Thursday, February 20, 2014

Win it for Your Little Sister, Phil Kessel!

There is no other way to put it: This heart-breaker has to be avenged.
The American women’s hockey team was seconds away from its first Olympic gold medal at Sochi when the unthinkable happened. 

Behind 2-0 in the third period, the Canadians equalized with 55 seconds to go in regulation time and then went on to win 3-2 in overtime.
Did the Americans take their feet off the pedal when leading their perennial rivals by 2 goals in the third period?
Who can say?
The only thing now that can set the hockey world right is for the U.S. men to beat the Canadians when they meet on February 21 at Sochi.
It is only the semifinal match but for all practical purposes, it is also the only game in town. The Americans will undoubtedly want to erase the memory of their own heartbreaking loss to Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but they owe it even more to the U.S. women’s hockey team whose valiant effort only netted it a silver medal when it should clearly have been gold.
The Americans can do it. In Vancouver four years ago, they let Canadian superstar Sidney Crosby skate freely to perform his wizardry. Crosby’s overtime goal beat the American’s 3-2. The irony is uncanny!
But as the Finns have shown in Sochi, Crosby can be stifled with tight checking. He can lose his rhythm and make erratic passes if deprived of room to maneuver. The Americans need to study the Finland-Canada game (won by Canada but could have gone Finland’s way too) to take the wind out of Crosby’s sail.
Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and company can bring it home for America.
For Phil, there is the additional motivation: his sister, Amanda Kessel, is a star player for the U.S. team that lost to Canada.
Phil has been on a roll at Sochi, emerging as the most creative and productive member of Team USA. He scored a hat trick against Slovenia and created most of the chances that led to goals for his team.
Does anyone need to remind Phil Kessel that he has to win this one for his little sister?
I am going out on a limb, with a saw no less, and predicting that the score will again be 3-2 at the Sochi semifinal, but this time in America’s favor.

(February 23, 2014) There is no other way to put it indeed! As I saw off that limb and fall 50 feet from the tree, with not even a bronze for Team USA men at Sochi, the only thought that will go through my mind is: Why can't Ice Hockey Teams USA (men and women) be more like Women's Soccer Team USA? By the way, does it hurt when you land on hard ground from the top of  a tree after surrendering to gravity?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Of Love and Stars

“Winter’s Tale” is as real a fable and fairy tale as you can expect to see on screen. Based on the 1983 bestseller by Mark Helprin, the movie may disappoint fans of the book with its earnestness but in its own way conveys the miracle and mystery of life, veiled and unveiled.

“There is a world behind the world where we are all connected by light.” “Inside each of us is a miracle … time and distance can be conquered by love … the eternal conflict between good and evil is not fought with great armies but one life at a time.” If you are a connoisseur of aphorisms, “Winter’s Tale” (no connection to Shakespeare’s
 The Winter’s Tale) is a goldmine.

The real question is: Do the insights match the incidents? To a large extent they do, even if the serious sometimes descends into the sappy.

Peter Lake (Colin Farrell, whose flapping hairdo can be unnerving at times) literally floated ashore in New York harbor as a baby. He has been trained as a thief by the demonic Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). Lake, however, has run afoul of Soames who is bent on terminating him. Just when he is about to meet his fate, an angelic white horse rescues Lake, leaving Pearly in foaming rage.

Lake is a slave to his habit and continues to steal. Just before dawn one day, he is nudged by the magical horse to check out a palatial home. Entering it, he hears a girl playing Brahms. He is spellbound by her beauty and her free spirit. Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) is wasting away with tuberculosis and has only a few months to live. “Please don’t steal anything,” she implores Lake after being startled by him in the empty house. Her family had gone off to spend winter (it is, after all, a Winter's Tale) in a mansion by a fabled lake.

So begins a mystical romance. But Pearly and his minions (The Short Tails) are not far behind. As Pearly closes in on Lake and Penn, Horse rescues the pair and flies off (yes, it can fly) to the “Lake of the Coheeries” beyond the frozen Hudson. Beverly communes with the stars and names them to her enchanted lover: Castor, Pollux, Perseus, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Pleiades, Cassiopeia. She tells him she will become one of them after she dies. Lake will have none of it. Love can conquer all, even time and distance, he declares.

But there is no resisting death. Beverly succumbs to consumption, leaving a grief-stricken Lake to wonder about life’s meaning.

Soon thereafter, Pearly corners Lake and sends him into a watery grave.

Decades later, Lake emerges from the harbor with no memory of who he is and what he is supposed to do, other than to experience a gnawing feeling that “what we are meant for may yet be achieved.” He hadn't aged a bit (along with Pearly and his gang) while the rest of the world had moved on.

The horse reappears. Another battle between good and evil ensues. This time it is Pearly Soames who is dispatched by Peter Lake with help from his winged guardian. Beverly shines as the brightest star in the winter sky, or so Lake believes. His task on earth is done and he is ready to unite with his beloved. The horse flies off into its heavenly pasture and something like that happens also to Lake.

It is easy to mock “Winter’s Tale” for its easy sentimentality but if you want to enjoy the movie, you have to let the mysterious and the wondrous take over your logical mind. You will be rewarded if you do. Every time you look up at the night sky, you may see the stars with fresh eyes. You may even feel a stirring of ancient and timeless love that transcends space and time. Just like Peter Lake.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

From Sochi, with Daring, Durability and Love

The opening ceremony of the 22nd Winter Olympics at Sochi contained the usual sparkle and technical wonders we have to come to expect from such quadrennial events. But there was also the sense that Russia was straining to impress the world with its culture and history. The operative word is “straining” because, by any criterion, Russia has given the world much in the Sciences and the Arts and every field in between.  Still, subtlety in suggesting greatness goes further and deeper than loudly advertising the facts.

No matter. For several hours on Friday, February 7, we forgot problems and found solace in the soaring pageantry of humans and the human spirit. Viewers in America (though not in Russia) saw the fifth snowflake refusing to form the Olympic Ring but that malfunction made the ceremony touching and strangely redeeming. Flawless can seem impersonal and intimidating. A small flaw only accentuates the nobility of the human enterprise.

One inclusion in the names of Russians who made lasting contributions to the Arts and the Sciences that viewers witnessed in the opening minutes of the opening ceremony was Nabokov. In some of the reactionary literary circles of Russia, Vladimir Nabokov was often depicted as a decadent writer. For the writer who asserted, “There is no science without fancy and no art without fact,” inclusion with Dostoevsky and Chekhov was a welcome sign of acceptance for the author of Lolita and Pale Fire.

In the first two days of the 18-day competition, there have already been stirring stories of daring and age-defying feats.

First came the breakthrough for the go-for-broke 20-year-old American Sage Kotsenburg. Snowboarding is certainly not for the faint of heart. Just watching those impossible doodles and twizzles in the air can make one dizzy. Kotsenburg was the underdog to Norway’s Staale Sandbech (silver) and Canada’s Mark McMorris (bronze). But one thing he had over his competitors was his creativity. Translation: Do something impossible or something you never tried before to differentiate yourself from the rest. After all, what have you to lose, other than a slot on the podium?

And that’s what the “sage” did. Kotsenburg executed what is called a “1620 Japan Air Mute Grab” while grabbing the back of his snowboard, a trick he never even tried in practice. What does “1620” mean? That’s 4 ½ complete spins. Each complete spin is 3600.  4 ½ times 360 is … that’s right, 1620. As for Japan and Air Mute and Grab … really, who cares, other than to know that maybe just 3 or 4 out of the world’s population of 7 billion can even attempt it!
But that wasn’t all. Three months ago, Kotsenburg invented a jump that he called “Holy Crail.” (Good grief, this guy also has a sense of humor!) “I had no idea I’d do it until three minutes before I jumped,” he said.

So it happened that the first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics was won by a free spirit (Kotsenburg was chewing gum during his breathtaking aerial wizardry) who believed in himself and who dared the impossible. Sure, he could have landed on his back and broken his ribs. His courage could have been his undoing. But he reached for the stars and became a star himself along the way.

The other who captured the imagination was Norway’s Einar Bjoerndalen who won the biathlon 10-kilometer sprint. This was his 7th Olympic gold medal. He began competing in the Olympics in Lillehammer (1994) and kept at it at in Nagano (1998), Salt Lake City (2002), Turin (2006), Vancouver (2010) and now, Sochi. Together with his 4 Olympic silver medals and 1 bronze medal, his haul comes to 12, equaling his fellow countryman Bjoern Daehlie’s record. Einar can overtake Daehlie’s record as Norway is the favorite in both the men’s and the mixed relay competition.

As if that was not enough, Einar has also become the oldest Winter Olympic individual gold medalist at 40!

There will certainly be more stirring and stunning stories of will power and athletic brilliance coming out of the Sochi Olympics but we already have two athletes whose feats of daring and durability will continue to inspire us long after the Olympic flame is extinguished.