Friday, February 13, 2015

In remembrance: Jack Owen

Last night I talked to my dad as he was on his way to pay his last respects to Jack Owen. Jack was one of the greatest generation. He was instrumental to putting U.S. skiing on the map. Here is the letter I received from my dad today, the day Jack passed away. You will be missed -- and missed dearly.

February 13, 2015

Jack Owen, one of the Pacific Northwest’s preeminent and pioneering ski coaches passed peacefully last night at the age of 95.  A lifelong and accomplished outdoorsman, Jack discovered Nordic skiing in the mid-1960’s when his five children joined Herb Thomas’ fledgling Wenatchee Ski Club. 
Prior to that discovery, Jack had been a standout high school basketball player.  His father’s Granite Falls, Washington sawmill provided cedar stock to George Pocock’s, and Jack struck up a friendship with Pocock in the course of making deliveries to Pocock’s Boatworks.  Some Owen lumber may have accompanied the Boys in the Boat to Berlin.  If so, it would not be Jack’s sole brush with the Olympic Games.

Following high school, Jack and his family homesteaded on Kodiak Island, and Jack’s first career was as a tug boat captain working in the Gulf of Alaska.  Jack enlisted during the second World War, was trained as a weatherman, and scrambled up a Normandy Beach on D-day.  Following the war he used the GI bill to attend Montana State University where he earned a degree in electrical engineering.

Following graduation, Jack began working as a engineer for Alcoa.  He was eventually transferred to the Alcoa plant in Wenatchee, Washington; a community that meshed perfectly with Jack’s interests in family, the outdoors, and career.

Jack took over head coaching for the Wenatchee ski team in 1967.  Both he and Herb Thomas had been years ahead of Title 9; and believed that females could equally train, compete, and enjoy endurance sports.  This was a time when the US did not have a women’s ski team; when women were barred from the Boston Marathon, and when the longest track event for women at the 1968 Mexico Games was the 800 meters.   

Jack was all in as a coach, and like Arthur Lydiard, made sure to trial his training ideas and concepts on himself first.  He possessed an analytic, engineering orientation; and became a student of great classic ski technique.  It was ultimately evidenced in his skiers.  There is a ski technique bible in Norway that devotes a chapter to the classic technique of Jack’s daughter Alison.

Jack was the sort of coach who reached out to other disciplines.  He developed a friendship with legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman.  The two shared a passion for fly fishing, and shared coaching ideas and perspectives while bringing trout to fly on the McKenzie River below Bowerman’s home.

Female Swedish and West German ski champions made a point of stopping in East Wenatchee while touring North America.  Those were wonderful opportunities for stars and up-and-comers alike. The porch light was always on for nordic skiers at Jack and his wife Bess’ home.

In 1966, Jack’s 13 year old daughter Alison broke the gender barrier at the Junior Nationals in Winter Park, Colorado.  She had qualified for the PNSA boy’s team, and raced in the boy’s class.  The organizers made precautionary provisions, with an ambulance standing by.  Alison showed them something, and the next year females were welcomed and had their own races.

There was a time in the mid-1970’s when half the U.S. women’s team came from a one block radius in East Wenatchee.  The five neighborhood girls were Alison and Sally Owen, Tammy and Tracy Valentine, and Joanne Musolf.  The latter four finished 2 – 5 at the 1974 Junior Nationals in Steamboat Springs.  Not surprisingly, they also won the relay by a wide margin.

A number of Jack’s skiers went on to NCAA and international success.  Alison was the most notable, winning World Cups and finishing second at Holmenkollen.  Perhaps more telling is the profound respect and connection they have maintained with their old coach, and with one another.

Jack retired from ski coaching in 1982.  A number of his former charges followed him into coaching, and remain active role models today.  Having caught the endurance bug as a coach, Jack indulged it after his retirement from Alcoa, also in 1982.  

He became an accomplished road cyclist.  Coming down a generation in age group, he and Muffy Ritz were a formidable tandem team at the Master’s nationals.  Devoted to his custom made Davidson road bike, Jack would allow himself a replacement every 70,000 miles.

Jack lived independently into his 95th year.  He followed his beloved Seahawks from his apartment to SuperBowl 49.  He had the good sense to fall asleep for their 4th quarter demise.

Jack is survived by his five children, and host of admirers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

String Theory

Because its the climax of the hard court tennis season. Because Roger Federer looks like he's turned back the clock this summer. Because no one wrote better on the sport than David Foster Wallace.

"It’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clich├ęs about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in post-contest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way ‘up close and personal’ profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life – outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small."

From David Foster Wallace’s The String Theorypublished in Esquire in July 1996.
Want more Infinite Jest meets sport? David Foster Wallace with Roger Federer as Religious Experience.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Visiting the City That Never Sleeps

This past weekend I headed down to NYC to check out the scene in the city that never sleeps. 

After three days spent scouring Manhattan my feet hurt so much. I don't know if I've ever walked so much. But the sounds and scenes were definitely worth it. Like this three-man a capella doing their thing in SoHo. 


I took in the Broadway musical Bullets Over Broadway written by Woody Allen and starring Zack Braff in the lead role, scoring a ticket for $30. Having lived in Utah for many years I wanted to take in The Book of Mormon but getting tickets to the show were crazy expensive. Maybe I still should have gone. Maybe there will be a next time.

One of the reasons I came to New York was to check out the nerve center of the Associated Press. The AP is quite arguably the most important news gathering agency in the world, with incredible reach. 1,700 newspapers and something like 5,000 broadcast outlets subscribe to their wire service, pulling whatever articles and photos they need. The non-profit has something like 240 news bureaus around the world.

It's a really no-nonsense place, except for this incredible view from the 14th floor of their building hugging the Hudson River's shore.

Visiting with the New York Times was pretty incredible and made for the trip's highlight. They had one writer in sports really hustling, 'just happening' to meet run into the two men who were looking to replace Bud Selig as MLB Commish. The kid make his first impression working as a clerk at the NYT, but breaking stories on the Balco scandal. His boss said he was "just a terrible clerk." But I think he had other plans by coming out of college and taking a very entry level position. The day after Rob Manfred was named commissioner, the writer was in Ferguson putting out breaking news reports. To find stories like this one on the U.S. Open you can't be a normal sportswriter. That takes looking looking beyond Flushing Meadows or the traditional storyline.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Photos and Stories

One of the definite perks of living in the District is having the National Mall to run beside or stroll through the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument. 

Women get a day at the Tour de France? This is kind of a big deal. 

No Americans wore yellow from the 2014 route from Leeds, England to Paris, France. But Tejay van Garderen and Company give US cycling fans something more than just hope.

It's pretty sweet covering the "minor sports." I'm pretty sure golfers, especially the ladies on the LPGA Tour, are some of the more intelligent and interesting personalities in sport. 

I'd never heard the Secretary of U.S. Soccer's defense Tim Howard speak before asking him a few questions on the phone. It was quick, but a great conversation. Afterwards I wrote my fastest article ever for USA Today. 25 minutes after I hung up the phone I had the story of how the US National Team goalkeeper would be working the microphone on the English Premier League... in between playing for Everton in the English Premier League. 

Catch up with potential Team USA Paralympic members of Rio here. I really hope I did their story justice. 

Next stop, more tennis. Got a couple articles in the can for lead-in to the U.S. Open. The ATP and WTA circuit is also back in the nation's capitol for the Citi Open. I wonder where I will be?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

From Le Tour to World Team Tennis

Red solo cups and cake in July, that must mean...
Federal City on a hot summer Fourth of July day.

The Nations Capitol really gets into Independence Day.
A long afternoon grilling and games gave way to watching
the fireworks show atop the roof of a row house with about
6o others.

The view from the Gannett Media - USA Today campus in
Virginia where I work when not tracking down stories on foot.
It's an incredible building to work from, but getting out here
is a challenge. I ride my bike the 40 miles roundtrip, and it
doesn't take much longer than it would on the Metro.

My favorite stories this week centered around tennis. I even
had a phone interview with Billie Jean King, then met her
again two days later at a tennis match on the George
Washington U campus. Martina Hingis put on a clinic in
how to play while I was there.

A couple stories from last week if you're interested:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Five Pictures, Five Stories

El Salvador fans heading to the Redskins Stadium here in
the District of Columbia for a pre-WC friendly with Spain
With the beginning of this summer I began a new adventure - working as a journalist for USA Today. For pretty much every day for over a decade I read the sports section at USA Today. Now I'm behind the scenes, finding story angles and tracking down sources. My first published article both digital and online was tracking down the best soccer cities in the USA. The title: Where is Soccer City, USA?

After some soccer articles and a couple tennis articles, I headed out to the Congressional Country Club to help cover the National PGA Tour Tournament in Bethesda, Maryland. I guess this neighborhood is where the old-money horse aficionados of the DC Metro homesteaded. Rolling out here the first time my colleague Reid Cherner pointed out a house. It once was the home of Mike Tyson. Go figure. Anyways, the press corps was abuzz because Tiger Woods announced his return to the PGA Tour after three months away to rehab from back surgery.

My first article took a bend on the normal Tiger is back narrative. I told it more through the eyes of one of golf's best players, the Englishman Justin Rose. I thought Rose was the man to beat. Man, he made me look good. Vegas, I hear you calling. You can read my article here: Justin Rose ready for Tiger Woods

I made it back out to the Tournament for the final round on Sunday. I wanted to follow Erik Compton, a double heart transplant survivor who two weeks ago finished second in the U.S. Open on Pinehurst No.2. In my article I say Erik Compton is the best story in golf.  And I got to watch Justin Rose come behind, take the lead, put a ball in the water on 18, then win in a playoff. Good stuff in the rolling hills of Bethesda.

Sandwiched amongst the two country club days, I got an assignment to cover the NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson heading to the White House to visit with President Obama. I didn't know I'd ever walk through the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania again after my last Olympic team Presidential visit! Working behind the scenes, its pretty easy to pick up on who the stand-up guys in sports are. I bet you'll pick up on what I think about Jimmie Johnson if you read Obama calls Jimmie Johnson the 'Michael Jordan of NASCAR.'

Between all this excitement I also got to attend the Associated Press Sports Editors convention in Crystal City, Virginia. Here we could take courses from the best in the business of sportswriting, all trying to learn from each other. The highlights were John McCain dropping by for a few words, and the course on what sport sections are innovating and trying to do to better cover the NFL. With the League dominating coverage a few bright minds are out there trying to innovate and better bring stories that people want to hear.

This week I've been working on a little insider's guide to the Tour de France, and writing a little copy on sabermetrics in soccer. When interviewing cyclists, so many said I had to talk to the Dutch rider Marianne Vos. She's an Olympic road champion and a three-discipline world champion in road, cyclocross, and velodrome cycling. Her competitors also hold her in the upmost regard. You can hear from Marianne and more in Four Can't Miss Stages at the Tour de France.

I hope you get to enjoy Independence Day. To the best Fourth yet.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day, Pops!

From watching fireworks in the park

To taking me to the ball game, both to practice and play or to dream

For helping me find my own wave to ride, even when the ocean was a thousand miles away

You always encouraged me chase the white buffalo, wherever that may lead

I might be across the country now, in the other Washington

But sometimes its the simplest of saying that carry the biggest meaning: Happy Father's Day Pops!