What in Uytdehaage's name has Trevor been doing recently?
In an interesting example of a lack of self-control, classically defined, I purchased a television a month ago or so. The primary intent in this move was so that I could watch the olympics. NBC had something like 375 hours of Olympic coverage, and I think I partook in over 100 of those.
First off, big it up to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's ceremony planners. I think very few people would've noticed had the games been completely absent American Indians, but the Utah tribes were offered prominent places in the opening ceremony. Furthermore, I was impressed that a ceremony planning committee from the Land of the Mormons put together such a non-Christian ritual. I suppose the Winter Olympic themes of lighting the fire, bringing the light, and all lend themselves to a ceremony with lots of elements of the old thyme religion.
Mad props to the weather. It's been as gorgeous on this side of the mountains, too. Yesterday it was a 72F. 72! In February! Yet, unlike Nagano, the temperatures didn't wreak too much havoc with the courses.
NBC also did a better job than I might have expected. While they understandably gave more screen time to American athletes, they gave plenty even when the U.S. didn't even contend for the top 10. Of course, the advantage to not showing events live is the ability to show all of the Americans and only the top foreigners, but I don't think I wanted to see the the 19th place figure skater. The biggest props go to Must Show Nothing But Curling (and CNBC a few times) for showing ALL of the U.S. games, plus the medal and tiebreaker games. Despite curling's presence at the last two olympics, more frames with curling images had hit my retinae from Beatles movies than from broadcast TV. As a fan of obscure and strange games, I had a "yay curling" spot in my heart, but it was one of curiosity, not fandom. That spot has now been eclipsed by a chamber of curling fandom. I need to find some local curlers -- this game rules. A game of cranial skill, intuitive precision, and keeping tidy, curling has lots going for it. The ability of anyone to play; the fun terminology ("right on the button"), the pensive moments alternating with Tim Sommerville yelling "HAAAARRRRD;" the long games culminating in intense moments, all hopes riding on Carrie Ericsson's last rock; the great Canadian announcer who doesn't blather on about what it's like to be under olympic pressure, but analyzes each stone with cute phrases that we south of the border couldn't generate. Here's hoping that the 30,000 curlers in this country will double this year. This sport deserves more than just jokes.
A few other plusses, there wasn't much of a bow to the squalor of lame American culture. The music on the prepared interlude pieces was pretty good -- frequently present in my music collection. I noticed some Massive Attack, Cake, Run Lola Run, U2, and some other swell tunes. Aside from NASCAR, cross-promotion of NBC programs was kept to commercials. Bob Costas, as usual, had great insightful and, on occasion, humorous delivery.
Of course, NBC and the rest of the media deserve a few pull-ups too. My biggest beef was the cultish hype about a few of the athletes. The three minute segments on their life, their family, their olympic dreams. The fact that the bottom of the screen said "Coming up... Apollo Anton Ohno," rather than just "Coming up... Short Track." The fact that American media probably produced more words about Salle and Pelletier than all other non-U.S. atheletes combined. The unreal expectation that Ohno would win four gold medals in a wildly unpredictable sport.
Most of the commercials were decent, and (with a few musical exceptions and Chevrolet) not annoying after 17 days. The best commercial I saw, and only saw once, was for John Hancock life insurance. An older woman and a middle aged woman are sitting at a table drinking tea. I didn't catch the dialog very well, but...
Elder: What's your name, deary?
Woman: Gloria <something something>
Elder: That's a pretty name.
Woman: You gave it to me.
Elder: This is a nice house. Whose is it?
Woman: You live here.
Elder: I like it here.
Woman: I'm glad you're happy, mom.
Oh my. Such a perfect depiction.
Escape now from the direct perception of television, and think of the games themselves. The reason I like watching the olympics more than other sports is the unpredictability, the variety, and the oddity. In professional sports one doesn't find a surprise like a four-medal Croatian skier, a truly come-from-behind win by an Australian on ice, a 16-year-old beat the People Everyone's Talking About; shifting from frozen spit and 50k over two hours to twisting ice and a mile and a half in 45 seconds, turning four times at 50 feet to turning four times at two feet; a game played with rocks and brooms, a game of skiing and shooting featuring a German with red hair, and an 80mph version of lying down on a skateboard at the top of a hill. No matter how great the folks in the NFL, they aren't flying 120 meters on skis. Professional sports also don't have the tight fitting clothing. The speed skaters weren't as hot as I'd remembered (though some of the hotties from Nagano were out this year), but there were some good looking women at the Ice Sheet at Ogden.
There's something amazingly tear-jerking of the piercing scream of a female gold medalist that's international and cross-sport.
There's something quite meditative about the long speed skating races, just two folks, skating 'round in circles, swinging their arm.
There's something wonderful about the countries with just one representative who has no shot at a medal -- the Thai cross country skier who was DQed and collapsed after a lap and a half when the leader lapped him; the prince of Monaco, who's led his country's bobsled team for five olympics, the luger from Bermuda who wore shorts in the opening ceremony. There's something even more magical about the countries without much of a winter that manage to medal -- the Aussie who hadn't seen snow until coming to the U.S. to train, and whose parents came and hid themselves for a week and a half, surprising her at the end; Scotland who won a gold in Curling and a silver in Slalom for Great Brittain (which isn't officially a country any more... why aren't they listed as the UK?); and the Irish guy, who almost won a medal in Skeleton.
There's something startlingly exciting about curling. You really have to watch to understand.
There are lots of generic "isn't it so wonderful" things that can be said about the olympics. But perhaps the best praise that I can give is that it draws my mind into picturing myself there, dressed in high tech spandex, sliding around the course. Who knows? Maybe you'll see a Jesus look-a-like walking on frozen water for a sliding Stone. But for now, I've got lots of work that I've put off for a few weeks. The first skill needed for an olympic athlete is self-discipline, so a-coding I will go.
It's another perfect day.