King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Olympics refuse to follow NBC's script. Plus: Turin sure is beautiful! (Trust us on this.)


Salon Staff
February 16, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

The Olympics continue to go smashingly for NBC. That is, just about every athlete the network hypes seems destined to have his or her hopes smashed.

From Michelle Kwan to Bode Miller, Apolo Ohno to Jeremy Bloom, the big names keep coming up empty.

The U.S. men's hockey team even got into the act Wednesday, the first day of competition in that sport. The roster full of NHL players -- jet-lagged and having almost no practice time together, but still NHL players -- blew a two-goal lead and had to rally for a 3-3 tie against Latvia, which has only two current NHL players on the team.

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And one of them, Sandis Ozolinsh, had been in the league's substance-abuse clink and hadn't played in a game since Nov. 27.

Latvian goalie Arturs Irbe, 39, who made 19 saves in the third period alone, is out of the league, having spent the last two years before the lockout bouncing between the minor leagues and the Carolina Hurricanes.

The good news for the Americans is that the 1980 "miracle" team also began the Olympics with a tie, though that was against Sweden. The good news for NBC is it really hasn't hyped the American hockey team that much.

Canada, which is essentially an NHL All-Star team, with six captains on the roster, got a scare from Italy, which held the Canadians to a 1-0 lead in the first period and sent the arena into a frenzy with a tying goal early in the second.

It didn't last. The Canadians woke up and scored five goals in the period to end the threat.

And while it didn't make the prime-time show or anything, the U.S. curling team got dumped by Italy, a heavy underdog only in the tournament because it's the host. Italy finally broke through with a win after giving a scare to Great Britain and Sweden. How about those plucky Italians on ice!

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Bloom came into these Olympics as the most famous athlete on these shores who isn't a figure skater, hockey player or, at least in the last month, Bode Miller. That's because Bloom played football at the University of Colorado, then unsuccessfully fought the NCAA in court when it said he couldn't keep playing if he accepted sponsorship money as a skier.

Favored to win the moguls, he had trouble on his last jump and finished out of the money. Instead it was Toby Dawson who pulled off an upset by winning the bronze, making it two nights in a row a lesser-known American skier had upstaged a star compatriot. On Tuesday Ted Ligety had won the men's combined, beating out the better-known Miller and Daron Rahlves.

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Dale Begg-Smith, a Canadian Internet millionaire skiing for Australia, won the moguls gold.

The good news for NBC: Toby Dawson, abandoned as a toddler in his native South Korea, adopted by a ski-instructor couple in Colorado, and painfully shy growing up, is a Big Detroit Automaker Olympic Moment waiting to happen. Look for that on Thursday.

Speed skater Chad Hedrick's quest for five gold medals went up in smoke when the Americans were eliminated by Italy in the new and strange team pursuit, in which two teams of three match-race against the clock on opposite ends of the oval.

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The American skaters are all a-snit because one of them, Shani Davis, declined to participate, which made a medal all but impossible. The others, especially Hedrick, have made it an open secret that they think Davis is a jerk for wanting to concentrate on his individual events.

I have no dog in that rather dull fight, but here's what I find interesting about it. Davis is one of the few black athletes in these Olympics, and lo and behold he and his teammates don't get along.

That might be because Davis is a stone jerk. I don't know. But has NBC mentioned this obvious dynamic so far? Not in the 24.6 hours a day I've been watching. Will it? Let's just say I'm not holding my breath.

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Wednesday wasn't a total disaster for NBC's pre-Olympics script. Ohno, the short-track speed skater who emerged as a star of the 2002 Games, bounced back from a spill and eighth-place finish in the 1,500 meters to help the U.S. get through the heats in both the 1,000- and 5,000-meter relays.

But finals in those events will be held over the weekend. Ohno better bring it hard. The script says he's supposed to win some medals, and so far, these Olympics haven't been following the script.

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Where's Turin? [PERMALINK]

The strangest thing about NBC's coverage of the Olympics has been the way the network has ignored the host city. This is not an unwelcome thing. NBC has done a good job of keeping the focus on the events. It's just unusual.

The announcers and hosts keep telling us how beautiful and historic the place is, but we never get treated to those reporter-in-the-streets features that are a staple of Olympics coverage.

Turin seems to be less than overwhelmed with Olympic fever, as evidenced by the oceans of empty seats in some of the venues. But there must be parties, bar scenes, people selling junk on the streets, the parade of crazies that any international event attracts.

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And even if there isn't, even if the Turin party scene consists of seven deadbeats getting drunk around a picnic table, since when are TV people above showing that in close-up and implying that it's the tip of an iceberg?

NBC hasn't even mentioned the Shroud of Turin, at least not while I've been watching, and I'm watching 24.6 hours a day. Except for the on-air assurances that they're being held in a stunningly beautiful Old World city of piazzas and cathedrals, these Olympics might as well be coming at you from Des Moines, Iowa.

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Surprise! [PERMALINK]

Here's NBC announcer Steve Podborski during Wednesday's moguls:

"Travis Mayer of Team USA is our next competitor, and I expect no surprises from him except how fast and how big he might go in this course."

Yeah, I didn't expect to see any surprises from him either. I figured he was going to look like every other moguls skier bouncing down the hill, flying off a ramp and spinning in the air. And sure enough.

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For all the "extreme" attitude and loud music playing as the skiers ski, this sport, like most X Games-style sports, makes luge look like naked supermodel flamethrower fighting. Viewed on super-fast-forward, it's like watching a faucet drip.

At regular speed, it's not that exciting.

Previous column: Dick Button

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