While I’ve spent some recent late nights leaving lengthy comments over at The A.V. Club’s nightly Olympics coverage, where my colleagues have been breaking down each night of NBC’s Primetime coverage, I’ve largely avoided more formal writing in the interest of academic pursuits (in this case studying for preliminary exams).
However, today was the first time I watched an event—the 10m Men’s Platform Diving Finals—in its entirety live during the day and then watched the same event during the evening session, and so I wanted to expand on a few tweets I sent out that rest on a few educated assumptions and general frustrations with the temporal wonkery of NBC’s Tape Delay strategy.
The Ends Have No End (Yet)
February 23rd, 2010
When Canada’s Kevin Martin won his tense matchup against Great Britain’s David Murdoch on Saturday night, it was a big win for Martin: it meant that he moved to 6-0, which pretty much guaranteed him a spot in the final four teams heading into the medal round, and thus a good chance of making it to the gold medal game and potentially avenging his loss in Salt Lake City. It was also a big boost for Team Canada as a whole, as it was a pretty disappointing day: despite three skaters competing in Short Track finals, and a legitimate medal contender in the Men’s 1500m at the Richmond Oval, Canada walked away without a single medal, the first day it has been held off the scoreboard thus far in the games. Martin’s win helped right the ship, so the speak, and Canadians could go to bed (or, if they didn’t stay up past midnight in the eastern half of the country, wake up) to.
However, for Scotland’s David Murdoch, it was something entirely different: that loss, his third of the tournament, put the defending World Champion at the edge of elimination, turning his Round Robin tournament into a three-game bout of sudden death. Murdoch has had an uneven tournament, and his only option after that point was to bounce back from a game that was very winnable to win three straight in order to even have a shot at making it to the Final Four. If he loses one more game, he is an Olympic athlete playing for pride, like the short track speed skaters (or Snowboard Cross competitors) relegated to the “B” Final, forced to race to decide who finishes in the positions that no one is really going to care about.
And for the sake of a great curler in David Murdoch, I hope he is able to keep from falling into their ranks.
Day Seven: On the Edge of My Seat (Closing My Eyes)
February 18th, 2010
When Martin Brodeur stopped the final shot in a shootout which secured Canada an all-important victory in its march towards Hockey Gold at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, I was on Twitter.
I’d like to tell you that I spent the final moments of Canada’s tense shootout victory over Switzerland on Twitter because I was interested in researching how people respond to sporting events in tweets, but the real reason is somewhat more embarrassing. Truth be told, despite the fact that I had recused myself of all personal investment surrounding Canada’s quest for hockey gold – “It’s okay if they lose,” I said naively – my crippling inability to handle suspenseful sporting events continues to be my achilles heel.
In 2002, as Canada faced off with the United States for the Gold Medal in Salt Lake City, I spent the third period on the second story of the house alternating between pacing with my ears plugged and putting a pillow over my head to muffle out any possible sounds from my family watching the game downstairs. It’s a serious issue, perhaps even downright psychological, but I just can’t handle the pressure: even when I have no actual investment, where I’m quite fine if Canada is unable to win a Gold Medal, I somehow internalize all of the pressure that the diehard Canadian hockey fans feel, and the pressure that’s on the players (some of whom are younger than I am) to perform at a high level. Basically, I am a helpless vessel for the transferral of crippling anxiety when it comes to suspenseful and meaningful sporting events.
And so I learned of Sidney Crosby’s heroic Shootout winner over Twitter, and Martin Brodeur’s clutch save was communicated to me through the same medium. In order to make myself feel somewhat better about this, I want to talk about how people were responding to the game through Twitter, and how it’s changing (or, as it turns out, not changing) my Olympics experience.
Day Five: Hurry Hard (but Hurry Up)
February 17, 2010
On Sunday night, I watched my first new episode of The Simpsons in a very long time, a show I used to love a great deal (and which I own eleven seasons of on DVD). The allure of curling, it appears, was too much for me, and there I was watching Homer and Marge travel to Vancouver. I’ve got all sorts of thoughts about the episode’s presentation (or lack thereof) of that Canadian city which I’ll save for a later date, but the episode got all sorts of things wrong: no, I won’t complain about Marge pulling off various sweeping feats impossible in real life considering that it’s a cartoon, but the rocks were all the same colour, and the rocks didn’t rotate, and…well, you get the picture.
I don’t actually curl in real life, nor do I organize my entire life around broadcasts of curling bonspiels or tournaments, but yet the sport holds a particular place in my heart. It is a game of pure strategy and execution, where centimetres matter at various different intervals (where you place the broom to guide the throw, where the throw actually goes, where the stones end up, etc.) and where momentum can shift instantly. And so while I appreciate the excitement of the sudden death races like Maelle Ricker’s tense Snowboard Cross victory, and always appreciate the non-stop action of a game of hockey (although preferably in games a little closer than Canada’s 8-0 routing of Norway), there’s something about curling that truly captures my attention.
So long as I have an hour-long buffer on the DVR, anyways.
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.
Going Negative and Going Gold
February 14th, 2010
Earlier today, I was watching CTV’s Olympics coverage when they aired a video package surrounding Dale Begg-Smith, the defending Olympic champion in the Men’s Moguls competition. Begg-Smith, who skis for Austrailia, is of particular interest to CTV because he used to be Canadian, and used to compete for Canada as a teenager. However, like Darth Vader turning to the dark side, at a certain point he left Canada for Australia for reasons which are subject to a great deal of speculation. To give CTV some credit, they didn’t go too far into the circumstances involved, but if we trust Wikipedia (which we don’t, considering the “citation needed, “but for the sake of argument) this was the situation:
Begg-Smith was skiing for his native Canada as a teenager when his coaches told him he was spending too much time on his fledgling business, and not enough time in training. He subsequently quit the Canadian ski program because it clashed with his business interests and, along with his brother, moved to Australia at age 15. The brothers chose to ski for Australia because the country had a smaller ski program that offered them more attention and flexibility. This ensured that they could still successfully manage their business.
There’s a lot of other rumours surrounding just what his internet business (which has made him a millionaire) entails, and CTV isn’t interested in any of it (especially since it’s all conjecture). What the piece focused on was how Dale Begg-Smith has become a villain, how his lack of emotion on the podium in both victory and defeat makes him seem unapproachable, and how this could be seen as strange for someone who is the face of his sport. While they tried to seem disappointed that he refused an interview request, it only made the story that much more damaging, and anyone who watched the clip would be tuning in that night not only to see four Canadians take part in the Moguls competition, but also to see if anyone could unseat the cold-blooded turncoat who dared to spurn this country.
And, much to the delight of viewers across the country and CTV, Canada found its Luke Skywalker.
Day Two: It’s All That Glitters
February 14th, 2010
At times watching CTV’s Olympics coverage, I swear I’m watching the third Austin Powers movie: all that glitters is gold, and anything else is a crippling disappointment.
Now, this is the case for all countries: everyone wants their athletes to win gold, and there’s always disappointment when that doesn’t quite pan out. However, the hoopla in Canada at the moment is to a degree normally associated with our Men’s Hockey Team, as the nation rallies together in a quest to place enormous pressure on athletes to earn the nation’s first gold medal on home soil. In fact, the narrative is so pervasive that even NBC picked up on it heading into tonight’s Moguls event, demonstrating that one nation’s obsession is another nation’s bit of trivia.
The problem for CTV is not that Jennifer Heil failed to win a gold medal in the Women’s Moguls competition, coming a distant second to a fantastic performance by American Hannah Kearney (playing the role of villain for Canadian viewers, heroic spoiler for Americans), but rather that they built all of their coverage around medal hopefuls who would be challenging for gold on Day 2. And after both Heil and Charles Hamelin (who failed to even qualify for his short track speed skating final in the 1500m) failed to bring that narrative to its conclusion, it continues with a whole new set of characters who are supposed to make us forget about the failures of the days before.
And that’s a problem for me.
Hot Tubs and Hot Topics
February 13, 2010
As Donald Sutherland has been telling me for weeks now, through the ubiquitous and overexposed commercials CTV has been pummelling us with, the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are Canada’s, in more ways than one. While there is always a sense of pride surrounding the honour of hosting the games, it seems as if the games organizers are intent to engage the entire nation (rather than just those on the West Coast) in the excitement surrounding the games.
This is, clearly, an honourable discourse, and of course those of us on the opposite end of the country want to feel as if these games belong to us to some degree. However, I can’t resist pointing out that these efforts exist to drive viewership more than national pride, and in some ways I’m more interested in how the media is covering these games than in the games themselves (if only because I have serious issues with suspense during sporting events, and the focus on Canadian athletes makes my heart race involuntarily).
This is likely fairly niche for most of you, and I promise to talk a bit about the Opening Ceremonies to keep non-Canadians from being too detached, but I want to take a look at CTV’s coverage leading into the ceremonies, and what it tells me about how the network is handling its takeover of the games from the nation’s public broadcaster, CBC.