Lake Placid, N.Y. — You almost certainly won't see any one moment to rival Franz Klammer's breathtaking gold medal run at Innsbruck, but in terms of overall television coverage throughout the entire 13 days, the 1980 Winter Olympics really figure to be more exciting for American audiences than any of their processors.
One reason for this is that US athletes have better medal prospects than they've ever had before in the Winter Games. Americans could conceivably dominate both men's and women's speed skating, and they also have strong chances in men's, women's, and pairs figure skating. And although US athletes won't be favored elsewhere, they at least have possibilities in several other sports including hockey and both Alpine and cross country skiing.
Another factor, of course, is that the site is in this country for the first time since 1960. This means not only a great deal more live coverage than is possible when contending with the time difference overseas, but also a chance for TV to demonstrate how far it has come in the 20 years since the Squaw Valley Games. Today's techniques and expertise can produce a show with tremendous audience appeal, as we saw at Innsbruck and Montreal four years ago -- and as we're sure to see again Feb. 12-24.
So all the ingredients are there for a great show -- and ABC-TV is certainly pulling out all the stops to make sure it is one.
The network has scheduled a record 51 1/2 hours of coverage, two-thirds of it in prime time and the rest mostly on weekend afternoons. As can be seen on the accompanying schedule, the telecasts begin with a 90-minute preview on Feb. 12 (even this will include some actual competition, since the hockey starts that night), and continue daily through the closing ceremony on Feb. 24. The total hours figure is up from the 43 1/2 hours telecast from Innsbruck in 1976.
With weekday coverage primarily at night, the procedure will be to package highlights of daytime events on tape and intersperse this with live coverage of evening competitions such as hockey and figure skating. On weekends there is coverage both day and night, thus opening up opportunities for even more live action.
A small army of some 800 announcers, cameramen, technicians, and support personnel is converging on this tiny Adirondack Mountain village to put on the show, and it will have all the up-to-date equipment it needs. A total of about 100 cameral will be spread around the various competition sites -- some stationary and some moving from place to place as required by events.
Overseeing the entire production from the control room will be the network's president for news and sports, Roone Arledge, along with the main announcer, Jim McKay, and a host of other top executives and technicians. Other on-air broadcasters will include such well-known announcers and/or sports personalities as Keith Jackson, Curt Gowdy, Chris Schenkel, Frank Gifford, and Dick Button.
Alpine skiing, often the focal point of the Games as it was in 1968 with Jean-Claude Killy's triple gold medal spectacular and in 1976 with Rosi Mittermaier's near duplication of that feat plus Klammer's exciting run, will be broadcast by Gifford and former US Ski Team Coach Bob Beattie, the same pair that handled these duties at Innsbruck, with Susie Patterson providing additional expert commentary. The competition will be keen as always, but in truth it would be a surprise if this aspect of the games measures up to those aforementioned years.
For one thing, you can't count on any one person emerging to dominate the races and captivate the public as Killy and Mittermaier did. And as for another performance like Klammer's unforgettable on-the-edge run down the entire course in 1976 -- forget it.
"The course is much different here," Beattie explained. "The top third may be the toughest in the world, but the rest is relatively flat and easy. We'll have a speed gun near the top, where the race is likely to be won or lost, but on TV even the difficulty of that part of the course doesn't really come across in full.It's hard to imagine any viewer spectacle like Klammer's run this time."
Figure skating is the other TV centerpiece -- especially this year with Americans in strong medal contention. McKay will do the broadcasting of these events from the studio, with commentary by two-time gold medalist Button from the arena.
Hockey is also expected to get plenty of coverage, partly because the evening starting times of many games will permit live coverage by play-by-play man Al Michaels and former Montreal goaltender Ken Dryden. In terms of sustained audience interest, however, much will depend on the success of the US team -- a young and promising group which is considered a medal possibility but has a tough schedule with Sweden and Czechoslovakia as its first two foes.
Speed skating, a sport which emerges from obscurity in the United States once every four years -- and is certain to so again due to an anticipated overpowering American performance -- will be handled by Jackson with 1976 triple medal winner Sheila Young doing the commentary.
Cross-country skiing, with US interest greater than in previous Games due to Bill Koch's silver medal at Innsbruck plus a general increase in participant activity, will be broadcast by Bill Fleming and expert commentator Peter Graves. This pair also will do the biathlon competition.
Ski jumping, where the US also has higher medal hopes than in the past, will have Schenkel and former US champion Art Devlin at the mike; for the bobsled it will be Gowdy and Paul Lamey; Jim Lampley and former US world team member Bill Caterino will announce the luge races; and Lampley will also handle a number of other assignments around the Olympic village and other sites.
Conspicuous by his absence will be the network's bets known sports announcer, Howard Cosell, who never has become involved in Winter Olympics telecasts and is not exptected to this time either. As arledge put it at a recent press conference, "I just can't envision Howard in stretch pants!" But nobody, including Rome, is excluding the possibility that his limelight-conscious star just won't be able to resist making the short hop from New York to bestow a few words of wisdom on that huge audience out there.
Speaking of the audience, it has grown regularly as interest in the Winter Olympics has increased, and ABC estimates that this time 180 million people -- approximately 85 percent of the total US population -- will watch some portion of the Games during the two weeks of coverage.