Wednesday

2-17-10: Winter Olympic Surprise

Hello again everybody...

First off, apologies for not having anything for you on Monday. Between picking up a shift on Sunday night, and another in a series of guest-hosts for the 1-3 show, I barely had time to even conceptualize a column much less actually write it.

And for those of you who have already forgiven me, and mentioned your expectation of a big-time column today? I'm not so sure you should get your hopes up.

I have an idea of what I want to write about today, but until I actually start fleshing it out, I have no idea how long/good it's going to be.

I'll do my best!

The Winter Olympics are in full swing. I didn't expect to watch much, but I've actually paid a fair amount of attention to it. Why? Let's discuss!

”Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.”
- Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865), 16th President of the United States


Another quality chestnut from Old Abe.

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”The 2010 Winter Games”

Long-time readers will recall that I'm not a huge fan of the Olympics. It's not that I dislike them per se. They're just not something I get all that geeked-up about. In fact, I wrote about it briefly in this column.

But I'm finding myself watching far more of this years Winter Olympics that I thought I would. I've always been fond of Olympic hockey (although the fact that the men's games aren't on an Olympic-sized ice sheet annoys me a bit), but suddenly I've found myself watching luge, moguls skiing, biathalon, speed skating and even some of the snowboarding events.

Why? That's a good question. There are things I don't like, and things I do like. Let's break it down.

First, the stuff I don't like.

Judged events: There are exceptions, but for the most part if there's not a score, or a “time to beat”, then I'm out.

This is why I won't watch figure skating, or most of the “X-games”-like events that are subjectively judged. No matter how thoroughly the announcers explain what the judges are looking for, I still have no clue how these events really get judged. Near as I can tell, a group of people get together, have some cocktails and scribble down some numbers which are turned into TV graphics. That's about it.

I suppose if I was more into fashion, then figure skating might mean a little more to me, but those who know me well know that I basically live in jeans and sneakers, so sparkles and spandex aren't really going to appeal to me.

Snowboarding on half-pipes doesn't really appeal to me either. Sure there's always the possibility of someone taking a spectacular fall (something I'll discuss more in a minute), but again, I have no idea what really makes one trick better than the other, so how am I supposed to have any kind of rooting interest?

The one exception is the Snowcross event. Yes, it's snowboarding, but it's essentially another form of a race. Put four snowboarders out there, race them around a course, throw in a few jumps to increase the wipe-out potential, and boom, you've got my attention.

Constant shifting in coverage: This has gotten a lot better over the years with multiple channels carrying events.

But if I'm going to sit down and invest in watching an event, then show me the whole event. Don't show me a few runs down the moguls and then cut to coverage of the Women's Short Program. That's the surest way to get me to change the channel. And if I flip around and there's an episode of “Mythbusters” on, you've lost me.

I understand that they can't show everybody competing in every event. And that there are some athletes that make the Games without truly being competitive. So I don't mind that NBC feels like it can edit out the biathlete from Kyrgyzstan.

But show me at least most of the even from start to finish. If things are going on simultaneously, then either kick one to a cable channel, or tape-delay it and show it afterward. It can't be all that complicated, can it?

No Olympic-sized ice sheet this year: I mentioned this one earlier, but it's really sticking in my craw.

The standard NHL ice sheet is 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. The standard International/Olympic sheet is 210 feet long and 98 feet wide.

The extra 10 feet in length doesn't matter much to me, but it's amazing how much the extra 13 feet of width can change the game.

As the athletes grow bigger, stronger and faster, there's less and less room on the ice for stick-handling and passing - two of the more exciting parts of the game. But when you add 13 more feet of ice, that opens things up quite a bit.

Unfortunately, the Vancouver Olympic committee decided to use General Motors Place - home to the NHL's Vancouver Canucks - as the official venue for these Games' Ice Hockey competitions.

Now, granted, when you have a state-of-the-art facility like the Garage it's hard to justify spending money on another venue. And given the short turn-around between the Olympics and the resumption of the NHL schedule, you can't really afford to retro-fit the building to hold the Olympic-sized sheet.

But I don't have to like it!

Okay, okay. Enough of the negative. How about some positives?

All-Star Hockey: I know I just slammed the ice-size, but hockey has always been and will always be my favorite Olympic sport.

Hockey is a game of heart and passion, and when you toss national pride into the mix, it gets even better.

And since the NHL has begun allowing its players to participate, it's turned into All-Star Hockey that actually has meaning. Yes, the NHL has an All-Star game, but since they don't allow checking, it's not terribly fun to watch. But in the Olympics, the physicality is very much present and accounted for.

Granted, the early rounds aren't always between All-Star teams. I'd have to look at the roster to be sure, but I don't think the Norway team that got blitzed by the Canadians last night had any NHL players on it. If they did it wasn't more than one or two.

But by the time you get down to the medal rounds, you're watching rosters primarily filled by NHL players. We've seen what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin look like together on the ice, but what about Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin? Watch team Russia and you get to find out. Ever wonder how Crosby and Jarome Iginla would look like on the same line? Check out a team Canada game and there you go.

It's the best hockey players in the world playing on a very large stage. It's fun to watch, and gets you even more psyched for the NHL's playoff run.

Wipe-outs: Allow me to preface this with the following - the tragedy that befell the luge competitor from Georgia was horrible, and I don't mean to mock it in any way, shape or form.

But I can't help it. I'm a fan of the kinds of highlights that have people crashing and burning. Again, I don't want to see anybody get hurt. But when someone wipes out on the moguls and skis go flying, I smile.

Sure it sounds horrible, but I think it's a fairly natural reaction. After all, how many people watch NASCAR, only hoping to see cars go flying end over end? Or watch football hoping to see a guy get hit so hard, their helmet goes flying? And how many years was a ski jump crash synonymous with “the agony of defeat” on Wide World of Sports?

We don't wish ill on these people. We just love to see chaos and a mild form of destruction. Is that so wrong?

Battling for national pride amongst friends and family: I'm currently engaged in wars of words with two separate people. And strangely, they're supporting the same country.

I'm not in to politics in a big way, so don't mis-interpret what I say in that fashion. But when it comes to the Olympics, I'm a proud American. Whatever it is I'm watching, I'm rooting for the American.

But that's not the case with everyone.

Witness: the Hammer. Long-time readers will be familiar with my gregarious co-worker who has perhaps the most unique set of sports allegiances I've ever seen. And that extends to the Olympics. Near as I can tell, the Hammer is a huge Team Canada fan in men's hockey because his favorite player of all time was Steve Yzerman, who is Canadian.

But it's more than just that. Hammer actually wants to be Canadian. When we're at Wild games, he's either singing along with the Canadian anthem, or trying to super-impose “Oh Canada” over “The Star Spangled Banner” if the Wild aren't playing a Canadian team. Sure, a lot of that is because he knows it annoys me, but still! He actually posted, “I'm an American by birth, but Canadian at heart” on his Facebook page yesterday. Don't ask me to explain it. I don't get it either.

So given his Maple-Leaf-loving ways, and the natural rivalry that exists in hockey between Canada and the United States, I've adopted a distinctly anti-Canada stance for these games. Hammer doesn't seem to understand why I object to him rooting for both Canada and the United States, but I think it's wrong, and I won't be afraid to tell him so!

Witness: my Mom. My mom's extended family has a decidedly French-Canadian background. Her maiden name is Durand. Her mother's maiden name was Giguere. I have an aunt who's middle name is Antoinette. I could go on...

Apparently some of my latent (and justifiable in my opinion) negativity towards all things French and Canadian has caused her to pick up the banner of les Quebecois and start cheering for Canada. I got text messages during the opening ceremonies lauding the quality of the Canadian anthem. I'm getting emails decrying any negative comment I make about Canada.

And yet she too believes it perfectly acceptable to root for both Canada and the United States.

I say enough!

Hammer... Mother (whom I love and adore)... it's time to pick a side! If you want to bleed Canada red, that's your choice. But leave the white and blue to those of us who remain loyal to America's Olympic interests!

(Ed.'s note: the preceding was all written with tongue firmly planted in cheek and is in no way, shape, or form meant to disparage any relationships be they fraternal or familial in nature - that being said, I think I'm right!)

In the end, I think the good things about the Winter Olympics outweigh the bad. At least enough so that I'm watching more than I planned to. Hell, I even watched some of Finland vs. China (Women's Hockey) last night after I got home from work! If you've begun watching hockey involving the Chinese, I think it's safe to say you're fairly well sucked into the Olympics.


That's going to wrap things up for today. Hope those of you expecting big things were satisfied. The column turned out better than I thought it would anyway.

Don't forget, tomorrow night's the big Wisconsin/Minnesota match-up at "Legendary Williams Arena". Tip off is at 8pm central time, check your local listings. If anybody's seen a line on the game, let me know. I can't seem to find one, and I'd like to make some "friendly" wagers!

Friday's the usual Update column, and it includes the return of the “Golden Gopher Cheap Shot”, only this time, I'm quoting someone else. You won't want to miss it.

Until then, thanks for reading!

5 comments:

  1. I too was watching a bit of the China game, and I may not be the biggest hockey fan or watch a lot of it, but I was impressed with the skill and physicality of the game. Not to imply stereotypes, but I did not expect such a well played game with China and women involved. But the slapshot to the hip the (assistant?) captain took was one of the more gutsy sacrifices I've ever seen on the ice.

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  2. From Dan's Mother...
    Daniel, you are very correct that I am proud of our French Candadian heritage - both on my mother's [your grandmother's] side and my father's [your grandfather's] side. We have a long lineage of relatives that have come from Canada. In fact there are cathedrals in Quebec with dedications to the Giguere family. Being proud of one's family is very important to me and something I have worked hard to teach my sons. That being said, you are my eldest son, a very important position within a famiy, one that claims respect. Therefore, I choose to cheer for the United State as a means of supporting you, my son! Go USA Olympic Teams!
    [Side Note: All this is done in fun! I truly do appreciate all that we have because we live in the United States of America. I am very proud to be a citizen of this country. After all, this is where our relatives migrated to - they knew is was a good place to be!]

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  3. I like watching the best in the world do what they are the best at. I find all of it very entertaining and educational.

    I was a gymnast, a judged sport. I understand judging, I understand difficulty, I understand deductions. Someone here at the office said they quit watching the short program pairs ice dancing, because it was the same routine for each pair. I said, "And that's EXACTLY why you should watch." If they all do the same thing, it's easier to spot the differences (they weren't doing the same thing, but I could see how someone would interpret it that way).

    The men's snowboard half-pipe was last night (a judged event) and so was the women's downhill (a timed event). When they compared Vonn's lines on the course to the other American, it was easy for us (as non-Olympians) to see why she was faster. When they compared White's height on the straight air hit to the other boarders, it was easy for me (as a non-Olympian) to see why he was getting higher scores.

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