Monday, February 15, 2010

Slip Sliding Away

Let me establish one thing right off the bat. I'm a warm weather guy, Southern California born and bred. I put a sweater on when it drops below 65 degrees.

Ski runs and hot chocolate? Not for this kid. Give me a round of golf with the sun on my face and a cold beer at the turn.

Minneapolis or Maui? There's really no choice.

That's why I view the Winter Olympics with a touch of astonishment.

Here are hundreds of our finest athletes participating in a bunch of events that are a variation on a single theme: sliding around on ice and snow.

It's a competition only an orthopedic surgeon could love.

Let's get serious. It's hard to get excited about the luge (which is German for "whose idea was this anyway?") that features the contestants lying on their backs on a small sled, flying down the mountain at breakneck speeds while steering with their calfs and shoulders). Sound like fun? Me neither.

There's a variation of luge called the skeleton in which the participant rockets down an icy track face first. It's like driving a Toyota down a ski jump.

Or consider curling. This game is brought to us by the Scots, who also gave the world haggis, an incomprehensible brogue, men in skirts and "MacBeth."

Curling is sort of like shuffleboard played on ice. Teams take turns sliding a heavy, polished rock down the ice toward the target (called the house). Two sweepers with brooms accompany each rock and, using timing and their best judgment along with direction from their teammates, help direct the stones to their resting place.

Sound boring? You bet. Although someone once pointed out that women like it since it is one the few times in their lives they see a man with a broom in his hands.

Ice Dancing? It's the same as figure skating only different. Snowboarding features a bunch of athletes who look like they were dressed by Goodwill. Short track speed skating is like watching marbles in a blender.

The biathlon consists of a race in which contestants ski around a cross-country track, and where the total distance is broken up by either two or four shooting rounds, half in prone position, the other half standing. Depending on the shooting performance, extra distance or time is added to the contestant's total running distance/time.

Edge of the seat excitement? Only if your cousin is involved.

To give the Games their due, the Winter Olympics has its moments. Figure skating remains a big draw. Downhill skiing, ski jumping and snowboarding are worth a look.

Hockey is one of the world's great sports, which unfortunately doesn't always play well on TV. Still, when a bunch of rag-tag college kids beat what was in fact a team of pros from the Soviet Union in 1980 in Lake Placid, it was a turning point in the Cold War. Now that's entertainment.

Alas, while there are good guys to root for this year, there are no bad guys to root against. The Soviet and Eastern Bloc automatons have vanished. North Korea and Iran don't field teams. And that robs the Games of much of its drama.

That didn't stop NBC from shelling out $5.7 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympics through 2012.

The trouble is that this may not be our finest Olympic moment. Even designated star Lindsey Vonn is injured and may be a no-show.

Then there's competition. When NBC broadcasts the Nordic Combined today, for example, FOX will be airing the Daytona 500. That may not be a big deal in Finland, but it will be in Florida.

The advertisers have read the tea leaves, and NBC is already figuring on losing $250 million on the deal.

And this with the Games in our time zone.

If you think for a minute this will cool the media onslaught surrounding the Games, forget it. There will be nearly 200 hours of coverage on NBC alone. Get ready for a lot of snow on your screen.

The good news is that when the Games conclude, there's only three weeks until spring.

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