Friday, March 05, 2010

HardDoor's Winter Olympic Wrap-Up! '10

"A funny thing happened on the way to the forum..."

I was beginning the special I had planned for February when I remembered all the sudden that the Olympics were starting soon. Being the massive Olympics fan that I am, any time spent watch television was spent watching the events in Vancouver, which admittedly interfered with my plans. Turning around to watch things happen while typing was a little taxing and took up time at first, but luckily I found a way to get my computer's TV tuner card to be read again and was able to watch and type on the same screen at the same time. Overall, everything is going quite well with it, but due to its length, it appears that I'll be changing its release format to be more multi-part than I initially thought...

The XXI Winter Olympiad in Vancouver started on a somber note with the passing of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the controversial Whistler Sliding Center, who died during a training run when he slid off the course dubbed "the fastest in the world" and collided with a steel pillar. Though the tragedy weighed on the minds of many, the Games became one of the best and most memorable in some time, both Winter and Summer--in spite of the fluctuating weather. And thus we begin the now-traditional post-Olympic review...

--Speaking of "one of the best", the Opening Ceremonies was one of them, if not the best among the other Winter Games. The person behind it made masterful use of the screens on the field, the decorative curtain-like chandeliers above, the people in the stands (who were given white ponchos, flashlights, and small screens), and a couple of projectors to create a highly imaginative and inventive canvas that was both simple and beautifully complex in its execution. Add in the nods to Canadian history, the music numbers, the narration, acrobatics, and the poetry towards the end and it was as great an opener as you'll find post-Beijing. Too bad...

--All of that greatness was overshadowed by the malfunctioned hydrolics that prevented the fourth torch arm from rising, thus begetting "Gretzky-face". However, the organizers would get the last laugh...

--After failing to grasp a gold medal in any of their other two hosted Olympics, Canada finally broke the drought just a few days in--and it couldn't happen to a better guy. Alexandre Bilodeau won the men's mogul after a feverish pitch down the bumpy trail and soon after his victory was solidified, he went over to embrace his older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy and who he looks up to as his hero.

--Having never won anything in Nordic Combined, much less medal, the U.S. had a banner showing in the mountains of Whistler, with Johnny Spillane winning the country's first (a silver), Bill Demong winning its first gold, and both men and veteran Todd Lodwick gaining silver in the team event. The United States has never really excelled in any of the non-alpine skiing contests, so to see them prove their worth here was quite good to witness.

--I was so happy to see the married couple of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo win the pairs program, who did so well despite the sudden error in free skate. After all of the years of tumult they had, it was great to see them succeed and finally get the gold medal. They looked great and it does make up for one of my favorite pairs, Pang Qing and Tong Jian getting silver.

--I've never warmed up to ice dancing, but thanks to Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto's accomplishments and this year's competition, it has me anticipating it more. Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue took the sport to another level with the grace and perfection of their performance. As good as Meryl Davis and Charlie White were, no one was getting close to them after the compulsory dance alone(the first of the three-part competition). They may have been in second at the time, but you had a strong feeling that they would pull away soon enough.

--Is it just me, or is the relationship between Belbin/Agosto and Davis/White "chilly"? They seem kinda catty towards one another (especially the latter, overall).

--And speaking of "catty" great a performer as Yevgeny Plushenko is and as much of a fan I am of his, he lost the competition. No doubt there. While his short program showed glimpses of the Torino '06 champion (and his amazing gala skate there), I don't think he would have gotten the high marks he got had Daisuke Takahashi gone first. His short was one of the best and most expressive skates I had ever seen, but since both men's styles are similar, I believe the judges didn't grade it as high since the former was the very first skater out and had wowed them with that already with that style of performance. "The Law of Slightly Diminished Returns", if you will...

--That brings us to the long program, where Evan Lysacek followed up on his near-flawless, though more technical, short with a flawless, and equally technical and artistic, long program. Plushenko's long program--quad-or-not, old-system-or-not--felt like a victory lap and had very little flow, or worse, reason to it. He spent more time simply skating around than doing anything choreography-related. It was flat, not sharp (just look at his landings), and a little self-indulgent, nothing worthy topping the eventual champion's performance. He should have shown more of what he did in the short program if he wanted to impress the judges more (besides sticking those landings). Of course, his (and Russia's) antics afterwords surprised none. Enjoy your silv--I mean, "platinum" medal...

--Takahashi may have had a great short, but his long program had that bad drop that sort of deflated the rest of it, even though he made a strong recovery. Personally, I thought that Johnny Weir should have gotten the bronze with his wonderful, error-free long, but I suppose politics played a role in his sixth place finish. One of the very, very few judging issues in the figure skating competition (the other being the inflated score given to the Russian ice dancing couple's aimless and insensitive original dance).

--It, perhaps, takes a real intangible to do what Petra Majdic of Slovenia did in the cross-country sprint after that freak fall down a rocky ravine: keep racing and win a bronze medal with a collapsed lung and broken ribs. Not hard to see why she and Joannie Rochette below were awarded the Terry Fox Award by the Games' organizers for their show of "determination and character". Fox was a 21-year-old Canadian who lost a leg to bone cancer at 18 and ran 5000km across the country with a prosthetic to raise money for research prior to having to stop due to the cancer reappearing in his lungs. He passed away the following year in 1981, but became a great hero and symbol in his country.

--Kim Yu-na = greatness. Hardly anything else can be said, as she represented everything you could ask for in an exemplary skater: grace, passion, athleticism, skill, musicality, and artistry. It was great to see her live up to the high expectations South Korea had for her. "The Queen", indeed...

--Joannie Rochette, more likely than not, became the face of her home country's Games due to the sudden passing of her mother just days before she was to skate in the competition. The poise and strength she showed through it all was inspiring, making her bronze medal showing all the more remarkable.

--Though she had no real shot of medaling, I really felt for Turkey's Tugba Karademir, who was able to get to where she was because of the sacrifices her well-to-do parents made. They left their wealthy and high-profile occupations in their native country for menial jobs in Canada to support her dream.

--...and then there was silver medalist Mao Asado, who was virtually overshadowed by Queen Yu-na and the poignancy of Rochette. She was a little shaky at times, but it took some real guts and focus to put out a really strong performance in the long program right after Kim obliterated her own world record by over twenty points with another show of perfection--especially with all of the pressure she had from Japan. Though not loved by all, her outfit and choice of music matched spot-on with her performance.

--Shawn White...even though he's the best by far, he's still willing to go out there and put it down when he already had the gold nailed not far into the 2nd Run portion. Not only that, he nailed the Tomahawk on his 2nd/Victory Run, too.

--Man, another Olympics, another bad mistake by Lindsey Jacobellis, this one more of a freak occurrence. Here's to better luck in Sochi...

--NBC was quite careful in not overemphasizing Shani Davis' race as he was contending to repeat medals at Vancouver. They only mentioned him being the first African-American Winter Games gold medalist back at Torino only once or twice, this time focusing on him being the first person to repeat gold in the 1000M speed skate. Overall, it was quite the event for black athletes this time, with a Canadian woman and a German man winning silver and bronze (IIRC) respectively in bobsledding and another German male winning bronze as part of the figure skating pairs competition.

--If there was one thing that I learned from this year's Games, it's that no one likes Sweden. Especially if your Norwegian...

--After NBC's hilarious--and ever so frequent--slo-mo shots of hot, sweating female long-distance runners in Beijing (bonus coverage if they were pouring water on themselves), one would think that they couldn't pull the same stunt off in the colder confines of Whistler. Quite true for the most part, that is, if you don't count that one time when the camera stayed fixated on a cross-country skier that just finished her race as she sat down and removed her jersey to cool off...and her other shirt...and another layer of clothing...until she was just down to the white shirt she was wearing over her semi-noticeable bra. It looked like she was going to take that off and change into another shirt when they simply faded out to a shot of the scenery. Like the old saying goes--"some things never change..."

--Since the Winter Olympics were going to be in a city within one of the U.S.' timezones, one would have thought NBC would make all of the events available live across their many networks and online, which worked very well for the Summer Games in 2008 (and that was with a near half-day time difference!). However, NBC didn't do that at all, treating the Vancouver Games like they was on a quasi-long distance time lag. There was live coverage, to be sure, but they still tape-delayed some of the other "marquee" events like alpine skiing and speed-skating. With Beijing, they often showed events online and sometimes rebroadcast them on television. Here, it felt like they were saving certain events for their primetime coverage and had only shown a few of them in their entirety online on tape delay, saving the "first time" footage for the night's programming. It was also puzzling that they never made any use of Universal Sports beyond being an Olympic news and analysis venue (as good and enjoyable as it was). I understand getting the ratings (especially since the Winter Olympics tend to draw lower than the Summer Games), and I somewhat came around on my stance, but it was still disappointing to not have the type of coverage like in 2008. Either way, it worked out pretty well for NBC, as Vancouver became the second most-watched Winter Games ever, behind the standard-bearer Lillehammer '92.

--He may have ended gotten DQ'd in the race he won at Torino and just the bronze in the relay, but Apolo Anton Ohno still did pretty well--like becoming the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian in history with 8 eight medals -well (two silvers and one bronze in Vancouver). It was also nice to see Katherine Reutter get silver in the 1000M, who came from the same town as the great Bonnie Blair, whose six medals Ohno eclipsed for the record.

--Curling is a whole lot better than many give it credit for. It's basically like a mix of chess, billiards, shuffleboards, and bowling, and while that may not sound like the most scintillating of comparisons, it can also be quite thrilling to watch. It makes for great tactical discussion and perfect for those armchair quarterbacks out there. Perhaps more puzzling is some of the joking towards the biathalon. It's skiing, and shooting, and it can come down to a case of nerves and composure under pressure. What isn't there too like?

--I know...I was supposed to cheer for the U.S.... but I really wanted Canada to win the both the men's and women's hockey tournaments, which they did against them. Both were great, great games and couldn't have culminated any better on the men's side with the U.S. tying it with less than 30 seconds left and Sidney Crosby clinching it for the host nation after a tense sudden-death overtime. Hockey is so big in Canada and they wanted the gold so badly that it was hard not to root for them. In the process, I also felt bad for the U.S. women's team who were understandably emotional after getting shut out 2-0 and for Ryan Miller, the tournament MVP goalie who was nearly unbeatable until Crosby got by him.

--Night Traaaaiiiiinnnn~!!! (And to think, driver Steve Holcomb was nearly blind two years ago...)

--Normally, the Closing Ceremonies are nowhere near as tightly done as the opening festivities, being much more loose and concert-like. They can be good, but not as compelling, and often lack form. Thankfully, Vancouver gave their Games a grand sendoff, starting off with a great tongue-in-cheek redemption of the torch lighting mishap from earlier. They also brought back the visual styling from before and did a really good job incorporating it with the musician performances and the "farewells" from well-known Canadian comedians. The topper, though, might have been Michael Buble's number, which included a flotilla parade celebrating Canadian identity (read: stereotypes), done with a great amount of humor and self-deprecation. Everything felt organized, had a sense of purpose, and was quite enjoyable all the way through. Definitely one of the best and most indelible Closing Ceremonies carried out.

The Vancouver Winter Games had its share of sorrow and tragedy, but it also had its score of amazing and wondrous moments. It was a very memorable Olympics, despite of being bereft of winter weather, and the city and Canada did quite well hosting it.

Now, onto another country with a lot pride on the line--Russia, which will be hosting the 2014 Winter Games and its stylish old-style logo in Sochi (or if you prefer something a little closer, the London 2012 Summer Games).

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