OK, it’s been over a week of wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage of the Winter Olympics on all 20 or so of NBC’s networks and I have now finally come to one realization.
I personally don’t get the Winter Olympics at all.
I mean, I tried this time. I really tried hard. But I’m missing something that I guess the rest of the globe understands.
What’s all the fuss about? Where’s the excitement in it? There have been times _ like all of them _ over the last 11 days of the gripping wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage that I find myself totally bored out of my wits and longing for anything to grab my attention. Like anything.
First, let’s start with the name of the area in South Korea where this frozen display of international bad fashion is taking place. It’s being held in Pyeongchang County. It certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue like Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey does. Couldn’t we just rename the place “Cleveland” for a few weeks to avoid confusion and trying to learn to spell it or even say it? I’m not going to charm school to learn how to say Pyeongchang. I think it rhymes with Young Chang, which sounds like an Asian rap star.
I found myself watching the figure skating _ I don’t know which one, long form, short form, ice dancing, pairs ice dancing, team pairs ice dancing, free fall _ the other night just waiting to see what Johnny Weir was wearing.
Terry Gannon, the former N.C. State basketball player on Jim Valvano’s “Survive and Advance” NCAA champs, is actually announcing the figure skating with the over-the-top flamboyant Weir and his sidekick Tara Lupinski, who from what I gather won some sort of medal in some form of figure skating a while back.
Bring me back to the days of Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill, please. I’ll even take the drama of trailer queen Tonya Harding and that big-toothed phony Nancy Kerrigan over what is going on now.
Apparently, one young lady attempted a triple something or other the other night, which had never been done in Olympic competition. And yeah, sure, right, Terry Gannon knew exactly what that move was. It was definitely not the run and jump defense or the pick-and-roll offense, if you catch my drift.
Sure, it was nice to see that American brother/sister combo from Connecticut or Boston or Michigan (my head was spinning trying to keep up with where they actually live) Maia and Alex Shibutani, who were dubbed with the catchy nickname “The Shib Sibs.” But I was confused because most of the other competitors were also Asian and the crowds were going nuts for the Koreans and I had no idea whether they were American or Korean, but I did find out that they were huge fans of the Korean Pop band BTS, whose big hit is entitled “DNA.” Got all that?
So the figure skating had me losing whatever little mind I had left. Don’t ask me who won or who lost. There was no Dick Button to ramble about the “humanity” of another famous ice pair Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, when one of those two or both got hurt in the middle of their Olympic performance somewhere.
Let’s move on to another gripping Winter Olympic event. There was the awesome activity called curling, which I really want to know how it was invented in the first place. There had to be some drunks sitting around in some frozen tundra pounding down some brewskis _ on a frozen pond, of course _ who grabbed a frying pan filled with snow, slid it across the frozen pond and another of the malooks grabbed a broom to sweep away the excess snow and ice that might be a deterrent to the frying pan filled with snow.
How curling is a sport is beyond my comprehension. If I think about it too much, my eyes will explode out of the sockets. Taking that weighed pot (called a stone, now I know) and slide it gently across the ice while two other people with brooms feverishly brush the ice so the stone gets as close to the center as possible. And the ice is painted to look like an archery board. Just thinking about the people who actually dreamed up this mistake on ice is comical to me. And there are men’s and women’s curling and of course, team curling, which is just as gripping.
Is anyone as excited as I am so far? We’ll continue.
We’ll move on to the International Sliding Station (kid you not) for two more events, namely bobsled and luge.
There’s a two-man bobsled and the four-man bobsled (which was made famous in that great Disney movie “Cool Runnings” with John Candy about the Jamaican bobsled team). See, if you wait long enough, there is always a reference to Disney. It just pops up. Like Oprah and Justin Bieber.
There’s actually strategy involved with the bobsled and how they run real fast, then systematically jump into the moving contraption as it makes its way down the ice in the International Sliding Station. It’s a sight to behold. There are little clocks that appear at the right hand bottom of the screen, but they keep spinning over and over like the tote board in the Jerry Lewis Telethon.
In luge, there aren’t two-man teams. That would get too funky. But these people run, dive on the box that is not much bigger than a trash can lid and slide down flat on their back. Some travel feet first and other daredevils travel head first. There’s a different name for that kind of luge. Again, it’s just something to confuse the crap out of me.
Again, there are people who really get into these events, but since I’m clueless, I watch for a few spins of that clock-like thing in the corner of the screen and move on.
Well, there’s skiing as well. Now, how can anyone screw around with the sport that is so popular as a form of recreation in the winter? Trust me. They can.
There is Nordic Alpine and Super G (isn’t that the weatherman on Channel 11?) and slalom and giant slalom and cross country (hey, there’s a term I’m familiar with, but that’s running on grass, twigs and hills in October and November). There are all these different races going on every single day, just enough to confuse the living hell out of me.
I do remember Franz Klammer doing the downhill at the Winter Olympics when I was a kid and Bob Beattie and Frank Gifford going bonkers as the German was completely airborne for most of his gold-medal winning run. That was exciting.
But the only thing I got out of the skiing was that Lindsay Vonn is still a very pretty woman and that the gold medal winner in one of the races sounded like she was from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
The other thing I got was that people scream unintelligible things when the skier comes out of the opening gate. It doesn’t sound like a genuine language, just utter yelps like when Grandma’s rocking chair rocked back onto the family cat’s tail. I never understood the “Get in the hole” screams at golf tournaments when the golfer is some 500 yards away from the pin. And I don’t understand whatever it was that these ski mavens were barking at the start of every run.
It didn’t matter what country the skier was from. The yelling seemed to be universal and seemed to show no purpose whatsoever.
Then there’s the biathlon, where skiers cross country ski for miles, toting a rifle along for good measure in case there’s a stray moose on the course, then get down into the snow and shoot at targets while lying in the snow, then get up and race more cross country skiing. Again, who dreamed up that one? Ski for miles, then lay in the snow, shoot a rifle, get up and ski some more. The thrill of victory and the agony of my feet.
To capitalize on the popularity of the Winter X Games, a creation for television by ESPN years ago, the International Olympic Committee voted to include many of those trick-based, stunt driven events like snowboarding and half-pipe and full pipe and crack pipe and ski jumping with tricks on the halfpipe as actual Olympic sports. Now, isn’t that special?
Ah, hockey. Now, there’s something I can relate to. However, the National Hockey League ruled this year that they were not going to put the league on a three-week delay to benefit the Olympics, so if you were under contract with an NHL team, you were not allowed to participate in the Olympics.
So Team USA was comprised of a bunch of older hockey veterans no longer talented enough to play in the NHL, some minor leaguers and some college players. It wasn’t like the days of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team, which was meticulously selected from the college ranks. This was a conglomeration of misfits thrown together with USA across their sweaters. The team didn’t stand a chance and they were eliminated early.
In recent years, each of the top teams featured the NHL stars, so there was some national pride going on with the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, you have it. This year, it was more of an “eh.”
On the women’s side, there was Team USA battling Team Canada for the gold medal, a game that went into overtime and eventually the shootout. Perhaps that was the most dramatic moment of the games.
And then there was the coverage of these events from a broadcasting point of view. Long gone are the days of the immortal Jim McKay, who always had us captivated with his “Up Close and Personal” features on the athletes, both American and foreign, and those little vignettes really made you have more of an interest and created rooting flavor.
Now, we have Mike Tirico, who stands there looking completely out of place and definitely creepy. And what’s with the set, when he’s sitting behind what is supposed to be some sort of desk, but it’s actually carved out to look like an ice sculpture? What brilliant NBC mind thought up that design? I’d take Bob Costas and his pink eye anytime.
I have to say that I was impressed with the announcing skills of former US ski champ Bode Miller, who while he was competing sounded like he was Jeff Spicoli’s long lost brother from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Back then, Miller was looking to catch some bitchin’ hills and make some frosty moves around the awesome pilons. Now as a mature responsible announcer, Miller sounds professional and true, even speaking bluntly about the powdery conditions of the courses. Miller stood out in my eyes.
But when we had Chris Schenkel and Dick Button doing the figure skating for ABC back then, they captured the drama and the essence and importance of the Olympics. NBC has Weir wearing hats that Carol Channing disposed of from the set of “Hello, Dolly,” and Weir and Lipinski practically cheering and saying, “You go, girlfriend.” Ugh!
So I tried this year. I really tried. As you can see with the verbal rant, I certainly watched enough to come away with these observations. I just didn’t have to like it. Because basically, I have no idea what in the world I was watching in the first place.
Here’s the best news of all. The first spring training baseball games are scheduled for Friday. Adrian Gonzalez says that he’s healthy and ready to have a big year for the Mets. Yankee fans are predicting 80 homers each for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and about 75 homers for Gary Sanchez (who still cannot speak English for some reason) and 50 homers for Greg Bird.
The college basketball season is winding its way down to the last few regular season games. Believe it or not, the postseason tournaments will tip off in two weeks and March Madness is only three weeks away from beginning. The season has flown by.
When the season began, I truly believed that Seton Hall was a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. I was predicting that they were an Elite Eight team and could perhaps head to the Final Four with a little luck. They were talented and had enough good senior leadership and talent to do it.
But now, for some reason, the Pirates are floundering again. They were teetering on the possibility of not even making the NCAAs, but I think they’ve rebounded with two wins over DePaul and Providence to secure their place in March Madness.
Can they make a run at the Big East title? They did so two years ago when they shocked Villanova in the championship game of 2016, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
However, something happened with this team to make things turn sour as bad as they did. They have a 19-9 record overall and an 8-7 record in the Big East after defeating Providence Thursday in a game that started Wednesday night and ended Thursday due to unsafe floor conditions caused by the condensation in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center after Wednesday’s unseasonably warm temperatures.
It’s really hard to put a finger on what transpired with the Pirates. It’s not a team with riddled with dissention like when they collapsed in 2015. This team generally gets along well and plays well together. So their poor play is a mystery.
The Pirates need their senior leaders like Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Khadeem Carrington to step up and play like four-year college basketball veterans. With the ever-changing world of college basketball teams, kids transferring from school to school in rapid fashion, the Pirates should have an advantage by having three kids who have played together for four years with more than 110 games of experience together.
There aren’t a lot of college teams that can lay claim to that fact.