Snowboarders, Skaters, and Bears. Oh my!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day four of the Olympics and the fluff is starting to creep up. Will NBC stick with live events or will they start to sneak in stories about fuzzy, wuzzy, wuvable polar bears? The results aren't encouraging.

• Coming up tonight: figure skating, speed skating, snowboarding, alpine skiing, and... polar bears? It's not enough that the fluff exists in the first place, but now Bob is teasing it at the top of the show? Well, I guess we'll see what Mary Carillo's can do with it later.

• But first we're off to Whistler for the craziest sport in the Winter Olympics, the Downhill. The Vancouver Olympic Committee has outlined the entire course in blue paint. I'm sure this helps the skiers, but I don't recall ever seeing such a clearly defined course at an Olympics. Is this just for TV, or does it have something to do with the low snowfall that Vancouver's has been experiencing? Maybe I can find something on Google.

But why is downhill the craziest sport, you ask? Yes, the luge is faster but good lugers are known for being control freaks. By comparison, good downhill skiers are known for being crazy. Anytime you hear a downhill skier say something like, "I'm going to race a nice safe run," you know you're looking at a loser. When you watch a good downhill run, it looks like the skier has lost his mind and all sense of self-preservation. Speaking of Bode Miller...

• Bode fluff! He's looking forward to the downhill! Well, I guess that's better than the Turin Olympics, when he seemed more concerned with inviting Tom Brokaw into his trailer.

• Steve Porino tells us that Bode's going to be using his "tried-and-true" skis instead of some experimental skis. That's already different from 2006, when he and another US skier both used experimental skis in their losses. Hopefully, that lesson was learned.

So he skis, and he ends the race in first place! Yes, it's early, but he was almost four-tenths of a second ahead of the next competitor, so maybe that will hold up.

• Swiss skier Didier Cuche has to wear a special glove because he broke his thumb. Is this really fluff? We are, after all, talking about a condition that will affect his racing ability. I think I'm going to count it as news just because it's short and informative. If it was really fluff, we'd get some slow-motion shots of the thumb along with a voice-over telling us about what a tragic life the thumb had led before it made it to Vancouver.

• After all of the other racers that NBC is going to show us (this event is tape-delayed), Bode Miller is still in third place, and the last true contender for a medal in the Downhill is Robbie Dixon from Canada. He's a wild man! He smashes through a gate! He's flying down the course! He's... WHOOOOAA!!! Okay, maybe he's a little TOO wild. Robbie flies off the hill and can't control his landing. That's going to guarantee a bronze for Bode! And he seems happy about it! Wow! He really has changed since Turin!

• We received several emails about our request yesterday asking for a ruling on whether or not the "How To Train Your Dragon" spots were fluff or ads. The consensus is ads, so we'll go with popular opinion. "Ads" it is!

• It's time for the Viking sports update. And that's old-school Vikings, Bob tells us. Older than even Brett Favre or Fran Tarkenton. As a Minnesota Viking fan, I do appreciate the reference.

• Finally, says Bob, a visit from Mary Carillo! Ahhhh yes. The much-anticipated polar bear segment.

Mary journeys to the frozen tundra of Churchill, Manitoba, 1,331 miles from NBC's Vancouver home base, just so she can go see some polar bears. (Incidentally, I had to use Google Earth to calculate this distance instead of Google Maps. Google Maps can't calculate road distance because there are no roads going to Churchill). I get how polar bears are relevant to Canada, but Churchill isreally not relevant to Vancouver. Don't believe me? Sticking with our Google Earth measuring tool, it's only 1,183 miles from Vancouver to the polar bear exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. San Diego is more relevant to Vancouver than Churchill is! Isn't there one interesting thing that Mary could do or see in the Vancouver area?

Anyway, bears. Mary hops onto the Tundra Buggy of Great White Bear Tours and awwww... they're so cute! Yes, so cute that Churchill has a bear phone hotline (657-BEAR) that will activate a siren if the polar bears wander into town. Perhaps they're not quite as cute when they're bearing down on you on Main Street.

But it's not just ecotourists that love the bears, says Mary, but also the scientists. When you're studying bears, says one scientist, they're studying you. Great. Now NBC has found scientists that speak like Jimmy Roberts. Is there no end to your oppression of me, Jimmy?

Needless to say, this is all fluff.

• Now we're off to Cypress Mountain for the Men's Snowboard Cross quarterfinals. The top two of four racers advance, and two of the four are from the United States. Halfway down the hill, their competition falls down, leaving the Americans all alone. Don't pull a Jacobellis! They don't. Both qualify.

During the next heat...leader cam! At least one of the four snowboarders has a camera mounted somewhere on their body. Awesome! Do they all have cameras on them? Nope. Only one had it. I think NBC is missing a golden opportunity there.

• Cris Collinsworth is misidentified by Bob Costas as "Cris Collins." Why? Because Collinsworth is so bland that Costas can't even remember his name. Cris tells us how much a hundreth of a second is. You know, stuff like one hundreth of a second is 10 feet for a skier on the 1.3 mile downhill run, or three tenths is two blinks of an eye.

I have my own measurements. One tenth of a second is the amount of time it takes me to realize this is fluff. Two tenths is the amount of time it takes me to groan aloud.

• Off we go to Pairs Figure Skating. Here's something fun to try if you have a TV with a good sound system: if the skater's music is quiet and the skaters are performing a jump, you can hear the rapid-fire chatter of dozens of camera shutters going off while they're in the air. Try it!

• Back to Cypress Mountain. I loooooove the on-board cam for the snowboard cross, but why does only one racer have it? Like NASCAR, there should be a rule that all of the boarders need to wear cameras. In the semifinal race, Austrian Mario Fuchs was the one with the camera and he wiped out. Why did we not get to see a replay from THAT camera? Has NBC learned NOTHING from NASCAR?

• Over at the speed skating track, the 500m race has been delayed due to Zamboni failure! The arena has three different Zambonis and none of them could perform the job. What are the odds of three simultaneous Zamboni failures? They finally got them working, but now all of the skater's routines are thrown off, says Dan Jansen. If they're all thrown off the same, what's the problem? They're Olympic athletes. Shouldn't they be able to deal with it? Look at me, questioning three-time Olympian Dan Jansen. Shut up, internet boy!

•  I was told by reader Jessica that I should be commenting on the skaters outfits. Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig are wearing powder blue things with sequins. Oh, and previous skaters? Gold with sequins, red with sequins, white with sequins... I'm pretty sure there was a black with sequins somewhere in there. There's a reason I don't do fashion commentary.

• Bilodeau fluff! Yesterday's Men's Moguls winner Alexandre Bilodeau has an older brother with cerebral palsy who is his inspiration. Same old-same old, right? Not exactly. What's different about this fluff? It was produced in Canada for the CBC. That's right! It's imported fluff! My goodness, can America not even produce it's own fluff anymore?

• And now, Bilodeau's medal ceremony. He gets the gold. Begg Smith, the internet spam millionaire, gets silver, and the bronze goes to American Bryon Wilson. So will Bilodeau sing "Oh, Canada"? He'd better, or his brother won't be proud of him, and that would ruin that fluff story we just spent so much time setting up.

He doesn't know the words! He tries to sing a couple of times, but it's clear he doesn't know what lyric is next. The crowd, however, fills in all the gaps for him. Well, I guess he didn't expect to win a medal, but still, even I know most of the words to "Oh, Canada" and I'm not even from there!

Team Rockwood member Sandy provides some uniform commentary. Russia's Yuri Lariyonov and Vera Bazarova have a problem. Her uniform, red with yellow accents, is okay, but his is mostly grey and ugly like the sky in Siberia. I think that their skating is kind of ugly. The judges agree with me.

• Zhao Hongbo is caught on camera throwing a football back and forth to his trainer while waiting underneath the arena. He's not too bad of a thrower, and he's definitely better than I would have pictured for a figure skater.

• Shen and Zhao's trainer Yao Bin gets his own fluff complete with a Chinese proverb! "The one who removes a mountain begins by moving small stones." Fantastic. Mountains, stones, i'll get right on that.

Anyway, trainer Yao Bin has been away from his family for two decades, and was not even there when his son was born. He's devoted to his coaching career and to his skaters. And the first time he zzzzzzzzzzzz.... Oh! Sorry. I kinda got bored out of my mind, there. Fluff!

•  More uniform commentary from Sandy: Annabelle Langlois from Canada is wearing an outfit that has a strange gradient color at the top that, to the camera, makes it look like they're trying to blur out some kind of wardrobe malfunction. Sandy says they should have put that color down near her feet so it would have blurred out her falls.

• Sandy also wants to know how the Americans can skate a clean program and finish behind other skaters who fall. I'm sure it has something to do with degree of difficulty, but unlike when Dick Button was doing commentary in Turin, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic don't do a lot of talking during the performance. That's good and bad. The good is that they don't get in the way of the performance. The bad is not only do I not know anything about fashion, I also don't know anything about figure skating. If Scott Hamilton doesn't tell me how the scoring works, it's unlikely I'll figure it out on my own.

• Maria Mukhortova from Russia is wearing a cute red dress. Her partner Maksim Trankov looks like he just came from the IT department with his dark grey slacks and white button-up shirt. All he needs is the Dilbert tie. Although, I suppose if I HAD to wear a skaters outfit, I'd much rather wear this than something sequin-y.

• Back to Cypress Mountain and the snowboard cross finals. Four racers, three medals, two Americans. That means at least one American will get some kind of medal.

• Cris Collinsworth has pity for Lindsey Jacobellis for screwing up. Both he and Bob excuse her snowboard trick (a "method air") as an innocent mistake. I think the word you're looking for is "hubris," Cris. Anyway, her fluff piece says that she's going to try to make up for it in this Olympics. Except for NBC, it takes four minutes to say that one sentence.

• This is the second commercial tonight I've seen for Windows 7. The first was all in French, and this second one is British. Can Americans not even produce their own commercials anymore?

• Now it's Dick Button in the studio with Bob. Again, why is he here in the studio and not there in the arena? This really does confuse me. Button is obviously on the NBC payroll and watching all of the skaters. Why keep him sequestered in the studio with Costas? I wonder if the NBC brass is worried that he would chew up Hamilton and Bezic, and that only Bob can hold his own against him.

• We're back on the ice with Germany's Aliona Savchenko. Last night she looked like a clown. Tonight she looks like a wedding cake. With sequins. Her partner Robin Szolkowy falls. Everybody's falling tonight. I think the first skating pair that can make it through their routine without falling is going to win by default.

• Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China skate to "The Impossible Dream" and nail all of their jumps. After they hit their last jump, Bezic says that they're savoring the rest of their routine. Of course they are. They've dreamt the impossible dream.

So now my theory is going to be put to the test. I'm assuming they'll take the lead from Savchenko and Szolkowy, which would leave them in first place with one pair to go. If Shen and Zhao skate clean, they win. If Shen and Zhao fall, Pang and Tong win. Of course, what do I know?

Ha! So far I'm right! Pang and Tong take first. I may not know skating, but I do know numbers.

Zhao bobbles on one of the jumps, and Sandra Bezic gasps on one of their lifts, but I didn't notice anything bad there. Overall, I'd say it was clean enough to win.

Turns out Sandra saw that dropped lift that I didn't, but it didn't matter. Shen and Zhao still won. Expect more fluff on Shen and Zhao in the future.

• Back in the studio with Costas and Button. Hmmm... maybe THIS is why Dick is in the studio. When he first starts his analysis, he stumbles through the first minute until he gets in the groove. Still, even then he says more in a minute than Scott Hamilton has said all night.

• The last segment of the show is Bob interviewing Men's Snowboard Cross winner Seth Wescott of the United States. Wescott talks about his win, says he plans to come back for the Sochi games, and then Costas gives him grief for wearing his hat inside. A hat?! C'mon, Bob! We're in Canada! That's a toque!

I don't consider it a good sign that as the figure skating increases, so does the fluff. Remember, we haven't even gotten to the really popular skating yet. But for now, live events seem to have kept NBC's desire for fluff down to a minimum. Let's hope it stays that way. See you tomorrow!