The Blind Slapping The Blind

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NBC reaches a new low in begging for sympathy, and athletes show you how to slap your way to success. It's Day 13 of the Vancouver Olympics!

•  We start tonight with the Men's 4x10km cross-country ski relay. There are no Americans in this event at all, yet we're starting with it! That's kind of cool.

For your future Olympic attendance reference, look at the surroundings at this race. The crowd is right up against the fence and they're all cheering. The snow is lightly falling. The mountain scenery is beautiful. Doesn't that look like fun?

I'll bet you the tickets are cheap, too, at least compared to, say, the gold medal hockey game. Just for grins, after the United States beat Switzerland in hockey this afternoon to advance to the semifinals, I looked up how much it would cost to buy scalped tickets to the hockey final. Stubhub says: $2,700 per ticket. Yowza! Well, I'm sure it will be on TV.

• Petter Northug is a cross-country skier from Norway. He's brash and in-your-face! He's the alpha male of cross-country skiing! His attitude is extreeeeeme! This might all be true, but even if he's great, he's still just a cross-country skier. That might mean something in Norway, Petter, but here it's only good for fluff.

• Mary Carillo rides a dog sled for fluff! Mary has once again journeyed 1,300 miles from Vancouver, all the way to Manitoba, so she can visit a sled dog camp. We're introduced to the owners and the dogs. Awwww! They're so CUTE! But Mary's favorite dog, Isabelle, isn't just cute, she's also blind. Yes! BLIND! A blind sled dog! This is fantastic! It's not enough for NBC that their human fluff is based on tragedy, now they've managed to scour the entire country of Canada until they could find a tragic sled dog! In a twisted way, I'm impressed that they could still find a way to surprise me.

Still, Manitoba? 1,300 miles? Do you remember in 1996 during the Atlanta games all of those great stories NBC did about Fargo, North Dakota? No? Well, how about in 2002 during the Salt Lake games, all of those wonderful stories about St. Louis? Still no? Well, that's how far 1,300 miles is. NBC has apparently made no effort at all to find something to do near Vancouver. Although, to be fair, it's not like you can just call up a web page that lists things to do in Vancouver. That would be totally unrealistic.

• But speaking of weird fluff statistics, reader Kent asks:

I was wondering if you ever charted over time the sports vs fluff vs ads. It seems like the sports coverage has increased this year - what is your take?

Well, we aim to please, so we went back through the archives and graphed our results.

It appears your gut was correct, Kent. Over the course of the years, NBC has increased the amount of event coverage and decreased the amount of fluff in their Olympic broadcasts.

But look how much fluff there was in 2000. When we first decided to do the Olympic Watch, it was mainly in protest of how much fluff NBC put on the air. The average time spent on events in 2000 was 61 percent. There were nights when it was as low as 54 percent, that is, barely half of a four hour Olympic show was Olympics.

So, things are better now, but there's still room for improvement!

• Off to Fog Mountain for the Women's Giant Slalom. Could Vancouver be any less lucky with the weather they've gotten for these Olympics? First they went weeks without snow. Then it was raining on the snow that was already there, causing it to melt. And now it's so foggy on Cypress Mountain that we can barely even see the skiers. If Lindsey Vonn wins a gold, will we even know?

• Whoa! I guess it doesn't matter. Lindsey catches an edge about two-thirds of the way down and crashes into the snow fence. Even stranger, Julia Mancuso is already on the course and bearing down on Vonn's crash site. Isn't this dangerous?

Yes it is. Race officials give Julia a yellow flag, which stops her run. I've never seen THAT before! This is the weirdest thing I've ever seen. Now they take Mancuso back to the top of the hill to do her run again. I know this is all tape-delayed, but does she get any time to recover? It seems really unfair to stop her potentially-leading run and immediately send her back on the top of the mountain to race again.

But that's what they do, and while she was challenging for first place on her first run, on her second run she finishes 18th. She's obviously upset. I don't blame her. Moments later, the race officials suspend the event due to fog, so run two of the giant slalom won't happen until tomorrow.

• Oh yes, it's Ohno! Over to short track speed skating we go for the Men's 500m quarterfinals. Apolo qualifies for the United States, as does Simon Cho. American Jordan Malo would have qualified for the semis, but he trips himself up and falls down on his very last turn. There is no sure thing in short track speed skating!

• Off to Whistler for the third and fourth runs of the Two-Woman Bobsled. Remember: slapping equals success!

The US2 sled does some slapping and finishes second again. US3 does no slapping and finishes sixth. Even more significant, former German gold medalist Sandra Kiriasis abstains from slapping and drops down to fifth. Slapping is the key, people! Do you want to win or not?

US1 doesn't slap and finishes seventh. How many times do we have to prove it?

•  Back to the short track for the Women's 3000m Relay. Andy Gabel shows us a diagram describing the relay exchange process. It's actually very interesting, and given that there are many Olympic events we only see once every four years, a rules refresher is appreciated.

In the race itself, the U.S. falls behind early and finishes a disappointing fourth, while Korea ends up taking it all. Or DO they? No! Korea gets disqualified because one of their skaters bumped a Chinese skater. The U.S. gets the bronze by default!

Here's a question: Say one of the other teams had bumped someone and two different teams had been disqualified. Would the Olympics then award the bronze medal to the team that finished fifth? Or would they just not give the bronze? I have no idea. If you know, write me.

• Figure skating fluff! Let's look at preview of tomorrow night's skaters in slow-motion with dramatic music, shall we? We also just get a preview with Ted Hammond, Scott Hamilton, and Sandra Bezic. Borrrrring. Nothing to see here. Move along.

• Back to the bobsled run. C'mon US1! Slap your way to a medal! Hmmm... a good run, but not enough slapping and not enough speed.

Germany 2 does a high five slap and a closing-the-visor slap. OH! They flip over halfway down and the brakeman flies out of the back of the sled! Both Germans are okay, which is not an idle concern at this track. I guess the slap doesn't always work.

• The last three sleds start with Canada 2. No slapping, but they're the leaders for now. The crowd goes nuts. Will we be seeing another "Oh, Canada" sing-a-long in the near future?

Next up, US2. There's the slap! This should be good. Second place with only Canada 1 to go! So I guess we WILL be singing "Oh, Canada" again. In fact, Canada 1 finishes in first, so the Canadians go 1-2 tonight. That's going to be one wild medal ceremony.

• Cris Collinsworth is here to tell us to expect the unexpected. Is he wearing a paisley handkerchief? That's certainly unexpected. Anyway, to prove that sometimes strange things happen to effect an athlete's performance he shows us Julia Mancuso's suspended run in the Giant Slalom today and Sven Kramer's lap mistake in the 10,000m speed skating from last night. This doesn't seem quite fair. After all, technically Julia could still win with a good run tomorrow. Whatever. The lesson from Professor Collinsworth is that not everything is within your control. Here's another example: I tuned in to NBC tonight to watch the Olympics, and instead I'm watching Cris Collinsworth be a philosopher. At least he's not a blind philosopher. That would be fantastic!

•  Back to the mountain for our first look tonight at the Women's Aerials. One of the television advantages in a sport like this is that all of the action happens in one small area, so all of the camera angles are good. And tonight, the fog makes some of those angles even more dramatic. The long shot is particularly cool, because the shadowy jumper emerges from the fog just in time to fly upward, then spin while silhouetted against the sky. It's very arty. And since Jonny Moseley doesn't explain things very well, it's also about all I have to go on for this event.

• One Chinese aerial skier was known as "The General." The next one is known as "The Princess." Have I missed something? Do all freestyle competitors have to have a nickname? Australia's skier Lydia Lassila is "The Flying Kangaroo," so maybe they do. The Flying Kangaroo wins gold over The General and The Princess. That sounds like children's story time.

• And now a slow-motion recap of this afternoon's U.S.-Switzerland hockey game. Didn't we have something just like this a couple of days ago featuring the U.S.-Canada hockey game? Did I count that as fluff or news? I don't remember now.

Ah yes. News. That's okay. It's the first time they've mentioned it tonight, so that's fair.

That was a weird day, wasn't it? But part of the joy of the Olympic Games is never knowing what's going to happen, so I guess we were due for a little weirdness. Only four more days to go! See you for one of them tomorrow!