Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Olympics


The memorable moments began almost immediately as America witnessed Bob Costas succumb to ocular herpes in real time. The first night, while some eye irritation was apparent to the observant, it could have been easily explained by rouge eyelash. Instead, Bob felt it necessary to review his recent medical history on air while assuring us that NBC’s physicians were confident the ailment was a temporary setback. By the second night, I began to suspect that in twenty years the remnants of humanity would refer to him simply as “patient zero.” When Matt Lauer suddenly appeared in the anchor’s chair a few nights into the games, I knew that Costas was dead and a level 4 pathogen grab team from the CDC was probably loading his sightless corpse into a box marked “production accessories.”
The post-performance interviews did not disappoint either. Armed with large format televisions and instant replay, sideline reporters would force the breathless and emotionally-raw athletes to re-live their triumphs (or, more often, failures) while providing impromptu commentary. I imagine that there is only so many times an athlete wants to hear, “What were you thinking just before your internationally-televised failure cost you the podium at turn number 3?”

Always hungry for the tragedy narrative behind any performance, NBC reduced American skier Bode Miller to a quivering mass of despondency by setting a record for the number of times it is possible to reference a recently-deceased relative to a sports figure:

“Bode, what was it like to come down that mountain knowing that your brother, who is dead, won’t be at the bottom to greet you?”

“Bode, this has been such an emotional year for you having lost your brother. Has his tragic demise been on your mind at all?”

“Bode, I saw you glance toward the sky at one point. Were you attempting to make contact with the soul of your unequivocally-lifeless sibling?”

Don’t get me wrong, many of the back-stories are inspiring tales of people working diligently to overcome adversity; but I would almost feel apologetic if the only thing I had to offer was years of hard work and a supportive family. It makes much better television if my parents are serving a twenty-year sentence for strangling a nun and I was raised by my paraplegic aunt in an abandoned tree-house.

What has also become readily apparent is that I have no idea how to score ice skating. In the absence of an outright face-plant, I have no way to differentiate a stellar performance from a lacking one. Time after time, I will listen to the commentator remark on how obvious it is that the Norwegian connects with the audience on a deeper emotional level that the Canadian. Unless the Norwegian is utilizing t-shirt cannons as an element in their short-program, I cannot fathom how they are scoring that.

Finally, there is no greater time for NBC’s vast team of research interns to shine than an Olympic broadcast. I lost track of how many times broadcasters were able to shoehorn an obscure statistic into the running commentary. While it is interesting to know that this is the first time in 87 years a bi-racial Latvian short-track skater has been in medal contention on her parent’s wedding anniversary, there is a point at which it is OK to just inform us that this is her first Olympics and end it.

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