Tuesday, February 16, 2010

MTVP Vancouver 2010 Olympics Coverage: Day 4

Pairs figure skating was again the focus on Day 4 of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The coverage overall was kind of haphazard, though. In addition, we got a men’s downhill skiing event, some speed skating drama without any competition taking place, and the craziness that was snowboard cross. Plus, there was an in-depth cultural segment on…polar bears. There were some good moments for the United States, some awarded with medals, and some not. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching China take two medals, which was kind of a surprise to me, considering how the media likes to always set China up as the ultimate nemesis for the United States at any Olympics.

The first big story of the night was one of redemption. Yeah, we hear a lot about redemption at the Olympics, but few US athletes needed redemption as much as alpine skier Bode Miller. Miller was portrayed by NBC, at least, as a rather unmotivated ass in Torino, partying more than training. His performance at those Games reflected the perceived amount of work he put in- he did not medal at all. Since Torino, though, Miller seems to really have turned it around. He has become a father, and it suits him. The commentators mentioned that Miller was waiting at the gate ready and raring to go on his training runs earlier that morning. Rewarded for his hard work, Miller took home a bronze medal in an extremely close men’s downhill race.

Before I get into any comments on the other sporting events of the evening, I have to say something about Mary Carillo’s segment on polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. I like polar bears as much as the next person who doesn’t have to stand too close to them and risk getting eaten, but I thought this segment was pretty lame. One of the things I love about the Olympics is how you’re able to get a sense of what the host city is like. It’s sort of like visiting somewhere else for two weeks. After a few days, though, I still don’t feel like I really know anything about Vancouver. I’d rather see segments on various neighborhoods in Vancouver or the local cuisine. Stuff that would make me want to visit the city for real some day when, you know, I actually have a job.

I think my favorite moment of the night was Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau receiving his gold medal. BC Place erupted as he approached the podium. The best part of the whole shindig was hearing everybody in the stadium sing along loudly to “O Canada.” I’ve developed a bit of fondness for the Canadian national anthem after hearing the lovely Lauren Hart sing it when I go to Flyers games with my mom (second generation die-hard Flyers fan here), and it was awesome to hear such a crazy, joyous rendition of it. Canadians are known for being more reserved, but they were definitely celebrating last night!

We had more figure skating coverage on NBC than originally planned last night thanks to yet another technical problem in the Vancouver-area Olympic facilities. This time, the problem was with the ice at the Richmond Oval, the speed skating venue. Both of the primary ice resurfacing machines broke down, and the back-up just made the ice even worse. Eventually, one of the broken machines was repaired and put into service, but the damage had already been done. Some of the top skaters, like American Shani Davis, had clocked uncharacteristically poor times. Davis himself ended up withdrawing from the event.

The figure skating scoring again made me want to give up trying to understand the sport. I enjoyed Barrett and Denney’s free skate routine thoroughly. It was nice to see them finally skate up to their potential. I’m still a fan of Evora and Ladwig, mostly because I like underdogs (they placed second at US Nationals) and their short program was wonderful, but I didn’t understand why they scored almost ten points higher than Barrett and Denney in the free skate. Their routine was not nearly as clean. Barrett and Denney had the skate of their career thus far.

I kind of wish these pairs wouldn’t skate to music I’ve played before (I’ve dabbled in cello over the years)- it’s distracting. In the short program, it was “The Swan,” a staple for any half-decent cellist. In the free skate, it was a Rachmaninov piano concerto that I remember accompanying as part of my college orchestra. I get caught up thinking about how to play the piece and don’t really concentrate on watching what’s happening on the TV screen.

The thing that surprised me the most last night was how happy I was for the two Chinese couples that won the gold and silver medals. I know it’s not politically correct, but I’m guilty of buying into the anti-China Olympics commentary on occasion. Chinese culture is just so different from my own that I struggle to understand it, and perhaps that’s something I should work on. I started softening towards the Chinese pairs when NBC showed a quick shot of Zhao Hongbo tossing a football while waiting to compete. It just looked so completely normal.

Then there was the lovely performance of Pang and Tong, who had been in fourth place after the short program. Their free skate was lovely, and most importantly, almost completely clean. There had been so many falls and bobbles throughout the evening that it was just a relief to see a pair skate what they meant to skate. They also clearly had a good time with it, too. Shen and Zhao still managed to pull off the win despite a somewhat shaky free skate thanks to their complete dominance in the short program. That didn’t even irritate me. They were just so extremely happy to have achieved the goal they came out of retirement to achieve that it was infectious. And I think that’s what the Olympics is really all about.

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