Flips to flops, cameras caught golden spectrum

Olympics

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 25, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Somehow, in its wisdom, the IOC (and no, that doesn't stand for I Overhype Canada) failed to award medals to those high-performing competitors in the world of Olympic television. So let's go to the podium, as top marks are presented for the less-heralded contests that played out on the air over the past few weeks.

Gold for best camera work: Saturday night's touching footage of American figure skater Sarah Hughes, spinning furiously as she completed her routine on Thursday, also captured the simultaneous exultation of her coach, who registered that she was likely to win a medal. The 16-year-old claimed a gold. But there were spectacular shots throughout - particularly in aerial and slalom skiing and the tight corners of men's speed skating. Silver: The shot showing Canadian legend and national hockey team director Wayne Gretzky leaping to his feet and shouting a synonym for "Making Whoopie A!" after his countrymen had scored a goal against the U.S. team. Try telling him the Olympics don't matter to those who have played professional sports.

Gold for the best sports moment on the final day of the Olympics: Unquestionably the end of yesterday's Maryland-Wake Forest men's basketball game over on WNUV. The game was tied at 89 with just 1.3 seconds left, but then Wake's Josh Howard, who had played spectacularly, called a timeout when his team had none. Juan Dixon made one of the ensuing technical free throws, and Maryland had registered a win after overcoming a 12-point gap.

Gold for best dinosaur in closing ceremony: Tyrannosaurus Rex. Silver: Vice President Dick Cheney, who was shown last night watching *NSYNC. It makes you wonder what Cheney and his wife, culture scold Lynne Cheney, made of KISS, as the aging '70s rockers (that's the decade, not their age) sang: "I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day!" On second thought, it also makes you wonder what the heck the bunker enthusiast is doing out in public. Does the White House know?

Gold for best technology: SimulCam, the doubling technology that superimposes tapes of two downhill or slalom skiers to illustrate how they are faring against one another throughout a heat. As skiers perform solo against the clock, it is the most vivid representation ever seen for such competitions. Also worthy: SportVision's multiple-camera efforts to track the heights and contortions of aerial skiers, who often spun 50 feet in the air.

Gold for least restraint: NBC announcers Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic practically shouted down the score of the figure skating pairs when the Russians were originally awarded the highest marks above the favored Canadians. Equally annoyingly, as scores were announced for the Russian skater Irina Slutskaya, the two commentators shrieked with joy for Hughes without explaining the calculus involved in determining how the American had won. (It wasn't that difficult, actually, but it took me a day to find a coherent explanation.) Hamilton, a 1984 gold medalist, is a dandy skater, as he again proved during a routine last night before a stadium of appreciative athletes and fans. He cares about his sport deeply. He's just not doing viewers much good in the Olympic booth.

Gold for most restraint: NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. Under his leadership, the network's coverage of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics was not saturated with tale after tale of personal woe. In the recent past, viewers of Olympic Games were force-fed such sad stories. This year's footage offered much more of the competition itself, allowing the athletes to compete on the basis of skill and passion for sport, rather than severity of tragedy endured. For that alone, Ebersol deserves heartfelt thanks.

Gold for self-congratulation: The self-same Ebersol. In a conference call Saturday night, Ebersol told reporters: "These are far and away the best [Olympics] I've ever been involved with." Think that's got more to do with NBC's big ratings or the high medal tallies of the U.S. Olympic team? (NBC's ratings were up 15 percent over 1998's games from Nagano, Japan, with greater gains during prime time and in key demographics. The U.S. Olympic team took home 34 medals, more than double its previous high.)

While these games featured tremendous athletic displays, they were also tainted by scandal, as anchor Bob Costas suggested during an interview with International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge of Belgium. (Rogge rejected any notion that the taint would cling to the games.) For those of us who are not as worldly as our sophisticated friends from the Continent, Ebersol's elevation of these games suggests just how cozy NBC is with its Olympic partners - and just how much the network values having the games held at home. Other than bribery, doping disqualifications and strong intimations of vote-rigging, however, there was little to dislike.

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