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Olympic Nights, and Days, So Far Devoid of Stars

By Tony Kornheiser
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, February 10, 1998; Page D1



I have this recurrent nightmare: I am watching the Winter Olympics, and I hear a knock on the door. I go to open it, and standing on my porch, stomping his feet to purify the evil spirits from my home is — Akebono, the gigantic 6-foot-8, 484-pound sumo wrestler. He's the largest thing I have ever seen that isn't on wheels. Each time he stomps his foot, the ground shakes. When he looks at my dog his eyes say, "Appetizer."

It's 38 degrees, but all Akebono is wearing is a big diaper.

"Aren't you cold?" I ask.

He laughs and grabs his ample belly. "I have many layers on," he says.

"What are you doing here?" I ask him. "Aren't you supposed to be in Japan?"

"They have postponed the downhill until April, so I had some time to kill," he says. "Got anything to eat?"

My frustration with the Winter Olympics so far is that its biggest star is Akebono. (And hey, does the word "mansseire" mean anything to you?) I have yet to see anything as spectacular as him. Where's Tonya? Where's Nancy? Where's Alberto Tomba with a ski pole on one arm and Miss Italy on the other? I'm not saying that hearing choral groups on five continents sing "Ode To Joy" wasn't extraordinary — but couldn't the song have been more contemporary, like "Tubthumping?"

I know that Michael (official Columnist of Joy) Wilbon, has fallen in love with Japan and these Olympics. But I'm waiting for CBS to show me some live action other than the ringing of that temple bell. I've heard that bell so often, I think I'm late for school.

It's not that I don't like all these touchy-feely taped stories, but IBM seems to do them so much better than CBS — particularly that commercial about the luger from Bermuda, who practices by strapping himself to the roof of his car. And as long as we're talking about commercials we've seen 10,000 times, I think it's great that Angela is going to the dance with Bobby Templeton.

Anyway, here's my request for CBS: No more taped features on Bosnian lugers. No more taped montages on Russian skaters. No more taped travelogues on the harsh, rustic life on "The Roof Of Japan." I have enough problems with my own roof after all this rain. And no more snow children! Come on, give me some live action. Give me The Hermanator already.

And just for the record, am I the only one who thinks the Olympic cauldron looks exactly like an order of Bird's Nest Soup?

My favorite Olympic moment occurred during the excruciatingly slow Opening Ceremonies that were highlighted by a group of shrieking men, and children dressed like corn husks, attempting to raise two enormous tree trunks to form, what, a SONY Jumbotron? CBS's crowd reporter, Al Trautwig, positioned himself in the front row, and introduced a Japanese man who was lucky enough to have these prime seats. In his overly earnest way Trautwig informed us how tough it was to land these seats, and he asked the man, "How did you get your tickets?"

"By mail," the man said.

Oh.

Back to you, Jim Nantz.

By the way, why is Nantz sitting on a bench? CBS couldn't afford a chair? All the set decoration money went to getting the AFC?

(And enough already with these IOC pleas to President Clinton not to bomb Iraq during the Olympics, like the snowboarders would be so overcome they couldn't go on. Oh, please. Half of them think "Baghdad" is a job somebody's father has. Look, we all want world peace. Me, you, Miss America. Okay? Now let's luge!)

I'm having trouble with the time change. It's 14 hours, but it seems like two weeks. CBS is giving race results that newspapers have already reported. Shouldn't CBS have the results earlier if they're 14 hours ahead? If they're 14 hours ahead, shouldn't they have tomorrow's stock prices today? Oops, I'm confusing them with the Psychic Hotline.

When you tune in there's no sense of real time. I'm confused when it's day and when it's night, I'm confused what's live and what's not. The only real news CBS airs is, "This just in. It's snowing at Hakuba."

And then, when you do get something that looks live — some guy at the top of a mountain ready to leap off into snowy oblivion, some announcer comes on and says, "Hans here is a great collector of pottery."

I don't mean to suggest that CBS doesn't have great announcers. Personally, I love some of them. Vern Lundquist and Scott Hamilton at the skating are, as always, terrific. So is Mary Carillo at the skiing. But Andrea Joyce is trying way too hard to be Katie Couric. And every time I see Jim Nantz I keep thinking: Where's Billy Packer? Does the road to the Final Four really go through Nagano? "We are here for a reason," Nantz gravely intoned on Opening Day. "To get closer. To climb higher. To pose the question: What can we become? And we seek the answer in the mountains." And all I could think of was: "Hey, beer man!"

Some of the other announcers have me baffled. Kennedy, for instance, the nerdy-looking MTV babe. What is she adding? She's supposed to be so hip. But she asks the same dumb sportscaster questions as everyone else: "So, you're a figure skater, huh? Wow, that must be neat?" If CBS wanted a Kennedy, why not get a hunk like John F. Kennedy Jr., and stick him at Hakuba. Then nobody'll care if it's snowing.

The trouble with some of the events at the Winter Olympics is that they're so obscure that it's hard to find mainstream announcers who can explain them. For example, at the women's moguls — an idiotic event in which people ski over ruts that make them bounce like a '78 Nova without shock absorbers, and then leap into the air, twisting like corkscrews — we are treated to the commentary of Ted Robinson and Park Smalley. As in, Ted Robinson and Park Smalley?

I was with Smalley as he explained moguls: "The key is to control your emotions, control your anxieties and control your adrenaline." I thought he might even be able to make some sense of this sport. But in the next breath he said of a certain skier, "Watch out for her, she's got a great double Daffy."

From moguls, CBS moved to snowboarding with Steve Podborski and Jim Rippey. That's like tuning into an NFL game and getting Jerry Glanville. I heard the course described as "a tough pipe," and I began flipping the dial for a basketball game, any basketball game — even one with Dick Vitale. That would be awesome, baby.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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