Pomp and protest in New York City
NEW YORK -- "Excuse me, is she a snowboarder?" a woman asked as she approached a group standing on 47th Street in New York City on Tuesday afternoon.
"Yes, she is."
Three-time Olympian Kelly Clark is standing in Times Square, dressed in a blue Burton snowboard jacket and olive-green pants and holding a snowboard. It's October, so it's not hard to understand why this might seem out of place to a visitor keenly aware of the 55-degree temperature and lack of snow.
"Well, where does she think she is going to find snow around here?" the woman replied. "It's October."
With that, the group points to the makeshift ski hill constructed between 45th and 46th streets and the large group of onlookers gawking at freeskier Grete Eliassen and snowboarder Chas Guldemond hitting rails. Another person spoke up.
"She's here to celebrate 100 days to the Sochi Olympics. She's a halfpipe snowboarder. Been to the Olympics three times. Won once. She's hoping to go again."
"Well, then," the woman said, "I'm glad I walked through Times Square."
From the opening news conference at noon until the final Gavin Degraw concert at 8 p.m., the blocks between 45th and 48th streets on Broadway were abuzz with more than 50 athletes, fans, industry folks and sponsors who attended Tuesday's USOC event in New York City.
The morning began with a news conference, the one time during the day that a protest group stole much of the media attention. As 2010 Nordic combined gold medalist Bill DeMong spoke about his training and the increasing popularity and medal potential of his sport, the group Queer Nation NY began chanting from its post a few yards from the side of the stage. The group called for a boycott of the Games in response to Russia's antigay law and, holding a rainbow banner with the words, "Don't Buy Putin's Lies," chanted, "Homophobia has got to go!" and "Support human rights!" Demong continued on, distracted but undeterred.
Later, Demong told Time magazine, "As much as I'd wish that they'd wait until we weren't speaking, their platform goes away as soon as we're done. That's their opportunity to get out a message that they believe in. There's part of me that would love to not have to put up with that, and there's part of me that totally understands it. We all have [gay] family and friends. It's certainly a pretty near and dear issue for a lot of people. That is a platform; it is an opportunity to speak about something like that. I definitely get it."
Once the conference cleared, so too did the protestors.
Throughout the day, members of the media and the public were invited to try several winter Olympic sports, like curling and luge, interact with sponsors, such as Budweiser and Chobani yogurt, and watch demonstrations of ice hockey, figure skating and freeskiing.
At a special preview event Monday night, The North Face revealed the first U.S. freeski team uniforms, which feature a five-star nod to the Olympic rings and a special yellow star sewn into the lining of each jacket and pair of ski pants. The yellow stars are cut from the Himalayan suit ski mountaineer Kris Erickson wore during his 2012 summit of Mount Everest to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of the mountain. The words "Bigger than me" are printed inside the star.
Jasmin Ghaffarian, The North Face's director of action sports who heads the design and development of the uniforms, said the slogan came from the athletes whose competitions will be new to the Olympic program. (Snowboard slopestyle, ski slopestyle, ski halfpipe, snowboard parallel slalom, team figure skating, team relay luge, mixed relay biathlon and women's ski jumping all officially join the winter program in Sochi.)
"We asked them, 'What do you think about being in the Olympics?' and they said it was scary," Ghaffarian said. "They worried if people would accept freeskiers as athletes, and said, 'It's bigger than me.' They are so humble about being here. We wanted to include that in the design."
"The uniforms are sick," added Alex Schlopy, who will compete in one of the new Olympic events, ski slopestyle. "I liked how they used the red, white and blue without blowing it out of proportion. They really show the style and fashion side of skiing. The uniforms and being out here, it makes it all seem more real. Being surrounded by other Olympians, it makes us feel included."
Although most athletes have been preparing, planning and dreaming of the Games for years, and their preparation styles vary as much from athlete to athlete as from sport to sport, they all had one common thread: "I can't believe we only have 100 days left before the Olympics," said slopestyle snowboarder Jamie Anderson. "Time has flown by. This is when I really turn on the training, but I'll always feel like I could be doing more."
Added Clark, "People are excited about the 100 days out, and I get that. But for me, this started three and a half years ago. I'm prepared. Now I'm just trying to enjoy the process."