The Den Mother’s Olympic Update: Part 1
On the second full day of competition in Torino, there is already news aplenty. The Olympics aren’t an enormous sports tournament in which the winners come at the end; some events are finished and their medals awarded. Before any of that happens, of course, we have the opening ceremony, the one occasion that makes each of the competitions to follow special and different from any other competition these athletes will face in any other setting. Any discussion of the Games must include a mention of the much-anticipated kickoff, and any discussion of the opening ceremony by those of us who weren’t there in person must include a comment about the television coverage.
Unlike Olympics that have taken place in recent years in Salt Lake City and Atlanta, Friday night’s ceremony, these games are taking place while we here in the United States are not only working but also sleeping. Torino is +0100 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time); the eastern U.S. is -0500 GMT; the western U.S. is -0800 GMT; Hawaii is -1100 GMT. That means during Friday evening’s opening ceremony, most Americans were at work and had to watch it on tape delay several hours later, while Torino slept. The advantage of the tape delay was that the television viewers didn’t miss anything while the network broke away for commercials. The disadvantage was that we were at the mercy of NBC’s programming executives as to when we actually saw what had already happened. For some reason, they chose to show us an hour of men’s downhill training runs before they got to the main event of the day. That’s my first GRRRRR! of these Games. After a very long and exhausting week, I had to stay up until after midnight to watch something that was over before I ate supper that evening.
Fortunately, it was very nearly worth the wait. The ceremony was wonderful, the best I can remember. The sights and sounds were appealing, offering a glimpse of Italy from art and culture to geographic wonder. I liked the contrast between the heat and passion symbolized by the color red, the flaming in-line skaters, the beating heart made of a mass of costumed and choreographed humans, and the icy chill of the mountains symbolized by white and blue, the silver-clad acrobats, the morphing skier made of the same mass of humans that had previously formed the heart. There was also the juxtaposition between the country’s cultural past in the form of the artistic and musical masters and the closing aria by Luciano Pavarotti, and the future symbolized by futuristic music and pyrotechnics and the Italian national anthem sung by a young girl. The ceremony paid tribute to Italy’s alpine neighbors, the other European nations who encompass the spectacular Alps, by raising the flags of those nations in addition to that of the host country. Even the medley of primarily American 1980s dance pop which accompanied the entrance of the athletes into the stadium, along with the procession of the Olympic flag featuring women of distinction from all continents, seemed to recognize the influence of the world upon Italian society.
The athletes were greeted by the audience with gracious enthusiasm, with the sole athlete from Bermuda receiving the same ovation as the larger teams. The Americans and Britons were greeted especially warmly by a crowd that was either heavy with American and British visitors or cognizant of the strong alliance those two countries share with Italy in the war in Iraq (or more likely a bit of both). I’m sure it warmed the hearts of first ladies Laura Bush and Cherie Blair, who sat side-by-side for the festivities. The Danish team was greeted warmly, which was nice to see in light of their country’s current status as a target for Muslim protest. Likewise were the Iranian athletes received despite the current international tension over nuclear weapons development by Teheran. The teams from North and South Korea, as they did in Athens, entered together under the name “Koreas” and a flag depicting a map of the Korean peninsula.
I could have done without Yoko Ono‘s hokey peace plea (made more annoying to me personally by my general dislike of Ono and the gazillion times she said the word “peace” with a giant hiss into the microphone). The other speeches were typically short and to the point, including that of the International Olympic Committee president who implored the athletes to be role models for future generations by, among other things, rejecting doping. It was a sadly appropriate recognition that even before the Games were underway, several athletes had been banned from competition for using banned substances. Such is the state of sports in the 21st century.
See and read more about the opening ceremony at NBC’s Olympic web site.
The Den Mother’s Day 1 Viewing
Limited as I am by the absence of cable television in the Den, I managed to catch some of yesterday’s cable telecasts at the home of the Den Parents. The coverage, both on the cable stations and last night on broadcast stations, was better than I recall from the last few Olympics. There was relatively little off the melodrama that takes up too much of the programming nowadays, and more showing of actual competition. The coverage is, so far, well balanced to showcase not only the Americans but the top athletes from whatever countries they hail. Yesterday afternoon, I enjoyed watching nordic combined, which a cross-country nail-biter in which German Georg Hettich mounted a gruelling comeback to win the gold and the bronze medal came down to a photo finish; men’s luge coverage that included a brief explanation for the uninitiated into the mechanics of the sport; women’s ice hockey routs by the U.S. and Canada; and more of those men’s downhill training runs which, though not medal races, did finalize the U.S. team in somewhat heartbreaking fashion.
Last evening’s viewing covered the men’s 5000m speed skating won by American newcomer Chad Hedrick on the 13th anniversary of his grandmother’s death (OK, so there was a little melodrama) and featuring a bronze by Enrico Fabris, Italy’s first ever speed skating medalist. The women’s moguls was won by Canadian Jennifer Heil as the final competitor. The pairs figure skating short program that was made more interesting by the emergence of a strong Chinese team. The Chinese were barely able to stand up on figure skates 25 years ago when I attended the World Championships in Hartford, Connecticut, so it was a lot of fun for me to see how far they have come. We also got an introduction to the new scoring system, necessitated by Salt Lake’s judging conspiracy, that takes a great deal of the subjectivity out of scoring.
Sorry to tell all you nordic fans, but I didn’t see any biathlon coverage. German Michael Greis won that event, with Norwegians taking the other two medals. See all Saturday’s results at the official Torino web site.
What to Watch on Day 2
Today’s medal competition includes men’s downhill, women’s 15km cross country, men’s 30km cross country, men’s singles luge, men’s normal hill ski jumping, men’s halfpipe snowboarding, and women’s 3000m speed skating.
There will be no cable viewing for me today while I ride out a snow storm in the comfort of my living room. But broadcast coverage has just commenced with cross-country competition. Personally, I’ll be glued to the screen to see the men’s downhill race that I already heard about on the radio. Sorry, no spoilers here.
Other Olympic News
U.S. figure skater Michelle Kwan, who has been competing internationally since the age of 13, has withdrawn from these Games due to an unresolved injury. She is a past Olympic silver and bronze medalist, as well as multiple world and national champion. With Olympic competition only once every four years, timing and luck matter. Not everyone as accomplished as Kwan gets that gold.
Television Coverage in the English-Speaking World
The National Broadcasting Company and affiliated cable stations are carrying Olympic competition in the United States.
Viewers in the United Kingdom can get coverage on the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Canadians can watch the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation‘s telecasts.
I’m having trouble nailing down what outlet is covering the Games for Australia and New Zealand. Please post a comment if you have any information.