Olympics Review: What Do We Think So Far?

E: Hurrah, Home Gold!  I honestly didn’t know who to root for between Hannah Kearney and Jenn Heil, so I’m thrilled for Alexandre Bilodeau, even though I could do without all the chatter about his brother Frederick. Quick, let’s get a shot of the handicapped kid in the stands! Do we really have a Pavlovian response to like someone more if they have a hard luck story?  I don’t know, sometimes it seems so calculating on the part of the press that it makes me really uncomfortable.

M: First of all, I’m American, so I knew who to root for there.

E: 😛

M: If it’s Canadians against just about anyone else, sure, but not against an American.

E: Normally I’d agree, but the whole home gold thing had me kind of emotional on their behalf.

M: Secondly, your eldest niece has a friend named Hannah Kearney, so how could I not root for her!  As for the schlock with the stories meant to pull on your heart strings, like the handicapped brother, or the shots of Apolo Ohno’s (or do we legally have to call him Apolo Anton Ohno?) dad with a mention every time of him raising Apolo Anton Ohno by himself, and driving something like 500 miles each way, up hill in the snow, just so he could practice.  Stop already.

E: And don’t even get me started on Chris Collinsworth. Leave Lindsay Jacobellis alone, dude!  He is so smarmy.  Go back to football, please, and stay away from the human interest stories.  Honestly, I think it’d all be better without most of the so called human interest drek.  I’m happy for Maelle Ricker, with home gold #2, but I’m so, so sorry for Jacobellis.  No redemption for her, and lots of commentators happy to remind her of it!  I wanted to smack the local reporter who showed film of LJ flailing wildly, trying to land a jump, and suggested that she was “making the same mistake” she’d made four years ago.  Growl.  Four years ago she fell trying to do a celebratory trick on the last hill.  Yesterday she lost her balance in a crowd; in no way were the two failures anything alike.

On the other hand, I am really impressed that Shen and Zhao won pairs skating gold at the ripe old ages of 31 and 36.  In a field where many champions hang up their skates to go to college (I’m talking to you, Sarah Hughes), it’s truly an extraordinary achievement.  Just think of them skating together for 18 years!  I’m not sure how much of that would matter if they weren’t amazing, though.  And hurrah to the end of Russian dominance in pair skating!   It hasn’t always felt deserved (hello, Sale and Pelletier) so it’s nice to see someone else top the podium for the first time in my life.

C: I’m not sure the Chinese are any better – their Olympic Machine is so terrifying.  I mean, these people whose skill we admire are so good because they had what we’d call their basic human rights violated as children.  Yet you can’t argue the fact that S&Z put on a remarkable performance. And they skated to “Who Wants to Live Forever” from the Queen Symphony! That gets serious coolness points.

E: I wonder if it’s a clever joke about their relatively extreme age?

M: As you know, I am not an avid follower of pairs figure skating, except maybe when Will Ferrell is involved, but I was astonished to find out that the Russians had won the past 12 golds.  That’s insane, like John Wooden’s UCLA basketball teams level insane.  One question did come to mind, though.  Obviously, for most of those golds the competitors were representing the Soviet Union, not Russia.  Do we know if they were all actually Russian, and not from any of the other republics which are now separate countries?  Because, I mean, if the pair that won at Lake Placid in 1980 was Ukrainian, and the pair in 1992 at Albertville was Lithuanian, and so on, well, it becomes a little less impressive.  Not unimpressive, mind you, but a little tainted.

E: No clue.  The training system was centralized, I believe, but I’m sure the athletes came from all over.  I think it was more about the system’s capacity for producing champions, more than some sort of genetic superiority.  I get your point, but I don’t see that as tainting – it’s not as if there’s a genetic definition of an American, after all, or something less American about, say, an Alaskan versus a Virginian (or an American with immigrant parents).  Not that we conquered the independent country of Alaska the way the Soviets took over Lithuania, but still, taking skaters from different ethnic groups doesn’t make the Soviet system less dominant.  Not for me, anyway.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Nordic Combined (and was thrilled to see Johnny Spillane break the 86 year medal drought), but wow, snowboard cross might just be my favorite new sport.

M: I fell in love with snowboard cross during the Turin (or in IOC-land, Torino) games, and still think it may be the best addition to the Olympic slate, winter or summer, in my lifetime.

E: Me too, and yes.  It actually seems much less bloodthirsty than short track speedskating, but maybe that’s just because of all the padding.  How many times did we need to see J.R. Celski’s actual blood spurt across the ice, seriously – although that does make me extra happy he won a medal. So I guess I do like some backstory.  Maybe what I prefer is that the backstory have to do with the sport.  I’m cool with the speculation about Lindsey Vonn’s injury, for example (which, woohoo, Lindsey!).

M: The women’s downhill was an awesome train wreck, with some spectacular runs, but more spectacular crashes (often ending with women sliding hundreds of yards before coming to a halt, at times very violently).

E: The best part of that being that no one got hurt badly, so you don’t have to feel guilty about “enjoying” the crashes.

M: Lindsey Vonn using mens skis giving her a huge advantage is really odd, as I would think that at the world cup/Olympic level there wouldn’t be that big a difference between mens and womens skis, but apparently there is, as they said that during the season other women tried to follow her lead but changed back because “they couldn’t handle” the mens skis.  Very odd to me.

E: Indeed.  I don’t even know what to say about that.

C: I’m just done with the skiing.  Show the skating, already!  I wish they didn’t assume we weren’t interested in anyone but the Americans and the likely top three.

E: Well, I’m happy for Shani Davis, but I don’t know if that’s the kind of skating you mean.  And sorry, I can’t help loving the Half-Pipe.  Not to sound too much like a 14 year old boy, but Shaun White’s run was sick.  The air that he got on his straight run!  The level of control!  It’s amazing.  I don’t know if you watched this late (I doubt it) but after his competitors failed to beat his first run, he spent a few minutes on the top of the hill celebrating and deciding if he was going to even bother to make a second run.  He and his coaches were miked, and what I’d like to know is this – why did they not cut away after the first time the coach swore on live tv?  Will NBC get fined for the f-bomb the coach dropped after that?  This is yet another reason why these people ought to be allowed some privacy  – so they can curse from joy if they want to!  White did make an amazing run afterward, though, and scored a 48.4 – almost a perfect 50.  Wow.

M: Shaun White is ridiculous, and on a whole other level than everyone else. As entertaining as the snowboarding stuff is, though, it’s really weird to see Olympic athletes competing in jeans.

E: Were they actually jeans?  That seems so impractical.  I figured they were snow pants designed to look like denim.

I’m excited and more than a bit scared about tonight’s Men’s Long Program.  I can’t help it – I will be so disappointed if Evgeni Plushenko wins.  I’m a big fan of Evan Lysacek, first of all, and I want him to win, but I’m sorry to say I care most about Plushy losing.  I just don’t like his skating, and I hate that his jumps are achieve a machine-like perfection, and I hate that he came back out of retirement just a few months ago, and might be spoiling the chances of so many fantastic skaters.  He likes to play the villain; I’d just rather he went away.  Again.

C: Agreed.  And this time around, I don’t feel he’s dominating the competition in the same way – his short program was technically great, I’m sure, but very flaily and not at all suited to his music choice.

E: Yes!  I hated that – it bore no relation to the music at all!

C: As Dick Button pointed out when Bob Costas interviewed him right after Plushenko’s run, he’s just not a great dancer – the technique is there but not the zest (like Takahashi showed) or the artistry (as Lysacek eminently displayed).

E: Also on the downside – it makes me so sad when people make major mistakes at the Olympics.  Ideally, you’d want everyone to do their best, and be scored fairly, and the best athlete wins.  But when you see Jeremy Abbott and Patrick Chen and Brian Joubert, all of whom are fantastic (and have a musicality that Plushy can’t approach) fall, well, it hurts.

So, who’s up for a family trip to Vancouver?

C: I’m in!  Can we ride with Ellie, Awesome, and Morgan?

4 comments on “Olympics Review: What Do We Think So Far?

  1. Krizzzz says:

    Here’s the thing I start feeling about the Olympics…and this is in NO WAY directed here: it’s a general thing I’ve been feeling for a while — I love ’em. I love all of ’em. And after a while, I start not wanting to talk about any of ’em with anyone — because it’s all “Show this! I’m sick of that other fluff/crud/choose your noun!” Except that one man’s fluff is another man’s inspiration, and one woman’s crud is another woman’s favorite sport, and it all starts to boil down to “I like THIS, not THAT, because I like THIS, not THAT, because THIS is good, and THAT is bad, and the reason THIS is good and THAT is bad is because I like THIS, so pthbthbth.”

    But I’m also tired and should probably go to bed.

    I’m also doubting that the snowboarders are in jeans — denim is horrible material to ski in: cold, inflexible, gets wet and thus even colder, and heavy. I hadn’t even thought of the “look” as denim — I think it’s just a funky casual-looking snowpant.

    As for men’s vs. women’s skis, hmm. It’s been a while, so I’m trying to scrape this out of the shadowy corners of my brain…but men’s skis tend to be stiffer. It takes more weight to curve them up on edge when you turn. A more aggressive skier might want a stiffer ski; a less aggressive skier will want something that’s easier to flex. Skis come in varying stiffnesses as well depending on your preferred style (or, if your a racer, the type of racing you’re doing): slalom skis tend — or used to tend, back in the day of non-shaped skis, when you used to run into the occasional apatasaur on the hill — to be narrower and more flexible than a GS or downhill ski, built for quick flexing and rebounding. They also tend(ed?) to be shorter. (A man’s ski might also naturally need to be longer than a woman’s ski, because a man is generally taller than a woman.) A serious downhill racing ski, even back in the day, would be wider, and longer and stiffer — built for speed and stability. But even mere mortals like myself would choose either a slalom or GS ski, depending on the type of skiing we were most likely to do on a daily basis.

    Now that we’re into the shaped skis, and they’re all shorter than they used to be anyway, I’m not sure how it all plays out. But I’m guessing SOME of that is still true: men’s ski = stiffer, made for a heavier skier.

    • E says:

      You make an excellent point. I DO like some of the background stuff, and it IS hard to know where it crosses the line of being too much, in large part because that line varies for different people. My two pet peeves: kicking athletes when they’re down (a la Dan Jansen) and trotting out sob stories in as cynical exploitation, which were my concerns with Jacobellis and Bilodeau respectively.

      But yeah, it’s not an easy job, and it’s easy to rank on the things other people like, so it’s a good thing to keep in mind. If nothing else, thinking about it to respond to you forced me to clarify my objections, which was helpful to me. Too bad I hadn’t be able to articulate that initially! 😉

  2. Krizzzz says:

    Apropos of the discussion, there’s an interesting article in the sports section of today’s Globe: “Despite complaints, coverage makes sense.”

  3. Crystal says:

    I’m loving watching the Olympics – but I’m DVRing it, fast forwarding and watching it the next day to skip the commercials and commentaries. 😉 One thing that I love is seeing is how friendly everyone is to each other – In the skiing and snowboarding particularly, the participants are high fiving, hugging and accepting of everyone. It’s refreshing to see that people can be athletic and be nice and supporting to others – something I feel is lacking in professional sports.

    E – I’m with you – Shaun White’s run was SICK!!!!! We were all in awe of watching that!

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