Friday, February 02, 2007

Big Stink about Retirement Negligence

I just found out that USSPEEDSKATING had been negligent in reporting my official retirement to the U.S.O.C. How did I find this out? Well, yesterday I received in the mail a 1099-misc, which is a Miscellaneous Income form, a copy of which will be submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, stating that I received $3150.00 in nonemployee compensation from the United States Olympic Committee.

As it turns out, the U.S.O.C. was not notified of my retirement until November of 2006, and so they kept me on their Elite Athlete Health Insurance plan for the year of 2006. Therefore, I am now responsible for paying taxes on $3150 in benefits that I had no idea I was getting.

I am aware of the official rules for elite athlete retirement. The athlete's responsibility is to notify the federation (USSPEEDSKATING) of their retirement, in writing. Also, the athlete is responsible for informing US Antidoping of their retirement (which I did promptly in early January of last year). Upon receiving the notification of the athlete's retirement, it is the responsibility of the federation to notify the U.S.O.C. of the athlete's retirement. USSPEEDSKATING failed to do so.

Now, in this post, I will restate my retirement plans, and my reasons for retiring WHEN and HOW I did. Let this post also serve as my official testimony for Mr. Howard Jacobs, an attorney who was hired by a group of short track skaters' parents to investigate unfairness on the part of USSPEEDSKATING.

I retired immediately following my 1000 meter race on December 31, 2005, at the U.S. National Long Track Championships, which was one of the competitions taken into account in the selection of the 2006 Olympic Team. On that day, I had prepared a written statement of retirement. This statement was signed by at least a dozen witnesses. These witnesses included Chief Referee Ernie Kretchman and U.S. National Sprint Coach Ryan Shimabukuro.

Approximately 10 minutes following my 1000-meter race, I handed my signed statement of retirement to USSPEEDSKATING President Andy Gabel. I can contact a friend who has photos of me handing this statement to Gabel.

The reason why it was important for me to retire immediately after my last race at the so-called "Olympic Trials" was in protest of unfairness in USSPEEDSKATING's Olympic Team selection criteria, and in protest of the composition of the actual Olympic Team Selection Committee, which was inherently stacked three to two in favor of USSPEEDSKATING Team athletes, and against athletes from alternative training programs.

I felt that the Olympic selection rules were completely open-ended, allowing the selection committee to take results from the 2005 Fall World Cup season and the U.S. Nationals and spin the results in the best interest of their chosen athletes. I felt that the particular individuals chosen for the 5-member Long Track Olympic Team Selection Committee WOULD do this, because three of the five members were individuals who were employed and paid by USSPEEDSKATING to work directly with skaters who trained in USSPEEDSKATING programs.

At the time of my retirement, I had not qualified for the Olympic Team outright but was next in line to be added, and at a roster of 8 women, USSPEEDSKATING had not yet filled its quota of women for the Olympic Team. They had the option of adding two more women, for a total of ten. I retired because I knew that I would not be added to the team, even though either I or the woman who finished immediately behind me would have been better choices for the Team Pursuit event (due to our superior ability to hold steady lap times at high speed, and our superior ability to match teammates' strides while skating together). However, I believed that an inferior choice for that event would have her position on the Team Pursuit protected because she was a member of a USSPEEDSKATING training team, while I and the woman who finished behind me were not.

Another reason why I believed the Olympic Team selection would be unfair is because of an alleged relationship between one of the committee members and the Team Pursuit skater at the center of the controversy. Though the exact nature of this relationship was never fully exposed, many people felt it was blatant enough to demand the exclusion of the administrator in question from his position on the Selection Committee.

Further information came out that proved me right in my assessment of the situation. Following the original Selection Committee decision on the women's team, which in fact was NOT to add additional women to the team, a coach of one of the other women's Team Pursuit skaters DEMANDED A RE-VOTE on the women's team, stating that in the best interest of his own skater's medal chances in that event, he wanted to replace (the skater at the center of the controversy) with Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr -- the woman who had finished behind me at the Trials. But the Selection Committee stood by their original decision.

A couple of months later, during the Olympics in Torino, I got an email from a spectator saying, "If either you or Nancy had been on that pursuit team, then all the women would have gone home with a medal."

As a side note, two extra men WERE added to the 2006 Olympic Team, filling USSPEEDSKATING's quota for male athletes. Both these men were members of Tom Cushman's USSPEEDSKATING Allround training team. I believe that Cushman, a member of the Selection Committee, pushed for the addition of Charles Ryan Leveille in part to justify allowing this skater to walk-on to the National Team prior to any qualification competitions earlier in the fall, and I believe that he pushed for the addition of Clay Mull to make up for betraying and neglecting Clay (and the rest of his own team, paying more attention to Charles, whom he had just "discovered") leading up to the Fall World Cup Qualifier and thereby screwing up Clay's chances of qualifying for the Olympic Team in the 5000 meters.

As it turned out, USSPEEDSKATING did not bring enough women to Torino, and embarrassingly failed to fill its full entry quota in the 1500 meters -- an event that either Nancy or I would have loved to be able to skate. USSPEEDSKATING had failed to take into account the severity of the injuries faced by two of its female skaters, both of whom declined to compete in that event. The next woman who could have been entered in the 1500, who happened to be the one at the center of the Team Pursuit controversy, declined to skate because she "hadn't been given at least 24 hours' notice."

I believe that the events surrounding and following the selection of the 2006 Olympic Team proved that I was right in considering the USSPEEDSKATING Selection Criteria unfair, and that I made the right decision by retiring on December 31, 2005. It is a shame that USSPEEDSKATING did not follow through and report my retirement to the U.S.O.C.

The fact that I retired on the last day of 2005 is well known and well documented. On the day of my last race, I walked into the Utah Olympic Oval a competitive speedskater, and I walked out of the Utah Olympic Oval a retired athlete. By January 1, 2006, I was officially NOT A COMPETITIVE ATHLETE but a molecular biologist who had re-entered the job market. I was employed by the end of February and at that time I started getting health insurance through my work.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Inertia: Why USSPEEDSKATING is unlikely to change

"When you first started speedskating and we received our first few issues of The Racing Blade, I noticed that more than half of the photos in it were of old men shaking hands at some Hall of Fame banquet. It was then that I realized what kind of society my child would be entering."

Even if it had been possible for my mother to explain sports politics to me when I was eleven years old, she wouldn't have been able to convince me that it would matter, and why I wouldn't be able to overcome it simply by focusing on racing against the clock.

My family have always been the type of people who would rather go the long way than to step on other peoples' toes; who'd hope that honest hard work and achievement would speak for themselves. But though my parents were the kind of people who would prefer to avoid entirely the type of organization that is run by illogical thugs-- seeing it as an immovable hazard rather than something that could be changed -- I had always seen my fight with USSPEEDSKATING as an opportunity to make the world a better place.

From what I've observed in the past year since my retirement from competitive speedskating, I do not believe that this organization has the potential to change. What is it that I want most for myself right now? I want to wake up in the morning without feeling the gnawing obsession to shape my words into the weapon that will do the most possible damage to my enemies. After all, why continue to endure a state of toxicity, with no hope of reform?

These are the reasons why I think USSPEEDSKATING will not change:

1. The satisfaction of most of the current National-level skaters is somewhat unsettling. Most don't seem to care how much the Norwegian team earns, for example, and aren't concerned with state-sponsored "shamateurism," where athletes from other countries are supposedly "soldiers," or "students," but in reality are paid to train full-time. For many American skaters, all they know is that "Mom and Dad are totally stoked that I'm on the National Team and I won't have to be looking for a job any time soon."

That kind of attitude just makes me wonder who it is that I'm fighting for, and almost makes me embarrassed to care.

2. The athletes who are smart enough to be dissatisfied, while being strong and talented enough to be champions AND have the financial means to support their speedskating careers WILL make it, if they find a way to work around USSPEEDSKATING. And when they do become champions, USSPEEDSKATING will take all the credit.

3. USSPEEDSKATING continues to attract like-minded people to employ (for example, former athletes who were once screwed over by the federation, who have sold out and are now willing to screw the next generation). At the same time, USS continues to repel intelligent, logical, and ethical individuals who would have something of value to offer.

4. The lack of oversight from the U.S.O.C. and incomplete investigations of unfairness by even higher authorities are just another sad commentary on American society; it makes me see that "ethics has left the conversation entirely," and that there seems to be no higher authority that will make corrupt organizations shape up.

5. The dynamics of the forces of power, money, and old attitudes in USSPEEDSKATING between the CONTROLLERS and the CONTROLLED will continue to push against each other in such a way as to keep the system locked in place.

6. "It's just not worth it." For those of us who've tried to change USS, you find that the American speedskating culture is full of small-minded, miserable people, who are fighting over what amounts to bread crumbs.

After a while, you start to feel self-conscious of your own righteous anger, because on the whole, people just don't get it or don't want to see what's wrong. "Maybe if we ignore it, it will go away."

I hope that USSPEEDSKATING's decisions continue to be the joke of team locker rooms around the world. As for me, I'll be going snowboarding this weekend because I don't hate life enough to waste another hundredth of a second in the foul and choking atmosphere of USSPEEDSKATING.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

If I were a USS Board Member...

If I were a member of the USSPEEDSKATING Board of Directors, I would make it my goal to raise funds for my own nonprofit organization, just as Boards of other nonprofit organizations do. I would set as my goal the amount of money it would take to:

1. Provide each World Cup competitor in both Short Track and Long Track speedskating a living stipend of $1000 a month, and

2. Raise enough money to send a team of Junior B and C skaters to the Viking Race in Holland each year.

If I were one of those Board members who had an Olympic medal or two to my name, I would use my name and my influence to help the organization raise these funds. In fact, If I failed to do this, then I would no longer consider myself worthy of using my position on the Board in order to perpetuate my own past glory. Come on! Even the figure skating federation, which makes a lot of money selling TV rights to their events, holds fund raisers to send their developmental athletes overseas for competitions. I've NEVER seen the USS Board put together ANY KIND of fund raiser for their teams, and all they ever do is bitch and moan about not having any sponsors -- not to mention complaining about all the people like me who are "destroying the image of the sport" and preventing them from getting sponsors!

If I were a former Olympic medalist who was on the USS Board, I would realize that the REASON WHY hometowns no longer hold bake sales for their Olympic hopefuls is due to the perception that America's amateur athletes are "all set;" a perception that is promoted every time one of those athletes appears in public wearing the logo of a very large and successful company (while getting next to nothing for it), or every time some article appears in the newspapers about the latest high-tech sports science technology (which is either not available to all athletes or is used by coaches who don't know how to take full advantage of it).

I would also realize that if I promote the attitude that "If we support our athletes, then they'll only go out and buy video games and stereo systems," then THE ONLY ATHLETES WE'LL HAVE LEFT ARE THE ONES WHOSE MOMMIES AND DADDIES ARE WILLING TO PAY FOR EVERYTHING. And that is exactly what will happen when all your self-supported talent burns out and fades away.

I would realize that I am not put into that position of authority only to create and enforce rules, but also to do my best to help the athletes succeed...

...And then I wake up and come to the conclusion that this sport does not belong to people like me.

It's been a year now; my fact-finding mission at the Utah Olympic Oval is over. For the first time this morning, I woke up more than happy to come in to the lab and go to work, surrounded by people who are truly ethical and competent. And as I spread E. coli on 100 Petri dishes, I listened to a few of my favorite songs from the Offspring's Ixnay on the Hombre, and contemplated my experiences in the most un-American organization I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with...

"Nothing changes, 'cause it's all the same
The world you get's the one you give away.
It all just happens again way down the line

(Derek Parra, you're just another Andy Gabel.)

"Now when the day is set they'll line up all the same,
And those that need the most will never get or gain.
The ones you call your friends
Are failing you again.
Reach into your bag of tricks and make it go away...

You're in it for yourself, no one else.
You're ready, saving yourself,
You're going to change the world

And since you ain't what you say,
Then just go away

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Why WHIP will fail:

1. WHIP (the U.S.O.C. and USA Rollersports-funded "Wheels on Ice Program") thinks they're going to "find the next Chad Hedrick." What are the real odds of this? At the time Chad switched from inline to ice speedskating, he had won something like 25 world titles in inline. WHIP has thus far not been able to attract inliners of this caliber. Second of all, Chad had played ice hockey as a kid, so unlike pretty much all the other inliners, Chad already knew the feel of a blade on ice.

2. WHIP will fail in the short term because it is unlikely that their skaters will have time to get ready to be medal contenders by 2010. As an example: Jessica Smith is a world championship podium-level inline skater, and it is taking her some time to climb the rankings in ice speedskating.

3. WHIP will fail as a long-term plan because it actually is a band-aid solution that is supposed to take the place of a long-term plan to save speedskating in America. In reality, it is nothing more than an excuse to allow the destruction of ice speedskating infrastructure to continue along its current path.

4. WHIP will fail because it IS NOT IN FACT THE BEST WAY to choose the best possible medal contenders for the Vancouver Olympics. How likely is WHIP to produce a 3K skater who will go 4:05, as ice skater Maggie Crowley did in her very first World Cup performance last year at age 19? How likely is WHIP to produce a 1000-meter skater who will go 1:17, like ice skater Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. did last year, at age 18, without even training specifically for that event?

Four years ago, I was a talented ice speedskater with a great deal of potential who was rejected by USSPEEDSKATING. I will not stand here and watch the same thing happen to others. Do you know what an awesome feeling it is for me to be able to take all of the U.S. Team clothing I've earned over the years and shove it into a box way back in my storage closet, all the while being 100% confident in the knowledge that it is not in USSPEEDSKATING's or the U.S.O.C.'s best interest to have mistreated an athlete like me, and to feel sorry that during my competitive career I never had the PRIVILEGE of working with someone of the caliber of those top international coaches and program directors who had said they would LOVE TO work with an athlete like me?

Peter Mueller, whose last words to the USS administration years ago (before he left to seek employment elsewhere) were, "Go fuck yourselves," said it was a shame that I quit speedskating just as I was starting to get good. Well, too bad! I can't afford to do this any more. When I skated a 16th-place time in the 1000 meters at the 2005 World Cup final, on ice conditions that were disadvantaged compared to the rest of the Top 20, I came home to a monthly stipend of $140 a month. Now, Derek Parra is telling me that "inline skaters are the future..." and implying that ALL THEY NEED IN ORDER TO PROVE THEY'RE BETTER THAN ME IS MORE THAN THREE TIMES THE SUPPORT I EVER GOT.

Derek, if I went to the Home Depot, I'm reasonably sure I could trust you to explain the relative advantages and disadvantages of laminate, hardwood, and bamboo flooring, but you have FAILED to explain to me why inline skaters are CATEGORICALLY BETTER than ice speedskaters. Perhaps you'd like to ask Chris Witty, Casey Fitzrandolph, Kip Carpenter, Shani Davis, and Tucker Fredericks about their experiences on wheels? Perhaps you'd like to go up to athletes like Paul Dyrud, Mike Blumel, Tyler Goff, Maria Lamb, and Matt Plummer and tell them what you told me to my face: That it's too bad that this sport has passed them by, because inliners are the future.

This whole situation reeks.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Protocol's Most Hated:

Here's an interesting lesson in the history of sports politics, for anyone who'd like to see where some of the attitudes of the American sports system originated. Do a Google search on the name Avery Brundage, and go to the Wikipedia entry that comes up at the top of the list.

Aside from the obvious anti-semitism and other racist attitudes, pay special attention to the acceptance of so-called "shamateurism," and the problems that this created for America's Olympians.
Betcha didn't know, betcha didn't know!

..and now for the finest in camcorder entertainment from the recesses of my mind, complete with captions for the imagination-impaired...

The year is 1983, some roller rink in Kokomo, Indiana. It's dark, with colorful lights and a disco ball; the sound system is blasting the theme to Star Wars.

This is Eva, age 6. She spends all her money on video games and always gets into fights with the little boys at the rink....

After about an hour, they stopped the public skate and the DJ asked, "Who wants to race?" So they put me out on the starting line with a couple other little kids and I beat them.

Gotcha now, U.S.O.C.! The first race I ever won was on wheels.

(Whoop, whoop, garble, garble...the VCR eats the tape....)

Eva, you dumbass. Your mom put ice skates on you when you were 2 years old.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Analysis of the U.S.O.C: Goals, decisions, funding, programs, and athlete support

The U.S.O.C.'s stated goals are to get American athletes to win Olympic medals and to promote the sports they oversee.

What does the U.S.O.C. sell to sponsors? They sell the right for a sponsoring company to associate itself with the Olympic movement, and access to the 5-ring logo. How expensive is this? For example: when General Mills wanted Joey Cheek to appear on the Wheaties box, they opted not to use the word "Olympic" or the Olympic rings anywhere on the box, because that would have cost them some exorbitant sum of money. If you ever get a chance, take a look at the Joey Cheek Wheaties box and try to find the words, "Olympic champion." They aren't there. It says something like, he "won the biggest event of them all."

What do sponsoring companies and the U.S.O.C. count on? They are counting on the warm and fuzzy public perception that American Olympic hopefuls are supported. This public perception includes the idea that the U.S.O.C. provides housing and/or sufficient funding, as well as cutting-edge sports science and coaching for National Team-level athletes in all Olympic sports, and oversees fair selection of Olympic teams, leading to the best possible medal chances.

Who provides the results (Olympic medals)? History has shown again and again that most American Olympic champions are those talented athletes who have the means of support necessary to get the training they need FROM PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING, and usually by AVOIDING the American sports system as much as possible, because it is riddled with nepotism and dwindling sports science knowledge among National Team coaches. For example: Look at all the speedskating champions who have chosen to train in Europe, or in Canada, or with the FAST Program, even if it costs them more money.

What is the REALITY of athlete support? For a thorough answer on this, you'll have to search through this blog! In short: U.S.O.C. support is both SCARCE and UNFAIRLY DISTRIBUTED.

Where does U.S.O.C. sponsor money really go? It would take an investigation to find out for sure, but I can tell you from experience that not much trickles down to the athletes.

Why does it matter? It matters because the perception of support makes it harder for athletes with potential to find the help they need from outside sources, while the reason why they need outside help is because of the lack of support from the U.S.O.C.

What does the U.S.O.C. want from programs like Wheels on Ice? The U.S.O.C. does not know what to do with a corrupt sports federation like USSPEEDSKATING, especially now that this federation has fallen to such a sorry state. Rather than go in and try to fix what's wrong with USSPEEDSKATING or force USS to clean up its act, the U.S.O.C. wants a "quick and dirty fix," hoping that the inliners will cross over to ice, start winning right away, and that "MEDALS WILL SHUT EVERYONE UP."

In evaluating the U.S.O.C., I'm trying to look at the options available to an ice speedskater who would want to consider training and competing seriously at this time. I want to figure out the attitudes of the leadership, and how these people handle problems. I'm pretty discouraged with what I've learned so far.

Looking back on my competitive career, I know I failed to achieve my goals in speedskating, but one of the things that keeps me sane is seeing it all as an adventure instead of a fairy tale. The dream of standing on the podium and winning an Olympic gold medal was always something I needed to keep in mind, otherwise I would not have been able to take the risks I did, or to push myself as hard as I did in training. If I did not have that dream to follow, then I would have missed out on a great adventure. In the end, I'm not sorry I chose to pursue speedskating.

Now, it seems, the dream is gone. If I were to look at the possibility of coming back to try again, I see that there is not much to look forward to, even if I would somehow be able to win an Olympic gold medal. When I think of standing on that podium, I realize that the only feeling I have left towards the U.S.O.C. is defiance and a sense of betrayal. I wouldn't want to devote all my energy towards standing on that podium, representing them.

Anger has been a powerful motivator for me, but I have found that it is not enough. If you are angry and alone, then you try to fight as best you can, but it is an ugly fight. How can I describe it? I think one person who might be able to relate is a senator I saw speaking on TV after President Bush's State of the Union address. He said he disagreed with the Bush administration on the war in Iraq, but was sending his son there, anyway. He said that as a soldier, you want to serve your country, but you would prefer to believe that your leaders have made wise decisions and have your welfare in mind. The U.S.O.C.'s decisions have proven to me that they do not have their athletes' best interests in mind.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Disown the Podium"

Brilliant sarcasm; unfortunately, not mine. One of my friends suggested we refer to USSPEEDSKATING's plan for the current Olympic cycle as, "Disown the Podium." How true.

Since when did starting on ice blades equal dead weight? Just because someone chose to be an ice skater instead of an inline skater should not automatically relegate that person to the ranks of "no-talent hack."

Does the U.S.O.C. really need an explicit definition of the words, "dead weight?" Yes, we have had dead weight in ice speedskating. We'd had a textbook case of dead weight dragging the women's team down for about 14 years leading up to Torino. Dead weight is the kind of person who wakes up one fine Olympic morning to realize that no matter how good a "traveling companion" or "dinner conversationalist" she has been to some former authority figure, the last lap of the 1500 meters is still going to hurt like hell, so why not avoid it entirely?

But does this mean that the legacy of this unfortunate relationship will live on, not only having affected those of us who tried to work around it at the time it was going on, but also to affect the next generation of young skaters, who will now be the collateral damage of the U.S.O.C.'s decision that ALL skaters who started on ice blades are worthless dead weight?

The fact of the matter is that USSPEEDSKATING has destroyed its own infrastructure for development. When they engulfed the Amateur Skating Union, they obviously had no intention of supporting the clubs, as the ASU had. Still, take a look at just about any USS press release and it will include something about USS being "the governing body responsible for producing champions AND for grassroots development." Can you believe that? To me, that's just another example of USSPEEDSKATING's Orwellian doublespeak, falling into the same category as "neglect equals support, favoritism equals objectivity, and connections equal qualifications."

For years, ice speedskaters have faced down and often triumphed over the misfortune of having to navigate a sport with no infrastructure. Should those ice skaters who are still in contention be punished for this?

Throughout my years of speedskating competition, I learned just how far off USSPEEDSKATING is from the ideal American sports federation I'd hoped it would be. Now, I'm starting to figure out why. One of the main reasons seems to be that the "Powers that Be" have such a need to maintain the image that they do EVERYTHING for the athletes, and that the reason why American speedskaters win is BECAUSE OF all those middle-aged male authority figures who strut around wearing the Team USA parkas, that there is a reluctance to seek out enough financial support for the athletes because there is a reluctance to ADMIT that USS needs it!

But don't worry. Even if things look grim right now, and even if this country's best ice speedskaters are disowned, for some reason, when it comes to the Olympics, "American speedskaters always rise to the occasion."