Editor’s Note: “Sport in American History” is excited to cross-post Richard C. Crepeau’s “Sport and Society” column. This post was originally published on February 27, 2018. A full archive of his Crepeau’s columns can be found by clicking here.
By Richard C. Crepeau
Looking back over the Winter Olympics several events stand out and various aspects of the NBC broadcast merit comment. So these are the things that I’ll remember from this Winter Olympics.
Trying to pick out my favorite events is not all that difficult, although choosing one as a favorite would probably not be possible. The choices are also limited to those events I saw on NBC’s coverage. This will mean there is an American slant to the choices, and that my choices will not, in all likelihood, be the same as those chosen by others.
If you have seen any of the three previous essays that I have written in the last two weeks, you will not be surprised to see that my favorite event was figure skating, and within that grouping the women’s competition left me absolutely ecstatic. The two Russian women, Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva, were near perfection, each in different styles, both with grace and beauty, delivered with great athleticism.
A close second, for me, was the Women’s Hockey Final in which the United States faced Canada in the renewal of what has become one of the best rivalries in sport. The game went to overtime and then to a shootout, and the shootout to six rounds. Jocelyne Lamoureux scored in round six, making several moves that NBC’s Pierre McGuire described as “electric.” One of the bonuses, for me, was seeing Amanda Kessel on the ice having overcome the concussion suffered at Sochi that took her out of hockey for nearly three years.
Equally remarkable was the performance by Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic who won gold in two different events. The first came as a skier in the Super G where she was an afterthought in the competition. Ledecka bested the field by .01 seconds perhaps surprising herself more than anyone. A few days later Ledecka competed as a snowboarder in an event in which she was the favorite. She needed to win four downhill slalom races against individual opponents. In the end Ledecka won a second, record setting, gold medal.
The first South Korean medal, a gold, came in the first short track speed skating event. It was quite thrilling and the reaction of the Korean fans was hair raising. This was the first of 17 medals, 5 gold, 8 silver, and four bronze for Korea. One of the silver medals went to the “Garlic Girls,” the Korean curling team. Another shock came in Curling when the United States won a gold medal while defeating the powerful Canadian team twice during the event, and Sweden in the final.
In Skiing, the U.S. Women won the first cross country gold medal ever for the United States in the sprint relay. The finish was highly dramatic as Jessie Diggins came roaring past the leader in the final few meters of the race. The other wild finish in cross country came when Frenchman, Martin Fourcade, lunged at the finish line and won a gold medal by inches, reversing what had happened to him in Sochi. Two ties for medals in bobsled were also a remarkable outcome after four heats.
These were a few of my favorites. Not among my favorites was NBC. As is now expected, NBC televised the American Winter Olympics, overstating and over-hyping all things American. For the most part the broadcast teams were drab and often woefully uninformative. At the anchor desk, Mike Tirico looked wooden and flat, no doubt leaving Jim McKay spinning in his grave and most of the NBC audience longing for Bob Costas.
On the other hand the ice skating commentary and analysis by Tara Lapinski and Johnny Weir was as sparkling as their wardrobe and Johnny’s hair. Their analysis was clear, concise, and informative, and as good as any since Dick Button occupied that spot. Terry Gannon offered a moderating voice of calm and NBC found a very good place for Scott Hamilton, away from the competition where he tends to scream. His pre-skate analysis of the upcoming evening of competition was excellent.
Also of note for clarity was the curling broadcast team, the bobsled announcers, and, for his wild excitement, the color man on the cross country events who also contributed a very informative analysis.
Another plus for NBC comes from the fact that their coverage of women’s sports was greater than ever before. For the first time women’s sport was given more airtime than men’s sport in the Winter Olympics telecast, according to the three authors of Olympic Television, published by Routledge Press.
Much has been made of the IOC’s treatment of the Russians, with many arguing that the punishment was no punishment at all. I would argue that these critics are missing some obvious points. First, the Russians won only two gold medals. When did that ever happen? The seventeen medals for Russia was equal to that of Korea. Not being able to display the Russian flag or use the name “Russia,” and not being able to play the Russian national anthem, may seem minor to some people, but I can assure you, it was not a minor thing for Russians.
From another perspective, think of how Americans would react if they could not display the American flag, were called the Olympic Athletes from the United States, and had many of their athletes unable to compete, with the result being only two gold medals for the U.S. Would that be seen as minor punishment among Americans?
At the end of two weeks plus it was a very impressive Winter Olympics and despite the politics and the flaws, one that I was happy to have seen. Norway had 39 medals and Germany 31, while both had 14 gold medals. Seven different nations had one medal each. In an example of the Olympic spirit, some Norwegians feared that they had won too many medals.
On Sport and Society this is Dick Crepeau reminding you that you don’t have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.
Copyright 2018 by Richard C. Crepeau