One of the things I love about the coverage of speed skating is that on the final stretch, they superimpose a line across each skater to show where they are in relation to the leader. If they're behind, then the line is ahead of them -- but if they're ahead of the pace, it's behind them. And always shifting. Great use of technology.
It's been interesting noticing how many nations have flag that are red, white and blue. Not just the United States, and France, of course, but the Netherlands and even Russia.
Today was the first-ever women's ski jumping. It was great to watch, though again -- like the men -- it was held at night, so you don't get the great vistas to watch as they soar across the mountains. American favorite 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson unfortunately blew out her ACL a few months ago. Most didn't think she'd even be able to compete, but there she is, zooming down the incline. Gutsy. Even though she isn't a favorite now, though, she's happily featured in another of my favorite TV commercials. You've probably seen it. The narration by Amelia Earhardt is a combination of touching and eerie -- but it's when this young teenager goes soaring across the sky that I just melt. How great and awe-inspiring.
Watching the pairs short program, all I could think was thank goodness for the DVR, since this began at 7 AM Los Angeles time on the NBC Sports channel. I'm sure they won't show the whole thing during primetime, since there are three groups and it lasts almost 2-1/2 hours. A few things stood out: a German married couple, the Wendes, have a slip on one of the utterly easiest moves. But what's a joy is to see their reaction at the end. The guy is thoroughly mortified, but rather than try to hide it (as so many skaters do) or snarl (as more do), he owns up to it and clearly acknowledges to the crowd and his partner/wife how much an idiot he feels -- and his wife, rather than being upset with him, is as loving and forgiving as one could wish for in a athletic partner and spouse. And this continues through to the area they wait for scores. (I hope this makes the primetime coverage). Also, the first skaters in the second group are the Russian #2 team. They're great -- and you think, "Geez, these are are only the second best team??" It's so clear how much better the skaters in the last two groups are (it's ordered by international ranking). And the top two contenders -- the favorite #1 Russian and German teams are tremendous. And this is just the short program, not the free skate, when they go all out. Look for the Germans having surprising fun with music from The Pink Panther.
And the biggest shame in all this that most of the viewing public won't get to see the NBC Sports commentary team instead of NBC's primetime coverage. I mentioned before what a solid job Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir did during the team events, despite being new to the job -- and they're getting even better. Today, they were especially informative, conversational, insightful and funny during the skates. (And they have a great rapport with anchor Terry Gannon, too, who also seems to have a grasp on the sport, something that tends not to be the case with the personable host Tom Hammond on primetime. It may help that Gannon is a former athlete -- having played basketball on North Carolina State's NCAA championship team -- but they all simply work well together.)
The details they add are impressive. When the male half of one team simply falls seconds in their skate, Weir points out how the guy had been a former roller skating champion -- some analysts might have left it there, but he goes on to explain how the two disciplines are far more different than people think, noting that with roller skates you can only slip forward and back, but on ice you can slip in any direction. But his best line came during this same performance after Lipinski notes how much she likes that pairs is the only discipline where there are throws, something she finds so exciting. Anchor Gannon then comments -- as the male skater lifts his partner high over his head with one arm -- how it can also be terrifying with moves that that. To which Weir smartly adds, "Especially when your partner has just fallen all on his own." (That cracked Lipinski up.) Later, during another pair's lift, she directed the viewer to watch the man, "even I though I know people usually watch the women" and pointed out his impressive footwork. There was also a great discussion during one of the skates about what the male skater was doing to "drive" or push the team, and what the female skater was adding.
Here are two specific examples of how good they were: during the British pairs, Weir said of the woman immediately before a jump, "She doesn't get much height," and a second later you saw exactly what he was talking about. ("See?!" he added.) And Lipinksi observed right before a throw, "They're not going into this with much speed" -- and sure enough, she was right: they weren't fast enough and fell. It was all just very good commentary, supportive and critical, adding to the experience, so that you had a sense of what was going on, and why, and far exceeds the few primetime comments during skates by Scott Hamilton and near-total silence (with an occasional "Oh, lovely") by Sandra Bezik. And it was all tied together so well by daytime anchor Terry Gannon. I must note, too, how they both are now feeling comfortable enough to dress to their personalities -- Lipinkski in a light pink jacket and a big floral tiara, and Weir dressed like -- well, Johnny Weir. It was never something I cared much for on the ice, where I thought his overt flamboyance detracted from the actual skating, but here there was something refreshing about being himself in a TV environment where that's uncommon, wearing spangles and the brightest pink jacket you may ever have seen on an announcer. And to Gannon's credit, he humorously addressed both their attires. One quibble: when it came to the Russian favorites, Volosozhar and Tiankov, the announcers were all silent throughout. I assume they just wanted to watch in awe, but still the job is to comment. But it's one hiccup in an otherwise terrific job. If you want to see them do the commentary for the free style finals tomorrow (Wednesday) -- set your DVR for NBC Sports at 7:45 AM, Los Angeles time.
And before that is the big U.S.-Canada women's hockey rivalry. It starts at 4 AM, Los Angeles time. No, I won't be watching live. But the DVR is already set.