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 in print 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!

Friday, May 30, 2014

#howibean: Pacific Northwest Edition

The classic L.L. Bean tote (with custom ITA logo, no less)
filledwith shirts for Mr. Haberberger's 6th graders at Orchard.
Outside of the competition arena, perhaps the coolest part of being an Olympian comes in the opportunity and influence you have on the up-and-coming generation. It's for this reason, I have been plenty proud to be a part of In The Arena for the past seven years. Following an Olympiad like Sochi, I feel the power of positive influence is doubly enhanced.

Taking in the final spectacle before turning the Games over to the Paralympians.
During this time, In The Arena has grown in strength, influence, and numbers. During this time, plenty of companies have wanted to join in. But only L.L. Bean and the vision of ITA have met in perfect harmony. I couldn't be happier. I know L.L. Bean from my early days, packing up the groceries in the classic red-handled tote bags. Almost 30 years later, my mom still puts those tote bags to good use.

I've picked up a couple of my own, and have been sporting them as I have visit schools, ski clubs, Boys & Girls Clubs, and YMCA's, from Astoria, Oregon to the Wenatchee Valley, to Winthrop, Washington all throughout May this year.  Now that the calendar turns to June, I've done a little accounting: nine schools in four school districts; two states, two ski teams, two community events. Looking back, I probably could have snuck in a couple more, but I'm proud to say it's been my most productive month ever as a community mentor. It's been a very nice bonus to have L.L. Bean along for the ride.

I was particularly stoked that I was able to join forces with fellow ITA'er Brian Gregg and visit the skiers from the north country in the Methow Valley. Flash, Laura, and Leslie were very positive influences on my early days skiing, and it was great to see the excitement such a small community has for nordic skiing. It's not hard to understand how a valley with 1916 residents produced three-point-five Olympians in Sochi.  

A small collection of the US ladies' infamous storm-trooper
white L.L. Bean boots. Made in Maine, lifetime warranty.
I rock a pair of these as well, only in a more-muted brown.
Go William Go. A kindergartener from Astor Elementary
attacks the post-Opening Ceremony skills session with
some serious skill. No wonder Landon Donovan got
 left off the 2014 World Cup Team.

To the best of times.
       And those that will be.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


One of the best ancillary benefits of chasing the ski racing dream comes in travelling. Living a little like a gypsy might not always be peaches-and-cream, but it is the perfect way to meet new friends and old, and to broadens one's perspective. Come springtime, I try to take these memories from the races and the road, and pass what I can onto the schools and classes I visit. With this in mind, here is a little intro video I put together to help share in the stories. Put to Johnny Cash's rendition of I've Been Everywhere, of course.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


My last day in the Nation's Capitol was jammed packed. I got up early and got in a run into the Georgetown neighborhood, along the Potomac River, then through the National Mall in Washington DC. Once I got back, it was soon time to head to the USA Today / Gannet Media offices across the river in Virginia. As I was coming from DC, the managing editor of the sports page picked me up right outside my hotel. I couldn't almost believe it, and made for a great way to learn a little bit more about the communication industry. From the managing editor and her team; from the most read section of the most read paper in America, no less.

While at USA Today, I got to shadow reporters as they had their daily meetings about when they expected to write and add articles to their online offerings. Most of the time, though, the conversations centered over what articles, graphics, and images would make the print edition. Between meetings, different journalists would take me aside, and show me what they were working on. Filing open records requests, investigative journalism, determining online layout, editorial decisions, designing for digital readership today and tomorrow were all areas I got to go and peak behind the curtain. Many thanks for Roxanne Scott, Mary Byrne, and many others at USA Today. 

After DC, I headed for Arizona. My grandparents are snowbirds, calling the Twin Cities of Minnesota their home during the summer months, and Arizona their refuge when the cold weather, snow and ice hit their home state. My favorite time of the day in Arizona are the evenings. During the day, the heat just hits you so hard, but the nights are just about perfect. When the sun starts setting, I always head out and do something, be it running a few miles, hitting a bucket of balls, or catch up with friends I haven't seen for far too long on the telephone.

The last day in Arizona, I was helping my Grandma out with some of the ins-and-outs of the digital world. We came along some old photos. Here's one of my favorites, from the late 1950s at Clear Lake, Minnesota.  

To Hab's 6th Grade Class at Orchard Elementary, I'm getting closer to my return! To the best of times, and those that will be.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Life on the Nation's Capitol

So much about sports is the hard stuff, the hours spent running and roller skiing, the tiredness that seeps into the body from all the training, or the feelings of disappointment that can linger when one does not fully reach their potential in a competition. Fortunately, the Team USA visit to the White House is not like this. At all. The US Olympic Committee really takes care of the returning Olympians. I got flown in to the nation's capitol from Zurich, picked up at the airport, and ushered to a Hilton on the Virginia side of Washington D.C.

The first day in the Nation's Capitol, I was whisked away to Capitol Hill. It was fascinating to see the U.S. Congress in action.  While so many times it might not seem like the political system doesn't feel like it's working, I can tell you Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Amy Kobluchar (D-Minn.) were operating at some of the highest levels I've seen in business or politics.

The Hill just hummed with the energy of efficiency and purpose. And what looked like the just about all the young, hungry, over-worked, under-paid interns in America. A peak into a different world, for sure.

Who knew walking the Senate halls I'd run into the moose.  Also interesting, every Capitol Hill member I met not-so-subtlety mentioned that on the close of the business week in DC they were on a plane back to their home constituents. Every week.

Another cool point of mention is how both Team USA and the Olympic movement is the respect of opportunities given to Paralympians. The Olympic movement prescribes to the Greek (and not English) meaning to the prefix para:  "at or to one side, beside, side by side." When you think about it, this is a refrain of the most beautiful quality. 

On April 7th, NBC will play the "Best of US" television special we filmed while on the White House visit. If you tune in, you'll get to hear Paralympian downhiller Mark Bathum (pictured above) give an acceptance speech that should send shivers up your spine. I know it did mine.

For an American writer, I think the most revered recognition of your work would be to have your book in the Presidential library. Every book in there was written by an American, with the exception of the Qiran and the Bible. Maybe it was mostly the setting, but the book I most wanted to pick up off the shelves was one titled "The Making of an American." How can you not but wonder how you'd measure up? 

 I can think of no better ending to this large helping of patriotic words and images than to play for you a little video I put together for Mr. Haberberger's class following the conclusion of the Sochi Games:

                     "Never curb your enthusiasm. Put the whole of yourself into it." -Percy Cerutty

To the best of times. And those that will be. -Torin

Monday, March 24, 2014

Heading to the Bernese Alps: Swiss Nationals in Bex

With the weekend came the opportunity to see a little sliver of the globe I've never been to before, the French-speaking corner of Switzerland. This year the Swiss National Championships were in the very much mountain town of Leysin. I'm pretty sure one day I saw most the kids from primary school walk by for a ski day. Later that night, a group of locals were outside my hotel, putting climbing skins and heading out for a moonlight-and-headlamp alpine tour. The local ski club Bex also is home to two national cross country team members, Erwan Kaeser and Jovier Hediger. In Davos, Jovier lives in the flat right underneath the one I share with Bettina and Mauro.

The first day in Erwan and Jovier's hometown, the view of the multi-summited Dents du Midi was pretty spectacular.

This season, Jovier put up the fastest qualification time on the World Cup, and made a couple WC Finals. Racing on his home course, Erwan won his first national title - at the expense of me trying to take it from the gun before getting spun out from behind on one of the many corners of the mini X-Games like course. It was still a pretty great night of racing though, and I felt a decent satisfaction to stand on the podium with Erwan and Mauro Gruber. As a country, only Norway has more depth in men's sprinting than Switzerland (FIS points). It was also pretty cool, because though I was ineligible to take the medals or cash as a foreigner, later that night 4th place finisher Martin Jager gave me a Swiss Franc handshake, splitting half his prize money with me.

I'd trained a fair amount with Martin, his father waxes my skis when I race in Switzerland, and I have only have the upmost respect for the guy, but I thought this was really a classy move. Thank you Martin!

One day in Leysin, it was +17 Celsius, the other day bombing down snow. The weather in the mountains can be so unpredictable, it's like they are breathing in and exhaling their own high-altitude air. Somewhat surprisingly, both days I raced on the same pair of skis, a new pair of Rossignol X-iums with the white bases and a warm factory grind. When its high humidity, I am now definitely a believer in giving the harder base material a go. Now in addition to classic and skate, flex patterns, stone grinding, wax testing, testing the difference between base material will be a growing factor for racers going forward. The quiver of race skis just grew bigger.   My shoulder hurts just a little now, thinking of having to lug all those skis through train stations and airports in the future!

After the sprint, I raced the three-person relay for the Swiss Academic Ski Club  International team with Finland's Antti Peltonen (guess which ski company he uses...) and Russia's Evgeny Bogdanov. I was the anchor and had my best distance race of the year, bringing us from 11th to 4th, and put up 3rd fastest time of the day (or about 25 seconds back of Toni Livers) . It was a good feeling to have the motor running well again after a long and tiring illness caught at the Olympics. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Engadin: In One Photo

I must say, a big congratulations to Tindli on the weekend at the largest skate race in the world, the Engadin Ski Marathon. Win the sprint on Friday night, then one step away from winning the Steinbock and putting your name in the record books.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sochi 2014: In Pictures and Words

A photo with a little perspective: the flame is bigger than one man by himself.

It's a new day. But not like any new day. Now the Olympic Park in Sochi is probably much quieter, empty almost before the Para Olympians arrive in two weeks' time. The courses in the mountains no longer find themselves lined by cheering spectators.  Stadiums are no longer packed with fans. Days circled on the calendars from many of the best athletes on earth - certain days people have thought about and dreamt upon for probably the 1461 days since Vancouver - have came into the moment, and have now receded into our past.  I am sure I feel certain emotions that are hard to put into words. But I am very proud and humbled to have my fourth and final opportunity to represent Team USA in the Olympic arena as an athlete.

Lara Ski Complex in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia: my latest Mississippi River ride

In the end, I think we are all a bit like Huckleberry Finn. It just so happens that cross country skiing has been my raft and my friend Jim: the instigator of opportunity and adventure. Over these years, I have put what I believe is the whole of myself into this endeavor, full of emotion, sweat, and optimism. I've danced - literally - jigs of joy. I've also had a couple rough rides, as a cyclist friend of mine might say.

A man in the arena: T.J. Oshie on the 8th and deciding overtime penalty shootout try against Team Russia. 

It's kind of funny to look back from time-to-time with the perspective of time. One of very first Olympians I met was a biathlete who competed for the USA in Innsbruck in 1976. He gave me a book he penned. I don't remember much about the book, but I absolutely remember the Teddy Roosevelt quote that ran on the book's back cover. I loved that quote. I loved it so much I wrote it on the backside of my Trapper Keeper that next fall in school. The working title of the words by Mr. Roosevelt are In The Arena, same as the name of the orginazation that I write this blog for. I'm pretty sure this is more than mere coincidence.

Noelle, now that's what I call a jig of joy
In Sochi, I got to see my old track and field teammate at the University of Utah Noelle Pikus-Pace celebrate her silver medal for skeleton in Sochi's medals plaza.

Any color of medal is worth celebrating.

In Sochi, Bettina's best friend Selina Gasparin (right) also won silver that same night. Bettina got to be Selina's guest that night, all the way until Selina walked out on the stage to receive her medal. Bettina said its a memory she'll never forget. Two days later, Bettina would finish seventh. It didn't hurt her, I believe, to take in this night before stepping into the arena herself.

Every second counts: the first 15-hundredths of the women's 500M short track final.

Come and see, and I saw: Meeting people like Siim Sellis and Peeter Kummel of Estonia, spending some hours on the ski trails and rollerskis, chasing efficiency and efficacy are parts of the process of chasing the Olympic dream through four Olympiads is what I will remember most. The trial of miles, the miles of trials, and the friends that are with you along the way.

I guess today, the first day back from Sochi, might be a day of sadness. My third grade teacher wrote me on Martin Luther King Junior's birthday. She said I told the class that same day 25 years earlier that I had a dream, one that involved skiing and the Olympics and following in the footsteps of a man named Bill Koch. But instead of leaning back and looking through the rearview mirror, I'm going to take the words of my two favorite musicians, John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison to heart. Today is not a day to look back to the days of yesteryear. The day has come and gone. 

Final photo from my time in Sochi, following the Closing Ceremonies to the 2014 Games. 

To the best of times. And those that will be. -Torin