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Monday, February 13, 2006

It's a running start! In the time it takes you to read this, tonight's recap will have already begun!

• Boom! NBC isn't fooling around tonight! The Olympic theme song starts playing and 30 seconds later we're into pairs figure skating. Amazing! The only downside is now they've got my hopes up. Could they really have so much event-time planned that they can't even play the whole theme song? We'll see.

• Ahhhh...it's a teaser! After the first couple's figure skating, we jump into the normal "coming up tonight" intro. Still, it's only a minute, and I kind of like starting immediately with an event.

• And now, for all of you NASCAR fans, crashing athletes! Women in both the downhill and the luge are shown losing control in what appear to be very painful ways. Events or fluff? Events! Technically, both sets of crashes were in practices, but they were newsworthy things we hadn't seen, and they definitely weren't fluffy.

• Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada demonstrate how to perform a lift in figure skating. Events or fluff? Events! This is a little trickier of a call, but here's my reasoning. My biggest complaint about snowboarding so far has been that the commentators haven't told us anything about the sport other than the boarders are "getting good air." That means almost nothing to me. However, here Sale and Pelletier are showing us an actual technique in figure skating, from how it's performed to how you know when it's actually good. It's education about the... *ahem*... "sport" of figure skating.

It's similar to the reason I like Dick Button as a commentator. Instead of just yelling about how great these athletes are (I'm looking at you, snowboard analysts), NBC has actually put together a little package to show us good technique. My lone complaint? Sale and Pelletier made a special point about how they knew a lift was good by the sound their skates made. I know it's within NBC's capabilities to emphasize the audio of the skates crossing the ice, but I rarely heard them.

• Excellent analysis of the Chinese skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo. Hongbo, you might remember from Saturday, had an Achilles injury. Slow motion video shows us where his skate was slipping because he was in pain during come crucial moves. Nice work!

• Chevrolet Olympic Moments with Jimmy Roberts. Jimmy tells of of Chinese skating coach Yao Bin. In 1979, he was part of China's first figure skating pair ever sent into world competition. They went to the world championships in Germany and were so bad that they were laughed at. Curse you, German fans! Anyway, 25 years later, he's coaching the Chinese team and has three pairs in the top five.

The transition on that story from past to present was a little abrupt (didn't anything happen between 1979 and now? Not everyone who finishes in last place eventually coaches three top five pairs), but overall, the story wasn't actually that bad. Can you believe this? I've actually not hated two of Jimmy Roberts stories so far in this Olympics. Of course, it helped that this one was only three-and-a-half minutes long, so there wasn't much time for Jimmy to destroy it.

• Reporter Tracy Wilson shows us how the new skating scoring system works. Excellent! How things work! I know that NBC is spending a lot of time on all of this figure skating minutiae because that's what the majority of the audience is tuning in for, but I really wish they'd do this much explanation as to how other sports are scored. It's actually very interesting.

• And just like that, we get to contrast the excellent coverage that figure skating is receiving to the extreeeeeme coverage of snowboarding. Although they do pull out the Stro-motion (which I love) to show the air that one of the boarders gets, I still don't know how "air" is scored by the judges. In other sports, I try to guess what the athlete's scores might be. In snowboarding, all I do is watch, say "oooo...pretty," and wait to be surprised. The video is fine, but NBC's analysis is lacking.

• Over to the Men's 500 m Speed Skating. What is there to say? The coverage of speed skating for the winter games is as flawless as NBC's swimming coverage was in the summer games. The commentary, the production values...everything. If all Olympic coverage was this good, this site would cease to be.

• Dick Button has now used the phrase "a personal medal" for two different sets of skaters. Is that sort of like "a moral victory?" I appreciate that he's trying to be nice, but I could make my own personal medals here at home. A personal medal and a quarter will get me a gumball at Wal-Mart.

• Ad watch: I really like these Exxon-Mobil ads showing little kids performing a simple action that later turns out to be a skill they use in an Olympic sport. These ads are the result of your expensive gas prices at work!

• As Chinese skater Yu Fengtong falls across the finish line in the Men's 500-meter Speed Skating, analyst Dan Jansen immediately explains that Olympic officials will have to add to his time because the rules state that the clock stops when the blade of the skate crosses the finish line. Instant rule explanation! I love speed skating! Oh, even better? U.S. skater Joey Cheek wins the gold and we get to zoom along with him thanks to skater-cam! Awesome!

• Fluff on Maxim Marinin and Tatyana Totmiyanina. And wow, what an opening! In footage from a previous event, Maxim dropped Tatyana from the high point of a lift, knocking her out cold. I'll admit it: I jumped when it happened. The rest of the segment was all about how they got their confidence back from such a horrible fall. Yes, it was fluff, but it was very well done. I wonder if I feel that way just because it started so shockingly. Probably, but it was good anyway.

• It must be disaster night on NBC. We opened with crashing skiers and lugers, and now Chinese figure skater Zhang Dan banged up her knee on a quad Salchow when she completely missed the landing. Amazingly, the couple shakes it off, goes back out, and finishes their routine, complete with all of the difficult moves and jumps. With that fall, they're clearly out of medal contention, but this is one time when we'd have to admit that maybe Dick Button is right after all. Maybe certain people DO deserve personal medals.

Wait...they do get a medal. Okay, how does that work? How do you completely blow the middle of your routine and still end up with a medal? Don't even try to tell me this is a sport.

• We close the night with the Russian national anthem celebrating the Russian skater's victory. They don't sing, either. Does nobody know their national anthem? Shouldn't each country's Olympic committee have some kind of class? It wouldn't have to be that long. Singing the Anthem 101. Smiling on the Podium 201. I'm thinking an hour of credit for each.

I can hardly believe it. A mere 11 minutes of fluff on a figure skating night! Someone must have replaced all of the NBC executives when I wasn't looking. Keep it up, Peacock!




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