Off On The Wrong Foot.

Friday, February 12, 2010

• What a horrible way to start. Not the Olympic broadcast itself, but if you haven't heard the news, Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili --only 21 years old-- was killed during a practice run just hours before the Opening Ceremonies. Obviously, it's not NBC's fault that this happened, but it can't help but make tonight's festivities a little less festive. Clearly this wasn't how anyone wanted to start the day.

NBC takes the right tone here, delaying the happy open they wanted to show and instead dedicating the first ten minutes of their broadcast to Kumaritashvili's tragic death. Olympic organizers have already stated that they'll do something during the Opening Ceremonies to honor the Georgian luger, but it's just a sad story all around.

• But back to the broadcast. Amazingly, now, before even the Opening Ceremonies, we get an event! From earlier today, we get previously-recorded footage from the ski jumping qualification round. Question: What's the world record for ski jumping length? Answer: It doesn't matter! The starting location on the ramp is adjusted depending on the weather conditions so that a jumper doesn't fly too far, i.e. crash into the bottom of the hill. Therefore, it only matters how far you fly compared to your opponents on any given day. And really, isn't that what matters anyway?

• Back from the ads, we get... Canada! HERE is where the continent ends! HERE is where athletes have come to compete as Canadian's do! HERE is where fluff begins! You know, had NBC started their broadcast with this pompously-narrated "athletes to watch for" segment, I might have been more forgiving. But now that they've wetted my appetite with events, I feel kind of cheated going back to fluff.

• And now the real show starts. We're back with Bob Costas and Matt Lauer at the Opening Cermonies (from now on, "OC") stadium. Matt tells us that the Vancouver OC planner was relieved when he saw the Beijing OC because now he could make the 2010 OC "more intimate." So... prepare to be underwhelmed, I guess.

• It's the Flying Tomato! Cris Collinsworth interviews snowboarder Shaun White. Cris apparently thinks there's going to be a blizzard inside the B.C. Place dome and is dressed accordingly. His interview technique seems less like an interview and more like he's sucking up, especially when he closes with "Bring it, Bruthah."

Meanwhile, Dan Patrick interviews U.S. hockey player Jack Johnson of the L.A. Kings. Dan at least knows how to ask a question, though he does force Jack to guess "Gretzky" as to who he thinks will light the torch. Is there anyone who DOESN'T think it's Gretzky?

• An interview with Sports Illustrated covergirl Lindsey Vonn! Will she ski? NBC hopes so. They've got a lot of ad time riding on her. She's optimistic, especially given that weather delays are giving her more time to recover.

• Ads! Sun Chips is now making a bag that decomposes. Does that mean it's okay for me to litter?

• Dan Patrick asks ice dancers Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin about their convoluted travel plans. There's nothing quite as exciting as listening to people talk about how their plane was delayed. Seriously, isn't there any more ski jumping footage we could watch?

• Mary Carillo brings her first fluff of the games. Mary journeys up to Iqalit to run a mile... or a kilometer... something, with the Olympic torch. There really wasn't a whole lot to this story, but it was kind of cute. Back in the studio with Bob, Mary tells us that the torch was handled by 12,000 people, but not all of them ran. Among the methods of transportation: canoe, dog sled, and logging truck. What about via Ice Road Truckers? That would have rocked.

• Oh no! Ohno --Apollo Anton, that is-- won't be marching in the OC because he's skating tomorrow. Instead, he talks with Al Michaels. I guess if you've marched in two other games' OCs, a third wouldn't be so special. Especially if it's going to be underwhelming.

• Cris is back with Lindsey Jacobellis. Is there anything she can learn from last time? Well, how about "how to finish?"

• Again we're asked, "who will light the torch?" Gretzky, right? Who else could it be? It has to be a famous Canadian athlete. Let's see if we can think of some other options. How about Warren Moon? Doug Flutie? Nahh.

• It's the world premiere of "We Are The World 25: For Haiti." Really, I feel bad picking on something that's for a good cause, but come on... Vince Vaughn? What's he doing in there?

• And here we go! An hour and a half into the broadcast and we're about to start the OC! Prepare to be underwhelmed!

• I've got it! The lighter of the torch will be... Terrence and Phillip and their asses of fire! No? I blame Canada.

• Mounties! They always get their man. Is that man Gretzky? Hmmmm....

•  Is this the Celine Dion version of Canada's national anthem? I'm underwhelmed. I do like that they have the singer standing on the Fortress of Solitude, though. Will she also be singing the second national anthem of Canada? It's Hockey Night in Canada!

• Giant ice totems! There's something you don't see every day. If Indiana Jones brings in the other crystal skull will the alien ship lift off?

• Several aboriginal Canadian tribes take the stage in a giant pow-wow, and then welcome the athletes into the stadium.

• Clothing choices of the early countries... Azerbaijan: loud pants. Bermuda: shorts. Brazil: thongs! No, not really.

• As Finland enters, Matt tells us about the Finnish sauna competition, where contestants see how long they can stay in an absurdly hot sauna. He jokes that the winner is named "Stu." Isn't that the guy with no arms and no legs in a hot tub?

• Georgia enters the stadium to a standing ovation, their previously eight members now seven.

• Great Britain. They invented curling, says Matt. The Canadians, he says, claim they perfected it. I'm assuming that has something to do with allowing beer consumption during play.

•Bob claims that there is a website devoted to finding people to skate with called Because I'm obssessive, I had to look and see. Turns out he was wrong. It's actually

• Iceland has never won a gold medal in the winter Olympics. That's because adding consonants to your name is not a sport.

• Alphabetically, only Ireland separates Iran and Israel. Bob says that in the past Iran has withdrawn from sporting events rather than competing directly with Israel, then calls that a black mark on the Games. I'd call that a black mark on Iran.

• Jamaica has only one athlete and no bobsled team. Why aren't they training Usain Bolt to push a bobsleigh? That would be awesome!

• Mexican skier Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg is the oldest athlete in the games at age 51. Why is he here? Because chicks in Cancun for Spring Break dig Olympians!

• Peru's flag bearer claims that Peruvians aren't big on cross-country skiing, but they do like "eating and partying." Bob says neither is a sport. Oh yeah? Tell that to Joey Chestnut, Bob!

• Spain enters and former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch takes his hands out of other people's pockets long enough to applaud for his home country.

• And now, the United States. Wooooooo!!!! USA! USA! USA! Joe Biden's in the crowd, clapping along. And we follow them around the track until....

• Oh, Canada! Here comes the home team. And the crowd goes moderately wild. C'mon. Have you ever seen Canadians go wild for anything? Bob says that Canada has never won a gold medal when they've hosted an Olympics. Maybe Sidney Crosby can bring back a hockey gold for the Great White North. You think the New Orleans Super Bowl/Mardi Gras party is big? That would be nothing compared to Canada winning a hockey gold in Canada. Ketchup-flavored potato chips and Molsons for everyone, eh!

• Now that all the athletes are all in, the show is about to start. Is this when the crystal skulls come in?

•  Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado take the stage to sing an Olympics-specific song that no one wants to hear them sing. At least he's not singing "Everything I Do." We don't want the audience going to sleep. Maybe they'll bring Nelly back for the Closing Ceremonies and she can sing "Turn Off The Light."

• Oh! Another torch lighting idea! This would be so awesome... SHATNER! He could look at the cauldron and say, "Here it comes... FIRE!" I'd wet my pants if that happened.

• Now it's snowing confetti inside of B.C. Place., and the northern lights are descending from the ceiling. Coooool.

• Bob tells us in a pitying voice that Beijing spent $300 million on their OC, whereas Vancouver only spent about $30 million. Yeah... you can't do anything with $30 million.

• Giant electric inflatable polar bear! You know what would be $30 million well spent? Let the bear eat some of the dancers.

The floor is a giant projector screen, and it starts as a polar ice cap which then breaks up, and morphs --melts?-- into a sea that has projected whales blowing actual water out through their blowholes. Neat effect.

• The all-knowing voice of Canadian Donald Sutherland booms over the stadium's loudspeakers. They should let Kiefer say something, too. "The events in this Opening Ceremony are happening in real time..."

• Sarah McLachlan sings some syrupy song and dancers dance. Yawn. You know who they should bring out? Rush! I think "New World Man" would be a good Olympic song. Or how about "Tom Sawyer?" "A modern day warrior..." It's perfect!

• And now the French-speaking portion of our show. A man whose hair has been shaped into horns rides in a floating electric canoe and plays fiddle against his own shadow, which is projected onto the moon. Lumberjack mohawked, kilt-wearing fiddlers and riverdancers cavort among the giant maple leaves. Then a bearded, tattooed man with a Flock of Seagulls haircut tapdances. Sparklers on their feet! Sparklers on their feet! Did David Lynch write this portion of the program?

• A teenage boy "runs" over a projected field of grain, then is lifted skyward by cables. What would an Opening Ceremonies be without a flying child?

•'s a potential torch lighter: Gordie Howe! He might be the only one who could compete with Gretzky. Also, Bobby Orr. On the other hand, Ben Johnson? Definitely not.

• Actually, the final torch run could sound like the most awesome hockey game in the world. Imagine this: Patrick Roy takes the torch behind the net and feeds it to Lemieux, who takes it across the blue line and shovels it to Orr. Orr crosses to Gordie who feeds Gretzky HE SHOOTS HE SCOOOOOORRRRES! Just like that!

•  The stage is now a mountain. You know, $30 million can get you a pretty impressive stage show. Various skiers all in Canadian red descend from the rooftop and float around the mountain. What does it all mean? Boffo ratings for NBC, that's what!

• Bob once again compares this show to Beijing, as if we think it's going to suck because it's one-tenth the price. Ease up, Costas! Vancouver has nothing to be ashamed of!

• Red-clad skaters have red lights on their left sides and white lights on their right sides. Are those so they know which side to pass on, like boat lights?

• Slam poetry? Okay, Beijing was better than this. "A to Zed, and yes, we say 'zed' instead of 'zee.'" Did he really just say that? I'm pretty sure that's from a beer commercial.

• Jacques Rogge extends condolences to Nodar Kumaritashvili and his Georgian teammates. The crowd is appropriately silent.

• John Furlong, the CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Committee, stands atop the Fortress of Solitude and gives his speech, which includes the line... "...this journey has not been about the few, but about the many." What's that? The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? SHATNER'S GOING TO LIGHT THE TORCH! I'm going to have a heart attack.

• Interesting: instead of clapping, everyone appears to be beating on some kind of drum. It gives the applause lines a weird rumble.

• Rogge starts his speech in English, then switches to French, and the translation we get is... nothing! Bob and Matt have forsaken us! For several minutes, the average American viewer has no idea what's going on. Finally, Rogge switches back to English to officially open the Games.

K.D. Lang sings Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." She's got a great voice, but why is she wearing David Byrne's old suit? B.C. Place is all lit up by the crowd member's electric candles. Pretty.

• Eight Canadian legends bring in the Olympic flag. Betty Fox. Donald Sutherland. Jacques Villeneuve. Barbara Ann Scott. Ann Murray. Romeo Dallaire. Bobby Orr. Julie Payette. All wearing white, hand the flag over to the Mounties, who raise it to the Olympic hymn, "Money." Noooooo....

The flag itself is having a wardrobe malfunction. Because B.C. Place is a dome, the flagpoles have a wind machine built into them, but something on the flag is keeping it from extending in the wind. Well, maybe if they had Beijing's extra $270 million they could have built a better flagpole.

•  One minute of silence for Nodar Kumaritashvili as the flags are lowered to half-staff. A stadium full of people, and you could hear a pin drop.

• And now, the Olympic oath. I promise to cash in on my gold medal and get enough endorsement deals to pay for my retirement fund... No, not really.

• Will any torch lighting ever top the Barcelona games when they shot an arrow over the cauldron? Doubtful.

• The Olympic torch enters the stadium via yet another form of transportation, the wheelchair of Rick Hansen. He hands it off to Catriona Le May Doan. She runs it over to Steve Nash. He waves and runs another 50 yards to Nancy Greene. She turns a corner giving it to... SHOCK! The Great One! Wayne Gretzky. Maybe he'll slap shot the torch into the cauldron.

Waiting... waiting... now four people with torches are just standing around the middle of the floor. Is something rising up? Nooo...

Uh-oh. Now Bob says there are mechanical difficulties! Okay, THAT was done better in Beijing.

Finally! Four giant ice obelisks rise from the floor... check that. There SHOULD have been four, there are actually only three. But the show must go on! These three columns intersect a middle post with a cauldron on top and three of the four torch bearers get to light something. The other person? Well, as they say, only the top three people at the Olympics get a reward. Sucks to be fourth!

• But that lighting doesn't count! The official Olympic cauldron must be outside and visible, says Bob. So now Gretzky is standing in the bed of a Chevy pickup holding the torch up as they drive him across town to light another cauldron. It doesn't really seem like anybody thought any of this out in advance. They did know the Olympics were coming to town, right?

This is probably the weirdest thing I've ever seen in an Opening Ceremonies. Gretzky's slow-moving pickup is being chased down the streets of Vancouver by dozens of people taking pictures with their cell phones. And now, at Cauldron 2: Electric Boogaloo, Gretzky finally makes it to a structure that looks like what the cauldron at B.C. Place SHOULD have looked like. He touches his torch to the bottom and...

SUCCESS!! Well, thank goodness this one worked. There's probably already one flammable-hydraulic-ice-obelisk-maker that's been fired tonight. It'd be a shame if there was another one.

• So, a weird day. The torch lighting was obviously a little messed up, but I'm betting most people actually at the event didn't even notice, so that's not a big deal. But the Nodar Kumaritashvili story is just a tragedy. And that's a real tragedy, not the kind of "tragedy" that certain fluff pieces will try and sell you later in the Games. Hopefully, NBC's editors are hard at work right now re-editing those pieces so that Kumaritashvili's death isn't trivialized.

And let's also hope that this is the worst news we hear from Vancouver for the next two weeks. One bad day doesn't need to ruin an entire Olympics. Good luck to Vancouver and see you tomorrow!