Friday, February 7, 2014

The Humor Me Winter Olympics Viewer's Guide

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on Please check out the site.

I love the Olympics. Or I like the Olympics, anyway. Some of the sports can be a little unusual, but it's still cool to see the world come together for an event that was founded on the idea of sportsmanship.

That sportsmanship might be a little iffy these days. But consider this:

In the biathlon, the Winter Olympic event that combines the disciplines of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship, no competitor has ever shot an opponent. At least not at the Olympics, because I would've remembered Bob Costas talking about it. I think he would've added the word "execrable" to his gallimaufry of Olympic descriptions.

So here we go again with the Winter Olympics and its run of gripping drama and equally gripping bodysuits. An avalanche of television coverage is headed our way, and thankfully, we can count on NBC to not get carried away and be all melodramatic about everything.

Just kidding. I’m fully prepared for a segment about a luger whose new method of toe-pointing is a step toward world peace. That’s the kind of story that adds to the magic of the Winter Olympics, the quadrennial celebration that brings together thousands of world-class athletes.

And curlers, too. Their sport might occasionally be confused for a collection of determined janitors cleaning the ice, but just so you know, curling is a huge intellectual challenge. That’s why it’s often referred to as “chess on ice,” as well as “prelude to drinking.”
Shockingly, “chess on ice” won’t get glamorous coverage on NBC. Most of the prime-time viewing will include the Winter Olympics staples: skating, skiing, sliding and commercials for McDonald’s.

Here’s a preview:

-- Alpine skiing –
Overview: This exhilarating sport features events such as the slalom and Super-G, and skiers in the downhill can reach speeds of more than 80 miles per hour. But despite the danger involved with high speeds and sharp turns on a slippery slope, elite downhill skiing is considered slightly less dangerous than jumping from a three-story window.
Expect to see: Fans at the bottom of the hill shaking cowbells as their favorite skier attempts to not be this year’s agony of defeat clip, which will involve an out-of-control skier careening into fluorescent netting.
Fun fact: Vanessa-Mae, a world-renowned classical-pop violinist, will compete in skiing for Thailand. Her next musical release is expected to be titled “ACL Tear Concerto.”

-- Speed skating –
Overview: Incredibly conditioned athletes, who can crush small cars with their thighs, compete in long-track or short-track events. Long-track skaters stay in one lane and race against the clock; short-track skaters compete in packs on a small oval, making their races look like roller derby or Black Friday at Walmart.
Expect to see: Discussion of the “Mach 39,” the super-aerodynamic suit U.S. skaters will be wearing. It was a top-secret project that involved defense contractor Lockheed Martin, so I think it can be loaded with artillery.
Fun fact: Short-track legend Apolo Anton Ohno, now appearing in a bazillion Subway commercials, won eight Olympic medals despite competing with a non-aerodynamic soul patch.

-- Freestyle skiing and snowboarding –
Overview: Freestyle skiing became an Olympic medal sport in 1992 and snowboarding was added in 1998, so the sports are considered young, hip and extreme. Or Xtreme, because misspelled words are gnarly. Speed is still required, but most events feature impressive tricks, frightening aerials and empty cans of Red Bull.
Expect to see: A lot of Shaun White, the two-time gold medalist in snowboard halfpipe who will compete in halfpipe and the new slopestyle event. Oh wait. He's dropping out of slopestyle. Perhaps because it was Xtra Xtreme. Well, you'll still see a lot of White, who no longer wants to be called the “Flying Tomato” because airborne vegetables (or fruits, go ahead and debate it) don’t have clothing lines and million-dollar sponsorship deals.
Fun fact: The most common snowboarding injuries involve the wrist, shoulder, head and laughter from those shreddin’ the gnar nearby.

-- Figure skating –
Overview: It’s the gymnastics of the Winter Olympics, with U.S. medalists becoming overnight celebrities – or at least securing spots on Dancing with the Stars. Events include men and women’s singles, mixed pairs, ice dancing and, for the first time ever, a team event.
Expect to see: Tight shots of parents and coaches reacting in horror when the thousands of hours of practice produce a stumble on a triple axel. There will also be great moments of jubilation to warm our hearts, of course, but oh those heart-wrenching images of tearful skaters. There goes the Campbell’s Soup endorsement deal.
Fun fact: Although figure skating has been a part of the Winter Olympics since 1924, it was originally part of the Summer Olympics. I hear sequins were more readily available in the summer back then.

-- Bobsled, luge and skeleton –
Overview: The Winter Olympics are teeming with dangerous sports, and the sliding events are among the most harrowing. A good example is the skeleton, in which participants dive onto a small metal sled and slide down a track at nearly 70 miles per hour. Head first. With no brakes. Without being convicted of a crime.
Expect to see: Coverage of the bobsled team from Jamaica, which has qualified for the Olympics for the first time since 2002. Where they crash on the course, the party begins.
Fun Fact: A new event is the luge relay, in which four members -- two single-sled riders and a double sled -- form a team. Competitors press a touch pad after crossing the finish line, opening the starting gate for the next teammate. Squads are disqualified if a member starts early or chickens out and joins the curling team.
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