There were a whole lot of intense, fun-to-watch performances from the just-completed Winter Olympics in South Korea. For me – and probably for many – Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecka will be remembered for the most remarkable achievement of the games with her totally unexpected victory in the Super G skiing event.
NBC’s prime time coverage of the women’s Super G aired live here in the states the night of February 15 (it was the afternoon of the 16th in PyeongChang) but had cut away for other programming prior to Ledecka’s run. NBC’s primary skiing voice Dan Hicks proclaimed Austrian superstar Anna Veith the gold medalist after some twenty skiers had gone down the hill. Based on a variety of historical data and knowledge of the women’s field for the Super giant slalom, Hicks (with likely encouragement from network producers – and no disagreement from his sidekick Bode Miller) fully expected entrants outside the event’s first group of 20 to be too slow to crack the medal stand. Ledecka was the 26th skier down the steep course – which by then was chewed up and would make for slower finishing times. Add to that Ledecka had come to the games as a snowboarder – a completely different discipline.
Blame NBC’s America-centric spin on the women’s Super G and their obsession with condensing to fit our short attention spans for the blunder. They got the interview with Lindsey Vonn who commented on a run that went bad for her near the bottom of the course – and then NBC bailed out. I can’t remember if it was Tirico on the studio set later – or the primary figure skating voice who announced that there was a “surprise” on the slopes and the viewers would learn more after a commercial break. Out of the spots came tape of Ledecka’s gold medal run which was one one-hundredth of a second faster than Veith’s. Amazing.
Eight days later, Ledecka won the parallel giant slalom event. She was riding a snowboard – instead of skis. And this result was not unexpected given her status as defending world champ in the event.
The miss on Ledecka’s Super G run does not diminish the excellent job NBC did with these games over two and a half weeks. I watched a lot of it. Figure skating. Hockey. Speed skating. Skiing. The board events. The jumpers. Pretty much all of it except curling and biathlon.
It makes me uncomfortable knowing the body governing the Olympic games moved figure skating to late morning/early afternoon in South Korea so NBC could show the competition here in prime time. If I was running the games, I’d insist NBC’s billion dollar infusion not dramatically alter the schedule for attendees and participants on the soil of the host country. Yeah, the rights deal would get slimmer without such undue deference to the US broadcaster but this is a global competition. Figure skating is the crown jewel of the winter games and it should be slotted naturally for both the live attendees and competitors on normal local time. Heck, the US doesn’t even win gold in this event these days. Run it compatible with the body clocks of the athletes and the people who go to the arena.
The individual figure skating winners on both the men’s and women’s side were unbelievable. Wow. The stuffed dolls raining down on Hanyu’s short program and the dazzling, dueling free skates of the two young Russian women Zagitova and Medvedeva will be remembered forever by fans of the sport.
Johnny and Tara are the US voices of figure skating now for NBC. Their calls from the Gangneung Ice Arena were excellent although their unlikely ascension has coincided with the demotion of Scott Hamilton. Late in the games the Times profiled Hamilton – and further solidified the total class of his act – even as he battles a brain tumor. Hamilton stayed positive – and insightful on the “Olympic Ice” show – which devoted lots of time on NBC Sports Net to detailed analysis of figure skating which this year included a team event. The Times profile of Hamilton (written by Juliet Macur) said he watched the skating events in close proximity to Johnny and Tara – “often peeking at them over his reading glasses.”
“Let the fireworks begin,” said Johnny as Zagitova took to the ice for the long program. Tara knew what was coming and said the jumps would all come in the second half of the routine because the scoring system had incentives for that. “Hold onto your horses,” she said just before the jump sequence. “Every jump is accented on the music!”
The US women’s hockey team shootout win to take gold was a thriller. I actually listened to it on the radio. It was after 2 AM here when it ended.
Mr. Versatile Ted Robinson was solid as the main announcer on the speed skating events and NBC gave us a great documentary on the 1968 summer games to close their coverage. Narrated by Serena Williams, I’d highly recommend watching the 90-minute or so film on the ’68 games. It’s amazing. And it’s up on NBC’s Olympics web page now for streamers.
Nor’easter number two in six days comes tomorrow. We’re at 21.3 inches of snow for the season at LaGuardia. Wednesday’s accumulation will put us at a number that’s a bit above average for a NYC winter and then hopefully we can move on to the spring season.