Monday, February 22, 2010

sweeping into the house

The two biggest complaints about the Olympic telecasts this past weekend were that many of the events were tape-delayed and that the USA vs. Canada hockey game, while live, was not in high-definition. Of the two, I think the non-HD offense is worse. There is no excuse for NBC to have relegated the popular match-up to a standard-def channel.

Admittedly, I am an HD snob. I filter my on-screen guide to list only the HD channels. As a result, I didn't even know the hockey game was on until I saw the complaints on Twitter about the SD broadcast. Today I watched all eight goals in eight minutes, in HD and found I enjoyed it. Sure it was delayed but I didn't mind. It was similar to NFL Replay, but faster.

The HD highlights were only a couple of button pushes away via the On Demand menu on my Comcast Digital Cable. Quick disclaimer: I pay for Comcast service but I get it at the employee rate because ten months ago I started doing testimonial spots for them on the radio.

The only curling I've seen is On Demand. When a bonspiel is boiled down to a minute, the sport actually makes sense to me.They seem to get points for wearing outrageous pants while putting their rock in the circle and hitting the other team's rock out of the circle. Does it deserve to be an Olympic sport? I don't know. It looks like an amusing backyard game, along the lines of croquet or bocce.

I have tried watching NBC's prime time Olympic coverage and have lost interest almost every night. The On Demand choices give me enough to satisfy my curiosity about events such as ski cross and also the opportunity to go back and see the events that people are talking about, such as the hockey game and last night's ice dancing. I like some of the short clip packages too. I just watched a one-minute collection of snowboard crashes.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

ahoy there

The amazing Michael Phelps did it again. Tonight's race was the best yet. Earlier in the week, his relay teammates won him a gold medal in a great display of sportsmanship. The other day, Phelps overcame goggle adversity to set another world record. However it was tonight's race that left me slack jawed and speechless while staring at the TV.

Phelps looked like he was going to lose throughout the entire 100 meter butterfly event. For the first time in this Olympics, he didn't break a world record (just an Olympic one). Two of his competitors were capable of beating him. American Ian Crocker holds the world record and Serbian Milorad Cavic was the top qualifier in the preliminary heats. From almost every camera angle it looked like Cavic had touched the wall first. The electronic timer gave the race to Phelps by one one hundredth of a second. It wasn't until NBC showed the replay from the underwater camera in super slow motion that it became clear Phelps had touched first. He was still swimming at full speed as Cavic was gliding and reaching for the wall. The last half-stroke made all the difference.

As the swimming events wind down, so does my interest in the Olympics. If something catches my eye, I will watch for a little while but I won't be planning my evening around an event like I did with Phelps' races. Perhaps it will be fun to look for newspaper headlines about track star Tyson Gay. I doubt anyone can top today's San Francisco Chronicle headline: Gay Cruises To Heat Victory!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

pool shark

Backyard swimmers like me can take some comfort from the fact that even the best swimmer in the world can find his goggles filled with water. That's what happened to the amazing Michael Phelps last night during the 200 meter butterfly race. Despite the setback, Phelps still set a new world record and added to his collection of gold medals.

The 12-hour time difference between here and China allows me to watch the swimming events live as I type this. Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines are doing a great job announcing. Imagine how they would have sounded describing discontinued Olympic events like the swimming obstacle race, underwater swimming or solo synchronized swimming. Huh?

NBC and ABC both ran stories on their evening newscasts about the technological advances that are helping this year's Olympians set new records in almost every swimming event. The pool inside the Beijing Water Cube is built for speed. Its depth, lane dividers and gutters all reduce the waves that would slow the competitors. Obviously the much-hyped new swimsuits get some credit. NASA engineers helped design a suit that is more streamlined than human skin. Most important is Phelps' training regimen and swimming technique. I heard him say tonight that one of his best tools is his underwater dolphin kick. His huge feet and gigantic wingspan don't hurt one bit.

The new pool technology isn't limited to Beijing or the temporary above-ground tank in Omaha. Last month my son swam in the new Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center at UT. He and the rest of the City Meet swimmers thought it was a fast pool, certainly an improvement over the old Student Aquatic Center.

On my last trip to Atlanta, I had a chance to see the pool used in the 1996 Olympics. It now belongs to Georgia Tech. They put a school logo on the bottom of the diving well. From my perspective, it looked a lot like the handicap symbol in the foreground.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

man with the Midas touch

Last nights 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay will go down in Olympic history alongside the famous "Do you believe in miracles?" hockey game of 1980. The race was on close to midnight, Eastern time. My wife had gone to bed only a few minutes earlier. I called out to her and convinced her to get up and come watch the TV in my office.

This morning she urged our son to go online and find some video highlights. First he tried to watch it on an older laptop, choosing the option to watch without downloading Microsoft Silverlight. That didn't work. He then found that it wouldn't work without updating the version of Firefox on that machine either. I sent him upstairs to get my laptop. We downloaded the application and finally watched the race. It was well worth it. In fact it was even better the third time around. If you haven't already seen it, click here to watch the race. And then watch it again a couple of times so that we'll be caught up.

To win more gold medals than Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps needed to be on a winning relay team. Obviously he could not do that on his own, especially against the heavily-favored, smack-talking French team. Phelps swam an American record time in the first leg and still got beaten by the Australian competitor. His teammates took the lead, lost the lead and then came from behind to win the race. Jason Lezak's anchor leg was amazing. Equally outstanding is the jubilation of the American team as they celebrate their victory.

All the teams were so good that even the fifth place finisher came in ahead of the old world record time of 3:12:23. Imagine explaining that one to the grandchildren. "Oh yeah, we broke the old world record. Yet somehow we came in fifth!"

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

take your mark

There are a lot more people in the stands at the Olympic swimming trials in Omaha than could possibly fit in the brand new Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center at UT, which is hosting the Olympic diving selection camp this week. It's because the Omaha event is being held at the Qwest Center, a building that normally hosts basketball games, hockey games and rock concerts.

The past few nights I've been watching the swimming events in HD on the USA Network while searching the Internet for information on how they got such a huge pool into the arena. First, they put up some yellow tape to give people an idea of where the temporary pool would go. It's technically an above-ground pool, sitting on top of twelve truckloads of sand. Then they brought in the walls in segments, added a vinyl liner and had the fire department spray in enough water to cover the bottom and stretch out the liner. The Omaha World-Herald created a full-page graphic to show the pool's features. Eight rows of seats had to be removed for the pool deck, which covers all the pipes for the filtration system. When the swimming trials are over, local firefighters will drain the pool as part of a training exercise.

The news that Lady Vol swimmer Christine Magnuson made the Olympic team in the 100m butterfly event was on all the local channels. Another Knoxville swimmer competed in the 200m individual medley. Jace Howanitz is the current Tennessee state high school champion in that event. Next year she will swim for Virginia Tech as an H2Okie. This year her time was 9.75 seconds behind the winner, which she will undoubtedly improve upon in 2012. I just wanted an excuse to type H2Okie.

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