Coverage Picks and Pans

February 24, 2002

Spasibo to the geniuses who realized that cross country is much more compelling when it is athletes racing each other and not the clock. The thrilling finishes in many events would have been missed if they were still staggering starts.

Thank you to whoever invented the scoring illustration for the shooting range in biathalon. With multiple shooters at the stations, it was exciting (I’m writing about BIATHALON) to see who was going to be going all out and who was going to be taking a side trip to the penalty loop. (And isn’t that a great idea? How about a penalty loop for every announcer who can’t learn to pronounce Sikharulidze after a full week of controversy?)

Grazie to the virus that silenced Don Chevrier in the middle of the curling tourney. Chevrier and Don Duguid may be the best curling announcers in the business. (Hmm, in that Home Depot ad, Don Barcome is a curling expert. Is everyone connected with curling named Don?) But when you are broadcasting to a neophyte audience, at least a little guidance is welcome. The two Don’s commentary might as well have been in Chinese. When Bob Pappa was brought in as a replacement for the ailing Chevrier, he asked Dugie the questions I’d been asking the whole first week. Now I understand the scoring and I’m hooked. I even enjoyed the healthy Chevrier when he returned for the medal round.

Merci to NBC for showing some medal ceremonies that didn’t involve U.S. athletes. This may have been a function of the attractive and always rocking medals plaza. But it was still great to see folks not in red, white, and blue in their moment of glory.

Thank you Sandra Bezic and Tracy Wilson for overcoming the early hysteria in pairs and providing solid objective commentary on the subjective mens’ and ladies’ figure skating and ice dance competitions. This is the first competition I can remember for which the commentators concentrated on each of the elements in the short programs and clearly and simply explained what was right or wrong with each skater’s performance. Now if someone could convince Scott Hamilton to stop yelling. Figure skating does not require screaming from the announcers and surely the viewers don’t need to hear a man who isn’t skating grunt through the elements as if he’s personally providing the muscle power.

Apparently I’m segueing to the gripes, so here goes.

Siberian exile is too good for those athletes who still are more interested in the result than the journey. If you can’t win without cheating, don’t show up. Whether you take beta blockers to steady your rifle arm, steroids to build those pushing muscles on the luge run, blood doping for stamina, or stimulants to get you going, if you can’t play clean, don’t show up at the party. Jacques Rogge has it right when he says that if you don’t compete fairly you may win, but you will never be a champion. (Let’s be real. I may have suspected that Johan Muhlegg wasn’t running on normal fuel when he popped up with medal winning performances. There’s a reason this guy wasn’t wanted by Germany, after all. But when I see Larisa Lezutina lose medal number 10 for blood doping, I have to wonder if one through nine were legitimate. It destroys her entire remarkable legacy.)

A week-long, round the clock Jerry Lewis movie marathon to the proponents of short track speed skating who got it included as an Olympic event. It would be exciting if you could tell the winners and losers. But when no race is won by the swift, it might as well be one of those blasted judged sports. If you can’t have a majority of the races with folks playing fair, then stay on the county fair circuit.

Go back to your caves, folks who wish it was still truly amateur. Since it hasn’t been truly amateur since nations began using their military to house, feed, cloth, and train, this is a particularly annoying complaint. And it ignores the fact that without the constant worrying about whether a particular athlete is or isn’t professional, we at least have eliminated one of the main sources of whining. Now if we could get rid of performance enhancing drugs and subjectively judged sports, the only whining left would be the sore losers. We’ll have to put up with them, though. Sore losers are like the poor. They’re always with us.


I’m an Olympiac

February 24, 2002

I’m an Olympiac. From the usually dreadfully bizarre and overproduced opening ceremonies to the tear-filled elated medal ceremonies to the maudlin closing ceremonies and through every objective, subjective, competitive, clear-cut, mystery-cloaked competition in between.

And except for the Barcelona summer games, when I was home with the flu for a full week of Olympic Triple Cast, these Salt Lake games may be my all-time favorite.

Why? Check out the things that make the Olympics, summer or winter, among the most entertaining two weeks in any (thank goodness now it’s every other) year.

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February 10, 2002

When I heard that the IOC wouldn’t let the U.S. delegation carry the World Trade Center flag in the athlete’s parade, I agreed. It didn’t seem right to carry that symbol of tragedy and community to be used as some sort of good luck totem for a team of athletes who’d be hamming it up for the cameras and videotaping each other and the crowd.

But when the compromise was reached to carry in the flag for the flag raising to open the opening ceremony, I was hopeful that the proper sense of respect would be possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Opening Act Will be Hard to Follow

February 9, 2002

Usually at least once in each opening ceremony I find myself saying, “Who thought this was going to be interesting/entertaining?” or, “Who doesn’t think this is the most embarrassing moment of that person/performer/official’s life?” So I can’t be blamed for looking forward to this opening ceremony with a certain amount of trepidation. I remember the hundreds of white pianos and men in white tuxes playing them in LA. I remember the giant toothpaste blob Whatisit, the ill-conceived mascot from Atlanta.

Add to history the constant nattering about potential jingoism and supposedly inappropriate attention to 9/11 and I wasn’t exactly eagerly anticipating the opening ceremonies of the winter Olympics XIX.

My first concern was how they were going to handle the World Trade Center U.S. flag. The compromise was appropriate. I didn’t think the U.S. flag bearer should be carrying it in front of  the delegation. Not solemn. Not honor. Using a symbol of tragedy as some kind of good luck charm. No, the compromise worked for me. I just wasn’t sure how the flag would be presented. When it was brought out in silence, with respect and solemnity accompanied by a simple announcement, I was moved, as I will never stop being moved, by my memories of that day. It wasn’t maudlin, it wasn’t manipulative, it was simply the right thing to do.

What followed was just the best Olympic ceremony I can remember seeing. I loved the part ice, part solid ground, assymetrical surface for the action. And the choreography used the different surfaces and levels to create uniquely flowing movement that far outstripped the interest of the many dances that have shown up in preceding events.

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