Tom Clyde: Olympic overdose
I really don’t care about most of the Olympic events. I love to ski, but watching other people ski doesn’t exactly ignite the fire within. So when the Olympic coverage takes over, my inclination is to ignore it. But every year, I get sucked in, and whole days are lost, and long nights are spent awake watching cross-country skiing (spoiler alert: Norway always wins). I’m able to turn the lights out on curling, which is fun to do, and completely soporific to watch.
A lot of it is hard to watch. I just get into the flow of Toyota commercials when they are interrupted by some random ski-jumper. It’s very hard to get into the emotional depths of the Coke ads for some new, off-flavor Coke products (“Coke with Tide Pods”) when the figure skaters refuse to yield the screen. I’ve TIVOed hours of it, but then can’t find what I’m looking for. There is supposed to be some kind of app that sorts it all out, but the weather has been so bad that they can’t keep anything on schedule if it happens outside. So it’s been a potluck assortment of things I really don’t care about but watch for hours anyway.
Some of the sports are terribly tradition-bound. It took years to get women in the ski jumping competition. It was terribly controversial because, you know, they hadn’t done it before. That, and they were likely going to break records the men had set. There’s probably nothing more hide-bound than figure skating. The big controversy of the year was that their music selections could, for the first time, include singing. For all the years figure skating has been around, they have used the karaoke version of “Man of La Mancha.” They have skated to horns and strings and hokey organ music, but never to actual words. Now, there are lyrics involved. Elvis on ice.
Oddly, the lyrics all seem to be in English. I’m not sure how the judges would react to a skater performing to songs in Chinese or Slovenian. For the American TV audience, the English lyrics in overwhelmingly American pop music choices, seems perfectly natural. I’m not sure how it plays around the world.
If the skaters are willing to take that shocking step, I have some additional suggestions. Without intending to denigrate the athletic ability of the skaters — I would be hauled off the ice on a backboard within the first 30 seconds — they all do exactly the same thing. That’s how it works. Your double whapperdoodle is compared to every other competitor’s double whapperdoodle. It’s a required move. It’s all the same unless somebody crashes, which is rare at this level.
They could mix it up a little. How about combining speed skating with figure skating, so that at the end of every lap, the speed skaters were required to do a few twirling moves? Pull in elements from snowboarding, and have ramps and rails involved in the figure skating. A 1440 corker to the goofy side would stir things up a little. How about mixing in curling, so the figure skaters were dodging curling stones launched on to the ice for a kind of moving slalom? It wouldn’t take a lot to make figure skating interesting, and my guess is most of the athletes would be happy to break free of the ancient, rigid rules of the sport and show what they are really capable of doing out there.
The ski racing world could also use a little shake up. They added the Alpine Combined event, that combines the astounding speed of downhill with a technical test of the slalom run. But people would tune in to watch a downhill race that included a few aerial moves along the way. Sixty miles an hour into a double back flip, or throw in a couple of the old ski ballet maneuvers from the 1970’s. Slopestyle/downhill would be an event people would show up for. (Even though I’ve always thought “slopestyle” was the dumbest name for a sporting event since “cricket.”)
I’m getting 4 channels of Olympics on my satellite system. There might actually be more that I haven’t stumbled across yet. There’s plenty to watch, and I kind of migrate around the tuner. If everything was running smoothly, that is an enormous amount of airtime to fill. Bode Miller’s commentary on the ski events has been interesting, and so far, profanity free. But it’s a real challenge to fill 10 minutes of live television while waiting for the wind to die down. Combine that with the frequent rescheduling of events that are being blown off the mountain, and the producers for NBC have to be going crazy.
It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch, and a little hard to imagine that 16 years ago, we were center stage.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.