What will we remember from the Sochi Olympics?


My photo of Denis Ten at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. He will compete in Sochi.

As the world gets set to turn its eyes to Russia, there are several question marks surrounding these Games.

Will they be safe?

Will they be free from cheating and corruption?

Will police crack down on equal rights protests?

Will the infrastructure hold up?

There is so much to take attention away from the athletes at these Games.

Let’s put the focus back on the athletes. I have been lucky enough to cover two Olympic Games and both times I was blown away by the beauty of sport at the highest level.

There is such artistry in elite athletics. Even if you’re not a sports fan, there is much to admire.

I can’t wait to watch Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, seen above, perform in figure skating. He was the star of the World Figure Skating  Championships in London last March.

He won silver behind Canada’s Patrick Chan, but his performance was so superlative, a petition was started after the championship to try to get him the gold. Chan fell apart in the long program and many felt Ten should have been the winner.

Chan’s short program points kept him on top even after a terrible long skate.

What I remember about Chan’s short was not what it looked like, but what it sounded like.

An arena full of fans were stone silent when he was performing and his edges were so crisp, you could hear them chisel the ice. Like a bow across violin strings, Chan actually made the sound of the sport as delightful as the sight. It was a sound experience not to be forgotten.

What sports are you planning to watch?

I’ve always loved short-track speed skating, but when covering it at the Turin Olympics, I found it to be completely mesmerizing.

Apolo Anton Ohno, the most decorated American athlete at the Winter Games, was breathtaking to behold. He has retired, but there are many excellent speedskaters to watch, including Canadian Charles Hamelin.

Are you excited about the start of the Olympics?

Angry Chan wins on night of mistakes, while freedom fighter inspires silver medallist

The Miley Cyrus song, Everybody Has Those Days; Everybody Makes Mistakes, was running through my head at Budweiser Gardens Friday night.

And I don’t even like that song.

But as one after another competitor in the men’s free skate messed up, it was just ringing too true.

It would have been wonderful to continue the amazing skating that’s been on display all week at the World Figure Skating Championships.

But as the men upped the ante trying to include more quads, the house of cards fell flat at the Bud, which was a near sellout.

Chan did complete two quads, but missed two triples, and downgraded a couple of planned combination jumps. He was hitting himself on the forehead in frustration afterward.

“The more you fall, the more tired you are,” he told reporters. “I am angry at myself.”

Denis Ten of Kazakhstan won the silver and Javier Fernandez of Spain took bronze.

Ten had the best free skate of the night with another personal best of 174.92. Chan scored 169.41 on the long program, with 267.78 overall. Ten nearly caught him, finishing at 266.48.

An emotional Ten got down on his hands and knees at centre ice after his skate and kissed the ice. He touched his heart and blew kisses to the audience. Two Kazakhstan flags were seen in the crowd. Later he had one of them as he skated around the arena.

But he didn’t skate clean either, missing a triple flip. Still, the list of jumps he mastered was looong: quad toe, triple axel, triple toe, triple lutz, triple toe, double toe, triple salchow, triple loop, double axel. WOW.

And then there was his elastic flexibility, wonderful choreography and interpretation of The Artist and the towering height he achieved on those jumps.

Ten, 19, said he was extremely nervous. “I couldn’t sleep for two nights.”

He calmed himself down by pretending he wasn’t in medal contention. “I said to myself, ‘Imagine if you already lost…and you can just go and skate with freedom.’

“This is still the best skate I’ve done in four years.”

And speaking of freedom, thoughts of Ten’s ancestor, Korean freedom fighter General Min Keung-Ho (who sacrificed his life for Korea’s independence), brought courage to the skater.

“I wish I could meet with him and talk to him because I know how strong he was. All this helps me when I realize my great-great-grandfather was such a great man. Sometimes I skate and I think that he watches at me and I have no chance to fail him, to disappoint him. It’s sort of an additional responsibility to me.”

I was able to catch a quick moment with France’s Brian Joubert, who had a solid program, which included two quads and a triple axel right off the bat, but only received 148.09 from the judges. The crowd booed when his marks were displayed, hoping for higher.

Joubert, who finished ninth, said the marks were disappointing but he was pleased with his efforts. “That’s the judgement. For me, the most important was the feeling on the ice, the audience, my coach. I did my job. I have no regrets.”


NDP leader Thomas Mulcair presents flowers to Patrick Chan on the podium amidst a sea of purple.

Patrick Chan set a world record and a teenager from Kazakhstan soars to second

Canada is buzzing about two-time defending world champion, Patrick Chan, who was awarded 98.37 on his short program Wednesday at Budweiser Gardens.

Chan was impressive to be sure and the hushed crowd took in every breathtaking chisel of his skates as he painted a picture on the ice  surface. You could hear each stroke.

“It was so inspiring to be out there,” Chan said, moments after his world record-setting performance.

Close to the end of his program he said a cold rush went through his body, something you “only feel once in a lifetime. Or if you’re going to jump off a building.”

Not everyone was sure he deserved such high marks. A journalist from the Czech Republic was shaking her head. It was worth about 85, she said. A Canadian writer added, perhaps there was some home cooking going on.

I spoke to Skate Canada president Benoit Lavoie and he disagreed. He was a figure skating judge. Another international judge, not on the judging panel Wednesday, was disappointed Chan didn’t receive perfect scores, Benoit said.

But Chan even told reporters his landings weren’t great. He reached level four on his spins and footwork.

While I enjoyed watching Chan, it was 18-year-old Denis Ten of Kazakhstan who stole the show for me.

His artistry was stellar as he performed to the soundtrack of The Artist.

The passion of the skate sent a rush through the crowd, who gave him a standing ovation.

He pulled off a 91.56 score, tons better than his personal best of 75.94. He put his hands to his face when he realized he just had the performance of his career. He sits in second behind Chan

His bio said that he is part of the Korean minority in Kazakhstan. He is a descendant of Korean General Min Keung Ho, said to be famous, but I’m not sure why.

I also loved the performance side of Daisuke Takahashi of Japan. He also exuded charm as he skated to Moonlight Sonata.

Chan seemed like he was skating just to get it over with. I thought his flair was too forced.

He did say he was on “auto pilot.”

Chan also said there were doubts going into his short program. Now that he’s got those doubts out of the way, I’m sure Chan will skate a memorable long program Friday.

I’ve been following Max Aaron as I’m writing about him for Haaretz in Israel. He took a bump to the head last night during his warmup when he fell and slid into the boards.

“I felt it right away, I thought for a second I’d black out.” His coach, Tom Zakrajsek said he checked his pupils for any sign of a concussion.

Aaron set a personal best score of 78.20 and sits eighth.