Today on Season Ticket, Guest Host Matt Pepin (@MattPep15), Globe Online Sports Editor, talks with one of the foremost experts on the Olympics, Christine Brennan of USA Today. Christine has written several books about Olympic skating, including the 1996 best-seller "Inside Edge," which Sports Illustrated named one of the top 100 books about sports of all-time. The discussion includes Brennan reminiscing on some of her most memorable moments covering the Olympics, the recent banning of Russian athletes, reaction to Nikki Haley’s comments on the safety of American athletes and skater Gracie Gold taking time off from the sport.
- Christine Brennan (@cbrennansports), Sports Columnist, USA Today
On her favorite memories after covering 17 different Olympic Games
Christine Brennan: I’ll pick one Summer and one Winter that really stand out. And the Winter would have to be the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics which, of course, is still near and dear to many Bostonians and Globe fans because of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding … We cannot forget that Nancy Kerrigan was attacked and is very lucky that it was a bruised knee and nothing worse. And it spurred her onto the greatest performance of her life and the Silver medal, which I believe should have been the Gold medal … And for Summer I’m going to pick one that most people don’t: Athens in 2004. When you love the Olympics as so many of us do and you get to go to the birthplace of the Olympics and cover the games, oh my God, there’s just nothing more fun than that. To have the Marathons - the men’s and women’s and paralympic - start in Marathon and to have Ancient Olympia, the home of the shot put. I went there and we’re sitting there on the green grass - we think Fenway Park is old or Wimbledon is old - here’s a place that was around (during) B.C. Wow!
"The Winter (Games) would have to be the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics which, of course, is still near and dear to many Bostonians and Globe fans because of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding."Christine Brennan, on her most memorable Games
On Russia being thrown out of the Olympics
Christine Brennan: We know there were some clean athletes so I understand what they did, which is, they’re banned, suspended from the Olympics. The entire Russian delegation - their officials can’t go and a couple are banned for life. As I’m sure many folks have now heard, no Russian National Anthem, no Russian flag and no Russian insignia on the athletes’ uniforms. Any of their official (clothing) wear will (bear) this bizarre name: Olympic Athlete from Russia. It’s kind of like putting on a name tag, “Hi, my name is Jim.” People have said, “Well, they still have the name 'Russia' in there,” but the flipside is that’s so goofy. What a ring to it, right? Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) and that’s what they’re gonna be. So the ignominy, the disgrace of having an athlete win a gold medal and having he or she stand there and it's the Olympic hymn and the Olympic flag - I think that’s significant.
I think there is still such a strong element of suspension and ban that, even though it’s not blanket, even though there will be Russians there and you will see the name Russia its still, to me, a very valid punishment. And hopefully they’re sending the message: “Don’t do this again” … So I think it's probably the best case scenario and we'll see some Russians. But whether it's 20, 50, 100 - there were 230 Russian athletes in Sochi - there will not be anywhere near that many in Pyeongchang.
On U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley saying it's still an ‘open question’ as to whether or not U.S. will go to the 2018 Winter games
Christine Brennan: I think it's a big deal. It’s certainly a change in what we have been thinking and hearing from the U.S. Olympic Committee to the U.S. athletes and others from around the world. That it’s an "open question" whether the U.S. athletes will be going to the Olympics or not is a big deal … If the U.S. doesn’t go, then my guess is no one’s going to go and it would be a safety issue for the athletes. Also, it could be a shot across the bow to South Korea and to other countries that North Korea is a problem here, and the U.S. is taking it very seriously. I think the bottom line on any of these things (is) the Olympic Games have had its horrors … the Games have always been a target and anyone who’s a part of them - whether it's journalists like myself, or athletes, coaches, Olympic committees from around the world - they know that.
Matt Pepin: I think I’m right there with you in terms of family, friends and colleagues all expressing their concerns about traveling there. But, at the same time it’s healthy to be aware of the situation and just always be cognizant of what the environment is. Nonetheless, I do feel like the games are going to go on.
On the biggest possible storylines to come out of this Olympics
Christine Brennan: I do think it will still be how the Games are coming off, what kind of security questions there are, are there going to be Donald Trump tweets that roil the conversation and stir the pot or worse. I really do think all the external issues are going to be, probably, the foremost and in the headlines. And it's a shame, because athletes will take a backseat for the time being because we’re so focused on the things that are going on.
Something like the Women’s Ice Hockey … that story of the U.S. women fighting for equal pay and actually holding out and getting concessions made to them back in last March. As that plays out now, (they will) try to beat their arch-nemesis Canada and win a gold that has been very elusive over the last several Olympics. The U.S.-Canada game will be huge, assuming they play for the gold medal again. That’s going to be fun.
"It's a shame, because athletes will take a backseat for the time being because we’re so focused on the things that are going on."Christine Brennan, on politics overshadowing the Olympics
On breaking the Gracie Gold story
Matt Pepin: One storyline will be someone that is not there. Let’s talk about Gracie Gold - the figure skater who many Bostonians were introduced to at the 2016 World Championships that were held right here in Boston. You wrote about her taking time away to deal with several issues. Could you tell us how that story came about and what is the latest with Gracie Gold?
Christine Brennan: This was tough … It proves that we just don’t know sometimes and we have no idea what’s happening with skaters. She had a bad long program in Boston at the Worlds [in April 2016] and her rival and teammate Ashley Wagner rose to the occasion and won the silver and Gracie finished fourth and that was devastating to Gracie … She kind of went into a tailspin. And I saw her again in October of ‘16 at Skate America in Chicago. And now I’m following this sport a little more as were getting closer and closer to the 2018 Olympics - and she’s up there and did not perform well. And she is talking, just to a couple of [media members] and right in front of me and is talking about her weight …
I felt at that time it was more important to speak to her as a human being than as a journalist to an athlete and say, “No, no you’re OK kid,” because she looks great. She did not have a good year, she did gain some weight. If you saw her walking on the street she’d look terrific and you’d say she looked unbelievably fit. And frankly, she still looked fit. But in figure skating, to get off the ice for those jumps, obviously you have to have a certain weight and a certain body type and that’s what Gracie was talking about. These are huge issues in gymnastics, in figure skating and all those sports where young girls and women compete.