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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Going for the Gold

Posted on July 30, 2012 at 6:20 PM

Leap Year. Presidential Elections. The Olympic Summer Games.

These items all roll around the same time each four years, and I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for the Olympic Games. (The Summer ones. Besides ski jump and curling, I don’t have much use for the Winter Games. If ONLY they’d show some Biathlon! Skiing AND shooting?! You throw in Drinking and you’ve got the greatest event in the history of EVER!)

 For the past days, I’ve been constantly flipping through all of the miscellaneous channels that DISH network is using to show the various events. (There is one channel dedicated solely to basketball and another dedicated to nothing but soccer. It’s like all HD vuvuzela, all the time! And low scoring and ties? You bet! Of course, the Brits didn't include the one soccer player that I've actually heard of on their team, so there will be no bending it like Beckham this go 'round. There’s also a Telemundo Olympics channel. I haven’t tuned in yet, but I like to imagine that every bit of action is punctuated by an insanely excited announcer screaming “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!")

It’s not even that I really like the events that they show or know any of the athletes. But there’s just something so intense about the Olympics that brings out the most tragic, heart-breaking awesomeness in athletes. Think about it…you train every day for hours for FOUR YEARS to come down to a single instance in time where all of that hard work and effort can be undone by a single poorly tied shoelace, bad bit of curry the night before, or 1/100th of a second of slacking off. The pressure that thousands of hours can be cast aside on any cosmic whim the universe decides to throw your way is the kind of thing that makes watching events like badminton and canoe sprinting bearable. I used to have dreams where I was in the Olympics – usually sprinting – and I would always pull up lame at the starting line or just totally move in slow-motion and then I’d call out for a do over. The other athletes were surprisingly accommodating.

My love of the Olympics began in 1976 when Bruce Jenner won the Decathlon. I can remember reading books about him and buying Wheaties boxes with him on the cover and racing around my house jumping over stuff (until my dad yelled, “JOHN! KNOCK IT OFF!") pretending that I was Jenner going for the gold. Remember, of course, that this is before Bruce Jenner’s face became completely encapsulated in silicon and assumed a frozen rictus of surprise and a semi-permanent Jack Nicholson-as-The Joker grimace. (Of course, as the titular head of the Kardashian family, Bruce’s facial expression must be given something of a pass. Honestly, who among us can say that our faces would look any different if we were forced to spend many waking hours in the company of that family? He actually probably looks quite good considering the circumstances.)

The US boycotted the 1980 games and I can’t remember if they were even televised or not. So I was good-and-ready for the 1984 games when they returned to Los Angeles. I remember my grandfather bought this commemorative pin set that had a pin for every different event. It sat on his bar in a glass frame and I remember spending a lot of time standing there and staring at all of the pins. Who didn’t love Mary Lou Retton, who seemed to stare right through the camera and straight into the heart of every teenage boy watching? (I was 14.) Also, I remember watching the women’s volleyball team and the overwhelming awesomeness which was the oh-so-tragically named Flo Hyman; the like 6-foot 5-inch African American player that just pwned every team they played against.

Between the '84 and '88 games, I prepared *heavily* by playing HOURS of Olympic video games. If you ever raised a joystick in triumph – or twisted one into two pieces in anger – playing Summer Games on the Commodore 64 then we are somehow brothers. Or selected a country based solely on their anthem. That game was replaced by Konami’s Track & Field II which had like 12 events including Fencing, Archery, Taekwondo and the-how-can-it-not-actually-be-an-event? Hang Gliding.

In '88 it was all about the diving awesomeness of Greg Louganis. Who can forget when he hit his head on the diving board? You can’t forget it, because they showed the footage like a thousand times. It was like the Zapruder film of the Olympic games. “Let’s just take one…more…look in ultra slow-motion at the exact moment of impact. And….THERE! (FREEZE) You can literally see his skull splitting open.” Also there was swimmer Matt Biondi, whom I remember because he was from the Bay Area and I delivered a big screen Mitsubishi rear pro TV to his family’s house…that they returned once the games were over.

Who can forget Michael Johnson and his golden shoes? Or Carl Lewis long jumping like 100 feet? Or Kerri Strug and sticking the landing on the injured leg? Or Svetlana Khorkina and her being the tallest, oldest, prettiest, snarkiest girl on the Russian gymnastic squad?

Usually the thing about the Olympics is that they don’t show the events that I really care about seeing. It seems like you can pretty much boil it down to swimming, gymnastics, basketball, soccer, sprints and marathon. I want to watch archery. (Seriously. And if Great Britain wants Legolas on their squad, I say let them!) I want to watch the awesome track-and-field events like high jump, long jump, pole vault, and javelin. And I don’t care if China dominates the whole thing, I want to watch guys playing ping pong at a level that looks more like violent hand-to-hand combat than a gentlemanly game of table tennis. I also love platform diving. If you want to do 4 flips that end in a dive with a 6-inch splash from a 30 foot tower, brother, I’m going to support you by watching!

But I never get to watch that stuff. I was hoping with the DISH Network’s special Olympic TV app would help me out with this. They sent out an email that arrived on Friday morning that said, “When you turn on your TV and Hopper this morning please be sure to check out the new Olympic TV app that was added overnight.”

Sweet, thought I. This will be awesome. Go, DISH! Finally an answer to my, “When are those events on?” question. Especially since it said, “The TV Schedule section will display times and channels that the NBC Networks will be showing Olympic coverage on DISH. When the user presses select on an event, the event tile flips to reveal the options to watch or record.” But, it doesn’t. Or NBC isn’t choosing to show the stuff I want to see.

I don’t get tennis or golf in the Olympics either. (Golf is coming back in 2016, FYI.) We see who the best players are week in and week out in those sports. We just had a Wimbledon AND a British Open. This takes the Olympic-ness out of it for me. There’s no once-ever-four-years pressure here, and, seriously, do any of those players really care about an Olympic medal? Last time I checked, it wasn’t considered a “major” by anyone.

The app does have a Medal Count thing which shows up to the minute medal tallies, so you can see just how much China is dominating at any second. Also, there’s a Top Stories section which is perfect for spoiling the events that have yet to be shown yet. “Oh, looks like so-and-so lost. Guess that takes the suspense out of that.”

Really, NBC, why would you NOT show the swimming 4 x 100 relay live? Or show the Lochte and Phelps showdown? I mean, it’s ALL they talked about for hours leading up to it. When you see a banner, “LOCHTE WINS! PHELPS COMES UP SHORT; TAKES 4TH!” it *kinda* takes out any of the interest in watching the event. (OK, we still watched it. “And... Yup. Locthe won….and… Phelps takes fourth. Well, that sure was exciting. Guess the news report from 8 hours ago was right. Is there a CSI: Des Moines on somewhere?")

Dana and I watched the opening ceremonies on Friday and I thought it was pretty disappointing. I kept thinking, “Surely they’re gonna do something awesome to kind of at least pretend like they’re one-upping China. Right? RIGHT?!” Honestly, I didn’t get a lot of the opening. They rebuilt the Shire then tore it up and built Mordor or something? And then Mary Poppins was fighting with Harry Potter? And doves on bicycles? Keneth Branagh in mutton chops reading Shakespeare? Seriously. Was a lot of that totally weird or what?

It was like the announcers were *trying* to explain it to us Americans but like they really wanted to say, “Wow. We’re all thinking, ‘WTF, Britain? What is happening here?’ Hospitals and smoke stacks and singing and, man this thing is a hot mess! Folks, chalk this up to British humor. You’re just not going to understand it.”

I thought that Mr. Bean was funny during his “bit,” but it’s like it didn’t fit in. Since, there was like no humor during any of the other parts. Of course, the Queen and Bond was awesome – good on Her Majesty for playing along, and for England embracing Bond on the highest stage. And why did they carry that flag past Mohammed Ali? I mean, he won a Gold Medal years ago. He isn’t British. Why was he there? (Confused.) And the torch lighting is usually an awesome spectacle. Except this time. Where some random young Britains did it. Seriously, Beckham should have kicked a giant, flaming soccer ball into a huge gas-filled golden chalice. Now THAT is how you start an Olympics!  

Much has been made about the American uniforms being made in China, which, of course, is a pretty lame cop out, Ralph Lauren. That you wouldn’t have just instinctively KNOWN that the American uniforms should be handmade in AMERICA says something about your clothes making philosophy. I think the bigger miss is the uniforms themselves. Yes, they look very pretty and like the boys all stumbled out of Eton and are all heading over to a yacht party where they’ll sip champagne and talk to girls named Mindy and Buffy. But can anyone tell me why the men are wearing berets?! With what looks like a French flag pin on them?!?

Seriously, *every* time it cut to a shot of the Americans, I thought it was the French team. For the love of God, unless you are Ferris Bueller having a day off, what American MAN wears a BERET? And an ATHLETE no less. The very name is the epitome of French-ness. Decorated with a FRENCH FLAG!

But the bigger offense to me was the giant white Polo pony on the jacket. I am a HUGE Ralph Lauren fan. It’s no coincidence that Lauryn is named Lauryn. But the Olympic uniform is such a horribly tacky place to put advertising on. The Italian uniforms didn’t say Armani. I just can’t believe they let Ralph get away with that or that he’d even try. And not a small, discreet Pony, but a giant Clydsdale that dwarfed the US Flag and Olympic rings. Really, really lame.

I was hoping that the oh-so-cute young fencing phenom, Lee Kiefer, was going to be a darling of this year’s games. I saw her first match/duel/battle – what do you call a fencing fence-off? – and she seemed quick and aggressive, but she lost her next match which I don’t think was even televised. Bummer. You had at least one fan pulling for you, Lee.

As disappointing as the coverage has been so far, it’s still the Olympics. And we only get to see them once every four years. So I’ll keep watching. And – no doubt – complaining. What are you loving about the Games? Go for the Gold in the comments section. Heck, I'll even take Bronze...

Categories: July 2012, TV