Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Final Thought

When I first started this blog in August 2004, it was on the premise that by and large athletes who make it to the Olympics are very good at what they do, and even those who come in last are better than the rest of us and as such deserve our admiration.

But for this to be true, it can't be easy to get to the Olympics.

Once upon a time, it was much easier to get to the Games, at least for some. A Haitian athlete ran the 10,000-metre race in 42 minutes at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. No doubt there were other examples of athletes coming to the Games who were nowhere in the same league.

Then came Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards. During one interview I said I had a problem with him, but, truth be told, there was nothing wrong with Edwards, his attitude or his desire to participate. His heart was in the right place. But he shouldn't have been at the Olympics. Other ski jumpers complained that he was making a mockery of the sport. (More likely: they were upset that he was getting all the attention while they trained for years in almost complete obscurity.) The problem wasn't him, it was us; but it was still a problem.

However much we loved the stories of Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards, Eric "the Eel" Moussambani, or the Jamaican bobsledders, they helped reinforce an image of last-place finishers at the Olympics that was unfair to everyone else. Almost every time I was interviewed by a reporter, it was stories like these that they were looking for. These stories make for great copy, but they're in no way representative, and in some ways the distortion they generate can be harmful.

Imagine you're an athlete who's been training at your sport for years. Finally, you manage to make it to the Olympics. You compete, and, for whatever reason -- you're a few seconds behind, or you're fighting the flu, or the wax on your skis wasn't right, or you plain goofed for the first time in years -- you end up in last place. You're in the elite in your field; you've put your life into this sport. And now you're going to get lumped in the same category with a guy who nearly drowned in the pool.

The problem with Edwards, Moussambani and other "novelty acts" (as I've called them) is that they made getting to the Olympics look easy, and coming in last a joke. They made it easier for us to devalue participation.

So now it's harder to get to the Games. In some sports there are hard quotas. Even in the most accessible sports at the Winter Games -- alpine and cross-country skiing -- the basic quota that allows one athlete from each sex to participate still necessitates that they compete in the World Cup circuit. You don't have to be competitive, necessarily, but you do have to be a bona fide competitor.

Some might argue that, in keeping Eddie the Eagle away from the Games, something wonderful has been lost. That may be true: there's something to be said about a narrative of someone gamely, but hopelessly, giving it his best shot. But on the other hand, if we want to say that making it to the Olympics is meaningful, and that even last-place finishers have nothing to be ashamed of, then we have to make it hard to get there.

That's essentially what the IOC has done, and it's why my coverage of last-place finishers over two Olympics has featured accidents, injuries, and occasional great stories, but very little in the way of giving my readers someone to laugh at. Which was the point.

This wraps up my coverage of the last-place finishes at the Torino Winter Olympics. I hope you enjoyed it.

(For previous essays of this sort from the Torino Olympics, see All Fall Down and The Hard Bigotry of High Expectations. For day-by-day coverage, other features and older material from the 2004 Athens Olympics, see the calendar on the right-hand side of this page.)

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The Final Tally

Despite Romania's position atop the Torino 2006 last-place standings, I wouldn't read too much into it. This time, to my surprise, there was no runaway champion: both Japan and China also had six last-place finishes, but larger teams; Ukraine had five; South Korea, Poland, Latvia and Russia each had four. It was a close race, and if there is any meaning in the number of last-place finishes a country gets -- and for the record, I don't think there is; I'm just goofing around here -- the caveats and exceptions render it moot. Romania had two athletes with two last-place finishes, so only four of its athletes came last; Latvia, on the other hand, had its entire hockey team come last -- so, in a way, Latvia has more last-place finishers than Romania did. But then, we don't count medals by the physical number of shiny items around discrete athletic necks, but by event. At any rate, I hereby declare the results clear as mud -- and about as significant.

Another surprise, given the final tally at the Athens Games, is that Italy was nowhere near the top. As far as last-place finishes were concerned, Italy finished 21st with only two. As host country, I expected more from them -- the host country automatically qualifies for many events regardless of their World Cup rankings -- but as an Olympic team Italy was just too good.

Quite a few athletes had more than one last-place finish: Florentin-Daniel Nicolae and Daniela Oltean of Romania, Volodymyr Trachuk of Ukraine, Christelle Laura Douibi for Algeria, Veronica Isbej of Chile, and Sabahattin Oglago of Turkey. I chalk this up to the fact that in many disciplines, athletes are signed up for multiple events: many alpine skiers, for example, are registered in all five races, and the same goes for cross-country skiing, speed skating, biathlon and Lord knows what else. Simply put, there are more opportunities to come in last. And in many events, where DNFs sometimes outnumber the finishes, being able to come in last more than once means being able to finish more than once -- and that's apparently no mean feat.

A few countries had every athlete they sent come in last: Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand. It would have been more, but thanks to the qualifying rules, very few events were open enough for countries without a serious winter sports tradition to send an athlete. For example, if most countries have sent their single athlete to the men's 15K or women's 10K classical, as appears to have been the case, then only one of them (obviously) can come in last. Phillip Boit and Prawat Nagvajara were in the same event, after all. When all the obvious candidates are crowded into the same race, you don't have the same results we did during the Summer Games in 2004, when half the countries on the planet had at least one last-place finish.

Speaking of which: some countries didn't have a last-place finish at all. What about Belarus, Canada, the Czech Republic, Norway, Finland or Slovakia? Very interesting that these larger teams -- particularly Canada's, which was huge -- didn't produce any DFLs. You'd expect it just on a statistical basis alone. But unsuccessful athletes at the Winter Olympics are more likely to DNF as DFL: so many elimination rounds, so many technical events where a crash or a missed gate means a DNF.

But in the end, what can I say? It's just a bit of satire: fun at the media's expense, a spoof on the medal race, which never made much sense to me and was given way too much importance in a venue where individual rather than national achievement ought, it seemed to me, to be paramount.

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Expatriate Games

A trend revealed by the last-place results is the number of expatriates competing for their mother countries. Not all of them came in last, but enough of them did that I noticed. Algeria, Argentina and Thailand, all of whom have small teams (two, nine and one, respectively) owe all of their last-place finishes to competitors who live in other countries. On one level, having an athlete live abroad is a common enough occurrence: many athletes must train far from home due to a lack of facilities, or are studying abroad; several compete for other countries for various reasons, and some of them end up on the podium.

But some cases are different. Argentina's last-placers, for example, are American citizens: Michelle Despain, last in the women's luge, has dual citizenship; Clyde Getty, in aerials, has a parental connection to the country. It's a fairly safe bet that in these and other cases, it would be harder to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team (or the French team, or the Canadian team) than it was to meet the basic Olympic standard -- particularly in events where there are spots reserved for each continent, like the sledding events, or a basic quota to allow competitors from noncompetitive countries, such as alpine and cross-country skiing.

I'm not going to fault the athletes for wanting to attend or for seizing the opportunity; indeed, I think it's a courageous thing to do. But it does seem that a loophole is being exploited. Sending expatriates isn't much of a substitute for a decent domestic sport program; their success (or, in my line of work, their lack of it) doesn't reflect much one way or the other on the home country, I think.

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Phillip Boit

Cross-country skier Phillip Boit of Kenya competed in the men's 15-km classical in Torino, where he finished 92nd out of 97. This is his third Winter Games, though; he drew attention in Nagano in 1998, where he finished last in a 10-km event. He's now one of a handful of African cross-country skiers, able to compete under the basic quota and not necessarily doing a bad job of it. More on Boit -- and how a guy from a running mecca in Kenya ended up on the cross-country ski circuit as part of a Nike sponsorship gimmick -- from Strata, the Deseret News and the BBC, all of which date from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

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Results for Sunday, February 26

Ren Long (China)Other than the gold-medal game in men's hockey, the last event in these Winter Games is in cross-country skiing: the men's 50-km free, mass start. (At Salt Lake City it was classic; here it's free.) I awarded the DFL in hockey earlier, so the last DFL for Torino will be awarded for this event. And it goes to 17-year-old Chinese skier Ren Long, who came in 63rd with a time of two hours, 16 minutes and 15 seconds. That's a bit more than 10 minutes behind the gold medallist -- not bad over 50 kilometres. There were 16 DNFs and three DNSes in this race; I had been wondering whether anyone could be out by being lapped in this race, but it doesn't appear to be the case from the results.

Standings to date: China adds one more last-place finish, to end up one of three countries with six. Because it has 80 athletes here, it finishes second to Romania and ahead of Japan. I'll have an entry dedicated to the final tally later today.

Programming note: I'll be wrapping up the Torino Games with a number of entries that, if all goes well, will be posted throughout the day. So even though the last-place finishes are finished, I'm not. Stick around, won't you?

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Qualifying Rules: Alpine Skiing

Last of a series looking at just how hard it is to get to the Olympics; see previous posts on biathlon and cross country skiing, ski jumping and nordic combined, speed skating, short track, snowboarding, figure skating, freestyle skiing, curling and hockey, and bobsled, luge and skeleton.

Alpine skiing has an "ideal number" of 270 rather than a hard quota; there is, however, a quota of 22 athletes per country (14 men or 14 women, maximum, and no more than four per event). Athletes in the first 500 places in the FIS league table can qualify (subject to the country quotas, I suppose), and in the downhill, combined and Super G events, they can't have more than 120 points (as of November 2005).

There's also a basic quota of one male and one female athlete -- basic quotas are the provisions that allow countries who might not otherwise qualify to send athletes. This is why you see athletes from unexpected countries in alpine skiing events; cross-country skiing also has a basic quota. However, like cross-country skiing, you do have to be competitive in the literal sense: no more than 120 points in the downhill-ish events, no more than 140 points in the slalom-ish events.

Whatever the hell the points mean; clearly, more is worse.

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Late Results for Saturday, February 25

Alpine Skiing: The men's slalom ran today, and it was brutal: a total of 41 DNFs, as well as four DNSes and five disqualifications. In other words, more athletes were unable to complete the race (50) than put in a result (47). Amidst the carnage, in 47th place was Japanese skier Yasuhiro Ikuta, 26, whose time of 2:23.28 was more than 40 seconds off the pace. But at least he finished -- although I get the impression that alpine skiing is one of those events where it's not necessarily considered better to DFL than DNF.

Bobsled: In the men's four-man bobsled, the Brazilians came last. Yes, while Jamaica may not have qualified a team, Brazil did -- presumably through continental qualification (see previous entry for bobsled qualifying rules). Anyway, the boys from Brazil are Ricardo Raschini, 38, Marcio Silva, 25, Claudinei Quireno, 35, and Edson Bindilatti, 26; their time after three runs was 2:58.94, or 5.32 seconds off the pace at that point. Teams below 20th place didn't get a fourth run. There was one DNS.

Short Track: Three finals today, so three attempts at divining the last-place finisher in an event where time matters less than place, and there's heats.

Anthony Lobello (USA)
Evita Krievāne (Latvia)
In the men's 500-metre and women's 1,000-metre events, I'm awarding the DFL to the person who puts in the slowest non-advancing time in the heats (on the basis that if you have an even slower time but advance, usually it's because someone else was disqualified, meaning they interfered, and because you invariably put in a better result in a later race).

So, in the men's 500-metre heats on Wednesday, 21-year-old Anthony Lobello of the USA had the slowest non-advancing time: 1:13.722. Most other competitors had races in the 42-44 second range, so a fall is likely here. In the women's 1,000-metre heats, also on Wednesday, Latvian skater Evita Krievāne had the slowest non-advancing time: 1:39.986. Her time, on the other hand, was only a few seconds off the pace.

The men's 5,000-metre relay, on the other hand, was easy to figure out: the German team of Thomas Bauer, 21, Andre Hartwig, 22, Arian Nachbar, 29, and Sebastian Praus, 25, finished last (er, second) in the B final.

Katarzyna Wójcicka (Poland)Speed Skating: One event left -- the women's 5,000-metre, in which Katarzyna Wójcicka, 25, skating for Poland, finished 16th. Her time was 7:28.09, about 29 seconds off the pace. It's worth mentioning that this is Wójcicka's fourth event: she finished 10th in the 3,000-metre, eighth in the 1,000-metre and 11th in the 1,500-metre races. Don't for a moment think that last-place finishers are always in the back of the field; 'tain't always so.

Standings to date: With only one event still to report its last-place finisher -- the men's 50-km cross-country ski race -- we're almost there. Japan inches into second place, with as many last-place finishes as Romania but more than three times the athletes. Poland and Latvia move up the top 10, from eighth and ninth to sixth and seventh, respectively. Brazil, Germany and the USA add their second last-place finishes and move into the top 20.

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Early Results for Saturday, February 25

Kyoji Suga (Japan)Biathlon: The results for this morning's biathlon events are already in, so I'll report them now before the deluge of later events. In the men's 15-km mass start, 36-year-old Kyoji Suga of Japan finished 30th, 4:41.6 behind the gold medallist's time of 47:20. In the women's 12.5-km mass start, Polish skier Krystyna Pałka, 22, was also 30th, finishing 5:55 behind the gold medallist, whose time was 40:36.5.

Standings to date: Japan and Poland add another to their results; Japan moves into fourth place and Poland into eighth.

Later today: men's slalom, four-man bobsled, women's 5,000-metre speed skating, and in short track, the men's 500, women's 1,000 and men's 5,000-metre relay.

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Austrians Pee Cleanly

The urine tests on the Austrian biathletes and cross-country skiers conducted during the police raid on their residence last weekend came back negative, but the investigation continues. (Blood tests were not conducted at the time because they would have affected the outcome of their races, but they have been done since.)

See previous entries: Results for Sunday, February 19; Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Austrian Edition; Austrian Doping Scandal Update.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Results for Friday, February 24

Only a few events to report on today; the Games are definitely beginning to wind down. Tomorrow will be much bigger, though.

Mirella Arnhold (Brazil)Alpine Skiing: The last women's event in alpine skiing was the giant slalom, where 22-year-old Mirella Arnhold of Brazil was 43rd with a time after two runs of 2:49.17 -- about 40 seconds off the pace. As usual, a huge number of competitors did not complete the race: 18 DNFs, three DNSes and one disqualification.

Cross-country Skiing: The big long ski on the women's side is the mass start 30-km free, which saw Romanian skier Monika Gyorgy, 23, come in 50th. Her time was 1:35:25.4, or 13 minutes behind the gold medallist. There were 11 DNFs and one DNS.

Charles Ryan Leveille Cox (USA)Speed Skating: In the penultimate long-track event, the gruelling men's 10,000-metre, American skater Charles Ryan Leveille Cox, 22, was 15th. His time of 14:14.81 was quite a bit off the pace -- more than a minute thirteen behind the gold medallist and nearly half a minute behind the next-to-last-place finisher -- but keep in mind that, even as the slowest skater in that field, he skated more than six miles in less than 15 minutes. Just try to wrap your head around that for a moment. There was one disqualification.

Standings to date: To my surprise, Romania is strengthening its hold on the lead with a sixth last-place finish. Brazil has its first last-place finish -- to my surprise, they have more athletes here than Bosnia or Lithuania, countries with actual, palpable snow. And the Americans also enter the board, finally; I was wondering when they'd show up.

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Qualifying Rules: Bobsled, Luge & Skeleton

Part of a series looking at just how hard it is to get to the Olympics; see previous posts on biathlon and cross country skiing, ski jumping and nordic combined, speed skating, short track, snowboarding, figure skating, freestyle skiing and curling and hockey.

If I'm going to talk about the Jamaicans not qualifying for Torino, then I should at least mention the qualifying rules for the sledding events.

Bobsled: A total quota of 170 athletes (135 men, 35 women) and a maximum of nine men and five women from each country. Countries earn spots on a per-pilot basis based on their performance in World Cup, European Challenge Cup, and North American Challenge Cup events: the World Cup results qualify 22 two-man, 20 four-man and 15 women pilots; the European and North American events provide four and two pilots, respectively, to the two-man and four-man events. The host country gets to enter a team in each event, as does each continent.

Luge: There is a total quota of 110 athletes -- 40 men, 30 women, and 20 doubles -- and a per-country quota of 10 (three men, three women, two doubles). Countries can fill their slots from the pool of qualified athletes; to qualify, athletes must either participate in five World Cup events and receive at least five points by the end of December, or score a certain number of points in a World Cup competition -- 10 for men, 20 for women, and 25 points for doubles.

Skeleton: A total of 45 athletes -- 30 men, 15 women -- can participate, with no more than five (three men, two women) from any one country. On the men's side, athletes from the top 12 countries in the World Cup qualify, plus the first eight athletes in the Challenge Cup; the women's pool is smaller: the top eight countries and the top four athletes, respectively. Add to that one each from the host country and one each from each continent that would otherwise go unrepresented.

These rules are complicated and I can't say that I understand them all. In particular, I'm not sure how national eligibility relates to individual eligibility in these events. But at least this indicates that there are basic qualifying standards to be met, and quotas. And presumably these have been in place long enough that the Jamaicans have actually met them from time to time.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Late Results for Thursday, February 23

Anastasia Gimazetdinova (Uzbekistan)
Clyde Getty (Argentina)
Figure Skating: In women's figure skating, 25-year-old Anastasia Gimazetdinova of Uzbekistan was 29th after the short program with 38.44 points, and did not advance to the free skate (the top 24 did).

Freestyle Skiing: Clyde Getty, the 44-year-old from Colorado who's representing his parents' country of Argentina, is getting a bit of attention at these games; he's easily the media favourite among last-place finishers in Torino. During the 1990s he was on the U.S. team, but switched to Argentina when he could no longer make the cut. This is his second Olympics. He drew notice when he face-planted on the landing one of his jumps, losing both of his skies, in the preliminaries for the men's aerials on Monday, but his age (on the high side for just about any sport except curling) and his raw enthusiasm don't hurt either. He ended up finishing 28th, incidentally, with a score of 79.88; the next-to-last-place finisher's score was 70 points higher. (He received zero points for landing on his second jump.)

Standings to date: Argentina adds a second last-place finish; Uzbekistan enters the race.

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Early Results for Thursday, February 23

Biathlon: The women's 4×6-km relay ran this morning, and the team from Latvia -- comprised of Madara Līduma, 23, Anžela Brice, 35, Linda Savļaka, 22, and Gerda Krūmiņa, 21 -- came in 18th. Their time of 1:26:21.3 was 10:08.8 behind the gold-medal team, but there were five teams who were nine minutes or more back.

Curling: The finals aren't done yet -- the gold-medal game runs later today for the women, and the medal games run tomorrow for the men -- but the last-place finishers in round-robin play have already been assigned, so I might as well not wait any longer to report them. On the women's side, that's Italy; on the men's side, that's New Zealand. Each team finished 10th.

Hockey: Similarly, even though we won't know who won until Sunday, I can report that Latvia finished last -- 12th -- in men's hockey, thanks to their single point in the preliminary round.

Sara Fischer (Sweden)Snowboarding: The last snowboarding event is the women's parallel giant slalom, which just wrapped up. Swedish competitor Sara Fischer, 26, did not finish one of her qualifying runs and as a result was ranked 30th in the competition.

Standings to date: Sweden finally enters the standings, in 34th place; New Zealand enters in 28th. Latvia, with two more last-place finishes, moves up to 8th place, while host country Italy defies expectations with only its second last-place finish, moving into 17th place.

Later today: men's aerials, women's figure skating.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Late Results for Wednesday, February 22

Alpine Skiing: In the women's slalom, Indian skier Neha Ahuja, 24, finished 51st. Her time after two runs was 1:56.16 -- 27 seconds behind the gold medallist. A total of 13 people were disqualified, did not finish or did not start. Here's an article celebrating her status as the first woman from India to qualify for the Winter Olympics.

Freestyle Skiing: In women's aerials, 25-year-old Australian skier Elizabeth Gardner finished 23rd in the qualification round with a score of 127.42. For comparison, the gold medallist's score in the final round was 202.55.

Short Track: Only eight teams in the women's 3,000-metre relay, and they all made the finals, so, for once, the last-place finisher is elementary: it's whoever came fourth in the B final. In this case, that's Japan, who I guess finished 7th because China was disqualified in the A final. The team members are Yuka Kamino, 25, Mika Ozawa, 20, Chikage Tanaka, 32, and Nobuko Yamada, 34.

Speed Skating: Over on the long track, Romania's Daniela Oltean, who came last in the women's 1,000-metre on Sunday, finished 35th again in the women's 1,500-metre today. Her time of 2:09.24 was nearly 14 seconds behind that of the gold medallist. It probably didn't help that she had to skate alone in her race rather than be paired against another skater.

Standings to date: Romania regains the lead, Japan moves into fifth place, and India and Australia enter the standings in 20th and 29th place, respectively.

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Austrian Doping Scandal Update

The Austrians have fessed up, admitting that the two skiers who bravely turned their tails and fled after the surprise Italian police raid over the weekend "may" have used illegal doping methods. Neither of the athletes in question were on the teams that finished last in the cross-country or biathlon relays, so the DFL standings are unaffected. But that may change: the tests aren't finished yet.

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Early Results for Wednesday, February 22

Panagiota Tsakiri (Greece)Cross-country Skiing: The men's and women's sprint events ran today; I'm assigning the DFL to the slowest time in the qualification round. The first 30 skiers qualified for the quarterfinals in each event. In the women's sprint qualification, Greek skier Panagiota Tsakiri, all of 15 years old, finished 66th with a time of 2:43.28, more than 30 seconds off the pace. The women's sprint is 1.1 km. In the men's sprint qualification, 22-year-old Edmond Khachatryan of Armenia was 80th with a time of 2:49.98, about 36½ seconds off the pace. The men's sprint is 1.3 km.

Alexander Maier (Austria)Snowboarding: In the men's parallel giant slalom, I'm going with the last-place result in the elimination round, which is less ambiguous than the qualification round. In that elimination round, Austrian boarder Alexander Maier, 31, was ranked 30th; he was disqualified on one run so a comparison of his time is meaningless. One boarder was disqualified during the qualification round.

Standings to date: Armenia enters the standings in 20th place, Greece moves from 19th to 10th, and Austria moves from 13th to 7th.

Later today: A whole swack of women's events: 1,500-metre speed skating, slalom, aerials, and, in short track, the 3,000-metre relay.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Results for Tuesday, February 21

Biathlon: The ill-fated Austrian team, at the centre of a doping investigation along with their cross-country counterparts (see previous entry), came in 17th in the men's 4×7.5-km relay. The team of Daniel Mesotitsch, 29, Friedrich Pinter, 27, Ludwig Gredler, 38, and Christoph Sumann, 30, finished six and a half minutes off the pace with a time of 1:28:26.4.

Bobsled: In the women's bobsled, the Japanese team of Manami Hino, 26, and Chisato Nagaoka, 29, finished 15th with a time of 3:57.49 -- seven and a half seconds behind the gold medallists and a bit more than two seconds behind the next-to-last-place-finishing Austrians. There was one DNS.

Nordic Combined: In the last nordic combined event, the large hill/7.5-km sprint, Ukrainian Volodymyr Trachuk -- who finished last in the individual Gundersen on the 11th (see previous entry) -- was 48th.

Speed Skating: 22-year-old Li Changyu of China was 40th in the men's 1,500-metre; his time of 1:53.32 was 7.35 seconds behind the gold medallist's. There was one DNF.

Standings to date: Ukraine and China add their fifth last-place finishes apiece, and are first and second in the standings, respectively; Japan adds its third and Austria its second.

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All Fall Down

I'm not the only one to notice the sheer number of crashes, collisions and falls at these games, but I bet my take on it is a bit different.

When I talk to the media, they invariably ask me if there are any trends, or if there's any particular last-place finish, that stands out this time. Until the farce with the Austrian ski team over the weekend (reported here and here), I had trouble coming up with an answer -- particularly the kind of answer I suspect they were looking for: something off-beat, something weird. A last-place finish where you could laugh, a bit, at the circumstances if not at the athlete involved, or be blown away by what had to be endured -- something akin to a guy disrupting a diving event by jumping into the pool with advertising on his chest, diving with a stress fracture or running the triathlon with a broken bike. There were lots of examples like these during the Athens Games in 2004.

But the Winter Games are different. In a nutshell, mishaps are more dangerous in winter events. Samantha Retrosi suffered a concussion during the women's luge and had to be carried off in a stretcher. Melo Imai suffered a lower back injury during her snowboarding event and had to be airlifted to the hospital. Airlifts were also required after several crashes during practice runs for the women's downhill last week. But that's not as bad as it can get: Ulrike Maier was killed during a World Cup downhill race in Garmisch-Partenkirschen in 1994.

As I pointed out to one reporter, it's not really funny when athletes have to be rushed to the hospital.

But there's something to at least some of these crashes and falls: something that came out in the results, when speed skaters fall, crash, and make a point of getting back up and finishing the race, even if they're 30 seconds off the pace. Or when Chinese figure skater Zhang Dan fell during an attempted throw quadruple Salchow, and fell hard enough to stop the program, but managed to get back on the ice and nail the routine enough to get a silver medal. Or when Slovenian skier Andrej Sporn missed a gate during his second slalom run in the men's combined, but instead of skiing off the course as a DNF, herringboned back up the slope and re-skied the gate. He went from 2nd place to 33rd place, but he finished. I wonder how many other skiers would have bothered.

There's something to be said about getting back up and putting in a finish even when all hope of a respectable result is lost. For many athletes, finishing matters. Better DFL than DNF. Not that it's possible in every event: a crash in alpine skiing or luge is almost always a DNF, and there's nothing you can do about it. But there's something important being expressed whenever somebody crosses the line after hitting the ground, long after everyone else has finished.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Late Results for Monday, February 20

Figure Skating: In the ice dance competition, Ukraine's second team, Julia Golovina, 23, and Oleg Voiko, 25, finished 23rd (one team had to withdraw due to injury) with a score of 128.49. The gold medallists' score was 200.64.

Ski Jumping: The last ski jumping event -- the large hill (K120) team competition -- ran today. Wherein the Chinese team of Li Yang, 25, Yang Guang, 21, Wang Jianxun, 24, and Tian Zhandong, 22, finished 16th in the first round with a score of 206.1 -- about 70 points behind the 15th-place team and nearly 270 points behind the gold medallists -- and did not advance to the final round. (Only the top eight teams did so.)

Standings to date: Both China and Ukraine edge closer to the top with their fourth last-place finishes each.

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Early Results for Monday, February 20

Ivan Borisov (Kyrgyzstan)Alpine Skiing: As many competitors -- 41 -- failed to finish (DNF, DNS or DQ) in the men's giant slalom as actually finished the race. But, in the end, Kyrgyz skier Ivan Borisov, 26, finished 41st. His time after two runs was 3:37.10 -- more than a minute behind the gold medallist and a full half-minute behind the next-to-last finisher, and can be attributed to a very poor first run (his second run was much more in line with the rest of the field, while still last. Borisov is Kyrgyzstan's lone athlete at these Games.

Christelle Laura Douibi (Algeria)In the women's Super-G, rescheduled from yesterday, Algerian skier Christelle Laura Douibi added a second last-place finish with her 51st-place time of 1:43.54 -- 11.07 seconds behind the gold medallist. There were two DNSes, two DNFs and one disqualification. We last saw Douibi finishing last in the women's downhill.

Hockey: While the medals have yet to be decided in women's hockey, I'm able to assign a last-place finish based on the outcome of the placement round game for 7th/8th place. That game is now over, and, with Switzerland beating Italy 11-0, that means host country Italy places last overall in this event.

Standings to date: Because of the automatic qualification rules for host countries, I expect them to do well in the last-place sweepstakes -- apart from entering into sports that they may not otherwise have qualified for, they've just got that many more opportunities. It says something, then, that it's taken until now for Italy to enter the standings. And, of course, because host countries send huge teams, they're at the bottom of the list with their single last-place finish.

On the other hand, because of the way I rank things, small delegations -- like those of Algeria (2) and Kyrgyzstan (1) -- tend to rank quite highly (at 7th in a three-way tie for 14th, respectively) as soon as one or two last-place finishes occur. It's magnified when the same athlete places last more than once -- which can happen at the Winter Games, where good (if not great) athletes have the opportunity to compete in multiple events in the alpine, cross-country and speed skating disciplines.

Not that the standings have any real value, but I know some of you like to chew over them.

Later today: ice dance (what? we should have known who came 24th before the Opening Ceremonies!) and team ski jumping.

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Austrian Edition

The story about the Austrian biathlon/cross-country ski team -- some of whom finished last in the 4×10-km relay yesterday, you'll remember -- and their banned coach keeps getting weirder: Italian police report that they did in fact find doping equipment, two of the 10 athletes tested have been punted from the team for going home without permission, and the banned coach is in custody after crashing a roadblock near the Italy-Austria border. (In other news, the paperwork involving a positive pre-Games test of a biathlete -- not necessarily Austrian -- has mysteriously gone missing.)

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Results for Sunday, February 19

Alpine Skiing: Due to bad weather, the women's Super-G has been rescheduled until tomorrow.

Bobsled: The Hungarian team of Márton Gyulai, 26, and Bertalan Pintér, 32, finished 29th in the men's two-man bobsled. Those not in the top 20 apparently did not make a fourth run; their combined time of 2:53.01 was based on three runs -- at that point they were 2.39 seconds back.

Cross-country Skiing: In the men's 4×10-kilometre relay, the Austrian team of Roland Diethart, 32, Johannes Eder, 26, Jürgen Pinter, 26, and Martin Tauber, 29, was lapped during the fourth leg, at which point their race was over; they placed 16th as a result.

Now there's a bit of news behind this last-place finish. The Austrian skiers claim that their race was "ruined" because they were subject to a raid the night before by Italian police looking for evidence of doping, along with late-night doping tests. The raid occurred because of a tip that Walter Mayer was in Torino with the Austrian athletes. Mayer had been banned by the IOC for ten years for being suspected of conducting blood transfusions at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games after equipment was found in a chalet. Despite the controversy surrounding Mayer, however, he's still head of Austria's cross-country skiing and biathlon program. If the Austrians test positive for anything, they will be stripped of their DFL according to precedent.

Daniela Oltean (Romania)Speed Skating: 25-year-old Romanian skater Daniela Oltean finished 35th in the women's 1,000-metre with a time of 1:21.70. That was 5.65 seconds behind the gold medallist. There was one DNF.

Standings to date: Austria enters the standings near the back, Hungary moves into eighth place, and, due to a smaller contingent than South Korea's, Romania regains the lead.

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Qualifying Rules: Curling and Hockey

Part of a series looking at just how hard it is to get to the Olympics; see previous posts on biathlon and cross country skiing, ski jumping and nordic combined, speed skating, short track, snowboarding, figure skating and freestyle skiing.

Now let's turn to two completely team-based sports in which my own country seems to expect to win all the time: curling and hockey.

In curling, a total of 10 teams qualify for each of the men's and women's competitions. One of these is Italy, as the host nation. The remaining nine countries are determined by the results from the World Curling Championships since the last Olympics.

In hockey, there are eight teams on the women's side and 12 on the men's side. In both cases, Italy qualifies automatically as the host nation. Most of the countries are determined by the IIHF world tables as of the 2004 championships -- the best eight men's teams and the best four women's teams qualify. The remaining three spots on each side are determined by whoever wins Olympic qualification tournaments -- the page doesn't say, but are these regional or continental qualifiers?

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Correction: Ski Jumping

The problem with being a tyro is that occasionally you screw up magnificently.

In ski jumping, I derived my last-place finisher from the first round of each event. Trouble is, if I had known anything at all about ski jumping at the Olympic level, I'd know that there was a qualification round before the first round. (How much sense does that make?) In any event, a lot of athletes get eliminated in that round, and, if I'm looking at the lowest score generated at the Olympics, then I have to include them.

Which means that my previously reported results for two ski jumping events -- for the normal hill (K90) and the large hill (K120) -- are incorrect. Not only that, but the overall last-place standings have been out of whack all week.

Well, it wouldn't be an Olympics if I didn't bollix up my coverage at least once. Anyway, here are the corrected results:

In the NH individual qualification round, which ran a week ago (the final was Sunday), 16 jumpers did not advance. Last among these was Bulgarian Georgi Zharkov, 29, whose jump received a score of 77.5. He finished 51st.

In the LH individual qualification round, which ran yesterday (the final ran today), a total of 18 jumpers did not make the cut. Last among these was 23-year-old Choi Yong-Jik of South Korea, whose jump received a score of 22.8. He finished 53rd.

In both events, 35 jumpers qualified; another 15 were pre-qualified.

Impact on the standings: Guess what? As of today, South Korea's back atop the standings, with as many last-place finishes as Russia but one-quarter the athletes. Bulgaria, with its second last-place finish, moves up the board to eighth. Estonia moves back down (to 23rd; it shouldn't have made its debut until today) and Canada leaves altogether.

Thanks to this anonymous commenter for pointing out my boo-boo.

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Late Results for Saturday, February 18

Short Track Speed Skating: This is always a complicated event to report, especially when the slowest athlete in the heats nevertheless qualifies (and then puts in a faster time in the semis) and others with faster times are eliminated -- that's heats-based sport for you. So, especially in the case of the men's 1,000 metre, I've had to go with the slowest nonqualifying time in the heats (which took place on Wednesday), to wit, that of 19-year-old Russian skater Vyacheslav Kurginian. His time of 1:36.070 was not the slowest, but everyone who had a slower time qualified out of their heats and then put in a faster time in the quarterfinals, so I've had to go with Kurginian for an admittedly arbitrary DFL.

In the women's 1,500 metre, it was a good deal more straightforward: Chinese skater Cheng Xiaolei, 24, had the slowest time in the heats: 2:50.017.

Ski Jumping: In the individual large hill (K120) event, Canadian Graeme Gorham, 18, finished 50th with a score of 61.1 and did not advance past the first round. Here's a profile of Gorham from the Sun media chain. [I made an error in these results; see correction.]

Lu Zhuo (China)Speed Skating: In the men's 1,000-metre, Chinese skater Lu Zhuo, 25, finished 38th with a time of 1:12.69 -- less that four seconds off the gold-medal pace. It's marked as a reskate in the results; presumably something happened the first time around that resulted in the skater he was paired against being disqualified and him being allowed a do-over.

Standings to date: The law of averages almost requires that large teams -- like Russia's and Canada's -- will have multiple last-place finishes: your team has more depth, and there are more opportunities for things to go awry. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for medium-sized teams like China's -- and there aren't many countries with more than 80 athletes. Anyway, the upshot of this is that Russia takes the lead -- briefly held since this morning by Chile -- with four last-place finishes despite its large contingent. China is now sixth, and Canada -- with one of the largest delegations here -- is at the back of the single-last-place-finisher pack.

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Qualifying Rules: Freestyle Skiing

Part of a series looking at just how hard it is to get to the Olympics; see previous posts on biathlon and cross country skiing, ski jumping and nordic combined, speed skating, short track, snowboarding and figure skating.

Freestyle skiing is comprised of moguls and aerials. There is a total quota of 120 athletes for all events. No more than 14 athletes can come from any one country, and no country can send more than eight men or eight women. Countries can enter no more than four athletes in individual events, or one team in team events. But (unlike figure skating), athletes qualify, not countries: they do so "by obtaining at least 1.00 point in FIS World Cup competitions (first 30) or being in the first twenty-five on the FIS World Championship league table, during the qualification period of the event in question."

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Early Results for Saturday, February 18

Erjon Tola (Albania)Alpine Skiing: In the men's Super G, Albanian skier Erjon Tola, 19, was 56th. His time of 1:44.27 was 13.62 seconds behind the gold medallist. There were seven DNFs. Tola is Albania's only athlete at these Games.

In the women's combined, another 15-year-old: Chilean Noelle Barahona finished 30th; her total combined time of 3:26.62 was 35½ seconds behind the gold medallist. A total of 15 skiers either were disqualified, did not start or did not finish before or during one of the event's three runs. Here's a Reuters profile of Miss Barahona.

Nina Lemesh (Ukraine)Biathlon: In the women's 10-kilometre pursuit, 14 competitors were disqualified by being lapped, and there were two DNSes and three DNFs. But of the 41 athletes who were able to cross the finish line, Nina Lemesh, 32, of Ukraine finished 41st with a time seven minutes and five seconds behind the gold medallist. Lemesh won at least one World Cup biathlon event back in 1998.

On the men's side, Latvian skier Kristaps Lībietis, 23, was 56th in the 12.5-kilometre pursuit; he was eight minutes, ten seconds behind the gold medallist. There were three DNSes and one DNF.

Cross-country Skiing: In the women's 4×5-kilometre relay, the team from Estonia was 17th with a time of 1:00:24.4 -- about 5½ minutes behind the gold medallists. The team was comprised of Tatjana Mannima, 25; Piret Pormeister, 20; Kaili Sirge, 22; and Silja Suija, 31.

Standings to date: With three last-place finishes and a small contingent, Chile moves into the lead. Ukraine adds a third last-place finish to move into fourth, Estonia adds a second last-place finish to move into seventh, and Albania and Latvia joins the race in 11th and 24th place, respectively.

Later today: men's 1,000-metre speed skating, individual large-hill ski jumping, and men's 1,000-metre and women's 1,500-metre short track speed skating.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Late Results for Friday, February 17

Patrick Antaki (Lebanon)Alpine Skiing: The downhill portion of the women's combined event has been postponed until tomorrow due to bad weather.

Skeleton: In the men's event, 41-year-old Patrick Antaki, representing Lebanon, finished 27th with a combined time of 2:04.44 -- about 8½ seconds behind the gold medallist.

Standings to date: Antaki is one of only three Lebanese athletes, so his last-place finish puts Lebanon into 12th place behind Algeria.

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Qualifying Rules: Figure Skating

Part of a series looking at just how hard it is to get to the Olympics; see previous posts on biathlon and cross country skiing, ski jumping and nordic combined, speed skating, short track and snowboarding.

In figure skating, countries are assigned spots rather than individual athletes qualifying themselves. Each country can have no more than three per event, but if memory serves the actual number they're entitled to send depends on their skaters' results in World Figure Skating championships. In the individual events, there is a quota of 30 skaters; in pairs there are 20 teams, in ice dancing, 24. Who gets sent -- i.e., how many slots are allocated to which countries -- is mostly determined via the World Figure Skating championships; a few spots are through an international senior qualifying competition, and one spot per event is reserved for the host country -- Italy, in this case (obviously).

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Prawat Nagvajara

Prawat Nagvajara, who finished last in the men's 15-kilometre classical cross-country ski event this morning (see previous entry), is an associate professor of electrical and chemical engineering at Drexel University.

After seeing news coverage from the 1998 Nagano Games of Kenyan skier Philip Boit (who himself finished 92nd in Nagvajara's race this morning), Nagvajara, who is from Thailand, made it a goal to qualify for and attend the Olympics himself. At Salt Lake City in 2002, he was (as he was again this year) Thailand's lone athlete. He was lapped, and therefore disqualified, in the mass-start race in which he competed.

For these Games, his goal was to finish the 15K in under 50 minutes, which he didn't quite make.

At 48, he's one of the oldest athletes in Torino, and these will be his last Games. He has some interest in starting up a short-track speed skating program in Thailand, though.

More about Professor Nagvajara from the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Triangle, Drexel's student paper. Drexel has a page up to honour Professor Nagvajara; here's a press release the University issued last week.

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Early Results for Friday, February 17

Prawat Nagvajara (Thailand)Cross-country Skiing: In case you're wondering, no, the skiers from Brazil, Kenya and Ethiopia did not finish last in the men's 15-kilometre classical, though they were in the back of the pack. No, the last-place finisher was 48-year-old Prawat Nagvajara, the lone athlete from Thailand at these Games. He finished 97th; his time was 1:07:15.9, more than 29 minutes behind the gold medallist. (More on Professor Nagvajara in a moment.) Only two skiers were more than 20 minutes back; another eleven skiers were more than 10 minutes back; there were two DNFs. It looks like this event may be one of the more open ones at the Winter Games (see the qualifying rules); many of the athletes who are the sole representatives of their countries were in this race.

Julie Pomagalski (France)Snowboarding: The finals for the women's snowboard cross have not yet been run, but I'm already able to assign a last-place finish in this event based on the qualification runs. 25-year-old French boarder Julie Pomagalski was disqualified on her second run and had to make do with her first-run time of 1:36.32, which was 8.47 seconds behind the leader and left her in 23rd place; the top 16 advanced.

Standings to date: Thailand is now the first country to have as many last-place finishes as athletes; France enters the top ten.

Later today: men's skeleton; women's alpine combined.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Late Results for Thursday, February 16

Han Jong In (North Korea)
Monika Wołowiec (Poland)
Figure Skating: Of 30 skaters to enter the men's singles competition, 24 qualified for the free skate. Of the six that didn't make it out of the short program, 27-year-old Han Jong In of North Korea was 30th with a score of 42.11. Qualifying skaters had between 55 and 90 points.

Skeleton: Of 15 athletes entered in the women's skeleton, Polish sledder Monika Wołowiec, who turned 30 on Tuesday, finished 15th with a combined time after two runs of 2:05.30 -- about 5½ seconds behind the gold medallist. Wołowiec currently lives and trains in Park City, Utah; here's an article about her from the local paper, The Park Record.

Speed Skating: The team pursuit finals for both men and women ran today. Only eight teams were in each event, and all teams made it to a final of some sort. The last-place finishers will be the ones who placed second in the D final. On the women's side, that was China; on the men's side, that was Japan.

Standings to date: China and North Korea enter the standings, Poland moves into sixth place and Japan moves into eighth. Romania still leads, followed by South Korea and Russia. Remember that the standings can be found via the sidebar at right.

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Early Results for Thursday, February 16

Veronica Isbej (Chile)Biathlon: Chilean competitor Veronica Isbej adds another last-place finish (see previous entry) with her 83rd-place result in the women's 7.5-km sprint. She had a total of four faults -- not by any means the worst result in shooting -- and a final time of 33:52, which was 11:20.6 behind the gold medallist. There was one DNS. There's some coverage of Isbej's previous last-place finish in the Chilean media here and here, if you read Spanish (I don't).

(Note: Multiple last-place finishes by an athlete simply means that they're tough, courageous and qualified enough to enter more than one event. Kudos to them that are even capable of finishing last more than once.)

Cross-country Skiing: In the women's 10-kilometre classical, 20-year-old Vedrana Vučićević of Bosnia-Herzegovina finished 70th with a time of 42:45.8 -- nearly 15 minutes behind the gold medallist and nearly nine minutes behind the 69th-place finisher. There was one disqualification (Beckie!) and one DNF.

Nordic Combined: In the team event, the Russian team of Ivan Fesenko, Anton Kamenev, Dimitry Matveev and Sergej Maslennikov, sixth after jumping, were less successful in the cross-country ski relay and finished ninth. Two teams withdrew during the jumping portion.

Alex Kupprion (Germany)Snowboarding: In the men's snowboard cross -- it's basically motocross on snowboards, quite neat actually -- there are heats, just like short track. Once you get into the 1/8-finals the events don't appear to be timed, but, after the two qualifying runs, German boarder Alex Kupprion, 27, had the slowest combined time: 1:24.66 -- 4.73 seconds behind the leader after the qualifying round. Kupprion was in 36th position; the top 32 advanced to the 1/8-finals.

Standings to date: Russia moves into third place, Chile moves into fifth, and Bosnia and Germany join the race.

Later today: women's skeleton, women's and men's team pursuit in speed skating, and men's figure skating.

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Qualifying Rules: Snowboarding

Part of a series looking at just how hard it is to get to the Olympics; see previous posts on biathlon and cross country skiing, ski jumping and nordic combined, speed skating and short track.

In snowboarding, there is a total quota of 140 athletes. No more than 14 athletes can come from any one country, no more than 10 of those can be of the same sex, and no more than four may be entered in any one event. But countries aren't allocated spaces that they can fill at will; athletes must qualify: "Qualification is obtained by being in the first 25 in a FIS World Cup competition or World Championship during the qualifying period of the event in question. The athletes are required to have a minimum of 120 points in the FIS snowboard league table in January 2006 for the event in question."

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Results for Wednesday, February 15

Alpine Skiing: Algeria sent two athletes to Torino; one of them, Christelle Laura Douibi, 20, finished 40th in the women's downhill today. Her time of 2:09.68 was 13.19 seconds behind the gold medallist's time. There was one DNS and four DNFs.

Vitaly Glushchenko (Russia)Freestyle Skiing: In men's moguls, Russian skier Vitaly Glushchenko, 28, finished 35th in the qualifying round, with a total score of 12.75, and did not advance to the final; the gold medallist's score in the final was 26.77.

Luge: A pair of 18-year-olds from Romania, Cosmin Chetroiu and Ionuţ Ţăran, finished 18th in the luge doubles; their time after two runs was 1:39.593, about five seconds behind the gold medallists. Three teams did not finish.

Nordic Combined: The remainder of the team event has been postponed until tomorrow. Bad weather.

Rózsa Darázs (Hungary)Short Track Speed Skating: The women's 500-metre final was run today, but the heats were run on Sunday. The slowest heat time was put in by Hungarian skater Rózsa Darázs, whose time of 1:10.558 was considerably behind the rest -- the gold medallist's time in the final, for example, was 0:44.345. The 18-year-old Darázs was Hungary's flag-bearer during the Opening Ceremonies; I haven't been able to find any news that indicated a fall or crash, but it's almost certainly something along those lines.

Standings to date: Additional last-place finishes move Romania and Russia up the standings, Romania into first place -- overtaking South Korea! -- and Russia into fifth. Algeria, with only two athletes at these Games (more on small delegations from Runner-Up) slides into sixth.

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Media Inquiries

Because I used to be a reporter myself, and know what it's like (deadlines, editors and all that), I try to be as helpful as I can when a reporter or producer contacts me about doing a story on one of my web projects.

But things got a little hairy here during the Athens Games. I was getting 5-10 media requests a day, and I wasn't prepared for the onslaught. Because I didn't have my contact info in plain view, reporters and producers had to scramble to reach me -- for example, contacting the town hall and the local newspaper (the latter being a bad idea, since I used to work there and left under unpleasant circumstances; they were not inclined to be helpful). I was even getting phone calls from reporters before I was out of bed.

I don't expect things to be nearly as nuts this time around, but just in case, I've done a few things to try to make it easier on everyone.

First of all, I've promised myself that I will not go crazy trying to respond to every media request. Sorry, but I need a life -- and, yes, time to work on this site and elsewhere. I'll probably limit myself to not more than one or two media requests per day. Please understand if I decline -- and I'll try to decline promptly, rather than leave you wondering.

And second, I've updated my contact page to include a special e-mail form for media inquiries. It includes information I need to know -- like what kind of interview you need for me (live or not), what kind of media you work for (print, radio, TV, etc.) and how quickly you need to hear back from me. This allows me to perform triage on the spot: for example, if I'm overwhelmed with work and you need a response from me immediately, then I know I can decline immediately, but if it's less urgent I can fit you in a little later. So, if you're a reporter or producer, use the contact page if you'd like to get a hold of me. Then we'll see.

Update (Feb. 20): For background information, you should look at some earlier posts. From 2004, see Welcome to DFL, A DFL Primer, Reuters, Lovable Losers and a Rant About the Media and DFL Media Roundup. From 2006, see And We're Back and the FAQ. These pages may address some of your questions and, more generally, shed some light on what I'm doing here.

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Qualifying Rules: Short Track

Part of a series looking at just how hard it is to get to the Olympics; see previous posts on biathlon and cross country skiing, ski jumping and nordic combined, and speed skating.

Short track speed skating's qualifying rules are a little less straightforward. Quotas everywhere. First of all, there's a total quota of 110 athletes -- 55 men, 55 women -- and a national quota of 10 (five and five) per country if they're sending a relay team, or eight (four and four) if they aren't.

Each country gets a fixed number of athletes per individual event based on their athletes' performance in World Cup trials, and there are a maximum of 32 athletes per individual event. If you have three athletes in the top eight, you get three places; if you have two athletes in the top 32, you get two places; the rest are filled by the highest-ranked athletes from other countries until the quota of 32 per event is filled.

Only the top eight national teams participate in relay events -- and Italy, as host, is guaranteed a spot even if they aren't in the top eight. (Italy's a relatively strong short-track country, though.)

I'm amazed that they can make all these quotas agree with one another; surely there have to be conflicts here and there.

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The Hard Bigotry of High Expectations

More than anything else, I think, this blog is opposed to the idea that anything short of a gold medal is a failure on the athlete's part. Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno writes the usual Canadian whinge about high medal expectations falling short -- written only four days into the Olympics! -- that includes this bit of profound offensiveness about Canadian speed skater Cindy Klassen:
For Klassen, on the weekend, there was bronze in the 3,000 metres, which is hardly failure. But it's hardly the top of the podium either, for an athlete who has become rather accustomed to stepping up there on the World Cup circuit and who had never previously exhibited any tendency toward nerves or excitability or poor judgment in a race.

The Winnipeg native can atone -- a word and concept cited far too frequently, it seems, when the subject is Canadian Olympians -- in any of the races she has left here.
Via Tart Cider. Yes, you read right: DiManno believes that Klassen has to atone for getting a bronze medal.

My default position should come as no surprise: given the stringent qualification rules imposed by the IOC, the various sport governing bodies, and national Olympic committees, I don't think that anyone who manages to get to the Olympics has anything to apologize or atone for.

Now, DiManno's point is about people whose world championships fail to translate into gold medals. To which I would respond, so what? We're talking about someone who still managed to make it to the podium. If the world champion finished 24th, yes, some questions along the lines of "What the hell happened?" might be warranted.

But if world champions were supposed to win all the time, why bother running the races? I think anyone who actually competes in a sport will tell you that, yes, there are other people in their sport who are actually good, and things can happen during competition. If you're so myopic to conclude that if someone else wins, it's because it's your guy's fault, not because somebody else was better or stronger or just plain luckier that day, then you need to pull your head out of your ass and look around at the rest of the field a bit.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Late Results for Tuesday, February 14

Alpine Skiing: With a total of three DNSes, 19 DNFs, and three DQs, I'm amazed that anyone managed to finish the men's combined. But 35 of them did, and in 35th place was Romanian skier Florentin-Daniel Nicolae, who we last saw finishing last in the men's downhill (see previous entry). He wasn't dead last in either the downhill or the slalom portions, but those who were behind him in the downhill were ahead of him in the slalom, and vice versa. His total combined time was 3:31.89 -- 22.54 seconds behind the gold medallist.

Michelle Despain (Argentina)Luge: In the women's event, which saw a total of five DNFs (due to crashes during a run) and one DNS, Argentine sledder Michelle Despain -- a 21-year-old dual citizen from Utah -- finished 24th with a time, after four runs, of 3:27.141 -- just over 19 seconds behind the gold medallist.

Speed Skating: In the women's 500-metre event, Yulia Nemaya, 28, of Russia finished 29th, thanks to a fall during her second race; she had been in 19th place after her first race. Her total time was 112.39 seconds, or nearly 36 seconds behind the gold medallist and nearly 32 seconds behind the next-to-last-place finisher. In other words, that fall cost her more than half a minute. There was one disqualification.

Standings to date: Russia and Argentina enter the standings, and Romania, by adding its second last-place finish, moves into third place behind South Korea and Turkey.

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Melo Imai Injured

Because I did not see the women's snowboarding event (can't be everywhere; must sleep from time to time), I could only infer that Melo Imai's low score was due to a fall or a crash (see previous entry). But it turns out that the fall was quite nasty: she crashed into the lip during a trick and injured her lower back. She was airlifted to a hospital in Torino. Fortunately, it was as a precaution: her injuries were not deemed serious. More on Imai's accident from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Daily Yomiuri, and the Mainichi Daily News. Thanks to Amateur for the heads-up about this in the comments.

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Early Results for Tuesday, February 14

Biathlon: Karolis Zlatkauskas of Lithuania, who turns 21 on Sunday, finished 90th in the men's 10-kilometre sprint with a time of 34:33.8, which is 8:22.2 behind the gold medallist.

Tatiana Zavalij (Ukraine)
Muhammet Kizilarslan (Turkey)
Cross-country Skiing: In the women's team sprint (two women, three 1.1-km laps each), the slowest heat time came in the first semifinal, where the Ukrainian team of Marina Malets Lisogor, 22, and Tatiana Zavalij, 24, came eighth with a time of 19:14.1; the gold medal pair's time in the final was 16:36.9.

And in the men's team sprint (two men, three 1.3-km laps each), Turkish skiers Sabahattin Oglago -- who came last in the 30-km pursuit (see previous entry) -- and Muhammet Kizilarslan, 19, finished last in their semifinal with a time of 19:46.5; the gold medallists' time in the final was 17:02.9.

Standings to date: Turkey and Ukraine are giving South Korea a run for its money: they now have two last-place finishes each. Lithuania joins the board.

Later today: Women's luge, women's 500-metre speed skating, and the men's combined event in alpine skiing.

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Qualifying Rules: Speed Skating

Speed skating is another winter sport with hard quotas: no more than 170 athletes -- 90 men, 80 women -- can attend the Olympics in this sport. Last year the ISU set out minimum qualifying times in each event -- you had to better that time in order to attend. If, however, too many skaters meet that standard, that qualifying time would be lowered to reduce the number of athletes who qualify.

Actually, there are two qualifying times, level A and level B. National Olympic committees can send a maximum of 20 athletes -- 10 men, 10 women. But if a committee wants to register more than one skater in a given distance, all must meet the tougher level A qualifying time. Otherwise, a single athlete may be entered in that distance if he or she meets the level B standard.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Late Results for Monday, February 13

Speed Skating: The men's 500-metre competition consists of two races, with the final score being the sum of both runs. South Korean skater Kwon Sun Chun, 22, fell during his first race and ended up finishing 37th, with a combined time of 94.79 seconds. That's 25 seconds behind the gold medallist, and nearly seven seconds behind the next-to-last-place finisher, who fell during the second race.

Figure Skating: The North Korean pairs team, in last place after the short program, withdrew after an injury during practice. That left the field open for Bulgarians Rumiana Spassova and Stanimir Todorov, who finished 19th in the pairs event with a combined score of 111.25. For comparison, the gold medalllists' total score was 204.48.

Standings to date: South Korea's lead strengthens with a third last-place finish -- will anyone be able to catch them? Bulgaria joins the standings, where, except for South Korea, every country has only one last-place finish. But the Olympics are still young; we've only completed day three.

(Post corrected. I mistakenly identified Ukrainians Andrei Bekh and Julia Beloglazova as the last-place finishers in pairs figure skating; they only finished last in the free skate. Thanks to Electric Landlady in the comments for the correction.)

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BBC Radio Ulster

If the podcast hasn't sated your appetite for my dulcet voice, I'll be interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra program at around 5:50 PM UTC (i.e., in about an hour and fifteen minutes). If you're not in Northern Ireland, you can listen online.

Update, 1 PM: Well, that was fun. Went much better than I expected.

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Early Results for Monday, February 13

Biathlon: In the women's 15-km individual event, 29-year-old Veronica Isbej of Chile finished 82nd with a time of 1:14:55.3 seconds -- about 25½ minutes behind the gold medallist.

Melo ImaiSnowboarding: 18-year-old Japanese boarder Melo Imai finished 34th in the women's halfpipe event with a score of 1.4 in the preliminaries -- presumably as a result of a fall -- and did not advance.

Standings to date: Based on the size of their delegations, Chile and Japan enter the standings in fourth and thirteenth place, respectively.

Later today: men's 500-metre speed skating; pairs figure skating.

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Qualifying Rules: Nordic Combined & Ski Jumping

Part of a series looking at just how hard it is to get to the Olympics; see previous entry. This time I'm looking at nordic combined and ski jumping -- both sports have quotas and a requirement that you be an active competitor outside the Olympics.

Nordic Combined: There is a total quota of 55 athletes; each country can send no more than six, enter no more than four in one event, and send only one team to the team events. Athletes in the world nordic combined league table qualify; others can participate if they've gotten a top-three finish in the FIS Junior World Cup table or a place in the top half of the World Cup "B" competition league.

Ski Jumping: There is a total quota of 75 athletes, with the same limits per country as with nordic combined. To qualify, athletes need to have points in the FIS Grand Prix or World Cup or "at least one point in the FIS Continental cross-country Cup during the qualification period." Eddie the Eagle doesn't live here any more.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Holy Crap, I'm Podcasting!

Because I haven't fully explored all the ways I can make a total ass of myself, I've decided to do a daily podcast of the last-place results. Allow me to present the DFL Daily Podcast, featuring yours truly. I've uploaded two episodes so far, and I'll try to post a new one each evening over the course of the Torino Winter Games. Each episode is five or six minutes long.

While you can listen to the podcast via the podcast home page, most people will probably want to subscribe to it in iTunes; you can subscribe to it in other podcasting services (such as Odeo) as well. You'll probably need QuickTime 7 to listen to it, because the files are in AAC format; if you're on Windows and you've got a recent version of iTunes, you're fine. (If you're not sure what the hell all this podcasting nonsense is, see Apple's page about podcasts.)

Hope this works; hope you like.

Update, Feb. 15: Holy crap, I seriously underestimated how much time it would take to create a five-minute podcast every day. To preserve my sanity, and prevent podcasting from squeezing out my other projects (like this blog), I've decided to stop the DFL podcast. An interesting experience, to say the least, but I just don't have enough hours in the day to pull it off at this point.

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Qualifying Rules: Biathlon and Cross-Country Skiing

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things I'm interested in exploring this time around is what it takes to actually qualify for the Olympics.

Though last-place novelty acts have frequently left the impression that it can be spectacularly easy to participate in some events (especially if you're from certain countries), this is not the case. Or at least it's no longer the case: I was aware, dimly, that the IOC et al. cracked down on such participation so that there will be no future iterations of Eddie the Eagle or Eric the Eel. And that sort of thing certainly didn't happen in Athens, much, I think, to the disappointment of some.

But this time I want to quantify it a bit. What does an athlete need to do to get to the Olympics, specifically? Over the course of the Torino Games, I'm going to take a look at the qualifying rules for the winter sports. In this post, I'm going to look at the biathlon and cross-country skiing.

The biathlon has a quota of 220 participating athletes; to qualify, competitors must have posted a good result in the European World Cup or the Junior World Championships, or have participated in a previous World Cup, World Championship, or Winter Olympics.

In cross-country skiing, there are no such caps on participation. It's a bit more open, but it's not open to all. Receiving 100 points in a FIS cross-country skiing competition is sufficient to qualify an individual athlete. In addition, each country can send one male and one female athlete under the basic quota system -- provided that athletes under the quota have obtained at least some FIS points (but not more than 200; presumably they'd qualify under the other rule) and have participated in at least five FIS competitions. So you don't have to be a top skier to participate under the basic quota, but you do have to be a legitimate competitive skier.

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Late Results for Sunday, February 12

Speed Skating: 24-year-old Nataliya Rybakova of Kazakhstan finished 28th in the women's 3000 metre event. Her time of 4:38.76 was 36½ seconds behind the gold medallist and 12 seconds behind the next-to-last-place finisher.

Mark HattonLuge: An extremely slow third run put Mark Hatton, 32, of Great Britain in 35th place in the men's single competition. Compare his combined time of 4:12.899 (after four runs) with the gold medallist's time of 3:26.088. Two other competitors had runs in excess of a minute. It turns out that you need to complete all four runs to finish; a spill on the fourth run created the event's lone DNF despite three clean previous runs.

Ski Jumping: Estonian ski jumper Jaan Jüris, 28, received a score of 88.5 in the preliminary round of the individual normal hill event and, like everyone else not in the top 30, did not advance to the final round. He finished 50th overall; the gold medallist's score after two rounds was 266.5, or 131.0 and 135.5 on each jump, respectively. [I made an error in these results; see correction.]

Jean-Charles MatteiShort Track Speed Skating is a little trickier to report on because it's based on heats rather than times: it frequently occurs that a winning time in one heat is slower than the slowest time in another. Your time, in other words, doesn't matter insofar as the standings are concerned. So I'm making an executive decision to post the slowest time overall, whether it comes in the heats, semis or finals. (If nothing else, they record world-record times in this sport, don't they?) Anyway, that's a long enough prologue to some actual results, to wit, those from the men's 1,500-metre individual event (results: heats, semis, finals), where 23-year-old French skater Jean-Charles Mattei had the slowest time -- 2:43.543, well back of other results. Though I didn't see his race, that time suggests to me that he crashed, got up and finished, or something along those lines -- I've seen that sort of thing happen often enough in short track.

Standings to date: Nothing earth-shattering to report; just a bunch of countries putting their first last-place finishes on the board. South Korea still leads for the moment.

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Chinese Figure Skating Coach: DFL in 1984

Nancy Toby points to the story of Chinese figure skating coach Yao Bin. Right now he coaches powerhouse figure skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, but in the early 1980s he was one half of the China's first-ever pairs figure skating team. As might be expected, it didn't go very well for Yao. From the NBC Olympics site's bio of Shen Xue:
Shen and Zhao's coach, Yao Bin, was a member of the first-ever pair that China entered in international competition. Bin and his partner, Luan Bo, made their international debut at the 1980 World Championships, where they finished 15th and last, and Yao says he remembers the audience laughing at their performance. Luan and Yao were also last at the 1981 and 1982 World Championships, and last at the 1984 Sarajevo Games. Since then, however, Yao has developed a powerhouse Chinese pairs program.
Laughing at the performance -- good Lord, how bad was it?

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Early Results for Sunday, February 12

Florentin-Daniel NicolaeAlpine Skiing: Romanian skier Florentin-Daniel Nicolae, 25, finished 53rd in the men's downhill this morning. With a time of 2:00.93, he was 12 seconds behind the gold medallist and a bit more than a second behind the next-to-last finisher. There were two DNFs.

Cross-country Skiing: Two pursuit races ran this morning. The explanatory book for cross-country skiing at Torino (1.5 MB PDF file) explains how pursuit works:
The pursuit competition comprises two parts for which one medal is awarded (in the past there were two medals for each part of the pursuit). The first part of the men’s pursuit competition will be a 15 km mass start Classical Technique race. After the 15 km, the athletes come to the stadium, change their skis and the ski poles in allocated boxes as quickly as possible whilst the clock is still running and continue the competition with 15 km in Free Technique. The first athlete to cross the finish line after the second part of competition is the winner. The first part of the ladies' pursuit competition will be a 7.5 km mass start Classical Technique race. After the 7.5 km, the athletes come to the stadium, change their skis and the ski poles in allocated boxes as quickly as possible whilst the clock is still running and continue the competition with 7.5 km in Free Technique. The first athlete to cross the finish line in the second part of the competition is the winner.
Maja KezeleIn the women's 15-km pursuit, 26-year-old Maja Kezele of Croatia finished 64th with a total time of 51:36.3, which was 8:47.6 behind the gold medallist and nearly 20 seconds behind the skiier finishing 63rd. There were three DNFs. Later, in the men's 30-km pursuit, Turkish skier Sabahattin Oglago, 22, finished 66th with a total time of 1:28:03.8 -- more than 11 minutes behind the gold medallist and 45 seconds behind the next-to-last skier. There was one DNS and a whopping 10 DNFs.

Snowboarding: In the men's halfpipe (not the water pipe, silly), Polish snowboarder Mateusz Ligocki, 24, finished 44th in the preliminary round and did not advance. I don't know what happened; his score of 4.0 is quite low compared with the 30s and 40s in the final round.

Standings to date: Turkey's small Olympic delegation (seven athletes by the numbers available to me) means that their single last-place finish puts them in third place.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Results for Saturday, February 11

Biathlon: In the men's 20-km individual event, Stavros Christoforidis, 31, of Greece, finished 88th with a time of 1:13:13.3, nearly 19 minutes behind the gold medallist. Christoforidis, ranked 43rd on the Nations Cup circuit, apparently didn't shoot well, receiving a total of 11 penalties. There was one DNS.

Volodymyr TrachukNordic Combined: The Individual Gundersen event works like this: your score from two ski jumps determines how far behind the leader you start in the 15-km cross-country ski race. An athlete who's a strong skier but a weak jumper would start further behind but catch up during the race, and vice versa. It all takes place in a single day, and your result is determined by the race result. After two jumps, Ukrainian Volodymyr Trachuk, 21, was last with a score of 140. As a result he started 8:10 behind the leader, and remained at the end of the pack, finishing 48th with a time of 43:45.2, just over 12 minutes behind the gold medallist. There was one DNS before the second jump, and one DNF during the race.

Speed Skating: South Korean Yeo Sang Yeop, 21, finished 28th in the men's 5,000-metre event with a time of 6:58.13 -- 43½ seconds behind the gold medallist.

Yoon Chae RinFreestyle Skiing: In women's moguls -- the official sport of reconstructive knee surgeons everywhere -- Yoon Chae Rin finished 30th in the preliminary round with a relatively low score of 7.07 (out of 30; the gold medallist got 26.67 in the preliminary round and 26.50 in the final). But here's the impressive part: Yoon is only 15 years old.

Standings to date: These four results open our last-place standings for the Torino Winter Games -- and, so far, South Korea has opened an early lead with two last-place finishes. But I expect that this will change in fairly short order.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

And We're Back

When I signed off at the end of the Athens Olympics, 17 months ago, I was not sure whether I'd do this again. Doing DFL was an incredible experience, but, surprisingly, an exhausting one. It also occurred to me that maybe the point had been made, and that covering last-place finishes at subsequent Olympics would be repetitive at best. On the other hand, friends and family urged me to do it again.

Eventually, though, I decided to do it again, for three reasons. One, it would give me an opportunity to cover the winter sports, many of which I'm kind of keen on -- I'm a lifelong recreational cross-country skier, for example. Two, with fewer events, fewer countries participating and concomitantly less media interest, it might well be a good deal less hectic to do -- I won't have nearly as many Brazilians after me for a Portuguese translation, for example. And three, it's not like I have anything better to do.

So here we are. Welcome back to DFL, the blog that covers last-place finishes at the Olympics.

For those of you unfamiliar with this site, here's what I'm doing.

During the course of the Olympics, I will be reporting on the last-place finish in each event (or, in each event for which a single last-place finish is possible). To qualify, it has to be a finish -- disqualifications, DNSes and DNFs are not eligible for this (admittedly dubious) honour.

Why am I doing this? For several reasons.

First and foremost, it's a real celebration of participation, that concept about which many of us sing platitudes but to which few of us assign any real value. Simply put, with very few exceptions, those who finish last at an Olympics are generally far better than the rest of us at their sport -- hence this site's tagline: "Because they're there, and you're not."

Second, as Matt pointed out when he posted DFL to MetaFilter last time (setting off the chain reaction that got this site noticed), and as others have noticed since, for athletes, it's a way of measuring themselves against the bare minimum competitive score at the Games. And vice versa. That's why I'm presenting the result -- the time, the score, whatever -- of each last-place finisher. Where possible, I will compare it against the gold-medal result, to give you a sense of how close the competition really was.

And third, it's a goof on the media's obsession on winning and winners, and on the mixed-up nationalistic attitude that equates a country's self-worth with the number of medals it wins at the Olympics (that means you, India). For that reason, I'll be tracking the number of last-place finishers per country. The country with the most last-place finishes at the end of the Games, erm, wins. Ties will be broken by the size of a country's athletic delegation, if possible -- i.e., a country with six last-place finishes but 40 athletes will finish "ahead" of a country with six last-place finishes but 80 athletes. This is a total goof, a satire, and should not be taken seriously, but boy was it ever taken seriously last time. (To recap, Greece won the final tally with 13 last-place finishes.)

Here's how it's going to work. Every day, I'll post the available last-place results and update the standings. The standings are available on the right sidebar; clicking on the link generates a pop-up window.

The opening ceremonies in Torino are still a few hours away, and the first results won't be available until tomorrow. I'll have a few administrative posts to make in the meantime, but have a look at the archives while you wait -- the complete posts from the Athens games are also available via the sidebar.

Like last time, in addition to the results, I'll also post your letters, links to stories about last-place finishes (and about DFL) in the media, and stories of previous last-place Olympic finishes.

I'm also interested in looking at the eligibility criteria this time: just how hard is it to get to the Olympics?

With any luck, I'll have a few surprises for you as well.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the next couple of weeks.

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