Like many of you I've spent the better part of the last two weeks watching the Calgary Olympics on television. Not all of it, mind you -- not even convicted felons should be forced to watch more than two "Up Close and Personals" per show -- but enough of it to have some questions.
Like, how did David Santee get his job?
Why is he flitting across my screen?
Who does his hair?
You could substitute other names for Santee, like Mike Eruzione (I hope his car knows, because he surely doesn't), Donna de Varona, Peggy Fleming, and Gary (I'm a Bozo, He's a Bozo, Wouldn't You Like to Be a Bozo Too) Bender. But Santee wins the "John Denver Come Home, All Is Forgiven" Award. His interviewing of the skaters gives new meaning to the phrase, "Hey, honey, you wanna get my shotgun, that little twerp's on the tube again." Actually, "interviewing" may not be the right word. "Great performance, good luck Saturday," is more like "buttering."
My favorite Calgary interview involved Tim McCarver, and give me a break here, he's terrific on baseball, but what makes ABC think that if you give a guy a blazer all of a sudden he's Jack Paar? It was one of the many days when a Chinook had melted so much snow they couldn't ski, nor could they jump, because the mountain wind had blown the runway to Toronto. So ABC had to kill time, and they went live, downtown, to McCarver for another idiotic pin-trading feature. McCarver introduced this geek drowning in metal as "The Guru of Pins."
"How many you got?" McCarver asked.
"A lot," said the Guru.
Back to you, Jim.
Talking about announcers, I should say right off that I really do like Dick Button. Honest. How can you not enjoy someone who so obviously loves his work? He's articulate, sensitive, fascinated by the history of his event, and sounds like a Fuller Brush salesman who got hijacked to a Noel Coward musical. I'm a little less enthralled with Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, the Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy of wind chill. Stifle!
How about Keith (Fummmmmmble, I do believe the Longhorns have recovered!) Jackson, off the slopes and in the studio? Keith, who has said he hates studio work and longs to be "out there with the Big Uglies," is obviously uncomfortable in Calgary. His idiosyncratic pauses are longer than three cuts on a Bangles album, and he's so tortuously folksy it's like he's auditioning for a Bartles & Jaymes ad. How about Chris Schenkel at the ski jump? In that ridiculous scarf he looks like Charles Aznavour at outdoor dinner theater.
So what? The medal round is overrated anyway.
(Tell the truth, don't you think that if the U.S. team really wanted a good defense, we'd have put Spuds MacKenzie in goal? He's the best goalie I've seen. That's some commercial. Kick saves? The guy's got four legs.)
Some people think we're doing badly. Sure we're having a little bad luck. A few of our racers aren't finishing. A few aren't even starting -- they're breaking their legs in practice. But look at it this way: Right now we're only two medals behind Finland.
I can't understand why we aren't winning biathlon. Shooting and skiing. Any major drug dealer in Aspen ought to be able to do that.
Did I mention the "Up Close and Personals"? I liked the one on pairs skaters Watson and Oppegard, shot at home in one of the all-time silver spoon suburbs, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and set to the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg." What weren't Watson and Oppegard too proud to beg for, a new tennis ball retriever?
My gripe with the Winter Olympics is that some of the sports and a bunch of the competitors are stupid. Take the Jamaican bobsledders, or a schlemiel like Eddy Edwards. Spare me the "true nature of the Olympic spirit" speech. These shameless self-promoters are looking to move T-shirts and land two pages in People. Get them out of there. If finishing dead last is so noble, why don't we put George Burns and Dom DeLuise in the bobsled?
What the hell is the luge about? A guy sliding around a mountain on a pie plate, that's an Olympic sport? And can you believe the freestyle skiing? When are you officially declared brain dead in that baby, before or after the event?
I thought Olympic sports originated with soldiers performing athletic feats that had application as military maneuvers. You could see where speed skating or cross country skiing could be useful in a battle. But what was the purpose of figure skating, to amuse the advancing enemy? "Hey, Sven, let's hold off on the plundering until the Brians are done with their short program." (What about the pairs competition? What's going on with those jumps? I never saw so many women land on their keisters. What is this, Smurfs on Ice?)
If figure skating is an Olympic sport, so is ballet. Sports only satisfy when they're objective. A winner should be apparent, either by time or points. Figure skating is beauty pageant stuff. After the bronze what do they award, Miss Congeniality?
It's lovely. It's thrilling. It's artistic. But it's theater, not sport. You rehearse your routine knowing that the conditions will always be perfect, the competition irrelevant. To get medals, all Boitano and Orser had to do was stand up. There are no surprises in figure skating, only justifications. Medals are handed down quadrennially like land deeds. Even if you thrill the crowd and get a standing ovation, if you're not on the A-list, you're looking at a bunch of 5.2s. When was the last time you heard the phrase "staggering upset" applied to figure skating?
The worst event of all is the ice dancing. There's absolutely no chance for people to move up or down in the standings because the dancers don't even have jumps. You can compete until you're 80, or they outlaw "Hernando's Hideaway," whichever comes first. Bestamianova and Bukin, the Soviet champs, were a mortal lock to win the gold. Had they fallen down, the judges would have insisted it was part of the routine, and brilliant at that. If ice dancing is an Olympic sport, so is Marie Osmond.