Tom Ross: Sunday’s race was elation, frustration in flyover land
February 16, 2010
Steamboat Springs — My stomach was in a knot, and I was shouting loudly at my computer screen Sunday afternoon as Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong sprinted toward the finish line in Whistler, British Columbia.
It was a strange mixture of elation and frustration that I experienced, and there's a good chance some of you know exactly what I'm talking about.
If you are a fan of Olympic skiing, you might have experienced the same gut-churning angst that I did. I know that some of you just recorded the race and watched it later. But I can't wait. I have to know as soon as it happens.
I was elated that Spillane made history by becoming the first American to claim an Olympic medal (silver) in the sport that has captivated much of Steamboat Springs. And it made me more than a little crazy that the race wasn't televised live on the network affiliate in Denver as NBC had been promising all week.
I had planned my Valentine's Day with an ample amount of romance, a little Nordic skiing of my own, and cleared out the schedule in mid-afternoon when the network promised live coverage of the Nordic combined race.
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I was probably a little too primed for the event. By the middle of the ski jumping competition in late morning, I had the jitters and I went downstairs to fetch my barbell out of the garage. I hoped some wimpy bicep curls would take the edge off my excitement. But Lodwick and Spillane had put themselves in medal contention by placing second and fourth in the first phase of the competition, and the arm curls didn't do the trick.
I checked the TV schedule again, once in print, again on the TV crawler and a third time on the Internet, then threw my gear into the car and made for the touring center, where I could fantasize that I was warming up for the Olympics myself.
Fresh from the thrill of victory, I returned to my TV at 2:30 p.m., popped the top on a bottle of 3.2 Bud Lite Lime and prepared for history to be made.
The clock struck 2:45 p.m. and NBC still was covering chunky Austrian men in Spandex hurtling down the luge run. There wasn't an American contender in sight, and I grew increasingly perplexed.
I checked Universal Sports. Nada. I bounced over to MSNBC. Nope.
I jumped to the computer screen again and that's when I noticed my colleague Luke Graham had already begun posting Twitter race updates to the Steamboat Pilot & Today Web page. They were still lugeing on the tube and the race was on!
More than 200 people were watching a live feed from Europe in Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill, but it was too late for me to change plans.
I kept Luke on the screen and opened a second window to take another close look at the Vancouver Organizing Committee Web page and was stunned to see that people in the Midwest were watching the race live. Not only that, they were posting abbreviated race commentary to their Facebook walls, and VANOC was streaming those posts into a little box on the side of the Web page.
That's when I began shouting epithets at the screen (I wasn't shouting at you, Luke — you almost succeeded in preserving my sanity).
The Facebook posts went something like this: LODWICK!! Lowick's in first place. He's still in first place! They aren't gonna catch himmmmmm!!
SPILLANE IS MAKING A MOVE!
SPILLANE!!!. Spillane is skiing from the front.
Where is Lodwick?
Is that Demong? Is Demong catching them?
SPILLANE is going to win the gold medal!!
They won't catch him now.
LODWICK is coming back!!
SPILLANE WINS AN OLYMPIC SILVER MEDALLLLLL!!
By that time, I was just sitting in my little home office chair, my nerve synapses firing uncontrollably, a line of spittle forming on my chin. Just send for the men in the white coats. Send them now.
I have no desire to rip on NBC. Good golly, the folks at the network have done a remarkable job of filling in a schedule left decimated by the postponement of the Alpine downhill races that were supposed to begin coverage of the Olympics with the coronation of the amazing Lindsey Vonn.
And I have to say, the extreme slow motion photography used by NBC has given me insights into winter sports that I've never seen before — from the way a short track speed skater's razor sharp blade slices a perfect curve in the ice, to the minute adjustments ski jumpers make by using their hands like the control surfaces on an airplane.
If I'm honest, when the delayed broadcast of the Nordic combined race finally appeared here in flyover land, I found myself shouting encouragement to all three U.S. skiers, even though I knew the die was cast.
That said, I'm begging you guys at the network. Please don't leave us in Nordic no man's land again next week. There has to be a way to give it to us live in Ski Town USA.