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Lang Whittaker The Links

Learning to love late night

Overnight Olympics coverage offers glimpse into different side of Games

Posted: Monday August 23, 2004 8:36AM; Updated: Monday August 23, 2004 12:48PM
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Natalia Goncharova; Julia Koltunova
Burning the midnight oil in front of an Olympics telecast might get one thinking about a career judging synchronized diving.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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The Olympics are winding down, and I, for one, am sad about it. I understand the complaints about the television coverage, chief among them that NBC has turned the whole thing into a pre-taped miniseries packaged expressly for primetime TV. The biggest problem with this, of course, is that it's nearly impossible to avoid the results during the day. I've either seen them online or heard them in a cab or stumbled across them on Access Hollywood, which has improbably shifted its focus from movie openings to Olympics coverage the last two weeks. (Still haven't seen Nancy O'Dell don the toga. Yet.)

With my prime time coverage spoiled, I refused to give up on the Olympics. Because when all else fails, you can always stay up all night and watch the live coverage. I've always found sleep overrated, usually logging about five hours a night. As such, CNBC and MSNBC have been my best friends the last two weeks. Forget Leno and Conan, give me Lester (Holt) and Inga (Hammond).

The most popular sport on CNBC must be rowing, which is surely one of the least telegenic events of the games. I don't mean to demean rowers, because I'm sure they're among the most dedicated athletes at the games. It's just not a sport made for watching on the tube. The boats nose ahead of each other and once someone's about four feet ahead, it seems impossible to catch them. At times, it's a little like watching paint dry.

On the other hand, I never imagined anyone could enjoy synchronized diving, until I ended up watching several hours of it one night. The great thing about some of these unknown sports is that within about five minutes of viewing, I feel more or less like an expert, pointing things out to my wife such as, "That should be a deduction against the Chinese diver because her knees came apart as she entered the water. No, no, the other one...the diver on the left."

It was during another of my late-night viewing jags that I was introduced to competitive trampolining, a sport that I never even suspected existed. The German woman who won the gold medal was 31 years-old, which seems ancient by Olympic standards. Here was a woman near my age, dressed like a child gymnast, who appeared to be doing the same flips and twists on a trampoline that my cousins and I did as kids. (I must allow, though, that she completed a lot more flips than we ever did, and I bet she never smashed a go-kart into one of the legs of her trampoline.) That and the fact that she was the best in the world in her sport.

Watching through the wee hours, I haven't seen many of NBC's glossy athlete bio packages, but I still have found people I could root for, like Switzerland's Laciga brothers, a beach volleyball duo that refuses to speak to each other during matches. I cheered for the identical twin rowers from New Zealand. I also found myself drawn to the softball announcers, which includes former XFL play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian and analyst Dr. Dot Richardson, who openly roots for Team USA, recently hooting after a home run.

I skipped the prime-time coverage of Carly Patterson winning her gold because I'd already read about it on SI.com, but I saw the late-night replay, and I yelled at the TV when her coach wouldn't put her down, and I surprised even myself when I welled up a little bit as she broke down in tears crying.

As an athlete who reached my peak in the 11th grade, I only know what it's like to work for a goal and to never reach it. And I'm fine with that. I tried, I wasn't good enough, I moved on. I don't have a clue what it's like to reach for that goal and one day find that you're the greatest in the world. I'd probably cry, too, standing on that medal platform as my national anthem played. Would I sing along until my emotions cracked just as the flag raised? Would I valiantly try to sing through my tears? Or would I just stare at the ground the entire time and focus on what I'd just done?

I've often thought about what it would be like to win an Olympic medal, if, perhaps there's a sport out there waiting for me, something I've never tried before that I was born to do. Was I meant to strap on the pads and be a hockey goalie? Maybe I'd be the greatest to ever play the game, not allowing a goal for seasons at a time! At this stage in life, I'm resigned to the fact that it probably won't happen for me in my lifetime. But that's why there's eBay.

In the meantime, I am pretty fast on the keyboard. Someone let me know when the keyboard shortcut national championships start. Ready? Command-Shift-4! Already done. My fingers are vicious, people.

Quote Of The Week

"He's among the world's all-time greatest, um, walkers."
  -- Marty Liquori, NBC's Olympic Track and Field analyst, when asked to analyze Ecuadorian race walker Jefferson Perez.

Game Of The Week

Sure it's a winter sport, but who doesn't love curling, especially when you don't use stones but slide puppies? That's right, Puppy Curling!

Anti-Olympic Event Of The Week

Terrye Jackson, a 42-year-old real estate agent from Baltimore, set a world record for consecutive television viewing at an event sponsored by NBC. She managed to watch just over 50 hours of coverage, and then was immediately publicized and promoted by NBC.

But records are made to be broken, and two teenagers in Grand Rapids, Mich., immediately shattered her record by two hours, plus they did it at an International House of Pancakes, which must be infinitely more distracting.

Good work, kids. The Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity is on SI.com next time.

Don't Get Husked Link Of The Week

Hey, anyone remember Lawrence Phillips, the star Nebraska running back who was suspended for a time from school and then went on to have a cup o' latte in NFL Europe? He showed up in Vegas recently, where he husked a Big Eight championship ring for $20 to a guy who turned around and sold it on eBay for $1,700. We assume LP didn't major in economics.

Story To Make You Feel Better About Yourself Of The Week (Update)

Hairboy, the world's hariest man, who we first spoke about a few weeks ago here on The Links, has posed for a photo shoot. Click here for more, if you dare. And if I'm in the marketing department at Nair or Gilette, I'm all over this.

Because It's Never Too Early Link Of The Week

If your kids are already hassling you for the hot new Halloween costume, we've got you covered: child Pimp and Ho costumes! I'll never forget the looks I got when I was ten and went as Bishop Don Magic Juan. Nothing screams adorable like p-i-m-p.

A Beautiful Ear Of The Week

We knew Russell Crowe could act and beat the crap out of paparazzi, but who knew his Mike Tyson impression was so spot on? Any time you choose to beat up your own bodyguard, maybe it's time to let the bodyguard move on.

The Week Ahead:

Little League World Series -- They may be overshadowed by the Olympics, but don't forget to catch the kids this week on ESPN. Even more fun is listening to announcers Gary Thorne and Harold Reynolds try to avoid criticizing someone, such as the unnamed centerfielder this weekend who missed a fly ball and accidentally batted it over the wall for a two-run home run. "Ohh...and...well, he showed some good effort there."

The Big Cat -- The official AAA player of The Links, Andres Galarraga of the Salt Lake Stingers, got hot this week and is up to a .350 average with 3 home runs. Also, he released a video detailing his inspirational victory over cancer.

Keep plugging away, Big Cat.

Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at http://www.slamonline.com/index.html. He's already looking forward to the start of the Goodwill Games.

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