Day Four: Scheduling Patriotism
February 15th, 2010
Perhaps I am simply a proponent of less is more, but there’s something about having a large percentage of the medal winners at the Olympic Games stand on two separate podiums at two separate times that seems sort of funny. I understand the logistical issues surrounding it: because the events are scattered all over the place, they don’t want to have to have that many sets of flags kicking around, nor do they want to have the medals spread all over the place for security reasons. Doing most of the medal ceremonies in controlled environments either at BC Place or at Whistler makes perfect sense, except that it creates two separate “moments” for viewers to experience.
At a point during CTV’s broadcast of the medal ceremony for Canada’s first ever Gold medal on home soil from Alexandre Bilodeau, James Duthie made the argument that now Canadians will remember precisely where they were twice: once when Bilodeau won gold, and once when he received it. Now, I would tend to believe that I am never going to be telling my grandchildren that I was sitting in my parents’ living room watching Bilodeau win gold, but I can absolutely guarantee that I will not specifically remember a night later when, free from all suspense, Bilodeau stepped onto another podium and got that medal around his neck.
Both moments are memorable, but the excitement of the former and the resonance of the latter feel disconnected by the separation, and I have to wonder if the logistics (and the networks’ desire to be able to get two separate viewership boosts) are damaging the true impact of these Olympic moments.
I was ready to write this article as soon as James Duthie tried to convince me that the separate medal ceremony held anywhere near as much anticipation as the night before, but I knew I had to write it when my suspicion was confirmed: because it takes place in a closed space where flag raising is possible, and because it’s considered a marquee event, figure skating is one continuous story. The end of Russian dominance in the Pairs competition came to an end, and China won its first ever Gold medal in Olympic figure skating along with a Silver in the same competition. It was a triumphant return to international skating from Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who despite a critical error managed to hold on to take Olympic Gold. And because the medal ceremony was able to happen in house, viewers could see the Chinese victory all the way to the end, giving us that moment of pure emotion as they took to the top of the podium for the first, and only, time this Olympics.
Like I said, I understand why it exists: Bilodeau took to a fake podium at Cypress Mountain so that the crowd in the stands could get their moment of celebration, while he stood at the top with his medal at BC Place so that another group of people could celebrate his victory. However, isn’t his jubilation at his victory at Cypress enough that the podium isn’t entirely necessary: formalizing the process twice seems to damage each moment’s impact. Sure, you could argue that it gives the athletes time to regain their composure and change into their nationally-approved medal podium wear so that their sponsors will be happy, but you lose all the spontaneity of the moment, which is everything that live sports are about.
In the case of Bilodeau, CTV is right in their contention that both moments are memorable, since the medal ceremony had the crowd standing to hear “O Canada” for the first time on home soil: however, wouldn’t that moment have been even better if that raucous Cypress crowd were singing along, and Bilodeau was still beaming ear-to-ear without having to spend an entire day reliving his victory with the media? Sure, the delay allowed Canadians who weren’t watching along on Sunday night to tune in to see the “moment,” but I’d argue that a rebroadcast of a more spontaneous and emotional moment would have an equal, if not greater, effect to a staged and overpromoted ceremony happening a day later.
The cynical side of my knows that CTV is happy about this: they got Canadians tuning in twice, once to see if Bilodeau could pull off a victory, and once more to see him get the medal. And while I’ll acknowledge that there are all sorts of reasons that this process makes both financial and logical sense, sports aren’t supposed to be held back by logic or finances. They’re supposed to be emotional, impulsive and unpredictable in ways that should make us feel like we need to tune in, rather than being informed at precisely what time Alex Bilodeau will be receiving his gold medal. If moments of national pride are scheduled, it makes me feel almost self-congratulatory (emphasis on almost), whereas Sunday night felt about as close to “Woo Canada!” as I’ll probably feel during these games considering that I’ve already refused to accept the overwhelming “Canada’s MUST win Hockey Gold” pressure.
And if I wasn’t already skeptical of all this “national hero” pomposity from CTV, the delayed and divided impact of Bilodeau’s win was a step in the wrong direction, albeit one that based on its novelty alone will be a highly rated and, since I’m not made on stone, eventful moment for Canada in these Olympic games.
- One other bit of awkwardness: Dale Begg-Smith’s coach publicly questioned the judges’ decision in the Men’s Moguls competition, arguing that Begg-Smith bested Bilodeau, which made the medal ceremony tainted in some way. That’s a bit of a douchebag move on the part of the coach, so it’s not entirely the process’ fault, but I do think that if the medals had been given out beforehand it wouldn’t have been as complicated as it could have potentially been (the story got no traction on CTV, not surprisingly).
- As Avenue Q quite rightfully pointed out, watching figure skaters falling on their asses is a fun bit of schadenfreude, but it was interesting to see so many teams fall out of the running based on mistakes. I always prefer it when the teams battle with their best performances, one up-manship rather than one team managing to actually skate cleanly, but it was clear that the German and Russian teams just didn’t have the confidence in their Free Skates to make it much of a competition.
- CTV has been doing some really intriguing, and heavily produced, “Olympic Journey” packages for athletes like Jeremy Wotherspoon (who completed his last race in his favoured discipline tonight, finishing 9th), which are interesting: they are more atmospheric than informative, telling us less about who they are and more about their psychological mindset going into the games. One of them was even told in first person narrative (Patrick Chan, Men’s Figure Skating), which is a really intriguing way to get us to relate with the athletes that, if a bit too slick for me to feel entirely comfortable with, is at least something different than your traditional puff piece.
- You guys are all as excited as I am for curling right? You better be ready for some mad curling analysis tomorrow, yo.