Markus' Travel and International Living Blog

Markus is an enthusiastic traveler, who lives in Houston, TX (USA) most of the time, but also spends some time in Saalfelden, near Salzburg (Austria). He is fascinated by travel and also by his experiences gathered by living in two different countries and continents.

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Monday, February 27, 2006
The Olympics: An Austrian Recap

The Olympics are over, and from an Austrian point of view, they were somewhat of a mixed bag, but all's well that ends well, and it ended up being the most successful Olympics for Austria ever. This includes beating Active Nick in our bet, since the Canadians ended up behind Austria in the overall medal standings.

We did very well overall. We got 23 medals total and ended up #3 in the overall rankings, 2 silver medals behind the US and 2 gold medals behind the Germans who won. Man, how those lost gold medals in men's downhill and men's combined hurt! But considering that we didn't get the gold in our best events, it is amazing how far we got. Just think about it: A country with about the same population as Houston ended up number 3 in overall rankings. Pretty cool if you ask me!

Here's another pretty cool story. I am from a small town in Austria with less than 20,000 people (Saalfelden). Less than 10 miles from that town is Zell am See, with just over 10,000 citizens. This is where I went to school. Then there is another nearby town called Unken, which has far less people. Probably some 250 households or so (I might be slightly off here). I was born in Unken. These three areas are what I would consider "my community in Austria". About 30,000 people or so total. From within that community, we had several athletes compete in the Olympics. Here is the list:

  • Marlies Schild: She is from Saalfelden. She won a silver medal in women's combined, and a bronze in women's slalom.
  • Reinfried Herbst: He is from Unken. He won the silver medal in men's slalom.
  • Felix Gottwald: He is from Zell am See. He competes in nordic combined, and won the gold medal in the sprint, silver in the individual competition, and gold in the team competition.
  • Benjamin Raich: He is not technically from Saalfelden, but he is engaged to Marlies Schild, and thus we adopted him as someone from Saalfelden, since he has joined our community. He won the men's slalom, he won the giant slalom, and darn it, he fell on his way to gold in men's combined. But hey, 2 gold medals is not that bad either... ;-)

So people from my immediate community won 4 gold, 2 silver, and 1 bronze medals! I would be surprised if there is another 30,000 people community anywhere in the world that was equally as successful. Heck, these guys alone had more than half as many medals as all of Canada... ;-)

Unfortunately, there also were some bad news. A big "doping scandal" in the Austrian biathlon team. Everyone - including myself - thought that they must have been guilty. But no! As it turns out, all the tests came back negative. Not a single one of them was doped. And now it turns out that the person who started all of this, an Austrian coach who was banned from the Olympics and was only there as a private person (but staying in a house the team rented), is now probably not even going to be charged with anything at all! So all if this was just a bunch of BS! Apparently, nobody did anything wrong. Makes you wonder who started this nonsense and why. Either way, as a result we didn't get a single medal from the biathlon team, even though we had high expectations, especially in the team event. I assume someone got what he wanted. I guess jealousy is rearing its ugly head...

Anyway: Tough luck for Nick and the rest of Canada, eh? ;-)  I will enjoy the dinner I won. I have to say, Canada did well, and they had some tough luck. The whole deal with the hockey team. Also, Canada has more 4th place finishes than any other country. 11 total. But maybe they can beat Austria the next time. I have already agreed to a new bet for the next Olympics. Of course, Canadians will have "home field advantage" then, since the games are in Vancouver. But hey, Salzburg is making a bid for the games in 2014. Maybe it will swing in my favor then...

Posted @ 10:12 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (6)

Sunday, February 26, 2006
Another Quick Trip to Seattle

Last week I slipped in another quick trip to Seattle. The weather was pretty bad there. I really need to think seriously about buying a jacket (I took all my jackets to Austria on the last trip and left them there) for these occasions, even though I do not need one in Houston. But anyway: It was a nice short trip. Mostly business. Some good food.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know what is coming now: We had a 10-person dinner at Wild Ginger, and it was excellent as always. I almost feel bad about it at this point, because I feel I should seek out some new restaurants, but Wild Ginger is such a no-brainer, I always find myself going back.

I took a red-eye back to Houston, getting into Houston at 6:30am. At this point, I really wonder about taking red-eye (overnight) flights. It seems that the chances of getting upgraded to business class are not good enough anymore, and if you are stuck in a regular seat and have a hard time sleeping on planes (like I do), then red-eyes really do not save any time. I ended up sleeping most of the next day anyway, and I was just miserable. I might as well have just come back the next day and sidestepped the misery...


Posted @ 10:45 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (7)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Torino: Another Good Day for Austria

Today was a great day for Austria at the Olympics: Beni Raich won gold in giant slalom, Herman Maier came in third. The result in women's Super-G was identical: Dorfmeister wins her second gold, and Meisnitzer comes in third. To top things off, the ski jumpers won gold in the team competition. 5 medals in a day, 3 of them gold. Not bad at all!

This means that Austria moved into second spot in the overall medal standings, briefly passing the US and at the end of the day, exactly tieing the US. How is that for diplomatic?

Canada also had a decent day (which is important for my bet). The women's hockey team got the gold, so Canada moves up to 5th spot. However, Canada is now 4 gold medals behind Austria (3 yesterday), and 3 behind 4th place. I am pretty confident...

On the less cheerful side, there is the doping scandal involving the Austrian biathlon team. However, so far, nobody has been accused of anything. Nor has the Austrian biathlon team finished in the medals so far, so it will have little impact on my bet. However, it certainly seems to have an impact on some of the people involved. One of the coaches got in his car and drove off to Austria. There, he got drunk and ran through a police road block. What the...?!? Have they gone completely mad? Apparently so, because they put the guy in a mental institution. (I am not making this up...).

Posted @ 1:47 AM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (6)

Sunday, February 19, 2006
Mixed Emotions in Torino Today

Another day of Olympic competition, and another day of mixed emotions for Austrian fans. I am of course watching the games in the USA, and I am using TiVo to record and watch as much as possible. This gives me as good a coverage as I can expect here, but compared to what I am hoping for, things are a bit disappointing. For instance, in skiing, only the best 10 or so racers are shown, rather than the complete race, ruining all suspense since you immediately know that if they show a racer, he/she did well. What I find odd is that there seems to be a lot of time to show more, but instead of the race, they show little video clips about the private life of the competitors and such. For instance, they showed a clip about Austrian racer Beni Raich cutting down a tree so the wood he personally picked could be used to build his skis. While this might be mildly interesting, I do not care about it during a live event! Between this nonsense and the commercial breaks, no wonder there is no time left to show the actual competition!

But anyway: The first interesting thing today was the downhill part of the women's combined race. Marlies Schield was ahead after the slalom, but she is not a good downhiller. What is cool about her is that she is from my hometown in Austria. Now we also had a gold medalist from right here in Spring (Houston), Texas, and that is cool, but Houston is big. Saalfelden, the town I am from on the other hand, has less than 20,000 citizens, so it is quite something that we share our place of origin. The race itself was a little uneventful. I had high hopes for Nicole Hosp, but since the broadcast skipped her, things must have gone badly. Who knows what happened. Kathrin Zettel did also well in the slalom part. They showed her, but she ended up 4th. Dang. So close. Marlies did better, but she didn't win. Well, perhaps it wasn't entirely realistic to expect gold, and silver is pretty good too! I was disappointed nevertheless. It actually turns out that all 4 Austrian competitors ended up in the top 6, with places 2, 4, 5, and 6.... but only one medal... dang again! Makes me wonder even more why they only showed two Austrian racers...

Then it was time for men's Super-G. We had huge expectations here. Austrian media had called this event a "bank", meaning we expected 3 medals with a fair degree of certainty. As I watched the event though, I realized quickly that it wasn't going to happen, since they didn't even show any Austrians up to competitor #30. What happened?!? I have no idea. At least the "Herminator" came through and got the silver medal. It was actually very close, but Aamodt took the gold. Another gold medal lost for Austria. Austrian media says "the Herminator rescues us from looming disaster". Well, silver is not that bad, but on the other hand, we do not have enough chances to win medals this year to mess up both in downhill and Super-G, so I guess they have a point. 

At that point I started to be pretty disappointed with the day. There was one "major" event left for Austrian viewers: The 125k ski jump. We normally do well at ski jumping, but this year, things have only been going so-so. I did not expect any medals here. I still watched anyway. The showed Andreas Kofler, which I immediately took as good news. And indeed, he had a good jump. Up next: Thomas Morgenstern. I grew more confident. He went down the tower and took off well and.... the recording stopped, with Morgenstern hovering in mid-air! Argh! What happened? I am not sure. Perhaps the show went slightly longer than planned, but it seems that a lot was missing. In any event, the TiVo didn't record it. So I went to to see how it ended, and as it turns out we got first and second place! Yeah! That sure was an unexpected bonus. Congrats to Morgenstern (gold) and Kofler (silver). I just wished I could have seen it (and I promise that from now on I will be satisfied as long as things get recorded and I will not complain about the incompetent commentators anymore...)

So I guess the day was not so bad for Austria. Still, it could have been stellar. With just a bit more luck, at least 2 or 3 more medals were within reach, 2 of them possibly gold. Well, "would have, could have, should have". It didn't happen.

As far as my bet with Nick goes, I am still in good shape. Austria is still 4th. In fact, we made up some ground. Canada on the other hand has fallen back to 9th place. Bummer. I also noticed that the Canadian hockey team lost against Switzerland, which would have seemed a slam-dunk. Nick said he assumed the hockey teams would both win gold (men's and women's). They still may, but this probably wasn't a confidence builder... ;-)


Posted @ 1:11 AM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (43)

Friday, February 17, 2006
The Olympics: Things are getting serious!

After I posted my message this morning, Nick Landry has thrown down the gauntlet! He thinks in all honesty, that Canada will end up doing better in the overall medal count then Austria. Ha! Ridiculous! ;-) So I took him on on a bet for a nice dinner at the place of the winner's choice (most likely at some conference in Las Vegas).

BTW: I noticed that there seems to be some confusion about how the overall rankings work. It is NOT about the total medal count. After all, that would put a country with 5 bronze medals ahead of a country with 4 gold medals, which would make no sense when you really think about it. The way it really works is by first counting the number of gold medals, then within those, you use silver medals and then bronze medals as tiebreakers. So this is the ranking model we use for our bet.

For more info on medal rankings, check out the official web site for the games, and in particular, the medal rankings page.

BTW: For those who are interested, in 2002, Canada finished ahead of Austria. We only got 3 gold medals than. Yikes! (Here are the complete rankings for 2002). 1998 was disappointing too (that was when the Herminator got taken out so badly... probably the most famous ski crash every) and Canada was strong then as well. Really, one has to go back to 1992 to get to a result that lived up to expectations. We have never won the overall medal count, but we came in second twice and generally rank amongst the top 5 countries regularly.

Posted @ 5:38 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (34)

Friday, February 17, 2006
Finally, a few better days at the Olympics

When you are Austrian, the Winter Olympics are a rather exciting time. The first few days of the 2006 Winter Olympics however have been somewhat disappointing for us. We may be a small country (less than 8 million people), but we sure expect to play with the big boys when it comes to sports, especially in the winter. But so far, many of the events we are strong in have not gone our way, and in some of the other events where we generally expect to do well, we are not well positioned this year. Especially in things like speed skating, the lack of good competitors really hurts, because there are so many medals awarded here. If you have good speed skaters (short track and regular), you can collect more medals than most countries will collect total.

So among the disappointing events this year were things like ski jumping, luge, speed skating, cross-country skiing, biathlon, and more. Of course our biggest strength is in skiing. But even there, we have not been doing very well so far. In men's downhill, we got a silver medal for instance. Not so bad you say? Humbug! We expect at least 2 medals out of that, and one better be gold! ;-)  In fact, Walchhofer, the silver-medalist, was removed from the Super-G team after this "failure". Personally, I thought that was a bit of a touch call... but there are just so many other skiers that are good as well. In fact, since at the Olympics, only 4 competitors are allowed from each country, you might be the world's number 5 ranked athlete, but if you are from Austria, that is probably not enough to make it to the Olympics. In fact, you might be the world's 4th ranked athlete, but if there are some people coming up behind you that had a few good races just before the Olympics, even being #4 may not be enough!

But things have taken a turn for the better. In women's downhill, we took the gold. Another runner came in 4th I think. A bit of tough luck here, but we can live with that. In men's combined, Beni Raich was comfortably ahead, but then couldn't finish his final run. We still got 3rd place, but it is tough luck. An American won. Now I might live here, but when it comes to sports, I am a patriotic Austrian! After all, a little friendly rivalry is what creates the excitement and fun!

So now Austria is in 4th place of the medal rankings. I had hoped for a better position, but at least it isn't the disaster anymore that it was after the first few days. And after all, considering the population of Austria is less than the population of Houston, we do kick butt!


Posted @ 11:10 AM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (8)

Saturday, February 11, 2006
An Unusual Winter in Texas

I have not done much that is exciting in terms of traveling lately, although I have returned from Austria to Texas a few weeks ago. The trip back was uneventful, asides from parts of the flight being quite spectacular. We flew in over the very northeast tip of Canada on a cloudless day. The view was probably the most spectacular I have ever had from a plane. The coastline there is rather rugged, and the frozen Atlantic with patches of open water with floating ice bergs looked like something out of National Geographic. I wish I would have had a chance to take a picture, but most likely, snapping it through a blurry and half-frozen airplane window wouldn't have turned out all that well anyway.

Back in Texas, things have been pretty much just "nose to the grindstone". What is worth noting however is that the winter here has been somewhat unusual in that there really hasn't been a winter. We have had lots of days with cloudless blue skies and temperatures in the 70s and low 80s (about 20-30 Celsius). Two weeks ago I went jogging in shorts and a t-shirt, and I was actually hot! I like that. I even considered jumping in the (unheated) pool, but decided against it after sticking my toe in. Last weekend was just about perfect. We played tennis, and the temperature was just perfect.

Over the last few days, the temperature has gone down though and this morning it is actually in the 50s, but contrary to my expectation it is another cloudless day (yesterday was dreadful... rainy and windy). Maybe the lower temperature will help get me in the Winter-Olympics spirit...

Posted @ 10:47 AM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (19)








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