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Saturday, February 25, 2006

The last full night of competition is a study of contrasts. Well, at least, everything good contrasted with everything Bode Miller has done. Let's get started.

• We start the night with the four-man bobsleigh/sled. I wish they'd make up their mind whether it's "sleigh" or "sled." Hmm... maybe the "eigh" ending is PRONOUNCED "sled." Yeah, that's it! So BobSLEIGH is pronounced BobSLED. And maybe WEIGHING is pronounced WEDDING. Orrrr maybe not.

Anyway, while Todd Hays is waiting to rush down the bobsleigh/sled run, we learn that he earned the money to buy his first sleigh/sled by winning a kickboxing tournament in Japan. Is this fluff? No! Because we didn't have to go into a slow-motion retrospective to find this out. Rather, the announcers just told us because they thought it was interesting. It WAS interesting. See how much easier that is, NBC?

• Men's Slalom fluff! It's basically just another intro, like the one we had at the beginning of the show. But that's the point. We ALREADY had one at the beginning of the show; having two is fluff.

• Ingemar Stenmark and Alberto Tomba are standing together at the bottom of the slalom hill, pointing at something. What? Perhaps some fluff!

• Julie Mancuso had a bet with her tech guy that if she won the gold, he'd have to ski down the hill in his underwear. NBC has footage of the pantsless tech. THIS is a network that is thorough. I guess this is technically fluff, but I'm going to let this one slide, because it is slightly event-related. Very slightly.

• American Ted Ligety heads down the slalom and finishes just .03 seconds behind the leader! BUT he hooked a gate like Bode Miller in the Alpine Combined and gets disqualified. Bummer. With Ligety out, we're now reliant on Bode to bring home a medal for the U.S. You know what? I'm gonna say he does it! I think he's been struck by nothing but bad luck for all of the Turin Olympics and on this night, the last full night of competition, he's going to bring home... well, I'm not going to jinx him by saying gold (even though this is tape delayed--I can't really jinx the past, can I?), but I think he'll bring home a medal. Go Bode!

• NBC analyst Todd Brooker shows a video comparison of Bode in 2002 and 2006, and says he looks heavier. Todd questions whether that's because Bode's muscled up or because he's out of shape.

• And Bode's off! AHHHHH! Bode's off! Off the course, that is. He missed a gate near the top of the hill and is done quickly. Again, don't take my predictions to Vegas.

• Bode pulls his usual trick and skis away to avoid the media, but NBC's Steve Porino hunts him down. Porino asks Bode, given that he went oh for five, if he's been disappointed in his performance in the Olympics this year. Bode says... what?! He says no, he's had a great time and a lot of fun. Bode says his goals weren't to be the best in the world, they were to make skiing exciting for him. Bode says he didn't go out and get drunk "VERY OFTEN," and never the night before a race. Holy Ingemar Stenmark! Did I just throw my support behind this slacker?

Honestly, Bode not-winning doesn't bother me at all. The reality of the Olympics is that it's difficult to win ANY medal, much less gold. However, it IS disturbing that Bode doesn't even seem disappointed that he finished only ONE of the five races in which he was entered. Are four DNFs what "makes skiing exciting" for Bode? He shouldn't feel bad for not medaling, but it might be nice if he showed a little disappointment for not even finishing.

I'm very happy that Bode was able to squeeze some drinking in, because Lord knows I wouldn't want him to have to sober up, but how do you think people who contributed money to the U.S. Ski Team feel about paying for Bode's Italian vacation?

• Another Nike commercial featuring joinbode.com, and in this one Bode tells us that the one thing he wants us to understand is that an athlete can do everything right and still not win it all, so don't get hung up on winning medals. Well, he certainly doesn't need to be worried about the "winning medals" part. When's he going to try the "do everything right" part? How do you think Nike feels about spending all of that money on Bode's Italian Vacation?

• Apolo Anton Ohno has a short fluff piece where he says there's too much emphasis on medals instead of the Olympic competition. Apolo, don't you go pulling a Bode on us!

• Back to the short track for the 500m semifinals. Go Ohno! OH NO! Ohno gets pushed to the outside halfway through his race but makes a frantic comeback to finish third, just four inches behind the second place skater. Unfortunately, he needs to be second to move on. Fortunately, Li JiaJun of China, the skater that finished four inches ahead of him, got DQed. Ohno moves on!

In heat two, Korea's Ahn Hyun-Soo wins his heat, meaning NBC's dream match of Ahn and Ohno is a go.

• The men clear the ice and the women enter for their 1,000-meter race. American Kimberly Derrick is in the quarterfinals, but we find out that her grandfather died of a heart attack the day before her heat. She tries, but doesn't move on. Clearly, her mind is on bigger things than this race.

• So now we need someone to cheer for in short track skating. Fortunately, Bob Costas arrives with a well-timed piece of fluff on China's Yang Yang (A). Does this mean that somewhere in China is a Yang Yang (B)? Anyway, she took gold in Salt Lake, left China to pursue a career in international business, then got re-bit by the skating bug and returned to China to train for Turin. It must have worked, because here she is!

• In the Women's 1,000-meter final, there are two Koreans and two Chinese women participating. Who are you going for? Yang Yang (A) had some fluff about her earlier. C'mon... you don't know anyone else! You know you're pulling for her. Well, she finishes fourth, but the third place woman got disqualified, so Yang Yang (A) wins bronze.

• Coming up in tomorrow's Closing Ceremonies, performances from Andrea Bocelli, Ricky Martin, and Avril Lavigne. Okay, Bocelli I get, but why are we Livin' la Vida Loca with Canadian and Puerto Rican pop stars? Couldn't we get some Italian pop stars like... like... uh... okay. Well, I guess that answers that question.

• There are certain things we can always count on, says Jimmy Roberts, like Chevrolet Olympic Moments grinding NBC's telecast to a halt. Wait. Maybe he didn't say that.

The thing Jimmy says we CAN count on is the home field advantage creating upsets during the Olympics. For the next several minutes, Jimmy doesn't even read a story, he just reads a list of examples. Jean-Claude Killy winning in Grenoble. Kathy Freeman in Sydney. Eric Heiden in Lake Placid. Continue for several minutes and you'll get the idea.

Anyway, we endure this list reading so Jimmy can tell us that THIS Olympics' home field story is Italy's Enrico Fabris, who beat NBC's favorite non-bickering couple, Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick, for the gold medal in the Men's 1,500-meter Speed Skating event. Yes, surely this proves there's something magical about the Olympic air.

Well, except that Killy was the favorite. And so was Freeman. And so was Heiden. And Fabris himself won the World Cup in 2005 in the 1,500M, so he could have been the favorite, too. But hey! Why let pesky facts get in the way of a good story, right Jimmy?

• SINGING!! Canadian Clara Hughes gets the gold, bumping fellow Canadian Cindy Klassen down to bronze in the Women's 5,000-meter Speed Skating. During the medal ceremony, as "Oh Canada" plays, Hughes invites Klassen up to the top step on the podium where they both sing the anthem together. They're probably the two happiest athletes I've seen during all of the Turin Games.

And in a show of Olympic spirit that Bode Miller probably wouldn't understand from the back of his RV, even though the Canadian skaters don't get paid for wins like the Americans, Clara Hughes donates $10,000 of her own money to Right To Play because she was inspired by American Joey Cheek. Honestly, why have we had to spend the entire Olympics focused on slackers like Bode when there are good stories like Cheek's out there?

• Speaking of which, Joey Cheek has been elected by the U.S. team to carry the American flag into the Closing Ceremonies. Hmm... maybe happy news just takes less time to report. Couldn't we somehow make it longer?

• Yeee-haa! The 500-meter short track final! Go Ohno! Two false starts later and...wow! I mean, WOW! That was probably the fastest short track race we've seen in Turin. Of course, it IS the sprint event, so it should be, but even for the sprint event it was fast. And Ohno wins clean! Awesome!

• Does Ohno rest now that he has his individual gold? Oh no! He has said the perfect ending to the Olympics is to win the chaotic race that is the 5,000-meter Short Track Relay. Again in the relay event, we follow one athlete--tonight it's Ohno--through an entire cycle to show how the relay system works. Ultimately, the 5,000-meters separates into two races: the Koreans and the Canadians battling for first, and the Americans and Italians fighting for bronze. The last leg is Ohno and... OH YES! He passes the Italian with one lap to go to bring home the bronze for the U.S.!

• Now we call out the big guns. Eloquent Tom Brokaw interviewing slacker Bode Miller. I end up having a little bit of sympathy for Bode after this, but not much. He seems like a nice enough guy. He's happy about Ligety and Mancuso winning their golds, for example. But then he gets off on weird tangents. The Olympics are not about the medals, but about him experiencing the Olympic experience. You can do everything right and the results still won't be there. He likes the movie "Miracle" because his Olympic dream has always been to win from the underdog position, but now he feels more like the Russians--the favorites-- in that movie. Great Tomba's ghost! If I didn't know better, I'd suspect he'd been drinking before this interview.

Anyone can experience the Olympics without having a chance for a medal, Bode. I personally have done it twice. But this whole line about not being in it for the medals, frankly, is crap. The Jamaican Bobsled team might not be in it for the medals, but Bode Miller, on the covers of Time and Newsweek and hosting his own Nike-sponsored site, should be trying for the medals, and should at least be disappointed that he didn't do better.

Bode, I sat on my butt and watched the Olympics on TV for two weeks while you skied in five events, and you only finished one more race than I did. While your respect of the Olympics extended to you "not drinking every day," speed skater Kimberly Derrick ran her race while crying because she and her late grandfather wanted her to be in the Olympics so badly. I really want to believe that you're taking this more seriously than you let on, but if not, you won't be missed if you're not in Vancouver.

• Apolo Anton Ohno gets on the medal stand for his 500-meter victory and HE'S SINGING! And tearing up! And happy! And briefly overwhelmed! Someone should send a video of this to Bode to show what the favorite can look like when he wins. In his post medal ceremony interview, he's still just as happy, and just as overwhelmed. Maybe the lesson for Bode here is that there was only ONE "Miracle" story. Everyone else has to make their own. Ohno certainly seems happy with his story, is Bode happy with his?

• We close with Bob Costas adding his own critical words about Bode Miller. At this point, any more commentary on him would just be piling on, so let's just say that Bob wan't positive.

Fluff-wise, this was a pretty good night. The only real downside was Bode Miller's attitude. And yes, it's easily possible that I was completely misinterpreting him. It's possible that he's really disappointed and just doesn't give a good interview. But Tom Brokaw doesn't think so. And Bob Costas doesn't think so. And Picabo Street doesn't think so. Hopefully, we're all wrong. See you tomorrow for what is sure to be a fluff-filled finale to the Games!




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