Book Club Claire is back to discuss our latest selection: Sevens Heaven by Ben Ryan. As you may remember from Episode 193, Ben coached the Fijian men’s rugby sevens team to (spoiler alert) win Fiji’s first-ever Olympic gold medal. His book is the story of all of the work that went into achieving that victory.
Haven’t read it but now want to? Get your copy (and support the show) at our Bookshop.org site.
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This episode also includes:
- News from TKFLASTAN
- A follow-up from Tokyo 2020
- Updates from Beijing 2022 and Paris 2024
- The International Paralympic Committee’s decision on wheelchair basketball, as well as its nominees for its board
- A status update from the International Olympic Committee on transgender athletes
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Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive!
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Episode 206-Book Club Claire on “Sevens Heaven”
Jill: [00:00:00] Hello fans of TKFLASTAN and welcome to another episode of keep the flame alive. The podcast for fans of the Olympics and Paralympics. I am your host. Jill Jaracz joined as always by my lovely co-host Alison brown, Alison. Hello. I see you over there.
Alison: I see you at the same table. We are in the same state.
Jill: It is incredible. It is very weird to record with you in person, but also very nice.
Alison: I know. We have not been together through the entire pandemic. We have been in our own states, not crossing borders as instructed. And here we are unmasked, but we are, I believe six feet apart. So I think we’re okay.
Jill: And vaxxed.
Alison: And vaxxed. Of course.
Jill: We had the whole, before you came in the door, show us your vaccination card.
Jill: I put it
Alison: in my purse just in case. I was ready. I honestly brought it with me just because I didn’t know, because the East Coast, I should say, Northeast and New England, you do actually need your VAX card to go places.
Jill: Oh, that’s really interesting. So keep that handy Oh, also today, special day, we are taping on a Wednesday, September 22nd. Happy anniversary, International Paralympic Committee.
Jill: This is the day the IPC was created in 1989. So it’s only 32 years old, the organization.
Alison: Okay, so I will reveal exactly how old I am. I graduated from high school in 1989. So the fact that this happened within my lifetime and within my memory is mindblowing. And how [00:02:00] far the organization and the Paralympics as a whole has come.
Jill: Yes. And just, you kind of wonder what was it like before then? I mean, super Wild West, I would guess.
Alison: Even when we spoke to John Register, when he talked about the difference between ’96 and 2000 of the Paralympics, how far that jump was.
Jill: Yeah. That was pretty incredible. So it’d be interesting to go back and do a little deep diving on the IPC history and see how that, what it was like.
Alison: Someone needs to write a book.
Jill: There you go. All right. Before we get to our interview, we’d like to introduce our Patreon shoutout segment. These are levels of patronage for whom. A shout out on the show with bonus. So we’d like to start it off today with our Silver Level patron Beth Storrs from Massachusetts.
Alison: Yay, Beth!
Jill: Beth is fantastic, Beth is great for talking rugby ,and it’s kind of appropriate that she’s our shout out today since we are talking rugby as well.
Jill: But Beth is also great at sending us emails of like IOC behaving badly, World Athletics behaving badly, just stuff that’ll get under our skin. It’s just like, thank you, Beth. Keep sending those.
Alison: And thank you to all our patrons. We could not do the show without you.
Jill: Yes, exactly. We really appreciate your support. If you would like to get on that bandwagon, you can check out Patreon.com/flamealivepod.
Jill: As we mentioned, we’re talking rugby today in the form of a book. So that means that Book Club Claire is back to discuss Ben Ryan’s book “Sevens Heaven” about the Fiji men’s team winning the country’s first ever gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Take a listen.
Jill: Claire. Welcome back. We are talking Sevens Heaven by Ben Ryan? What do you got for us?
Claire: I have one of, probably my favorite books that we’ve read. Easy to read, [00:04:00] very simple to understand. And it talks about a great story. Sevens Heaven written by Ben Ryan, who is from England. And then he was offered the job to be the national coach for the rugby sevens team in Fiji. And so it talks about his years spent there that lead up to the 2016 Olympics where rugby sevens was first introduced as an official Olympic sport.
Claire: And Fiji ended up winning the gold medal. And I really did enjoy this book. I would like to know what you ladies thought of it.
Jill: I loved it. I was like, thank goodness. We have a fun book to read. I mean, Foxcatcher was really tough, a lot harder than I wanted it to be. This has been my most favorite book, I think since I’ve Abhinav Bindra’s, and I liked “World-Class” a lot, but it got a little dense sometimes, but this was a really fun read, came at a great time ’cause it was an easy yet compelling read. The co-writer Tom Fordice was excellent I thought in creating a narrative that was very compelling and you know, this is Ben Ryan’s story, so it’s interesting to see the fish out of water as Ben is in England, almost on a whim takes this job to coach Fiji’s rugby team in the several years leading up to the 2016 games and how he has to deal with different cultures and not having any resources, including for his own salary for months and being a ginger in a forbiddingly hot climate and all of these things. And yet he, I think it’s interesting to see not only the team’s evolution into becoming gold medalists but also his evolution as a coach and figuring out what you really need to be a successful coach. And that’s not always all the gadgets and gizmos and testing. It takes a lot of creativity sometimes to get the same results. And that to me was the interesting part, [00:06:00] was seeing his creativity as a coach.
Alison: What I thought Ben did very, very well in this book was something we’ve complained about in other books was there was constantly this parade of names that didn’t have characters. And yet there were a lot of characters in this book, but I felt like they were grounded in something.
Alison: He didn’t tell us about people we didn’t need to know about. So we met a lot of people, but I feel like they weren’t just random names that came passing through. They had some color, they had some depth. And yet, like both of you had said it was somewhat of a quick read. I mean, I read it in a couple of days and don’t feel like I missed a whole lot because I’m still taking these people away with me..
Claire: I agree with what you said about the names. And I really appreciated that he didn’t just stick with like either the first name or their last name, the whole time. He would bring back their full names every now and again, usually at the start of a new chapter, but then he would also like for one of the final chapters, I think it was chapter 13, he names everybody and gives you a reminder. Hey, do you remember this story that I told you earlier? So when he’s talking about Jerry Tuwai, he mentioned he had the mouth full of rotten teeth. So you go back to the dentist story, and you laugh and you’re like, oh yeah, I remember that story.
Claire: That was clever. And so he’s always bringing back these names and these instances where you would be able to recognize them. I also made a note of that cause I really, I did appreciate that. That’s just the sign of good writing. It’s not just good storytelling, but it’s just good, solid writing.
Claire: Were you familiar with the Fiji story at the 2016 Olympics, or anything prior to the Olympics I should say. Or did you just get into it in Rio?
Alison: I didn’t even get into it in Rio. I only caught up to it when we spoke to Ben.
Alison: I sort of heard about it [00:08:00] peripherally at the time of 2016, but I didn’t watch any rugby. And I was like, oh, it’s their first gold medal. Isn’t that great. But when we spoke to Ben was when I went back and watched everything and watched a million interviews with him and watched all the games. So this was really very peripheral to me.
Jill: I did watch rugby, and I’m pretty sure I watched Fiji play cause I was really excited that it was their first gold medal, but I didn’t know the whole story of Ben Ryan being their coach and what was all involved with it. But. Fiji winning really made an impression on me. And I do love it when a country can win a gold medal, especially their first gold medal, especially a really tiny country.
Jill: And once I read this book, I really appreciated that gold medal even more because just what the team went through. And when Ben figured out that their mentality is very much live for today, because we don’t know if something is going to take you out tomorrow, that was a really interesting situation to me and how much we have versus what the people of Fiji have, or a lot of the people of Fiji have.
Claire: I did really appreciate that it gave us a look at the cycle of getting trained for the Olympics, going through their world cup sessions every year leading up to it because you don’t see that unless you have like an official social media account, which I highly doubt they did at the time, so being able to see how they brought in players, how they took the players, that were there and kind of made them into the powerhouse team, you know, in physical excellence, not just spurts of greatness, but a well-rounded group, and also to see all the personal struggles that they all had to deal with was really nice, and like Jill, I had watched rugby because it was the new sport, like Ooh, sport, get to watch it. And so that’s what I really enjoyed it, but then when you put all of [00:10:00] this with it, and then you realize how much they went through, as does any Olympian, let’s be honest, it was wonderful to be able to make that connection.
Claire: I did have to say, what did you think about the story that opened up every chapter? I ended up being super into what was going on for that one page of text, about his friend in England, Noel, and I wanted to find out more, but it’s like, oh, I learned about the Fiji rugby team for another chapter, and then I can read about Noel again, and I didn’t spoil myself. I didn’t look ahead. I wanted to know what you thought of that, cause I thought that was a very interesting way to handle that story.
Alison: I didn’t like the frame of that. I didn’t like that pretense of having this story run throughout because I think the story of the Fiji team didn’t need it. It hung on its own. I understand why it was there. It certainly gave you an insight into Ben as a person. I feel like it took away from the Fiji story and his journey with them a little bit.
Jill: agree with you both in different ways. I thought that little bit was very compelling and I did want to know what happened. It did keep me reading. You know, it helped me see where Ben got his love of rugby from. It helped me see a little insight into how kids can be and how they grow apart. And yet, you know, wanting to find your old friend again, but it didn’t have a good payoff. That’s the problem with that story. There was just no payoff to it. And as interesting as it was, I almost think that could have been axed.
Alison: In terms of learning more about Ben, I wanted to hear more directly about his relationship with his father. I thought that would have been more compelling in terms of what that relationship was like. And I thought he was very protective of how he wrote about his now ex-wife. [00:12:00] He was very careful about that, what he said about Natalie and we know now they are divorced, he’s in a new relationship, and in a different place, but clearly he was protecting what really happened there, and I respect that.
Alison: But my curiosity as a reader was, I want to know how that happened. And I’m curious as to how they’re going to handle that in the movie. Is that going to become a more central part of the movie because you got to cast a woman and so we can have a woman in this movie and is that marriage falling apart story going to take over a little bit, which I don’t want to. But I did want to know more about what he was really feeling and thinking in that relationship rather than the Noel relationship.
Claire: Yeah. I can respect both those points. I did enjoy it just because, it made for an interesting story. And Jill, I do agree that I was kind of sad that there was never any resolution. Like he didn’t ever come back into the story like I suspected he might. He didn’t, and that made me sad. From the stories of the players, was there any story that kind of stuck with you the most? For me, it was the captain who kind of had been shunned off to the side by the national team earlier, and had been brought back Osea Kolinisau. I probably said that wrong. I apologize, but I’m trying my best. I loved his story and how he really did step up and become that leader that the Fiji team needed. Yes. You have a coach, that’s your leader, but you need a player that’s going to kind of work as that go between, between the coach and the players. And I thought he did a fantastic job. So, so knowing that he had a pay off with a gold medal, made me happy. So were there any others that kind of stuck with you?
Alison: Jerry Tuwai. Cause he clearly needed a dad and he clearly needed somebody to guide him in a way that he hadn’t, and Ben made a point of, I need to have boundaries with my players, but it felt like with Jerry, his boundaries got a little blurred because Jerry really needed [00:14:00] someone to bring him out of his shell and protect him.
Alison: And I loved that relationship. And I think that’s why I wanted to hear more about Ben’s relationship with his own dad, because I think that shaped him very much as a man and a coach and his relationship with his players. But yeah, Jerry stuck with me.
Jill: Jerry also stuck with me even more so when you watched the Tokyo games and saw that he was one of the few players that stayed with the team for another four years and the hardships that that team went through for training because they isolated themselves for months ahead of the games, and that kept him away from his family. And he almost quit because he missed his kids so much.
Jill: And it’s interesting to see the sacrifices that the teams and the players all make to achieve this goal. And just how much it means to the nation. And when we saw it again for the second gold this time, and for the women’s rugby team winning bronze, I mean, you saw how much sport can do for a country where there’s probably a lot of pain and a lot of hardship.
Alison: Did either of you remember the typhoon Winston? Cause that was like, I had no idea. I mean, we certainly hear about hurricanes and the hurricanes that happen in the Caribbean, but that was totally out of my knowledge. And that was scary that he went through that I’m like, oh man, some kid from London sitting in a shack. I mean, I realize it was a house. In a house in Fiji must’ve been terrifying. Though throughout, he’s very hesitant to talk about how scary certain things really were. And I don’t know if that was having spoken to him if he really just brushed it off or if he doesn’t want to talk about that.
Claire: I did not know about anything with that typhoon. To hear about how they deal with it is kind of interesting. I mean, it’s, it’s very similar to the, to the Caribbean I’m sure, where you really have to hunker down and just pray. So yeah, it was quite [00:16:00] effective to hear his side of the story when it came to that.
Claire: I did notice that he does mention the stories of two guys on the Fiji team that didn’t work out with the team. One of them really was difficult to get through, I guess, Pio Tuwei, who lost his wife to cancer. That really was hard because there were resources that could have helped her, even just a little bit, and they chose not to use it. That was upsetting for me because, you know, as a westerner, you kind of see all these positives, but they insist on using, you know, natural medicines and things like that, that they think have been helping them for years, but is a hindrance and just seeing him how he back slid, and he turned from a wonderful player into, you know, kind of a shell of themselves, even reading the epilogue about what happened after the Olympics was, it was sad. There was another one too, Sawei Roacca, who was like the last person cut from the team, and just hearing his kind of jealousy, on the team. Is there any thing else about the players that either of you wanted to mention?
Jill: Well, with Pio it was so sad. Like, as you say, as a westerner, it’s really hard to grasp the distrust of Western medicine and what you have access to locally with natural healing and probably with cancer, is the general thought that well, it’s cancer, it’s- this is something that’s going to kill her anyway. But then the reaction afterwards of almost not allowing yourself to have any grief, because life has to go on and we don’t know, maybe another storm is going to come through tomorrow and we’re all going to be dead anyway. It really struck me how different cultures think and you know, how do you bridge that gap, especially with having different stores of knowledge? It was really tough to see him go through things that obviously looked like grief and grief manifesting itself, but kind of not [00:18:00] acknowledging that grief as a feeling exists and is a process to go through.
Alison: I found something that I could relate very much to with the players. And that was at the beginning of the conditioning where they were hiding in the bushes.
Claire: I loved that. That was so great. I can relate, but I wouldn’t have hidden in the bushes. I would have just quit.
Alison: But hiding in the bushes is that’s what makes you a gold medalist. You try that different way.
Claire: I hope that’s in the movie, to be honest, I want them to have them hiding in the bushes and anytime they bring in a new guy, I think that happened again, like the other guys were doing the conditioning and the new guy hiding in the bushes. I liked that. I enjoyed that. I want to see that on film.
Jill: Oh, but the conditioning just sounded brutal. Brutal, but so necessary. I mean, when you see what they worked on so hard in conditioning and being conditioned like no other teams had been conditioned, you really saw that at Rio because that final game, they just walked all over Great Britain. It was incredible to watch how much in shape they were, how they just played fearlessly. It was their moment, and they managed to capture it again with a different coach. So I kind of, I want to go back and read more about the transition to a new coach and how that coach worked with the new team to repeat that success.
Alison: I think it’s so interesting. And we heard this a lot in Tokyo, as people constantly talking about how talented an athlete was. And I think this book does an excellent, excellent job of showing you that yes, these athletes need to be talented, but what they really need to do is work harder than anybody else. And that’s the difference between a really good collegiate athlete and an Olympian. It’s not the talent. It’s what you do with the talent and how you commit to it. And that they did it [00:20:00] even when it was harder than anything else.
Claire: And the ones that committed got results.
Claire: And, and if for some cultures, for us in the United States, sometimes we just, we want to take the easy road. We don’t want to work hard and we want it just to be given to us on a silver platter. So the people that are able to overcome that and say, yes, I want ultimate achievement, which for them is Olympic gold, is wonderful to see. And I’m looking forward to the montage because there’s gotta be a montage. What song are they going to put with this montage? Is it, is it going to be some classic rock from the sixties, it usually is, or are they going to have some inspirational new one like, uh, Trevor Rabin from “Remember the Titans”? Who knows?
Alison: Oh,a Fijian version of a sixties rock song.
Jill: I’ll take that.
Claire: Oh my gosh. Love it.
Alison: I don’t know what that sounds like, but I am plugging that.
Claire: Did either of you kind of get a desire to want to visit Fiji after hearing about it?
Jill: Yes, of course. Although I want to visit anywhere ’cause we’re in a pandemic.
Alison: I had the exact opposite reaction because I am not someone who can function on Fiji time. That would make me miserable. So I actually don’t want to visit Fiji after reading this book strangely enough, because what makes their culture show amazing would make me crazy.
Claire: Now you say, you mentioned Fijian time, even if you’re on vacation, you can’t relax that much?
Alison: No, because that’s not relaxing to me having a schedule and knowing what’s going to happen, allows me to relax and enjoy it.
Claire: So hearing about Fiji and just how relaxed it is and the different ways that they celebrate and drink. They have some customs for drinking, depending on the [00:22:00] size of the barrel that you had. Man, I couldn’t imagine. And to have Ben Ryan try and deal with that on top of normal rugby training. I got to give them all the credit in the world for that. Cause it sounds like they party and party hard.
Jill: I do wonder, like if you went to Fiji as a tourist, would you see this Fiji that Ben Ryan got to live in?
Claire: Well, it’s like Mexico. Probably not. You see your all inclusive resort don’t you don’t step beyond the boundaries of that. I could see that you’d really have to stick it.
Alison: In the book I felt like that was a conflict between him and Natalie. That he glossed over that she was really living the ex-pat life and he was trying to live a Fijian life.
Alison: And so even when they were in Fiji together, they weren’t experiencing the same Fiji.
Jill: It’s gotta be hard for her to suddenly have your partner go, oh, Hey, let’s pack up and go to Fiji. Cause I just took this job. And so you kind of uproot everything and your life gets turned around in a way, and I wonder if that’s where if they had both stayed in England, would their relationship be different or was it just eventually destined to separate at some point
Claire: I can definitely identify with Natalie, because I did teach in China for a few months, way back when. I taught English as a second language and realized at the time I was too young to do that, like I was fresh out of college and just realizing that giant culture shock. It hit me hard in like November. I’d been there for a couple months and that missing of your home country and all the traditions that is very, very difficult. And I was with English teachers who had that kind of, Oh, we have adapted to this Chinese lifestyle and I was the one that was going, Nope, I’m done. I’m outta here, and I left before my term was up. [00:24:00] the school was really nice about it, but I think. So hard because you feel like you’re never going to get back to the way that you like that you enjoy things. So I, relate to Natalie. I’m glad that he didn’t try to shove her under the bus in any way. He did it enough to show that yes, the relationship was disintegrating, but we don’t need to discuss too much more of it.
Jill: Yeah. I thought that was handled very respectfully and understanding that she was, I mean, there were things that he loved about her, that that’s why they got married and she still has those qualities. It’s just that the two of them together did not eventually work out the same way. Sometimes that’s the way life is.
Alison: When he was talking about their trip home at Christmas and he decided not to spend Christmas with her and, and her family, I think what you were saying before, and I hate to speculate about someone else’s relationship, but I’m going to, I think that it would have collapsed eventually, but maybe not for another 20 years. Like they would have gone through the motions because they obviously loved each other. They got married, but this accelerated showing the differences in what they wanted out of life. You know, Ben saying, I really want this adventure. I really want to do the unusual and her saying, no, I want to have a life like my parents had. And both are valid. They’re just not compatible.
Claire: Well, let’s turn back to rugby. Did it change how you watched Fiji rugby and the Olympics this year?
Jill: A little bit because of knowing their style of play. And from talking with Ben Ryan, just looking at how other teams played rugby as well. I could kind of see that. I mean, there’s still a lot of rugby that I just don’t understand the nuances of because I don’t watch it enough and knowing what the different positions do, but I could see that– not carefree is not the right word, but that in [00:26:00] the moment playing and throwing from the Fiji team that is kind of their style and being able to see holes or make passes that seem impossible and they could do it.
Claire: I know that I was looking at, especially at the conditioning, do they look tired? They never look tired. You’re only playing for, those small halves.
Jill: Yeah. But you tell them that I’m sure they would go, yeah, you be out here for, I’ll see you up those dune Hills. You run.
Claire: Hey, I got dunes right down the road. They would beat me so, so much
Claire: Watching their conditioning, you can definitely see that they have retained that bit of that, even if it’s been five years on, I don’t know their new coach and what he’s been able to do, but I’m sure a lot of those techniques and tendencies did carry over from one national team to the other. And so that was fun to watch and just seeing how well they were able to take advantage of the other teams, teams that they play pretty regularly. this is not unlike what I had known before I read this book. I thought that they were just meeting these teams like for the first time ever. And no they have an entire season where they’re going around playing all these different tournaments, so this wasn’t anything new, but I was enjoying how knowing all of that, they kind of can play against another team, knowing their strengths and weaknesses.
Jill: And their calf muscles, that’s all I have to say. Did you see any of their calf muscles working like crazy?
Claire: I was too busy looking at their upper bodies that were just built. They had shoulders on shoulders. It was awesome. Even the women’s teams, too. They all had that, like I am going to crush you with my arms. I just loved it. I thought it was great.
Alison: Imagine getting a hug from one of these Fiji women because, you know, these Fiji women, you know, they talk about in the book, people having five mothers and kind of the strength of Fijian women. And I’m [00:28:00] just like, imagine having one of these rugby players who are physically huge and like treat you like an auntie, oh, that’s the, that’s the best.
Claire: And you know they treat you like family. From what we read in the book, any time that Ben was in a different village, you know, welcomed with open arms, here’s everything you need. Do you want some more of this alcoholic beverage? Do you want more of this alcoholic beverage? They know how to treat their visitors and yeah. You say you don’t want to enjoy this Fijian culture, but you want a Fijian hug. All right. Final thoughts?
Alison: What I thought was missing a little bit in the book was how was Ben not terrified of the political situation? He glossed over so much of what was said, oh yeah, there’s a coup come with us. Or, you know, he goes, and he meets the prime minister and he doesn’t go to the next event because the prime minister is angry with him.
Alison: And yes, when we spoke to Ben, he’s very cool and calm and collected. But seriously did he not recognize that there were probably times where his life was at risk or was that just cool with him? He’s okay. That’s fine.
Jill: That, or he didn’t want to write about it kind of thing. I wonder if there’s a like, oh, we’re going to play it all safe here. Cause I’m still a national hero with my picture on a coin, you know. I’m going to be cool. Everything’s cool. Yeah, this happened, but no big deal. But I wouldn’t be surprised at those were some terrifying days.
Jill: I think I, everyone should read this book. That’s what I think. Cause it’s, it is really one of our, one of the better books that we’ve read and also a lot of fun to read. , I am so glad you found this Claire, because it just gave me an appreciation for sport and the Olympics in other parts parts of the world. And we always need that here in the US
Claire: And I hope people were able to read this before the Olympics, just to give them that glimpse of, and to enjoy the rugby sevens tournament even more. Men’s and [00:30:00] women’s side. I had so much fun having that on and just watching game after game after game. It was really wonderful. And if rugby sevens inspires you to read this book, then you are in for a treat, because you are going to kind of see how one national team is able to work, and it’s probably not the way that you would expect a national team to work, especially money-wise, but that’s neither here nor there.
Claire: Yes, I love this book. I do also recommend this book and with that, we are looking to our next book. We are going to be reading Off Balanced: A Memoir by Dominique Moceanu. And if you know that name, you know, she was on the 1996, US women’s gymnastics team. And I remember her because she was almost my age. And I thought that was the coolest thing in the world to have somebody that was almost my age at the Olympics. All of our Scholastic books had Dominic Moceanu on them. And so that’s how I know her. And I am very interested to read this story.
Jill: As am I because Dominique Moceanu lives in my neck of the woods now.
Claire: Yeah, this is going to be a tough one. If you know the gymnastics landscape from the past 25 years, you’re in for a doozy. So I’m, I’m looking forward to reading it and I hope you all are too.
Jill: Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Claire. As always great conversation, and we are looking forward to the next book.
Claire: Thanks very much.
Jill: Thank you so much, Claire and Ben. You can follow Claire @CauldronLight. And Ben is @benjaminryan. If you want to watch more rugby sevens, the 2021 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series has started for the year. You can find out more about that at www.world.rugby. In the US you can watch it on Peacock Premium.
Jill: If you’re a Luddite like me and get cable Xfinity and Cox, you may [00:32:00] already have Peacock Premium, which I know on Cox, I do. I love it.
Alison: So you got a whole bunch of extra Olympic stuff on premium?
Alison: I couldn’t even get the stuff that I was supposed to nevermind extra.
Jill: Oh yeah. I gotta say cutting the cord, I did not need to. I like my cords, as you can see from all of them around the table.
Alison: For the first time, in a very long time, we have so many cords in front of us, Chris from IT would be ashamed.
Jill: Exactly. So our next book will be Off Balance: A Memoir by Dominique Moceanu. You can pick up your copy at bookshop.org/shop/flamealivepod. Purchases made through that link support the show’s operating expenses and the extra costs we have towards covering the show from Beijing during the Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
Alison: Haven’t played that music in, I think since May, because we suspended for the summer. Cause we were Tokyo all go.
Jill: I know. And it’s nice to have a back. That’s the sign that we have an Atlanta 1996 moment. This is the 25th anniversary of Atlanta, so we are focusing our historical efforts on that Games all year long. Back to our stories.
Jill: Alison you’ve got it this week.
Alison: So I know rhythmic gymnastics is not your favorite sport, right? But this was a very special moment. Both in Olympic and rhythmic gymnastics history. 1996 was the first year that the team competition was contested at the Olympics. And as is true today, it was true then. Russia was expected to wipe the floor with everybody.
Alison: Spain decided they were going to put a team together because they do have a good history of rhythmic gymnastics. And so they put this group of girls together. Very young. By the time they get to Atlanta, they’re between 15 and 17 years old.
Alison: And they had started two years earlier. You can do the math. They had dedicated their lives to making this team happen.[00:34:00]
Alison: And they were the youngest team there, youngest Spaniards in Atlanta. They get up there, do their hoop routine. It’s to Broadway classics. They’ve got “America.” They’ve got how you looked at it. It’s fantastic. And of course the Atlanta audience just eats it up. It’s beautiful routine. They’re in the lead after the first round. Second round, it’s now the multi apparatus, which this, it changes in each cycle this year.
Alison: It’s three balls, two ribbons.
Alison: They are close to the end of the rotation. Beautiful. Gorgeous. They’re in the lead. Russia comes up right here. Russia literally drops the ball.
Jill: Oh no!
Alison: Ball bounces out. They got their deductions and they end up in third. Spain takes the gold. It’s celebrated in the whole country and they became known as Las Niñas de Oro.
Alison: The girls have gold. So there is an “Olympic Legends” on Olympic Channel episode about this, and they get them all back together for the first time since Atlanta. And they all speak about that. So I highly recommend the episode and if you can find it on YouTube, that it’s a little scary. The video, one has French voiceover and one has Japanese, but their programs are really beautiful.
Alison: And it takes you back to a whole different stage of rhythmic gymnastics. There is no glitter, there are no sequins.
Alison: They’re wearing just colored leotards.
Jill: Can we have that back please?
Alison: I know. And it’s a much more athletic style, but man, are the Spaniards beautiful.
Jill: I can imagine. I can imagine. Have we ever heard from any of the Russians again, or did they all just disappear?
Alison: I [00:36:00] believe they all just, I mean, none of them looked familiar to me and saying like, had they become coaches? When they came off the mat, they knew, It was horrible. Yeah, they were a whole half point behind by the end, which in rhythmic gymnastics is enormous.
Alison: And the Spanish girls are just, they’re so adorable on the medal stand. ‘Cause they’re kids, they’re 15 to 16, 17 years old. And that is how you want to start. If you’re putting a team competition in great competition, that’s the way to do it.
Alison: Welcome to TKFLASTAN.
Jill: Yes, that sound means it’s time for our Team Keep the Flame Alive segment. These are past guests of the show. So, Chellsie Memmel, gymnast, is performing in the Gold Over America Tour, which is taking place now through November 7th, maybe at a city near you.
Alison: Started this week.
Jill: Yes, I was very surprised. I didn’t realize she was going to be part of this until I saw the, Hey, it was great performing last night. What?!
Alison: I wonder –it’s not that long of a tour. So I think she’ll be doing the whole thing, but I wonder if she’s, if some of the gymnasts are swapping in and out.
Jill: I wondered that too, but it’s not that–
Alison: There’s not that many shows.
Jill: And there’s not that many gymnasts. There are, it’s a big roster of gymnasts, but when they, you see the clips, it also looks like a lot of big dance numbers too.
Alison: They are doing multi gymnast segments. Yes.
Jill: So, yeah. I thought about going, cause it’s coming here to Cleveland. I might have to
Alison: Tessa Gobbo is now coaching rowing at Brown, her alma mater. She is the assistant coach. So congratulations to Coach Tessa. We know she knows how to teach people how to row. Cause she got us on the water and got us off the water without drowning. So. And I think these girls will have a little more skill.
Jill: Shiva Keshavan, former luge athlete from India, is calling out the country for lack of [00:38:00] winter sports organization. So apparently there are no recognized winter sports federations in India, so they are not eligible for funding. And that means the athletes are doing their own crowdfunding online and so that they can compete and train.
Alison: And Shiva has been talking about this almost his whole career.
Jill: Yeah. Because he experienced it.
Alison: It’s this is so hugely problematic and hugely problematic when you’ve got, don’t have the federation backing to get the Olympic quota spots.
Jill: Right. And Shiva sometimes has been the only winter athlete from India. And now that he’s retired, is India just not going to have any athletes? Will anybody be able to compete in the Olympics? And if you don’t have that already. If you’ve only got one or a handful of athletes, it’s hard to get a country that big invested in what’s going on. But just when he’s trying to start winter sports in India as being a thing and trying to get more participation in the Olympics, that’s, it’s really tough. It feels like they’re taken a step back.
Alison: Agreed. And Emily Cook was one of the hosts of the first ever US aerials team fundraiser. The team has raised a $90,000 through this effort.
Jill: So we have a little bit of Tokyo, 2020 news, because do you remember when Australian track cyclist Alex Porter’s handlebar snapped during the Olympics and he fell forward? Ripped up skin beyond belief?
Alison: Right. And the manufacturer immediately pulled the handlebars off the market and it was it was a big deal. We had a whole conversation about this.
Jill: Yes. So the manufacturer is doing an investigation, but AusCycling, the national cycling governing body is also going to do its own investigation into the incident to see how it happened. So we should know more by the end of the year.
Jill: [00:40:00] Beijing 2022 released its official motto: Together For a Shared Future. We’re not going to remember this. We might not even remember it before Beijing 2022.
Alison: What gets me is that they chose it from a list of 79 other options. How bad were those other options that you came up with “Together for a Shared Future”?
Jill: So this is obviously something created by committee because they had the 79, shortlisted it to 11 and that 11 was assessed by experts from a variety of fields, according to Inside the Games.
Alison: Well, to be fair, the IOC did change the motto, their motto to add that whole togetherness, inclusivity, diversity, let’s all fight together, brother kind of thing. So it is in line with what the IOC is focusing on right now.
Jill: but it just is another reminder that all of these models are so bland and it just doesn’t inspire.
Alison: It is the color equivalent of blurb, which is like gray sort of beige, the neutral of neutral.
Jill: Right. So we’ll see that plastered everywhere.
Jill: I know we saw the one from Tokyo. I think Tokyo was United something that we already forgot. Yeah, exactly. So there you go. So good luck with that motto.
Jill: The posters are out. So Beijing 2022 has released three sets of official posters featuring the emblem and mascots. And then they have 11 other promotional poster designs that were chosen from a competition with over 1500 entrants.
Jill: And I like a lot of them. They’re really cool. We’ll have links to those in the. And then our friend Karolos Grohman reported about the torch lighting ceremony. So when the ceremony starts in Greece [00:42:00] and that the torch is lit in Olympia, it will happen on October 18. That will have no spectators, will also have no traditional six day relay in Greece.
Jill: It will get lit. It will go to the Acropolis in Athens. And then the next day it will be handed over to Chinese organizers during a ceremony in the Panathenaic Stadium where the 1896 Olympics were held. And then it heads over to Beijing.
Jill: I’m curious to hear more about what China plans to do with the torch relay, because so much of the Tokyo one just got shuttered.
Alison: Though they plan to do it. And I think that’s why Beijing is keeping very quiet. They do not want to announce anything and then have to change it. We still have no tickets here–
Jill: That’s true!
Alison: –for Beijing, and five months before we’ve got no ticket sales? Because they are not announcing anything that they then have to change.
Jill: So that will be interesting. Very, very interesting.
Jill: And Paris 2024 is raring to get going with announcing a lot of stuff. So they’ve talked about their volunteer program. They are going to have 45,000 volunteers, which is much less than Tokyo’s 70,000. I think they, I wonder if they thought, oh, we’re going to have more– their Games aren’t really more scaled back. Although they probably, since they don’t have baseball, softball,
Alison: Are there fewer places? I think the Paris from what we’ve seen of the plans, it’s much closer. I think you won’t have to have entire staffs. Right? Different places. Like remember the cycling venue was quite far away. They needed a whole other staff in Sapporo.
Alison: I like bringing that up now they can see your face and how mad you get. So it could just be that. And also maybe they thought they needed a lot more language.
Jill: Maybe. I bet they [00:44:00] can rely on a lot more people who have more languages under the belt. Cause that’s one of the things they talked about. They are looking for gender equality, representation of all French regions, international, but particularly getting volunteers from Europe. I’m guessing because close by. And they want people who are 18 years or older. So, and then the other element are they are targeting 3000 of the volunteers to have disabilities.
Alison: You know what that means. You get more volunteers that have dogs and the dogs will have the volunteer uniforms again.
Jill: So volunteers could also be deployed for pre-game events, like test events and that’s, I think that’s kind of cool. Just, you’re not doing the one show, you could be doing more. So a plan for the online applications to open in early 2023, and they should have responses out and start training in fall 2023.
Jill: So this is still a long ways away. But if you are thinking about volunteering, know that you’ve got another year and a half before you have to really look for the application.
Alison: And start working on your Duolingo.
Jill: Paris. 2024 is also working on the torch relay route, which will visit the maximum number of regions in France. There is a guaranteed visit to at least one overseas territory. Uh, Maybe Tahiti
Alison: You think?
Jill: And then for the torch bearers, they are, will be looking for gender equality and disability inclusion. And so later this year, they’re going to start working on the relay route, which they will finalize and announced in 2023. And also in 2023, they will have their torch designs.
Alison: I’m hopeful. About the torch designs.
Jill: Yeah? Do you think they can tap Tokyo’s, cause those were pretty special.
Alison: No, they’re not going to top Tokyo. It’s going to be totally and completely different. I think they’re going to go old school European.
Jill: Oh, do you think they will? No, there wasn’t a [00:46:00] torch.
Alison: Scrolls, fleur-de-lis
Jill: this is their first torch relay. They didn’t have one for Paris, 1924.
Alison: Right, ’cause the torch relay didn’t come in until much later.
Alison: So I think we’re going to go call backs to ’24. I would love that.
Alison: Because you can’t beat Tokyo at its own game. You can’t be them for that sleek, elegant design with the flower. They got to go the whole other way.
Jill: Right. And if they’re already doing that art deco in the font that they have and with what’s her name?
Jill: Yeah. In the emblem design. So yeah, I could see that. Oh, I hope they do better than Albertville.
Alison: I could light a stick downstairs and it would be better than Albertville.
Jill: We have some news from the International Paralympic Committee. They have announced that the IPC has conditionally reinstated wheelchair basketball for Paris 2024. So if you remember, this was kind of a cause of consternation. There was a decision in January 2018 that the sport was noncompliant with the 2015 IPC athlete classification code. They weren’t classifying their people correctly. Or some athletes could have been skirting the classification rules. So the IPC said you have until August 31st of this year to clean up your act or you’re going to be out of Paris. And of course wheelchair basketball does not want to be out of Paris.
Alison: So much the basis of the entire IPCs program.
Jill: Right? Right. And it’s an important element, even though there is pro wheelchair basketball in parts of the world, but this is so important for them. So the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation has developed new classification rules. They’re compliant with the code. They have an Implementation plan for how the system will be [00:48:00] implemented and the rules around it as well. So that made the IPC happy and they got it spot secure on the Tokyo. ER I’m going to say Tokyo for a long time. Aren’t I?
Alison: You know what? Yes. I was going to cut you some slack, but I think the answer is just yes. But it will be on the program for Paris 2024.
Jill: Also the IPC will be having its big elections this year for its Governing Board. Nominees up, Andrew Parsons is running unopposed for president.
Alison: I’m so relieved.
Jill: He’s a lot of fun. He’s a good spokesman for the organization. Duane Kale has been nominated for VP and for an at-large seat, but he can only have one position. So I’m guessing he’s going to stick with VP. And then there are 25 candidates running for 10 at-large seats. The election will take place at the IPC General Assembly on December 12th. I’m excited about that. Cause we haven’t covered a General Assembly yet.
Alison: Yeah. We’ve done so many Executive Committees for the IOC, but no big IPC. And this is a biggie.
Jill: Yeah. So something to look forward to.
Jill: And we have some news from the IOC. Inside the Games reports that the IOC is going to postpone the update to its transgender guidelines until after Beijing 2022. So this is going to make it three years late. And I loved this quote from the IOC medical and scientific director, Richard Budgett, who said there’ll be broad, high level guidelines, more like a framework. It’s the international federations who will determine the specific rules for their sports and their events.
Alison: To be fair. And we’ve talked about this, a transgender athlete in weightlifting is very different than a transgender athlete in curling or in shooting. Because the biological questions are [00:50:00] very different, So to, to push it back on the federations in this case is appropriate.
Alison: Because the science behind the body mechanics of that sport is going to vary not only sport to sport, but event to event. I would think that’s throwing sports versus the running sports may have different rules.
Jill: That’s interesting.
Alison: And when did you transition? When did you start hormone therapy? Did you go through puberty? Did you not go through puberty at what? So I think all those things, we don’t know that stuff yet scientists and end researchers don’t have all the answers yet.
Alison: And so I think putting it on the federations allows them more flexibility. Also more possibility for discrimination, but I’m going to look at the positive here. More possibility to adapt things as the science develops.
Jill: Oh, okay. And not leave it up to the IOC to make a blanket.
Alison: As we know, moving the IOC is moving the Titanic. The questions that the scientists have to answer for each sport are going to be very different. And I liked that they’re leaving it up to the federations, but on the flip side, we know World Athletics has a huge problem with this. So there’s gotta be some backstop where the IOC says you can’t quite go that far.
Jill: Yeah. And I kind of wonder, because Seb Coe, president of World Athletics is a member of the IOC. So you got to wonder what he’s going to think about.
Alison: He’s been, he was a big voice in the Castro Semenya controversy and saying she should not be allowed to compete under current guidelines, but on the other hand, he was he’s so pro athlete and let them run kind of thing. So I need to have a chat with Seb Coe.
Alison: I’ll call him Lord Coe. I’ll be totally respectful, but he’s an interesting character in this. And I’d like to see how this plays out now that cause he’s, is he the president of world Athletics? Yeah. [00:52:00] So he’s going to have a big voice in this.
Jill: We will see, but we won’t see until after Beijing.
Alison: Lord Coe, it’s
Alison: flamealivepod @gmail.com.
Jill: There you go. And then last week we talked about how the IOC was not happy with AIBA and sent them a very strongly worded letter.
Alison: Is anybody happy with AIBA except for some oligarchs in Belarus?
Jill: So AIBA has gotten back to the IOC, according to Inside the Games, they said they’re going to have a Congress on December 12th. They don’t yet know where. This is going to be, but oh yes. We were going to have a big meeting and that will set criteria and verification mechanisms for their elections that they will be having in 2022. And, the IOC does want them to have different leadership and board, but AIBA’s saying, , oh, look at what we’re doing here. The guy, his term was going to run out anyway, so they had to have elections anyhow, but I guess from what it sounds like is that they had nothing in place to, set up with those who could run in all of that stuff. So progress, I don’t know. They also had not, the IOC said AIBA had not put the Tokyo 2020 best practices into place for world championships, which are coming up this fall.
Jill: And AIBA says it will implement the suggested changes, including background checks and detailed selection criteria. And again, you go, huh? You didn’t even think to have that in the first place.
Alison: This is a fighting sport. So you would think that some of these extra layers would just naturally occur to these people. I don’t know if they’ve taken too many hits to the head.
Jill: Maybe. I feel like they’re, you know, the AIBA, I keep saying the AIBA, but I feel like-
Alison: It’s in Tokyo,
Jill: I feel like AIBA’s been knocked down, and the IOC’s just standing there waiting for the referee to finish the 10 count and it, yeah. Like I’m trying to get up.
Alison: One and a half. Two and three [00:54:00] quarters.
Jill: And then the last little tiny tidbit was the fact that the IOC wanted AIBA to have a different auditor who didn’t have a conflict of interest with the IOC because they use the same auditor apparently. So AIBA said, oh yeah, we’ve appointed an auditor for 2020-2021. But they didn’t say who it was.
Jill: Like, what don’t you get? Is your auditor like Cheathimoffski and Partners, CPAs?
Alison: AIBA knows a guy.
Alison: I know a guy. He’ll take care of you.
Jill: So yeah, the hits just keep coming.
Alison: They got to kick ’em out. I do not understand why we are giving them two, two and a half, two and three quarters. I don’t.
Jill: Because that does mean the IOC has to take a stand and–
Alison: I’m going to kick them out.
Jill: Right. I mean, the IPC can do it. The IPC has taken much stronger stance on things like Russia.
Jill: Just IPC’s stand on
Alison: wheelchair basket. And then wheelchair basketball responds with like, okay, we take you seriously and we’re going to fix what you’re concerned about. And now everybody’s happy. I don’t know if everybody’s happy. I take that back. But just clearly there was a line of communication. Everybody was respecting each other’s stance and dealing with the problem at hand. It’s not that hard.
Jill: It’s nice to watch you in person say that!
Alison: I just, between this and weightlifting, it just breaks my heart.
Jill: I know. I know. And you know that there are a lot of athletes who are just like, yeah, I’m just here to box. I don’t, whatever they do. I just pay my membership dues and I go to the tournament and I hope I can go to the tournament. So I don’t know.
Alison: It’s so heartbreaking because we keep seeing [00:56:00] this over and over again. And then I’m actually really excited about our next book because it’s Dominique Moceanu. And I think her story is important and interesting. And once again, we’re going to see USA Gymnastics on the chopping block for being horrible.
Alison: Why do these organizations keep doing this to these kids?
Jill: I don’t know, I don’t understand why they need so much power or money at the expense of many young people who have huge dreams and work very hard to make a lot of sacrifices to try to achieve them.
Alison: I mean, I realize there are so many horrible people in the world who are money hungry and power hungry, but when you’re faced with these athletes to treat them so poorly and screw them up so bad. For no reason. Don’t know I’m going to, I’m going to punch them.
Jill: Okay. Well, I guess.
Alison: I’ll have to stand on a chair, but I will punch them.
Jill: Hopefully, we never run into them in person.
Alison: I’ll be like that dog. Okay. If you’re American, you’ll know the cartoon, where there’s a big bulldog and then like the little Chihuahua who’s walking next to him as ” put ’em up!”
Alison: I am the Chihuahua.
Jill: There you go. Okay. If you have thoughts on any of this,
Alison: Or have a Chihuahua.
Alison: You can let us know, oh, that’s going to do it for us this week. Let us know what you think about
Jill: uh, AIBA or, Ben Ryan’s book.
Alison: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text us at two zero eight three five two six three four.
Alison: That’s 2, 0 8, flame it. We’re flamealivepod on Twitter and Insta and Keep the Flame Alive Podcast group on Facebook.
Jill: And you know what? Do text us sometimes because somehow we got on the MyPillow guy’s texting list and we get texts from him like twice a day.
Alison: We would like texts from not My Pillow guy.[00:58:00]
Alison: So if you have a phone that can dial to the US or even through Google, let us know, cause it’s a Google voice line and we’d love to hear from you. Next week, we will have more stories of Olympic and Paralympic endeavors. Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, keep the flame alive.