February 27, 2006
Everything you ever wanted to know about sports on TV.At The Buzzer
Is Watching the Winter Olympics a Sport? Maybe It Should Be.
|Over the past three weeks, the internet, the radio (certainly AM frequencies), and most of television have been a death trap for any American spectators hoping for a little drama while watching the twentieth Winter Olympic Games. Such is tape-delayed programming: the bane of a sports fan's existence.|
(UPDATE: Sweden just scored on the power play on a lovely piece of skill by Niklas Kronveld. 2-1 Sweden. Finland, a dark horse heading into the tournament, trails for the first time. Just one minute later, Ville Peltonen puts the Finns back on level ground, 2-2.)
The fortunate thing about these intrusive results, if one could call it fortunate, is that the Winter Olympics, by and large, are a fairly ridiculous set of events. Half of the events baffle most spectators with their inaccessibility. Some others leave a person questioning whether a "competition" and a "sport" are the same thing (they're not). To that end, a dream realized is still that, but it's a matter of classification, not validation.
Folks, I'll leave it to one of the most respected sportscasters in the business to sum up most of the country's position on the Winter Games. As seen on a February broadcast of the marvelous HBO sports magazine, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, one of the smartest men in the business erupted with the following editorial:
"Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don't like them and won't watch them... Because they're so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too. Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. Try not to point out that something's not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what's called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won... So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they're done, when we can move on to March Madness, for God's sake, let the games begin."
Yesterday, I watched the gold medal round of the men's 1500km biathlon. For those who don't know, it's a hybrid of cross-country skiing and target shooting. With a rifle. By virtue of the fact that it is a race whose winner is decided by an objective clock coupled with points for marksmanship, it qualifies as a sport. Though you wouldn't know to look at it. Who would ever think of combining cross-country and guns?
(UPDATE: Holy crap! Detroit Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom just smashed a shot from the blue line, ten seconds into the final frame, to put Sweden up 3-2.)
|Visually, there isn't anything to distinguish good runs from bad, barring a catastrophe like flipping your little box car; and the athleticism of this event is non-existent.|
(UPDATE: Action is fast and furious. Sweden just killed a Finnish power play riddled with scoring chances. Six minutes remain. So intense.)
Anyone else try watching short track speedskating? It is, with all due respect, borderline-retarded. I'll be the first to say that Apollo Anton Ohno is a tremendous athlete and an impeccable skater, but there's something contradictory about a race in which a clump of skaters are jostling for position, physically barring one another from being passed without being allowed to touch one another. The key word in that sentence is "race." This event is supposed to highlight speed, yet three-person pile-ups seem to be all too common. Roller derby on ice? Almost. Only roller derby doesn't have as many unavoidable disqualifications that punish the skaters for either trying to preserve a lead or attempting to gain ground from the back of the pack. At least the winner is determined by the objective clock.
One of Bryant Gumbel's valid gripes, a gripe that is echoed by many, is the subjectivity of the Winter Games. Specifically, in it's highlighted event, figure skating. I'll say this much, the fall and ensuing performance of Chinese duo Zhang and Zhang was gripping, high drama. Ice dancers Belbin (so hot...) and Agosto were absolutely beautiful to watch. Sasha Cohen fell twice and still earned a silver medal. How she managed that? I'm not sure, but even with the revised scoring system in the fallout of Skategate '02, people are left scratching their heads at how someone could fall not once, but twice and still grab the silver. She did, otherwise, have a good run, I'm told.
(UPDATE: It's all over. Sweden over Finland, 3-2, in thrilling fashion. What a game! Dad was right. Another thing about the Olympics that tugs my sensitive strings: athletes boisterously belting out their national anthem during the medal ceremony. Added bonus if they're arm in arm as the Swedes were. On the other side of the coin, NHL superstar Teemu Selanne is giving an interview with bloodshot eyes, obviously crushed at coming so close to the gold and falling short.)
Television is not kind to the Winter Olympics. They have so much working against them in terms of "buzz." Unlike the Summer Games, the Winter Olympics (at least in the US) are up against a host of other sports, new television programming, and people just aren't in the celebrating mindset. February is a month for doldrums. Compare that to the summer when people are generally happier, more relaxed and the Summer Olympics can claim center stage, knowing that it's only competition is baseball and reruns.
Now that the Games are over, I'm obliged to echo Mr. Gumbel's sentiment: bring on March Madness.
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