Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Ring Around The Olympics

“Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!”

That’s a verbatim transcript from NBC’s Olympics coverage earlier this week. I don’t know the guy’s name, but he was doing the “analysis” for the snowboarding half-pipe competition. I put “analysis” in quotes because shouting “look at that!” is the sort of insightful commentary that passes for “analysis” at these games. Never mind that the viewer has no choice but to “look at that!” as long as NBC points their cameras at it and we’re watching the television.

I’m twice the age of the average snowboarder, so I don’t know what most of the lingo even means, although I have learned that each and every competitor (both male and female) is nicknamed “dude.”

Thanks to my high school trigonometry teacher, I do know that a “seven twenty” means the guy went around twice, but NBC’s “analyst” should be telling us a lot about what we’re “looking at.” You can’t just throw out words like “goofy stance” and “inverted air” and expect us non-X-Gamers to know what you’re talking about. Treat us like the idiots we are. Most of us are so un-hip about this stuff that, until recently, we thought that, in skating, a “toe loop” was part of the skate’s shoelace.

For the most part, NBC’s done a pretty good job with the Winter Olympics thus far. After the failure of their "triplecast" concept in the last decade, they've decided to just dump some stuff off onto their cable channels without much fanfare. But if you checked your local listings, you could have switched over to MSNBC to catch every heart-stopping moment of the big hockey game between France and Belarus! Of course, no one actually did that. According to the Nielsen ratings, the MSNBC coverage attracted fewer viewers than ABC's Aaron Spelling Celebrity Edition of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." And even Tori didn't watch that.

Bob Costas is physically incapable of doing a bad job, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to take everything so seriously gives some welcome relief from other sportscasters. If you heard the tone in his voice during the Opening Ceremonies while Lantern Boy was being chased around by the Giant Icicles, you know what I mean.

Bob seems to have the same low tolerance for Pageantry that I do, which is to say none. I’ll have to check, but I believe that extended use of imagery involving huge wire puppets is a violation of the Geneva Convention, which is why the Opening Ceremonies were not broadcast to Camp X-Ray.

Although he stumbled badly during those Opening Ceremonies, it’s nice to see 80-year-old Jim McKay again. Unfortunately, he’s been relegated since to those taped “up close and personal” segments, which -– according to international laws of Olympic broadcasting -– must focus on an athlete who has a family member ill, near death, or overcoming adversity on a grand scale, thus giving the athlete the motivation to win. It helps if the athlete has also been seriously injured and is attempting a grand comeback. Then the announcer can report that “she’s really going for it.”

I heard that phrase used during the women’s downhill and wondered whether the announcer knew of another Olympic competitor who had decided not to “go for it.” You never hear them say, “She’s decided to give it a half-hearted effort and frankly doesn’t care if she loses by the widest margin ever. Besides, everyone in her family is healthy!”

There are other things I wish NBC would avoid during their Olympic coverage. For instance, please tell the ski jumping announcer to stop saying that the competitor is “really breaking wind up there.” Unless this is some new kind of jet-propulsion strategy I’m not familiar with.

Next, pull the cameras back a little bit during the luge competition. Let us see the whole course, so we can get the big picture every once in a while. Since they’re traveling at 80-90mph, a close shot gives us less than a second of “whoosh” before they’re out of the frame and into the next one. This leads to more quick-cutting between cameras than in the Saks security room during a Winona Ryder shopping spree.

Wouldn’t you think that the Winter Olympics, which tend to take place outdoors in cold weather, would be the one sporting event where we wouldn’t have to see shirtless idiots in the stands? And yet NBC’s cameras find them every time! Worse, there are usually three of them together with U! S! A! scrawled on their chests. I suppose it could be worse, there could be a dozen fans spelling out “Herzegovinia!!”

Ever been to a sporting event where some pinhead in the crowd has brought one of those air horns and insists on blasting it right next to your ear? The Olympic version of that is the dreaded cowbell. The fans in the stands are constantly clanging cowbells during the skiing and snowboarding events. Some people claim that the crowd uses them because hand clapping with gloves on isn’t loud enough. But my research has uncovered the truth behind the cowbells.

Apparently, since Fleetwood Mac doesn’t tour anymore, Stevie Nicks decided to sell her personal collection of The Only Instrument She Played, and they fell into the hands of luge and moguls fans. Unfortunately, their spouses won’t allow any of that clanging in the house, so they have to take them outside.

And they’re really going for it.

You’ll see more on the VH-1 special, “Behind The Cowbells: The Same Sound You Hear When You Rattle The Head Of A Russian Skating Judge.” Look at that!!