Home > olympics, sports > The Den Mother’s Olympic Update: Part 14

The Den Mother’s Olympic Update: Part 14

Saturday, February 25, 2006, 18:54 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Torino 2006In the days leading up to the XX Olympic Winter Games, reports had the Torino organizers and the International Olympic Committee in a panic over the lack of snowfall and the poor coverage on many of the skiing courses, both alpine and nordic. Once the Games began, it seemed the show wouldn’t stop falling. Events were postponed for weather, suspended and restarted for weather, and eventually just run in weather. Such is the unpredictability of holding a competition—or in the case of they Olympics, many competitions, outdoors. The weather doesn’t threaten hockey, speed skating, curling, or speed skating (though there are still places where long track speed skating ovals are outdoors). But everything else is at the mercy of nature’s unpredictable forces, even now that sports that were once held outdoors or without the benefit of refrigeration, like figure skating and luge, are held in indoor or controlled facilities.

It’s different in the summer Games, of course. No one wants to row or play soccer in the rain, and wet surfaces can place hurdlers and bicyclists at risk for slipping and sliding, but rain isn’t going to wash away the track or melt the grass. But if you don’t have snow, you can’t ski. As far as I know, no winter Olympic event has ever been cancelled outright because of lack of snow or too much of it. I thought of that as I watched last night’s coverage of women’s giant slalom, which was held in the heaviest snow yet during an event in Torino. At a futre Games—maybe sooner, maybe later—will something will have to be cancelled?

Figure Skating Commentary

I like to watch figure skating as much as the next person. OK, probably more than the next person. Most of the time, I find most of the commentary to be worthwhile, especially when it involves experts explaining something I don’t know and helping me to better understand what’s happening. I think NBC’s current combination of Scott Hamilton and Dick Button, both former U.S., world, and Olympic champions albeit generations apart, provide good balance, with Button tending to be a little less forgiving in his analysis and Hamilton more likely to find something good to talk about. Tracy Wilson, a former Canadian ice dancing medalist, does a good job of illuminating how skating programs are scored.

Former Canadian pair skater Sandra Bezic, on the other hand, if she isn’t the most annoying commentator in history, is in the top two. Her only purpose seems to be to comment on melodramatic sub-plots and to use words like “elegant” much too often, and she always sounds like she has ingested one tranquilizer too many. If the figure skating competitions were a soap opera, Bezic would be the cheesy dramatic music that crescendos just as the camera operator zooms in on a character’s shocked or pained facial expression. It adds nothing to the story but sappiness. Note to NBC (or whoever broadcasts from Vancouver in four years): please, spare your loyal viewers from the agony of any more of Sandra Bezic.

The Den Mother’s Day 14 Viewing

Despite my enjoyment of figure skating and the knowledge that commentators don’t say much during exhibition performances, I watched almost none of last night’s figure skating. This is an event that is purely for show, with some of the top skaters doing programs for the audience without the pressure of judging. Generally I do watch it, but I elected instead to use that time last evening for working on fantasy baseball and doing laundry.

Before the prime time lineup was underway, I watched a little of the men’s curling gold medal game and the last end of the bronze medal game in which the U.S. won a medal. Earlier in the day, Dale Arnold of WEEI sports radio in Boston referred to curling as the “cult favorite” or the Olympics, or something like that. It cracked me up because despite what my family tries to tell me, it confirmed that I’m not the only one who has gotten into it. A host from another talk radio station spent so much time on his show denigrating curling that someone from a local curling club challenged him to a game today.

But back to prime time. In sometimes blinding snow and some fog, the women’s giant slalom was run, the last of the women’s alpine events. The conditions contributed to some missed gates and wipeouts, but they affected everyone and served only to cull the less capable and less lucky from the pack. Calling the performance of the women’s ski team in Torino disappointing is an understatement in the extreme, but Julia Mancuso came through big, winning the event in large part because of her terrific first run. Finland’s Tanja Poutiaanen and Sweden’s Anna Ottosson won silver and bronze.

The real treat for me was the men’s 10,000m speed skating final. I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy watching this event. The slow, steady rhythm of the skating, which some people may find monotonous, is hypnotic to me, especially when I consider that they’re skating for more than six miles. They say that near the end of the face, a skaters’ legs burn, but I would imagine that aerodymamic crouch they maintain the entire time doesn’t do wonders for the back either. Gold and bronze went to the Dutch, led by Bob DeJong who got off to a slow start before settling in to a winning pace a little more than a third of the way into the race. American Chad Hedrick, trying for one more gold, finished a solid second but was most amazing when he broke into a near spring late in the race when he realized his partner in the pairing had nearly caught him. That other skater was Carl Verheijen, who came in third. So Hedrick goes home with a medal of each color, a far cry from Eric Heiden‘s five golds but still outstanding in the context of Olympic history.

I watched a bit of the four-man bobsledding, but the final two runs aren’t until today, so there are no results to report yet.

See all of Friday’s results at the official Torino web site.

What to Watch on Day 15

This afternoon’s broadcast begins with men’s 15km biathlon, which is on in the other room as I type. The advantage of a long race is that I can step away from it for a little while and not miss the whole thing. Later this afternoon, Russia will play the Czechs for the bronze medal in men’s hockey, shown live in Eastern and Central U.S. time zones.

This evening’s coverage includes the final episode of The Saga of Bode, in which much-hyped American Bode Miller tries to avoid a medal shutout. Like their female teammates, the U.S. men have come up empty in alpine skiing, with the notable exception of unexpected combined champ Ted Ligety.

The women’s 5000m long track speed skating has Germany’s Claudia Pechstein defending her title from Salt Lake City. A win today will make it four consecutive Olympic gold medals in this event for Pechstein.

On the short track, the women will contend for medals in the 1000m race, while the men go for it in the always unpredictable 500m team relay.

Finally, four-man bobsledding wraps up with heats three and four of the finals.

Other Olympic News

Eastern Europeans loomed large in women’s 30km freestyle cross country, with the Czech Republic’s Katerina Neumannova capturing gold despite doing no better than third in any of the five interval times. It’s the total time that counts, and it was her consistency that won it for her ahead of silver and bronze medalists from Russia and Poland.

Also taking place yesterday were men’s hockey semifinal games. Sweden advanced to the gold medal game with a 7-3 win over the Czech Republic. The Boston Bruins’ very own P.J. Axelsson had a goal and an assist. Tomorrow, Sweden will face Finland, which shut out Russia 4-0 and outshot them nearly 3-1. The bronze medal game is played today.

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