Five-ring Circus

Winter Games Women, Beloved and Less So

Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao

Morning, Dana:

Happy Valentine’s Day! Did Apolo Anton Ohno send you flowers and chocolates?

So, there were a couple of dramatic results last night. In pairs figure skating, one of the Chinese couples (Zhang Hao and Zhang Dan) recovered from a brutal fall to take the silver medal. I watched as Zhang Hao hucked Zhang Dan through the air like he was flipping a two-fen coin. Zhang Dan arced high above the ice—then crashed down on her left patella. Ouchy! She immediately began to wince as she tested the tender leg. Yet after a quick break they resumed the program, beginning from where they’d left off, and still reached the podium (with Zhang Dan’s knee wrapped in miles of gauze). So gutsy on the part of Zhang Dan.

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The role of the woman in pairs figure skating seems a bit like the role of a luge competitor. A powerful force beyond your control sends you hurtling dangerously through space and time. In one case, this force is gravity. In the other case, this force is a well-muscled man wearing tights and sequins. I swear, when I watched the American couple (John Baldwin and Rena Inoue) attempt that pioneering throw triple axel, where Baldwin tosses Inoue a good 30 feet down the ice, it seemed there was a significant chance the poor woman might land in Row E of the arena’s lower bowl.

The other gripping event last night, for me, was women’s halfpipe snowboarding. I was astonished at the soaring prowess of American Kelly Clark. Her final run was poised to be a watershed moment in the history of the sport—until a stumble on her final 900-degree spin trick. Even the commentators were blown away, suggesting this run was the stuff of legend, was the most impressive they’d ever seen from a female snowboarder, and was on par with even the male riders. But that slip cost Clark too many points, and she ended up in fourth place.

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Gold and silver went to Americans Hannah Teter (a goofball shredder type who was listening to her iPod during her winning run) and Gretchen Bleiler (a cheesy FHM model). Clark seems more hickish and tomboyish, and also far more gifted, than these other two. But I know this only from poring over online bios. The TV broadcast had zero human interest cutaways that I saw. This was the one time I found myself begging NBC to bring the action to a screeching halt and cue up a few pop-music-inflected video segments about the athletes’ lives beyond the halfpipe.

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At first, I thought perhaps NBC had bowed to all the criticisms about too much schmaltz and not enough action in past Olympic broadcasts. But then I thought of another explanation. I think the producer responsible for putting together these taped segments blew every last bit of his time and energy on Michelle Kwan. When the ice witch went out early, NBC was left with 73 hours of tear-jerking Kwan tape (which, you may have noticed, the network desperately tried to air while the Kwan story remained a tiny bit relevant), but the well was dry when it came to the other athletes.

Once again, Michelle Kwan ruins the Olympics for everyone.

How was your watching? Did you catch any of the women’s biathlon? Those targets they shoot at are so small and uninteresting. It would be a much more entertaining sport if they were shooting at 78-year-old attorneys.

Seth

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