Things to Watch During The Olympics

If you’re anything like me, you don’t care at all about sports. Like, at all. And yet, I can’t help but get really into the Olympics when they happen. Is it the world coming together? The records getting broken? Or, is it any of these cool things happening during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang:

Leslie Jones’s Commentary:

You may recall comedian/SNL star Leslie Jones being so fun and enthusiastic about the 2016 Summer Olympics that NBC invited her to go to Rio and give live commentary, but did you know that they asked her back to do it again? And I have to say, she’s doing a wonderful job. Jones knows how to get you excited about literally anything, literally all winter sports. She’s even gotten all patriotic this year, painting her toenails red, white, and blue. As an American, I rarely say this, but…USA! USA! USA!

Nigeria’s 1st Bobsledding Team:

If you haven’t heard of Seun AdigunNgozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga yet, you will. These three Nigerian women are not just the first Bobsledding team from Nigeria to qualify for the Olympics, but the first team from the entire continent of Africa. The three started their athletic careers as world-class sprinters, skills that are easily transferable to the fast-paced, icy world of bobsledding. They’ve done exceptionally well in the qualifying pre-Olympic events, and I wish them the absolute best on the track.

America’s 1st Openly Gay Male Figure Skater

Adam Rippon made American history on January 6th by becoming the first openly gay male figure skater from the US to qualify for the Olympics. And, as it turns out, this is the first time Team USA has sent a gay man to compete in the Olympics since 2004. And despite being 28 years old, much older than most figure skaters, Adam Rippon is ready. He’s already made history with his quote about what it’s like to be a gay athlete: “It’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Only with better eyebrows.”

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The Chief — A Conversation with Isabelle Charest, Team Canada’s Chef de Mission

Isabelle Charest, chef de mission to 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Credit: Canadian Olympic Committee

TEXT: Abdalla Youssef

Born in Rimouski, Quebec, Isabelle Charest rose to the international short track speed skating scene in the early 1990s. She was named Canada’s Female Short Track Skater of the Year for three straight years from 95 to 97. In March 96, Isabelle broke the 500m world record for the first time and won the world championship gold in the same event. Combined with her bronze medal in the 1000m, she claimed the overall world championship bronze. Isabelle was announced as chef de mission — the overall leader — for team Canada for the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics. Considering her passion and experience, Isabelle will most definitely be a positive source of knowledge and encouragement for the team and country. Novella recently had a chance to chat with Isabelle, who lives in Montreal.

Abdalla Youssef: Did you fantasize about being in the Olympics when you were little?

Isabelle Charest: It’s hard to say. I remember as a kid I was watching documentaries about the great athletes back in the 50’s and I was really impressed with that and I dreamt to be among them one day. Then I started involving myself in sports and I practiced two sports: Soccer and short track speed skating. Soccer was in the Olympics but not for women. I never told myself I am going to be an Olympian.

A: Who inspired and encouraged you to pursue short track skating?

I: It is actually my sister Natalie who wanted to play hockey. There wasn’t a women’s hockey team at the time and it was suggested to her to start speed skating and that’s how I got introduced to the sport.

A: In your perspective, what makes an Olympic athlete?

I: It requires a lot of dedication and devotion to your sport as well as coming back from failures. It needs a lot of determination and I don’t know any Olympic athlete who hasn’t had a failure — the ones who can bounce back from those failures are the only ones who succeed. Some people say, ‘When I was young I was really good but I quit, but if I didn’t quit I would have been an Olympic athlete.’ But that’s the thing that defines an Olympic athlete — someone who doesn’t quit.

Canada’s Isabelle Charest at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. Credit: Canadian Olympic Committee

A: What are some differences between your position as chef de mission and your role as an athlete?

I: The workload is really different. It’s a journey, it’s the goal and getting prepared for your role. It is the reward for all your hard work. When you are an Olympic athlete, you are the center of attention and everyone is helping you focus to reach your goal and be ready for your games. As a leader, it’s the opposite: you are working in the background facilitating and helping athletes rather than being helped and looked at as an athlete. The focus is on all the athletes. In my position, it is not about my goals: It’s about what I can do for my athletes and staff to keep them focused.

A: In previous interviews you mentioned that back when you were competing, athletes weren’t close to the chef de mission and you plan on changing that. How are you going to go about it?

I: I will be meeting them in person. There are going to be a bunch of events like seminars for the athletes to prepare them before competing. I am also going to see them train so I can build a relationship with my athletes. One of the big differences between the chef de mission back in the day and now, is that now it’s an Olympian filling the position. There is a natural connection because I am one of them and I have been through the same experiences. I find that to be the main difference.

Credit: Canadian Olympic Committee

A: What do you think would be the biggest challenge for a chef de mission?

I: Making a valuable connection with all the athletes so that they feel comfortable talking to me, which is very important for me. Not only the athletes but also the mission staff and volunteers. I intend to have a significant and authentic relationships with them.

What makes the Olympic games very different is that all the athletes who compete locally go as a team. They all share the same goals and passions.

A: Do extra media coverage distract athletes from performing well during practices and games?

I: This is something we manage and take seriously. We do have media training and make sure it won’t affect their focus. But, of course, for some athletes it becomes a distraction and that’s why we plan and manage the window of opportunity for interviews, so it doesn’t disrupt their focus.

A: Do you think the political scene might affect the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics?

I: Not really. There are always tensions between countries and political ones as well. And I always go back to the story where I competed in Salt Lake, U.S., right after 9/11. The Olympic games is one event that is pacific where you put your beliefs and political views aside and go compete. So, I don’t think it is going to affect the Olympics.

A: How do you think the fan support affects team Canada?

I: This is a topic where the Canadian Olympic committee is working really hard on, promoting the athletes not only during the Olympic year but also during the cycles so that we hear about the athletes, see them, know their results. Since we have a lot of records and good results, it is easier to get to know the athletes. Of course, we need Canadians to be watching the sports and getting involved with watching and connecting with the players and team Canada. We always count on Canadians to be there at the Olympics, to be there for us and support us. We want to introduce the athletes to Canadians so they can know them and follow them before they see them. There is a lot of competition in other sports, but the Olympic team is the team that all Canadians support.

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