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 Ebersol 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.
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.