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Thursday, February 23, 2006

It's NBC's biggest night, and they're taking no chances that we might get distracted and turn over to Dancing With The Stars. It's straight to the action!

• NBC starts off by trying to right yesterday's fluff wrongs and takes us straight to the Women's Figure Skating long program.

• In what is fast becoming a theme in this Olympics, another skater--this time Italy's Silvia Fontana-- is doing her farewell skate to a version Nessun Dorma (thanks Christina!), but this time, not a version by Pavarotti. She's crying after her skate, but it's safe to assume it's not because she was moved by the song.

• A mere ten minutes into the show and we're already being inflicted with Jimmy Roberts and Chevrolet Olympic Moments. Tonight's athlete in distress is skater Tugba Karademir from Turkey. Tugba showed great promise as a youngster, and her parents believed in her, so they sacrificed lucrative careers in Turkey so they could move with her to Canada to train. Ultimately, Dad Karademir couldn't find adequate work in the Great White North and had to return to Turkey to earn a living. So Tugba's quest to be the first figure skater from a Muslim country has split her family across two continents. It's all very sad. Tears are shed. Solemn glances are exchanged. Nothing is resolved. Fluff is counted.

• Instant gratification! Tugba skates and does all right. Her score puts her in second place, but since she's only the second skater, she probably has a long night of falling down in the standings to look forward to.

• That Home Depot ad with all of the American Olympians in it is on again. What's the one feature of all of these athletes? Zero golds in Turin. Maybe Home Depot needs to let their employees train a little more.

• Off to the slopes and the Women's Parallel Giant Slalom (PGS) and stunner! The Americans win a medal! Rosey Fletcher gets bronze! Yay! And in a touching non-Jimmy-Roberts-scripted moment, Rosey dedicates her medal to her late-future-mother-in-law.

You know, a mere four years ago, when I wrote the 2002 Olympic Watch, I had people asking me if it was even fair that other countries be forced to compete against the Americans in snowboard events. This year the U.S. is lucky to win bronzes. Guess that answers that question.

• We shift again from day to night so we can watch the finals of the Freestyle Men's Aerials, where American Jeret Peterson will unveil a move called "The Hurricane" in his attempt to win gold. And what does that look like? We won't find out until later, because his first jump is just a normal full-double-full-full *yawn* so he can save "The Hurricane" for later.

• Dick Button says Liu Yan of China has great lines, great movements, and great form, but needs to tuck in her shoelaces. Bet you've never heard that criticism in figure skating before! Even stupider, Sandra Bezic agrees with him.

• Back over at the mountain, here comes Jaret Peterson with his second jump. He's here to Rock You Like A Hurricane! Whoops! He landed like a tornado. Fifth place. Oh well. That's all right, I Can't Explain why there's No One Like You, Jaret, but we're all Still Loving You, and just know that someday there will be a Wind Of Change, you'll stick the Hurricane, and then you'll have your Big City Night.

Oh, and this is another freestyle event where the Americans don't medal.

• Now that we've gotten all of those pesky non-skating events out of the way, it's time to earn some ad revenue! Here's my question: the first two hours of the Olympics tonight were up against the two-hour dance off of "Dancing With The Stars." Knowing that all of the good skaters would be coming up later, and knowing that the audience for these two events has to be similar, which of those two do you think is going to win the ratings battle? Obviously, I'm thinking Olympics, but it will be interesting to see how it all works out.

• Emily Not-Kwan skates a mostly solid program, but falls once, so that should be pretty much it for her medal chances. Still, Emily Hughes will probably get a top-ten finish, and ten days ago she was just sitting at home watching TV. You're doing that now. Do you think in ten days you'll be fighting to be top-ten in the world at something?

• One woman tonight has already skated to music from "Romeo and Juliet." Sasha Cohen is going to skate to it later. Some skater or pair (I can't remember which) skated to it on a previous night. So, "Carmen," Romeo and Juliet," "Nessun Dorma"... admittedly, I'm not an encyclopedia of classical music knowledge, but I've seen lots of Warner Brothers cartoons, so I know that there are more classical songs out there that they could use. How about that "Kill The Wabbit" song? Or "Powerhouse." That would be cool!

• Tom Brokaw tells us to watch out for his story about black soldier who did something special in Italy. Said story will air during the Closing Ceremonies. Ohhhh... I think this will make me angry, just like last time.

• I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "I like all of the figure skaters! How can I cheer for one over another? Do any of them have a sad story that pulls at the heartstrings?" Well, you're in luck.

We're off to Russia, where skater Irina Slutskaya one day discovered her mom ill and with a yellow face. It turns out she needed a kidney transplant. However the first transplant didn't take, and her mother had to hold on for one that worked.

In the meantime, Irina herself got vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels, and doctors told her not to skate. But (add swelling music here) Irina wasn't going to let that keep her from her Olympic dream! No sir, she returned to skating under doctor's supervision and now she's once again at the top of the world. How can you even think of cheering for someone else now? You'd be a cad! A cad who disliked fluff.

• Okay, we're up to the last six skaters. My prediction: Kimmie Meissner gold! I know she's in fifth, but I've just got a feeling. It's 9:51 p.m. central time and I religiously avoid finding out Olympic news in advance, so we'll see how well I can predict figure skating. Hmmm... if I DO predict correctly, does that mean I can be the next Dick Button? I'm feeling judgemental already!

• Tracy Wilson shows us strategies of the figure skaters. Really? They have strategies? Apparently so. Wilson breaks down the how the points are scored to show us how skaters play to their strengths. Interesting, and definitely not fluff.

• First up Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia. Even though the 16-year-old doesn't fall, she blows three jumps, so that should pretty much be it for her. Sure enough, fifth place with five skaters to go. Better luck in Vancouver, Elene.

• And now, Sasha! Cohen fell at least twice during the warmup, so hopefully she's cleared all of that from her mind. Scott Hamilton claims to see doubt in her eyes. Is that sort of like Darth Vader sensing much fear in you?

Eek! Sasha blows her first two jumps. She nails the third, but I think the damage is done. Alas, Juliet, she is gone.

Dick Button tries to put lipstick on this pig by praising Sasha's exquisite lines, and to be fair, the rest of her program was perfect, but I think we all know what's coming here. She's first place for now, but with four skaters to go, she needs some of her opponents to fall if she's going to medal.

But don't be sad, Sasha! The Flying Tomato still loves you!

• Shizuka Arakawa of Japan comes up next, with a chance to move into first with three skaters to go. Whaddya know? There ARE strategies for figure skating! With Sasha's falls, all Shizuka has to do is skate clean and she'll move into first, putting the pressure on Slutskaya to match her.

Ohmigosh! It's Nessun Dorma, AGAIN! How about "The Barber of Seville?" I saw that in a Bugs Bunny cartoon once.

Shizuka finishes clean and her score bumps her ahead of Cohen for first place, now with just three skaters to go.

• Fumie Suguri of Japan skates fourth from fourth place. She's skating to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Number 2 in C Minor, which Eric Carmen stole in the '70s to turn in into the syrupy "All By Myself." Is she skating clean? Well, yes. She has no falls, but quite frankly I thought Sasha's performance, even with the two falls, was better.

Do I know what I'm talking about? Yes! Suguri finishes behind Cohen.

• And now, Brian's prediction for gold medal, American Kimmie Meissner. Surprisingly, no one has yet mentioned that with Suguri's failure, Arakawa is guaranteed a medal.

Meissner blows her first jump. Is it too late to change my prediction? Oops! Another bobble. Okay, maybe my prediction skillz ain't so good.

Dick Button says Meissner has long arms that any ballerina would give their eye teeth for. Is that an option? Could I give my eye teeth for longer legs? If I was six inches taller I could be an NBA star!

Meissner's scores? Fifth place (ultimately sixth). Okay, don't take me Vegas.

• And finally, the mighty Slutskaya. You must cheer for her! The fluff has told you so! If she skates clean, she can get Arakawa for the gold. But two falls would probably put her behind Sasha. So, no falls, gold. One fall, silver. Two falls, bronze. That's pretty simple, eh?

So far, she's perfect! Three jumps to go! Two jumps to go! One jump to...OH!! Slutskaya is down! The rest of the program is clean. My prediction: Arakawa, Slutskaya, Cohen.

• Wow! Slutskaya somehow finishes behind Cohen! Now Tracy Wilson is going to break down the scores for us. Whaddya know? It turns out that artistry of Cohen's DID make a difference! Slutskaya beat Cohen on Jumps (having missed one fewer), but she lost on Spins and Components. Now, I have no idea exactly how those break down, but if there are numbers assigned to them it makes me feel better. Yes, I'm a geek.

• At the medal ceremony, for the first time ever at a Women's Figure Skating event, we get to hear the national anthem of Japan. Let's all sing along: "Ohhhhh no. They say he's got to go, oh no Godzilla!"

• In a post-medal-ceremony interview with Sasha, she reveals that she was happy just to have won any medals after her missed jumps. Well, she's improving with each Olympics. Fourth in 2002, second in 2006... look out Vancouver! Sasha Cohen is coming for gold!

• We close with Bob Costas' monologue on how for each of these skaters, four years of preparation comes down to four minutes of performance. I like Bob's speech here, as it's kind of poetic, but it also points out one of the things that makes the Olympics as a whole, not just figure skating, so great.

Olympic athletes, by definition, are world-class, and most people don't think about what that really entails. Olympians stick to strict diets, every day, for four years. They work out religiously for four years. Instead of full time jobs, they have part time jobs at places like Home Depot because they need to dedicate all of their spare time to the pursuit of one perfect performance.

And then they get to the Olympics where one caught edge, one misstep, or one incorrect turn can cost them a medal. Four years of work can literally evaporate in 60 seconds. Pause for a minute and watch the second hand of your watch make one complete cycle. Now imagine that every single thing you've done at work for the past four years has been undone in that short amount of time. THAT is what it's like to be an Olympic athlete. And the thrill that comes by watching those same people not catch an edge, not make a misstep, and not make an incorrect turn is what makes those minutes so special.

So, another good night for NBC. It's looking like they'll be able to keep the fluff down to a minimum for the rest of the Games. However, that little Tom Brokaw teaser has me worried. Don't blow it, NBC! See you tomorrow!




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