Maybe a kindler, gentler title will mean less injuries, falls, and general recklessness tonight, eh?
Meredith Viera has taken over the hosting duties in the absence of Costas and Lauer, and while she looks the part of Winter Games host in an all-white ensemble. But she has almost no personality, delivering the results with standard charming morning-show monotone.
CHILLED TO THE MARROW: I am not stopping the skeleton puns for the follow-up to yesterday’s first part of the Women’s final.
Noelle Pikus-Pace is as ebullient as ever but now Lizzy Yarnold rockets down the course like a machine, her body all but fused to her sled (apparently named “Mervin” after one of her first benefactors). Her 57.91 is sterling, while Pikus-Pace’s not too shabby 58.25 still leaves her lagging.
NBC has come up with a brilliant little sportscasting move here: they run footage of Yarnold and Pikus-Pace simultaneously so viewers can compare their styles. Once one overcomes the shock of seeing two skeletons on the same course, it becomes a joyful analytic experience…and I see what makes Yarnold superb. She is as still as the reclining statues of the Louvre on her sled, letting the momentum carry her and shifting only for necessary steers, while Pikus-Pace adjusts a little too much.
Here’s a bit of commentary Travis would have loved: “TED UHLAENDER, WHO WON THE 1972 NATIONAL LEAGUE PENNANT WITH THE CINCINNATI REDS, TAUGHT THIS GIRL TO FIGHT HARD, TO NEVER GIVE UP!” Imagine this yelled by a man with an English accent who has probably never seen a Major League Baseball game in his life. But it is prescient, as Katie Uhlaender gives the run of her Olympics…a run that sadly leaves her just 0.04 seconds short of the bronze medal for Yelena Nikitina.
Pikus-Pace follows this breathless duel up with a final run which earns her a medal, and she immediately scrambles over railings and into the stands to kiss her husband Jansen, who built her sled, and hug her children. Her third Olympics, her final run, and she wins…an incredible moment. But silver it will be, as Lizzy Yarnold only increases her lead. “This is essentially sitting in the back of a Corvette and waving to the crowd.” Yarnold wins by almost a full second, and in a great shot, the camera follows her all the way to the rubber breaking track, where she stops, pulls off her helmet, and smiles a giant, relieved smile for the first time.
Uhlaender is unnecessarily apologetic, almost in tears, while Pikus-Pace is beyond joyful, and Yarnold gleefully lifts the British flag over her head, as she earns England their first gold.
Now I’m not particularly writing about the men’s super combined…I think Travis should handle all future Recorder skiing commentary…but let me say this about skeleton as I watch Bode Miller flail: that was one of the epitomes of Olympic competition. Down to the last millisecond competition for medals and two victors who competed not against each other but against history and both emerged satisfied. I could ask for no better drama or conclusions in sports.
THE LONGEST PROGRAM: And so the men go to war in the Long Program/Free Skate, with Japan and Canada aiming for their first Men’s gold medal ever. Despite the thrills of Hanyu and Chan, Jeremy Abbot, out of competition for the medal due to being in 15th after his fall, gets the first spot on TV by virtue of…being an American? He’s announced he’s retiring from competitive skating, and knowing he can’t win, he looks a bit bored and tired, yet far more confident than he was before. Muse’s “Exogenesis Symphony” is appropriately dramatic in melody but the lack of dynamics and tempo changes makes for slow, unexciting choreography, including a part where Abbot simply COMES TO A STOP. I’m no expert, but that didn’t seem quite right and I found myself fighting to stay focused on the broadcast.
Now to develop a point further: I have been told by people who watched the Olympics abroad that other countries’ broadcasts adopt a very global perspective, focusing on the most interesting stories from all the athletes, regardless of home, and my childhood perusal of David Wallechinsky’s definitive histories is a clear reminder that there are always a multitude of tales. Olympics coverage here is so US-centric, bent on pulling one cliched “overcoming obstacles” story after another from the ether, and not showing curling during prime time, that it can be…frustrating.
Denis Ten of Kazakhstan is skating to a piece of music called “The Young Lady and the Hooligan,” and I can spell Kazakhstan without getting the wiggly red error line. These are important things our readers should know. Ten also wears a sparkling necktie with an open button-down shirt, and his youthful energy is nice to see. (Footnote: “The Young Lady and the Hooligan” is a ballet by Shostakovich.)
We then cut to a story about Patrick Chan relaxing by playing golf, which begins with footage of him looking at something with eyes so terrifyingly wide and slightly moving that no still photograph could recapture the appearance. He doesn’t look like he’s going to kill a man. He looks like he’s going to push a man to every physical and emotional limit without killing him, like he’ll make a man beg to die.
Watching the warm-ups after a break to finish the Super Combined…Hanyu has a sparkling countenance and Jason Brown is in “Vegas showgirl Robin Hood” garb in preparation for a performance my viewing companion this evening, Laura, describes as “amazing!” To which I say to the tape-delayed TV, “show me.”
Javier Fernandez kicks the night off with a gray and black suit with red tie (Is this the new style for male skaters?) and a medley of Henry Mancini ‘s “Peter Gunn” music and “Harlem Nocturne.” Fernandez is so much more full of life tonight, and his giant leg extension coming out of a series of perfect jumps is lovely…he’s dancing with an unseen partner, and this impression increases in the “Harlem Nocturne” section, which feels like ballroom dancing. But now the jumps get lazier, with less power and execution. A startling change. Not even a return to the private eye music helps, and he finishes behind Ten.
Daisuke Takahashi, in navy blue, now skates to “Beatles Medley,” and yes, that got me excited. The opening speed and leaps are timed to “Yesterday,” the axel coming at the end of the “Why’d she have to go” part…the music is really interesting me because it’s a very Oriental/Orchestral arrangement of Beatles tunes, and there’s a moment in the transitional period into the second jumps, he reaches out to the audience. (Laura: “He knows right where the camera is!”) The final moments, set to “In My Life” and “The Long and Winding Road,” see him perform a flying kick as a sort of encore to the traditional jumps…he’s so magnificently poised this time. It’s superb. Then suddenly the commentators declare “lots of sloppy mistakes.” Where were these mistakes? They put him in fourth place, although it is pretty cool seeing a 27 year-old holding a teddy bear.
Yuzuru Hanyu is up next in a sheer mauve gem-lined outfit, skating to one of the greatest film scores ever, Nino Rota’s Romeo and Juliet. And he suffers from asthma…holy crap this just makes his work more awesome. But the performance I now see after his magnificence last night makes us give male-female groans here in all the same places…Hanyu cannot keep himself together. He falls during the opening quadruple salchow, recovers into a great quad, then falls again and botches a spin that almost tips him over. His final dancing portion, to the strains of the love theme, is as agonizing as a dying tragic hero’s last moments on stage. He is breathing so hard, tucking his chin into his chest, knowing what he accomplished and what he lost all at once.
Hanyu is still in first, but Patrick Chan knows he has an opening. And after seeing intense Patrick Chan, I’m prepared for it. He’s picked Vivaldi, “The Four Seasons,” and wears a wintertime roses tunic to suggest this…and begins with a PERFECT quadruple-triple, only to follow with a quadruple which crashes his hand on the floor…and then another near-plummet. (“Ewwwgh…what is happening?” Laura declares, and then she and I agree on a fundamental concept of game theory…knowing what your competitors have done is not the best knowledge to have when you’re playing your own game. Chan knew he had a chance and got tight.) What upsets me is that the final section of the movement, when the violins speed up, a section made for leaps and bounds, is taken very slowly.
Chan misses the lead by four points, and Hanyu’s shock is palpable. Peter Liebers, who finished fifth in the short, has chosen the music of Queen (As my Uncle Richard (Happy Birthday) once said, the only answer to “Do you like Queen?” is “Who doesn’t?”) and begins with an immediate fall. This is getting ridiculous. And Laura makes the very apt point that skating in a vest should not work…it’s constrictive, I think…and the man falls again! “Who Wants to Live Forever” is…an ironic choice given that this long program is one many historians would want to forget.
Jason Brown now closes out the not-quite-so spectacular. He would need to skate ten points above his personal best for the bronze, so he has a shot. His Riverdance program (“Reel Around the Sun”) begins with a sliding, graceful run, some good jumps, a perfect spin…and as soon as the commentators say “He really needs the next jump,” he falls. Is there some psychic connection between what they say and the legs of these people? (Miss Estandia and I think so.) Now here’s what makes the program work: when the music speeds up, Brown’s moves get faster, his body trying to arch against the ice, his jumps first tentative and then free, including a lutz with an arm over his head. He finishes with 152.37, far short, and Yuzuru Hanyu conquers. He may have flubbed the opening a bit, but in a depressing evening, the perfection of the “Parisienne Walkways” the night before EARNED him this medal.
To wrap up this column, I discovered in my search for photographs to accompany this article that multiple social-and-otherwise media sites went down tonight when Ellen Page came out of the closet in an address to the HRC conference in Las Vegas.
Juno is a film that, like The Graduate, may increasingly hold up less and less, but Ellen Page, like Dustin Hoffman, shone so brightly and played the role perfectly, and her subsequent films have been of extraordinary variety, from small comedies to the most grandiose special effects spectaculars. The one thing which has never changed is how impressed, impressed to the point of swooning, I’ve been by her intelligence, humor, and soulful beauty. She is a gifted actress, and I do not see the path of her career changing, and this is important. We live in a time when the proportion of openly gay and bisexual people who regularly get major roles in giant films is tiny compared to those who are not, and as Page points these standards of social acceptance, “of beauty, of a good life, of success” are powerful enough to affect those of the strongest character. As a comics writer who has witnessed firsthand how these standards are applied to the detriment of all art, it is my hope and prayer that Page (whose full speech can and should be read) will ultimately be the middle in a long line of people whose openness leads to a reversal of such standards.