Five-ring Circus

Watching the Olympics on TV

Love those “tempestuous” Russian figure skaters.

Check out Slate’s complete coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Also enjoy this Magnum Photos gallery on ice skating.

Russia's Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov. Click image to expand.
Russia’s Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov

After the opening ceremony, NBC began its proper coverage of the XXI Winter Olympics on Saturday afternoon with ski jumping. This was the men’s normal hill individual, and the gold medal went to Switzerland’s Simon Ammann. The announcers described Ammann as a “Harry Potter lookalike,” but I didn’t see the resemblance. Maybe his helmet and goggles obscured a lightning-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. Nonetheless, I was pleased to see Ammann trounce Finland’s Kalle Keituri, who gave the first great jackass quote of this Olympiad. “I asked who his most influential person is,” said our reporter. “He said himself.” Keituri placed 22nd. It was all downhill from there—downhill and cross-country and everything else from every conceivable angle and brow height. At some points, the on-air talent was crisp and enlightening, as when announcers succinctly revisited the physics of ski jumping. At others, the segments were literally not even skin deep, as in the case of this morning’s gloopy rehash of “make-up moments from the opening ceremony,” suffering through which is apparently what you deserve for sticking around for the fourth hour of Today. Sunday, Valentine’s Day, found NBC feeling mushy and lovey-dovey and even occasionally horny, come to think of it. Triumphing in the men’s moguls competition, Canada’s Alexandre Bilodeau claimed a gold medal for a country that was embarrassed at failing to win one in earlier goes at hosting the Olympics. This victory allowed Bob Costas to bring one narrative of these games to a swift conclusion, and it enabled him to evaluate video of Bilodeau’s thrilled female fans and sense romance in the thin air. “Judging by the scene,” he said, “this is going to be a very good Valentine’s Day for [Bilodeau] all the way around.” Was cherubic Costas brandishing the quiver of Cupid? Recommending a box of Trojans? Both? Down at the ice rink, the figure-skating pairs were going through their short programs—an occasion for all viewers to have their empathetic hearts crushed in watching fantastically talented athletes with unspeakably awful taste in music and costumes slip and fall. Tom Hammond and the gang spent very much time cooing into the microphones about the real-life couples gliding before our eyes, the skaters who gave each other the old rotational lift on and off the ice. Then they came to Russia’s Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, whose relationship is not just strictly professional but even unprofessional, “tempestuous.” There were murmurs about their sports psychologist in the booth—an unwitting set-up for hoots about this shrink in living rooms all over when Trankov slipped and fell. For the record, Trankov was dressed like a bedazzled serf. Mukhortova’s costume was fairly conventional, though square-necked and totally see-through. Their coach wore a dark turtleneck, a dark overcoat, and a scowl implying that Trankov would be spending the night in a dark trunk.