Olympic TV storylines abound

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Bob Wolfley
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

There are a number of interesting dramas attached to the Winter Olympics, not the least of which is whether the host country of Canada can win a gold medal, something it has never done on its home soil.

On the television side—NBC is broadcasting its 12th Olympics—you have to wonder about the Winter Games’ marquee attraction.

If women’s figure skating is the force that delivers the most American viewers of any Winter Olympics event on television, will those viewers still show up if there is no U.S. skater with a good chance to win a medal?

There will be no established American women stars competing for the United States in that event.

Michelle Kwan, long gone. Sasha Cohen, out.

Instead, American medal hopes rest on Rachael Flatt, 17, and Mirai Nagasu, 16.

Nagasu may be only a high school junior, but an observation she made about the state of American figure skating at this moment was wise beyond her years.

“The U.S. is not on the top of figure skating right now,” Nagasu said. “I think that’s an embarrassment because of the rich history the USA has.”

American men appear to have enough talent to contend for a medal, and so do a few ice dancing teams representing the U.S.

The last time a woman from the United States did not win an Olympic medal in figure skating was 1964. There have been only four Olympics at which U.S. women failed to win a medal in figure skating: ’64, 1948, 1936 and 1908.

“I haven’t given up hope that (the U.S.) can win a medal because some people rise to the occasion, and others crack,” said NBC figure skating analyst Scott Hamilton. “The pressure of the Olympics changes everything.”

Among the favorites in the event are Kim Yu-Na, 19, of South Korea, the reigning world champion; Joannie Rochette, 24, of Canada; and Miki Ando, 22, of Japan.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, does not see the lack of U.S. contenders in women’s figure skating as a drawback but as an opportunity to tell the stories of other athletes.

“Some of the most important stories ever told about the Olympics, whether they’ve been ABC before us or by us, have been about international athletes,” Ebersol said. “You go where the stories are.”

Taped vs. live

Because the Vancouver Games are taking place in North America, the nettlesome issue of taped versus live presentation will not be as pronounced.

According to NBC, the majority of the events in Vancouver will be broadcast live. In the past, NBC has been battered by criticism for taping events in order to present them in primetime to get better ratings.

No doubt there will be instances when some big event will take place live and shown later on tape, but there will be fewer instances of that in Vancouver, British Columbia, which is in the Pacific Standard Time zone.

Saturation coverage

NBC is popping its jersey because it will present more than 835 hours during 17 days of the Vancou-ver Games, the most ever for a Winter Olympics, and more than the last two Winter Olympics combined.

Torino had 419 hours, and Salt Lake City had 375.

NBC, USA, MSNBC, CNBC, Universal HD and NBCOlympics.com will carry that coverage. NBCOlympics.com will offer more than 400 hours of live streaming video coverage, the most for a Winter Olympics.

General Electric Co., which owns NBC, expects to lose $250 million on its presentation of the Vancouver Games. In June 2003, NBC paid a rights fee of $820 million for the Vancouver Games and $1.18 billion for the 2012 Summer Games in London.

Show and tell

For the first time all of the Winter Olympics will be available in high definition.

High def will be available on NBC’s HD affiliates, MSNBC, CNBC, USA and Universal HD.

NBC will use a number of technologies it has used in the past to help viewers understand better what they are seeing. Among those:

The “Still to Come” graphic, which has been used with increasing frequency in the last few Games to alert viewers when key events air.

In speedskating, the flag of each skater’s home country and the skater’s name will be superimposed on the ice. It will use a virtual technology seen in auto racing telecasts. It allows the viewer to better see how two skaters compare, which is hard to determine because of staggered starts and intervals.

In alpine skiing, a technology called Super-Ski will be used to show the path the leader in an event took compared to the skier currently competing.

Ski jumping will use the virtual “Line to Beat,” which is similar to the virtual first-down line in football telecasts. The “Line to Beat” shows where the leader landed, one of the criteria for judging jumpers.

Last updated: 12:57 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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