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Friday, February 24, 2006

The thrill of victory! Daa-daa-duh-DUHHHHH... and the agony of defeat (see NBC's ski jumper tumbling off the Fluff Mountain Ski Jump). Do I even need to say it?

• We start the night with the Champions Gala. Is the Champions Gala fluff? Well, is there a medal for being best at the Champions Gala? So, if it's not an event and it's not an ad, what else could it be? Do I answer every question with a question? Gala is fluff! Declarative sentence!

• We're off again to the speed skating track, where tonight we get to see Chad Hedrick try for one more of those five medals he was supposed to win in the 10,000-meter race. A 10k is a long race to show on TV. I'm betting a commercial break is going to shorten this race a lot.

Ding! We have a winner! When we left for commercial, there were 19 laps left in the first race, and now, when we return, we're down to the last 7 laps. NBC did something similar to this in the long swimming events back in 2004. It doesn't particularly bother me. I mean, really, the scenery never changes at the track; do you want to watch someone go in a circle for 15 minutes? NASCAR fans, don't answer that.

• Incidentally, you know those Home Depot ads that talk about what a super hero is, referencing Olympic athletes? Out of all the Olympians, I think speed skaters look most like superheroes. They're wearing spandex, they have broad shoulders, narrow waists, and unnaturally large thighs.

Watch them as they stand in the starting position and they look just like they're in a comic book. If one of them would just wear a cape someday the illusion would be complete.

• Uh-oh... here's Tom Brokaw again, talking about that story he's going to tell us during the Closing Ceremonies tomorrow. They're promoting fluff!

• Dan Jansen analyzes Chad Hedrick's clap skates and finds them... inconclusive. Well, I can't blame him for trying to be thorough. I'll count that as events-related.

• Shani Davis is here to cheer on Chad. NBC is astounded, given the skaters' stormy past. I'm not astounded, because I think NBC's been blowing this whole thing out of proportion for the entirety of the Olympics.

• The Dutch don't like Hedrick because they think they own the sport of speed skating, and Chad holds the world record in the sport. They call him "the loud-mouthed Texan." Yeah? Well, I call the Dutch "orange, tchotchke-wearing freaks." Stick that in your wooden shoes.

• NBC is still surprised that Davis is cheering on Hedrick, but it looks like it may do no good, as Chad is fading towards the end.

But wait! Just as the Netherlands' Carl Verheijen looks like he's about to pass Hedrick, Chad digs in and leaves him in his... dust? In what do you leave someone on an ice skating track? Well, whatever you call it, it was an impressive display. Hedrick ends up with the silver.

• Here comes the Italian ice dancer Maurizio Margaglio and... a chair? Oh, there's his partner Barbara Fusar-Poli. Apparently, they're still mad at each other, and he's been drinking. Is this going to turn into A Streetcar Named Desire? I don't know if the Olympic audience is ready for that. Aahhhh... no, the power of ice dancing is going to bring them together. Didn't this happen to them once already during these Games? It must just be something in that fiery Italian blood.

They're followed by Johnny Weir. Hey! Isn't this a "Champions Gala?" He didn't even medal! What's he doing here? I mean, besides skating to Frank Sinatra's "My Way." An even bigger question: why did he show up dressed as a swan during competition, but now that he could completely go nuts he's dressed in a very conservative fashion? Dick Button makes a good point here, saying that there was more fire in Johnny's Champions Gala program than in his actual medal program. Maybe he can ponder all of this between now and 2010.

• Nike still wants me to go to joinbode.com. Where exactly am I going to join him. In fifth place? I don't think so.

• Now Irina Slutskaya skates in non-competition. Here's another interesting thing about the Champions Gala: NBC's director is allowed to do more creative camera work. During competition, we see everything from preset angles. While Slutskaya skated tonight, there was one camera angle that could only be done from a jib arm over the ice, and another shot where we panned over from Slutskaya spinning to the shadow of her spin. Very arty. Not very competition-y, though. Maybe we could get Tracy Wilson to explain to us how judges will score that shadow's form.

• Tanith and Ben! Tanith, you got robbed on Wednesday! Oh, and you did, too, Ben. When do all of these skaters have time to put these extra programs together?

• Back to the bobsled/sleigh, where we watch to see how the USA-2 sled performs on its second run down the hill. Nicely! USA-2 finishes .01 seconds behind, and John Morgan tells us that's the length of a fingernail. Really? Let's do some math. Let's say the USA-2 sled is going 70 mph across the finish line. 70 mph is 102 feet, 8 inches per second. So, one-one hundreth of that is one foot and one-third inch. I don't know how big John Morgan is, but I'm guessing his fingernails aren't a foot wide. Unless, of course, he's a Clydesdale. Or perhaps if he has gigantism. I'm betting against either of these cases, however.

• And what would the biggest night of fluff be without some fluff on bobsled/sleigh pilot Todd Hays. Hays was a football player from Texas, so he's used to Friday night lights. Get it? Tonight's Friday! Friday night is when Texas high school plays football! See it's all... oh, whatever.

Anyway, he played college ball at Tulsa, and finished fourth in the 2-man bobsled/sleigh in Salt Lake City. Realizing that the worst place in the world to finish is fourth when the top three get prizes, he did better in the 4-man bobsled/sleigh and got silver. So, that all took two-and-a-half minutes. Not for you to read, I know, but for the rest of us to watch.

• After two runs, Todd Hays and USA-1 are in 7th place, while USA-2 and their fluff-unworthy athletes are one spot ahead of them in 6th.

• Picabo Street slams Julia Mancuso and the American Women's Alpine skiing team for being unprofessional. In particular, Street points to Mancuso's tiara-wearing slalom run from last Friday. She thinks they should be spending more effort trying to win. Gee, I wonder where I've heard THAT complaint before?

• Thirty seconds of fluff on Julia Mancuso's RV. We got a quick tour, but I didn't see anywhere onboard for tiara storage.

• So will Mancuso respond to Street's challenge? Wow! Yes! Julia flies down the mountain, and after one run is in first place. Maybe she'll earn that tiara after all.

• Tonight Jimmy Roberts presents us with possibly the blandest Chevrolet Olympic Moments yet. These Olympics have been full of surprises, says Jimmy, what with Bode Miller not winning gold in anything, or Sasha Cohen not winning gold, or with neither Chad Hedrick or Shani Davis winning gold in the 1,500-meter speed skate. Hmmm... it seems that only Americans not winning gold is unexpected to Jimmy.

Anyway, to Roberts, the idea of favorites not winning is inconceivable. To the rest of us, this is emblematic of what's wrong with Chevrolet Olympic Moments. It's precisely the unpredictability of the Olympics that makes them worth watching, but Jimmy will never understand this because it doesn't conform to the stories he wants to tell. Jimmy, much like Dick Button, it's not about you.

• Back to the bogus Chamipons Gala, where Shen and Zhao of China are skating, risking Zhao's Achilles tendon once again. And again, Zhao doesn't give any indication that he's injured. Unlike before, however, this time Shen keeps her head in the game and lands her jumps. If she had been as composed in the actual competition, they might have finished higher than the bronze they received.

• Evan Lysacek of the U.S. takes the ice for his bogus performance. Not even the person operating the CD player can take this seriously, as he takes two tries to hit "play" correctly. With these qualifications, I'm betting most of you could be Olympic-class CD-players.

• Pairs gold medalists Tatyana Totmiyanina and Maxim Marinin from Russia take the ice next. They look pretty and bring in a lot of ad revenue for NBC.

• Back on the hill, Mancuso will finally get her chance to win that gold. Hopefully, her tiara won't get in the way. Annndd....

She does it! And it's not even close. Best of all, since she skied last, NBC had plenty of time to position their cameras around her family, teammates, and friends. So often in the Olympics, the athletes have spent so much time training to keeping their cool that when they win, their first reactions are more shock than anything else. The athlete's family, on the other hand, almost never has that problem, and Julia's parents certainly don't, here. Julia's mom goes from her seat to the rail, back to her seat, then hugs pretty much everyone around her within a 15 foot radius, all without her feet ever touching the ground.

Not more than 10 minutes ago, Julia's fluff piece featured her saying that medals weren't as important as leaving Turin with a smile. Well, it's obvious that no one around her feels the same way. The celebration around Mancuso from her friends is of "Miracle-On-Ice" proportions. Think the U.S. Women's Alpine Team wanted that "loser" monkey off their back? After watching their reactions, you know they did. And after a few minutes, you could tell Mancuso was finally starting to feel it sink in as well. Everyone there was reacting like it was the greatest thing in the world to win a gold medal.

Well, who knows? Maybe it is. Good job, Julia.

• Yevgeny Plushenko takes to the ice, and he's brought props! Specifically, he's brought a Stradivarius-playing Edvin Marton with him and put the violinist in the middle of the ice so that Plushenko can skate around him while he plays. How do I know Marton's name? It was in sequins on the front of his shirt. Very subtle.

• Arakawa is next. Maybe tonight she'll try those jumps that she passed on to win the gold. Heh. Yeah right. You know, several of the long shots of Arakawa are not only really beautiful, but they also show how fast the skaters are moving on the ice. With the closeup shots skating coverage typically uses, you never get that sense of speed. Shots like that are something they could consider adding in the future.

After her performance, Scott Hamilton says that "in the blink of her eye" Arakawa's life changed by winning the gold. Of all people, Scott should realize that all of this isn't the blink of an eye. Winning the lottery, an act which takes no skill, happens in the blink of an eye. Training in a specific skill for your entire life is hardly a blink. I guess "in the blink of twenty years" just doesn't roll of the tongue, though.

• AHHHH!! Tom Brokaw is promoting his fluff piece again! I already dislike it even though I'm sure it will be well done.

• Bob Costas interviews Sasha Cohen. Because he's contractually obligated, he asks her about her thoughts on the silver, on the competition, and on her chances on going to Vancouver. Because she's skilled in dealing with the media, she gives him all of the pat answers. But then we get to the real meat of this interview, and let me tell you, I would have been extremely disappointed had Bob missed this opportunity.

Bob pulls up the Flying Tomato's statement that he'd like to date Cohen. Is there now any remaining doubt that Costas is the best interviewer on television? Shut your mouth! Sasha, of course, hasn't seen the Shaun White interview and now has to answer Bob after being hit on by a gold-medal winning snowboarder. Her reaction? Well, let's just say the ice in her veins that let her keep her composure and win the silver medal isn't just there at game time. She keeps her cool and actually sounds like she would consider it, never once mentioning that Shaun looks like Carrot Top. Well, Bob set the wheels are in motion. Somebody call Blind Date!

• We close the night with Julia Mancuso's medal ceremony, where she wears the gold medal AND her tiara. And you know what? If she wins the gold, she can wear that tiara all she wants. Sing, Julia, sing! Well, she's not singing, but at least she's smiling.

Tonight was the equivalent of a blown program for NBC. Here we are, so close to the end and they blew jump after jump. The worst part is now I fear the two remaining shows. Tom Brokaw is already promising us fluff for Sunday, what else lies hidden around the corner? Well, we'll find out tomorrow, won't we? See you then!




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