My Official Perfect Final Moment of the Olympics
If you don't like sap, don't read this one. Seriously, stay far away. And don't hold this against me.
Anyhow, careful readers of The Washington Post or washingtonpost.com will have read Libby Copeland's story about shopping with Johnny Weir. Some journalists here have called it the single best story written during the Olympics.
So while Libby shops with flamboyant skating superstars, I, naturally, go to the mall with members of the New Zealand curling team. One member, actually. I was late, and Hans Frauenlob had to get back to the athletes' village for a final meeting of the entire New Zealand delegation, so instead of shopping we had a cappuccino at a place called "Ekki: Natural, Fresh & Ready." The "i" in "Ekki" is a carrot. (More English madness is available in the mall's food court, where offerings include "Dog Out" and "Teriyaki Experience: Made in Japan.")
Hans and I exchanged some Olympics stories. We talked about our night of table top curling and Dire Straits and the Haka. He told me about the Opening Ceremonies, and how after two hours of waiting the Kiwis were suddenly told to run, and so the New Zealand Olympic delegation sprinted toward the Olympic Stadium and got there, exhausted and out of breath.
He told me about the Kiwi Curlers' final Saturday night. They had tickets to the Medal Plaza concert, courtesy of members of the Finnish men's curling team and the Swiss women's curling team, who are all friends. Afterward, they went to the Canada House and the log cabin B.C. House with the members of the gold-medal winning Canadian men's team, who were mobbed by fans.
(Later today, incidentally, I ran into Canadian skip Brad Gushue and Coach Paul Webster at the mall, Gallery 8. The mall was packed with Olympic athletes doing last-minute shopping, although Gushue and Webster were just meandering around.
I introduced myself to Brad and Paul, who were ordering gelato at the time. Brad said their victory made the front four pages of the provincial newspaper in Newfoundland.
I asked whether there would be a party when they returned.
"Probably a month-long party," he said.
I asked what he would do next.
"I do need to get a job," he said.
I asked whether his life would change.
"It'll be different, that's for sure," he said. "I don't know how. I just know it will be different.")
(I just finished doing my radio interview with "Nine to Noon," New Zealand National Radio's flagship news and current affairs programme. Hans and Kiwi skip Sean Becker were also on the line, live from the Closing Ceremonies, which were still going on, quite loudly. Sean said the mood was somber. The host, Linda Clark, was surprised. She asked, "Why somber?" Sean talked about the people they've met, the friends they've made, the competitions they've seen. "To leave all this behind is going to be rather hard," he said. It's a much different message than you'd hear around the media center.)
Anyhow, after some of the Kiwi Curlers went to the B.C. House, they walked through the packed streets of Turin, briefly getting separated before reconvening at a bar. And then, who should walk in the door but cowboy-hat wearing, tobacco-chewing, nickname-accumulating Italian hipster and curling skip Joel Retornaz.
"Freaking fantastic," Hans said.
We've all written about Joel's budding fame, but the Kiwis saw it in action last night.
"He's like a legend; everywhere he goes, he's just mobbed," Hans said. "And he's loving it. He's drinking it up. It's great, because we need more icons in curling."
(Hans, incidentally, is still sporting his spiky-haired hipster 'do, which was partially modeled on Joel's spiky mullet. The two discussed hair styles last night at the bar.)
So, like I said, you walk around the media center and a lot of people are down on these games. The television ratings have been stinky. The buzz hasn't buzzed. Many journalists say these have been the worst Olympics they've ever attended. Many have made snide comments about Turin. I've certainly doled out my share of snideliness, too.
Hans doesn't complain about the Olympics. He doesn't do snide. You could walk into some back alley and see Olympic mascots Neve and Gliz injecting each other with steroids before agreeing to fix the figure skating finals while accepting bribes from multinational corporations, and then you could talk to Hans, and you would still walk away convinced that the Olympics are wonderful.
"Everyone we've met has just been great," he said. "The whole experience has been amazing. Just being treated like a real athlete and a real sport wherever you went. Getting to talk about the game, getting intelligent questions about the game, seeing interest in the game. It's just fantastic."
The Kiwi Curlers are leaving Turin on Tuesday. Hans has about 36 hours of travel in front of him: a train to Milan, a flight to London, another flight to Los Angeles and then another to Auckland. The guys from the South Island have two more flights once they get to Auckland, about 42 hours of travel in all.
Hans is scheduled to land around 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, and hopes to be at work by 10. He rigged his schedule to allow for two months as a full-time curler, and he doesn't want to take another day away from the office.
"I've burned every day of vacation I've got for the next 20 years," he said. "At some point, I'd like to have a family vacation instead of a curling vacation."
A few days ago, Hans's seven-year-old son Johann asked his father to speak at his school. Hans figured he would address just Johann's class, and he agreed. They talked again Saturday, and it seems Hans is now scheduled to address the entire school. He was beaming when he told me this.
I asked what he would say.
"I have no idea," he said. "But that's my medal, you know what I mean? That's my medal."
That's the end. If you want more, buy the book.
By Dan Steinberg |
February 26, 2006; 4:34 PM ET
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