Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Coach-Athlete Relations Under a Corrupted Systetm:

I have heard that Ryan Shimabukuro was hurt by something I posted during the Olympic Games, and I'm pretty sure I know what it is. I'm sorry about a lot of things that I saw happening in this sport during my last 5 years competing in it. I'm sorry about certain pressures Ryan faced, as a coach, from the people who were overseeing his coaching performance. I'm extremely sorry about the attitudes of the Powers that Be (Oh, excuse me. I mean, "the powers that WERE!" Hooray for the Great Purge!!!) towards outsiders such as myself. I'm also sorry about the way the attitudes of Ryan's superiors towards me intersected with the working coach-athlete relationship I had with Ryan.

In this post, I'd like to talk about how the corrupt system of the old USSPEEDSKATING affected the way I worked with Ryan. I'd also like to talk about why there was no way Ryan could have been the coach I needed him to be at the Olympic Trials, and why I should never have expected him to be. Finally, I'd like to talk about where things stand right now and what we can all learn from this.

Ryan is a good coach and a good person. He always did whatever he could to help me with my skating technique and my equipment while we were on World Cup trips and my regular coach couldn't come along. But there was always a limit to what Ryan could do for me, because he worked for USSPEEDSKATING and I was an outspoken outcast.

Let me put it this way. Back in mid-1930's Germany, a good little German boy did not give a little Jewish girl a chunk of bread for her starving family that was hiding out in the attic next door, even though they had been friends at school. Back in Stalin's Russia, a good Communist college student did not study together with his former friend, the counterrevolutionary. These people "followed the protocol," and thus were able to keep on living and keep from being thrown into prison.

In the same way, Ryan had to "follow the USSPEEDSKATING protocol" when it came to working with me. He had to kick me out of a catered team dinner to which I was technically entitled, because the "current protocol" demanded it. He had to argue against me in the draw at the Olympic Trials, just hours after he had held the lap board for me in a race. And, whether the decision involved me or not, he cast his vote against adding two women to the Olympic Team in order to protect Amy Sannes's position on the team pursuit - a decision which was dead wrong, any way you look at it.

It wasn't Ryan's fault, it was just the current protocol. When the Nazis are in power, don't piss them off. When the Communists are in power, don't be seen hanging out with counterrevolutionaries, or you'll get hauled off to Siberia. When Crowe, Marquard, and the Cushman family are running your speedskating federation, dance to whatever tune they're playing, or you'll lose your job.

The little things Ryan had to do to me, politically, added up, but what really hurt me was the whoop-and-holler and "high-five" victory dance he and Tom Cushman did on the backstretch after Amy Sannes pulled a 38.5 out of her ass in the 500 meters at the Olympic Trials. I just felt that Sannes's performance, relative to the rest of the American women at the US Olympic Trials, was entirely artificial, because she was the only one of us who had the luxury of peaking specifically at that time. As the program director's coddled favorite, she was the only one who had the luxury of treating the fall world cups as a "write-off."

I see now that it is a personal problem of mine that I was unable to allow Ryan to be happy for Amy when he saw her skate a fast time. Maybe Ryan really felt he was applauding her return to her 2002 level of performance. But I was upset with him because I felt betrayed, because he was working with me, not with her. I felt he should have realized that the playing field was not level, and that he was applauding a hollow victory.

As it turned out in the ensuing months, Sannes's subpar performances at the World Sprints and at the Olympics were nothing more than a symptom of the disease within the old USSPEEDSKATING, and her outrageous peak at the Olympic Trials, while apparently a cause to celebrate at the time, was nothing more than another one of Cushman's screwup miscalculations.

Because of the way things ended up for me in USSPEEDSKATING, there was no way I could have expected Ryan to be the race coach I needed to help me succeed at the Olympic Trials. One of my friends told me, "When you've been treated so shoddily by an entire group of people in a sport, what you end up needing is not a race coach but a war god."

I really did need a war god by my side, more than anything else. I needed someone with an "Us Against Them" attitude. I needed someone who wanted the same thing I did, which was total destruction of the Chosen Ones. I needed someone whose burning rage and hatred matched my own. There was no way I could have expected this of Ryan.

It's not normal to come to the point of needing a war god instead of a race coach, and the old USSPEEDSKATING is responsible for setting up that condition for me.

I knew Ryan could see me getting seriously demoralized throughout the Olympic Trials. Truly, this event was a horrible nightmare for me, and I think Ryan could see how sick I was of fighting my war against USSPEEDSKATING. I also believe that he didn't think there was any way he could help me in terms of team selection. If I really wanted to know where he stood on that, I suppose I should have asked him at some point during the Trials, but even now I know I was trying to spare myself an answer that might have sent me over the edge.

But Ryan had a great deal of respect for my ability to fight my way through my races, and before my last 1000 meters, he said to me, "If this is to be the last race of your speedskating career, then go down swinging." It's funny - in this sport I always came out swinging, and now I was going down swinging. When it was all over and I'd had one of the best races of my life, Ryan said he was proud of me. He knows how much I love this sport.

It's such a shame that speedskating politics had to come between me and Ryan, but that's just the way it goes. Just as the good citizens of Germany are still asked the question, "Why did you let the holocaust happen?" there are certain truths that need to come out about how good people were pressured to behave under the corrupt system of the old USSPEEDSKATING. I never whitewashed anything. I had to tell the truth.

But when I told the true story of how the TOSH trainers were forced to deny me treatment before a World Cup, they were not offended, but rather were happy that I pointed out a major flaw in the system. They stood by my side and insisted that what they were forced to do was downright medically unethical.

In the end, did not the good guys win? Did not Marquard step down? Did not Cushman's incompetence become so glaringly obvious that he had to be let go? Did not Crowe get the boot? Did not the corrupt former leadership of USSPEEDSKATING come crashing down like Godzilla stomping on the thawing ice of a winter that has lasted WAY TOO LONG???

Now that logic and reason have prevailed, it seems that Ryan "the Flyin' Hawaiian," who was never really a part of the "Minnesota Northshore Royalty," is the last man standing. And now that he is the only one they still want to keep, isn't it awesome that he has received a great offer from a Japanese team, and is seriously considering taking it?

Ryan, I hope you take that offer, because I'm sure the Japanese can give you what you're worth. I hope you get to see what it's like to be a speedskating coach in a different system. And someday, when this all blows over, I hope that you and I can be friends again.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Selling the Image of Speedskating in the 21st Century:

As everyone knows, USSPEEDSKATING is in dire financial straits right now. Most people can admit that USS's previous leadership has led them down that path. The question now is, how is the new Board going to market the sport and bring more money in?

I see that there is a dilemma that the speedskating administrators have to solve. They have to reconcile the "whitewashed" image of the sport with the true marketing potential of several of their athletes, as individuals.

During the Olympics, I noticed some online news articles discussing "whether the Olympics have lost their soul," and whether the Games are still relevant to today's culture. Well, maybe most people can no longer relate to the "old protocol" of the parade-riding, flag-waving Olympic medalist, but some sports federations, namely our own, are still trying to hang onto this image.

One problem is that several of the individuals who were running USSPEEDSKATING during the past Olympic cycle were setting up obstacles for many of the skaters to fight, practicing favoritism and discrimination, utilizing unethical training methods, and signing misleading contracts, while, at the same time, projecting a false image of goodness to the public. Just yesterday, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling of Enron were convicted "of a total of 29 criminal counts, including a conspiracy to hide the failing health of the company by selling a boosterish optimism to Wall Street and the public." The only difference between what Enron was doing and what the former leaders of USSPEEDSKATING were doing is in the value of what was at stake. So far, it's not criminal to destroy a young person's athletic career, but it is criminal to make people lose their life savings.

Another problem is that, although the stories and personalities of several of our Olympians and other skaters are interesting and marketable, they don't exactly fit in with the image that USSPEEDSKATING has wanted to maintain. For example, let's take Chad Hedrick. First, I have to say that I totally disagree with his attacks on Shani, and believe that USSPEEDSKATING allowed this to go on, in order to let this conflict between the two Olympic champions take the media's attention off the conflicts between USS and its skaters. I read in the Salt Lake Tribune that Chad intended to make a "Nancy vs. Tonya" sort of feud out of this because he felt it would bring attention to the sport, and I don't really like that.

However, this being said, Chad is a very marketable athlete. Girls see him as a "hunk." He's a party animal and a fun guy who loves attention and having the camera on him. He's been called the "Paris Hilton of speedskating," (OK, so I despise Paris Hilton, but whatever...that's just my own opinion.) and in terms of Winter Olympic sports, he's kind of like Bode Miller. Chad is a controversial figure who doesn't do things in the conventional way. He does have the potential to bring attention to the sport of speedskating, but is speedskating ready to let him have the freedom to market himself?

Then, there is Shani Davis. Shani is a pioneer for African Americans in the sport of speedskating, and has the potential to attract many new athletes to the sport. He is a great role model and loves kids. However, USSPEEDSKATING has treated Shani very poorly, and has totally missed out on the opportunity to attract African Americans to the sport of speedskating.

There are also some great stories in the ranks of those skaters who are climbing the ladder of the sport, but in speedskating, these stories are never told. What I like about internet sites such as OhnoZone is that Noelle, who runs the site, writes about all the different athletes "on the tour," not just the stars. Unlike Andy Gabel, the former USS president who publicly displays his shallow disrespect for any skater who doesn't have an Olympic medal, Noelle begins with an attitude of respect for all skaters who have achieved the level of international competition in short track. She seems to have an understanding of what it takes to get there, and her postings on OhnoZone really get people interested in all the athletes as individuals.

As I've discussed before, I feel that USSPEEDSKATING missed out on some great publicity this past season by not televising the Olympic Trials events. I'd even say that following some Olympic hopefuls around as they prepared for the Trials and for the Games would have made a great reality TV show, and anyone who has their finger on the pulse of "what's hot" knows that reality TV is hot right now.

However, I also think that avoiding the cameras fit the agenda of USS's leadership at that time. Can you imagine how disastrous this might have been for them? Can you imagine Mike Crowe and Andy Gabel speaking on TV, losing debates to their own athletes over what is good and what is bad for the sport? Can you imagine them justifying their own decisions?

Even just televising the Olympic Trials would have caused people to ask too many pesky questions, for example, "Why did that skater retire immediately after the last race, when she still had a chance to be added to the team?" or, worse, "Why did they call that pair back to the starting line, pretending there was a false start, when there really wasn't, because one of the Chosen Ones had a stumble that cost her several tenths of a second?"

The trade-off for publicity is a willingness to be accountable to the public. Is USSPEEDSKATING ready for that?

In terms of the whitewashing of the image of speedskating at the expense of the athletes, believe me when I say that THE TRUTH IS MORE THAN JUST A GOOD STORY. We don't want the sport to be dragged through the mud, but at the same time, what has been happening in speedskating is that the athletes have been eating the cost of the corruption within the sport in order to preserve the sport's image. WHEN THE EVIL GO UNPUNISHED, THE GOOD MUST PAY.

Look at what happened at the Olympics. Shani Davis is not the bad guy. Shani Davis is the good guy. He is the hero of a great Olympic story and an inspiration to young people everywhere. But because his true story was not told, people tried to ruin his Olympic experience and taint his image in order to preserve the false front of "America's Purest Sport," which was, in reality, festering and crumbling on the inside.

In the same way, I am not the "bad guy" in my fight with USSPEEDSKATING. People think my story is pretty amazing, and most people believe that despite my rage, which is sometimes over-the-top, I am right about what I say. However, my story will probably never be told because it is too controversial. And because my story will never be told, I also eat the cost of maintaining speedskating's false and whitewashed reputation, when people say that I'm exaggerating, or that I complain too much, or that "things like that don't really happen in speedskating," or that I'm bitter because I wasn't strong enough to "beat the clock."

Enough of that!!! I'm not guilty. I'm the talented speedskater who was wronged by the system and never had a chance to reach my full potential, while Mike Crowe was the program director who destroyed the U.S. long track women's team in order to protect one person who had maxed out her potential years ago. You can look at the conflict between the Davises and Andy Gabel in the same way. Some people say, "Andy Gabel is a savvy businessman and a tireless promoter of the sport," while Cherie Davis is the mother of an Olympic gold medalist, and Cherie and Andy don't see eye to eye. But that's not the true story - that's the whitewashed version. The truth is that Andy Gabel is a poor leader who signed a misleading sponsorship deal behind his skaters' backs and then expected the skaters to pay for his mistake, and Shani was a victim of this decision, and later was the victim of other peoples' attacks on his image as an athlete.

Can you see what is happening? This is no longer about protecting the image of the sport. This is about protecting the reputation of individuals who have tried to ruin the sport for their own selfish reasons. This is about people like Mike Crowe and Andy Gabel being protected at the expense of people like me and Shani.

USSPEEDSKATING has a new Board now. I feel that the first step towards being able to market the sport is to tell the truth about what happened in it, and how changes are being made. The next step will be to evaluate what the American people want from their Olympic athletes, in terms of entertainment value, and to move in that direction. USS is lucky to have skaters who are very marketable, as well as being speedskating champions, but their marketing potential is not being fully utilized.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Rebuttal: My True Position on Athlete Sponsorship and Logos:

Recently, an individual has accused me of siding with USSPEEDSKATING against athletes who breached the Athlete Agreement to wear logos of their own individual sponsors. This is absolutely false and completely the opposite of my true position. Obviously, I have not managed to make myself clear enough, so I will try to say it again.

First of all, I am no friend of the people who were in charge of running USSPEEDSKATING during the time when I was competing. I disagree with the way Katie Marquard was running the federation as Executive Director. I think Mike Crowe's performance as Program Director was deplorable, unethical, and incompetent, as well as personally destructive to my own speedskating career. And, especially relevant to the topic of this post, I think Andy Gabel showed extremely poor leadership as USSPEEDSKATING President, most of all in the signing of a misleading sponsorship deal with Qwest.

For anyone to say that I "flock together" with USSPEEDSKATING is extremely insulting to me and goes against everything I have ever written on this blog. I believe that my writing and ideas have contributed to the downfall of several individuals in power in USSPEEDSKATING who were very bad for the sport, its athletes, and its future.

Second of all, I have always been in favor and in support of the individual sponsorship position. I believe that athletes who are able to find individual sponsors, especially those who do not benefit from any of the services of USSPEEDSKATING, should be able to wear the logos of their own sponsors on their suits. In stating the fact that certain athletes were seen and photographed wearing suits where the Qwest logo was painted over, and an individual sponsor logo painted on top, I was not blaming the athlete for causing problems for USSPEEDSKATING. On the contrary, I was happy, because that was the only way that the whole world was going to see how many problems USSPEEDSKATING was causing for its own athletes!

I think that having the whole world see this issue brought to light was a good thing, not a bad thing. I think that USSPEEDSKATING losing the Qwest sponsorship deal was a good thing, not a bad thing, because it pointed out Andy Gabel's arrogance in signing a sponsorship deal behind athletes' backs, while making a promise to the company that he couldn't keep. In the end, because some of USS's top athletes were seen wearing the logos of other companies instead of Qwest, Qwest had to force Gabel to face the consequences of his mistake.

In a way, I'm glad this issue came up again, because this brings me to something I need to point out. The most important thing USSPEEDSKATING should learn from this Qwest experience is to make sure that Andy Gabel never again has the position or authority to make such a decision.

People have called Andy Gabel a "savvy businessman and a tireless promoter of the sport." But I think Andy Gabel is a guy who "wants to be the next Richard Branson," but he wants to do it not by skill, or by making sound business decisions, but by stepping on YOUR backs, and by kicking YOU for his own mistakes.

The Qwest deal that he signed was not a good deal, either for the company or for the athletes. Qwest did not get what they expected, and the athletes were forced to GIVE UP TOO MUCH IN EXCHANGE FOR TOO LITTLE.

Does anyone still believe that I am a friend of USSPEEDSKATING, who stands with them against athletes who want to wear logos of their individual sponsors? Then read this. I resented the fact that, when I was competing, I was pretty much forced to wear a logo while getting nothing for it; while not benefitting from any of USSPEEDSKATING's training programs and even being denied access to a trainer when I was injured before a world cup, because I refused to train with a program that had admitted to using me as an "experiment." I resented the fact that Andy Gabel told the athlete reps last year, "The reason why the athletes don't get more of the sponsorship money directly is because they'd just go out and buy stereo systems and video games." I resented the fact that Andy Gabel sent our whole World Cup contingent an email threatening to sue all of the athletes who breached the Athlete Agreement, on race prep day!!!

To summarize my response to being accused of being a friend of USS who stands against athletes who wear individual sponsor logos, I'd like to reiterate that I am NO FRIEND of any of the people in USS who were involved in the signing and enforcement of the Qwest sponsorship deal, and that I am IN FAVOR of athletes wearing the logos of their individual sponsors.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

And Now You Need Money:

Let me say once again what a great thing it is that the new USSPEEDSKATING Board of Directors has decided to "clean out the dead wood." When a federation goes bad, it is often an insidious process that takes time to develop. In USSPEEDSKATING, problems had gone on for years, but people tried to pretend they didn't exist. With the emergence of the internet as a means for skaters, fans, and others to communicate, it became harder for the people who had been running the organization to hide the problems going on within it.

Finally, it was time for a change. A critical mass of dissatisfaction was reached, and the good people of speedskating were able to come to power and overthrow the status quo.

But the new administration has to deal with the problems created by the old. Sponsors are leaving (and suing!) The USOC is cracking down. Soon, USSPEEDSKATING may find itself completely out of money. What should they do next?

For a sport that prides itself on its wholesome image, this is a very difficult time. I believe that USSPEEDSKATING's best option for finding new sponsors as quickly as possible is simply to come clean. How else will they be able to explain why so many of their former top people are leaving all at once?

Why not just spread the word that the people who had been in charge of USSPEEDSKATING were leading it in the wrong direction, and so they had to be let go? How about telling the world that USSPEEDSKATING is re-evaluating its goals and moving in a new direction?

So, maybe one disadvantage of this time of change is that USSPEEDSKATING is very short on funds. But a major advantage is that they no longer have to be dishonest about "what they are selling" to sponsors! They don't have to pretend that metric speedskating is a pure race against the clock, while some "committee" decides that a girl who can't go under 4:30 in the 3K - and hadn't even skated one at all that season - is a better choice for the Olympic team pursuit than two girls who went 4:15 and 4:16 within the previous month. They don't have to lie and say that their top skaters will wear a logo, when they haven't even asked the skaters if they will or not. They don't have to "sell" an Allround program that nobody wants to train with.

The most important things you can do right now, USSPEEDSKATING, is to assure potential sponsors that something like the misleading deal with Qwest will never happen again, and to give your athletes reasons to be loyal to the federation.

Now, how about talking to some of your 2006 Olympic Champions and seeing if they will help you raise money? I'm sure people would love to meet them!

Monday, May 15, 2006

An Epitaph for my Nemesis:

Today is the day USSPEEDSKATING cleaned house. Mike Crowe, Tom Cushman, and Marion Wohlrab have all been fired.

Don't worry, Crowe. Maybe you can drive the Zamboni up in Butte. Or you can get a job as a janitor at "Some Veterinary School."

It appears that the new USSPEEDSKATING Board of Directors is sick and tired of this federation being the butt of the speedskating world's jokes. Now, there is no reason why they have to be. Congratulations to the new USSPEEDSKATING board, and best of luck to you all in the upcoming 4-year cycle. As far as I'm concerned, you are starting with a clean slate. I'm really happy and proud of you. Life makes sense again.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sports, Cultural Differences, and National Team Support:

There has been a discussion on Andrew Love's blog, Zen and the Art of Speedskating, about differences between various National Team programs, in terms of how a sport is built on a grassroots level, how athletes are developed up to the elite level, and how the teams are funded. This issue came up because the Canadian and American programs believe they can start a dialogue to learn the best aspects of each others' systems in order to improve their own.

For example, in speedskating, the Canadians have a great grassroots development program that feeds a lot of skaters into their system, while the Americans seem to do a good job of bringing what few skaters they have up to the Olympic podium.

Some people have asked the question of how the culture or society impacts how a country's national teams are supported. I would like to share my ideas on that again, even though I briefly mentioned it when I was first starting this blog.

When most people in the USA think of elite amateur sports, where the final goal is an Olympic medal, they think that the USOC is responsible for the support of National Team-level athletes. Most people I've talked to, throughout the years when I competed for the USA on the World Cup circuit of speedskating, believe that athletes on my level were "all set;" that we lived for free in training centers, had all our meals cooked for us, and didn't have to work. And, although this was the furthest thing imaginable from the true situation of long track skaters who live and train in Salt Lake City (and I'm sure this is the case for most athletes training for the Olympics in other sports), the USOC was pretty much fine with this image being spread around and generally accepted.

Let me give you an example, using the community of long track speedskaters in Salt Lake City. Although the Utah Olympic Oval has been the home base of USSPEEDSKATING's long track National Team program since before the 2002 Olympics, there is no housing available for skaters close to the Oval. The only housing that has been provided is the high altitude house in Park City, which only has room for a few skaters. Besides, even if the housing is free, the extra money spent on the gas needed to drive up and down Parley's Canyon every day pretty much negates the financial benefit.

USSPEEDSKATING gives out stipends of $150 per month to World Cup competitors, and skaters are given the chance to increase their USS stipends by finishing Top 20 in overall World Cup standings at the end of the season. The $150-per-month stipend is a joke -- it won't even buy half an athlete's food for the month! In comparison, Canadian World Cup qualifiers get stipends of $1500 a month (sure, it's in Canadian currency, but it still works out to be almost an order of magnitude more than the American skaters get!!!)

There are also other issues of athlete support relating to the USOC. After I made my first World Cup team in 2001, I started receiving a Level 1 athlete grant from the USOC, of $2500 a year, which isn't much, but at least it was something. But by 2003, this funding was cut out entirely, because the USOC had decided they were only going to support athletes who were "performing," which, to them, meant Top 8 in a World Championship or in overall World Cup standings.

This seems backwards to me. I can't think of a Top 10 speedskater who isn't professionally sponsored! Although I hate to say that someone who has gotten to that level should be denied anything, I'm not the only one who believes that "helping the rich get richer" does not seem to be what the USOC needs to be doing in order to help our National Teams become stronger and deeper.

Another thing that the USOC does that seems backwards to me (and this is probably going to sound really bad to a lot of people, but what the hell...) is awarding $25,000 to Olympic gold medalists. I believe that the gold medal itself opens doors to money-making opportunities for the gold medalist. It's getting there that is the problem. It's getting the athlete there that should be the USOC's problem. Isn't that what the American people expect from the USOC, or am I totally off base?

This could be where cultural differences arise. Some societies and governments are just more willing to direct their resources towards supporting their National Teams. For example, I think it is very important to China right now, as a developing superpower, to show their supremacy in sports, especially with the Beijing Olympics coming up in 2008, so their government has put a lot of money into the development of a strong sports system.

Here in America, our government doesn't have a whole lot of money to direct towards a lot of truly worthwhile pursuits, and, working in the field of biomedical research, I realize this first-hand. I don't think that our sports system is a priority right now, either. Right now our main focus is getting ourselves out of a very expensive war that was started based on a lie.

On the other hand, we're capitalists here, right? So why should we Americans depend on handouts from our government? Why can't we, as athletes or as teams, just try to market ourselves? Are we stuck on this whole "amateur" thing? (By the way, do you know what "amateur" means to me? It means, "I'm a spoiled little brat who doesn't need to get paid for what I do, because my parents are loaded!")

The problem right now seems to be that we're stuck somewhere in a horrible middle ground between "professional" and "amateur," and we haven't decided on a clear direction with clear guidelines. So, in this situation, we end up fighting a bunch of irrational power struggles over sponsorship rights.

The sponsorship fights within USSPEEDSKATING were really bad over the last couple of years. When Andy Gabel was president, he made promises to sponsors (about which athletes would wear a company's logos) that he was unable to keep. Now the sponsors are upset, nobody wants to work with USS, and the federation's funding situation is a disaster.

I think the American sports system is in crisis, because we don't know where we are going or how to get there. I think that companies give a lot of money to organizations like the USOC (which has had its own scandals with CEO's skimming off the top), and that somehow, the money is not getting down to the athletes.

Athletes from other countries are surprised that American athletes have so much trouble because "The USA seems to be THE PLACE for money." I agree: It is the place for money, but the USOC and our sports federations are not doing what they need to be doing in order to take advantage of the situation.


(10/26/06) Here's some more info I've recently come across. Take a look at this article about Canadian athlete support:

Winnipeg Free Press

Olympians thankful for RONA's millions

Fri Oct 20 2006

Randy Turner

NO, it's not a fortune, but for Olympians like Winnipeg's Shannon Rempel, it's as good as gold.

Who knows? In four years, it just might lead to a precious medal, too.

What we're talking about is the not-so-little matter of RONA's Growing with Our Athletes program, a five-year sponsorship of 100 of this country's elite Olympians and Paralympians that will be worth a minimum of $4 million.

That works out to $40,000 per athlete, or $8,000 a year, which might not sound like the lottery, but to speed skater Rempel, who won silver in team pursuit at the Turin Olympic Games last February, it's the difference between life and debt.

"That's exactly what it does," Rempel said Thursday from her training base in Calgary. "It allows me to live."

Winnipeg's Jennifer Botterill, a veteran of Canada's women's hockey team, was the only other Manitoban on the funding list.

Of course, as a world-ranked Canadian, the 21-year-old Rempel already receives $1,500 a month in tax-free funding. She also gets a grant from Sport Manitoba of about $1,500 a year.

But when you're paying between $500 and $700 a month in rent and each pair of skating boots costs $2,000, it's not exactly like Rempel has been rolling in wealth the last five years while striving to reach world-class performance levels away from home.

After all, Rempel's main financial backers have been her parents, Shirley and Rick. "The Bank of Mom and Dad," the daughter joked.

"They're really supportive," she added. "But it's nice not to ask for money from them. I can't even imagine how much money they've spent on me and my skating career."

Which is why the involvement of RONA, Canada's largest home improvement retailer, can't be overstated in a country where the funding of Olympic athletes has been such a contentious issue -- and widely considered directly tied to results, both good and bad.

It wasn't long ago, in fact, that many Canadian Olympians were living on funding below the poverty level, prompting a high-profile lobbying effort in which athletes, in grungy urban environments, posed with signs that read, "Will Compete for Money."

The Canadian Olympic Committee's director of international performance, Alex Gardiner, another Winnipegger, believes there will be a direct correlation between corporate funding and Canada's results in Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010, where Rempel and Botterill are expected to represent the country once again.

"It's huge, but the effect is going to be even more magnified because it's directed to our 100 best athletes," Gardiner said Thursday. "It works out to about $700 a month. That can buy an entire month's rent.

"It's a long way from food stamps," Gardiner added. "We've come a long way in the last three years. But athletes have extraordinary costs."

For some athletes, Rempel noted, the money could be used for trips to international events (unlike speed skating, some sports don't cover travel costs) and even coaching.

Or it simply buys a level of security and reduced stress in paying for everything from physical therapy to car repairs to healthy food.

"Who knows what can come up?" the speed skater said. "It may be the car breaks down, or it may be eating good food like fruits and vegetables, which can be more expensive. Or going to the chiropractor and not have to worry about the cost so much."

Now you might be thinking that if RONA is funding the 100 top Canadian athletes, why aren't Clara Hughes and this country's most decorated Olympian, Cindy Klassen, on the list?

Turns out they both declined the money, and not just because of some scheduling conflicts, but because they thought others who aren't blessed with as much corporate support needed it more, Gardiner said.

Olympian, eh? They know more than anyone just how precious those few extra dollars can be when it comes to the enormous challenge of being one of the best in the world at anything.

"They know how hard it is to get sponsors," Rempel said.

So $700 a month from RONA might not sound like a windfall, but this is Canada, remember, where every nickel in support of amateur athletes is almost as hard-earned as a medal. Almost as hard-earned as the sacrifices made during the four years we don't pay them much attention and less money.

Besides, all we know is this: The less burden and strain you put on an athlete's shoulders, chances are, the faster they will go.


(No, really, says The Protocol. Didn't USSPEEDSKATING have something similar in place? I believe it was called "BLOWJOBS FOR O-JOBS!!!"

Take a look around at your shitty U.S. women's speedskating team. Now think of all the talented women who left the sport because we have better shit to do with our lives.)

If you look at the article above, you can easily tell the difference in attitudes between the Canadian and American speedskating federations. The Canadians come right out and say that their federation, though it tries its best, still has trouble supporting its athletes to the level they need. They come right out and admit that there is a correlation between a lack of support and poor competitive results, and they want to help their athletes get more support so they can perform better without stressing out about how they're going to cover real expenses such as food, rent, and equipment.

USSPEEDSKATING, on the other hand, tells its athletes that they DON'T NEED support from their federation. In fact, former USS president Andy Gabel has said that the only thing American speedskaters will do if they receive more funding is to spend it all on "video games and stereo systems."

I believe that the purpose of a sports system and sports federation is to support its best athletes and to find ways of helping them perform at the highest level. ANY SPORTS SYSTEM THAT ARGUES THAT ITS ATHLETES DON'T NEED SUPPORT FROM THE FEDERATION IS MAKING A VERY COMPELLING ARGUMENT FOR THE FEDERATION'S OWN NON-EXISTENCE.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Process of Change:

Ever since the USSPEEDSKATING Spring Board Meeting, those of us who follow the world of speedskating have been getting little bits and pieces of news about the changes taking place within the federation. The biggest surprise so far has been the resignation of Katie Marquard, who will step down from her position as Executive Director in September of this year.

Many of the changes have been encouraging. People who care about the grassroots development of speedskating seem to be happy that Brad Goskowicz has taken over as USS President, because of his previous involvement with the ASU. Also, many people are certain that Beth Bedford will do an excellent job as Treasurer, because of her professional experience as an accountant (That is, assuming the budget can even be fixed at this point! I heard Beth just about had a heart attack when she first saw it...)

The budget is only one of USSPEEDSKATING's many concerns right now, but the lack of funds will end up impacting every part of the organization. Already, the regional development programs have been cut.

I guess right now there is some uncertainty about the National Team coaching situation as well. I have heard that the Allrounders have not yet begun training together as a group. I have also heard that Sprint coach Ryan Shimabukuro may be considering an offer to coach another team.

The allocation of benefits to skaters in different training programs is also up in the air. President Brad Goskowicz has brought up the possibility of giving the National Team-level skaters a stipend and allowing them to choose their own coach and training program. But this has not yet been decided, and time is ticking away.

I have continued to post about some of my experiences in USSPEEDSKATING, in order to make people aware of the problems that have gone on in the past. But lately I have realized that I speak of these problems in an angry way, because I have forgotten that it is now my goal to help inform the new USSPEEDSKATING Board, and to help them get this Olympic cycle off to a good start. I have to remember that things are changing in USSPEEDSKATING, even though these changes are not happening out in the open. And, of course, I have to remember that there are some new people involved in USS leadership now -- not just the people who hurt me.

Yes, I have been very open about my anger towards people like Mike Crowe and Andy Gabel, and about my anger about someone like Tom Cushman getting seemingly limitless chances to screw up (but should I be surprised? After all, this is the country that re-elected a president who lied to us about our reasons for going to war!) I am sorry if my angry words against "the federation" ended up hurting the good people who are involved.

USSPEEDSKATING includes some people who, I feel, abused their power to do things that were unfair, unethical, and bad for the sport. This federation is also made up of people who just made mistakes, people who had to "play by the rules" in order to keep their jobs, people who kept their mouths shut even though they knew that things were not right, and people who tried to fight to make changes but were pushed out.

When I started writing The Protocol, I wanted to tell my story because I wanted people to know that there was more to my own failure than just "me racing against the clock," or against myself. I also hoped that someday, my words would combine with the ideas of others who were also "fed up," and that a critical mass of dissatisfaction would be reached. I think that time has arrived.

I've heard people say, I've been around the sport of speedskating for decades, and I've seen the same old crap happen over and over. What do you think? That everything will change now, just because it happened to you?" I don't know exactly how or why, but I do believe it is happening. USSPEEDSKATING is being forced to change.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Leveille Situation: What, exactly, is USSPEEDSKATING's policy on National Team walk-ons?

Back in the fall of 2005, I posted the story of how Tom Cushman started working with Tony Goskowicz's skater, Charles Ryan Leveille, while the U.S. Allround Team was on a training camp in Milwaukee. Charles had been training with Tony's team up until that time, when Tom decided to let him "walk on" to the National Team.

Now, I'm not saying that Charles is not a good enough skater to be on that team. All I would like to do is to ask how this fits in with USSPEEDSKATING's insistence that the only people who are entitled to National Team benefits are those who are "Chosen By The Board" in the spring, before the season begins.

So, the story goes like this: At the Milwaukee training camp, Tom starts paying attention to Charles (videoing, lap times, technique analysis...) at the expense of his own skaters. This gets so bad that the parents of some of Tom's Allround skaters call a meeting with the program director to complain.

Then, at the Fall World Cup Trials, Tom coaches Charles, who happens to make the World Cup team ahead of several Allround Team members. One of my friends told me that there was subsequently an article in one of the Milwaukee newspapers where Tom was talking about the new talent he discovered.

Excuse me, but isn't this the kind of thing we call "poaching?" You know -- taking credit for an athlete developed by another coach? Goskowicz is the one who taught Charles how to skate long track in the first place, and wrote his training program throughout the summer. Not only that: Look at Leveille's history in the sport of speedskating. He first developed as an inline speedskater, and after he became a champion there, his sponsors agreed to fund his transition to ice, as he learned short track under Wilma Boomstra in Southern California. After an unfortunate crash and a horrible back injury, he decided to switch to long track, and trained with Goskowicz at the Pettit in Milwaukee.

Considering USSPEEDSKATING's typical treatment of athletes from outside their own teams, letting Charles walk onto the National Team in the fall of 2005 was a surprising move. I'm wondering what Tom was thinking when he did it. I'm wondering what rules he followed. I'm wondering what his superiors thought of his decision. And did anyone ever give any serious thought to what benefits Charles would be entitled to, or denied? I once asked someone why Charles's skating was being videoed, when he was not a member of "The Chosen 20." The answer I got was this: "Well, Tom has decided he wants to work with Charles. But don't worry - he doesn't get to see the trainers either."

What??? So, you're going to let the guy train on your team, but you're going to deny him the chance to see the trainers? What happens if he gets hurt? None of this makes any sense. This is just an example of how USSPEEDSKATING twists any of their rules to fit any situation to their liking.

As a contrast, let me present to you now my story of being a promising outsider, coming up in the speedskating world during the season of the 2002 Olympic Games:

I was training at the time with Jan Van de Roemer and Lester Pardoe, with the Oval's FAST Program. In the first time trial weekend of October 2001, I skated a 1500 meter race, paired with Elli Ochowicz. She beat me by only a few tenths, and immediately the murmurs of fear and uneasiness began. A week or so later, I skated a 3000 meters in 4:28, during one of my many bouts with tonsillitis. After this race, Jan tells me that the "USS people" are relieved at my slow time, saying, "Oh, don't worry about her. She can't skate the long distances."

The Fall World Cup Trials arrive, and USS craps their collective pants as I beat the field in the 3K by 6 seconds.

Can you see the difference between how they treated me in 2001, and how they treated Charles in 2005? Does anyone care to speculate on a reason? I sure don't.

Coming back to the main point: What we have here is a few basic problems. The first one involves USSPEEDSKATING not being clear on its rules about National Team walk-ons: How they'll decide who walks on, and what these walk-ons will get. The second problem involves a coach abandoning his own team after wrecking them through his typical "overtraining protocol," in favor of an athlete who had been working with another coach, and taking credit for that athlete's success.

And, finally, the Leveille situation proves what I said about USSPEEDSKATING's so-called "Development Program," where all they need is a talent scout who reads the Fitness and Speed Skating Times to find the fastest inliners, convert them to ice, and there you go. The problem with that "strategy" is this: Inline skating is pretty much dead (at least, compared to where it used to be, when USS inherited skaters such as Boutiette, Parra, Cheek, Rodriguez, Hedrick...) , so where are you going to find your talent? Where are you going to find an organization that DEVELOPS THEIR SKATERS ON THEIR DIME, and THESE SKATERS BECOME CHAMPIONS FOR USSPEEDSKATING WITH NEGLIGIBLE INPUT FROM USSPEEDSKATING ITSELF.

On the surface, this "walk-on episode" just seems like an unfair situation. But if you go deeper, you see that it is representative of USSPEEDSKATING's attitude towards the development of the sport.
Stupid team travel arrangements are one of USS's biggest wastes of money:

Did you know that when USSPEEDSKATING buys plane tickets for its athletes to fly overseas for competitions, they often pay hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars more than the fare that any individual could find online for the same flight? And it's not like their travel agent finds them flights that are convenient: The skaters are still getting up in the wee hours to catch a 5 AM flight, having long layovers, and transferring at out-of-the-way airports.

Why is this happening? I've heard this complaint from several people, but nothing has been done about it. USSPEEDSKATING has been making all its arrangements through the same travel agent -- Howard something or other, down in Florida, and he always does the same thing: Finds inconvenient flights at exorbitant, rip-off prices.

And, don't forget about all those officials who have to go to all the competitions and clinics, as well. It really ticks me off that you'd rather pay OUT OF YOUR OWN POCKET to send a bunch of administrators to Torino, than to LET THE USOC PAY for a couple of desperately needed alternates or team pursuit members for your women's team.

Wake up, USSPEEDSKATING. You're too poor to be careless with your travel arrangements.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Justify Your Own Salary, Mr.Program Director, Before Asking the USOC for More Money:

A funny thing happened at the USSPEEDSKATING board meeting. The discussion of money came up, and USS was complaining about how their sponsors were withdrawing their support, and they were so low on funds that they were going to have to eliminate all of the regional development programs. At this point, Program Director Mike Crowe jumped in and said, "We'd be fine if only the USOC would give us more money."

(*NOTE:* I found out later that it wasn't Crowe who said this after all, but rather former USS President Bill Cushman.)

The USOC representative who came to the meeting apparently turned livid at this suggestion. He proceeded to point out how many millions of dollars the USOC had given USSPEEDSKATING over the past few Olympic cycles, and demanded to know exactly how that money was being spent.

Personally, I'd like to know whether people really believe Mike Crowe deserves to be paid for the job he has been doing as Program Director. What was his plan for the past 4 years? How did he do? Does he evaluate the performance of his coaches on a regular basis? Does he evaluate the performance of his athletes on a regular basis? Is he capable of interpreting his findings, and using them in a meaningful way? Does he give direction to the National Team programs? Does he try to get the best athletes to train together and help each other? Does he enter skaters in events they are capable of skating, or does he do stupid things like putting someone who can barely finish a 1500 meters into a 6-lap pursuit? Does he take the mission statement and goals of the federation and develop a plan to carry them out? How do his actions, decisions, and finally, results, reflect on his own performance as Program Director?

Many people like to say, "Crowe knows what is right, but he doesn't always say it." They think he has enough experience and knowledge, and all he has to do is stand there and observe. Is this enough for you? I would encourage you to actually ask him some questions, force him to give you a straight answer, and, once his jaw starts flapping, you will see what a genius he really is -- like the time he adamantly argued that a World Cup qualifier should not be able to see a trainer for evaluation of her back injury two weeks before an event.

You shouldn't tolerate any disconnection between "what you supposedly think he knows," and his actions and results (or lack thereof). You shouldn't tolerate any disconnection between his actions and decisions as Program Director and the goals of the federation, in terms of the performance of its athletes.

Do you think you are paying $70,000 a year for the "brain" of your operation? I think you're paying $70,000 a year for a sphincter on your elbow; an appendage that is both redundant and produces nothing but a whole lot of extra crap.

Do you know what I think? I think Crowe is absent too much of the time. I think he lives like a king up in Butte, Montana, takes an occasional trip with the team, and collects his salary for doing nothing but making life as difficult as possible for real, hardcore speedskaters with true potential. I think he is going to ride the USSPEEDSKATING gravy train for all it's worth, until and unless people realize what a waste he truly is.

But I believe his job is safe, and do you know why? Not because he has been a success. Not because he has been doing what he is supposed to be doing. His job is safe because not enough people care about speedskating in America, and so no one is going to hold him accountable for his performance.

If I were the person overseeing Crowe's position, the first thing I would do is to make him defend his salary. Considering his lack of leadership during and leading up to the 2006 Olympic Games, I think the burden of proof is on him. If he'd want to keep his job, I would want him to point out which, if any, of the positive outcomes that happened for USS happened because of his input, and which would have happened anyway. I would need him to prove that he has developed more than he has destroyed. Because I believe the only thing he succeeded in doing is "bringing his own taco to the Italian buffet."

If I somehow decided that Crowe deserved to keep his position, or was absolutely unable to find a replacement, I'd have someone take him by the hand and lead him to "Program Director Preschool." I'd make him re-learn the reality of what is expected of him in his position. Then, I'd make him write out a detailed plan for the USSPEEDSKATING Team for the next 4 years, through Vancouver. I'd make him rewrite it until he got it right. Then, once the training started, I'd make him write regular progress reports.

Yes, I hate Mike Crowe. Through the weeks following the 2006 Olympic Trials, I punched the palm of my left hand until it was black and blue, pretending it was his face. But not only did his decisions harm me, I also think they harmed the entire American women's contingent. And anyone who cares about how the U.S. women's speedskating team does in the future should give a serious thought to what I have said.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Don't Waste Your Women's Team:

Now, we all know that the American women's speedskating team did not perform very well in Torino a few months ago, but I'm not going to talk about that right now. I'd like to focus on the future.

Look at the talented women we have in America: Catherine Raney, Maria Lamb, Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr., Maggie Crowley. These women should be training together. I believe, as do many others, that they can be every bit as strong as the Canadian women have become, if they only have a chance to work together.

But who is trying to make this happen? Is anyone in USSPEEDSKATING contacting these women, seeing if there is any interest in creating a strong training group, trying to figure out where they can train, who their coach will be, and trying to find them sponsorship?

This is Mike Crowe's job. And, now that his little "conflict of interest" has retired, there is no reason in hell why he shouldn't be doing it....*(Oh, wait, I spoke too soon....arrrrghhhh...No, that isn't the Great Salt Lake you're smelling...it's the Undead Speedskating Career of Amy Sannes!!! Guess who is still on the Category One list and has failed to submit an official retirement statement to US Antidoping? Yeah. The one who was so freaking stale she couldn't even step up to skate a race at the Olympics.)*

Right now, Catherine is looking for a training program. Maggie is attending classes at Northwestern University. And Nancy, so I've heard, is mowing lawns to try to raise some money.

Hey, USSPEEDSKATING, do you care enough about making this happen? Any of these women have more of a chance at medaling in Vancouver than some of the dead weight you've been dragging around. It's going to take a complete change in philosophy, though. USS will have to realize that it's better to make it their goal to have 3 women in the Top 10 on any given World Cup weekend, than to have one medalist and not care what happens to the rest. And, of course, the team that trains together will have to realize that they will be stronger if they work together and support each other.

Why do I have to write this up and post it online for the people in charge of USSPEEDSKATING? I'm sure this kind of thing isn't happening in China or the Netherlands right now. I mean, shouldn't it be obvious how to create a strong team of medal contenders? This is totally not what I expected from my national federation when I first started speedskating.

(11-13-06) I've been thinking a lot about women's sports over the past few months. From my own observations and from speaking with others, I've found that female athletic champions are less valued than male champions. This attitude is pretty pervasive around the world.

Within USSPEEDSKATING, I found that those administrators who took it upon themselves to decide who had potential and who did not, treated men differently from women. All that a male speedskater had to do was to show talent, but from a female speedskater, they wanted something else.

For the most part, USSPEEDSKATING has been run by men who are weak, cowardly, and stupid. This type of man needs his ego constantly fed by people who treat him like a big shot, even though he is incompetent and does not deserve to hold a position of authority. This is the type of man who needs any female over whom he has authority to be meek, subservient, and worshipful towards him. He needs this from his female athletes more than he needs them to perform on the ice. I can think of a few men who held positions of authority in USS, while I was competing, who fit this description.

I really do believe that between the years of 2002-2006, USSPEEDSKATING had the potential do develop a women's team of great depth. USS will tell you that the reason why our men did so well while our women did so poorly is that America had talented male skaters during this time but did not have talented female skaters. This is a big fat lie. The reason why USSPEEDSKATING's women's program failed is because of the administration's attitudes towards its female competitors and what it wanted from them.

Fortunately, things are looking a bit brighter for the future of the American women's team, at least in terms of the coaching situation. I trust both Ryan Shimabukuro and Chris Shelley because they both have shown a great deal of respect for female speedskaters, and for their actual accomplishments on the ice.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

An Unsolicited Evaluation of Tom Cushman's Performance as U.S. National Allround Team Coach:

I really wish I'd been able to attend the Long Track Committee meeting at the USSPEEDSKATING board meeting. Apparently, upon hearing that Tom Cushman would be returning to his position as National Allround coach, Catherine Raney stood up and said something like, "So if you don't get enough skaters who want to train with this coach, will you just eliminate that position?"

Later on in the weekend, a special meeting was called by Dan Jansen and a few current national-level skaters, to discuss the coaching situation. I hear that Dan tried to tell the USS administration, "Look, you can't re-hire Tom Cushman, because no one will train with him!" This is totally unexpected, and I would really like to thank Dan Jansen right now for standing up for today's top American speedskaters.

You know, I really thought that after what happened at the Olympics in Torino this past season, that there would be no doubt that Tom Cushman has used up all of his chances to fail as U.S. Allround coach. I thought the results spoke for themselves. I thought it was so obvious, but I guess I was wrong.

Sometimes, I hate to pick on Tom so much, because he really doesn't seem like a bad person. It's just that I am concerned for the next generation of speedskaters, and I feel that something needs to be said and done about the National Team coaching situation.

Though I hate to pick on Tom, I don't understand why he keeps coming back for more abuse! Personally, if I had failed at something as miserably as Tom has failed at coaching the American Allrounders, I would want to crawl into a hole and die. In fact, I'm shocked that Tom even wanted his job back this year! During the Olympics, someone I know got a phone call from Tom, during which he said he just wanted it all to be over and just wanted to go home.

I did not wish poor performances on any of the American skaters, but when Tom's whole training group started to underperform in Torino, I wanted him, as their coach, to feel every twinge of unpleasantness when his skaters failed to meet expectations. I wanted him to face the media's tough questions. And, most of all, by the time all of the results had come in, I was certain that there was no way USSPEEDSKATING would have him back. I was wrong.

In light of the re-hiring of Tom Cushman as Allround coach, I see that USSPEEDSKATING still does not understand the full extent of the harm this coach's performance has done to the federation's goals, individual athletes' careers, team unity, and potential sponsorship. So, even though a lot of what I'm going to say today is a re-hashing of things I have already discussed, I'm going to say it all again. Even though I often feel like I'm beating my own head against a wall, I'm going to say it again. I'm going to try to present this to you in terms that, I hope, are both very simple and very harsh.

When I decided to train with Cushman's Allround group in 2003-04, it was mainly for the free training, other benefits, and the fact that no matter how the coaching was, I'd have fast training partners. Our team was told that we'd have a group of scientific advisors looking over our training data to make sure we weren't getting overtrained. Still, 4 out of the 8 skaters on Tom's team "fell off the edge," got overtrained, and severely underperformed. I was one of those.

Now, this part is very important, because it has to do with something that was discussed at this year's Sports Science and Medicine committee meeting: Some skaters brought up the point that the USS coaches might not be too good at watching the skaters' training data and applying it to the training programs. Then, the counter-attack was made by the coaches, saying that it's up to the skaters to communicate with the coaches better, about how they feel in training. What I never remembered to say at this point was that after the year where half of Tom's team got overtrained, we were not told that we should have communicated better. No, we were told that THE COACHES AND SCIENTISTS COULD SEE THAT WE WERE GETTING OVERTRAINED, BUT THE DECISION WAS MADE TO CONTINUE TO PUSH US, IN THE INTEREST OF COLLECTING DATA FOR THE BENEFIT OF FUTURE GENERATIONS OF SKATERS.

When I told this story on The Protocol, I wrote that not only did I belive it was unethical for a coach to convince a group of National Team athletes that he was trying to help them skate faster, and then to use them in some sort of "overtraining experiment," I also wrote that I DID NOT BELIEVE TOM CUSHMAN HAD THE KNOWLEDGE OR EXPERIENCE THAT WOULD ALLOW HIM TO APPLY ANYTHING HE HAS LEARNED FROM SUCH EXPERIMENTS FOR THE BENEFIT OF FUTURE NATIONAL TEAM SKATERS.

How right or wrong was I?

Well, take a look at how Tom did last season. He was handed a couple of very talented junior skaters. One of them had gone under 1:50 in the 1500 the previous year and was looking to be a serious contender for the 2006 Olympic Team, if he continued in his rate of improvement. One year later, this kid is crawling across the finish line, WAAAAAAAAAAAY off his personal best, like so many skaters who have passed through Cushman's hands.

It's like another point that Catherine Raney made at the Sports Science and Medicine committee meeting -- that younger skaters aren't familiar enough with how hard to push their own bodies, and need more guidance from a coach. Has Tom learned anything from his "overtraining experiments?" Does he even know how to look at a skater in training, and tell when that person has had enough? Can he be trusted to monitor the progress of a talented, up-and-coming neo-senior? It sure doesn't look like it.

Next, take a look at the Olympic Games. Not only were Tom's long distance skaters underperforming relative to themselves, they were also, without exception, beaten out by American skaters from alternative training programs.

Probably the saddest story of all is that of 2005 Sprint Champion Jen Rodriguez. I'll never forget the voice of the announcer before she lined up for one of her races, saying that she HAD PUSHED TOO HARD IN TRAINING DURING THE FALL AND HER LEGS HAD NOT HAD A CHANCE TO RECOVER.

Mistakes happen in every line of work. Some are worse than others. It's possible to learn from one's mistakes, but one must be held accountable for failure, especially if it involves messing up the efforts of human beings who are sacrificing everything to achieve a goal.

If my work in the lab went like Tom's coaching, it would be like this: I'd come in and take a picture of the DNA fragment I was trying to make, it would come out blank, and I'd realize that I had forgotten to add the enzyme to the reaction. I'd paste the picture into my lab notebook and record what happened. Then, I'd come in the next day and do it again. A year later, I'd have 365 pages in my notebook of blank pictures with a note saying, "Oops! I forgot to add the enzyme!" But amazingly, somehow I'd still have my job. It blows your mind, if you think about it that way. It's just not the way the real world works. It's not the way anything should work!!!

Doesn't USSPEEDSKATING realize that when they hire a coach nobody wants to train with, then nobody will want to be a sponsor of USSPEEDSKATING? This is a real problem. This is not just "some disgruntled failure" talking about a coach with whom she had the worst season of her life. I'm not alone! In fact, YOUR TOP ALLROUND SKATERS DO NOT WANT TO TRAIN WITH THIS COACH! Shani Davis and Catherine Raney train in Calgary. Chad Hedrick has been training with Bart Schouten. I really believe that the root of most of your battles with athletes over sponsorship and unequal treatment BEGINS with the fact that YOUR ALLROUND NATIONAL TEAM PROGRAM REPELS THEM!!!

Now here's another problem I need to mention. There was an anonymous "Coach Evaluation" sent around to all the skaters, by one former skater who wanted all the others to know what he thought of the US coaches. In response to this skater's criticism of Tom Cushman, another of Tom's skaters came to Tom's defense, saying that Tom was put in the unfortunate position of having to work with skaters he didn't feel he could work with.

I'm sorry, but it is the responsibility of a National Team coach to be able to work with skaters of all different types of personalities. The person who is National Team coach is handed the fastest skaters in the nation, and there is no guarantee that they will all have personalities that are compatible with the coach's. But if the coach is unable to work with a variety of people, then that is not something for the coach to whine and complain about. THAT IS THE COACH'S PROFESSIONAL DEFECT, and should be dealt with accordingly.

Have you had enough yet, or should I go on? I guess the last thing I want to say is that USSPEEDSKATING has a responsibility to this country to serve THE FASTEST ATHLETES and to help them perform at their best. Unless I've missed something in USSPEEDSKATING's mission statement, it is not their mission "To Provide a Job for Tom Cushman, No Matter How Badly He Screws Up."

Recently, I communicated with someone involved in marketing for USS, who said that his only concern was to sell USSPEEDSKATING by making it look good from the outside -- not to know what goes on internally. But I'd say that keeping Tom Cushman as National Allround coach is a decision that does a lot of damage, not only to the athletes' and federation's performance goals, but also to the image of USSPEEDSKATING and to its potential for seeking sponsorship.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A little late on those Coach Evaluations, aren't you?

A few days after the USS Sprring Board Meeting ended, I received an email that was sent out from Mike Crowe to all sprinters who had had any coach-athlete involvement with Ryan Shimabukuro in the past season, requesting an evaluation of Ryan's performance. I sent back a scathing reply to Crowe, asking him how he can go on pretending like what USSPEEDSKATING did to me last season was not the equivalent of "career genocide;" how he can just sit next to me in a meeting and keep me on his emailing list like nothing ever happened. I mean, come on! Do what you have to do, but at least call it what it is.

I did, however, give a few words of input on Ryan's coaching, repeating what I'd said on The Protocol several times about thinking that Ryan is an excellent technique coach. I also included a brief assessment of Tom Cushman's coaching performance, and referred Crowe to recent posts on The Protocol regarding who I believe is to blame for most of the failures of USSPEEDSKATING in Torino, especially in the men's and women's team pursuit and women's individual events.

Anyway, my main point in this post is to ask WHY CROWE WAITED UNTIL AFTER THE BOARD MEETING TO ASK THE ATHLETES FOR COACH EVALUATIONS. This is something that should have been done immediately after the season ended, so that plans could be made accordingly for the upcoming season. If the Board Meeting is held at the end of April, and teams officially start training together in the beginning of May, you can't wait until the board meeting to make a decision on a team coach -- much less just get started on evaluating coaching performance!!! What a shocking lapse of responsibility.

I'm saying this because I know that there was a major revolt among the athletes when they heard that Tom Cushman was re-hired as USSPEEDSKATING Allround National Team Coach. Cushman has made way too many mistakes, and should no longer have this position, and the fact that most athletes refuse to train with him should be a big indication that this is the wrong decision.

In fact, there was a big debate over this issue at the Board Meeting, and I'll talk about that in more detail in a later post. For the purpose of this post, I'd like to say that I know of several Allround skaters in Salt Lake City whose season plans are completely up in the air right now, in between not knowing who the National Team coach will be, and not having the FAST Program in existence at the Oval any more -- these skaters are waking up each morning and saying, "Well, what kind of training do I feel like doing today?"

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your illustrious US Speedskating Team, and their pathetic and disorganized leadership.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More Board Meeting "Uglies:"

For a very interesting and well-rounded perspective on the USSPEEDSKATING Board Meeting, please check out Andrew Love's blog post on "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." But I'm going to share with you my experience of the one committee meeting that I was able to attend: The Sports Science and Medicine committee.

I wanted to attend this session because I could make a quick trip downtown on my lunch break from work. Also, there was a story that I wanted to make sure was covered, and it was. That was my story of being denied access to a trainer when I was injured 2 weeks before the Fall World Cups, for which I had qualified.

The first thing that shocked me at this meeting was that Mike Crowe took a seat right next to me at the table. But once the debate over physical therapy got started, it quickly became apparent that no amount of pretending could cover up the bad blood and resentment of the previous season.

TOSH trainer Kim Nelson presented a summary of TOSH's work for USSPEEDSKATING that year. TOSH, The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, sponsors USS by providing their services free of charge. In the beginning of the season, the TOSH trainers were given a list of 20 skaters for whom they were responsible. The problem arose when some of these athletes, who had been training with the USS National Teams, failed to qualify for World Cup competition, while athletes who trained outside USS qualified instead.

As a result, USSPEEDSKATING had to enforce the contract they signed with TOSH, making the trainers turn away injured athletes, such as myself, who had qualified for World Cups, but who did not train with USS programs.

How does one solve such a situation, without over-burdening the trainers, who cannot reasonably handle more than 10 athletes each? Do you drop the athletes who failed to qualify for international competition and replace them with those who did? Most people would argue that this is cruel. After all, the athletes who failed to make World Cups are probably those who are injured or overtrained, and would have the greatest need to see a trainer! But that's actually what happened to me when I was overtrained under Tom Cushman's Allround program during the 2003-04 season. Not only did I not get to see the trainers, but the coach stopped communicating with me entirely, not even sending me an email asking how I was doing, while on the World Cup circuit with the rest of his team.

But how can you deny treatment to an athlete who has qualified to represent this country in an international competition? When I told my story in the meeting, I argued, "You should be most concerned with those athletes whom you're actually going to be sending to the starting line."

And Crowe kept on repeating, "No, it's those 20 names that were chosen by the Board in the beginning of the season -- that's who gets the treatment." If you could be there to see how adamantly he was arguing this point; this excuse of his for why an athlete like me should not have access to a trainer, then you will understand why I can't stand Mike Crowe and believe he does not care about supporting those American athletes who skate the fastest, but only about his "Chosen Ones."

I also talked about the reason why some athletes choose to train with programs other than those offered by USSPEEDSKATING, even though they qualify for the National Team. I said, "It's all about your skating performance, and being able to choose the coach and training program that works for you. For me, this was literally the difference between being on the podium in the B Group (under High 5 Team coach Boris Leikin), and not making any World Cups at all (with Tom Cushman's USS Allround program)."

Catherine Raney brought up an excellent point, saying, "If TOSH is sponsoring USS by providing its services, shouldn't they be able to choose whom they want to treat? Do they get to see this list of 20 names, and to approve it?"

Craig Wing, who oversees the TOSH deal with USS, said that TOSH loves to have athletes like Chris Witty and Derek Parra (skaters who don't train with USS and who are denied treatment) coming into their clinic, because their other patients love to see these athletes and interact with them. Mr. Wing thinks it is a shame to have to deny such athletes access to trainers, just because USSPEEDSKATING says they have to.

"Frankly, the situation this year SUCKED," said Craig Wing.

He and Crowe planned to meet after the committee meeting to come to some sort of resolution to bring before the Executive Board, but I just wanted to say, "Don't you realize that Crowe is your problem???"

I wonder how this situation got resolved. Some people, like Athlete Rep Chris Needham, believe that this problelm will not present itself at least for a few years, because the total number of athletes in contention for spots in international competition will be smaller than it was this year. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A New ISU Rule on Uniforms:

Here is something I think everyone should know. USSPEEDSKATING is trying to get the ISU to pass a new rule requiring all members of a country's team to wear uniforms that match each other exactly, right down to the sponsor logos. The enforcement of this policy, as well as the decision on what the suit will look like, will be up to each national federation.

Do you know what this would mean? This means that any athlete who finds an individual sponsorship would not be allowed to wear that logo on their suit. This means that if an athlete suddenly finds himself out of money in the middle of a trip and wants to make a deal with Marnix Wieberdink to add a Kia or Yacht logo to his suit, he wouldn't be able to do that. This means that if a sponsor only wants their logo on an A-Group skater, but some of that country's skaters compete in the B Group, then that will cost all of the skaters on that team a potential sponsorship.

I'm thinking that not too many countries would want to go along with the passing of such a rule, but what bothers me is the fact that USSPEEDSKATING is trying to push it through. Of course, what they want is to be able to have an excuse to force their athletes to wear the logos of the federation's sponsors. They don't want something like the Qwest deal to ever happen again.

Doesn't USSPEEDSKATING realize that by going behind their athletes' backs to the ISU, they are making the athletes even more distrustful of the federation? Don't they realize that they are setting up an even more hostile situation, which will be more likely to scare away potential sponsors, than to attract them?

And why doesn't USSPEEDSKATING realize that any time one of their athletes finds an individual sponsor, they are SAVING THE FEDERATION MONEY. That's one less person they have to take care of. But they don't see it that way.

The athletes who are hurt the most by USSPEEDSKATING's recent policies on sponsorship are those who are climbing the ladder and trying to make a breakthrough. This topic came up in a discussion on OhnoZone, and I agree completely with the person who said that it's the athletes who are not yet at the top who suffer the most. These are the people who skate World Cups but are not in the Top 10, are forced to wear logos of sponsors despite getting next to nothing for it, and have no other choice because they don't have enough money to take the risk of having their World Cup travel funding taken away. This is the situation in which I found myself, and was unable to break through, and it was a big reason why I quit speedskating.

I would really like to know who, in USS, is behind this idea to put pressure on the ISU to pass this new uniform rule. The reason why I would like to know is that I had higher expectations of the newly elected Board of Directors, and this decision is a disappointment to me.

I would also like for someone to give a straight answer when I ask, "If you guys keep setting up obstacles to athletes getting sponsorships, then how, exactly, do you expect them to pay for their speedskating careers?" I'm not saying, "GIVE THEM MONEY." I'm saying, "JUST GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!"

And, no, the answer is not, "Well, it's their dream, and if they want it badly enough, they'll find a way, no matter what obstacles we throw in their path." Open your eyes. Be reasonable. This is not exactly the most popular sport in America, so it's hard enough to find sponsors as it is. USSPEEDSKATING should be making it easier for their athletes to find sponsors, not harder.

For those who are not too familiar with the USSPEEDSKATING sponsorship battle, here is a simplified timeline of the main events that transpired over the last couple of seasons:

1. The left leg logo spot is open, and is available for athletes to "borrow," to sell to an individual sponsor. According to the Athlete Agreement, the skaters should be aware that this spot is borrowed, and that if USSPEEDSKATING sells it, then they have to give it back. Some athletes sell this spot to sponsors, most notably, Chad and Shani, to DSB.

2. The left leg logo spot is sold by USSPEEDSKATING to Qwest, without consulting the athletes to see if they think the sponsorship is a good deal for them. Basically, the athletes are made to feel like they were sold behind their backs like some kind of commodity. I called us the "Walking Billboards." Meanwhile, Qwest was misled into believing that the top US speedskaters will be wearing their logo. Qwest was especially interested in having Shani wearing their logo.

3. Some athletes break the Athlete Agreement, wearing the logos of their individual sponsors and refusing to wear Qwest. World Cup travel and other benefits are pulled from these skaters by USSPEEDSKATING.

4. Qwest gets upset at USSPEEDSKATING for misleading them, when they see that several top skaters are not wearing their logo.

5. USSPEEDSKATING announces they will sue the athletes who breach the Athlete Agreement, in order to cover up the mistake they made by signing the deal with Qwest without being able to guarantee the cooperation of their athletes. Andy Gabel's timing is impeccable, as this threatening email reaches us on race prep day before we start competing in the December 2005 World Cup in Torino.

6. Around the time of the Olympics, a major PR problem arises as Shani Davis appears on the cover of USA Today with DSB logos over the top of painted-over Qwest logos on his uniform.

7. Sponsorships and the Athlete Agreement are major issues at the 2006 USS Spring Board Meeting. Qwest threatens to sue USS, who in turn still want to sue their contract-breaking athletes. The USOC gives USS a deadline of June 1 to rewrite their athlete agreement, or else they will pull funding from the federation.

8. As part of the plan in continuing to back its athletes up against the wall, USSPEEDSKATING pressures the ISU to enforce a new rule on racing uniforms, saying that every skater from a country's team must wear an identical uniform, including identical logos. In effect, USSPEEDSKATING says to the ISU, "Give us an official excuse to screw our own athletes out of opportunities, to increase our own financial burden, and to scare sponsors away."

What is the point?
"Fight for the Children, Eva!"

I feel the poking and prodding of the world of sports politics again. Right now, I'm not sure what I want out of all of this, and whether it's good for me, but I think I'm going to start posting again.

Before I begin, let me make one thing absolutely clear. I don't feel that I owe the sport of speedskating anything. Before I left graduate school to make my comeback, I was frustrated because people were literally telling me that it was my role and my duty to sacrifice my life to find cures for diseases, because I did not deserve a life of my own. I did not come back to speedskating to find the same kind of life waiting for me. I came back to speedskating because I wanted to find success and happiness doing something I loved. This did not happen.

At one point during the last few months of my skating career, I had a parent of a skater come up to me and tell me that my speedskating career was expendable because I was alone; because my entire family was not involved and had not made sacrifices so I could compete. For this reason, she felt, it was OK for me to stand up and speak out on behalf of all of the skaters, and if necessary, to face the consequences. And then she asked me how much longer I planned to skate a particular event, because her kid wanted to race it.

Words cannot describe how much I resent such an attitude.

And still, I feel that things need to be said, and I plan to take the time out of my busy life to say them. Why? Is it because other peoples' skating careers mattered, whereas mine never did? No, not really. It is because I have observed some of the things going on politically in the sport, and I see some very encouraging changes happening, and this makes me feel like people are finally starting to see the light -- and also starting to get brave enough to speak out and make change. But also, I've seen some abuses continuing to go on, and I've seen too many things getting swept under the rug.

Now that I've posted about how angry I've been about USSPEEDSKATING's treatment of me as an athlete, I feel that I can put that behind me. I realize it's important not to drag this sport through the mud, and that it's important to discuss the real issues. For me, the Protocol is the easiest way to do this, so whenever I can make the time, I plan to cover some of the isues that are most important to me.