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Friday, February 24, 2006

Winter Olympic Dullfest Nearly Over

Ok, so I’m not the only person not watching the Winter Olympics.

The Inquirer’s Gail Shister did a piece in Thursday’s paper on the ridiculously low ratings NBC’s Olympic coverage has garnered. She offers plenty of reasons, including better counter-programming, too many NBC stations airing the games, the time difference causing prime-time coverage to consist of tape-delayed events, and poor performances by U.S. athletes.

All great points. I just want to throw out another possibility:

The events suck.

I watched the speed skating Wednesday night. I’ve seen some of the ski jumps, bobsledding, downhills, and the long-distance / combination ski sports. (If I cared about the combo sports, I'd look up their actual names.) Except for the combo ski sports, they do look like they’d be incredibly fun sports to participate in. But they’re dreadful to watch . . . unless, quite frankly, someone wipes out.

Take bobsledding, for example. It’s got to be an incredible rush to go hurling down that tube on thin little blades on ice. Most of us have gone sledding, and bobsledding seems like it would be the ultimate version of that.

But on TV, all you see is a guy holding on for dear life as he races down the course. After one or two times, you’ve seen what there is to see. Even if there is a rooting interest, there’s just nothing to watch. They’re all separated by have half a second. You literally need to see the results before knowing that, in fact, bobsledder number 10 was better than 1 through 9 and 11 through we-don’t-care.

I’m sure there are plenty of nuances, skills, etc. But there’s nothing for fans to watch for or pick up on. The same can be said for most of the other sports.

Then there’s these X-games-like events that have somehow wormed their way into the Olympics. These are supposed to be events populated radically cool counter-culture dudes pushing the edge, right? (Sense the sarcasm, please.) So, how come they all seem to come down to subjective scores from judges? Isn’t that figure skating? Forgive the testosterone, but guys don’t watch figure skating. Take “dainty” out of figure skating (or Michelle Kwan), and even women aren’t going to watch. Besides, I saw one of the female gold-medalists from one of these non-sports on Letterman last week, and it was more fun watching Dave’s sarcasm fly over her head than watching any of these events.

Hockey is the only game most Americans are really used to watching. It’s familiar, and even those of us who only vaguely remember Lake Placid watch in the hope of recapturing the feeling that team gave us. But the sport’s generally not that popular in the United States, the U.S. team stunk, and overpaid athletes winning a gold will never match a bunch of amateurs toppling Cold War “professional” Soviets anyway. Besides this year’s team won one — one! — game. And they made the medal round, which leaves people scratching their heads.

At least there is some good news. The few shows left on NBC that people care about will be back in a few days.

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