2002 Winter Olympics taught us a lot

By Staff
Feb. 28, 2002
Now that the 2002 Winter Olympic Games are over what did we learn? A great deal.
We learned that regardless of what is said about the participants, overall their deeds are too many times drowned in a wave of nationalism that shifts the spotlight from them to the countries they represent. The media gets much of the blame for that and, perhaps, deservedly so. The truth is it no long is just number 21 racing downhill against number 27 or a cute 16 year old skating the event of her life against another attractive young woman who is trying to do the same. It's Germany against Norway on that hill and America competing with Russia in the skating. Officials have also made it that way through their pressure to win.
It's how many medals did your country win and what color were they? It's not which competitor won but which country did. Pity.
We've also learned the Olympics have put in so many events that lack understanding by most of the world that you have to question whether or not they really qualify for Olympic competition. Could it be they are just gimmacks created for television because they are breathtaking challenges to good reason as well as gravity. The halfpipe. The mogul. The skeleton. Curling. Snowboarding. All those extreme competitions made the once never heard of luge look almost like a household name.
Sorry, but I really am old school. I belong to the ski jumping, downhill, hockey, figure skating, bob sledding and racing on ice school of Olympic fans. And fortunately, there was a lot of that for we old schoolers.
A tip of my tam to NBC however. They got it right. They didn't wear us out with feature stories showing a lone kid walking across a lonely corn field in Iowa dreaming of Olympic fame when he grew up, followed by a wide grinned adult wearing a medal to prove that he'd made it from Iowa to here and ain't that grand.
They showed us the events with a minimum of fluff and made their telecasts far better than those on CBS in the past.
We also saw the value of holding the games in our time zones so that we saw these events live rather than by tape delay. In the past summer games or winter games, there were some who actually advocated the news organizations not release the outcomes on their wires or their networks so as not to spoil the enjoyment of the television viewers. That was preposterous and everyone knew it. Fortunately no news organization went along with the scam. Such a charade wasn't necessary this time. It will be four years from now, however, when the winter games move to Italy.
Let me venture another personal opinion. The announcing for the entire games was top to bottom the best of any Olympic games of recent years. Whoever picked the announce staff did an exceptional job. The man who did the play by play for the hockey was in a class by himself. Never heard better on this sport which is very, very difficult to do. Trust me. I tried it a few times. Wasn't very good at it, either.
He and the camera work and the level of competition proved that it is possible to enjoy hockey on TV, even if you can't follow the puck. Football and basketball it isn't, but it was worth a couple of hours to watch Russia-USA and USA-Canada.
We also learned, however, the Russians don't like to get beat, particularly if it's the United States that beats them. Matter of fact we also learned they really don't like us very much. For that matter neither does North Korea but that's o.k. We wouldn't ask them to share a taxi if we were both stuck at the Salt Lake City airport.
We now know the French may be good at producing wine and cheese but are not worth a hoot at judging figure skating or carrying off a conspiracy. Which brings up the bad for which this Olympics will be remembered.
First, it will be remembered because it was purchased by Salt Lake City officials, not earned in the good old fashioned way. Why the bag man told all on 60 Minutes last Sunday I have no idea. A hundred thousand here and a hundred thousand there and a few more bags of cash elsewhere and Salt Lake was the choice of an Olympic Committee on the take. How they got it was certainly tainted but give those devils their due. The games themselves were first class.
Second, there's the short track racing disqualification that switched the gold medal to an American on the basis of a single judge's call.
But the skating scandal is the one that will live on and on and on. It may also change the way the event is conducted. When Jamie Sale' and David Pelletie of Canada were awarded matching medals to those handed Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia after the fact, it blew the lid off a scandal that's been working its way to the top for years. We'll hear more about this onea lot more.
Good as the Olympics were, the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament will be even better. Give the Olympics the silver. The NCAA will take home the gold.

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