Gold Rush!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tomatoes and Swedes fly, while gold rains down on Americans. It's Day 6 of the Vancouver Olympics!

•  We start with Bob Costas, who tells us that there are MORE ice problems at the long track speed skating rink. Again? Well, this does give me a chance to make a correction.

On Monday, I blamed the speed skating track's ice problems on Zamboni. That prompted Rockwood reader Carl to send us the following note:

Love reading your Olympic watch. Quick comment for you on the speedskating delays. According to this article, the rumor is the machines were not supplied by Zamboni. I had no idea there was another company that made them, but apparently there is.

We didn't realize it either, Carl, so don't feel bad. The ice resurfacing machines at fault on Monday were built by Olympia. Ironically, to fix the problem, the Vancouver Olympic Committee brought in some ice machines from... you guessed it... Zamboni. Do you think the Zamboni corporation is going to use this event in some promotional materials? They should!

•  Oh no! The first thing we do tonight is fluff! Cris Collinsworth talks to and about U.S. snowboarder Shaun White. He says he's getting better, but so is his competition. And tonight he's going to unveil his new super-secret move! I'm betting it's some kind of move to ditch Cris because he's such a square.

• Off to the mountain, where we get to see the Men's Snowboarding qualifying runs. Louie Vito of both the U.S. and "Dancing With The Stars" goes first and is doing pretty well until he clips the edge of the halfpipe on the way down. At the end of the run, he stands patiently in front of the camera while waiting for his score. The score finally comes and if you listen carefully, you can hear the cameraman tell Louie, "Thanks for waiting." I guess Vito wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible but the cameraman convinced him to stay. Camera work isn't just about getting the action shot!

• Next, Shaun White and... Wow! That's some massive air! No wonder Tony Hawk is willing to tell that square Cris Collinsworth all about it. The Flying Tomato qualifies for the finals on his first run.

Then, thanks to the miracle of tape delay, we immediately see Vito's second run which qualifies him to go to the finals as well. Sometimes it's better to not be live.

• And now we head over to the speed skating oval to learn what happened. Annnnnnd....

Nothing! I don't think Dan Hicks and Dan Jansen even knew they were on the air. We watch for about 30 commentary-free seconds as a couple of skaters mill around the starting line. Eventually they get into position and the race starts, but not once did I ever hear an explanation for the troubles that Costas said they were having. Maybe I misinterpreted and instead of troubles with the ice, they were having troubles with the audio.

•  America's Chad Hedrick will be racing tonight in the 1000m race along with Shani Davis. Remember in 2006 when NBC just wouldn't shut up about some controversy they'd manufactured between Hedrick and Davis? This year... nothing. I guess that story didn't drive up the ratings like they'd hoped.

• Here's something interesting. In between races while Shani Davis is warming up, we learn all about his training regimen. He lives just a mile or so from this arena. He keeps a journal on how he feels after each race so he can coach himself. He's the world and Olympic record holder in this event and even though no one has ever won this race in two consecutive Olympic Games, he could do so tonight. You know what the best part about this is? It's not fluff, because Dan Jansen is just telling us about it as Davis goes through his warmup routine. Nicely done, Dan!

• Shani Davis' turn finally comes. He's the last to skate, so he knows the time he has to beat. And he beats it! Shani Davis is the first person to ever win the 1000m length twice. The celebration for this, for both him and NBC, seems oddly subdued. Maybe that's just the speed skating way.

• Oh yes, it's Ohno! In the heats for the Men's 1000m Short Track skating, both Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski advance to the quarterfinal round. American Travis Jayner races a good race and then stumbles (but doesn't fall) on the last turn, missing his chance to advance. No margin of error makes for an exciting sport.

• Now for some Lindsey Vonn fluff. Apparently she's accident prone. In addition to her current shin injury, she also hurt herself in the Turin games, and she almost ripped off her thumb with, of all things, a champagne bottle. Hopefully she'll make it at least to the end of tonight's broadcast.

• Two Americans race before Vonn, Stacey Cook and Julia Mancuso. Cook is in first place after her run, but she's only the fourth of 37 athletes to ski. That placement doesn't hold on for long. But Julie Mancuso takes an even bigger lead and her placement holds on all the way until Vonn takes the hill.

• Steve Porino gives us a report on Lindsey Vonn's skis. She's been using men's skis all season because she likes the way they ride on rough snow. This is great! I would much rather see reports like this on the technical aspects of the sport than watch two more minutes of some athlete in dramatic lighting and slow motion.

• Finally, Lindsey Vonn actually gets a chance to ski instead of just starring in every commercial and posing for every magazine cover. The last two skiers NBC has shown us before Lindsey wiped out near the bottom of the hill. Hopefully that wasn't foreshadowing.

It doesn't look like it now. She's tearing it up! One big jump to go... nailed it! And Vonn finishes in first place! She collapses on the ground, shouting out "Yes!" over and over again. I don't know if I've ever seen someone so happy to be ahead with so many competitors left to go. Right now it's Vonn-Mancuso 1-2.

The replay of her run shows that her finish was even more amazing. On several close-up shots of her skis, you can tell she's avoiding skiing on her injured leg. At one spot near the end of the course she nearly crashes because she's skiing on only one foot! That's some good camera work.

• Now there are only two skiers who have legitimate chances against Vonn. Sweden's Anja Parson is the first. She flies down the hill and.... OH! SHE'S FLYING DOWN THE HILL! Parson misjudges the last jump before the finish line, flies 190 feet in the air, then comes down into a spectacular crash. She loses her skis and slides all the way down the hill, over the finish line. I know she didn't win, but what was her time? Apparently, you need to cross on your skis, because officially she gets a "Did Not Finish" attached to her name.

Oh, and how do I know she flew 190 feet? NBC had a graphic overlaid on the mountain that showed lines on the slope with various distances. Did NBC foresee crashes coming on this hill and have this graphic pre-prepared, or did they just wing it this afternoon? Either way is interesting.

• The last skier with a chance to beat Vonn is Germany's Maria Riesch. She had to wait extra long in the starter's gate while officials helped Paerson off the course. Evidentally, that spooked her, because her time is terrible. As I said on Monday, if you're not racing crazy, you're not going to win the downhill. She crosses the finish line over two seconds off the lead, which means...

Lindsey Vonn wins! Julie Mancuso is second! U.S.A. gold-silver! It's a good day on the downhill course.

•  Okay, you can call me a softie, but I think the Proctor and Gamble commercial with the "To their Mom's, they'll always be kids"

• Simulcam! It's Virtual Mancuso versus Virtual Vonn! That's a lot of V's. You can see exactly where Vonn got the edge over Mancuso. Simulcam rocks!

• On the bottom of the hill, Steve Porino interviews Vonn who is so overcome with emotion she doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. She alternates between the two about every five seconds. At the end of the interview, Steve says "someone special" is here to see her. She looks over to see her husband Thomas, and tells Porino that she has to go. She runs over to Thomas, who --amazingly-- also has a camera next to him, and gives him a great big hug while he tells her she was "awesome" and "unbelievable" and "you did it!" She never stops laugh/crying the entire time.

Wisely, NBC doesn't cut away from this shot for what seems like forever. Darn you, NBC, for making me misty. This one minute of Lindsey Vonn hugging her husband after winning the gold medal was better than every single moment of fluff that NBC prepared in advance. This is why I watch the Olympics.

• But now we are LIVE under the lights on Cypress Mountain for the Men's Snowboard finals. Each boarder gets two runs and the best score of those two is the one that counts.

This sport is built for TV. There are cameras EVERYWHERE, from the one dead center at the beginning of the run to the several on either edge of the halfpipe that can position themselves so that the boarders fly right over the top of their heads. One shot of Finland's Markku Koski from the side was so spectacular that I actually recoiled as he flew towards my screen. This should be fun.

• Japanese boarder Ryo Aono does a move called "the kickin' chicken." Analyst Jonny Moseley explains that it's a negative term for when a boarder flails in the air. Good to know!

• And now it's time for Shaun White. Great shades of Tony Hawk! How does he get so much higher in the air than everybody else? If he was any higher he'd be like that snowboarding commercial they keep showing with the boarder who soars into space.

• Look down, back up... where are you? The tickets are now diamonds! I'm on a horse. Best. Commercial. EVER.

• I guess the live snowboard competition must be taking a break, because we've come back from commercial to two minutes of Men's Figure Skating fluff. The free skate comes up tomorrow! See, that only takes five seconds to when I say it.

• Andrea Kramer interviews Shani Davis. He seems like a nice enough guy, but he's definitely a different personality that you see with snowboarders. I couldn't imagine him saying, "Duuuuude!"

Over to the medal presentations, Maelle Ricker of Canada gets her gold medal from yesterday's Snowboard Cross. Maelle and everybody in the crowd sing "Oh, Canada." Add Maelle to the list of my favorite Olympians. Yes, I know she's Canadian! The favorite Olympians list is not limited to only Americans. Don't be a hater.

• Japanese boarder Kazuhiro Kokubo fell on his first run, but Moseley notes just how far into the air he's sailing by pointing out how far above the cameraman's head he is. Jonny is guessing about 18 feet. Why aren't we seeing that shot, NBC? The camera is there, use it!

• The lone Canadian, Justin Lamoureux, gets a big ovation from the crowd as he starts his last run. His run is clean, but is it enough? The one weakness in the snowboard coverage is the same weakness as the figure skating coverage. Since all of the scoring is based on judging, you have to know what the judges are looking for to know if an individual athlete's performance is good. If Moseley doesn't tell us, we don't know. He's doing an okay job, but I want more information!

As for Lamoureux, his scores come back and the best he can do is seventh. Why is that?

And just as I say that.... Simulcam! We see a Shaun White air versus another boarder's air. White is obviously higher, but that's just one part of the puzzle. More explanations like this would make the coverage better. That's something to work on, Jonny!

• With just two boarders to go, Shaun White is still in first place, which means he's guaranteed a medal. Given that no one else has even come close to him, what do you think he'll do on his second run if he's a shoo-in for the gold? I think he's going to go full out and show off. With no pressure, it should be spectacular.

Just before Scotty Lago starts, Moseley says that the phrase snowboarders use to pump themselves up is "grab onto the eye of the tiger." Snowboarders use that, Jonny? Yeah, them and everyone else.

But Lago falls, meaning Shaun White has locked it up, which leads to...

Bad language! The cameras are right with the Flying Tomato and his coach when they exchange... uh... "colorful language"... at the top of the run. Moseley apologizes for the language and then adds to the weirdness by telling us that the coach and White made a deal to get matching tattoos in Vancouver if the Tomato won the gold. Alrighty then.

Since he's technically already won, he talks to his coach about just going straight down the run. They decide against it. Told ya! White's gonna go for it.

His last run... Great Googly Moogly! Shaun White's snowboard must be composed of anti-gravity materials. The moves he's making don't even have names, but Moseley tries to name them. A double-flip. The Double McTwist 1260. The Whitesnake.

Wait a minute. There's a move called "The Whitesnake?" Here we go again. Well, he did win in the still of the night, and the way the crowd adored him you could certainly ask is this love? But there was nothing slow and easy about that performance.

On the other hand, Shaun White and Tawny Kitaen have the same hair, so why not?

• Back to Whistler for the medal ceremony for Lindsey Vonn's downhill victory. Given her show of emotion at the bottom of the run, am I wrong to think there might be singing? Don't let me down, Lindsey!

Well, she's clearly choked up, but the singing part is being handled by American silver medalist Julie Mancuso. At least they both have their hands over their hearts. And Lindsey is crying, or at least trying very hard not to do so. Given her reaction earlier today, I'm going to cut her some slack. But if she wins another gold, I'm expecting some vocals. You've been warned, Mrs. Vonn!

Just eight minutes of fluff! This is fun! And three American gold medals in three hours makes it fun, too. I might not be writing as much, but I'm having more fun, and isn't that what the Olympics are all about? See you tomorrow!