Saturday, February 25, 2006
Sports Saturday: The Olympic myth
The buzz: This year’s Olympics has been a dud. The reality: The network-created storylines fizzled, not the competition. NBC coverage limped through the last two weeks, but the Games rocked. Take alpine skiing. Only former World Cup winner Bode Miller’s face was plastered on magazine covers. His contemptuous tone, his offhand remarks about skiing drunk, and an illicit trip to Mexico to receive shots from an outlawed doctor made him the rebel, the loner bucking the establishment, and the media practically promised he’d bring home medals. Instead, in five races, an overweight and indifferent Miller finished no higher than fifth and the United States’ performance was declared disappointing. Oh, and along the way the U.S. won two gold medals, Ted Ligety in the men’s combined and Julia Mancuso in the women’s giant slalom. More gold medals than traditional winter powerhouses Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, France, and Germany, more than any country other than Austria, the 300-pound gorilla of the sport. The truth is that this year’s US squad is the strongest we’ve had in the Olympics: any number of American racers had a chance to medal. That NBC neglected Rahlves, Mancuso, Ligety and the others in favor of Miller is a testament to the network's ignorance of ski racing. It doesn’t help that the favored Americans, the ones the American media propped into the spotlights, were generally unlikable. Sasha Cohen boasted the charm of an icicle. Shani Davis was openly hostile while two-faced Chad Hedrick flashed overlarge teeth at the camera and glowered at his teammates when he thought we weren’t looking. Even media darling Sean White failed to inspire us; at best he could only amuse us with his Spicoli-like dimwit charm. Where was the coverage of Nordic events? Ski jumping? Hockey, men's or women's? Even when exciting performances made prime-time coverage, NBC failed to capitalize. When Shizuka Arakawa won the gold in women's figure skating with an extraordinary and flawless routine, NBC commenators covered the upset with mild confusion. Men's aerials and moguls coverage concentrated on American failures; the winners' efforts were registered with annoyance. The coverage got in the way. Enough of Bob Costas and "Olympic Moments"! The best way to cover the sports is to show them. If the coverage had been extended, the events shown in near entirety with careful explanation of tactics and favorites, the sport would speak for itself.