Four years ago, before the Vancouver Olympics, Universal Sports Network (which was partially owned by NBC) ran a documentary about women's hockey, called Blood, Sweat and Cookies. I saw a promotion for it and decided to watch. (Hey, I told you I love the Olympics and will watch most anything about them. But more than that, Olympic Women's Hockey is one of my favorite Olympic events. Honest.)
The documentary was spectacular. It was a combination of Walter Mitty and George Plimpton, though more than that. An NBC News producer, Clare Duffy, had taken up women's hockey in somewhat recent years -- she admittedly wasn't great at it, but dearly loved the sport. So, she got permission to train with the women competing to try and make the Olympic team, going through the same incredibly rigorous regimen (and barely surviving), while delving into the backgrounds of some of the players and the camaraderie among the women (which was stunning) and the entire process of creating the team.
The documentary was so tremendous that I wrote a glowing love letter about it for the Huffington Post. As a result of that, I got a lovely thank you note from Clare -- who had struggled almost as much to get the project approved and on the air -- and we've stayed in touch since. In fact, she wrote me today from Sochi that she's now there and preparing for this year's coverage.
If Universal Sports (or now the newish NBC Sports Network) has good common sense, they'll re-run Blood, Sweat and Cookies. It can supposedly be found here online, but I haven't been able to access it.
The title, by the way, comes from a sequence when the team gets one day off from their seriously relentless training (at one point, they run up Pike's Peak. Honest. Even Clare Duffy, though not shockingly she comes in far last. But she makes it) to go to the Minnesota State Fair. It's mainly to promote the team, signing autographs and such, but they're allowed some free time to roam the grounds on their own. And one of the players, Karen Thatcher, from the very first day of training camp, has had one goal in mind -- almost as much as making the team -- which she knows about because she's been there before. It's the booth that makes hot, fresh cookies -- and she wants to not only make it to the booth, but buy a full, freaking bucket. The sequence is (for me) the highlight of the documentary. The sheer, utter joy on the face of this terrific Olympian when she tracks down her mountain of cookies makes these women athletes come alive more than almost anything I've seen on athletics.
Tell me that that picture alone isn't a joy. (I pulled the frame from the video.)
The documentary might be hard to find, if not near impossible (happily I have a copy that Clare sent to me). But there's a slight legacy that continues --
Proctor & Gamble is currently running an ad with a female hockey player. You may have seen it -- she shoots a puck in the house, much to her mother's dismay, and knocks over a roll of Bounty paper towels. That woman athlete is Julie Chu...who you might remember from that picture at the top of this article, She's on this 2014 hockey team, as well. And better than that brief ad, P&G has a series of featurettes on Olympic athletes, "Raising an Olympian," including one on Julie Chu, which is wonderful. It's not Blood, Sweat and Cookies, and just 3-1/2 minutes, but it'll have to do -- and packs a lot into that short time. In fact, it will give you a sense of some of the passion that went into Clare Duffy's documentary.
And now you'll have a new sport and athlete to watch and cheer for this year...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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