Saturday, February 27, 2010

How Bob's lead spawned an Olympic event

Today, the Scandinavian Mountains, in northern Sweden, are a relatively quiet, uninhabited cluster of snow-capped peaks. One of the highest in this range, Mt. Kebnekaise, stands 6962 ft. and is roughly 50 miles west of the small town of Kiruna. Presently, this Swedish town of 18,000, bases much of it's economy on mining iron ore. This, however, was not always the case.

In the late 1800's the mining of lead, and not iron ore, was an extremely profitable endeavor. Lead was used in the manufacturing of many things at this time, especially items that required lead.

In 1898, a large deposit of this mineral was discovered in the foothills below Mt. Kebnekaise, which is 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The average December temperature in this harsh climate is 13 degrees F.

Lead, at this time, was so lucrative that scores of people--even with no mining background--would take huge risks in subzero temperatures for the mineral. Countless Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, Germans, English and Scots fled to the area to claim their fortune.

Mixed in with the northern-bound masses was Robert Merriton, a law clerk from Cheshire-on-the-Thames, England. The simple-living man left his wife and four children and a comfortable, low-wage position inside the basement of an English court to take a daring chance at securing the fortune he so desperately wanted for his loved ones.

With his meager savings he managed to establish a small, personal camp and a shallow mine. He was a white collar man in a blue collar world and had difficulty adjusting to the ways of the miner. In the beginning, he often had to learn things the hard way.

One such learning lesson occurred on February 12, 1898. Merriton, described as a "trusting soul," would often go into his mine while leaving piles of lead, unattended, at the entrance. Looking to save money wherever he could, he failed to hire a watchman for his fortune. One thing he did do, however, was place a unique marking on each piece of lead that would identify the large chunks as his own.

Miners from all around knew that Bob, as he preferred to be called, placed this symbol on all of his pieces.

Because of the cold temperatures and snowy conditions, miners often transported their caches by way of wooden sled down gradually descending, switchback-laden trails that, eventually, led to Kiruna.

On this blistery cold February afternoon, Bob emerged from his mine shaft only to discover his two large piles of lead were nowhere to be seen. Lead bandits, or lead looters, as they came to be known, had made off with Bob's future.

As the bandits passed mine after mine with Bob's lead, on their way to Kiruna, workers, roaming about and performing everyday tasks, began to notice the symbols on the sides of each rock. They also knew that Bob handled all of his own transport. He would never, under any circumstances, hire an independent lead transporter like some other miners would.

The whispers began as the bandits passed the neighboring mining camps: "Hey, isn't that Bob's lead?" or "Han's take a look at those shady characters, I think that's Bob's lead they're running." or "Hot damn, that looks like Bob's lead."

The bandits' anxiety began to grow as they sensed trouble, as the mining community was very close, and would often look out for each other. With one quick turn, the bandits began a rapid decent down the adjacent slope to escape the perceived danger.

"Get your sleds boys. Those creeps got Bob's lead ... and we're gonna take it back," shouted one of the miners.

At least fifteen men mounted their rickety, wooden sleds and raced down the hill after the thieves. Miners not intending to go along for the ride helped by pushing the sleds with a running start. The men had never used the sleds before to travel at such high rates of speed down such a steep slope. The fear and uncertainty, however, did not stop them as they knew Bob, a well-liked member of the community, would have done the same for them.

The high speed pursuit took the unsteady sleds past more mining camps downhill, where startled laborers heard constant shouts of, "Bob's lead! Bob's lead! They got Bob's lead!"

The bandits were eventually caught, and later pelted with the very lead they had stolen. But the exhilaration that the miner's experienced going down that hill would be unforgettable. From that day forward, the miners would end each day with a sled run down the hill and, thus, giving birth to a future Olympic sport.

Over time the 'a' was eventually dropped and Bob's lead became bobsled. Today, Olympic bobsledders are forbidden to weigh down their sleds with lead, but will often pay tribute to the sport's history by wearing a small piece as jewelry. And, after each winter games concludes, the sport's governing body, the International Bobsledding Association (IBA), decorates the first place finishers with a medal made from lead at the IBA headquarters in Stockholm.

"It's tradition," said Norwegian bobsledder Bonj Honen. "We remember those brave miners, especially Mr Merriton, every time down the mountain."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Four spectators dead, two seriously wounded in debut of aerial biathlon

Above: Twisting, turning aerial skiers were unable to control
rifle accuracy in midair, often missing targets by large margins.

Vancouver, B.C.--"Aerial biathlon seemed like a really good idea three years ago, but we're really going to sit down next month and study whether this event should continue in the next Olympics," said IOC president Pierre Bonne. "We will go on with the event as planned this year simply because the athletes have worked so hard to get here. I want to reassure our fans and say that, as we speak, we are installing bulletproof glass in front of all seating areas. Plus, we'll have half price tickets, dollar hot dogs, t-shirt giveaways and snow cones for the kids. So, come on back."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ski Jumpers using Snuggies to jump farther than ever

IOC has already banned the sleeved blanket from 2014 Games

Whistler, British Columbia--Yesterday, Finland's Hans Frojn shattered the Olympic ski jumping record of 239 meters with a whopping 314 meter leap. In fact, Frojn wasn't the only jumper to break the record. Every participating skier soared a distance of at least 260 meters.

Is it the thin air? Perhaps, unusually strong wind gusts? How about lighter athletes or equipment? None of the above. The jumpers are using the popular Snuggie, a sleeved blanket, to sail abnormally long distances.

The Snuggies, which are made of lightweight material, are turning jumpers into gliders by catching wind gusts and delaying landings by five to ten seconds.

"Have you ever seen a flying squirrel soar through the air? They really don't fly but glide as they spread their body out to create the largest possible surface area," explained Don Simmons, an aeronautical expert at the British Columbia Aviation Institute. "The Snuggie acts in a similar way, which is why we are seeing such long jumps."

The first jumper to wear the Snuggie yesterday was Canada's Tim Herrier, who simply wore the blanket because he was cold. Herrier--and the event's judges--was not aware of how the Snuggie would alter his jump or the future of the event.

"I really was just cold," said Herrier. "My girlfriend got me this stupid Snuggie and I really didn't have anything else that compared to its lightweight and comfort. Most everybody was laughing at me at the top of the hill and then I jumped 235 meters, which was four short of the world record. They weren't laughing anymore."

Following Herrier's jump, area stores quickly sold out of the popular blanket, as jumpers began to claim that they too were "cold." Despite Herrier's best efforts, the native of Nova Scotia was unable to prevent his competitors from buying the blankets.

"Snuggie Gate," as it is being referred to, has caused many a lot of stress. So confused was the event's judging committee that competition was halted for almost four hours, as rules were checked and double checked. Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were called to the site to address this "special situation."

"There's nothing we can do at this time. Rule 302.11.56 states that winter Olympic athletes are permitted to keep warm by any means necessary. This, unfortunately, includes those awful-looking Snuggies," said Franz Tullerone, an IOC official. "But this will not be the case in Sochi."

Tullerone was referring to the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. The IOC voted late last night, in an emergency competition committee session, to change Rule 302.11.56. The amended rule specifically states that "Snuggies will not be permitted in any event, no matter how warm they may keep athletes."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Barefoot speed skater excelling in Vancouver

Former Philadelphia Eagles' place kicker Paul McFadden stood and cheered in the stands inside the packed Richmond Olympic Oval, just south of Vancouver, during the finals of the men's 1250 meter speed skating event.

McFadden became well-known during his days in the NFL, 1984 to 1989, for kicking barefooted--even in the frigid cold. The kicker traveled to British Columbia for these winter games because he felt a certain connection to one of the athletes. It wasn't McFadden's son, or any relative for that matter, that caused the Cleveland native to show up, unannounced, to Canada's western province.

Twenty-three-old Norwegian Jorgen Johensen is the only speed skater in the world to perform his craft without skates. Yes, you read that correctly. Johensen is, like McFadden, a barefoot athlete.

"I'd like to think that I was a big part of his choice in skating style," said McFadden, eyes watering. "I see a lot of me in Jorgen. He's a special competitor."

Growing up in rural northern Europe, Johensen was not exposed much to American television.

"I'm sorry, I'm sure Mr. McFadden is a very nice man, but I have no idea who he is," said the skater politely, when asked if the 1980's NFL player was the inspiration to his no-skates method. "I've never seen an American football game, especially one from the that long ago. I wish he would stop following me."

The native of Lillehammer feels that his style gives him an advantage over his skate-wearing competitors, but also admits that it is much more dangerous and that, despite going skateless at 8 years old, he still gets nervous.

"The turns are the scariest," the skater said laughing. "Every turn is very ... ah, what is the English word ... hairy. Yes, the turns are very hairy. But I never have to sharpen skates like other skaters, which saves me money."

The unusual style, however, has paid off thus far, as the skater captured the gold medal in the 1250 meter final and hopes to repeat that "feat" in tomorrow's 1255 meter final. Coming into the final turn, in the 1250 meter race, he lost his footing, but was able to quickly regain balance when his untrimmed toenails caught the ice and prevented a complete wipeout.

"My mother told me to trim my toenails that morning because I was going to be on national tv," the skater said, smiling. "If I had listened to my mother I would not have been standing on that podium barefoot with a gold medal."

Johensen, now a resident of Oslo, would not go into great detail about the reasons behind his barefoot style, but did dispel rumors that he was born with a rare shoe-wearing disorder.

"Norwegian tabloids have often reported that I have triple hyper-overactive sweat glands in my feet, which makes wearing shoes, at any time, nearly impossible," said the frustrated Olympian, standing barefoot in a snowbank outside of the Olympic training facility. "This is untrue and I ask that reporters consider my families feelings when making such ridiculous accusations like this."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Does museum's new acquistion promote sledding?

Philadelphia, PA-- "The museum's position has always been that we would prefer people not to use the steps for sledding because of safety reasons. We certainly do not want to encourage winter recreation on the famous steps," said Dayle Michaels, a Philadelphia Museum of Art official. "However, when you can get a great deal on a used chair lift, you have to take it."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Celebrating Saints fans stop, rethink levee looting

New Orleans, LA -- Between twenty and thirty die-hard New Orleans Saints' fans, after a long night of drinking and partying on world-famous Bourbon Street, gathered and made their way to one of the city's numerous levees just after dawn. The crew was looking to "celebrate" the team's first ever Super Bowl victory, as jubilant, intoxicated fans are known for doing when their teams capture a championship. "After about five minutes of pushing the giant concrete walls, we just thought that maybe this isn't such a great idea," said Harold Cormier, 45, of the city's Garden District. "I mean, the levees looked awfully important. We wanted to do better than simply flip over a car, but we ended up doing that on the way back to the French Quarter, anyway."

Friday, February 5, 2010

FOX to counter CBS Super Bowl with premier of 'Mayday, Mayday'

Above: An episode of Mayday, Mayday filmed in Niagara Falls. Miraculously, all crash survivors' bodies were recovered.

The FOX Broadcasting Network is putting a lot of faith--and money--into its latest reality television show. So confident is the network in the show's certain success, that they are putting the initial episode up against the second half of the Super Bowl, which is airing Sunday evening on CBS at 6:25 pm.

The new show, Mayday, Mayday, will begin at 8:15 pm just in time to give viewers caught up in the elongated halftime show--featuring The Who--ample time to grab another beer and refill the Dorito bowl, before turning the channel over to FOX.

What could possibly pull viewers away from America's most popular sporting event you might ask? How about a certain U.S. Airways' pilot? That's correct. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, last January's Hudson River hero, will "host" this controversial new reality show.

The goal of the show is for home viewers to get a firsthand look into how experienced, or inexperienced pilots, react in emergency situations--specifically for crash water landings. Unsuspecting pilots will be forced to make emergency landings in waterways all over the country.

"News networks reported record audiences in the days and weeks following the Hudson River water landing last year," said Henry Jenkins, FOX director of programming. "We want to take that concept and excitement--and the major revenue that comes with it--and have a new and crazy water landing every week. It's really gonna be neat."

Hidden cameras will be set up around the cockpit, passenger seating areas, bathrooms and flight attendant gathering areas. Sullenberger, who, until airborne, will be hiding in a specially designed compartment in most episodes, will be wearing a captains hat with a small video camera attached to give audiences a view from the hero's eyes.

Through misinformation provided by the control tower and a snip of some random, though not believed to be crucial, fuselage wires during flight, the plane will be sent into a rapid descent. The flight crew, including all flight attendants, will have no prior knowledge that what is occurring is for a television show.

Sullenberger will not reveal himself to the crew until the plane begins to lose altitude, bursting through the false wall that had concealed his presence. The hero will stand over the pilots and question their every move, and will continuously remind them about how successful his Hudson River landing was.

If the pilots are incapable of excelling under this extreme pressure, Sullenberger will step in to guide the jet to a safe landing. According to a source close to the show, Sully steps in only twice, but this is unconfirmed.

In one scene, Sullenberger frightens two young pilots by saying, "Fellas, I'm contractually obligated by FOX not to help you land this plane."

"People may ask why I am doing this," said Sullenberger, defying FOX's request to not participate in interviews. "Honestly, it's for the kids. All those damn, great kids. Bless their hearts."

So controversial is the show that news of its creation only recently emerged, as FOX attempted to keep the anticipated media firestorm off its back for as long as possible.

Because of law suit concerns, all passengers aboard the planes are actors and are all informed of exactly when the plane will experience "extreme turbulence."

"It's still very scary," said Bob Neminster, an actor who claims to have been an extra in over 150 movies. "The pilots still have to land the plane successfully. But it's worth the free lunch and 50 bucks."

Water landing witnesses were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement and were also generously compensated. Some news outlets have reported that the show filmed 26 or more water landings and, unbelievably, were able to keep them all a secret.

"Money talks," said Jenkins. "Money talks many languages. And Mr Franklin talks very loudly, almost too loudly. Sometimes I have to tell him to keep it down."

Last October, two Northwest Airlines' pilots, flying from San Diego, overshot the Minneapolis Airport by 150 miles, before circling and, eventually, landing safely. This, as it turns out, was for an episode of Mayday, Mayday. This is why the airline and pilots were so tight-lipped about the incident. The pilots were able to overcome the situation and land in Minneapolis, much to FOX's frustration.

"FOX has forbidden me to comment on what occurred in that plane," said Captain Kevin Torrance, a Northwest pilot aboard the flight. "All I can say is that if Sully didn't wake us up, er, well, I can't even say that."

FOX executives are barely able to contain their excitement for Sunday's premier.

"Yes, CBS has the Super Bowl, but we think we can make a decent dent in their ratings with Mayday, Mayday," said Jim Higgins, a FOX executive, wearing a Mayday, Mayday hat. "In fact, on Monday morning, at the water cooler, we think people will be asking who won the game."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Van Damme making dams from old vans

Above: Van Damme celebrates one of his earliest projects in rural Senegal.
Walking past pile after pile of rusted-out, doorless jalopies in a junkyard 14 miles outside of Brussels, one can see that most of the useful parts--the souls, if you will--have been stripped from the frames long ago, rendering what was left behind virtually useless, but, at the same time, extending the life of vehicles still on the road.

As our society becomes more and more disposable, what will become of sites like these in Belgium and around the world?

One person had a vision of what could be done with this "junk," which had seemingly given all it had to give. Jean-Claude Van Damme (yes, that Jean Claude) asked himself a very interesting question almost two years ago: How could these old vans be used to help people?

"I was doing an autograph session with Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone in a junkyard near Maleizen, Belgium, and I was just marveling at all the junked-out cars. But what really caught my eye was the sheer number of old vans. I was like 'dam,'" said Van Damme, while eating a ham and lamb sandwich inside a new Dodge Ram van.

Jean-Claude Van Damme is most well known for his on-screen roundhouse kicks and blood-drawing face jabs that permeated his popular action films of the '80s and '90s. The beatings the actor dished out on film in no way foreshadowed his current devotion to international humanitarian projects.

"Vans with no life are ... well, giving life," said Van Damme from his home in Belgium. "Van dams are the future of blocking water flow where water blockage is so desperately needed."

The vans are being used to create dams that will control flooding and provide drinking water for small villages in developing countries. Van Damme's work, thus far, has been concentrated in Asia and western Africa, with only a handful of projects in South America.

Unlike passenger cars, vans are often bulkier and heavier, proving ideal for damming small rivers, creeks and streams. The actor initially began the the program with smaller sedans and coupes, but scrapped this method after the lighter vehicles were quickly washed away when heavy rains inundated local drainage basins.

Vans have been pouring in from all over the world to help the actor continue his work in assisting the less fortunate and malnourished of the world.

"Two months after creating a van dam in Laos I get a call on my cell phone," said the star of Blood Sport. "The horn on one of the vans went off in the middle of the night startling the locals and causing a small panic."

Van Damme has worked closely with micro loan entrepreneur and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh to serve the water-inundated, low-lying parts of the country. Utilizing the power of van dams in the flood-prone regions will allow residents to store water for later use when the flood waters have receded.

"At first I viewed the program as a way to globally distribute the western world's waste. I was wrong, very wrong! Jean-Claude's van dams have given many people in Bangladesh great hope for clean drinking water. Many are being built by Bangladeshis using the micro loans from Grameen Bank," explained Yunus, referring to the bank he founded in 1976.

Yunus hinted that, if the van dam program continues to grow at its current pace, his new friend could be holding a Nobel Prize of his own some day.

With the recent travesty in Haiti, Van Damme has begun preparations to expand into the Caribbean to construct several dams in rural areas outside of Port-au-Prince. Many dams failed, or were severely damaged, during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the country on January 12 th.

The success of Jean-Claude's Van Dams may even lead to projects in rural areas of North America and Europe. A northern Saskatoon, Canada, community has already contacted the nonprofit for a possible installation on the Wanatoochee Creek, a waterway in desperate need of a van dam.

North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba officials have denied rumors that the two states and province are attempting to solve the oft flooded Red River's woes with a large van dam.

"We cannot comment on the 450 used vans that recently arrived along the west bank of the Red River, just north of Fargo," said North Dakota's governor, John Hoeven.