Post-event answers, questions go from bad to worse

Phil Jackman

February 18, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Owing to the fact some days at the Winter Olympics are like dark days at the racetrack, wordage becomes a very important factor when a network sets up its cameras and microphones to send along 116 hours of coverage, as CBS is doing. So let's talk about the talk for a spell.

The athletes won't like this very much, but the plain fact is an overwhelming majority of them are lousy interviews, especially immediately following competition.

For example, a microphone was stuck in the face of dance gold medalist Marina Klimova as she was fighting a losing battle with oxygen debt last night and, without even understanding the question, she answered, "Yes (giggle)." End of interview.

Just as bad is the inevitable question about pressure. Hey, gang, this is the Olympics, which is staged only once every four years (until now); blow it here and you've got what seems like a lifetime to think (and be questioned) about it. Of course there's pressure . . . for everyone.

Then there's the fat pitch right down the middle where a team sport participant is asked to assess an upcoming opponent that doesn't have a snowball's chance in a microwave. "Every team is tough," is usually the provocative reply.

It was back in the first Winter Olympics in 1924 that Canada won the gold in hockey by outscoring opponents, 110-3. Yet to this day descendants of the coach of that team cannot understand how the Canadians did it after giving up a whopping two goals to Great Britain while scoring only 19.

This isn't to say that if given the opportunity to towel off, gather some thoughts and take a deep breath or two the typical athlete couldn't come up with something mildly interesting to say to a decent question.

Then again, perhaps that's the problem: Lack of decent questions. It might not be a bad idea after paying $243 million for rights fees and $100 million to produce the two-week show if CBS conducted a seminar with its on-air people about interview techniques. Chances are Larry King could work it into his schedule; he doesn't have anything to do between 1-2 p.m.

With most winter sports participants, though, it might not do much good. The former East Germans, especially the ones who cross country ski a couple of time zones at a time, are like talking to a luge sled. "This is a fine competition," they will say, always fidgeting for fear that they might divulge a state secret.

The former Soviets used to be even worse. During the boxing tournament at the Goodwill Games last year, the coach would put his right hand on the table and his fighter would deliver a compliment to his

beaten foe (always in the same words). The left hand was for highly personal stuff, like how much he weighed.

Regardless, the post-competition interview will remain with us forever, because people producing the shows want viewers to feel the immediacy of the action . . . even if the event was taped last October.

After being carried by figure skating the last five nights, CBS is hoping the likely prospect of Team USA's advancing in the medal round with a victory over France today will carry tonight's (taped) prime time show. Save for a match with that unnamed country that stretches from Moscow to the Bering Strait with a medal at stake, hockey usually doesn't hold up in the ratings.

Now you know why CBS has been running around gathering up those mostly pointless interviews and features on Italy's Alberto Tomba for a week: He went for the gold today and figures to help out.

The women's original program goes tomorrow with the free program Friday and U.S. skaters are a good bet for two of the three medals. Oh, a typical reply from Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan when asked about their chances: "I just want a medal; I don't care what color it is."

Yeah, right.

The skaters, the producers, directors and announcers all contributed to a fine original program dance finale last night, but there is one problem when dealing with ice dancing: There are no upsets. The good ones go to the front immediately and stay there. Not even "homer" calls by the judges can change that.

* THUMBS DOWN: That's it, CBS, one more mention of cross country skier Yelena Valbe, much less an extended feature, and I won't be responsible for my actions. What is it with the net and this woman who seems to have her priorities so mixed up?

Oy-oy-oy, remind me not to read anything further by the writer who suggested Team USA goalie Ray LeBlanc "let" three third-period goals in by Sweden in yesterday's tie.

I'll give United Artists of Baltimore cable until Friday to apologize for taking us off line while a Swedish player was assaulting a U.S. player and getting himself thrown out of the game. The teams played last week, there were hard feelings after the game and there figured to be retribution. And we missed it.

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