It's here! The wait is over! Let the Olympic Games begin!
And so welcome once more to the start of Bob Sledding. Though the official Opening Ceremonies start tonight, the competition actually began yesterday, and there were two broadcasts on the Many Networks of NBC. As I've noted in the past, I vegetate in front of the television during the Olympics, early morning through late night -- yes, even for the Winter Olympics. One of the advantages, I know, of being a freelancer who works at home. Hallelujah! It is rare for someone to get an appointment from me during this time, or to get together for lunch during the Games. It is known to happen, but instead, I revel among the Many Networks of NBC, with remote control in hand. Thank goodness for being able to watch games on my computer when work is absolutely too often rudely necessary. But then, that's also why God created the notebook computer...
The mothership of the Many Neworks of NBC is, of course, NBC itself, which started with the odd "team figure skating," a relatively new event, made all the more odd by American Nathan Chen falling several times, something very unexpected since he's the favorite in the Men's Individual event later in the Games. The network also aired a bit of "freestyle skiing," a forced name to make what used to be called "hot dog skiing" sound more sophisticated and not stupid, (Speaking but personally, I find most of the X-Games events stupid as Olympic Sports. Yes, they['re skilled, and yes, they're very popular, but that doesn't make them any less idiotic to me as an Olympic sport. I can somewhat enjoy watching a few of them, like the Half-Pipe, but they're still "forced" sports, more like really impressive circus events -- for instance, skiing downhill and then suddenly having to flail your arms and legs in the middle of it, and then do a somersault in the air, for no apparent reason. It all begs the thought that if you're going to have X-Games activities in the Winter, then hey, should skateboarding in the Summer Olympics be next...?! For the moment at least, the Summer Games have a long waiting list of sports waiting to get in.
Not shockingly, the coverage last night was mostly figure skating, one of the crown jewels of Winter Olympics coverage. As I've noted in the past, I've liked the broadcast team of Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir ever since they had their tryout on the lowly NBCsports channel a few years back. Notably because Lipinski and Weir have no problem analyzing during a skate -- like normal sports analysts do, during a competition -- to explain technically what's going on and why, as its going on, rather than NBC's previous figure skating analysts who would basically be silent, punctured only occasionally by an "Oh, my...", "Wow!" or "Beautiful." And I think anchor Gannon does a very solid job -- something tough for most figure skating hosts over the years, since like most normal humans can't tell you why one Triple Axel is better than another, or how it differs from a Flying Camel. (Years ago, ABC's figure skating anchor Chris Schenkel was largely limited to saying, "Two minutes left" once a skate began.) But Gannon is very good at focusing his two analyst partners, who sometimes risk going off the rails a bit, and asks insightful questions while adding important overall information on the general competition. My only quibble is Weir's penchant to draw attention to himself on camera, detracting a bit from the actual event, which is the reason everyone is there, but NBC knew when they hired him that they weren't only getting Johnny Weir but his wardrobe, too. So, that's life, as long as it's kept in perspective. And lately NBC has been doing that reasonably well, letting the two analysts do occasional featurettes, to air as separate pieces. So, we'll see how it all goes...
Over on the NBCsports channel, they began their coverage with practice runs of downhill skiing, which was enjoyable to see, though ultimately it was just practice. (At one point, the analyst laughed when he said that during these practice runs its not necessary to go through the gates, "But he just missed the gate by 25 yards!". And then they moved into one of my favorite events (more on why it's a fave in a moment), the beloved curling. NBCsports is probably the most-hidden of the various channels covering the games, but it's a particularly valuable one to know about. It tends to cover in the morning -- in full -- events that either only get shown on NBC in primetime in heavily-edited form, so you get to see more competitors on NBCsports than just the Americans and their top rival. Or you see events here that likely won't get covered in primetme NBC at all. Like, not shockingly, curling.
I like curling for two reasons. One is that it hearkens back to growing up in Chicago, which not only was one of the few communities in the U.S. where curling was bizarrely played, but all those many years ago they actually, really, truly covered matches on TV. (My recollection is that it was WGN who put on matches. And no, it hasn't been on TV there in a very long time...) My dad always said that curling existed for only one reason -- and that's to give men a reason to leave the house in the winter and sit around drinking beer. "I'm going out to curling, honey, we have a big match a 2 PM..." But the other reason I love curling is that it's one of two Olympic sports -- winter or summer -- that allow me to keep my Olympic Dreams alive, knowing that if for some reason the phone rang and I was told to hop on a plane because the Olympic team needed me to compete tomorrow, I could. I'd be terrible, and the team wouldn't win, make no mistake. But if tomorrow, if in just a few hours I had to be thrown into Olympic competition with no practice and little understanding of the sport, I would be able to compete in Olympic curling. I would be able to slide a big stone across the ice, and I would also be able to pick up a broom and sweep the ice. Curling allows me realistically dream that I could still, one day, be an Olympian.
The other event that gives me that continued dream is the eponymous four-man bobsledding. Though readers of these pages may recall the reason why -- I too would be able, with no time to practice, to help push a bobsled with three other people for 15 feet and then get inside and sit for 90 seconds -- I'll delve into more when the event begins. But together, these two events are at least a part of why I love the Winter Olympics almost as much as the Summer Games, even though they're less popular among most Americans.
For what it's worth, NBCsports carried two curling matches. The first was what I referred to as Nor-Kor -- which after all was how it was listed on the screen -- Norway versus South Korea. But it was the later match that I watched more closely, the United States against South Korea. The U.S. got pummeled, 9-1. And no, I don't understand the point system or the rules, other than the main thing you're trying to do (among other convolutions) is get the stone in the center.
By the way, watching curling made me wonder when they will get shuffleboard in the Summer Olympics, because that's extremely close to what curling is, except on ice. Or horseshoes, which when you think of it (and I know few people other than me do) is similar, as well. And no, that's not likely to happen, since a big reason they probably have curling is that the Winter Games have a need of more events than in the Summer, which is overflowing with them (one big reason, as I said, for the Winter Olympics to have added the silly X-Games events. Admittedly a big reason for this too is that, being popular among a younger audience, it brings in those viewers and a highly-valuable demographic for advertisers. So, the two reasons fit nicely together.)
But for now, we have the Opening Ceremonies tonight. I'd say, "Let the Games begin!!!" -- except they already have...
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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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