Monday, February 22, 2010

Mid-term Report Card

We're a little more than halfway through these 2010 Olympics, so I thought it would be a good time to hand out the midterm grades.

Obviously its a huge undertaking putting on an Olympics, and things are going to go wrong. Well, they have. The transportation system has generally worked well, but early in the games there were reports of long waits for buses in the rain. After selling Grandstand admission tickets to the moguls competition, organizers decided not to honor them--they did give refunds--ostensibly because of safety concerns, but probably, according to those who were there, because of inadequate infrastructure at the mountain.  The food kiosks, bathrooms, and footpaths were so crowded that those with seated tickets complained.  So they cancelled Grandstand seating, disappointing thousands.
     Then there is the continuing saga of the hideous fencing around the Olympic flame, which I wrote about earlier.  Organizers have now removed the lower four feet of the cyclone fence and replaced it with custom-made Plexiglas. (This has been an expensive mistake.)  Better for pictures, no question.  But still an ugly fence around the flame.
        Early on, the ice resurfacing machines at the speed skating oval broke down, delaying the competition and requiring two zambonis to be driven to Vancouver from Calgary as replacements.  Now some of the speedskaters are complaining the the surface of the brand new oval is "sticky."
     And there have been injuries which could have been prevented, to both spectators and athletes.  A dozen or so outdoor concertgoers were taken to the hospital when a barrier in front of a stage collapsed. Cross country skier Petra Majdic of Slovenia was badly hurt during a training room when she overshot an icy, 180 degree turn and fell ten feet into an unprotected rock-filled gully.  And most tragically, of course, was the luge competitor from Georgia who was killed during a training run, a death that might have been prevented had the walls of the dangerous turn been higher and the steel column he crashed into been padded.
    All in all, it's a list of problems a little bit longer and more serious than one usually encounters at an Olympics, and quite a bit longer than the most recent Games in Beijing, where everything worked and everyone behaved. That said, people are having a lot more fun here, and the organizers, in every instance, have made adjustments after the fact to help rectify the problems. They have been feeling the heat.

I can't remember an Olympics when I wouldn't have awarded the competition an A. The athletes are beyond comparison when it comes to dedication, humility, courage, and desire. Watching the cross country skiers and biathletes collapse as they cross the finish line, paralyzed with exhaustion, never gets old. (I'm guessing NBC almost never shows those sports, since Americans never win them. It's too bad. One of many, many problems I have with NBC's coverage.)  No better example than that of the aforementioned Slovenian cross country star, Ms. Jajdic.  Having suffered four broken ribs and a collapsed lung from her fall into the rocks while training, she came back and won the bonze medal in the individual classic sprint.  She was in such pain afterward she had to be helped onto the podium during the medal ceremony, unable to climb up the step without assistance.
       Led by the amazing  U.S. alpine team (2 golds, 2 silver, 3 bronze), which has six more alpine medals to date than any other country, the U.S. has been the surprise team of these Olympics.  As of Sunday night Americans had accumulated 24 medals (7 gold, 7 silver, 10 bronze), eight more than second place Germany.  So far, they have done so with unusual grace and civility--Bode Miller (above) has been a paragon of good behavior, and Lindsay Vonn (below) has been...has been...let's just call her a great ambassador for America.
       The next most surprising team?  The South Korean speedskaters, both short track and long.  They have collected a total of four golds, four silver, and one bronze, easily the most of any country in speedskating, which was once ruled by the Dutch and the Germans.  South Korea will probably add one more gold in women's figure skating, where the favorite is Yuna Kim.
     The most disappointed countries in terms of performance? Certainly the host country, Canada, which is tied with South Korea for 4th overall with just 9 medals.  That wouldn't be so bad except Canadian sports officials had made a huge campaign promising the country they would "own the podium", stating repeatedly that their goal was to win more medals than any other country.  They also pushed the bounds of sportsmanship by severely restricting access by other countries to Vancouver's facilities for training--a policy that, critics say, contributed to the death of the Georgian luger.  Certainly, there are more medals coming their way.  Ice dancing looks like s good bet for gold tonight.  Hockey and curling remain to be determined, though Canada's men's hockey team has disappointed to date.  Still, officials have conceded they are not going to be winning the medal count.
       It's also been a weak showing for Russia, which is hosting the next Winter Games.  Traditionally a Winter Olympic power, they have only seven medals to date, two of them gold.


The main reason Vancouver doesn't rate an A in atmosphere is the weather, which, when it hasn't been raining, has been springlike.  Trees are literally in full flower downtown, daffodils are blooming, and people are roaming the streets wearing shirtsleeves.  Doesn't feel like a Winter Games.
That has brought out the crowds, and that has led to a carnival atmosphere on the downtown streets.  It has also led to plenty of arrests for drunken revelry and a few barroom brawls.  Hockey crowds, especially, have an edge to them that is slightly worrisome.  (I spoke to a number of people who were worried about walking home last night after the U.S. beat Canada in hockey.)   Last night as I was leaving the press center a raccoon darted across a crowded street and into a hedge.  I was going its way, as it happened.  A young man in a funny hat, plenty well-oiled, took off after the raccoon.  "I'm a raccoon catcher," he bellowed.  Then, to me, "Where did he go?"  I shrugged, nodding toward the hedge.  Suddenly the raccoon appeared ahead of us, on a low wall, obviously wondering whether to make a break for it.  "There he is," the young guy said, slowing.
       "I wouldn't try to pick him up," I warned him.  "He'll bite you."
       "I'm not going to pick him up," the raccoon catcher said.  "I'm going to kick him."
        Of course you are, I thought.  Why wouldn't you?  Canada lost a hockey game, so you kick a raccoon.  Brilliant.  Fortunately, the raccoon disappeared.
       Bottom line is the people of B.C. are loving their day in the sun, donning their Canadian sweaters, painting their faces, and generally reveling till all hours of the night, every night.  So far the hosers have been mostly guilty of belting out some very bad renditions of Oh, Canada! at the top of their lungs on the street.  It's so much more festive than it was in Torino four years ago, where it was as
if the local populace was intent on showing itself too cool to embrace a sporting event like the Olympics.  Empty seats could be found at many events in Italy.  Not so, here.  Canada loves its winter sports, and it shows.  Even compulsory ice dance was a sellout.

  I'm the worst person to try to give a grade about the television coverage you're getting, since I'm watching the Games in Canada.  They're doing a great job.  From everything I hear, though, NBC is still delaying the coverage of too many of the marquis events, packaging them for prime time rather than showing them live, and--this I hear over and over--showing way too much of Bob Costas.  Someone asked me if he had it in his contract he had to be shown a certain number of minutes every hour.  His ego's that big, but I doubt his agent's that good.
      No, Dick Ebersol, the man who does NBC's Olympic programming, just doesn't trust the athletes to be enough.  To him, the Olympics is entertainment, not sports.  So he trots out Costas, Steven Colbert, Al Michaels...who else?  I don't watch.  Rather than show the athletes from all nations competing.  Here in Canada, as in most countries, the television host ushers the viewer from one sport to the next, briefly setting the scene, laying the backdrop, then introducing the announcers at the venue before disappearing for the next hour or two.  At NBC, the host (Costas) doesn't usher.  He is like the guest who won't leave after dinner, pontificating, carrying on, laughing too loud and staying too long.  Sports?  Why rush off to watch sports?  He knows the outcome, after all.  It's been taped.
     But I'm curious what you think.  Post a message below about NBC's coverage, and the grade you'd give them.  You may have to register to do so, but only once.  It won't take long.   Inquiring minds want to know. 


  1. Amen on Bob Costas - just brutal. He does appear to enjoy hearing himself talk. Is his ego really inversely proportionate to his height?

    Yesterday confirmed that the grade for NBC should move from incomplete to solid F. After showing the entire Russia v. Czech. hockey game on NBC in HD, NBC did a nice piece on the 1980 team featuring Eruzione, Johnson and Craig with Al Michaels.

    1980 retrospectives never get old and they still give me goose bumps, so as Al Michael's signed off at 5PM (Central) I thought he would get the US audience fired up for the 6:40PM puck drop vs Canada. How embarrassing it must have been for him to plug the Sunday night prime time line-up of Ice Dancing (live) and taped Bobsled and women's speed skating!

    USA v. Canada was not even shown on CNBC which at least has an HD channel in Chicago. By the way CNBC is the 24/7 curling network during 2010 games - nothing better tan curling in HD. Yes, MSNBC brought us USA Hockey's first Olympic victory over Canada since 1960 - in low resolution. Solid F.

    One other note: Did NBC ever show Bode Miller's complete runs from his gold medal effort in yesterday's combined? I think they only showed clips with Costas explaining the rest...

    Lovethe story about your run in with the Olympic Pin trader, especially the image of the 1980 team watching the broadcast of the Russian game at the hotel - keep 'em coming!

  2. Both Bode's runs were terrific, especially the slalom portion, where he had to come from behind on a rutted track. But it was held in late morning or early afternoon on the East Coast, not in prime time. Shame on NBC for not showing Miller's first Olympic gold medal in its entirety. It was great theater.

  3. I am totally impressed with the Ice Dancing Competition. Some of the best I ever remember watching.The music selection has to have a major influence on the outcome of the voting. Does it?


  4. Eddie-

    Thanks for calling out NBC’s illusion that adequate Olympic coverage can come in the form of airing taped events. All the reports out there have praised Canada for the incredible atmosphere that apparently has added much drama, excitement, and adrenaline to the competition (the captain of the German women’s curling team broke down in tears at a press conference because she said there was too much heckling from the stands during her shots!). The Olympics are all about the spontaneous high that a viewer gets when watching an athlete put it all on the line after training for four long years. But in this day and age, when the internet reigns supreme, watching taped sporting events is nothing more than a cheap thrill. With the ability to stream online, receive instant results on mobile phones, and the ever-present bottom line that scrolls across almost every TV channel, it is impossible to avoid the Olympic results in real time. Despite the fact that I try to compensate by turning the television volume all the way up (so that the screaming fans and clanking cowbells are deafening), I just can’t get on the edge of my seat when I already know the outcome. It is like NBC has lifted its leg on the purest form of Olympic joy and entertainment.

    With that being said (and maybe this proves my point), I am going to make myself extremely vulnerable and admit that CNBC’s live coverage has forced/persuaded/enabled me to become a HUGE fan of curling. It’s embarrassing to acknowledge, but it’s true. I am currently seeking fellow investors who are interested in buying a share in a shuffleboard table, just so I can continue to celebrate the sport (in my own, compromised way) long after the flame is extinguished in Vancouver.

  5. NBC choosing to air the USA-Canada game on MSNBC will--in my opinion--go down as the final straw when the NHL looks at participation in 2014. Enjoy it now folks because this is the last time we'll see NHL players in the Olympics. It was outrageous...they showed ice dancing, tape delayed coverage of Bode Miller's gold....they even carried the Russia-Czech game on NBC earlier in the afternoon...c'mon!!!

  6. Get this: according to today's paper, 8.2 million viewers watched the U.S. Canada hockey game on MSNBC, the biggest US hockey audience in 37 years. Imagine if it had been on NBC?
    As for the music in ice dancing, it absolutely makes a big difference. The Russian team and the US team of Belbin and Agosto have the same coaches, and both had terrible music. Both were former world champs, and they finished 3rd and 4th. The top two teams are also both coached by the same coaches, and their music was fabulous. Finish? 1-2. No accident. One of those coaches, Marina Zoueva, used to choreograph for Gordeeva and Grinkov, and I talked to her for My Sergei. She is the best.

  7. I suspect that airing of the US-Canada hocky game on MSNBC was a simple financial decision. Showing ice dancing allowed numerous commercial breaks. Wait for the scores - sell us automobiles or future movies. I suspect that the Olympic Committee was not going to let NBC have 60 second time slot before a face-off for their commercials.

    As always the content of the show is secondary to the commercial sales. Or as one excutive told me - "The programming is only there to keep you arouind for the commercials".

  8. One plus for the USA-Canada game on MSNBC - No ads! The pace made it more exciting to watch, like a college game without TV timeouts.

  9. I guess NBC is smothering their Olympic coverage with Bob Costas and Al Michaels because apparently America wants them. Sports Illustrated's February 22nd issue dedicated an entire article to them, labeling the tandem the Olympic "Dream Team," and referencing their 26 combined Emmys. Joe Posnanski tells us how "lucky" we are to have Costas and Michaels, and refers to the them as "the most celebrated host and the most celebrated play-by-play man in sports television," having "dominated the sports landscape for 30 years." How can there be such contrasting opinions?