Tag Archives: Winter Olympics

Review: I, Tonya

For anyone under the age of about 40, the story of disgraced US figure skater Tonya Harding won’t necessarily be a familiar one.

But her role (unwitting or otherwise) in one of sport’s biggest-ever stories, makes for a hugely entertaining movie – albeit one that plays fast and loose with at least some of the facts involved.

In the 1990s, Harding was arguably the best figure skater in the world, having nailed the triple axel; an amazingly tough move that nobody had successfully managed prior to her.

She was, however, a controversial figure; a spiky character from a poor background in Oregon who didn’t present the feminine ideal that the US skating’s traditionalists preferred their female stars to exude.

Then in 1994, ahead of that year’s Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Harding was implicated in a vicious assault on her American rival, Nancy Kerrigan, aimed at ruining her hopes of a medal.

How much Harding knew about the attack remains open to speculation, but her husband Jeff Gillooly was at least partially involved in a bungled scheme that badly backfired and effectively ended his wife’s career.

An opening caption says the movie is “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly”.

Because of this, it’s hard to work out who is speaking the truth, but the film takes a broadly sympathetic view of Harding. She’s a victim too, but a feisty and not always likeable one.

Abusive relationships

Harding, played by Margot Robbie, comes from family background where she endured both mental and physical abuse as a child.

Her father left when she was six and her mother, LaVona Golden, played by Alison Janney, was a strict, unloving parent obsessed with turning Tonya into the best ice skater in the world.

Harding left high school to fully focus on skating but then meets and marries Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who – according to his wife’s testimony – turned out to be even more abusive.

Rebel skater

Harding’s career goes well but she never feels the judges and the public accept her compared to the others.

‘America, they want someone to love and they want someone to hate’ – Tonya Harding

Her mother always had to make her costumes because they don’t have enough money. Harding calls herself a proper “redneck”.

After one competition, she waits for one of the judges in a parking lot and confronts him, asking why she never gets the points she deserves.

He replies: “We are looking for a wholesome American family,” but Harding doesn’t fit that image.

It really frustrates her because she is not pretty enough and her costumes and impoverished upbringing are seen as more important than her skating.

The attack

One day, Harding receives a threatening letter which plays on her mind. Jeff and his best friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) decide they should do the same to Kerrigan so she will be too scared to compete well.

However, Shawn – an obese fantasist who lives with his parents but claims to be Tonya’s bodyguard as well as a counter terrorism expert – decides to hire two dim-witted petty criminals to injure Kerrigan instead.

The attacker hits her just above her knee, leaving Kerrigan in agony but she onl suffered bad bruising.

Kerrigan and Harding both qualified for the 1994 Winter Games, but by then the latter’s life is unravelling as proving the guilt of Jeff, Shawn and his clueless henchmen proves to be easy work for the FBI.

Harding finishes in seventh place in Norway as Kerrigan skates to a silver medal.

Jeff and Shawn were sentenced to prison, while Harding got three-year probation, a fine of $160,000 and a life ban from skating.

At one point, she was one of the most hated people in America, but until this day she maintains she did not know about the plan to attack Kerrigan.

Oscar-nominated

The movie has a bit of everything; it’s funny and sad and way more. Robbie makes for a very believable Tonya, and her heartbreak at being banned from the one thing she’s any good up is very affecting.

Some have said the Australian is too pretty to play Harding, but she delivers a performance that both captures her inner steel and vulnerabilities.

Janney received an Oscar, a BAFTA and Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a supporting role, and really deserved all those prizes.

LaVona is a totally unsympathetic character; you really hate her but at the same time she is very ironic. The only time she is ever nice to Tonya is when using a hidden recorder to get her daughter to speak about the attack, presumably to sell the tape to the media.

Stan is less plausible as Gillooly, who doesn’t quite manage to come across as being as stupid as he’s meant to be.

During the closing credits, you get to see footage of interviews with the real Tonya, Jeff and Shawn, giving weight to the movie’s claims of veracity.

In truth, it tells a tragic story, but plays it mainly for laughs, particularly with Shawn; the real footage shows how uncannily Hauser has captured him, protesting that he is indeed a counter terrorism expert even in the face of all the evidence that he isn’t.

Video Diary: PyeongChang Winter Olympics

This years Olympic winter games were held in PyeongChang. I travelled together with my family to South Korea to be a part of this amazing experience. During my stay I made a video diary so I can show you a little bit what it looks like.

We flew from Amsterdam to Seoul and stayed there for one night. It was minus 10C degrees, but luckily we were prepared and had our hats and scarfs with us. The next day we took the high-speed train, specially made for the Olympics, to Gangneung.

This is a small town two hours away from the capital Seoul. There was a beach and lots of fish shops but for the rest there was nothing it’s very isolated from the rest of the world. The Olympic park was only 10 minutes away by taxi from our hotel. The snowboard and ski events were in the mountains of PyeongChang.

South Korea is famous for fried chicken and other delicious kinds of food. Korean people are very polite and do everything they can to make you feel at home.

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience to be at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

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The super fans who made it to the Winter Olympics

Winter sports might not be very popular in Great Britain, but there are people who travelled from all over the world for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

I spent nine days in the host city Pyeongchang, meeting fans from around the globe who were there to cheer on their nations’ competitors in the 15 featured sports.

My first discovery was that the venues and facilities for the different events were quite a long way from each other, so people had to spend a long time travelling if they had tickets for a variety of events.

If you want to go from the Gnangneung Oval to the Phoenix Snow Park, where all the ski and snowboard event takes place, you have to get a train for 30 minutes and then a bus for another half an hour.

I found it was easier to stay close to the venue where I planned to spend the most time – the Gnangneung Oval – along with hundreds of my Dutch compatriots. Other nationalities opted to gather where their medal prospects were clustered.

North Americans

The ski and snowboard sports are very popular with American and Canadian fans, so they mostly travelled high up in the mountains to the Phoenix Snow Park.

Americans Shaun White and Chloe Kim, both gold medal winners in the halfpipe snowboarding, are very popular with big personal followings.

The American chant of  ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ rang out across the slopes, while some Canadian fans stood out by dressing up as beavers, their national animal.

Europeans

The Netherlands dominate the speed skating events, so the Gnangneung Oval was filled every day with people dressed in bright orange.

Every time a Dutch skater took to the ice, the ‘Oranje’ contingent turned up the volume in the arena. They even brought their own oompah band from the Netherlands, and during the break you could hear all the fans celebrating medal successes and singing their Dutch songs.

The band ‘Kleintje Pils’ played songs everybody knows – they even wore their clogs.

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It’s not that much fun for all the other countries to watch the speed skating at the Winter Olympics because seeing the Dutch take all the medals can get a little boring…

Other nationalities

Given the fact that their nation was banned from competing as a team, it surprised me that there were a lot of Russian fans at the Games.

Then again, although the International Olympic Committee blocked competitors from representing Russia as a punishment for its widespread doping issues, around 170 Russians took part as neutrals.

Effectively, this Winter Olympics featured a large Russian team in all but name.

Don’t sit behind this Dutch fan…

Another nation whose presence stood out was North Korea.

After a prolonged period of tension between North and South, the Games gave the two sides a chance to put their differences aside and compete together.

A sizeable delegation of athletes and government officials travelled to Pyeongchang to see the ice hockey game between Switzerland and United Korea.

North Korea also brought its own cheerleaders, who became a big hit on social media. They were easily recognisable with their red outfits and carefully choreographed songs and dance routines.

It reminded me of those clips you can find on the YouTube where North Korea celebrates the birthday of Kim Jong-un with thousands of people all marching with exact precision. Their cheerleading was the same and looked like a military operation.

It all looked nice and friendly on the outside, but the girls were watched at all times by North Korean monitors.

They were not allowed to speak to anyone and, apparently, when they get home are not permitted to talk about their experiences in the South.

Putting diplomacy aside, the Winter Games is, of course, all about the sport.

The United States, Canada and the Netherlands brought the most fans with them, and there were lots of Koreans at all the events.

The Olympics is an incredible spectacle, and it was amazing to be there. Hopefully, I’ll make it to Beijing in 2022…

Sledging in Oslo fuels then dampens the Beijing dream

With the 2018 Winter Games currently taking place Pyeongchang, now is the time to reveal my Olympic ambitions.

It’s a dream fuelled by Britain’s success on the slippery stuff in recent years, and underlined by a trip to the Norwegian capital Oslo to try my hand at sledging.

As an avid sports fan I’ve spent the vast majority of my life trying (and failing) at most sports, but I naively couldn’t help but think this could be the start of something special.

Unlike Norway, Great Britain doesn’t boast a rich heritage when it comes to competing in winter sports. For instance, the 2014 Sochi Olympics saw Team GB leave Russia with four medals – of which just one was gold.

However, despite the poor strike rate, in recent times the likes of Shelley Rudman, Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold won a silver followed by two gold medals in the skeleton bobsleigh event from 2006-2014.

Of course, I was going to continue the trend, by whizzing down the Korketrekkeren track – which translates to English as ‘The Corkscrew’ – before later taking up the sport and qualifying for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Freezing but sweating

It is 2km in length and has an elevation drop of 255m. The view looking down the course was somewhat intimidating, and my confidence soon evaporated.

I found that I was somehow sweating, despite the freezing cold -8C temperatures. I had become a barrel of nerves with sweaty palms and full of anxiety who no longer had dreams of making the 2022 Olympics.

All I wanted at that moment was to make it down unscathed.

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I rather cautiously set off, gently dragging my feet along the snow as I approached the first bend, decreasing my speed to prevent my sledge from spinning out of control.

A couple more turns and I was experimenting the different ways of which to manoeuvre myself to take the bends at speed, and before long, somewhat prematurely, my improbable Olympic dream was back on again.

I hurtled around the next few bends as the thrilling pace continued to increase, shifting my bodyweight right and then left, I was now on the same wavelength as Lewis Hamilton, as I was beginning to picture the best possible racing lines.

Turbo-charged

Ben (left) celebrates surviving his icy ordeal

Just like my confidence at the start of the run, the wall to my left seemingly vanished halfway down leaving nothing but a rather severe drop.

I instantly and rather sensibly attempted to decelerate, until approaching a turn I hit a spot of black ice, which propelled the sledge forward causing it to feel as though it had suddenly become turbo-charged.

I lost all composure, the sledge was out of control and before I knew it – much to my relief – and much to the joy of my friend – I went flying into a snow bank on the right; causing him to burst into a fit of hysterical laughter.

I slowly rose to my feet covered head to toe in snow, and with my woollen gloves now soaked through It quickly became apparent that my ambitions of sledging at the highest level wasn’t to be.

So, for now, I think it’s best if I  withdraw my application for the skeleton bobsleigh team for Beijing. In the meantime, does anyone know when the curling try-outs are?