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Category: Philip Hersh

Philip Hersh: Vonn shakes cobwebs, wins silver in world downhill [Updated]

Lindsey Vonn has won everything -- Olympic gold, world championship gold, World Cup titles, more World Cup races than any U.S. skier in history.

So second place at a major event should be no big deal to her.

But there was a good reason why Vonn said the silver medal she won in Sunday's World Championships downhill  "feels like a gold.''

LV  Just a few days ago, the concussion Vonn suffered in a Feb. 2 training crash had left her wondering whether she should risk racing again in the biennial world meet at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

After all, it's hard enough to hurtle down an ice-injected hill at 70 mph with all your faculties, let alone with a few cobwebs in the head.

[Updated 1 p.m.:  Which raises the issue of whether she is using her head or just being bull-headed by continuing to race with lingering effects of the concussion.

"Medically speaking, I'm doing what the doctors are telling me,'' she said Sunday in a conference call with U.S. reporters. "Every day, I'm feeling better, but I'm still having some symptoms in the race.'']

Doctors cleared Vonn to defend her 2009 Super-G title last Tuesday, but she lacked the confidence to go all out and wound up seventh. 

"I still don't have the concentration, agility and mental quickness to ski the way I am accustomed to,'' Vonn wrote Tuesday on her Facebook page.

 Then she tried the downhill leg of the combined Friday but decided to skip the slalom leg and still was uncertain about what to do.

 She felt good enough Sunday to defend the downhill title and wound up just forty-four one-hundredths of a second behind Austria's Elisabeth Goergl, who has matched Vonn's 2009 feat of double gold in the speed races, Super-G and downhill.

"I couldn't be happier,'' Vonn said about winning her fifth career world championships medal.

["I have had a rough couple weeks,'' Vonn said. "This injury has been really tough for me. I wasn't 100 percent today, but I'm really happy with the silver medal.''

Vonn actually has had a rough ride all season in terms of crashes that tweaked her knees and could have caused serious injuries.  But none has affected her like the concussion.  And, just to give her more of a headache, some European media have questioned whether this injury is real since she has continued to ski fast -- if not her fastest -- with it.

"They think I'm just making it up and am really not injured,'' she said. "If you look [at video of the Feb. 2 crash], I definitely hit my head, and I definitely am injured. I'm trying to explain my story and just tell people how I feel, and I guess some people don't believe me.''

Vonn said she has been taking a series of concussion-related tests every morning and skis only after the on-site team medical staff, including Dr. William Sterett, an orthopedic surgeon, says she has passed them. While saying she feels fine in normal activities, Vonn admitted the concussion still is having an impact when she races.

"I struggle maintaining focus from top to bottom,'' she said. "I'm still have issues about three-quarters of the way down. I don't have the concentration I need. I'm not able to ski the way I want to. I just become more passive.

" 'I wouldn't say I'm afraid. I'm just not as self-confident as I normally am.''

Vonn declined to elaborate on details of what symptoms precipitate the focus problem. She admitted a slip near the end of Sunday's race could be attributed to the declining concentration. 

"In general, I had a harder time with [course] bumps,'' she said. "When I start to lose focus, it becomes really difficult for me to stay shead of the course, so to speak. The bumps tend to throw me around.  I almost went down there.'']

 Vonn said she was unsure about skiing any of the final three races at worlds -- the team event, giant slalom and slalom. The team event has yet to gain any traction since being introduced at worlds in 2005, and the GS and slalom are Vonn's weakest disciplines.

[There also the question of why she has raced at all, knowing another head impact while she is recovering from a concussion could lead to a more damaging injury. She said the doctors have outlined the risk for her.

"I am fully aware [of the dangers],'' she said. "I realize the risk is very high, but I think we have made safe decisions. I passed every test along the way. It's a tough situation because I'm [only] getting symptoms while I'm skiing.''

After the medical staff has cleared her, Vonn said, "ultimately it's my decision. I'm stubborn. I'm a competitor. I never can say no.''

Vonn did not rule out the possibility of not racing again this season.

Rest may help her before the World Cup season resumes Feb. 25. Trying to win a fourth straight World Cup overall title, she currently trails Germany's Maria Riesch by 156 points in a scoring system where a race victory earns 100, with points awarded on a sliding scale down to 30th place.

"I'm definitely unsure about what I should do next,'' she said. "How can I feel 100 percent again? The only answer is to take time off, but it's really hard to do when you are at a world championship event. My goal for the next coming weeks is to finish the season strong and try to defend my title the best I can.'']

 --Philip Hersh

Photo: Lindsey Vonn flashes a golden smile after winning silver in Sunday's downhill at the World Championships. (Odd Andersen / Getty Images)

 

 

Philip Hersh: U.S. figure skating pair Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker going places fast

It was a long trip for an apparently insignificant competition, but one that pairs figure skaters Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker hoped might pay a big dividend.

Marley and Brubaker went to the GAM Nestle Nesquik Cup in Torun, Poland, early last month. It was not only their first international competition but also their first competition period, although calling it that was a bit of an exaggeration.

They would compete in Torun against only one opponent, a very weak Bulgarian team whom the U.S. pair beat by 63 points.

And that was the easy part.

M&B Marley, 15, skated in Poland with a 103-degree fever and came back to her Southern California training base still washed out by the illness, which didn't bode well with the U.S. Championships just three weeks away in North Carolina.

But the first-year pair from suburban Chicago -- she is from Downers Grove, he from Algonquin -- also brought back a score good enough to qualify for participation in major international competitions.  

Which is a good thing, because they will suddenly find themselves at such a meet next week.

Marley and Brubaker learned Friday that they were going to the Four Continents Championship in Taipei as replacements for Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett after Barrett needed 42 stitches in his right calf for a cut made by Denney's skate blade.

"Things work out for a reason," Brubaker said when I reached him by phone Saturday afternoon. "I feel bad for Caydee and Jeremy but I'm happy we're going."

After finishing fourth at nationals, Marley and Brubaker thought they might get one of the three U.S. places at Four Continents, especially because the top two teams would be returning to Asia a month later for the World Championships in Tokyo.

But the top three teams all decided to go to Taipei, so Marley and Brubaker settled for the satisfaction of knowing how far they had come since she had a tryout with him last August.

"One of the things Mr. Nicks [their coach, John Nicks] said afterward is this is really going to set you up well for next year," Brubaker said. "That is what we kind of came to do -- get ourselves out there, let people know we're here. Next year, our goals will be a little bit different."

Before U.S. Figure Skating named its Four Continents team, I had asked Brubaker what going to that event would mean.

"It would be a nice bonus," he said, "a way to put our faces on the [international] scene. Sometimes when people see you for the first they don't know how to judge you."

Brubaker, 24, finished second at Four Continents last year with Keauna McLaughlin, who decided soon after to retire from competitive skating. They had failed to make the 2010 Olympic team after staggering into fifth place at last year's nationals.

Brubaker, a two-time U.S. champion with McLaughlin, was prepared to take a year off until USFS high performance director Mitch Moyer suggested Marley as a possible partner.

Now he and Marley are rushing to retrain their competitive programs before leaving Sunday for Four Continents. The pairs event begins Thursday.

"We have been skating since nationals, but it mainly has been to work on individual elements," he said. "Four Continents was so close to nationals that we were more concerned about having the programs still ready if something happened that sent us to worlds.

"We trained our programs today and didn't feel out of shape. I think we'll be just fine."

From tryout to Torun to Taipei. Marley and Brubaker are going places fast.

"If anyone had suggested to me last August that this could happen, I would have stared in disbelief," Brubaker said.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker perform their short program at January’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, N.C. Credit: Chuck Burton / Associated Press

Philip Hersh: In finishing 12th, Bode Miller adds to legend

Bode Miller showed again why he is the greatest and most charismatic skier in U.S. history.

And he did it by finishing 12th in Tuesday's Super-G at the World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

(Yes, at times -- notably the 2006 Olympics -- Miller also has been the most annoying and petulantly infuriating great skier in history, but we all saw a more mature, reinvented Bode at the 2010 Olympics, and his attitude does not appear to have changed.)

Anyway, Miller added another amazing chapter to his oft-picaresque biography when he lost his right pole after hooking his arm on a gate two-thirds of the way into Tuesday's race.  He still gained time on the leaders in the next 25 seconds before he could no longer control his line.

(For Universal Sports video of the race, click here.)

Bode Miller insisted that even with both poles, he likely would have made a costly mistake.  Given his penchant for racing at the edge, that may be true.  But it seems just as possible he would have won.

He motivated Christoph Innerhofer of Italy to make a run that would end with his winning a first major title.

"I saw Bode Miller and I told myself that's how I had to race too," Innerhofer was quoted as saying in an Associated Press report. "Simply give your best, then you can't reproach yourself at the finish."

With what would have been about 16 seconds left to ski in this Super-G, Miller had the fastest interval time, 0.03 seconds ahead of Innerhofer.  Five seconds later, Miller went off line so badly he chose to stand up and coast to the finish.

"I wasn't out of the race when I hooked my arm. It was a matter of making it to the finish without a big mistake and I probably couldn't have avoided that mistake with a pole,'' Miller said.  "You saw Aksel [Svindal] blow out right there too, and Aksel is one of the best in the world.

"It's not the way I wanted to start it (worlds), but the speed is good. It's encouraging to see that I have the right tactics. I just need to hang on to all my equipment until I get to the finish."

This episode recalled his one-ski adventure at the 2005 worlds.  My story on that race, which I saw firsthand, is below:

Chicago Tribune
February 4, 2005 

One-ski feat only adds to Miller legend; American stays upright, on course for 90 seconds

By Philip Hersh, Tribune Olympic sports reporter.

BORMIO, Italy -- When Bode Miller was halfway through his run, an Italian TV commentator told his audience Miller's performance was going to be the highlight of the day.

Some would call what Miller did in the downhill portion of Thursday's combined at the World Alpine Championships a highlight for the ages--or at least several "SportsCenter" cycles, which define a sporting eternity these days.

After all, it isn't often a racer goes more than a mile down a precipitous, bumpy and icy mountain at speeds near 50 m.p.h. . . . on one ski.

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Philip Hersh: Julia Mancuso adds another big line to her impressive ski record

It seems a contradiction: Julia Mancuso, long one of the most outgoing personalities in sports, quietly putting together a resume that makes her one of the most outstanding people in her sport.

Mancuso added another line to it Tuesday, finishing second in the super-G as the World Alpine Championships opened in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

It was her fourth world medal, with two bronzes in 2005 and a silver in 2007.

Julia "Still chasing the win,'' Mancuso said after losing to Elisabeth Goergl of Austria by just 5/100ths of a second Tuesday. "I'll remember I need those five hundredths. I really, really wanted to win.''

Mancuso has the win -- and at the Olympics, no less.  

But her giant slalom triumph in 2006 went largely overlooked with all the focus on Bode Miller's failures.

And her two Olympic silvers last February disappeared under the avalanche of attention given her teammate, Lindsey Vonn, who has captured more media than any other U.S. winter sports athlete the last three seasons.

Vonn also captured a lot of male libidos by appearing in scanty bikinis in the 2010 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Mancuso had struck similarly alluring poses in skimpy underthings a few years earlier as a "Lange girl,'' but those images for a boot manufacturer got no circulation outside the ski world.

That she chafes over Vonn always being on center stage was apparent last winter, when my colleague Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated got Mancuso to talk about it.

"It really feels like not many people know about my gold medal," Mancuso told Layden. "Why does the media have to have just one star? When I got my silver in the combined and Lindsey fell, all the headlines were like VONN FALLS, MANCUSO SECOND. Why couldn't the stories say VONN LIVES UP TO GOLD EXPECTATIONS; MANCUSO SHINES TOO? It seems like a popularity contest."

Vonn, defending world champion in the super-G, came into Tuesday's race uncertain about whether she would ski after sustaining a concussion in training last week. Monday, she had launched a justifiable broadside about the dangerous conditions the women were facing on an ice-injected course so slick another U.S. skier said she could see her reflection on the track.

Vonn finished seventh Tuesday with a run that plainly was conservative.

"It's not hard to see who the best was today; they really deserved it, and I'm just disappointed I wasn't quite with it, my head wasn't in it," Vonn said.

Mancuso plainly didn't want to hear about that.

After Tuesday's race was over, a journalist asked Mancuso for her opinion on Vonn: "What do you make of Lindsey's situation?  Did she psych herself out yesterday [talking about the danger]?  She's obviously not 100% as well.''

Mancuso's answer seemed tellingly brief.

"Yuh, I'm not sure, I don't really know her situation,'' Mancuso said.

Mancuso said she wound up being surprised by course conditions, which did not create the gaps between finishers she expected.

"I was listening to the reports and everyone said, 'You've really got to go for it. It's not slick at all; it's just bumpy,''' she said.  

Mancuso expects similar conditions for Sunday's downhill, which should work to her advantage, especially since her World Cup downhill performances this season have been among the best of her career. They include a second (to Vonn's third) at the most recent World Cup downhill. 

"It's going to be turny, and [you will need] a little more speed control,'' Mancuso said. That should play to the advantage of a skier such as Mancuso, with a strong record in giant slalom.

The super-combined comes up first (Friday), and both Mancuso and Vonn should be leading medal contenders there. Vonn is the defending champion in the downhill.

"I still don't have the concentration, agility, and mental quickness to ski the way I am accustomed to,'' Vonn said Tuesday on her Facebook page. "I've decided together with my husband, doctors and coaches to skip tomorrow's downhill training run. I will continue to skip training runs and events until I feel normal again.''

Vonn has earned her attention, and her career numbers clearly are better than Mancuso's: four world medals (two gold, two silver), two Olympic medals and, the big difference, three straight World Cup overall and super-G season titles plus four straight downhill titles. Mancuso has not won a World Cup season title.

But Mancuso deserves props, too.

It would, of course, be typical if she turns out to be the U.S. star in these post-Olympic worlds, when most of her country probably thinks skiers are just waiting for the next Winter Games.

When everyone is waiting to see Lindsey Vonn again.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Julia Mancuso struts her stuff after winning world silver Tuesday.  Credit: Odd Andersen / Getty Images

Philip Hersh: Yet another detour in luger Christian Niccum's long ride

I wrote a story in December about Christian Niccum's odyssey of injuries, self-doubt and a doping ban during the 12 years between his medal-winning rides on the World Cup luge circuit. No one ever had gone longer between podiums.

(For that story, click here.)

Just got an e-mail from USA Luge saying Niccum has had another rough turn: a back injury that may require surgery and has caused him to end his season prematurely.

NiccumSaid USA Luge's Sandy Caligiore in the e-mail: "He’ll be in Marina del Rey, CA, next week getting assessed by Dr. Robt Bray of D.I.S.C. Sports and Spine Center.''

After competing in the 2010 Olympics, Niccum had turned to Bray to deal with chronic back problems. Bray convinced Niccum there was a cure if he came to the D.I.S.C. Center for six weeks of rehab. When it ended, Niccum felt good enough to think of sliding again, and he teamed with a new partner, Jayson Terdiman.

"After Christmas, each week my back just got worse and worse and worse,'' Niccum said of the latest setback. "I'm not in too much pain, but I just want to take the proper precaution so it doesn't turn into something worse.

"Over the last month, my back hasn't been able to stand up to the demand of going down the track in the fast, proper position.''

Niccum and Terdiman finished eighth, eighth and 15th in three January World Cups and then 11th in last weekend's World Championships.

They had been fifth, third, eighth and sixth in the World Cups before Christmas.

"I think the season started a little too soon, and I came out of the gates a little too strong,'' Niccum said. "I think I used up too many of the good runs at the beginning of the year.''

Niccum, who turned 33 last week, insisted the 2014 Olympics still were his goal.

"I want to win,'' he said. "That's the biggest driving force.''

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Christian Niccum sits up after he and partner Jayson Terdiman finished sixth at the December World Cup in Park City, Utah. (Steve C. Wilson / Associated Press)

Skater Jason Brown hopes to follow in Evan Lysacek's footsteps

Here are my last words on the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

And the first I ever have written about Jason Brown.

But they certainly won't be the last, given how well the 16-year-old sophomore at Illinois' Highland Park High School skated to finish ninth in his senior-level debut at nationals.

Has this put him on a similar path to that of another Chicago suburbanite, Evan Lysacek, the 2010 Olympic men's champion?

Brown's coach, Kori Ade, chooses to see it that way.

Asked if the next Olympics would come too soon for Brown, she said, "I don't think so'' and invoked Lysacek's name.

"That's our goal,'' Ade said of the 2014 Winter Games. "The perfect plan would be for Jason to do what Evan did and go twice.''

Brown, who turned 16 less than two months ago, won't get too far ahead of himself, insisting he is taking things a year at a time.

Brown He does admit to looking at Lysacek's career arc as an example.

"It's great to see he was able to do it,'' Brown said, "so you know it actually isn't too much of a fantasy or a dream to get there from where I am.''

There are a number of similarities.

Lysacek was a 15-year-old high school sophomore when he finished 12th at his U.S. senior debut in 2001.

Both Lysacek and Brown moved up to seniors after winning the junior national title the year before.

Both had yet to master the triple axel jump, a litmus test for senior skaters, in their first year at the top level.

Both were in the midst of growth spurts: Lysacek, now 6 feet, 2 inches, was on his way from 5-3 to 5-9 by his second senior nationals.  Brown, now 5-5, said he had grown 4 inches since the 2010 nationals.

There are differences too.  Lysacek had six trips to senior nationals before his Olympics in 2006, when he finished fourth, one missed jump from a medal.  Brown will be able to have just four senior nationals before the 2014 Olympics.

But Lysacek's barely noticed 11th-place free skate at his first senior nationals was a far cry from the dazzling effort Sunday that earned Brown seventh in the free skate and rousing acclaim from the Greensboro Coliseum crowd.

"It was a dream come true to get the audience to stand,'' Brown said.

With his long hair tied in a ponytail that bounced off his neck as he flew around the rink, Brown had huge jumps, striking speed on his speeds and leg extension worthy of a ballet leading man.

Brown, second youngest of the 22 men in the field, finished just .94 behind two-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott and beat 2009 U.S. runner-up Brandon Mroz in the free skate.

"That is the future of men's figure skating,'' three-time national medalist Tonia Kwiatkowski said in her IceNetwork.com commentary on Brown's free skate.

There were only two negative grades from judges among the 180 marks Brown received for technical-element execution -- scored from minus-three to plus-three -- in his short program and free skate.

Both minuses came on a flying camel spin of the highest difficulty level in the short program.   Then Brown piled up more total points for the three spins in the free skate than any of the eight men ahead of him in the final standings.

With the problems caused by his growth, Brown and Ade, his coach of 11 years, decided to put off trying the triple axel for another season.

"In his first year as a senior, it was more important to show everyone he could skate,''  Ade said.  "Jason has really proved he is a solid competitor.''

Brown goes on from here to the World Junior Championships, Feb. 28 to March 6 in South Korea.  He likely will continue to compete on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for a season or two more.

That's just what Evan Lysacek did.

Photo: Jason Brown spinning in the free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Jan. 30, 2011.  Credit: Michelle Harvath / U.S. Figure Skating

Philip Hersh: World Figure Skating Championships unlikely to produce a big haul for U.S.

Men

One medal.

That's what the United States figures to get at the March World Figure Skating Championships.

That's all that the results -- and quality of skating -- from the U.S. Championships that ended  Sunday would augur.

One medal would be the same as last year, when the outlook was better, even if you don't include eventual Olympic champion Evan Lysacek  (who skipped worlds) in the equation.

It would be the fourth time in five years dating to 2007 that Team USA has won just one medal.  That lone bronze medal in 2007 had been the lowest U.S. total at worlds since 1994.

The difference is the one medal this year could be special, since Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who earned the sole prize (silver) in 2010,  have a shot at the first ice dance gold in U.S. history.

Whether they can get it should be clearer after next month's Four Continents Championship, where reigning world and Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada plan a season debut delayed by her injury.

Davis If Davis and White can't beat the Canadians at Four Continents , it's unlikely they will do it at worlds a month later in Tokyo.

And here is the outlook in the other three disciplines:

MEN -- The story here will be whether the United States can hold onto a third spot for the 2012 worlds.  To do that, the top two U.S. finishes have to add up to 13 or fewer points.

It doesn't look good.

Since he did not come out of retirement until October, new U.S. champion Ryan Bradley has not done any international events this season.  The last memory international judges have of Bradley is that of an injured skater who staggered to 18th at the 2010 worlds.  He was 15th at his other world appearance in 2007.

While Bradley's victory at nationals was deserved, his free skate was sloppy, and he skated much of it at about 2 miles per hour.  The two months between now and worlds should give him a chance to build stamina that was lacking because he began serious training so late.

The other two members of the team for Tokyo, world meet rookies Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner, could surprise if a) each feels as little pressure as he did as a podium longshot at nationals; and b) each skates an error-free program as he did at nationals.

Realistically, though, either would succeed by breaking into the top 10 at worlds.

After all, Dornbush still was on the Junior Grand Prix circuit this season, and Miner finished seventh and ninth in his two senior Grand Prix appearances, where each field included only about one-third of the world's top men.

WOMEN -- The U.S. medal drought in the women's event at worlds, four years, already is the longest since Hedy Stenuf's bronze in 1938 ended a seven-year shutout.

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U.S. speedskaters arrive in Moscow on day of bombing

When U.S. speedskating coach Ryan Shimabukuro turned on his cellphone after he and several skaters landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport at 6 p.m. local time Monday, he found several messages asking if they were all right.

Shimabukuro, who had flown to Moscow from the Netherlands, had no idea why anyone would be concerned until he responded, "Yes, why?'' and got answers to that question as his plane taxied to the arrival gate.

Then he and the skaters learned of the Monday afternoon bombing that had killed at least 34 people and injured more than 160 at Moscow's primary international airport, Domodedovo.  Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, called it a terrorist act.

Now the question is whether the U.S. skaters, coaches and team personnel will remain in Moscow for the World Cup meet scheduled to begin Friday -- or whether the meet will take place.

"The skaters were obviously concerned at first, but once we got to the hotel, I think everyone started to relax a little,'' Shimabukuro said in an e-mail sent at 10:30 p.m. Monday, Moscow time.  "I can't speak for everyone on the team, but I want to stay and compete.

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A belated salute to Bud Greenspan

Between a holiday vacation and total immersion in a story to be published later this winter, I have been absent from this space for several weeks.

Fabforum That means it's time to catch up.

There were a number of things worth comment here over the last month, but only one was so significant that I both feel remiss over not having written about it earlier and compelled to do it now.

That is the Dec. 25 death of filmmaker Bud Greenspan, 84, whose work was among the best documentary storytelling of the last 50 years.

(And kudos to Universal Sports for reminding us of his skills in its "9 Nights of Glory" tribute to Greenspan, during which the network aired his Olympic Games retrospectives, called "16 Days of Glory.'' Play it again, Universal.)

In his "official'' Olympic Games films, his 22-part "Olympiad Series,'' his brilliant idea to bring Jesse Owens back to Berlin for a TV film and his other movies, including a 2002 portrait of figure skater Michelle Kwan, filmmaker Greenspan often chose not to elaborate on what TV broadcasts had covered in-depth but to show us instead the good stuff we had missed.

Prime examples, both from track and field:

 -- His film on the 1988 Seoul Olympics acknowledged the biggest pure news story, the doping disqualification of 100-meter winner Ben Johnson, by telling it through the prism of U.S. sprinter Calvin Smith, who was "all but unnoticed'' at the start of the 100 meters, finished fourth and later received the bronze medal out of sight under the stadium.

-- And his film on the 2000 Olympics showed what most reporters there were too distracted to notice because of the uproar caused by the doping story involving Marion Jones' then husband, shot-putter C. J. Hunter, and its potential effect on Jones' celebrated quest for five gold medals. The day the Hunter story broke ended with what may have been the greatest night in track and field history. Greenspan relived that night by forgetting poor Marion (who turned out to be the biggest fraud in track and field history) and highlighting the emotional triumphs of Cathy Freeman, Michael Johnson and Haile Gebrselassie, among others.

I just watched again the piece of his 1988 Winter Olympics film that focused on the highly publicized women's figure skating and was struck by how he let the story tell itself, with little voice-over, especially in letting Debi Thomas' brutally honest backstage reaction stand without comment.

Yes, Greenspan was inclined to romanticize the Olympics and their ideals, to favor a hagiographic approach in athlete profiles. As the International Olympic Committee said in noting his death: "Bud Greenspan was a talented filmmaker and a true supporter of the Olympic Games and their values throughout his career.''

But Greenspan also humanized the Games in a way no one ever had done before, telling us the stories of competition and competitors even better than the "up close and personal'' features with which ABC had revolutionized Olympic coverage in the United States many years ago.

"Bud is one of those who made an impact on peoples' lives by capturing what inspires and creating dreams,'' Kwan, the two-time Olympic medalist, said after Greenspan's passing. "He always makes me think of how I dreamed about the Olympics.

"He told stories in his own way, focusing on the details and the subtleties that would carry the story and make it real. For him to do a film on me was a complete honor.''

I was honored that Greenspan often sought my opinion on what might be the most interesting stories of an upcoming Olympics.

Most of all, though, he ennobled us all with a vision of our better sides, of the values of striving, of how triumph often belonged to an athlete who never came close to medals, best exemplified by his portrait of the last finisher in the 1968 Olympic marathon, or to those who struggled with personal demons, such as 1988 skating bronze medalist Lu Chen of China.

I also watched the piece on Lu again Tuesday, and my eyes were blurred by tears at the end.

This man who always wore glasses uselessly perched atop his bald head still had an eye discerning enough to see what athletes really accomplished, especially in the Olympics.

And while I feel bad about not getting to this earlier, I realized in seeing the films again that it really makes no difference.

Because Bud Greenspan's work is timeless.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Bud Greenspan in 1980. Credit: Associated Press

 

Philip Hersh: 24th annual awards to international sports figures

Yunakim_300 So here we are, at the end of another year, finding ourselves looking back at an Olympics with tragedy and triumph, with good sports and sore losers (you know who you are, Evgeny Plushenko), a year with stirring achievements and the taint of doping charges on yet another Tour de France winner.

A year when injuries and a little indifference to training, in a chicken-and-egg relationship, made Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt seem mortal again.

A year when South Korean figure skater Yuna Kim (pictured at left) joined her sport's immortals with an Olympic performance for the ages.

A year when Bode Miller's quest for the perfect run meshed with what he always considers an imperfect judgment of his runs — where they put him in the standings.

A year marked by the passing of an old potentate, former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who died at 89 after a life in which he utterly transformed the Olympics, for better and for worse.

A year marked by the passing of a luge racer, Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, of Georgia, about to realize the dream of his young life until he died in a training crash on an Olympic course officials knew was too fast for anyone's good.

The first year since 2002 someone other than Michael Phelps was the best swimmer in the world. (Hello, Ryan Lochte.)

The year when swimming's decade of suit stupidity ended — but not the mockery the high-tech suits have made of the sport's records.

The first year since time immemorial that the United States Olympic Committee leadership did not make a mockery of itself, thanks to the quietly effective resolve of CEO Scott Blackmun and Chairman Larry Probst.

And another year of brilliance for Simon Ammann and Shaun White and Shani Davis, Lindsey Vonn and Mariel Zagunis and Samuel Wanjiru and all the others whose names you will find in my 24th annual international sports awards.

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FIFA offers little information on Women's World Cup

Immediately after the stunning success on every level of the 1999 Women's World Cup in the United States, international soccer federation president Joseph Blatter said "the future of [soccer] is feminine.''

Eleven years later, all one can say about that is, "The present -- not so much.''

That is what I sadly was left to conclude after a couple days of vainly searching the international federation's website and the Italian soccer federation's website for information about the team the United States must beat to qualify for the 2011 World Cup in Germany.

The situation is a shameful reflection on the ignorance of the tired old men who run the sport.

Read more in Philip Hersh's Globetrotting blog: Women's soccer still an international afterthought

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