While the Winter Olympics struggle to outperform reality TV and second-rate dramas like "Grey’s Anatomy," for ratings, some of us who are watching, are not terribly impressed with what we've seen, thus far.
My bone to pick isn’t necessarily with the athletic performances of most of the world's athletes, or the world class competition they provide for appreciative viewers. My issues are with both the way that NBC chooses to focus on select events, aiming for their highest possible primetime audience, and the underwhelming performance of the over hyped and cocky American athletes.
As for ratings, the 2006 Olympics in Turin, are the lowest rated winter games since 1988. Not that I really care whether General Electric and NBC take a financial bath. In a worst case scenario, I can always watch Canadian television, even if I can’t understand a word the French-speaking announcers utter.
Both the American and Canadian hockey teams have performed poorly, with the U.S. losing consecutive games to Sweden and Slovakia, and the progenitors of hockey, the Canadians, losing to Finland and world hockey power, Switzerland. While the U.S. has struggled often in international ice hockey competition, there have been moments of glory, none as unforgettable as 1980’s miracle on ice. Unfortunately, with the need to introduce professional players into the mix, beginning in 1998, the results have been underwhelming. Even on the women’s side, the highly-touted U.S. women’s team, expected to play for the gold medal, lost to an unheralded Swedish women’s team on Friday, in a shootout. The U.S. and Canada were thought to be the elite women’s teams in the women’s hockey pool, but Sweden, which almost didn’t send a team, rode the heroic goaltending of 19-year-old Kim Martin, to stun the U.S. women, who now play a consolation match with hopes of at least coming home with a bronze medal.
I watched most of the women’s U.S./Sweden match on Friday, before a power outage robbed me of the opportunity to see the overtime period and shootout, ultimately capture by the Swedes. I was able to see the ending, yesterday, as CNBC rebroadcast the game.
Clearly, the U.S. team was superior in talent, but time-after-time, they were unable to capitalize on scoring opportunities. At one point, they had a two person advantage, due to penalties, and had difficultly getting shots on net. Not to take anything away from the sensational play of Martin, and the gritty leadership of veteran forward, Maria Rooth, but like their male counterparts, the women’s team underperformed when it counted and winning a bronze isn’t even a sure thing for them, at this point.
It’s not hard to understand why much of the world resents the U.S., particularly when we arrive with our red, white, and blue cockiness and swagger and then get dominated by the likes of tiny Norway in many events, or, our ski team, with all its bravado and boasting, gets out medaled by a sister and brother team from Croatia.
Thus far, Janica and Ivica Kostelic have two medals, to team U.S.A.’s one, in Alpine skiing. Janica, who won a gold in Salt Lake City, in 2002, is coming off major knee surgery. Both she and her brother, Ivica, have had to struggle to compete at this level. Coming from a war-torn country, their father, Ante, often had to “hawk” skis and other prizes they had won from sponsors, just to put gas in their car, as they traveled around Europe to competitions.
While I’m obviously critical of much of the hype surrounding the U.S. team, there are a few athletes that march to their own drummer and transcend all the hype of the U.S. media/marketing machine.
One of these athletes is Shani Davis, the African-American speed skater who won gold in the 1,000-meter race on Saturday. Davis, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, not exactly the hotbed of American speedskating, had been criticized by flag-waving, loudmouth, Chad Hedrick, of Texas, because Davis chose not to skate for the U.S. team in the relay event, focusing on his individual race instead. Davis finished with the gold and Hedrick, finished out of the medals, ending up a distant sixth.
I found it interesting how NBC chose to hype Hedrick, the stereotypical, white superstar, while totally ignoring Davis, until he won the gold. There has been very little on Davis, even after his gold medal in the 1,000. He still has an opportunity on Tuesday to race in the 1,500-meter race and could very well medal in that, also.
Maine's own, Seth Westcott, about as down-to-earth a person as you'll find on this international stage, wowed the world with his gold medal performance in the newest event, snowboarding's boarder cross.
Today, Bode Miller, who has been a major disappointment, thus far, races in the men’s Super-G, which NBC will broadcast this evening. While I’ve defended Miller and the criticized those who took issue with his 60 Minutes interview, I’m afraid Bode has gotten caught up in his own celebrity and has forgotten why many are interested in him in the first place. People are willing to overlooking loudmouth boors, if they can do something no one else can do—in Miller’s case, ski. If you are having problems making it down the mountain, then you end up being seen as an overbearing ass, instead of a world-class athlete. The former seems to be something that this year’s team has in abundance.