I got a late start Monday morning, so I switched on USA network with my tea to see what Olympic sport NBC feels is so lacking in appeal to the 18-34 demo it can safely air it live. And I run into their dedicated squish merchant, an LA Times sports reporter named Alan Abrahamson.
Okay, maybe he's not the dedicated squish merchant; it's too early to tell, but my assumption was that he's there for the same reason that Jimmy Roberts is on the parent network in prime time: to coat the Winter Games with enough red-white-and-blue sprinkles to give the audience diabetes. In rapid succession he: seconded the proposed canonization of Michelle Kwan, as if he imagined the issue hadn't quite gotten the coverage it deserved; told us that snowboarder Shaun White was going to be a really big crossover star with middle aged white guys and earn millions in endorsements, adding "he's a skateboarder, too!", like that makes him the Orson Welles of tearing shit up; and noted that former inline skater Chad Hedrick's speedskating gold showed that the US was way ahead of the rest of the world in converting inline skaters to speedskating Olympian medalists. At which point I noted--to the screen, unfortunately, not to him--that the US is far and away the world leader in converting Humvees into stretch limo Humvees, an accomplishment which generates about as much excitement, but probably more money.
First, the snowboarding. Not my cup of tea. My wife likes the dirt-bike and skateboarding versions, and I'll admit their (decidedly minor) attractions, but what the addition of a friction-free surface does for them is beyond me. To me the thing is a combination of the worst features of golf (not real athletes, rather, people who have mastered a physical skill beginning at age 8) and rhythmic gymnastics minus the organizing influence of balls and ribbons.
It's not that I don't appreciate the sk8r dude ethos; it's refreshing, but it would be more refreshing with more shrugging and less arm pumping. And yes, the cynical decision by NBC that this is going to bring in the younger demo, thereby pushing traditional Olympic events which are real sports even further into the figure-skating-free margins, affects my attitude. But the real thing that gets me is how for two weeks every four years these youngsters are the Pride of America, and for the remaining 206 weeks we're yelling at them to get off the lawn before we call the cops.
And if you enjoy the ethos, enjoy it now. There's already too much money in the air. Wait four years.
As for Michelle Kwan, she's a fine champion in a sport I could care less about, and since I'm twice her age I can certainly sympathize about staring Father Time in the face. But this was all about VISA™ and Coke™. The network clamor had everything to do with advertising, just as über-Republican Peter Ueberroth's paean to her as the greatest Olympian of her generation had everything to do with the sleezy practice of voting someone on a team for inferior performance but superior sponsorships.
Olympic highlight, thus far: objectively pro-terrorist announcer Jim Lampley tossing to NBC news Sunday afternoon as the Cheney story broke, followed by his obvious struggle to contain himself when it was tossed back. Jim, you're what makes the USA #1.