Thursday, 25 February 2010

Two winter Olympic golds for Australia!!

There will much written in the next few days about the significance of Australia winning two gold medals at the Winter Olympics, including the most recent effort by young freestyle skier Lydia Lassila.
It's a medal in an event that should make Australians extremely proud and is set to send shockwaves through the sport (a big claim I know but hey, it's already making headline news in San Diego, of all places).
I interviewed Lydia back when she had a different surname and was trailing in public profile behind Alisa Camplin, Jacqui Cooper and Kirstie Marshall (details on them and other freestyle Australian Winter Olympians here).
Camplin was the golden girl of the time and Lydia the young up-and-comer, so it's fantastic to see her taking the top spot in the sport.  
I read a few of the Facebook status updates that flickered through on the Vancouver 2010 website and, aside from the excitement, was struck by comments by a few Aussies along the lines of, 'Australia doesn't even have snow and we won a medal'. Um, obviously these people have never been to southern New South Wales, Victoria or Tasmania if they're under the impression there is no snow in Oz.
I understand the more basic meaning of the statement, that Australia does not have the same levels of snow, mountains of high altitude or length of season experienced in other countries. But it's sadly an often-held misunderstanding that our country has no snow at all.
Newsflash: the whole of Australia is not desert. Google 'Australia percent desert' and you see a whole range of figures, various websites claiming from 33% to 70% of the country is desert/semi-arid (though I trust Yahoo Answers and Wikianswers even less than I believe in UFOs).
But the rest of Australia experiences varying climates, so it makes sense than in the colder southeast, where the mountains can top 2200 metres, a good season can generate a 1-2m snowbase and often quality powder to go with it.
And while the crowds are sometimes ridiculous and lift ticket prices exorbitant, I wish more Europeans and Americans would be able to visit us during a good season, help give the Aussie snowsports industry a lift and prove that when we win a gold medal in the Winter Games, it's not always due to a last-minute pile-up, Steven Bradbury fashion.   

Friday, 19 February 2010

Returning from the bench, where only science nerds dwell

It's an odd thing, planning to head back to my old industry of sport after nearly two years in health and medical public relations. 

Many of my UK and US contacts are in health and science and I've had the occasional display of surprise when I say I want to return to sports PR. For science communicators, sports writing and promotion is often a foreign and unknown quantity, something that was made plain by this comment from a fellow science writer yesterday:

I had to Google the term 'double teaming' as I wasn't sure what it meant.

The comment related to a headline about two cancer-beating proteins, which when combined with a special drug, have been shown to effectively knock out cancer cells in the lab (if you want to know more, here some detail on the process).

So the company freelance writer's headline suggestion of 'Double-teaming cancer' as a basketball reference made complete sense to me and none to anyone else. And I just hope the commenter had Safe Search on when she googled that term.

One of the areas I’m relishing in working on is the reason I started this blog and my own Twitter account: the chance to combine sports writing, opinion, health news and social media.

On a corporate level this will be an interesting shift: after working in the aforementioned science field and handling SM for a small company, I have a better understanding of what types of stories scientists want to read about. And while I still regularly read sports news pages and blogs, talking solely to that audience will be a welcome challenge.

On the social media aspect, here's a link to a promotional video showing what my former employer in Australia has been up to while I'm away.

When I left Monash Sport two years ago, they were cautious of the uses, audience and effects of social media but have obviously grasped the basics after setting up Facebook groups, Youtube and Metacafe channels and an underfollowed Twitter account. 
It’s a healthy cultural shift and one that their members are obviously enjoying.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Did I forget it was winter, amidst the ball sport madness?

I don't talk much about snowboarding in my writing, despite it being in my top four favourite sports since I took it up 10 years ago. That first drop, on my third ever run at Mt Seymour near Vancouver, was only three or four feet but that was the point where it was cemented in my sporting passions.

And if money was no object when choosing a dream house, it would be extremely tough choice between a snow-capped mountain lodge and an out-of-the-way beachside farmhouse.

With the Winter Olympics kicking off this weekend, it's a also a brilliant time for newspaper readers in those cities/towns/states where board, sled and ski sports are pretty much non-existent in the sports pages. In the UK, jaded football writers have taken to talking up our skeleton and boardercross prospects while journos at the free Sport magazine (whose website sadly carries only an e-edition) after forced to dumb down their usually insightful interviews for a largely clueless public.

Even though only cable channel Eurosport will carry the coverage and no doubt do it poorly, I'll still no doubt grab a few hours at a pub to get more visual inspiration for an upcoming trip to French Alps.

But often when it comes to watching snowboarding videos, I glaze over after a few minutes due to the inevitable spin-to-win halfpipe footage. Sure, I've never seriously ridden park or pipe but there's nothing I find as interesting on the pipe as the buzz I get watching big mountain riding, Warren Miller film style.

Which is why this brilliant clip caught my immediate attention: some tricky rail grinds and obligatory dance music (whatever happened to good surf/snow punk rock??) sure but the open off-piste riding is where it stands out. And when it comes to talented freaks like Shaun White or this video star Tadej Valentan-Elektro, I'd watch them hill riding any day over a double cork on a pipe wall. Enjoy.

Tadej Valentan-Elektro.2009 from Nejc Hudolin on Vimeo.

Monday, 8 February 2010

What's more important: the Superbowl's best plays, best ads or the 'triumph of the human spirit'?

So the Superbowl has been done and won by corporate America and those wearing Peyton Manning jerseys should be finished drowning their sorrows in Bud Light and drunkenly signing up for a cheap Go Daddy internet package. Saints fans may have moved on from their celebratory texting on their new Motorola phones to Googling "Timmy Tebow and Focus on the Family" (below) instead of a sly search for Megan Fox.

There may even be some out there counting the 'triumph over adversity' style news stories that are piling up on the news pages as sports reporters are encouraged to go beyond the 'Saints win, Colts lose' stream and search for meaning in a game that shouldn't, in my opinion, be linked with mentions of a hurricane or Oprah.

As so many news reports are sydnicated these days, it's hard to know whether a well-meaning hack was looking for a deeper meaning in this UK Telegraph report or just a link to an internationally-known event to attract those who know nothing about the American brand of football:

"Quarterback Brees completed 32 of his 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns to earn the Most Valuable Player award, with the Saints winning in their first Super Bowl appearance after 42 years in the National Football League - and four-and-a-half years after their city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina."

As a former sports journalist, I understand the need to drag in empathy-winning material to make an otherwise dull story exciting or push a slightly interesting story into backpage gold. There was one story I remember where a champion cyclist was tipped as favourite to win the first desert ride across the harsh Australian outback, only to have his sole bike wrecked in a minor collision a day before the start. He managed to wrangle a sub-standard loan bike from a friend and was still able to not only complete the ride but win (not in record time, that would have been too much). It was a great story but in the end the most important details were the riders, the conditions and the overall event itself, not any external hype.

I think it's either the fault of lazy reporting or an editor who wants the front page too much, when a sports story focuses too much on the human interest angle. Yes it matters that the Saints could re-emerge after Hurricane Katrina to win the game because ordinary fans celebrating on the New Orleans streets (or maybe just those intervewied by the WaPo) claimed it as a victory over the flood.

But is it important that a PETA ad was banned from the prime-time viewing slot because of partial nudity? This is barely news, any more that it was when PETA ads were being banned four years ago.

What did matter was that a Colts player battled on through injury, that Tracy Porter intercepted a pass by the Colts star quarterback to touchdown at the opposite end for the win. No marketing slogan or emotive story should take the limelight from details like that.

If they do, then we may as well Tivo the game and next day just watch the ads, eat Frito-Lays and drink Pepsi from one of these ridiculous party packs (above) and convince ourselves that winning a football game really can help people recover from a natural disaster.
PS. I loved this post from The Onion on the true meaning of Christmas a Superbowl win