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Category: Gary Hall Jr.

Gary Hall Jr.: Olympic dreams are built on sacrifice

Hall

At the end of the race the athlete pants, “I’ve given everything to be here.”

The overwhelming majority of Olympians have given everything to be an Olympian. What does that mean? It means a lot of things in the way of sacrifice.

In the United States we associate success in sport with lucrative contracts and swelling bank accounts. In basketball, baseball, football, golf and even hockey, athlete salaries are as big as some of the egos. Let’s save the debate on whether the athletes deserve it.

I was a “professional” swimmer representing the United States for 16 years, retiring in 2008. I swam in three Olympics and earned 10 Olympic medals. I earned close to $750,000 (total revenue before taxes from swimming and swimming-related sponsorships) over the course of my 16 years as a swimmer. Almost a third of that amount was Olympic medal bonus money.

My income was unique. In fact, I was one of the “lucky” Olympic athletes who earned anything at all from their sport. There is no professional swimming league and until it exists there really isn’t such a thing as “professional” swimming. Of the Winter Olympic sports, how many have a professional league, besides hockey? Most Olympians are endorsers of product if they’re lucky, and the Olympic movement. This is a free choice Olympic athletes make to pursue what they love, at all cost.

There are of course a few glaring exceptions who convert Olympic gold to financial gain.

My intention is not to try to gain sympathy or pity for the Olympic athletes. The point of sharing my information with you is that I think it will shock many readers to know that the plight of the Olympic athlete, even most gold medalists, is a financial one that reaches beyond tough training and tougher competition. 

When an athlete says, “I’ve given everything to be here,” I understand what those words mean and the underlying sacrifice involved. In 2000 I sold my car to buy a plane ticket to compete at the Olympic trials.

I don’t think that the general public understands the sacrifice these athletes make to proudly represent the United States of America, a country where success is measured in dollar amounts. The point of this entry is to remind the country that success isn’t measured in dollar amounts, and that most of the athletes you see performing at the Olympics gave EVERYTHING to be there.

That’s inspiring.

--Gary Hall Jr.

Editor's note: The Times is pleased to have Gary Hall Jr. blogging for us during the Olympics. Gary has represented the United States in international swimming competition for 16 years, competing in three Olympics and earning 10 Olympic medals. This experience built a global network of media, corporate and political contacts that came to his support when he was diagnosed with type 1, or insulin dependent, diabetes. Gary has served as a diabetes advocate and consultant to some of the largest companies in the diabetes industry, including J&J's Lifescan division, Novo Nordisk, BD Medical and Eli Lilly and Co., among others. He has testified in front of Congress on current healthcare issues, campaigned for diabetes awareness, headed patient outreach programming, education initiatives and fundraising efforts for important diabetes research. Gary currently serves as the director of  business development for b2d Marketing, a leader in business-to-doctor marketing and business development. 


In this Aug. 20, 2004, file photo, Gary Hall Jr. celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the Olympic Aquatic Centre during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)


Gary Hall Jr.: The best Olympics commercials


 


 

Commercials are meant to evoke emotions and, if they're good, feelings of assimilation, creating a connection between company and consumer. Here are my evocations. Are Super Bowl commercials the best?

Visa Commercials:

The Visa commercials are awesome (you can watch one above). How can you mess up the incredible stories we remember so well of Olympic history? It would be difficult to, but the Visa media department put together a winning series of commercials that raises the bar for all Olympic sponsors to follow. The Visa commercials are poetically written tributes, done well. Go World. Go Visa.

 Everybody talks about the commercials of the Super Bowl. These commercials I've seen for the Olympics outperform what I saw for the Super Bowl.  Granted the best Super Bowl commercials are irreverent and funny. It's difficult to be irreverent and funny when the subject matter of the esteemed Olympic movement is so often sincerely inspirational. Of all people, I know this.

 Honorable mentions go out to the AT&T commercial with the female snowboarder in the half pipe launching to the stratosphere with Lou Reed's song "Perfect Day" playing (sellout!), so much better than the Verizon commercials. The P&G Mom commercials, in which the little kids (the vision of mothers) walk out to perform the Olympic events, is also very good. There should be a disclaimer at the end that reads: No 8-year-olds were harmed while being launched off the ski jump in this commercial.

 McDonald's commercials:

 The most awful commercial in my opinion is the McDonald's spot in which two parents buy a Happy Meal, then proceed to rip it from each other's hands in a mad dash back to their apartment where a wide-eyed  homely boy accepts a somehow perfectly un-creased, ungreased Happy Meal box from a chest-swelling father. The cutesy kid squeaks, "Thanks mom!"


My first reaction was, "Who are these lunatics? Who would do that?!" These reflections that I'm sharing with you, they're not of the characters in the commercial. They're of the people who made and paid for this commercial. Is it supposed to be funny? Or cute? Or inspiring? Or comically irreverent? I find it to be none of these, only curiously annoying.

-- Gary Hall Jr.

The Times is pleased to have Gary Hall Jr. blogging for us during the Olympics. Hall has represented the United States in international swimming competition for 16 years, racing in three Olympics and earning 10 medals. This experience built a global network of media, corporate and political contacts that came to his support when he was diagnosed with Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes. Gary has served as a diabetes advocate and consultant to some of the largest companies in the diabetes industry, including Johnson & Johnson's LifeScan division, Novo Nordisk, BD Medical and Eli Lilly & Co. He has testified before Congress on healthcare issues, campaigned for diabetes awareness and headed patient outreach programming, education initiatives and fundraising efforts for important diabetes research. Hall serves as the director of  business development for B2d Marketing, a leader in business-to-doctor marketing and business development.


 


Gary Hall Jr.: Shaun White, Shani Davis, Lindsey Vonn and other keywords that might drive traffic to my blog

Shaun Shaun White wins!
Judging wasn’t a factor. There’s nobody in the world that even comes close to being as good as Shaun White on a snowboard. No contest, just gravity-defying, mind-boggling aerial maneuvers.
 
Shani Davis does it again:
He may talk like “Perfessor” Nerd but he skates like King Cool. Shani turned down the chance to appear on Oprah because he needed to stay focused on his training. Turning down the Oprah show has its rewards, like an Olympic gold medal. Shani, your commitment is inspiring.
 
Lindsey Vonn, profile victim:
First, allow me to say, “Great job, Lindsey!” There was a lot of pressure to live up to and you delivered, making us all proud.
 
There’s much ado about the injuries that have plagued Vonn, but how much of that is NBC’s profiling efforts?

NBC covered her bruised shin so much I was beginning to believe that she was truly physically challenged. We’ve all had bruises before, and sometimes they do hurt, some, but … it’s a bruise. 

Continue reading »

Gary Hall Jr.: There's no crying in hockey

Olyblog_500

Q: When do you see a hockey player cry?

A: When it’s a girl.

“There’s no crying in baseball!”
 
        -- Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own"
 
You might be a sexist if you think girls are more prone to crying.

In my opinion baseball players are vain, un-athletic and emotional sissies compared with hockey players. I said, compared with hockey players -- so don’t freak out about that comment, in some kind of steroid rage, if you’re a baseball player. Swimmers are pretty high up on the sissy list too. Baseball players can take consolation in that,and their steroid-laced Doritos.

I’ve never seen a hockey player cry before. I’ve also never seen a male hockey player with all of his teeth. Male hockey players outside of the net sometimes wear a protective eye shield. On the other hand, the female hockey players wear a face mask that covers the entire face and they all seem to have a full set of teeth.

Do the female hockey players wear a mask because they value their face and teeth more than their male counterparts? Is it too vain for male hockey players to wear the entire face mask or is the toothless/broken nose look a badge of honor for these hockey-playing tough guys? If it is too vain for male hockey players to wear a full mask then are female hockey players vain? Or is it a double standard or Olympic rule for the fairer gender?

Continue reading »

Gary Hall Jr.: Kris Freeman is an inspiration

Olyblog

As Kris Freeman prepares for what arguably is one of the most stressful environments known to man, the challenge of managing his blood sugar level increases. For those of us living with diabetes, we all know that stress can wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels.

Freeman is the United States' best hope for a medal in the cross-country skiing events at the Vancouver Olympics, and he has Type 1 diabetes.

For someone with diabetes mellitus, maintaining a steady blood sugar level is absolutely crucial in the days leading up to and through a competition. It’s easier said than done.

There is travel, often across time zones, and Olympics processing can exhaust even the most conditioned athletes. While the Olympic Village is nice enough, it is hardly a comfortable environment. It’s best to bring your own pillow, sheets and towels. The food is plentiful, but a picky eater would have a hard time. Athletes aren’t known to be picky eaters, but athletes with diabetes need to watch what they eat more than the average athlete.

It is not my intention to bash what the Olympic committee provides its participants.

If you have diabetes any changes in environment, energy levels, stress or food can set off blood sugar ranges on some graph pattern reflective of the mountains these athletes ski down, with moguls.

In all of my personal diabetes advocacy work, the most common question I get is from athletes and parents of athletes on why blood glucose behavior is so dramatically varied on a practice day versus a game day. The simple answer is stress.

Then take into account the adrenaline, endorphins and other hormones naturally released with a maximum physical exertion that most people aren’t able to relate to. All of which, you guessed it, wreak havoc on blood sugar levels.

With all of these factors to juggle, managing diabetes at the highest level of sport is not without its challenges. The encouraging news is that it is possible. Just ask Freeman.

Kris, all of us in the diabetes community throughout the world will be cheering you on! You are an inspiration. You ease the anxiety of the newly diagnosed. Your efforts provide hope and an example that more is possible for those of us living with diabetes today. Keep up the great work and GO!!!

-- Gary Hall Jr.

The Times is pleased to have Gary Hall Jr. blogging for us during the Olympics. Hall has represented the United States in international swimming competition for 16 years, racing in three Olympics and earning 10 medals. This experience built a global network of media, corporate and political contacts that came to his support when he was diagnosed with Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes. Gary has served as a diabetes advocate and consultant to some of the largest companies in the diabetes industry, including Johnson & Johnson's LifeScan division, Novo Nordisk, BD Medical and Eli Lilly & Co. He has testified before Congress on current healthcare issues, campaigned for diabetes awareness and headed patient outreach programming, education initiatives and fundraising efforts for important diabetes research. Hall currently serves as the director of  business development for B2d Marketing, a leader in business-to-doctor marketing and business development. 

Photo: Kris Freeman. Credit: Jeff McIntosh / Associated Press


Gary Hall Jr.: What are the winner and loser winter sports?

Olyblog

What are the winner and loser winter sports?

It’s the Olympics and there are winners and losers determined in the sports being contested; why not have winner and loser sports?

There’s some guy out there who came in last place at the Olympics. Does it mean that guy is terrible at his sport? No, of course not! He’s a great athlete just like the worst Olympic sport is still a great sport.

There are Olympic statisticians that I don’t have access to who could better identify the winner and loser sport based on actual statistics. I’m just going to determine the loser sport at the end of this article through some crude guessing method.

Criteria for the judging:

1) The loser sport should have both the lowest ticket price and lowest television ratings. The winner has the highest.

2) Empty seats at the Olympic Games are a sign of a loser sport. The higher attendance in the larger venue scores higher scores.

3) General participation should also be considered.

Apolo Anton Ohno may be one of the best short-track speedskaters in the world (and a really superb dancer), but how many registered short-track competitors are there in the world? Are there 20,000 in the entire world? I would be shocked if there were more.

I’m not arguing that a low sport participation level discounts what these athletes are doing, athletically. Short track truly is remarkable and exciting to watch.

Considering that short-track speedskating has been an Olympic event only since the 1992 Games, it’s understandable that participant levels don’t match that of other sports that have been around for a longer time.

It is my firm belief that more competitors = tougher competition, and tougher competition gets higher points when determining the winner winter sport.

You may be the best short-track skater in the world, but if your world consists of 20,000 people it’s less impressive than a world of millions of skiers.

There are winner athletes in loser sports. There are incredible athletes that excel in their unpopular sport and elevate the unpopular sport's ranking among the other sports.

Thanks to Apolo Ohno, short-track speedskating is not in danger of earning the title of the loser sport.

John Langbein is an owner of Quint Events. His business is one of the largest Olympic ticket brokers in the world, which isn’t that impressive since there are fewer than 20,000 ticket broker businesses in the world.

According to John, the highest-priced ticket for the Winter Olympics is for gold-medal hockey.

The lowest-priced ticket? Curling.

Add up the crackpot rating system I am inventing, and curling is the loser sport of the Winter Olympics. Sorry, curlers, all 182 of you.

The winning sport that has the highest attendance with the highest ticket price and the highest television ratings should win a gold medal as a sport, and a bonus from the International Olympic Committee reflective of the gratitude the IOC should have for that particular sport.

The winner sport is swimming, if swimming was a winter sport.

-- Gary Hall Jr.

Photo: Thomas Ulsrud of Norway slides through the house as he prepares to throw the rock during a curling training session. Credit: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty.


Gary Hall Jr.: How about a judging system for the opening ceremony?

Olyblog

If you decide to go to the Olympics, bring your passport. Ask me why I drove from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada, twice today and I'll tell you a funny story about memory loss and the road. I made it through. I'm in Vancouver listening to AC/DC, tired from 11 hours of driving.

I missed the opening ceremony, again. I've attended the last five Olympics and I haven't seen one opening ceremony.

Did you know that from 1912 to 1948 art was a competition at the Olympics? Medals were awarded to artists that portrayed sport in architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. The only reason the art competitions were discontinued in 1954 was because artists were considered "professionals" when the Olympic movement consisted of amateur athletes.

When Michael Jordan became an Olympian, the whole idea of amateur athletics was hurled from Mount Olympus like a bolt of lightning.

Shaun White and Michael Phelps make a lot of money, and they are not prohibited from competing in the shadow of those five rings, the branded trademark of the Olympic movement. So why not bring back art as a medal event? The Olympics never completely abandoned its thoughtful nod toward art. The opening ceremonies are proof of that. The opening ceremonies are a performance more moving than any Broadway show I've ever seen.

And I've seen "Cats"!

The opening ceremonies are part of the Olympic movement as much as any sport.

How about some kind of rating system for those ceremonies? Or a judging panel that doesn't include Paula Ab-drool or David Hasselhoff.

Let's say the Vancouver opening ceremony got a 9.2 out of 10. The Berlin 1936 opening ceremony got a -0.072 out of 10 because in art competitions you get HUGE point deductions for racism, and being Hitler.

The judging would be difficult. Who was a better artist, Matisse or Monet? Or Robert Crumb? It shouldn't be a competition to determine the best artist. It would be more like a lifetime achievement award to artists interested in sport.

Additionally, I would like to see some definitive grading system to put to rest the debate I seem to have with every Australian I've ever met over whether the Sydney opening ceremony was the greatest thing since kangaroo meat. Please!

A medal should be given to the people that organize the opening ceremonies, because they deserve one. They're beautiful. They promote sport and health. They're a moving thing to watch -- and to be part of from what I'm told.

-- Gary Hall Jr.

Photo: The opening ceremony is awash with color. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times


The demigod (dis)advantage for Shaun White

Shaunwhite_250 Shaun White was on my TV set the other night, clowning around. Because that's what he does.

What a great job that guy has. He makes around $10 million a year to skateboard and snowboard, and do whatever else he feels like doing. He does all of that in between flying to exotic locations to skateboard and snowboard and do whatever else he feels like doing. Did I mention that he gets paid about $10 million a year, accompanied by the perks of rock stardom?

Yes, I'm jealous. If you aren't jealous, there's something wrong with you.

In a judged Olympic sport, this demigod status offers an unbelievable advantage over his competitors? I’m asking it as a question.

When Michael Phelps, a demigod of the swimming variety, steps onto the pool deck he has the "demigod advantage" because he's already in the minds of his competitors. If the competition is thinking about Michael Phelps, then they aren't thinking about their race. That's an advantage.

But the influence stops there. The clock doesn't care about demigods, or how much they earn, or the color of their Lamborghini.

But judges are people who are prone to be influenced by such status. No judge will admit it. Of course, they are above that? Again, I'm asking it as a question.

If you believe that all people, snowboard judges too, are familiar with that odd emotion we sometimes refer to as jealousy, then you must concede that it is indeed a powerful and influential emotion.

Is it an emotion or feeling? I don't know.

Jealousy is commonly thought of as a bad thing. We have all seen unchecked jealousy manifest in ugly ways that lead to hate. However, jealousy isn't always bad. I don't hate Shaun White, I think he's probably pretty cool. I'm not in love with him, like NBC, but I would love to be in his shoes and I think that means I'm jealous. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Jealousy can build up or tear down the stature of its subject. With as much Shaun White coverage as you are about to be force-fed from the good folks in media (all of them, myself now included), it is difficult not to have an opinion on Shaun White. It's even more difficult not to be jealous of him.

A demigod in a judged sport will undoubtedly have its effect. Whether that effect is for better or for worse is for you to judge.

-- Gary Hall, Jr.

Photo: Shaun White addresses the media on Thursday. Credit: Kyle Tereda / US Presswire


Watch out, readers, Gary Hall Jr. is back

Garyhall

I  was fortunate to submit coverage of the Beijing Olympics to the Los Angeles Times website and it is my great privilege to be covering the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In the world of journalism I'm known as a triple threat. I can talk, write and draw. Since my pen-and ink-rendering of Charles Barkley with an Egg McMuffin turban on his head was submitted, editors seem to have substituted the word "liability" in lieu of the word "threat." I never said I was good at any of my "liabilities."

But I'm back! The kindhearted editors of The Times have allowed a half-wit hack who can't be taken seriously to continue the digital scribbling coverage of the esteemed Olympic movement.

There were several concerns the editors had, of course, but the one that seemed obvious, even to me, was that I was a Summer Games swimmer who has no knowledge whatsoever of cold climate, let alone winter sports.
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