ABC takes lead on the backstretch


May 20, 1994|By RAY FRAGER

Columbus was looking for a route to Asia. Jim Rodnunsky was looking for a route to better skiing pictures.

Columbus got a day and a city in Ohio. Rodnunsky got Arnold Schwarzenegger and a trip to Baltimore.

Such a deal.

Rodnunsky is president of Cablecam Systems and a co-inventor of the device that will track the horses on the backstretch of tomorrow's Preakness during ABC's telecast (4:30 p.m.-6 p.m., channels 13, 7). The cablecam first was used on a horse race during the Kentucky Derby, and ABC was so happy with the result that the network decided to bring it back two weeks later.

"It met all the expectations we had," said Curt Gowdy Jr., who produced ABC's Derby coverage and will be doing the same for the Preakness. "Even in the inclement weather, we were very pleased with its tracking."

Though the cablecam worked well in rain, it was developed to function in snow. In 1988, Rodnunsky, a former freestyle skier, was working on a ski simulator that would use the technology of flight simulators (a device that enables you to experience flying -- takeoffs, landings, lost luggage). The problem was that the footage of skiing kept coming out too jumbled.

So Rodnunsky and partners Pierre DeLespin, a television director (his credits include the Calgary and Albertville Olympics), and Trou Bayliss, a grip and sailor, developed the camera on a cable. Rodnunsky got his skiing pictures -- and a lot more.

Rodnunsky's Los Angeles-based company has filmed commercials for Jeep, Kawasaki, Pontiac and Nike. Steven Spielberg used a cablecam in "Hook," as did Spike Lee in "Crooklyn" and Schwarzenegger in the coming-this-summer-to-a-theater-near-you-buy-the / soundtrack-on-Musclebound-Records "Omega Sector."

During the Lillehammer Olympics, the cablecam tracked speed skaters and slalom and mogul skiers. It also has been used on auto racing telecasts.

The cablecam is about the size of a basketball. At Pimlico, it will be carried by a 12-foot-long dolly hanging from a cable suspended between 60-foot towers that are 1,500 feet apart. (And if Camera A leaves Tower B at 4:45 p.m., traveling 35 mph, and Camera C leaves Tower D at 4:47, traveling 40 mph, what time would they meet?)

The cablecam can be manned, but the remote version is needed for horse racing.

"The reason we wanted to be remote was to be less obtrusive, not to spook the horses," Rodnunsky said.

Other than the cablecam shots, some things to look for on ABC's telecast are:

* A recap of the Derby.

* A profile of Nick Zito, trainer of Derby winner Go For Gin. "We call it 'Nick on Nick,' " Gowdy said. "He's going to sort of tell you his story."

* A look at Preakness entries that weren't in the Derby, including the colorful team of trainer Louie Roussel III and owner Ron

Lamarque, whose Kandaly was scratched in Louisville. Will we hear Lamarque sing? "If he's in the winner's circle," Gowdy said.

* Coverage of an earlier race at Pimlico, the Governor Schaefer Handicap. (What's his handicap? Sorry, no political jokes here.)

Also, ABC's cameras will "spend a good deal of time live in the paddock area," Gowdy said.

The network's announcing crew will be the same as at Churchill Downs: Jim McKay, Al Michaels, Dave Johnson, Charlsie Cantey and Jack Whitaker. . . .

If you want to hear Lamarque sing, tune in Channel 13's Preakness special, "Riders Up," tonight at 7:30. WJZ sports anchor John Buren is the host and executive producer.

C-ya, CBS

Will the last sportscaster to leave CBS please turn off the blow dryer? Greg Gumbel is the latest defection. John Madden, Pat Summerall and Terry Bradshaw have gone to Fox, but USA Today reported this week that Gumbel is headed to NBC. The move isn't official yet, but neither CBS nor NBC is denying it.

Gumbel will join NBC on June 13, USA Today said, and among his first duties will be as studio host for the network's baseball coverage later in the summer.

Whatever else Gumbel does for NBC -- NFL, Olympics, NBA -- he's certain to be an asset. In Gumbel and Bob Costas, NBC will have two of TV's best all-around sportscasters and perhaps its two best studio hosts.

New man at 45

Channel 45 finally has filled the sports anchor vacancy created by Max Morgan's departure last year. Steve Davis, from KOIN in Portland, Ore., will start at Channel 45 on June 20, it was announced this week. Davis will be on the air Sunday through Thursday nights, and Bruce Cunningham said he will move back to anchoring Friday and Saturday.

"Steve has a fresh, funny, credible sports presentation," WBFF news director Joe DeFeo said in a memo to the staff.

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