By all rights, the cross-country skiing events should be numbingly boring on television. Racing on skis for 20 miles does not seem made for gripping action. But I tend to find it oddly compelling, and this year has been no exception. The Men's Skiathlon (which combines different cross-country styles) came down to a dash to the finish, and the winner taking the gold -- after 30,000 meters skiing in the cold -- by .4 of a second. In fact, the top four finishers were just 1.5 seconds apart. In fact -- the fourth place Russian skier fell out of the medals by a mere .1 second. I'd think that if you skiied for 20 miles and missed a medal by .1 of a second, you'd be really pissed off. (Not to mention exhuasted.) Indeed, the Russian federation was pissed off, and protested that their skier was impeded, but it was disallowed.
The color analyst for cross-country events (including the above and biathlon -- and yes, I watch biathlon) is some guy named Chad Salmela. And he's nuts. I believe the expression is "screaming like a little girl." The difference between what he does and the fanboy announcer for the freestyle skiing/snowboarding events is that the latter comes across like he's just cheering for his buddies, who can do no wrong. Chad criticizes and maniacally agonizes over mistakes ("Oh, my God, no!!! He just stumbled!!!!") and seems to eat-breath-and-adore every little detail about cross-country. But still, while admiring his love of sport, it's too much. During one frenetic, mad cry of an exciting rush that was setting up a rivalry race this coming Wednesday, his partner wondered out loud, "The question, Chad, is if you will make it to Wednesday."
I was surfing channels to see what might be on the NBC Family of Networks, and came across the Today show when they were preparing to interview skier Lindsay Vonn. Matt Lauer asked her what she thought about the women's competition that day and mentioned the results. To her great credit she answered, "Well, I haven't actually seen it yet, Matt, because it won't be show on NBC until primetime tonight" (though she did acknowledge having followed the result, so she -- unlike most people -- was at least aware of it). But seriously, Matt, you gave the results without warning the audience that you were going to do so. Even on other networks they do that -- and you're on freaking NBC. Everything on your show, which you're doing in Russia, is about broadcasting the Olympics!
Yes, I watch curling. And no, I don't understand the rules. Clearly, though, it's along the lines of darts meets shuffleboard. And yes, it's pretty boring, but there's something charming and whimsical about it, which is refreshing compared to the high velocity, circus flips and flamboyant boas of the other sports. Plus, as a kid they actually had curling on TV in Chicago. Besides, as I said, I like watching because it gives me hope that one day I could still make the Olympics. My favorite line was when then announcer commented how the American women hoped to improve on their last-place finish of four years ago. The good news, I thought to myself, was that there was no way they could do worse.
I'll make an exception about giving results for women's hockey, because they're not covered later on NBC primetime -- and the game was shown already on NBC Sports channel, so I'm not really giving anything away. As I said, this is one of my favorite events, and the U.S. women's team crushed the Swiss team 9-0. In doing so, the game was over around halfway through the first period, when the U.S. set a record for the three fastest goals in Olympic history -- scoring three times in just 55 seconds! The best quote came from Swiss forward Jessica Lutz --"They got five goals early on, but after that we stuck with it. They didn’t have goals for a while. That’s success for us.” (One would think that with a name like Lutz and being on skates, she'd have been perfect for figure skating.) For all that, my favorite moment was when Monique Lameroux scored the U.S. team's first goal...on a very nice assist from -- Jocelyne Lamoureux, her twin sister! I'm telling you, U.S. women's hockey is great. The big game though is coming up with their top rival, defending Olympic champ Canada on Wednesday. It starts at 4 AM, Los Angeles time. No doubt you will be watching...