What the Games Are - and May Be
Of TV coverage, outdoor sports, and skaters in tuxes; a commentary
BESIDES snow and memories, opinions and impressions tend to pile up over the two weeks of a winter Olympics. Here is a ski rack full of the latter, gleaned from first-hand exposure to the Games in Albertville and some random TV watching:
* It happens every four years: People only mildly interested in certain sports get very excited about watching them in the Olympics. Why? Partly, perhaps, because the Games are a such a tremendous international showcase of human drama. Or perhaps it's the novelty of the events, the appeal of the snow-capped settings, and the refreshing change they offer from the excesses of major pro sports.
* Office conversations make it clear that many people regularly watched CBS's coverage. Quite a few were disappointed in the disjointed nature of the prime-time montages, which were edited packages of sports action taped earlier in the day, plus studio conver-sations and short feature segments.
The main criticisms were that one seldom got the feel of an event unfolding, and there was a sense of being manipulated - teased with a little women's figure skating now, for example, to keep you watching (and waiting) for more. The six-hour time difference between France and the East Coast of the United States was the hurdle CBS attempted to surmount with its well-edited highlight shows. On the whole, the network did a commendable job. In particular, I liked those camera shots of Alpine skiing that capt ured the speed with which the racers whooshed by, and the decision not to conduct inter-views with figure skaters in the rink-side "kiss and cry" area, but backstage after the skaters had relaxed.
* For what is ostensibly a globe-girdling event, the winter Games are awfully white - with very few people of color. As the 21st century approach-es, it will be interesting to see if the Olympic movement finds ways to encourage athletes with less in the way of winter traditions and facilities.
* It was good to see Olympic speed skating outdoors again, where it belongs. Calgary, Alberta, can be proud of the superb enclosed oval it built for speed skating in 1988, and the Lillehammer, Norway, hosts are just as pleased with the multi-purpose arena that will be used for speed skating in 1994. But at the winter Games, shouldn't part of the challenge be to tackle the elements?
* I'd love to see a winter Olympics south of the equator. The bottom half of the world is basically out of sight, out of mind. Maybe the silver medal won by New Zealand's Annelise Coberger in the women's slalom will inspire some consideration.
* If women can compete in luge, speed skiing, and short-track speed skating, why can't they ski jump, race bobsleds, and play hockey? As the world considers seriously the abilities and rights of women, some of these men-only events may find females ready to pursue them.
* It's hard to imagine any Olympics finding a better fit for its leadership position than the debonair Jean-Claude Killy: very French, yet cosmopolitan; a product of the host Savoie region, and of course an Olympic skiing legend. It will be interesting to see whether the Olympic brass tries to keep Killy actively involved in the Olympic movement. Clearly, he doesn't want to preside over another Games. He said the first time was a "privilege," but a second would be "suicide." Actually, though, it might be
easier the second time.
* I'd love to see a male skater wear tails sometime. Pure elegance, with none of the glitter, please.
* The 30,000-seat stadium in Albertville is to be disassembled, but the bobsled and luge run is forever. Therein lies one of the challenges of these and other Games: Environmentalists are uneasy when they see these man-made runs dropped into pristine mountain settings, and the people who build them are concerned about the costs not only of construction, but also maintenance, especially given the limited number of post-Olympics users. The ramifications of building these beasts may become a major drag on siting winter Games in new locations.
* Let's hope that the demise of the compulsory school figures in skating doesn't turn future Olympic competitions into teeny-bopper jumpfests.
* Did anybody miss British ski jumper Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards, who was kept from making a mockery of the competition this time by stiffer qualifying standards? And speaking of ski jumping, why did it take so many years for these flyers to spread their skis in a V shape for greater lift? Somebody surely must have seen the aerodynamic potential of this change long ago.