Entries for March 2014

Bringing Home the Gold

Sled hockey player Brody Roybal celebrates with his gold medal after the medal ceremony.

It’s just an expression used to describe a top win – “bringing home the gold.” But there’s a literal meaning to those words, as the USA Sled Hockey team discovered, and it’s pretty wonderful, too.

For Brody Roybal, it meant arriving home in Northlake, Illinois, to find hundreds of people in front his house chanting “USA! USA!” The crowd included family, friends, complete strangers, news reporters, and his West Leyden High School classmates. Just before leaving for Sochi, Brody had promised his school to do his best to “bring home the gold.” Mission accomplished.

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2014 Paralympic Winter Games Come to a Close

Closing Ceremony

Ten days ago, at the Opening Ceremony for the Sochi Paralympics, Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, called these Games “proof that what might not seem possible IS possible.” 

So it was fitting that tonight’s Closing Ceremony was titled “Reaching the Impossible.” The idea was brought to life in a sequence patterned on a video game, propelled by dancers moving giant multi-color blocks. Suddenly, the blocks rose to form the word IMPOSSIBLE as a countdown clock reached zero and “GAME OVER” flashed.

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Snapshots from the Win

Sled Hockey: Post-Win Interview

·  After every game, players line up and bump fists with their opponents, acknowledging the win, the loss, the game. Rico Roman (#23) was struck by a moment after the gold medal match: “One of the Russian players, they’re ex-military, too, one of them said, ‘Good job, soldier.’ That meant a lot.”

·  Gold medals are heavy - more than a pound and a half in total, shards of thick reflective glass set in a silver core and 24 karat gold exterior. The imagery engraved on them represents the sun's rays reflected through snowy mountains, and the temperate Black Sea coast next to Sochi’s icy peaks. The American players were holding on tightly to theirs, but also sharing:  “Would you like to wear it?” So ICE WARRIORS can attest to how great that weight feels hanging around your neck.

·  Team USA was jubilant after the Games, and ICE WARRIORS was there as they got on their bus back to the hotel. We’d heard them, many times over the months we’d filmed the team, cheering “ USA!  USA!” before and after games. Now they were saluting each other:  “BROOODY!!” “ JOSHHH!!!” And then, to the ICE WARRIORS team’s amazement, they cheered us: “PBS! PBS!” We were humbled. 

Watch the team's journey to victory in ICE WARRIORS.

Sled Hockey Fans

Sled Hockey Fans

We're big fans... of sled hockey fans. Take a look at some of our favorite gold medal game fans!

ICE WARRIORS win gold

Sled Hockey Final: USA vs Russia

The most important game of their lives, for both Team USA And Team Russia, came down to just one goal. Josh Sweeney (#13), who put that goal in the net, said he knew the Russian goalie, Vladimir Kamantcev, was a big presence in goal. So when Sweeney made a fast steal from a Russian defender, he did a little fake-out move, got Kamantcev to commit, and shot past him. It was enough. Team USA is bringing home gold, the first sled hockey team ever to win back-to-back gold medals.

Snowboarders Welcome

Men and Women's Snowboarding

Snowboarding made its official debut at the Paralympics, and Americans bagged four of the six medals. 

The American men swept all the medals in their event, with Evan Strong winning gold, coming in less than a second faster than silver medalist Michael Shea. Bronze winner Keith Gabel said, “The clean sweep is an honor. It’s a stupendous moment.”

And Team USA’s Amy Purdy came in third in the women’s event, behind boarders from Netherlands and France.  Purdy, who had earlier blogged about tough conditions on the Rosa Khutor alpine center, said conditions ranged from “icy slush to wet slush.” Today the course was so bumpy, she added, “It was all about staying on my feet” and “riding smart.”

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Steve Cash Named U.S. Flag Bearer for Closing Ceremony

Sled hockey goalie Steve Cash has been chosen by his 80 teammates to carry the flag for the US Paralympic Team at the Closing Ceremony on Sunday. US Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun pointed out that Steve was the team MVP in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics, where USA Hockey won gold. He called Cash "a trusted leader and friend to not only his teammates, but all U.S. Paralympic athletes," and added "We certainly wish him and the rest of the team the best of luck as they take on Russia for the gold medal tomorrow night – Go Team USA.”

Game Four for the Ice Warriors

USA vs CANADA

Game 4 of the 2014 Paralympic sled hockey competition could not have been more highly anticipated. The US and Canadian teams have battled so often and so hard, the players know their opponents almost as well as they know their teammates. In the 2013 World Championships, Canada came out on top, and they beat the Americans again in Toronto later in the year. But the US won the last two match-ups, in January, before heading to the Paralympics. 

The stage was set for tonight’s game, a must-win for Team USA to keep their gold medal hopes alive after Tuesday’s tough loss to Russia. 

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A Big Win for the Ice Warriors

Everyone on Team USA knew that Game 4 was a must-win to keep their gold medal hopes alive after Tuesday’s tough loss to Russia. Both the Americans and the Canadians came out with tremendous focus and a lot of scrappy play, but Declan Farmer scored first for the US 9:12 into the game, then again at the end of the period. 

Five minutes into the second, Farmer notched an assist as he found Josh Pauls, who shot and brought the score to 3-0. Canada was fired up in the third, trying hard to score, but Steve Cash played another perfect game, stopping all eleven shots on goal. Team USA is headed for a rematch against Russia in the gold-medal finals on Saturday night.

Silver for Tatyana

Tatyana McFadden (left) added to her Paralympic record (10 Summer medals) by winning silver in the women's 1km cross-country sprint. Less than a year after pushing off for the first time in her cross country sit-skis, she came within a tenth of a second of the gold, won by Norway's Mariann Narthinsen. The 1km sprint consists of a qualification (Tatyana came in 4th), a semifinal (she came in 2nd), and a final.

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Four in the House

In curling, quitting can be good. But to understand why, you need a whole new vocabulary.

The playing field, called a “sheet,” has round targets painted on its two ends.  The whole target is called the “house,” and the bulls-eye is called the “button.”

When all eight stones of an “end,” or inning, have been thrown, the team closest to the center of the button gets a point. If that team has two stones closer – and these things are measured! – they get two points.  

There’s even a term for that perfect situation when all eight stones delivered by one team are closer to the center – a “snowman.”  This is tough to achieve, since the other team is using its throws to knock your stones away.

Team USA Curling

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Game Three for the Ice Warriors

With wins under their belts from the first two games, Team USA knew they would be in the semi-finals.  Team Russia, with a 1-1 record, did not.  So both teams came to skate hard in a game that was ultimately decided in the final minutes of play.

Well before the first period ended, though, the game was already historic.  At 11:57 Russian forward Ilia Volkov scored, breaking Steve Cash’s perfect record – no goals were scored against him in the past seven Paralympic Games, stretching back to Game 1, Vancouver, 2010.  Both Andy Yohe and Paul Schaus were in the penalty box at the time, giving the Russians a two-man edge that they quickly took advantage of. 

Another goal in the second put Russia up 2-0, and although Team USA took more than twice as many shots on goal as Team Russia, goalie Vladimir Kamantcev made stop after stop, ending with 22 saves.  As Adam Page said, Kamantcev “played the game of his life.” 

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Sunny Skies over the Mountains

Women's Alpine: Super G

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. The crowds that packed the stands to watch the women’s super G racing were hardly bundled up at all, having a great time.

Not so much for the skiers. Of the 29 women who started the three super G races, ten did not finish. 

Most seriously injured were two Americans, who were both helicoptered off the slopes, Alana Nichols and Stephani Victor. Late in the day, Alana posted on Facebook: “I am just fine. I was knocked unconscious and had to have stitches in my chin, but feel incredibly blessed to have left the mountain today in the shape I am in.” She added that Stephani was also banged up but ok.

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Game Two for the Ice Warriors

“Shayba” is a great name for a hockey venue: it means “puck” in Russian. In the Olympic Park, the Shayba Hockey Arena is perfectly round, has a flat roof, and is covered in ice blue and tan diagonal streaks – the perfect image of its name. Apparently, “Shaybu!” is also what Russian fans chant to support their team.

But not so far, at least at Team USA’s games. Yesterday, in the USA vs. Italy match, a surprising number of people in the crowd were waving Russia flags but had Italy’s red, white, and green colors painted on their faces and were cheering for Italy. At today’s game against Team Korea, the Russians were yelling, “KO-REE-AAA!!”

But as team captain Andy Yohe told ICE WARRIORS, “As long as the crowd is cheering, we don’t care who they’re cheering for.”

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Scotland in Sochi

Bagpipes and drums – not what you’d expect in Russian sports. But that’s how the Paralympic curling matches began today, with two pipers and two drummers, in kilts, marching in stately procession along the baseline and right up the middle of the ice.

Competition for the curlers began yesterday at the Ice Cube Curling Center. The first six days are a round-robin tournament among the ten national teams; the top four teams go on to the semi-finals. To fit in all 45 games, the schedule is tight, with teams playing every day (sometimes two games a day) and three or four teams playing simultaneously.

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Day One: Three Medals for Team USA

Up in the mountains at the Rosa Khutor alpine center, three Americans made it to the podium on the first day of alpine skiing. 

In the women’s standing class, Allison Jones won bronze, her first Winter medal since taking a gold in slalom in 2006.  Allison was totally upbeat after the race.  “I came here to have fun,” she said, “and I’ve had a blast.”

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After the Game: Sled Hockey families

USA Sled Hockey families were pumped after Team USA’s 5-1 win over Italy in the first round of play.

Game One for the Ice Warriors

All eight teams of the 2014 Paralympic sled hockey competition played today, on Day One of the Games. 

One of the games was a blowout, with Canada grinding down Sweden, 10-1.  

One was a nail-biter:  Korea stunned Russia with a 3-2 shootout victory that was the tournament’s first upset.  

One was a close-fought 3-2 win, Norway over Czechoslovakia, with the Norwegian goalie making 21 saves.

And then there was USA Sled Hockey’s 5-1 win over the Italians. The Americans, as defending gold medalists, were favored to win, but they might not have expected how that win would unfold. Three of the five goals were made by its youngest players. Late in the first period, 16-year-old Declan Farmer ignited the team with its first goal of the Games, and 15-year-old Brody Roybal scored in both the second and third periods, once off an assist from Declan. 

Sled Hockey: USA vs. ITALY

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Favorite Moments from the Opening Ceremonies

Opening Ceremonies

· Precision marchers in red, white, and blue stepping in and out of each others’ lines, weaving intricate patterns and ultimately forming the Russian flag – and then bending in sequence to make the “flag” wave.  Later in the program, the marchers came back in blue, green and red to march again, this time forming the three Paralympic agitos – the name for the “swooshes” that make up the Paralympic logo.

 · A giant icebreaker – really huge! – making its stately way across the Olympic Stadium.  Hundreds of dancers with ice “shards” scattered as it plowed across, symbolizing the Sochi Paralympics’ goal of breaking down barriers for people with disabilities.

 · And, of course, the arrival of Team USA in 2014’s distinctive “ugly Christmas” sweaters.  The US athletes looked ready to roll, with competitions in curling, sled hockey, biathlon, and alpine skiing starting tomorrow!

Transformation

Transformation

Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Paralympics are over, and in many ways they were just fabulous – lights, sounds, hundreds of dancers and acrobats, flying ladies and computer graphics, fireworks inside and out of the Fisht Olympic Stadium.

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The Ukraine Question

Overshadowing the 2014 Paralympics has been, and still is, the question of Ukraine. With the threat of a Russia-Ukraine war hanging and world leaders scrambling, the Ukrainian delegation was torn: Should they withdraw in protest, or stay and compete in the Paralympic spirit of neutrality? 

This afternoon, just hours before the Opening Ceremonies, the announcement came: the delegation would participate. In a press conference, Valeriy Suskevich, Ukraine’s head of Paralympics, made a point of saying, “Don’t let us start a war during the Paralympic Games,” but he also promised his delegation would leave immediately if there was more conflict. 

So there was a moment of real drama when Ukraine was announced in tonight’s parade of athletes – and only one person emerged into the stadium wearing Ukraine’s distinctive blue and yellow. Flag bearer Mykhailo Tkachenko, a biathlon athlete, wheeled his way across the stage with a somber expression on his face. The crowd erupted in huge cheers – the only cheers that were louder were for their own Russian delegation – but Tkachenko never waved or acknowledged the crowd. 

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Setting Up at the Opening Ceremony

ICE WARRIORS cameraman Scott Sinkler setting up for today's opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games. New video will be part of the revised version of ICE WARRIORS, including the USA sled hockey's team performance in Sochi.  In the meantime we will be sending photos and news every day.  Follow us and share!

Team Ukraine will not withdraw from the Paralympic Games

4 hours to Opening Ceremonies, and news reports say Ukraine's delegation will not withdraw from the Paralympic Games.  The International Paralympic Committee's president, Sir Philip Craven, who will preside over tonight's opening celebrations, was quoted as saying "The talking point of Sochi 2014 needs to be great sport and great athletes, not global politics."  The team will leave if there is an escalation of military conflict.

MEDAL QUEST will be sending pictures and reporting from the Fisht Stadium in Sochi later today, after the Paralympic flame is lit and the Games are officially started.

Meet the Press

MEDAL QUEST dropped in today at the official first press conference of Sochi 2014, a chance for Russian organizers to discuss what they called “barrier-free standards for the whole of Russia.”  This would be huge for any host country, but especially for Russia, which hasn’t had a strong record on accessibility. In fact Russia (then the Soviet Union) did not even host a Paralympic Games after the 1980 Olympics.

Also announced:

· All 45 national teams have arrived in Russia, a record for the Winter Games.  That includes Ukraine’s team, although it’s still not clear if they will withdraw before tomorrow’s Opening Ceremonies.

· 547 -- the total number of athletes expected -- is also a Paralympic Winter Games record.

· Around 60 countries will broadcast the Paralympics, including new broadcasters NHK Japan, Rede Globo Brazil, and NBC USA.

USA Hockey’s Josh Pauls, who was part of the press conference, talked with ICE WARRIORS about being back at the Paralympics, what was different from Vancouver, and how awesome the Shayba Arena will be for the sled hockey competition.  Here’s Josh:

THE ICE WARRIORS ARE READY

We stopped by practice today to see Team USA get ready for the Games.  They went flat out for the whole time, racing around in speed laps, doing shooting exercises at both ends of the rink with Jen Lee and Steve Cash both in goal, working 40-second 5-on-5 drills from faceoffs, stopping only to swig water and listen to Coach Jeff Sauer.

ICE WARRIORS’ photographer was there -- and included in these exclusive pictures are first views of Steve and Jen’s newly-painted goalie helmets.  It’s a tradition that Paralympic and Olympic goalies re-paint their helmets as they want for the Games. 

Practicing Before the Games

IN ROSA KHUTOR

IN ROSA KHUTOR

As we came down the mountains, we stopped for a moment in Rosa Khutor, a village squeezed into a narrow valley at the base of the mountains.  Music was blaring and we walked into an outdoor party – a stage with folk singers and dancers, people enjoying themselves on a warm evening – at least 60 degrees F!  Here are a few pictures.

Two Worlds

Two Worlds

Here in Russia, the Games are a world in themselves, set off and apart.  Or maybe two worlds, to be more accurate:  the “coastal cluster,” where the Fisht Olympic Stadium is and where sled hockey and wheelchair curling will be played, and the “mountain cluster,” where nordic skiing, alpine skiing, and biathlon will be held. 

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ICE WARRIORS team arrives in Sochi

The ICE WARRIORS team is in Sochi, where the Olympic Park is very quiet, waiting for teams and fans to arrive. The "HOT COLD YOURS" signs are still up to welcome the athletes, but the Paralympic "swooshes" have replaced the Olympic rings on the buildings. 

And our flight from Moscow included a group from Finland's wheelchair curling team, very friendly.

Mina Mojtahedi of the Finland curling team.

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