate change, which was fascinating and impressive. Thing is, Ceres had never used an athlete to help lobby.

GSB: So you were the first? That is SO GREAT!

Stacey: I know! We created a bit of a stir. Having an athlete as part of the team perhaps allowed us to catch the ear of more Assembly members than would have otherwise been the case. And the bill passed the Assembly in late August.

GSB: The California State Senate had already passed its version of the bill back in May 2017 so the Assembly’s passage meant that outgoing Governor Jerry Brown had something to sign. And he did! Congratulations for your role in all this.

 

California SB100

 

Stacey: Thank you, Lew! I can’t wait to see the great things this new law does for the climate, environment and business in my home state.

GSB: What’s up next for you? Running for office?

Stacey: No way! My plans are in flux a bit. For now, I’m continuing to work with Clif, in particular working with other Clif athletes on the environment, helping them get their voices out there. And I will do more with POW. I do know that, whatever my work turns out to be, the environment will be part of it.

 


 

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The GSB Interview with Ann Duffy, Sustainability Leader for Olympic, FIFA World Cup Bids — Part II: Advancing Mega-Event Sustainability Post-Vancouver 2010; Where We Go From Here

Ann Duffy has been working at the intersection of mega-sports events and sustainability for more than a decade. She was hired as Chief Sustainability Officer for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Since then, Ann has been involved in some way, shape or form with the sustainability efforts for several of the Olympic/Paralympic bids, as well as with the successful United Bid of Canada, Mexico and the United States to host the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup. No one is better positioned to talk about sustainability and mega sports events than Ann Duffy so GreenSportsBlog is honored to offer this two part interview.

In yesterday’s Part I, Ann shared how mega-sports events are in her blood, how she came to lead the sustainability efforts at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games and what she and team were able to accomplish there.

Today, in Part II, we examine Ann’s post-Vancouver 2010 work with a variety of Olympic and FIFA World Cup bid and organizing committees. We also discuss what future bid and organizing committees can do to engage fans on climate change and other environmental issues.

 

GSB: Kudos to you and the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee (VANOC) team for advancing mega-event sustainability. What did you do for a follow up act once the Olympic Flame was doused?

Ann: Thanks! Like I said before, this was the best job I ever had. It was also incredibly intense. Once the Games were over I decided I didn’t want to work in such a cauldron. So in 2010, as my work with VANOC wound down, I started quietly to build The Ann Duffy Group as a sustainability-focused consultancy to mega-event bid and host committees, with an emphasis on the broader, ESG definition of sustainability. The organizing committee for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics reached out in June, 2010 and asked “Can you help us more fully reflect environmental, social and governance goals of the IOC?

GSB: I’m sure you could and did help them. My question is did the Russian authorities allow the sustainability plans to actually be implemented. Aside from the insanity, in my view, of awarding a Winter Olympics to a Mediterreanean-like city on the Black Sea, it sure looked like the Russian government engaged in a serious greenwash. Was that the case?

Ann: Well, I worked with the Sochi committee for one year until the fall of 2011. My experience with my Russian colleagues was incredible; they were totally committed. We put together a sustainability management system including an environmental protection program, a process for sustainable procurement, and a new sustainability reporting structure.

 

Duffy Sochi

Ann Duffy (2nd from right) and her colleagues at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Organizing Committee (Photo credit: Ann Duffy)

 

GSB: They didn’t have one in place?

Ann: No. Sadly, the program didn’t get fully implemented and the sustainability team was terminated 18 months before the Games. It’s just different in Russia, obviously. I mean, there was no warning in the run up as to how they would turn on the LGBTQ communities the way they did.

GSB: That was awful…and not surprising.

Ann: Thankfully, Canada showed how it’s done by having a Pride House at Canada House in Sochi. And the Deputy Mayor of Vancouver at the time went to Thomas Bach, head of the IOC, and pressed him to ensure that the IOC would expand the Olympic Charter to address LGBTQ issues and they did. On sustainability, I worked on the IOC’s Sustainability and Legacy Commission as part of the development of its Agenda 2020 (a strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic movement).

GSB: Good job, Ann; good job, Canada! And despite the problems with Sochi that were way beyond your control, congratulations on getting The Ann Duffy Group up and running quickly.

Ann: I was very blessed and very busy. From 2013 to 2015, I worked with the local organizing committees of three, count ’em three mega-events, all of which were happening in Canada in 2015.

GSB: I know about the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup; what were the other two?

Ann: The Canada Winter Games were held in Prince George, BC in February of that year. Then the FIFA Women’s World Cup were held across Canada^ in June-July. And then Toronto hosted the Pan Am Games in late July.

 

Women's World Cup

England (white) battles Mexico during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup (Photo credit: Zou Zheng/Xinhua)

 

GSB: That’s a mega-event trifecta right there! Did you get any sleep?

Ann: Not much. Especially when you factor in that, in 2013, I also was working on the sustainability aspects of Istanbul’s bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, which ultimately went to Tokyo.

GSB: Talk about what you did for the 2015 Canada mega-event trifecta…

Ann: We built on the sustainability efforts of Vancouver 2010 with all three mega-events. The Canada Winter Games are by far the smallest, featuring younger, pre-Olympic athletes. We raised the green bar for all Canada Games going forward by improving sustainability practices, beefing up sustainability-related community engagement and issuing a sustainability report. The FIFA Women’s World Cup was a much bigger yet different animal…

GSB: How so?

Ann: Well, first of all, FIFA put greater emphasis on the Men’s World Cup. But that just meant we had to push extra hard and we did. We worked to leave a sport legacy with integrated environmental management processes and sport development opportunities for women and girls in each of the six host cities and national soccer association. The Pan Am Games were more focused on economic and social sustainability than the environment…

GSB: Why do you think that was the case?

Ann: It comes down to the opportunities and preferences of leadership, plain and simple.

GSB: I guess. But if mega-sports events are really going to lead on sustainability, what can be done to ensure environment and climate are never relegated to the sidelines again?

Ann: I think the prevalence of visible best practices in Europe and other host cities and stadia that demonstrate responsibility for climate impacts, waste impacts, water and biodiversity will help. Environmental stewardship and respect for human rights are now bid requirements for FIFA and Olympic bids. North American professional sports leagues like the NHL, NFL, MLS and MLB are demonstrating leadership. Stadium owners that have built or renovated stadia to green building standards like LEED are also leading on green operations and supporting community initiatives.

GSB: Speaking of leadership, what kind of sustainability projects do you like to lead more: Bids or organizing committees?

Ann: Good question. I guess I love both, but for different reasons. Creativity and “visioning” are crucial for bid work. Organizing committee work is also satisfying — it involves not only organizing and implementing but also coaching, and that means everyone from volunteers up to the C-suite.

GSB: Talking about bid work, you consulted with one of the most sustainable mega-event bids to date, LA 2028.

Ann: Actually, when I started working with them on sustainability it was the LA 2024 bid. But the IOC awarded Paris, another incredibly sustainable bid, those Games and slid LA to 2028. It was great to work with Brence Culp and the LA sustainability team.

GSB: Brence is terrific. GreenSportsBlog interviewed her awhile back.

 

Duffy Brence Culp Rio

Ann Duffy (l) and Brence Culp, head of sustainability for LA 2028 (Photo credit: Ann Duffy)

 

Ann: LA 2028 is an example of what you can do sustainability-wise, when all the stakeholders get it: The city, county, state and local utilities were “all in”. So were the sponsors.

GSB: It doesn’t hurt when most of the venues for LA 2028 already exist…You recently worked on another bid in which no new venues are needed, the United Bid between Canada, Mexico and the US that won the right to host the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup over Morocco.

Ann: The environment, including climate change, along with community and fan engagement took central roles in both the United Bid and the LA 2028 bid. In addition to no new permanent venues, both have robust and sophisticated climate action plans that include new partnerships and collaboration with city and state utilities, public transit providers, stadia/venue owners. Host cities will showcase urban policies such as bold commitments to clean energy.

GSB: What was your role on the United Bid?

Ann: I was a sustainability-legacy advisor. It was a real sprint as the timeline was short but we were fortunate that FIFA had established a strong sustainability mandate.

GSB: They needed to do that, especially in light of the mega-laundry list of mega-problems with Qatar 2022: Human rights violations, indentured servitude, deaths of perhaps as many as 1,200 construction workers building eight stadiums in a country of only 2.5 million people, stadiums that will have air conditioning even though they’re outdoor venues because of the country’s extreme heat…What did the sustainability mandate, well, mandate for the 2026 bid?

Ann: It went deep, Lew. And the United Bid stepped up. GRI sustainability reporting, a climate action plan, ISO 2012-1 certification for sustainable events. Human rights, labor rights, ethical business conduct standards. Green Sports Alliance Board member Mary Harvey took the lead on human rights. I took the lead on the rest, working with the financial services firm Grant Thornton on ethical business and Arup, the global design and engineering firm, on some of the environmental aspects.

GSB: I’m so glad you and Mary were on the case and that the United Bid won the day. Now I’d like to widen the lens a bit. You’ve been involved in the greening of the Olympics and World Cups from the early days of Vancouver 2010 through LA 2028. My main concern, as it is with the whole of the Green-Sports movement, is that most fans — attendees and the much bigger number who watch on TV or online — have no idea this is going on. None.

Ann: Lew, I’m with you 100 percent! We need to do a much better job of using the platform of the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup to share the great greening stories with fans.

GSB: So how do we ensure this happens? If Rio 2016 could have a climate change-themed vignette at the Opening Ceremonies seen by an estimated 1 billion people, why didn’t Pyeongchang 2018 do something similar? Will Tokyo 2020 or Beijing 2022 communicate something on climate to fans?

Ann: Funny you mention Rio 2016. I helped on the Rio 2016 with communications during the actual Games.

GSB: I would be surprised if you weren’t involved with Rio!

Ann: I was fortunate to be at the rehearsal for the Opening Ceremonies. When the powerful climate change vignette came on, I started bawling. Mainstreaming climate change messaging was so…powerful. Incredible, really.

 

Duffy Rio Open

Ann Duffy and her colleagues on the 2016 Rio Olympics Organizing Committee at the rehearsal for the Opening Ceremonies (Photo credit: Ann Duffy)

 

GSB: So how do we make sure that climate change vignette is not a one off?

Ann: Well, the Olympics…and all sport event hosts, frankly, are desperately trying gain relevance and traction with younger audiences…

GSB: …Millennials, GenZ and the rest…

Ann: And those young people want to have an exciting sport event experience. Young people expect responsible action that includes all of it — climate solutions, environmental solutions, diversity and ethical solutions. Sometimes these features will take the lead in the event experience and most of the time they will support the event experience. Mega-event hosts need to recognize this. Well executed, eco-themed fan engagement programs will go over well. Sponsor brands are already stepping up, as well. I am confident this will happen at Paris 2024, the United 2026 FIFA World Cup and LA 2028.

SB: What about Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022, and Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022?

Ann: I’d love to say “yes” to the engagement question with those events but it’s a bit complicated. I haven’t worked with any of those mega-events so what I know about them is from a distance. As far as Tokyo 2020 is concerned, I know that, from a technical innovation perspective, the Summer Games will be at the leading edge of sustainability, from energy efficiency to tree planting and much more. On the other hand, from what I’ve heard, on social aspects of sustainability like LGBTQ issues, they’re not so advanced. And on fan engagement issues, I don’t know what they’re going to do. I do know that Pyeongchang 2018 did not follow the lead of Rio and communicate their greenness to fans.

GSB: True. And based on my conversation with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee sustainability team, it seems, sadly, like they will be more like Pyeongchang than Rio in terms of fan engagement. I don’t have any intel on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and sustainability as yet…

Ann: …One thing I can say about China is that, as a country, it is stepping up on climate action nationally far more aggressively than the USA is. I don’t yet know of any specific action by the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics…

GSB: …Maybe the Beijing Organizing Committee will surprise in a good way. Speaking of 2022, what are your thoughts, sustainability-wise, regarding the aforementioned Qatar FIFA World Cup?

Ann: The problems, human rights-wise and otherwise, have been horrible. And that Qatar was a weird choice in the first place given the size and climate of the country is an understatement. The one heartening thing is that, as we heard at the GSA Summit in June, there are some striking environmental innovations underway with the stadiums and the strong national commitment to renewable energy will be a part of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

GSB: I hear what you’re saying, Ann, but I guess, as the expression goes, I’m from Missouri on Qatar: Show Me! At least it looks like environmental sustainability will play a big role at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, the United 2026 FIFA World Cup and the LA 2028 Summer Games…What do you think?

Ann: Mega-events like the Olympics and FIFA World Cups generally have seven year planning cycles. The key from an environmental sustainability perspective is to develop an integrated set of environmental actions that tackle climate, water, waste, pollution and biodiversity all together throughout the planning cycle. For both Paris 2024 and LA 2028 I am confident we will see “net positive solutions.”

GSB: What does “net positive solutions” mean?

Ann: That hosts will be adding more environmental assets and benefits to their communities and host region than they consume.

GSB: I love that. Two things: 1. Paris and LA really should engage fans on “Net positive solutions” and 2. I only wish Pyeongchang, Tokyo, Beijing and Qatar went the “Net positive solutions,” mega-event route.

Ann: Well, we know we need bolder leadership on sustainability engagement, in all walks of life, from business to government to mega-events. The progress on engagement at mega-events won’t be linear but, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of mega-events is long but it bends towards sustainability and engagement.

GSB: Amen, Ann, AMEN!

 

Ann Duffy shares her thoughts on the intersection of sustainability, innovation and mega-sports events (3 mins 4 secs)

 

IN TUESDAY’S PART I: Ann shared the story of her beginnings as an Olympics-loving girl in Western Canada through her time leading the sustainability efforts at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver.

^ Edmonton, Moncton (New Brunswick); Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Winnipeg were the host cities for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

 


 

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Green-Sports News and Notes, Winter Olympics — and Climate Change — Style

The Olympic flame is set to be doused in PyeongChang Sunday night in South Korea (the closing ceremonies will air on NBC starting at 6 AM ET Sunday).  With that being the case, what better time than now for an Olympics-themed News & Notes column in which all three stories focus on climate change? We highlight the historic cross country skiing gold medal won by climate change fighter Jessie Diggins, dig in to Toyota’s powerful climate change ad that has been running during NBC Sports’ Olympics coverage, and feature Protect Our Winters’ chairman and big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones and his recent New York Times OpEd that makes the link between climate change fight and jobs.

 

JESSIE DIGGINS: CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHTER, CARBON PRICING ADVOCATE AND OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNER

Olympic cross country skier Jessie Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall set two important firsts for the United States when they won the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race on Wednesday. The pair became the first U.S. women to ever medal in an Olympic cross country skiing event, and the first Americans, men or women, to win cross country gold.

 

Jessie Diggins Lars Baron Getty

Jessie Diggins exults as she crosses the finish line to win gold in the team sprint freestyle relay (Photo credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

 

And how’s this for another first: Diggins, from tiny Afton, MN, is the first U.S. cross country skier to win gold while also being very public with her climate change and carbon pricing advocacy.

As we noted in an earlier post, Diggins supports a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program (CF&D), like that proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby^. Carbon fee & dividend differs from a carbon tax in that the revenues raised by CF&D at the mine, well or border are passed directly on to all U.S. households rather than to the U.S. treasury department. CCL designed the program this way for two main reasons:

  1. The direct-to-citizen dividend approach is the only way that Republicans in Congress could possibly support it. “Tax,” to the GOP, is a 4-letter word — they clearly have counting issues.
  2. It is progressive — the monthly dividend amount sent to each household will be the same but higher income folks consume much more carbon (multiple cars, bigger homes, etc.) than those in the lower income demographics and so will, on a net basis, pay more than they get back in the dividend. Lower earners will, in the main, spend less than they get back.

Diggins is not shy about her passion for the climate change fight — she was quoted in a New York Times article at the start of the Games as saying, “you need to be able to stand up for things you believe in, and saving winter is something I believe in. It just breaks my heart because this is such a cool sport, and winter is so amazing and beautiful and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it. And I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they’ve never experienced snow because we weren’t responsible enough.”

The newly-minted gold medal winner joined three other U.S. cross-country Olympians —Simi Hamilton, Andy Newell, Liz Stephen — in the video below that calls on all skiers to take action on climate change, specifically to ask their members of Congress to support CCL and its CF&D proposal.

 

TOYOTA ADVERTISES THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING THE WINTER IN WINTER

NBC Sports announcers commenting on events at the outdoor venues at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics have not made one mention of climate change, at least when I’ve been watching. This, despite the fact skiing and snowboarding are clearly being contested on manmade snow — in the rare instances when the camera gives a wide angle view of an outdoor venue, the viewer clearly sees wide swaths of snow-free land.

But Toyota is picking up climate change the slack with “Frozen,” a stunning 60 second ad produced by creative agency heavyweights Saatchi & Saatchi and Dentsu that emphasizes the automaker’s renewed “commitment to hybrid, electric and hydrogen vehicles…to help keep our winters winter.”

Check it out here:

 

 

Toyota is certainly not shy about telling its greener mobility story — “Frozen” has run throughout the Olympics fortnight on NBC and NBCSN, including during high profile/high viewership events like figure skating and alpine skiing. And they’re paying a pretty penny to do so: 60 second spots average $1.19 million during primetime Olympics coverage.

At some point, sports announcers will routinely highlight environmental and climate change-fighting actions taken by the teams and athletes they cover in the same way they talk about domestic violence and cancer.

We’re not there yet, unfortunately.

But, for now, advertisers like Toyota — or, Budweiser and Stella Artois in the case of the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago — will have to do the heavy green lifting.

Which is much better than nothing.

 

POW CHAIRMAN JEREMY JONES: FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE MEANS SAVING JOBS

Jeremy Jones believes that taking on climate change is an economic as well as environmental imperative.

Jones has experienced the effects of climate change up close as a big mountain snowboarder. And he’s also in the center of the action in the climate change fight in his role as chairman of Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of elite winter and snow sports athletes, including several 2018 Olympians, who advocate in Congress for meaningful action on climate. POW and winter sports athletes won GreenSportsBlog’s “Best Green-Sports Story of 2017.”

 

Jeremy Jones

Jeremy Jones, chairman of Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

So it was with great interest that I read “Saving Winter Is About More Than Snow. It’s About Jobs,” Jones New York Times OpEd that ran smack dab in the middle of the Olympics. He highlighted key data points from a soon-to-be released report from POW on the economic risks to mountain areas and towns and the winter sports industry of climate change and its effects:

  • Winter sports are popular: “About 20 million [Americans] participate in winter sports every year.”
  • The mountain/winter sports economy is significant: “the 191,000 jobs supported by snow sports in the 2015-16 winter season generated $6.9 billion in wages, while adding $11.3 billion in economic value to the national economy.”
  • Low snow years are devastating: “causing a combined annual revenue loss of $1 billion and 17,400 fewer jobs.”

What to do? Once the Olympics are over, Jones and his POW teammates will continue taking the mountain/winter sports climate-jobs fight to Capitol Hill:

“Senators in states with vital mountain economies love to talk about jobs. These people include Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Dean Heller of Nevada, both Republicans, along with representatives of congressional districts that include mountain towns, like Greg Walden of Oregon, Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman of Colorado, and my district’s representative, Tom McClintock — Republicans as well.

But when the time comes to choose, these elected officials vote for legislation that will increase greenhouse gas emissions while ignoring the real threat to jobs in their own backyards — climate change. (Senator Gardner has a lifetime voting score from the League of Conservation Voters of 11 percent; Senator Heller’s score is 13 percent. The top score among the representatives was 9 percent.)”

Looking for a glimmer of hope? The jobs of Messers Gardner, Heller, Walden, Tipton, Coffman and McClintock are under threat. Because a lot of those 20 million winter sports participants Jones mentioned in his Times OpEd vote.

 

 

^ I am a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby

 

 


 

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Will NBC Cover the Eco-Athlete Story at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies?

A TV audience of at least 15 million is expected to tune into this evening’s delayed tape coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies on NBC. Hosts Mike Tirico and Katie Couric will no doubt wax poetic about the otherworldly achievements of, and the superhuman obstacles overcome by, a gaggle of (mostly) American Olympians. But will Katie and Mike mention the impressive eco-exploits of some of American athletes? They sure would have a lot to talk about. So I got to imagining what it would be like if they went the eco-athlete route…

 

 

Mike Tirico: As you know Katie, all teams are entering the stadium in alphabetical order in the host country’s language, of course in this case, Korean. The United States, pronounced “Mi Guk” in Korean, will come in 26th following Malta and Mongolia and just before our friends in the ever-rising Atlantic, Bermuda. So we’re getting close!

 

PyeongChang Olympic Stadium

Aerial view of PyeongChang’s Olympic Stadium in advance of the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Games (Photo credit: Time Inc.)

 

Katie Couric: 고맙습니다 Gomabseubnida or Thank you! And you’re right: Here comes tiny Malta, an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast. With that location, it’s no surprise that its Winter Olympics history is also tiny. In fact, its flag bearer, alpine skier Elise Pellegrin, is the entire Malta team. And, at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, Elise became the first ever athlete to represent Malta in a Winter Olympics.

MT: Fitting perhaps that an athlete would be the first Winter Olympics athlete from a country near the equator at a Winter Olympics held in a tropical climate — impacted heavily by global warming, I might add — like Sochi. Now here comes Mongolia or Mong Gol…

KC: …That’s an easy one to pronounce…

MT: …Indeed. Like Malta, Mongolia has a very small delegation — just two cross country skiers — including flag-bearer Achbadrakh Batmunkh. Unlike Malta, it does have a long Winter Olympics history, dating back to the Innsbruck, Austria Games of 1964. Their heritage has been in the Nordic sports of cross-country skiing and biathlon…

KC: …But that heritage has been under threat due to extensive drought in parts of that landlocked land. Wait, I see in the tunnel…It’s gonna be I believe…YES! Here comes the USA!

MT: Leading the 244-member squad into the stadium is luger Erin Hamlin…

KC: …Erin is a fitting flag bearer. This is her fourth Olympics and she is the first Amercian luger to ever earn an Olympic medal, taking bronze at Sochi in 2014. LOOK AT THE SPIRIT OF THE AMERICANS!! It’s INFECTIOUS!!!

KC: …And there is women’s cross country skiing medal hopeful Jessie Diggins!!

MT: Cross country skiing has been a vast Winter Olympics wasteland for Uncle Sam, with Bill Koch’s silver in 1976 the only medal the country has ever won. But Diggins hopes to double that total in the women’s 1.2 km sprint. She seems to have the tenacity necessary to get to the medal stand. Look no further than her work on the climate change fight. A supporter of a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend, like that proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Jessie was quoted in a New York Times article earlier this week saying, “you need to be able to stand up for things you believe in, and saving winter is something I believe in. It just breaks my heart because this is such a cool sport, and winter is so amazing and beautiful and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it. And I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they’ve never experienced snow because we weren’t responsible enough.”

 

Jessie Diggins NYDN

U.S. Olympic cross country ski medal hopeful and carbon pricing advocate Jessie Diggins (Photo credit: New York Daily News)

 

KC: Amen to that!

MT: You got that right, Katie! Moving from cross-country to alpine skiing, there is Lindsey Vonn, one of Team USA’s biggest stars and brightest medal hopes!! Wow, Lindsey sure looks relaxed!

KC: Vonn, as has been well-documented, has survived a laundry list of career-threatening injuries and yet here she is again, ready to take on all comers in the downhill. The 33-year old won gold in the downhill and bronze in the Super-G at Vancouver 2010. And she looks in top form coming into PyeongChang.

MT: While she is looking for a smooth trip at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, Vonn’s off-slope approach to life sometimes invites some bumpy controversy. Lindsey recently stated she is representing the United States and not the President here in PyeongChang and that she will not visit the White House should she win a Gold Medal.

KC: Vonn was certainly not happy when the President pulled the United States out of the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, saying in an Instagram post that “climate change is REAL and I watch the glaciers I love melt more every year…We can’t change the opinions of others but if we are all conscious and make small changes, we can make a big difference. Let’s try to save our planet!”

 

Lindsey Vonn Zimbio

Lindsey Vonn (Photo credit Zimbio.com)

 

MT: Speaking of saving our planet, there are women’s halfpipe medal hopeful Kelly Clark and 4-time Olympic cross country skier Andy Newell. Both devote a good amount of their precious spare time to climate advocacy. In fact, last fall Andy, along with several other elite winter sports athletes, went to Capitol Hill to educate and lobby Members of Congress…

KC: …of both parties

MT: …of both parties, yes, about the effects of climate change in winter sports states like Utah and Colorado and in favor of action to help to curtail it.

 

Andy Newell Sochi

Andy Newell at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

KC: …That’s right, Mike. And his climate advocacy work is not a new thing. Last fall, in an interview with GreenSportsBlog, Newell shared how he and Bill McKibben…

MT: …Bill McKibben of grassroots climate activist group 350.org fame?

KC: …That’s the one…How he and McKibben “drafted a letter for a group of snow sports athletes called Athletes for Action and that letter was addressed to world leaders, urging them to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.”

MT: An agreement that ultimately was ratified by over 200 countries, including the United States. As we stated earlier, the Trump Administration has decided to pull the U.S. out of Paris. We shall see how that goes. But our South Korean hosts have stayed in Paris and they’ve done some good things from a sustainability point of view with the PyeongChang Olympics.

KC: That’s right, Mike. Hyeona Kim, a senior project manager responsible for sustainability at the PyeongChang Organizing Committee or POCOG, reported that POCOG “is funding wind farms that will produce more than the minimum amount of electricity need to power the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

 

Hyeona Kim

Hyeona Kim, Senior Project Manager, POCOG. (Photo credit: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games or POCOG)

 

MT: Great to hear, Katie. Now, we will back with the entrance of the Bermuda delegation — where sea level rise is indeed a big concern — after this word from our sponsors.

 

Hey, a GreenSportsBlogger can dream, can’t he?

 

 

 


 

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Guest Blog Post: Eco-Athlete Erika Flowers-Newell on Her “Dream Endured”

Back in November, GreenSportsBlog interviewed cross country skier, purpose-driven marketer, and environmental advocate Erika Flowers-Newell as she was about to embark upon what would likely be her last attempt to qualify for a U.S. Olympic team.

Erika’s 2018 Olympic qualifying campaign came down to the U.S. Cross Country Ski National Championships in Anchorage, AK two weeks ago. 

I planned to report on how Erika fared until I read “A Dream Endured,” her powerful post on her blog, Klister^ And Cookies: Living Life Out of Suitcase and Ski Bag, about her experience in Anchorage, and much more.

What a great read! Here is Erika’s post in its unedited entirety. 

 

“A Dream Endured”

by Erika Flowers-Newell

 

 

The most common way to leave Alaska is under the cover of total darkness. The large majority of flights leaving Anchorage depart around midnight (in order to make connections in the Lower 48), an hour when most people are fast asleep. In the winter, this means your farewell can easily go unnoticed save for the flashing light of the plane that children sometimes confuse for a shooting star. As we departed Alaska last week, I was, for once, grateful for the long night.

 

Sunset in Anchorage (Photo credit: Erika Flowers-Newell)

 

I traveled to Alaska before the New Year with a single goal. Over four years ago I scribbled it at the top of my training plan. Since then, I’ve written it in the upper left hand corner of every single page in a half dozen journals I’ve carried with me at one point or another. I’ve drawn it at the top of goal pyramids and training plans and visualized it too many times to count. My goal was not to make the Olympics. My goal was to win the 10km skate at U.S. National Cross Country Ski Championships. I’ve never stood atop a Championship podium but even four years ago I believed I could. I LOVE the 10km skate, I’ve had success in it before and I knew that if I sunk all my teeth into that dream, I could make it happen.

 

Racing the 10km Skate at U.S Nationals (Photo credit: Erika Flowers-Newell)

 

Yes, I also really wanted to make the Olympic team, a dream I’d thought about since I first stood on skinny skis. I knew that if I could win that 10km skate at Nationals I would put myself in the running. But I also recognized that the Olympics are not the be-all end-all for skiing success-at the end of the day, its just another race (with a bit more press and free clothes). Instead, I planned to show up stronger, fitter and better prepared than I have ever been for U.S National Championships and I wanted to prove that to myself by winning the National Title. If I’m being 100 percent honest, I think a part of me also wanted to prove it to everyone else. A nod for the Olympics would have been the cherry on top.

 

Solo skate intervals this summer with an eye on U.S. Nationals (Photo credit: Erika Flowers-Newell)

Perhaps that burden of proof was my achilles heel. Over the years I’ve had coaches tell me I’m good at skiing, just not quite good enough. Others have dismissed my racing as fun hobby, feigning interest but never taking my aspirations seriously.  On the flip side,  I’ve had people like my mom, who told me “you can do anything you set your mind to.” I’ve also had the unquestioned support of many, both financially and otherwise, to help me pursue racing at the highest level. I wanted so badly to prove the doubters wrong, to show them that I can in fact be great at this sport. And I wanted to show my friends, family, sponsors and most importantly myself that I could, in fact, do anything I set my mind to. I wanted to prove my mom right.

 

 

One of my first “races” on skinny skis. It appears I may have taken a wrong turn. My mom would braid my hair before the races. At this point in my ski career I was psyched to just bring home a participation ribbon (Photo credit: Erika Flowers-Newell)

 

 

In short, I came up short. I finished 5th for Americans in the 10km skate — a good race but well over a minute from the top of the podium and a far cry from the race I’d visualized and prepared for. Over the next three races at U.S. Nationals I finished well, but again, not great… A mediocre skate sprint in 14th (11th American), a decent classic 20km in 10th (6th American), and a personal best but otherwise unremarkable 10th in the classic sprint (7th American). I finished the week deflated, like a helium balloon that had lost its lift.

 

Photo credit: James R. Evans

 

I don’t write this blog for sympathy and I don’t aim to tell a sob story — I just hope to tell a true story. While we often sugar coat the harder parts of this sport I *think* (or at least I hope) there is something to be gained by sharing a less curated version. Going into the last race of the week, a fellow athlete and I shared a brief exchange. I could see the same look of disappointment in her eyes. Muscles and mind exhausted after a long week of racing, she said aloud and, to know one in particular, “I’m just so tired of caring.” And in that moment I could relate. It is freakin’ exhausting to care that much about something! You invest your entire soul into something every single day, foregoing money, stability, a home and even people you love to devote your entire life to something you love. You live and breathe your sport, willing every cell in your body to go when you say go, to rest when you need to rest and refocus again and again and again and again. When it doesn’t work out, it hurts like hell.

 

 

Trying to find some perspective while cooling down after the races (Photo credit: Erika Flowers-Newell)

 

BUT! And there is a big “but” in there, I think that THAT might also be the most rewarding part of skiing and the part I hope never goes away. If you take away the Olympics and the Championships, the Junior Nationals and first place ribbons, anyone who does this sport, especially at the elite level, must truly love it. To care about something that deeply and to pursue it with that much passion is worth gold. It’s also the thing that scares me the most about life after skiing. I don’t fear the end of my race career. I fear never finding another thing that I care about so damn much. People say ski racing is like a roller coaster whereas real life is more like a merry-go-round. On a roller coaster, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. As much as those lows really suck sometimes, I’ve still always liked the thrill of the coaster the most. To dream big is to endure both the wild successes and the trying failures along the way and to come out the other side richer for both.

 

Lucky to have my sister and dad in Anchorage to cheer me on! (Photo credit: Erika Flowers-Newell)

 

They completely surprised me, showing up unexpectedly and dressed as narwhals! (Photo credit: Erika Flowers-Newell)

 

Squished against the airplane window among fellow economy class passengers, I was grateful for the dimmed cabin lights as we departed Anchorage. I needed a few moments of darkness to clear the saltwater from my cheeks. I took stock of the last year, the last four years, the last ten…wondering what I might have done differently, what I may have missed in training or otherwise. I racked my brain reviewing the back-to-back uphill run tests in the heat of August, the strength sessions that left me curled up in a ball on the floor, the post-workout snacks and dry clothes that I diligently packed for every workout, the exercises with mental strength coaches and planning meetings with ski coaches, the on-snow camps, the lactate testing and hill bounding and double pole pain trains. Soon the yellow glow of Anchorage disappeared from view and my window showed only the small blinking light of the airplane wing. It looked nothing like a shooting star up close. Still, I’m glad I wished on one as a kid.

 

Not the Path to Pyeongchang I’d hoped for…but beautiful nonetheless (Photo credit: Erika Flowers-Newell)

 

^ According to Dictionary.com, klister is a sticky wax for use on skis. According to Erika Flowers-Newell, it is also shorthand for “struggle”

 


 

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