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Olympics 2010 impressions

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

TV Coverage

 The only reason anyone can niggle about anything about TV coverage is because it does so many things right.[1] And, if you don’t like what Eurosport is showing, switch to another channel that’s showing something else. Other channels, like ORF (Austrian), the triad of Swiss channels (SF, TSR, TSI), and ARD (German) are also showing nearly nonstop coverage. You may not get it in a language you understand – and you may have to adjust your sleep schedule – but if it’s happening, at least one channel is showing it live. And at least one channel will show it at some point in the next 24 hours (with few exceptions).

All in all, the coverage is suffering from the awkward time difference and some mysterious scheduling decisions. The lack of snow and ridiculously high temperatures are having less effect on the quality of their coverage than an overarching love for all things involving cross-country skis. It’s absolutely unbelievable just how much coverage cross-country skiing gets—the pursuit, the sprint, the classic, the freestyle—and its kindred sport, the biathlon. Sure Majdic won a bronze after breaking four ribs just before the race, but it’s not going to happen again: You can look away for a second.

What they do well is show all of the athletes from all of the countries, with very encouraging and fair commentary throughout. The British commentators are hilariously encouraging for their own athletes—“and here’s Britain’s number one skier, Chemmy Alcott […]”—they rarely, if ever, detract from others. And they know their sports, every last one of them. They know who won what where about almost every single athlete; they seem to appreciate how hard it is to even finish seventh once in a world-class event.

The scheduling is killer, though. Though some of the events happen right in European prime-time, many happen in the wee, wee hours of the morning. Speed skating and short-track speed skating are two sports that have gotten tremendously short shrift on all of the channels here (French, German, English, Austrian all carried very little so far). And then, when you’ve watched a full complement of Olympics on Saturday night and get up on Sunday morning to see what you missed when you slept[2], they repeat all of the stuff you saw the previous evening instead of serving up fresh content. It’s somewhat inexplicable.

Nonetheless the coverage is apparently worlds better than some other countries[3] from which I’ve heard reports. There is very little advertising, and a full focus on the sport: Only short interviews and only with athletes—no human-interest bullshit—and usually only after they’ve actually done their event instead of asking them insipid shit about whether they’re nervous or whether they want to win a medal.

Which brings us to the final question of financing model for Eurosport: It’s a complete mystery. Americans are raised to think that sports must consist of 50% commercial content in order to be worth airing. Perhaps the Europeans simply subsidize the hell out of Eurosport so that they do a good job of showing the Olympics rather than struggling to beat a Euro or two out of it. If that’s a socialist wasteland, then I’m staying put, even if just for the Olympics coverage.

Ice Hockey

Krueger’s[4] got his boys all fired up, but they ended up in a tough, tough bracket, playing against first the U.S. then Canada. A 3–1 loss to the U.S. was fair, but Switzerland comported themselves well and certainly were more aggressive on the forecheck. They also managed the final goal to avoid the shutout, which is always good for morale. Next up was a game against Canada that went to a shootout, where NHL star Crosby showed why he gets paid crazy money by finally getting one past the Swiss goalie Hiller.

The U.S.–Canada game was the best so far: It was a pretty impressive performance by both sides. The third period was an offensive tour-de-force, and Miller was super-strong in net, whereas Brodeur was, for once, merely mortal and made at least one costly floppin’-around-on-the-ice error. During the third period, Brodeur was better, but it harked back to his early days with the Devils, when he was stopping 13 shots a game (don’t get me wrong, I was a fan). The Russia/Czech game on the same day (the day of rivalries) was good, but not cracking and the promised Sweden/Finland showdown was more about seething hatred than a great matchup: Finland was outclassed the whole way and took a lot of sniping, nasty penalties (including a game misconduct in the Olympics!).

Ski Jumping

What can you say about Simon Ammann that hasn’t already been said? He put down the two biggest jumps on both hills and strolled his way to two gold medals, head and shoulders above all the rest. The only one who even comes close is Adam Malysz of Poland. All the others are fighting in a single-medal event where the winner gets bronze.

The Austrian jumping team and sports federation showed horrible judgment in complaining about Ammann’s ski bindings, as they must have known they hadn’t a prayer of getting him—or his equipment—disqualified. They must also have strongly suspected that their pathetic attempt at psychological warfare wouldn’t shake him at all. Instead, they got a lot of bad publicity and took home the “sore loser” award (though an Austrian did manage the Bronze in the big hill).

Europort, ordinarily above such things, was inordinately interested for days—even after they’d showed interviews with Olympic officials saying it was all hogwash. Their cameramen focused telescopically on Ammann’s bindings for days; it was kinda funny, actually.

Skiing

Who would have thought that Bode Miller would finally add consistency to his repertoire and medal in every alpine race so far?[5] All eyes were on Lindsay Vonn, who pulled in an impressive gold medal in the downhill, easily mastering a hill that rattled so many others. Her downhill style is so clearly efficient and fast; Bode’s is much more reminiscent of Franz Klammer, with elbows and poles every which way, a little bit of pinwheeling[6] here and there, but still getting down the hill faster than anyone else. You can kind of only watch him with half an eye because you’re fearing the worst the whole time…and he says it himself: Before the Super-G, he said he would go all out and “either get some sort of medal…or give you guys one of the more spectacular crashes you’ve seen in a while.”

The Swiss team is also back in the hunt in alpine sports, with a lot of athletes in the top ten (women and men) and a gold medal (Defago, downhill) and a bronze (Zurbriggen, combined). They’re at least doing better than the Austrians, who’ve collected a gold (Fischbacher, Super-G), which is kind of the yardstick by which the Swiss ski team measures itself these days, for better or worse.

Sliding Events

After a horrifying start, things have settled down a bit, though there have been a lot more injuries and crashes than other years. The danger prompted one Swiss two-man bob to withdraw, which hurt the team’s chances at a medal (the Swiss came in fourth[7]). Most of the athletes have gotten down without injuring themselves too severely, but that shouldn’t really be the standard. The track should punish with time, not with blood.

Sports with Judges

Every year, it’s the same. This year, it starts with the men, where old legends like Elvis Stojko of Canada crawl out of the woodwork to deride ice skating for crowning Lysacek, who’s doing “jumps Boitano did in 1988”. Lysacek doesn’t do any form of quad, though he does some very difficult triple-triple combinations. Stojko makes the good point that the weighting on the scores is ever-more-heavily skewed toward composition rather than technical skill, allowing the judges to pick pretty much whomever they liked the most, rather than the person who did the best technically. That said, I heard that Takahashi blew everyone away artistically and only touched down once (on a quad, ironically). It’s hard to still get incensed about figure skating judging after all these years of watching excellent performers get hosed one way or another.[8]

On a similar note, there’s the judging in the half-pipe competition. Shaun White was clearly head and shoulders above the others, but Iouri Podlatchikov (Swiss, in fourth, naturally) put in a scorching run on his first attempt. He was in a medal position. Then Scott Lago went for his second run and did well, but not amazingly well. His score was 3 points below Iouri’s, as pretty much expected. Ok, no change in ranking there. Then the eventual silver medalist (Piiroinen, Finland) drops into the pipe and does a run similar to Lago’s; the only difference is that he gets a stunning 45 points for it! For comparison, the mind-bogglingly good Shaun White got 46.8 on his first run. WTF? No one really knew where those extra 5 points came from, but there they were, tacked on by the judges. He must have done something super-special, but even the Eurosport judges were mystified. Podlatchikov failed to top that score and fell out of medal contention.

Conclusion: Judged sports still stuck, even in 2010.

Technology

To end on a good note, the Vancouver 2010 is very well put together. All information is available in a fairly easily understandable structure. Go to the figure skating and you can get all the information you could want about a routine: which elements were done, how many points the athlete got and on and on. For timed events, there are all the split times for all of the athletes. Even during the events, the pages all update in near real-time, showing splits during races only seconds after the they show up on TV. Just click the little plus-sign next to an athlete’s name in an event and dig through the treasure-trove of statistics.


[1] This is a very Euro-centric view. For those living in a capitalist wonderland, a free-market panacea … well, how’s that working out for you?
[2] Head Coach of the Swiss National Hockey Team.
[3] Like a weakling.
[4] Yeah, Costas, I’m looking at you.
[5] Bronze in the downhill; silver in the Super-G; gold in the combined at the time of writing.
[6] “Rolling down the windows” as they’ve taken to calling it.
[7] Switzerland owns fourth place. At least it seems that way. It would be worth a statistical analysis to see which country gets the most fourth places per athlete at the games. Maybe we could start a campaign for a leather medal or something, so the Swiss get more.
[8] Remember Lipinski? What were they thinking? Or Cohen? C’mon. How does Michelle Kwan never get an Olympic gold?

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