King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Dick Button's Olympic skating commentary reminds us it can be done well. Plus: Wardrobe reform.


Salon Staff
February 15, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

Welcome back, Dick Button. Where've you been?

Button was for three decades the star analyst for ABC. But that network's been out of the Olympics business since the 1988 Games in Calgary. Button's done plenty of other events in the meantime, and he's also a lawyer and a theatrical producer, among other things, so it's not like he's been living in a cardboard box the past 18 years.

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He's been missed at the Olympics, though.

Scott Hamilton, the 1984 gold medalist, has been the figure-skating analyst for the last five Olympics, first for CBS in Lillehammer, Albertville and Nagano, then for NBC starting in Salt Lake City.

It's quite the step down from Button's dry wit, erudition and technical knowledge of skating to Hamilton's limited arsenal of exclamations.

They've been working together in Turin, and while I've never liked Hamilton's work, having him sit next to Button, who won gold in 1948 and '52 and was among the greatest and most influential skaters ever, really highlights what we've been missing all these years.

Hamilton mostly tells you what you're looking at, labeling the moves and then yawping over their execution -- "Triple toe loop? Wow!" or "Quad toe? Oh! Stepped out of it." Button analyzes.

The way the two of them narrated replays of a fall by Frenchman Frederic Dambier Tuesday illustrates how Hamilton describes the results of a failure in technique, while Button describes the actual technique, and what went wrong.

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Hamilton: "He sets the edge right there, and it didn't look like it gave him enough room, and he was just too up and down, too straight up and down, he couldn't control the landing."

Button: "And right there, you can see the unhinged foot. He's leaning back, the foot is not getting out, and he simply cannot hold that edge."

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If you've ever heard Hamilton before, you're never going to learn anything from him again. I can't imagine listening to Button for a couple of hours and not learning something.

Button is also famous for his brutal honesty and willingness to criticize a skater. Hamilton's a softie. You won't hear him saying anything like Button's description of the footwork sequence of another Frenchman, Brian Joubert: "He really isn't fleet. He isn't live. He isn't fast. He isn't capable. He's more like a soccer player trying to do a tap dance."

Button and Hamilton were in a crowded booth Tuesday, which may have had something to do with the fact that NBC's published schedule had Button working only on the pairs skate, not the men's.

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They were joined by play-by-play guy Tom Hammond, who mostly takes care of the nuts and bolts and then shuts up, and Sandra Bezic, a Canadian former Olympian, who could scarcely get a word in edgewise.

Bezic is no Dick Button -- no one is -- but she's good, more like him than she is like Hamilton. Rather than focusing on the angle of the skate blade, she tends to take a step back and comment on the overall quality of a routine or the strengths and weaknesses of a skater.

And she'll tell it like it is too. She said of Joubert's routine, danced to James Bond music in an outfit with a sequined "007" on the back, and including pantomimed gunshots, "The choreography is trite." I don't think Hamilton would say such a thing.

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And I can't think of too many people other than Button who'd offer the comment he made as American Johnny Weir took the ice for his routine, performed to "The Swan" by composer Camille Saint-Saens. Hammond explained that the single red glove on Weir's costume represented the swan's beak.

"You know, actually, he doesn't really utilize the story very much," Button said. "The story is of a swan that's been shot and is dying, and it's nothing to do with 'Swan Lake,' and it's quite an intriguing story. It was one of the great, great performances by Pavlova, and Maya Plisetskaya. One of the, I mean, really outstanding moments in dance, and I think he plays it quite plainly and simply."

Another announcer might mention a great Russian ballerina or two if a factoid about them was included in the press notes. But you just know Button knew about Anna Pavlova dancing the dying swan on his own.

Good to have him back.

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Crank up the anthems [PERMALINK]

NBC needs to show more medal ceremonies. Medal ceremonies are one of the best things the Olympics have going.

If you lined up every slow motion and purple prose athlete profile and every insipid, 1,001 strings feature story ever made by every network that's ever broadcast an Olympic Games, you wouldn't have as much genuine emotion as there is in a single medal ceremony.

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What a feeling that must be, to stand on that podium, hear your national anthem played and watch your flag raised.

You've devoted your entire existence to something, something you only get one crack to succeed at every four years -- and in most cases only one crack ever. To actually succeed, to get to that moment you've dreamed of a thousand times, to actually live it. Not only will most of us regular people never experience anything like it, most great athletes will never experience anything like it.

It only lasts a minute or two and there's a lifetime's worth of joy, relief, pride, wonder and anticipation packed into it. Nothing like it. Is there anyone who's ever watched the Olympics and not pictured himself or herself on that podium?

NBC covers all of the American gold-medal winners, of course, but only sprinkles in the odd furrener. Come on, NBC. Give up the payoff. I want more of that Norwegian anthem, man. Russia, Sweden, Estonia, Netherlands, Germany, bring 'em all on.

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Wardrobe malfunction of the night [PERMALINK]

Figure-skating costumes really have improved lately. The "make your own 'Cats' costume" look is still around, as is the "hooker who dug 'Les Miz' template," but they seem to be going out of style, and some of the skaters in these Olympics have actually worn outfits that look more or less like clothing. Shirt and pants for men, reasonably wearable dresses or even slacks for women.

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Looking at how stylish and athletic the skaters look while practicing in their leotards, T-shirts and warm-ups, one wonders why this took so long.

There are still puffy pirate shirts around, like the one worn by Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel, which Dick Button said "sort of looks like a distant cousin from my dining room curtain," but the look is dated, and I think it's on its way out.

So let's appreciate it while we can by honoring a wardrobe malfunction of the night for the rest of the figure-skating competition. Tuesday's winner was Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, who sported a "Cats"-inspired black shirt that looked like it had been slashed by a giant tiger. There were three jagged tears in the front and four in what was left of the back.

I kept expecting Verner to separate into four pieces, the way cartoon characters do after some big animal takes a swipe at them with mighty claws.

But maybe I'm jumping to conclusions. Verner might have meant to be a part of the reform movement. After all, without the slashes, his outfit would have been a handsome one, black shirt and slacks, with a stylish orange T-shirt peeking out at the collar.

Got to follow those laundering instructions, Tommy.

Still, at least for now, it must be nice to be able to pull a ruined shirt out of the dryer, shrug and say, "Good thing I'm a figure skater."

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Curling notes [PERMALINK]

Tuesday morning, Switzerland vs. Great Britain women. With the score 4-4 in the ninth end, Great Britain called timeout to discuss the next shot. The four women, all from Scotland and all wearing microphones, talked it over for 55 seconds before they were joined by coach Russell Keiller.

Now the five of them talked it over. A minute and a half into the conversation, all of it audible to the home audience, the huddle broke up.

"I think that's a great call," said TV analyst Don Duguid.

What?!? Ninety seconds of gabbing and I didn't understand a single word!

What they decided didn't work out so well because of a great subsequent shot by the Swiss. Great Britain finally escaped with a 5-4 win.

Two more important curling notes:

  • From certain angles, one of the "British" curlers, Kelly Wood, looks a little like Chloe on "24." She's on the left in this photo. Here's Chloe, played by Mary Lynn Rajskub.
  • I want one of those stonehead hats that look like a curling stone.

    This story has been corrected since it was first published.

    Previous column: Joey Cheek, pairs skate, curling

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