Olympics Blog

News about the Summer and Winter Games

Category: Television

Olympic gold medal hockey game will be live in all U.S. time zones

NBC confirmed what most U.S. hockey fans hoped.

The Olympic gold medal game that will almost certainly feature the U.S. (up 6-0 over Finland in the third period Friday) will be telecast live in all U.S. time zones Sunday. The game (which will have as the other finalist the winner of Friday's game between Canada and Slovakia) begins at noon PST.

On NBC's original Olympic schedule, the game was slated to be tape-delayed until 3 p.m. PST and live only in the Eastern and Central time zones.  

-- Diane Pucin

NBC's Matt Lauer fumbles the puck: U.S.-Canada game Sunday is on MSNBC, not NBC

Sorry, hockey fans. Matt Lauer, host of NBC's "Today" show,  misspoke Friday morning when he said Sunday's preliminary-round hockey showdown between the U.S. and Canada will be shown on NBC.

A spokesman for NBC Universal confirmed that the game will be aired on MSNBC, as planned, and that Lauer was mistaken in saying the game would be broadcast on NBC.

It will be shown live starting at 4 p.m., the spokesman said. And yes, it will be live on the West Coast too.

(A disclosure: I've appeared twice on the NBC Universal show "Meet the Olympic Press," which airs daily during the Games at 9 a.m.)

-- Helene Elliott in Vancouver, Canada

Stephen Colbert talks with Dick Ebersol, 'competes' against Shani Davis

With the Winter Olympics less than a month away, it was time for Comedy Central show host Stephen Colbert to test his dedication to the Games.

NBC Sports and Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol appeared on "The Colbert Report" on Wednesday and asked Colbert if he'd like to be a part of the network's Olympics coverage. Colbert said he wouldn't mind as long as he got the right title: "I kind of like host of 'The Tonight Show.'"

You can watch the entire exchange (including Ebersol's funny plea to the Colbert Nation) on the video below:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Dick Ebersol
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy

While Ebersol gave the comical pundit permission to be a part of NBC's Olympics coverage (they don't give out those NBC sweaters to just anyone), Colbert's dream of making the U.S. speedskating team was shattered by Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis. As you may recall, these two have shared a tumultuous past. Check out the video:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Skate Expectations - Speedskating Race - Shani Davis
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy

-- Austin Knoblauch

Blogging in the new year: More Olympic TV coverage, more laughable figure skating scores

Happy new year!

Only 5 1/2 weeks to the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

And it's already clear that Olympic junkies will have no trouble getting their TV fix this February.

The flagship Olympic network, NBC, will have about the same amount of original programming coverage (121 hours) as it did at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. The NBC Universal cable networks that boosted the total Turin coverage to 416 hours will also have a significant presence.

And Universal Sports, the Olympic network within the Olympic network that was only an Internet operation four years ago, will announce Monday that it has programmed five hours daily of live news, talk and information during the entire Feb. 12-28 Vancouver Winter Games.

The Universal programming begins with a 90-minute news center. That will be followed by half an hour of highlights from presentations and concerts at medal ceremonies; a half-hour "Meet the Olympic Press"; a one-hour replay of the news center; a 30-minute preview and review show; and a "Vancouver Figure Skating Hour."

(Full disclosure: I will be among the panelists on "Meet the Olympic Press.'')

There will also be continuous news updates. But no live or delayed action from the same day's events; that belongs to NBC.

Depending on Vonn

Other than Lindsey Vonn and her family, no one was happier than NBC Sports & Olympics chairman Dick Lindsey VonnEbersol to learn the skier was not seriously injured in her crash last week.

Vonn is clearly the marquee athlete in NBC's mind, and her expected presence in all five alpine events gives the network a chance to create a miniseries out of her races.

But Ebersol has no intention of building Michael Phelps-like expectations for Vonn. The NBC boss knows weather and changes in course conditions create too many variables in skiing results. "There are,'' Ebersol told me, "no 5-foot waves all of a sudden in one lane of a swimming pool.''

On paper, Vonn is a solid favorite in downhill and super-G, even money in super combined and a medal contender in slalom. If she leaves Vancouver with a single gold medal, her Olympics will have been a resounding success.

The Shani Davis mystery

It would be nice to know why speedskater Shani Davis changed his mind about skating team pursuit at the Olympics.

At the mid-December World Cup in Salt Lake City, the 2006 Olympic champion said he would be focusing in Vancouver on the 1,000 and 1,500 meters and the team pursuit. "Those three,'' Davis said.

Davis apparently changed his mind before the Dec. 24 deadline for skaters to declare their Olympic intentions to U.S. Speedskating. He declined to be in the four-skater pool for team pursuit, preferring to compete in all five individual events, even though he would have had a great chance to win gold in pursuit but is at best a longshot for a medal in the 500, 5,000 and 10,000.

Although Davis has not commented publicly on that decision, it is possible that he simply thought team pursuit would be too much of a distraction, especially given the controversy that erupted at the 2006 Olympics when he opted out of consideration for the event. All that history probably would have been rehashed ad nauseam.

And there could have been more controversy if Davis joined the team pursuit selection pool, then felt compelled not to race in Vancouver for any number of legitimate reasons.

Tim Burke hype

It's time to give some perspective to Tim Burke's having become the first U.S. biathlete ever to lead the World Cup overall standings in the sport.

Burke's achievement is noteworthy, but it would be a stretch to say it makes him a strong contender to become the first U.S. medalist in biathlon.

Had biathlon legend Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway not skipped the last three World Cup races, he almost certainly would be the overall leader.

Although Burke finished second and third in races at this season's first World Cup, his best finish at a world championship is a seventh in 2007. At last year's worlds, his best was an 11th.

The three most celebrated World Cup events are upcoming: at Oberhof, Germany, this week, followed by Ruhpolding, Germany and Anterselva, Italy. Should Burke produce several top-six results in those races, it would be appropriate to crank up the hype for him.

Evgeny Plushenko Posing with Evgeny Plushenko

Just what a joke the new scoring system in figure skating has become was apparent in the scores that judges gave 2006 Olympic champion Evgeny Plushenko at the recent Russian Championships.

Plushenko got 100.09 points in the short program -- nearly 10 points more than the best "official'' score in history -- despite a performance he called "far from perfect,'' with a flawed landing on a triple lutz and his usual weak, lugubriously slow spins. Then he got 171.50 -- which would be No. 2 on the all-time list -- for a free skate with five clean triple jumps (and a quad), more poor spins (he risks being arrested for loitering on the combination spin) and a lot of posing.

It makes no difference that scores at national events are not considered for the all-time lists. Making a mockery of them creates a mess where other national judges feel compelled to boost their skaters by giving equally ludicrous scores.

In his comeback after a three-year absence, Plushenko has skated only in Russia (two domestic, one international event) and received overinflated marks every time. It will be interesting to see what kind of scores he gets at the European Championships this month in Tallinn, Estonia.

-- Philip Hersh

Top photo: Lindsey Vonn leaves the slopes with her arm in a sling after a Dec. 28 giant slalom crash in Austria. Nothing broke, but Vonn is skiing with a brace on her arm. Credit: Marco Trovati / AP.

Bottom: Evgeny Plushenko strikes a pose in a Grand Prix event this season. Credit: Yuri Kadobnov / Getty Images.

IOC needed to dump tennis, not add mixed doubles

The International Olympic Committee has made two more ill-advised decisions regarding the program for the Summer Olympic Games.

Today the IOC executive board went along with a recommendation from the International Cycling Union to dump what some call track cycling's iconic event, individual pursuit, beginning with the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, the IOC added mixed doubles in tennis, a sport which should not be in the Olympics in the first place.

First, the tennis decision.

Sports in which an Olympic gold medal is not the ultimate prize have no business in the Olympics. I would make a couple exceptions: men's basketball, because its presence in the Summer Games has played a dramatic role in expanding and improving the game worldwide; and men's hockey, because the Olympic tournament still means a great deal to countries like Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland, and the Winter Games program is not overstuffed, unlike the Summer Games.

Tennis does not need the Olympics, nor does the Olympics need tennis. The sport gets plenty of worldwide exposure from its Grand Slams, and the presence of its stars in the Summer Games drains attention from athletes whose only chance for exposure is at the Olympics.

(The same argument holds for golf, added to the program beginning with the 2016 Summer Games. Golf used Tiger Woods as a significant part of its argument for inclusion. Think that would play now?)

The Olympics would be better off without tennis, golf, boxing and men's soccer.

Taylor Then there is track cycling, where the argument for dumping men's and women's pursuit had something to do with short attention spans, according to what IOC President Jacques Rogge said at a news conference following the two-day executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Rogge said the executive board only was going along with a recommendation by the Cycliste Internationale that the track cycling program changes would be "more appealing and yield more audience ... There is a general shift from endurance events to sprint events.''

The men's 4000-meter individual pursuit lasts less than a minute more than the 400 meters in men's swimming and the 1,500 meters in track.  Extending Rogge's logic, those events (and anything longer) should be eliminated as well.

And, in exact contradiction of the shorter-is-better argument, the IOC has added a cycling event called Omnium, which has six parts (including pursuit) and is compared to a decathlon.

Many of the world's leading cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, spoke out against eliminating individual pursuit. They got more than 4,000 signatures on a petition that asked the IOC to keep the event.

Rogge brushed off their concerns by saying, "You always have to distinguish the big picture from any particular country where some heroes win a lot of medals.''

(One of those heroes was likely to be U.S. cyclist Taylor Phinney. He is the reigning world champion in individual pursuit and, at 19, the sport's rising star whose personality and family story -- son of two Olympic medalist cyclists, whose father is battling Parkinson's disease -- made him a guaranteed attention-getter for track cycling.)

The UCI turned a deaf ear, and so did the IOC, which foolishly thinks these program tweaks are going to attract more interest from the Wii generation.

Yet the IOC lets out-of-fashion sports like equestrian, modern pentathlon and Greco-Roman wrestling remain in the Olympics, then tries to make them more relevant by compressing their competition into a much shorter time period so television might pay more attention.

To most track cyclists (and great road cyclists who also competed on the track), individual pursuit was the truest expression of their discipline.

The people who run international sports always say their first interest is doing right by the athletes.

Once again, their actions belie their lofty intentions.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Taylor Phinney in individual pursuit at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he took seventh place. Credit: Ricardo Mazalan / Associated Press 

Webcasts no longer doomsday for figure skating

Almost exactly three years ago, I wrote a story about the state of figure skating as a TV property in which I said, "The forecast is so ominous that it could turn figure skating into primarily an Internet sport as a broadcast commodity, barely a decade after its over-the-air network TV ratings and income were sky high."

This is what Eddie Einhorn, a U.S. figure skating TV consultant, told me at the time:

"Will we stay on TV? It depends what you mean by TV.  I see a combination of over-the-air, cable and Internet/new media.  It will likely switch mostly to new media as years go by.

"Getting a big rights fee from television is the old game. Smaller sports are going to have to find other ways to get broadcast time."

Although Einhorn's words and my prediction have been borne out, as further evidenced by this week's announcement of a new deal (actually an extension) between Universal Sports and the International Skating Union, I would like to temper a few parts of it based on what I have seen since the story appeared Dec. 12, 2006.

1. There is nothing really ominous about figure skating -- and here I am referring mainly to live coverage -- being primarily on the Internet if the sport wants to attract a new generation of fans, most of whom already use their computers to watch TV shows, movies and all sorts of other video. Quality of these live Web streams is getting better and better; I hooked up my computer to my TV monitor to watch some of the icenetwork.com coverage during this Grand Prix season.

2. The Internet is giving fans more live coverage of the sport than ever before. Judging from the running commentary on the live action in posts to skating newsgroups like Figure Skating Universe, fans will get up (or stay up) in the middle of the night to watch live coverage of an event like last week's Grand Prix Final in Japan.

3. Yes, the sport is getting a lot less TV money -- probably some 20% of what it received at the apogee in the late 1990s -- but the sponsors paying for rink board ads still are getting exposure, which is critical to keeping that revenue stream.

The new Universal-ISU deal, which runs through 2013, assures coverage of the World Championships, European Championships, World Junior Championships, World Synchro Championships and all Grand Prix events but Skate America (a U.S. Figure Skating property, sold to NBC/Universal Sports through 2014).

I had several questions about the deal, and Universal Sports CEO Claude Ruibal answered them by saying most were TBD,  "to be determined."

Q. Does this mean Ice Network (owned by the U.S. federation) won't be live streaming Grand Prix events in the future?

A. Not necessarily.  That is TBD.

Q. Will there be any coverage of [senior] worlds on NBC or will Universal be the only TV outlet?

A. Again, that's a TBD.  It might make sense to have some TV coverage of worlds on the NBC network and some on Universal Sports.

Q. Will the [foreign] Grand Prix events on TV be mostly live or delayed.?

A. Where we can pick up a live signal from abroad of high-enough quality, we will go with it live.  If we're not as comfortable with it live, we will at worst do it on a same-day delay. Our preference is to make this available live, certainly online, and then maybe have higher production qualities on a slightly delayed basis for TV.

To those who have problems in getting Universal Sports: the network is becoming available on more and more cable systems nationwide. Those viewers without cable, for economic or other reasons, rightfully feel shortchanged because some of these broadcasts used to be on over-the-air TV, but the market doesn't support that anymore.

I have asked Universal producers why they can't show the stuff in hi-def, and the answers have to do with cost, bandwidth, and availability of high-def broadcasts.

Memo to Universal: figure it out.  A live Internet stream followed by a delayed broadcast in hi-def would be a pretty nice combination -- and likely as good as figure skating fans can hope for unless another Michelle Kwan or Tonya Harding comes along to regenerate interest in the sport beyond its hard-core faithful. I would also like commentary on the webcasts, currently accompanied only by the skater's music.

Of course, this all could change with the Comcast purchase of NBC Universal. If Comcast wants to make its Versus network a rival to ESPN, the man-cave network, maybe Comcast will shift some live skating to Versus when the deal goes through.

Speaking of skating and NBC:  Rachael Flatt, the leading U.S. woman singles skater this season, is among the athletes who took part in a 16-part NBC Universal series called "The Science of the Olympic Winter Games."

A collaborative effort among NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News; NBC Olympics; and the National Science Foundation produced a series that will answer such questions as, "How does angular momentum help Flatt achieve the perfect triple toe loop?" and "How does elastic collision help three-time Olympic hockey player Julie Chu convert a game-winning slapshot?"

The series will be available Wednesday on nbcolympics.com/science and will also be offered to schools as an educational tool. The Wednesday "Today Show" will air one of the pieces.

-- Philip Hersh



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