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Eyes on Vancouver
Winter Games invoke pride, memories
Olympics 3
Seen in this photo, Herbert Wiesinger competes in the European championship that earned him and his partner a spot in the 1972 Winter Olympics. - photo by Jennifer Sami
The 2010 Winter Olympics got under way Friday in Vancouver, Canada.

Over the next couple weeks, millions of people worldwide will tune in to watch cold-weather sporting events usually seen on television just once every four years.

For some Forsyth County area residents, however, the games hold more than just a passing interest.

Gregory Hall, for one, couldn’t be more excited for the Olympics, which are taking place in his home country.

Though the Toronto native has become a naturalized American citizen living in Forsyth, there is a sense of pride in his “heritage associated with winter sports.”

“I think, in particular as a Canadian, we’ll be very, very focused on how we do at hockey,” he said.

Hall said he’s torn between cheering for the United States
and Canada.

“I’ll be rooting for both, and I think Canadians are like that too,” he said. “We are very supportive of the Americans. We’re happy to
be neighbors.

“When it comes down to the wire between Canadians and Americans, that will be tough.”

As a former player, Hall said hockey is his favorite sport, followed by downhill skiing.

He lettered in hockey in high school, and while he doesn’t play anymore, “it’s really fun to watch and remember when you played it yourself ... it’s in your blood.”

Hall says his least favorite event is cross-country skiing.

“God bless those guys, but that’s just something I haven’t picked up,” he said. “It’s funny I say that because I love downhill, but cross country is a little slow.”

With the exception of Friday’s opening ceremony, there’s at least one hockey game being played every day during the Olympics, which conclude Feb. 28.

Young skater looks to 2014

Watching the Olympics, Alexander Aiken can’t help but remember the 1998 Winter Games, when he first discovered figure skating.

“I had a lot of energy when I was little ... so my mom waited some time to see if I really wanted to do it,” he said.

“When I started standing on my head on the stairs, she said it was time for me to find something to do, and skating it was.”

A dozen years later, Aiken has his sights set on the Olympics, but not until 2014.

For now, he’ll watch the men’s figure skating and study what could be his future competition.

“I watch it and enjoy it, and then I go back and watch it again and pick things apart and see what could possibly help me,” he said. “It’s a tight race for the medal, so it will be very interesting.”

Aiken will be watching from his Forsyth home, skating 15 hours a week and doing four hours of cardio workouts and weight training. He said his strength is jumping.

“I’ve never held back on those,” he said. “I love my triple lutz.”

Aiken is in the process of making the switch from junior to senior level competitions, which is how skaters qualify for the Olympics.

In the next few weeks, he will make the final move toward the senior level by training under 1992 Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie in Charlotte, N.C.

Coach forged memories on ice
Every four years, Herbert Wiesinger watches figure skating and is taken back to 1968 in Grenoble, France. It was his first Olympic Games.

Four years later, he and partner Almut Lehmann placed fifth in pairs figure skating at Sapporo, Japan.

Wiesinger represented West Germany when he competed. Now, the Roswell resident just watches to enjoy the sport.

“I’m not rooting for the Germans or rooting for somebody to beat them ... I just like good skating,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter where it comes from.

“This year, the Chinese pair that won the last Olympics and had actually retired are coming back … when they competed, they had a strength and a warmth that was really exceptional.”

Wiesinger is a coach at The Cooler ice rink in Alpharetta, which draws many skaters from Forsyth County.

Looking back, Wiesinger said he wouldn’t trade his job for anything. But 15 years ago, he nearly moved across the country.

“[1992 gold medal winner] Kristi Yamaguchi’s coach … was looking for somebody to teach with her in the Oakland area,” he said.

“But when I went out there I realized it was the time of the real estate boom in that area, so I could maybe rent a garage, but I couldn’t really live there and teach there, so I ended up staying here.”

When he first stopped competing, Wiesinger said he missed the thrill. As a coach, that feeling is still there. The pressure, however, is solely on the competitors.

“You can just stand there as a coach now, and there’s nothing you can do,” he said.

But for a skater in the moment, “if that first jump or that first lift is shaky, you suddenly become even more aware that ‘this is it,’ that the next free skate you get is four years later if you’re still around or if you make the team. And that’s a lot of pressure for those athletes.

“Now I can just watch the Olympics and really enjoy it.”