As I've mentioned, I'm not a fan of the "freestyle" skiing events, though I can occasionally watch the moguls and halfpipe for a limited amount of time. So, I checked out some of the runs last night of the halfpipe competition, particularly because Shaun White was going for his fourth Gold Medal -- particularly notable for having been shut out of medals four years ago, after having won twice before. And the event couldn't have been a great deal more dramatic as it went down to White having the last run, while sitting in second place. Very exciting to see him go flying and turn in a great run to win.
A bit after the race, NBC cut back to the venue where one of their reporters conducted an interview with White. I don't recall her name, but it was a very bad decision on her part to conclude things by giving White a hug and a kiss. Was it personal? Sure. But it was far-more unprofessional. It wasn't like this was just such a emotionally dramatic moment and kissing him was the most-natural reaction. It was probably 20-30 minutes after the event, it was a basic interview. You don't hug and kiss the athlete. I expect the reporters I watch to carry more objectivity than that.
I didn't know at the time any of the stories about a lawsuit against him about sexual harassment from his days having a band. And that just makes the unprofessionalism of the kiss all the more pointed. Perhaps worse, Savannah Guthrie's smiley, nurturing, apologetic interview with him on the Today show to discuss his dismissal of charges against him as "gossip" was an embarrassment. "It's difficult, I take no pleasure in asking it" -- "Do you want to clear the air?" -- "Do you feel you learned something from that?" is not worthy of a professional either. And his answer, "I'm proud of who am I today" is not a response you let someone off the hook for, since at issue is not who you are today but what you did several years ago.
(Side note: at an Olympic press conference, an IOC official cut off questions to Shaun White saying that there should only be questions about the athletic competition. As Tony Kornheiser rightly said today on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, when you're the Olympic Committee and you have the recent ghastly sexual abuse conviction of Larry Nasser, the USOC's Olympic gymnastic doctor, you don't cut off the questions.)
As for the competition, there was a terrific U.S. men's hockey game this morning. Professionals are no longer allowed to play, and the young U.S. did did very well for much of the game, taking a 2-0 lead against Slovenia. Unfortunately, they couldn't hold on and gave up a tying goal with only 1:37 left, and then lost in sudden death.
By the way, I'm always impressed with hockey announcers who are not only calling a fast-paced game, but also one where players change on the fly every two minutes or so. But it's all the more notable during the Olympics. First, these aren't players an announcer has had years getting used to, but athletes they've seen before. And second, they're dealing with names that are often as difficult to read as pronounce -- especially when you have a team like Slovenia. "Deposovitch passes the puck to Srbolic, over to Ralnimanikov who loses it but the puck is picked up by Krosellj." (For the record, that's pronounced "cro-shell." The "j" is silent...)
And coming up -- tonight, in fact, is a huge rivalry game, the U.S. women against Canada. It's not something that will impact medals, it's just a preliminary round match, and both teams are expected to move on, but it should be a terrific contest.
I meant to mention this the other day, but during one of the morning broadcasts on NBCsports, they had an interview with Pita Taufatopua. Who's he, you ask? Oh, you know he. He's the Tongan athlete who carries in their flag bare-chested and covered in oil. I chided that in my notes about the Opening Ceremonies, but I must say that it came as an absolute pleasure to listen to his interview. He's a bright, thoughtful and interesting guy, not the preening poppinjay he comes across with the flag. And it was fascinating to hear him talk about training for a winter sport, other than his expertise in tae kwan do for the Summer Olympics, because he likes being challenged. And his tale of training in the sand for cross-country skiing -- since there isn't snow in Tonga -- was a joy. Just another reason for it being worthwhile watching the NBCsports channel in the morning...
Speaking of reporters, I was disappointed by Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir last night, covering the men's short program in figure skating. Their analysis and conversation with anchor Terry Gannon was fine. But one of the things that separated them from their predecessors has been that they're willing to analyze during a skate and talk about what's going on, good and bad. But they were pretty silent most of the time last night during the skates. They weren't that way for the team competition, so I don't know what changed here. I hope it was a hiccup and things go back to otherwise. From the opening of tonight's pair's freeskate coverage over on NBCsports (which will be show later on NBC in edited form), happily they're doing a better job commenting during the stake.
Actually, this is as good a time as any to take a look at some of the other reporters during the broadcasts.
There are a number of in-studio hosts, starting with Mike Tirico as the anchor of the Games. He's a terrific play-by-play announcer, and I think that's his strength. But he's done well, and gotten better in what's his first Olympics in this position. It's hard not to compare him with his predecessor Bob Costas -- and going back further when the broadcasts were on ABC, Jim McKay -- though that's a bit unfair because he's new in the Olympics anchor chair (though he's been an in-studio host, so he's hardly a neophyte). And those other two are the gold standard. But he's a solid successor. His interviews have been good, and he knows his sports. If he has an area that's lacking , it's the sense of history that Costas and McKay brought to the chair, which always added great perspective and richness. Whether he'll grow into that, or if his style is just different, time will tell.
I mentioned Liam McHugh who is very good on NBCsports, extremely efficient, just a bit dry, but you always feel he has things in good control. And I think Carolyn Menno has been good there, as well. I am very much underwhelmed, though, with Rebecca Lowe, who was hosting on the NBC mothership over the weekend. Quite thin, and a bit empty for my taste.
Among the best pair has been Tom Holland and Joey Cheek who cover all the speed skating events. They have a very good rapport, and bring a good mix of straight-forward play-by-play, and informative commentary. Also very good have been Dan Hicks and Bode Miller with skiing. (And earlier draft referred to Al Trautwig being the anchor announcer, but that was wrong. I'd heard his name mentioned, but that turns out to have been in reference does cross-country.) I'm a bit surprised by Miller doing so well, since was a pretty dry interview when competing. But they work well together. Miller doesn't bring a great deal of personal detail to his analysis, but he makes up for it with a rich, deep well of skiing commentary.
I well-remember analyst Chris Salmala from the Winter Games four years ago, and it would be hard not to. He clearly loves his sport of cross-country skiing. And enthusiasm is important for a sport that risks being overwhelmingly boring. And to his credit, he lifts the sport from that and makes it fun to watch. But...whenever things even start to heat up at any point in the race -- and that could even be 300 meters into a 1,500 meter race, but always the last third -- HE GETS SO FREAKING EXCITED LIKE THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU WILL EVER-EVER-EVER SEE IN YOUR LIFE!!!!! And honestly, it's a wee bit much...
To Salmala's credit, his enthusiasm is because he so-dearly loves the sport, not because he's a cheerleader like some of the other way-overly-enthusiastic analysts on some of the freestyle skiing events or "lesser" sports, and appear to be best-friends with all the Americans. That kind of enthusiasm drives me nuts.
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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