WMU News

Winter Olympics feature stories

January 29, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Professional players on the U.S. hockey team, snowboarding, an ancient temple site that's become a network substation, public concern over the environment and even El Nino -- they're all part of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Western Michigan University has experts who can provide background information on a variety of topics related to this winter's Olympics.

MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES: Each tip below includes the name and phone number of a WMU faculty expert who can supply more information on the topic. If you would like help contacting these or other campus experts who can provide information on topics, please call Cheryl.Roland@wmich.edu, Julie.Paavola@wmich.edu or Ruth.Stevens@wmich.edu in WMU Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, (616) 387-8400.

EL NINO COULD MAKE WATER SKIING AN ALPINE EVENT -- With the world getting ready to enjoy the postcard scenery of the Olympics' alpine skiing events, El Nino may turn those scenes from snowy white to gray slush. Nagano, the southernmost winter Olympics site ever chosen, often has mild winters, and during El Nino years has a history of even warmer winters. Stephen Podewell, WMU instructor of geography, says Asia is seeing the erratic weather conditions typical of an El Nino year. While snow can be made and Japanese officials have even arranged to truck it in to Nagano if the situation becomes serious, the undependable conditions may present a problem as well. The erratic weather might mean anything from strong winds and blizzards to warm temperatures and fog. Although the impact of an El Nino has never been taken into account for Olympics site selection, he says scientists are learning so much about El Ninos that consideration could be given to that topic when making future choices. For more about El Nino and its impact, persons should contact Podewell at (616) 387-4988.

1,400-YEAR-OLD BUDDHIST TEMPLE GROUNDS WILL SERVE AS CBS BROADCAST SITE -- The temple of Zenkoji will serve as a visual symbol of Nagano during the Olympics and there will even be a CBS substation on the temple grounds. Some have likened the development as akin to putting a television studio in the Sistine Chapel. While using a religious setting for such a secular purpose as video production may seem strange to Westerners, it's commonplace in Japan, says Dr. H. Byron Earhart, WMU professor of comparative religion and an internationally known expert on Japanese religions. "From the time I started studying such sites more than 30 years ago," Earhart says, "cameras and recording equipment have always been welcome in the temples." Such temples, he says, are regarded as national treasures and visitors to the sites are important to the nation. Earhart's expertise on Japanese religions has been tapped by media around the world -- including reporters in Japan. For more about the role of religion and the temples in Japanese life, persons should contact Earhart at (616) 387-4395.

WORLD-CLASS ATHLETES ARE OFTEN SKATING ON THE EDGE OF INJURY -- When figure skater Michelle Kwan missed a series of late 1997 pre-Olympic international competitions due to a stress fracture, her Olympic hopes appeared to be in jeopardy. According to Dr. Robert I. Moss, associate professor of health, physical education and recreation, staying healthy and enduring -- not just being the best athlete -- is often what leads to a medal. "Most world-class performers may only be a couple of repetitions away from a stress/fatigue type of injury," he says. "They really have to be in tune with their bodies in order to know when they can practice one more routine or if they should take the rest of the day off." Ice skaters, like gymnasts have the additional stresses of body weight issues and intense training time. Moss, an expert on conditioning and strength-building to prevent injury, has presented his research on those topics at the International Olympic Committee's World Congress on Sport Science. For more about the latest thinking on how world-class athletes should train to prevent injury, persons should contact Moss at his office at (616) 387-2678.

SPINNING MISFORTUNE INTO GOLD -- While women's figure skating has always been popular, the 1994 Olympics and the showdown between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding took the sport to an entirely new level. "A scandal for a celebrity or athlete can be wonderful and it can turn into a form of capital," says Dr. Keith M. Hearit, WMU assistant professor of communication. "The media love conflict, a good story and a dramatic clash. What happened in 1994 fit into all of that." This year one television network is hoping to prolong the story and has been highly touting an interview featuring Harding and Kerrigan. Hearit says aside from the Kerrigan/Harding entanglement, other dramatic stories, especially those that feature the personal lives of athletes, have taken on a new dimension in the 1990s -- a factor he attributes to end of the Cold War. "During the Cold War, anytime you had canoeing, rugby or ping pong, they could make it into East vs. West clash, and I think you have similar things happening with the Olympics now," Hearit explains. "Instead of the evil Soviet Union, now it's just some terrible obstacle people have overcome in their personal lives." For more on how public figures and corporations handle scandals and apologies, Hearit can be reached at his office at (616) 375-1063.

NAGANO OLYMPICS HAS BECOME A NATIONAL FOCUS FOR JAPANESE -- Like any nation hosting the Olympics, Japan has had its share of controversy and concern as the plans unfolded. The environmental impact of the games has been a major concern and the cost of the games has been the source of some alarm. Dr. Hideko Abe (pronounced hih-DEH-koh AH-bay), chairperson of WMU's Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages, says with the games so close, the Japanese people have put those issues aside and will devote themselves to making the games a success. "It is typically Japanese that once a thing is decided, you support it," Abe says. "You won't see protesters. You will see people determined to make the best out of it." In fact, Abe says, early opponents to the Nagano Olympics are now fighting to show their support and have voiced embarrassment over their "anti-Olympic" reputation. Abe, a native of Japan who taught in that nation for many years, avidly follows Japanese nightly news broadcasts and says the news from Nagano tops each evening's telecast. Lately, she notes, the source of most concern is that the uncertain weather may put a damper on Olympic success. For more about Japanese life and response to the Olympics, persons may contact Abe at (616) 387-6241.

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