King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Hype shortage: The Stealth Olympics are a month away. Plus: Bruce Sutter makes Cooperstown.


Salon Staff
January 11, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

The Winter Olympics are a month away, and the hype machinery is just starting to wheeze through the lower gears. Has there ever been a less ballyhooed Olympic Games?

There have been times in the last month when I've gone an entire day without having a thought, willing or otherwise, about the Turin Games. Those days are gone now with the figure skaters qualifying and everybody tut-tutting over Bode Miller's "60 Minutes" comments about skiing while "wasted."

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But such Olympian peace would have been unthinkable so close to any Games of the last two decades. It goes without saying that Summer Olympics and those Winter Games held in North America are blockbusters around here, but there was also a lot more buzz leading up to Nagano, Lillehammer and Albertville.

Or maybe I'm just missing it, running between the raindrops, as it were. The Olympics are on NBC again, and I rarely find myself watching the Peacock. I mostly watch sports, and other than the Olympics, NBC's big ones are thumb wrestling and celebrity Boggle.

But I don't think that's it. NBC has been slow to pound the drums. It was just this week that I got the first press release announcing that there will be 416 hours of coverage -- 24.5 per day -- on "the Networks of NBC Universal," which include NBC, USA, MSNBC, CNBC, NBC HD, XNBC, NBC The Magazine, the Artist Formerly Known as NBC, Triumph the Insult NBC, NBC Ate My Balls, Abbott and Costello Meet NBC, and Universal HD.

There doesn't seem to be the customary five-ring bombardment that makes any sane person sick of the sight of the Olympic logo long before the children of all nations start twirling ribbons to the sweet sounds of a French horn at the Opening Ceremony.

I have actually bought products in the last six months that did not have the Olympic rings on the package. Incredible!

I don't get it. There's no shortage of American stars. Apolo Ohno, the short-track speed skater who won a controversial gold medal in Salt Lake and has looks and style to burn.

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There's Miller, the free-spirit skier who famously doesn't care about medals or money and who has that great story, growing up in the woods with his hippie family. "We had running water," he told Bob Simon on "60 Minutes" last week, nodding at the stream that runs past his boyhood home.

That was a few minutes before he mentioned that he'd occasionally gone down the mountain uncomfortably close to the previous night's victory celebration, an admission so unsurprising to those who've heard of Miller before that "60 Minutes" tucked it at the end of its story. Then it trumpeted the revelation in press releases as though it were headline news.

The thing is, it was headline news to most Americans, who said, as Salon's Tim Grieve said to me Wednesday morning when I asked him if he'd noticed the usual amount of Olympics hype, "Um ... there are Olympics coming? I had no idea. Seriously."

And as always there are the figure skaters, the great dysfunctional circus of the Winter Olympics. There's Sasha Cohen, who at 17 looked like a star in waiting when she electrified the Salt Lake competition before falling and finishing fourth, and who, from just the right angle, looks a little like Natalie Portman.

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But more important than that, there's the quadrennial "The star skater is injured for the trials but is petitioning to be put on the team anyway" controversy involving the grande dame of American frozen twirling, Michelle Kwan. This is the kind of thing that makes figure skating figure skating.

Kwan's chances of being placed on the team are roughly 100 percent even though she has barely competed over the last year and at 25 -- that's 40 in figure-skater years -- is piling injuries upon injuries in that way that aging athletes do. Even in her prime, she was a non-gold-winning Olympic choke queen, though an elegant and classy one who dominated lesser competitions.

But the U.S. figure-skating authorities are going to get together later this month, consider the results from the U.S. Championships this week, read the no-doubt flawlessly impartial reports from Kwan's personal doctors about her groin injury, muster up all their wisdom and integrity and -- put the skater with the most name recognition and commercial endorsements on the Olympic team, even if she needs crutches to make it to the rink.

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Huh? Huh? Is it starting to feel like the Winter Olympics yet or what? Oh, yeah. Bring on the crazy skating judges and the gold medalists flying down the mountain one millionth of a second faster than the last-place finishers, baby.

And bring on the greatest sport in the world. You know it.

I'm ready for some curling.

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Bruce Sutter to Cooperstown [PERMALINK]

Congratulations to Bruce Sutter, the great reliever of the 1970s and '80s, who was elected to the Hall of Fame Tuesday, the only player voted in by the baseball writers.

Good for Sutter, who has been waiting a long time. This was his 13th year on the ballot. You only get 15. News reports tell of Sutter answering the phone in his suburban Atlanta home, where his family had gathered even though Sutter thought he'd fall short again. He got the news, gave a thumbs-up sign and then broke down crying as his wife, sons and daughters-in-law went bananas. Good times.

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I wouldn't have voted for him, but I find I'm a lot less curmudgeonly than I used to be about who does or doesn't make the Hall of Fame. The same goes for All-Star teams and Most Valuable Player awards. It's fun to debate these things, but in the end, we're talking about a museum in upstate New York.

We all have our own personal Halls of Fame that are more important to us than the one in Cooperstown. I'm biased against relief pitchers. I think if you're going to put in the best relievers, with their 70 to 100 high-leverage innings per year, there ought to be a space for the best pinch-hitting specialists, or slick-fielding utility players who come in as defensive replacements in those same important late innings.

But if we're putting relievers in, there's no way Bruce Sutter gets into mine before Goose Gossage, who was at least as good a pitcher -- they were both dominant in their primes -- but for far longer, and who had better facial hair besides.

My Hall of Fame also has a spot for Bert Blyleven, shamefully left out of the real one yet again. But then mine's a little weird. Maury Wills is in it. So's Pete Rose.

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Previous column: Joe Paterno on sexual assault

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