Michael Villani

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Articles

View from the Olympics

Mike has had the opportunity to use his voice-over/announcing talents at several recent Olympic games. Using his journalism degree from the University of Missouri, he has been able to share his unique view of the Games with the readers from his hometown of Newport Beach, CA.

Beijing - 2008

If you viewed it live you saw an UNBELIEVABLE game between the American and Russian Federation men.  It was an incredible display of athleticism and plain raw power.  The American  men jumped to a 2 set lead.  They weren't runaway victories, the score was close all the way.  Then, the big Russians ramped it up and came roaring back to win the next two.  The fifth set, a fifteen point tie breaker, was as close a contest as I've called to date.  An even point run up...5 to 5...8 to 8 (at the side switch)...10 to 10...13 to 13.  Then the USA scored, 14 to 13 and it was our serve.  Stan Clayton, who already had 3 aces, fired a 115 mile per hour bullet, barely clearing the net.  Russian Libero Alexey Verbov dug hard and the ball popped up...then a great set to by six foot six inch Yury Berezhko to six foot eleven inch Alexander Volkov for a bone crushing spike.  It was met by outstretched arms, a wall of human flesh, led by Ryan Millar and William Priddy.  The ball falls on the Russian side of the court and AMERICA WINS!!  Our guys will play for the Gold on Sunday against Brazil who just beat Italy in four.  According to the Secretary General of USA Volleyball, Kerry Klosterman, this is the first time in over 20 years, America has been in a Gold match.  The American women play Brazil as well.  It' men USA vs. Brazil and women USA vs. Brazil for the Gold.  Haven't talked to Kerry yet but I'll bet that hasn't happened in a long time either.  Our second announcing team will call the women's match later tonight (Saturday, Beijing time) so that Cao Xue and I can call the men's Gold on Sunday.  It's going to be very exciting for Team USA...both going for the Gold after a very long dry spell.

I'll keep you posted as I report from the games.

                                                           

Sadness in Beijing

We awoke Sunday morning here in Beijing to an overcast sky and a light rain, a fitting environment for the somber mood felt, not only by the USA Volleyball community, but everyone who had heard about the stabbing death of American Todd Bachman, father of former Olympian Elisabeth Bachman-McCutcheon and Father-in-Law to Head USA Men’s Coach Hugh McCutcheon.  After a successful opening Saturday night on the court, where the American women took Japan in 4 sets, I came back to my hotel room very late.  My dear friend Vince had emailed me about an incident at the Drum Tower and had I heard anything?  I hadn’t, not even from the members of the American women’s team I had talked to that evening. The story began to unfold in the media in the early morning hours.  I called the match Sunday afternoon between the USA Men and the Venezuelans.  Hugh wasn’t on the court, as we all knew he wouldn’t be.  Assistant coach Ron Larson took over and the guy’s, in an extremely hard fought match, came out on top after 5 grueling sets.  I had talked to Hugh’s assistant and head UCI men’s coach, John Speraw, just before the match.  We discussed the tragedy, Barbara’s condition, how Hugh and Elisabeth were holding up and the mood of the team as they played their first game in these Olympics without their head coach on the floor next to them.  He said they were ready…and they were!  You could see the determination on their faces, after every bone jarring serve, after every rally, after every crushing spike.  From my announcing table next to the court, I could feel they were doing this, not only for Hugh and Elisabeth, but to show the world, in the face of unthinkable tragedy and sorrow, America doesn’t buckle, doesn’t fold, but comes roaring back stronger than before, we come back for the ones we love…the ones we serve.

 I called Steve Churm, Owner and President of Orange County’s Churm Media, here with his wife Cinda and three daughters for the Olympics.  They’re a big volleyball family, and recently had dinner with Hugh and Elisabeth at an Olympic send off in Anaheim, where the team is based.  We discussed how this senseless tragedy could have happened after such a glorious beginning to the Games…and how it it’s something that no one will ever comprehend.  We also talked about our prayers and condolences to the family.

The rain came harder Sunday, along with ear splitting thunder and lighting.  I know, like many of us, the Chinese don’t like adversity, so I saw this storm as a cleansing, a washing away of the stain that has marred China’s glory.  With all due sensitivity to the pain and grief Elisabeth, Hugh and their family are feeling.  I saw the storm as a rebirth to the memory of Todd Bachman as a starting point to the flawless competition these proud people have worked so hard for.  I for one pray that for the next 15 days, their hopes and dreams come true, as I report, sadly in this installment, from The Games. 

Vancouver - 2010

Vancouver 1

Figure Skating will take place at the Pacific Coliseum, former home of the Vancouver Canucks, in downtown Vancouver.  I'll be working with legendary Figure Skating coach and announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, PJ Kwong who was with me in Athens and Beijing.  She's a dear friend who will do the French announcing and a majority of the English during the actual competition.  As most of my announcements are scripted and with PJ's help guiding me through the intricacies of the sport I'm not too worried the fans will know I'm a rookie at this very popular Olympic venue.

So this Friday morning, very early to make a 7 am flight from LAX, Freestyle Skiing announcer Chris Ernst (or Uncle E as he’s known when broadcasting for ESPN) a resident of Mission Viejo, will swing by and pick me up as I make my way to an all new Olympic experience…and as I’ve done in the past will keep you updated as I again report from The Games.

 

Vancouver 2 

Considered one of the most beautiful locations in the world, Vancouver, Canada is a costal city located in the lower mainland of British Columbia.  It’s named for British Captain George Vancouver who explored the area in the 1790’s.

Now, I know this sounds like the beginning of every travel log you’ve ever heard, but it really doesn’t do this remarkable city justice.  Vancouver, home for the next two and a half weeks, as I announce Figure Skating for The Winter Games, is simply gorgeous.  The apartment the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) has put me in is on the 25th floor of a downtown high rise, overlooking Vancouver Harbor and the snow capped peaks (although not as “snow capped” as they should be) of nearby Grouse Mountain.

I arrived mid-day Friday to the hustle and bustle of incoming International media and the thousands of volunteers, to a spot on the map that, for two weeks in February, will host the finest athletes in the World.  My announce partner PJ Kwong and I met to go over rehearse schedules and itinerary for this week as we prepare for one of the Winter Olympics most popular events.  Saturday it was off to accreditation and uniform pick up…then to our Venue to meet the production staff for a short indoctrination and tour of the facility.  As I previously mentioned, Figure Skating and Short Track are being held at the Pacific Coliseum (PAC).  It’s an older, “tired” venue that VANOC put millions of dollars into to refurbish it to the splendor it once was.  This face lift has made it TV ready.  Of course I was most concerned with the sound system, which was excellent… crisp and clean. 

One thing in closing.  Our PAC announce crew, me, PJ, the two Short Track announcers, Robert Laurie and Dany Lemay, plus our Field Talent,

Josee Chouniard, 2 times Olympian Figure Skater and many time Canadian National Champion, went to a Superbowl party at some of the Cypress Mountain crews rented house in West Vancouver.  The joke with these guys was, “did you hear it’s snowing on Cypress…yeah, it’s coming down in truck fulls”!!  It’s the mildest winter this Northern Pacific Time Zone Province has seen in many years.  From what I understand it’s even too warm to use their snow making machinery, so they’re literally trucking it in from the higher elevations for the Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding Venues there.

None the less…you can just feel the excitement building here in Vancouver as the athletes start arriving.  I’ll be here to keep you posted as I report from The Games.

 

 Vancouver 3

I’m in Vancouver for my third Olympiad and my third Olympics Opening Ceremonies and what a spectacular show we saw here at last Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal at BC Place.  By the time you read this most everyone will have either seen the actual ceremony on television (unless they live in a cave), or - for those lucky enough to score a ticket, or flush enough to pay the price of admission (with the average cost about a thousand dollars per, face value, for a decent seat) personally witnessed the epic gala’s outstanding entertainment and eye popping effects. My favorite part of the ceremony – next to the live opening snowboard jump through the Olympic Rings…and the giant bear…AND the fiddling tap dancers – were the spouting whales “swimming” the length of the arena floor. The only flaw during the actual Opening Ceremony on Friday was a mechanical error that prevented the fourth massive torch, for the cauldron-lighting ceremony, from rising out of the floor.  Despite this, Artistic Director, David Atkins’ 25 million dollar budget (compared with Beijing’s $100 million) was brilliantly allocated and went a long way in an effort “To Inspire the World”…the main theme.

There was also sadness that hung over the arena and, indeed, the city of Vancouver like the fog that shrouds the local peaks, due to the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed during a Friday morning practice run on Whistler Mountain.

Our Sports Presentation team along with 60 thousand other paid staff and volunteers received comp tickets to the second of 3 nights of dress and tech rehearsals for this monumental event, which was seven years in the making.  My announcing colleague, PJ, turned to me about half way through and said, “How do you suppose they come up with these outrageous ideas?”   I offered the theory, “They lock an already extremely creative guy in a small room, with a bunch of legal pads, a box of No. 2 pencils, and copious amounts of hallucinogenic substances for about 2 weeks and voila, the storyboard for an Opening Gala.”

Our group watched it from their assigned seats high up at one end of the arena.  PJ and I, on the other hand, were in Suite 5, three suites down from NBC’s, where among others, Matt Lauer and Bob Costas were doing “live feeds” and then settled in to view the show.  I waved, but they didn’t wave back, oh well!

How did we come by this prime location?  Well, my friend, Rob Cray, who I was a starter for when he ran the AT&T Champions Classic Golf Tournament, in Valencia, is now the Operations Manager for BC Place.  We had the full VIP treatment. Sweet!  My good pal Wing Lam of Wahoo’s Fish Taco calls it “having the juice”.  Another of my buddies, Andrew Thompson, a teaching pro at Costa Mesa Country Club, calls it getting “hooked up”.  I simply refer to it as “Relationship Cultivation, 101”.

One other quick thing: I got to view the Torch Run on Friday morning (the 12th) with the thousands lining both sides of Georgia Street, just outside my apartment in downtown Vancouver.  What a magical thing to see. 

The excitement is mounting to a fevered pitch and I’m right in the thick of it as I report from The Games.

 

 Vancouver 4 

After having watched three days of Olympic Figure Skating competition: Sunday, the Pairs Short Program; Monday, the Pairs Free Program; and Tuesday night’s Men’s Short Program, I’m pleased to report I now know the difference between a Beilman Spin and a Bracket Turn.

If you were watching last night you saw some outstanding Figure Skating drama as American Evan Lysacek used his allocated 4 minutes, 30 seconds in the Free Skate program to deliver a flawless performance in the Men’s competition to win the Gold medal.  An equally stunning performance by Evgeni Plushenko of the Russian Federation secures him the Silver, and the Bronze went to Diasuke Takahashi of Japan.  The difference in the point total at this level of competition is so tight; any one of these three could have taken the top prize.

But, let me put aside Figure Skating for a moment to let my readers know this city (Vancouver), this province (British Columbia) and this country (Canada) are simply going just NUTS for these Olympics! The initial fire was lit some seven years ago when Vancouver was chosen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host these XXIst Olympic Winter Games. The flame continued to burn brightly during its 106-day journey across this vast country and an almost-flawless Opening Ceremony. Then, last Saturday, all of a sudden it was like someone threw a can of high-octane jet fuel on the Torch as Moguls champion Alexandre Bilodeau made history by becoming the first Canadian to win an Olympic Gold Medal on his native soil.

Sunday night, when Bilodeau was presented his medal in a ceremony at BC Place, several of us were having dinner just down the street in Yaletown, Vancouver’s trendy, upscale, renovated warehouse district.

A number of streets in that area had been blocked off and the ebullient revelers were out in force, waving the Canadian flag, singing their National Anthem and, in general, totally engulfing themselves in the glory of their heritage. As for me, it was extremely heartwarming to be surrounded by a display of such unabashed national pride and spirit.

Back to Figure Skating.  As breathtaking as it is to watch on TV…It’s even more stunning to see in person, especially from one of the best seats in the house. I’m so close to the action I can almost count the number of sequins on the elaborate costumes.  I can hear the skaters’ blades as they carve their way down the ice. I can clearly see the looks of anguish when they stumble or fall, as well as the pure joy – with a grin from ear to ear – as they stick a Triple Axel or a Triple Lutz. The grace and fluidity that the more-talented skaters possess is pure magic to watch. Oh yeah…and they’re paying me to do it.

The Chinese where hard to beat in the Pairs and claimed both Gold and Silver; with the Germans winning Bronze.

I had Wednesday night off as Short Track took the rink.  I went to watch what some call “Roller Derby on Ice” and saw the legendary Apolo Anton Ohno skate. Believe me, he is exhilarating to watch as he hangs back in the pack until just the right moment and then explodes in what seems like a cosmic burst of sheer power to jump way ahead. Amazing athleticism! Speaking of which, congratulations to Team USA’s Lindsey Vonn (Women’s Downhill Skiing) and Shaun White (Snowboarding) for their respective Gold Medal-winning performances. The American medal tally keeps rising as I report from The Games. 

  

Vancouver 5 

I awoke this morning with the theme of one of television’s longest-airing programs, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, running through my mind as I reflected back on the first week of the drama of human competition here in Vancouver. With all due respect to the Greeks and Chinese (my only other two Olympic experiences) I have never seen so much personal and national pride as I have seen here in our geographical neighbors to the north. This town is simply alive with the electricity of raw human emotion.  The throngs of people who filled the streets this past weekend where energized, not just by “the constant variety of sport,” but by simply just wanting to a part of this Olympic happening, for lack of a better word.  There were literally thousands of Canadians and Americans who flew, bused or drove into Vancouver; many didn’t even have tickets to a single event.  They seemed to be moving aimlessly through the streets with no other purpose than to just say they had been here to feel, touch and smell the magic that Olympic fever exudes. Of course, most of the fervor surrounded the hockey game between the Americans and Canadians, which, as you know didn’t turn out favorably for the home team.

The Figure Skating has just been breathtaking, marred, however, by the death of 55-year-old Therese Rochette, the mother of Canadian women’s medal hopeful Joannie Rochette, who decided to compete despite her tragic, sudden, loss.  Many would wonder how she could continue.  My colleague, PJ Kwong, put it in what, I thought, very realistic terms.  She said, “The Olympics are such a surreal experience, Joannie probably doesn’t feel the enormity of her grief, as yet.”  I can only speculate, she must go on with the competition in honor of her mother’s (and entire family’s) years of sacrificing to have gotten their daughter to this ultimate pinnacle.

The Ice Dance discipline, with all three components, were absolutely thrilling to watch, with the only Canadians ever to capture the gold, 19- year-old Tessa Virtue and 21-year-old Scott Moir, who have been skating together since they were youngsters.  Their training mates and dear friends, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, skated brilliantly to silver and the controversial Russian team (maybe because of their unconventional costume selection in the Original Dance) of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin had to settle for bronze.

In closing, I saw Scott Hamilton, who is commentating for NBC, coming out of the broadcast booth and went over to say hello.  Scott and I had done a Target commercial together in the mid-’90s. He was very friendly as I expressed my pleasure to be working with him again.  It’s good to know the nice guys continue to remain that way as I report from The Games.

 

 Vancouver 6 

Well, things are winding down here in Vancouver, but you couldn’t tell it by these rabid countrymen.  Last Wednesday night when the Canadian men’s hockey team beat Russia, you’d have thought it was the Gold metal game.  The streets again barely passable (many shut down altogether) as the parade of jubilant revelers continued.  It all spilled over to Thursday when the Canadian women’s team beat our ladies 2 to zip to win the number one spot on the podium.  The Canadian women’s bobsled team finds the girls on the podium in the top two spots.  Then it’s a Silver in the Lady’s Short Track 3000 meter relay.  There will be more as Canada fights tenaciously to increase its medals total here at the end.  The nations other pastime, Curling (Really? I don’t get it) will surly add to the count.

My venue, Figure Skating, didn’t disappoint the fans either.  Thursday night, if you watched, you saw the Lady’s free program crown a Victor with a capital “V!”  In an unbelievable performance, Korea’s 19 year old, Yu Na Kim skated to a new world record of 150.60 points, for a total of 228.56, shattering her previous world record by more than a whopping 18 points, catapulting her far out of reach of her competitors to claim the Gold.  Already a huge star in her homeland, Kim wowed all, including thousands of her countrymen, packed in the Pacific Coliseum to see this stunning performance.  As I watched this Korean beauty skate, descriptive words like flawless, fluid, languid, effortless came to mind, and I could go on.  While other skaters seem to hesitate, pause, contemplate before entering into a jump or complicated move, Yu Na seems to float in a dreamlike trance as she glides down the ice to, not just stick, a Triple Axel or Lutz, but to own it.  She’s simply breathtaking to watch.

An obviously shaken and dejected Mao Asada of Japan, who missed her Triple Axel, which she almost never does, had to settle for the Silver.

Then there’s Joannie.  How this grief stricken woman mustered up the courage to skate the performance of her life, was almost beyond comprehension to the thousands of her fans that filled the arena.  Her mother died suddenly of a heart attack as she and her husband arrived in Vancouver last weekend to watch their daughter skate. 

The painted smile on her pretty face belied the obvious pain in her heart.  But Joannie Rochette did it, in true champion fashion; she hung on, in a bittersweet performance, to win the Bronze.

As she struck her final pose, after her near perfect 4 minute free skate, the venue erupted in euphoric cheering.  The camera panned the crowd to find her father Normand, his eyes filling with tears of obvious joy, hands clasped over his heart in total admiration and love for his grown up, little girl.  I’m sure I speak for all of us in wishing her peace and comfort in this time of great sorrow.

On another note, I had a nice chat with LA based Gold medalists Evan Lysacek, yesterday afternoon, as he rehearsed for tonight’s Figure Skating gala.  It will be performed by all the medalists and the fourth and fifth place skaters in the four disciplines.  It’s going to be very entertaining so don’t miss it.

Yes, two weeks of fierce competition is coming to a close, but the excitement is still at a fevered pitch as I report from The Games.

 

Vancouver 7- The Final Wrap 

It could be the only ending to these Cinderella games of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Canada skates past the USA, in overtime, to win the Hockey Gold Medal.  Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a grander, more exciting finale to these past 17 days of fierce competition than the one the world watched on Sunday.

Canada’s hockey triumph, on the last day of competition, just hours before the Closing Ceremony, was the country’s 14th Gold Medal – a record for any one country in the Winter Olympics.

I was on my way home when the final score was announced. The boos and groans from the mostly American group of passengers reflected their total disappointment in the final outcome. The cheers from the small amounts of Canadians scattered around the cabin, however enthusiastic and heartfelt, nonetheless paled in comparison to what I saw on TV, at home, later that afternoon. Vancouver was utter bedlam, with hundreds of thousands of delirious fans clogging the streets and bringing traffic to a virtual standstill.

Whew, I got out of Dodge just in the nick of time!

Someone asked how these Olympics compared with my time at the Summer Games in Athens and/or in Beijing. Without blinking an eye, I told them “NO CONTEST!” This was by far the richer, more rewarding experience.

I had heard that Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged the usually reserved Canadian people to express pride in their country enthusiastically.  No problem there, as we all witnessed these past two weeks.  Their exuberance was infectious, and I’ve come home with a warm remembrance of my time with these proud people and their beautiful homeland.

With that said, I am very happy to be back in my “hood” with my wife Patti, my family and many friends who sent so many messages of encouragement and support.  For that I am grateful.  I would also like to express my gratitude to my announcing partner PJ Kwong.  Her’s is the beautiful voice you hear throughout the competition.  Without her recommendation to the International Skating Union, I would have been home watching the Games like all of you.  Thanks Peej…love you. 

Congratulations to Team USA for their triumphant showing, winners of 37 medals at the Vancouver Games. For the youngsters who didn’t do as well as expected, they’ll work tirelessly for the next four years to be on the podium in Sochi, Russia – as will I, to again be able to report to you from The Games.