SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2018
THE MIRACURL ON ICE
We're ending the Olympics by throwing rocks.
- Did you stay up late last night? The US men, which had never won any curling medal higher than bronze in any Olympics, started out these games by losing four of their first six matches. I only watched one of these first six matches and when they lost 8-2 to Japan last week, honestly, I'd pretty much given up on them. But then they won a match. And another. And another. And another. And then, just like that they were in the gold medal game against Sweden. So last night, LIVE after midnight Central Time, me, the rest of insomniac America, and –via satellite– the Duluth Curling Club all tuned in to see if they could make it happen. The match went back and forth for the first seven of ten ends (ends are the curling equivalent of innings). But then in the eighth end, the US brought down the hammer! Literally. In curling, "the hammer" is the last stone thrown of an end, and John Shuster managed to not only score one stone, but FIVE. The US went from a 5-5 tie to a 10-5 lead with just two ends to go, a nearly impossible task for the Swedes to overcome. And even though they managed to pick up two points in the ninth end, the stark reality is that the US had the hammer in the tenth and Sweden could only win if the US made a gigantic mistake. With two stones to go, Sweden conceded, their skip not even aiming as he took his final shot. And with that, the United States won it's first gold medal in curling! Hugs abounded on the ice! Ivanka Trump clapped in the audience. The Duluth Curling Club went crazy. Then, unlike most sports in these games, we got a medal ceremony at the site of the final. All five members of Team Shuster smiled and sang the national anthem at the top of their lungs. It was fantastic. A first ever gold medal for the US and athletes who are thrilled to be there. And no, I'm not crying, that's the mister that sprays droplets of water to create curling's pebbled ice surface.
- Anyway, that was last night, what's happening tonight? More ice skating! What medal is this for? NO medal! It's just for show. And by "show" I mean "fluff."
- But first let's go to an new sport, the Women's Mass Start long-track speed skating. I guess the IOC decided they didn't want short-track to have all of the crashes and chaos. It's a 15-lap race around the big speed skating track. But like short track, they spend the first 13 laps getting into position before picking up speed and sprinting for the last lap. It was interesting, but not as exciting as short track. Because it's so new, I don't think the skaters have quite figured out the strategy to successfully run this yet. Maybe next Olympics it will be better.
- Two minutes of fluff for Kjeld Nuis of the Netherlands. I don't know why, really. I guess we needed to see his fans get excited. Ooookay.
- Now it's time for the Men's Mass Start. This is weird. There are 16 skaters out there, all moving together in a pack. Slowly. It's hard to call this "speed" skating, since on most of the laps, they don't sprint. Instead, they have designated "sprint laps," says analyst Joey Cheek, which are supposed to make it more interesting for the viewers. I'm not sure if that's working. I'd much rather see them all go for it whenever they wanted to. There are no sprint laps in short track and that seems to hold the viewers attention just fine. What really gets the crowd's attention is the winner, home skater Lee Seung-Hoon, of South Korea. I guess if you want to drum up interest in a new sport, make sure the home guy can win it.
- Let's go to the studio to talk to Lindsey Vonn, because we haven't learned anything about her in this entire Olympics. How could NBC have ignored such a compelling story for two weeks? Oh, if only someone had bothered to ask about her grandfather, or watched her practices, or interviewed her multiple times on the bottom of the hill while she waited for other skiers to finish. Instead, we're expected to learn everything about her life in a mere five minutes. Why, NBC, why?
- Up to the sliding track we go for the third run of the Four-Man Bobsled. The top nine sleds are all within a second of each other. As is usual, we all watch in anticipation of tremendous crashes. Races! We all watch in anticipation of tremendous races! Who would think we watch this for the crashes. I make this comment while simultaneously being shocked that NBC tonight hasn't yet shown us once again the footage of Nico Walther's sled turning over at the finish line. Who wants to bet me that we don't see it before the night is over? No one. You're no fools.
- How many cameras are on the bobsled run? Let's count! Thirty! But not all of them have a camera operator. So let's count again. How many are unmanned? Only thirteen, so 17 cameras on this route are being controlled by people. The robots haven't won yet!
- Hey! Is it time for a figure skating event? Ha ha ha! No! This is the figure skating "Gala." I don't have a category for galas, only events, ads, and fluff. So if it's not an ad, and it's not an event, there's only one thing left for it to be.
- The Shib Sibs start off skating to a Frank Sinatra song. Classy. Well, until it becomes a Jay-Z remix of a Frank Sinatra song. Hard pass! Next is Canada's Kate Osmond, becoming the umpteenth skater to perform to "Hallelujah." All of the gala skaters perform in spotlights with the house lights down. Why don't they do this during the actual competition?
- Next up, the North Korean skaters emerge in the spotlights. Normally, any North Korean caught in a spotlight would be shot. But tonight, we can all revel in the joy of this delightful figure skating pair that is attempting to distract us from the fact that their country is a totalitarian hellscape. Enjoy their twizzles!
- Around the games we go! Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic won gold again, this time in a different sport, snowboarding. Think of all the time NBC has spent during these Olympics covering Lindsey Vonn. In the meantime, Ledecka has only gotten cursory coverage for her second gold medal, and didn't get any live coverage of her first one. You can't script the Olympic results in advance.
- Round four of the bobsled is underway! First let's watch all three USA sleds, none of which has a realistic chance to medal unless everyone else pulls a Nico Walther.
- Speaking of which, let's do a couple minutes of fluff on the sliding sports. We look back on the many highlights here in the Korean games. And look! There's Nico's crash! Called it!
- Snowboarding has the snowboardcross. Skating has both the short track and this new mass start long track event we saw tonight. Skiing has a side-by-side slalom. Head-to-head competition is where it's at. I think there needs to be a new event: side-by-side four-man bobsled. Make the track nice and wide and send down two sleds at the same time. You know you'd watch it. NBC already has Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on staff, and you know the NASCAR crowd would eat it up. Do it, IOC!
- Speaking of Nico Walther, his German sled moves into first with two sleds left, guaranteeing him a bronze at worst. The next sled is Won Yun-Jong of Korea, and he TIES Walther, which means neither can do no worse than silver. There sure have been a lot of ties this Olympics. That's pretty amazing when you consider they add the times from four different runs together. The last German sled beats both Walther and Won, so this tie is for silver.
- Entering from the darkness are the occult-based skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, performing to the Tragically Hip's "Long Time Running." The Canadians at least have good taste in music.
- Alina Zagitova comes out with a candle and wearing a tiger catsuit. I'm not sure this outfit is really appropriate for a 15-year-old. Or a 25-year-old, for that matter.
- Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan comes out dressed as some kind of anime swan. Maybe Yevgenia Medvedeva designed both him and his costume as some kind of side project.
- Speaking of Medvedeva, here she is performing in black pants and a hoodie. I guess she's trying to establish her street cred. Let me save you some time, Yevegenia. There's no such thing as a figure skater with street cred.
- By the way, Scott Hamilton is doing the commentary for the skater's gala. Where has he been the entire Olympics? Listening to him after spending two weeks listening to Johnny Weir is like listening to Ben Stein after spending two weeks listening to Ruby Rhod.
- Imagine, says Tanith, being Papdakis and Cizeron and finding out that your biggest Olympic competition ends up being your training mates. She's talking about Virtue and Moir, but couldn't their biggest Olympic hurdle just as easily have been "the clasp?" I mean, they lost the gold medal by less than a point, and Papadakis was self-conscious of her wardrobe malfunction through the entire short program. A tiny metal loop mishap might have been the difference.
- Korea's Choi Da-Bin skates and doesn't do anything outrageous. What fun is that?
- Now dozens of skaters come out onto the ice to thank all of you one more time for remembering that they exist, and they look forward to seeing you four years from now when you once again remember they exist. For all that time in between, well, there's always Disney on Ice.
- Had enough fluff yet? Not. Even. Close. Bud. Mike Tirico interviews the US Men's Curling team, LIVE. They don't look like they've slept. If you'd just won your country's first gold medal in an event, would you have? Anyway, most of this interview counts as fluff, but then at the end, NBC shows their medal ceremony. Dang it! Who pulled out that mister, again? I'm not alone. In what I think is a first, the crew in the studio applauds for the team. I don't think I've ever heard them do that before. Of course, the US has never won curling gold before. So there you go.
The curling was great, but that wasn't live. The fluff was the worst of this Olympics. Nuh-uh-uh... the worst of the Olympics so far! There's still one day to go, and that one day doesn't have any actual events in it other than the surely-drug-induced Closing Ceremonies. We'll see how that goes tomorrow. See you then!