TV Crush

Tainted Olympics: Death, Callousness, Colbert & Why NBC Owes KD Lang An Apology

2/15/2010 5:23 AM

ETA: reports are coming in of chaos at the Cypress Mountain venue. Three-hour lineups. Desperate shortages of food and drink. Nowhere to escape the lashing wind and rain….

The death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili on a track well-known to be unusually dangerous, coupled with the insensitive response by the VANOC/FIL, has tainted the Olympics.

The NY Times reports (in the same link above) that the day before Kumaritashvili’s death “a Romanian luge racer was knocked unconscious during a training run. Through five complete Olympic training sessions in men’s singles luge last week, one of every 20 runs ended in a crash. But Olympic and luge officials chose not to make changes to the course that would limit the record speeds…”

Instead of acknowledging their obvious failings, the VANOC/FIL callously went CYA. They attributed Kumaritashvili’s death to human error, declaring the track safe. Yet, they lowered the start gates and raised the wall along the curve that flung Kumaritashvili into a steel beam to his death, all the while asserting they made these changes to “deal with the emotional components of the athletes.”

“The bottom line is that the decisions made are to deal with the emotional components of the athletes to alleviate, as best as possible, the traumatic experience of this tragic event,” Svein Romstad, the American secretary general of the FIL, said Saturday morning. “As to lowering it because the track is too fast, I would say the primary concern we have right now is the emotional aspect of it.”

By yesterday (Saturday) morning, the tragedy was turned on its head in a “the show must go on” kind of way - and isn’t this all amazing and courageous because we’re overcoming this tragedy, and moving into “normalcy,” and competing and oh, btw, let’s just move on, thanksbye…

Here’s the lede from the AP article:

Everyone made it down safely. For luge, that meant progress, healing and normalcy. Cowbells clanged, fans with painted faces waved flags, and even IOC president Jacques Rogge looked on as the celebration of this hyper-speedy sport resumed…

Adding to the scandal, the death has raised questions about practice times and home field advantages. Of all people, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert aimed his rapier wit on the problem of practice times.

Colbert, taking speed skating under his wing, hilariously fumed about track time, in words that are now both funny and eerily prophetic.

“Those syrup-suckers won’t let us practice at their Olympic venues,” Colbert said. “At the Salt Lake Games, we let the Canadian luge team take 100 practice runs. And you know how Mormons feel about two men lying down on each other.”

(Unfortunately, Comedy Central has deleted that particular segment.)

Here’s another from Colbert’s campaign to secure practice time for U.S. speed skaters. The luge athletes could have used an advocate like Colbert.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Sport Report - Cricket Scandal & Letter-Writing Campaign
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Skate Expectations

The Opening Ceremonies were tasteful, and nearly flawless, yet marred by NBC insensitivity, ranging from the left coast tape delay to boneheaded editing? or control room decisions? or…? during K.D. Lang’s moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluja”.

Once again, the left coast was saddled with tape delay while east coast watched live, starting at 9p. ET. I will beat this dead horse, once again, just because…

Previous tape delays could (barely) be explained by Beijing time differences but NBC doesn’t get an easy pass this round. NBC’s Beijng rationale – that West Coast viewers want to watch in prime time - no longer rates as an acceptable excuse when the darn games are..held in the same time zone!!

The Opening Ceremonies were widely reported to begin at 7:30p on the West Coast. Not exactly. Viewers were instead subjected to 1.5 hours of mostly empty filler – another Mary Carillo human interest segment and meditations on snowboarder Lindsey Vonn’s shin. Opening Ceremonies finally got underway at 9p, and ran until after midnight.

If the Left Coast is on tape delay anyway, it’s difficult to understand why California/Oregon/Washington audiences sat through 1.5 hours of patter, twiddling their thumbs.

The ceremonies finally wrapped at around 12:15a, with Wayne Gretzky’s wild ride clinging to the back of a white pick-up truck to deliver the torch to the “other” cauldron. (Gretzky deserves a gold for being the world’s best sport.)

Spoilers are unavoidable, on Twitter especially. My page was a jumble of time-shifted comments, creating some confusion about which events, exactly, some tweeps were discussing. As comments streamed in from my East Coast tweeps, I knew everything by the West Coast 9p start of the ceremonies.

It’s impossible to just shut Twitter down for ten days. When I joked the only solution to the spoilers dilemma is to hide in a dark closet for the duration, @wraithfodder suggested I join her poinsettias. Thanks Wraith! ; )

oh, well…what can I say. I hate tape delay.

And during that 1.5 hour patter there were problems. The biggest one: NBC aired the luge crash, in full and in slomo, several times. During the post-ceremony local news hour, our NBC affiliate here in San Francisco declined to show the crash in its entirety. Howling echoed across the Internet, as viewers slammed NBC for their decision to air the crash footage.

Memorable Opening Ceremony moments included the angelic aerialist - Ècole Nationale de Cirque student Thomas Saulgrain - spinning across the stage to an ethereal rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Breathtaking.

The house was really fired up over a western-inspired/Tap Dog fiddling and dancing number that @rachelsklar summed up nicely:


But SEE THE VIDEO at the end of this post: NBC’s Matt Lauer chattering over the ENTIRE fiddle solo. go here, to the NBC site and watch an different version from what was televised, at least here on the West Coast.

K.D. Lang is an exquisite talent. Her soulful performance of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah was ruined by the NBC decision to use only two (that I could count) semi - close-ups of her. All the other shots NBC selected were very wide and long, and much of the time she was a mere speck on the screen.

At first I thought perhaps I’d imagined the snub, so I reviewed the footage again. Nope. I did not imagine this.

NBC cut away from Lang time after time to focus on the candle-holding audience, and occasionally on U.S. athletes sitting in the stands. In a word - anywhere but K.D. Lang.

My jaw dropped.

Bottom line: NBC’s mishandling of Lang’s performance was disrespectful. The best I can say about this fiasco: someone at NBC exercised exceedingly poor judgment.

Thanks to Mediaite, you can view the actual televised footage, reportedly different than the video posted on the NBC website.