Feb 11, 2014 - By Steven R. PeckAll Olympics
The opening ceremonies of the Olympics have become spectacular shows over the past 20 years or so, but the grandest spectacles have been the province of the summer Olympics.
Until this year.
Say what you will about Russia, its Soviet past, and its ex-KGB president, but the opening ceremonies for the winter games in Sochi were fabulous, thrilling, historic and a tiny bit ominous as well.
The huge, ancient nation's thousand-year legacy, expressed through a brilliantly creative amalgamation of Russia's great literature, its music, its dance, its stage and cinema hit all the high points of a long history -- and took an unexpectedly frank look at its militarism, communism, forced industrialization, and the grim gray face it presented to the world for most of the past century.
The suspended set pieces floating across the huge stadium on wires, above the astonishing floor projections recreating oceans, farm fields, factory floors and the decks of ships showed astounding innovation while never appearing to be "high tech" -- kind of like Russia itself.
All told, it was a remarkable pageant to open the Olympics, surely one of the greatest shows of its kind ever staged.
It's not the vodka
Pity poor Bob Costas. The longtime NBC sports announcer, who is hosting his ninth Olympics for NBC, had an eye infection when the games opened that he laughed off and predicted would be gone in a couple of days. Instead, it has spread to both eyes.
It looks terrible on camera, and it must feel even worse. Costas has had to wear glasses, and his swollen, red, weepy eyes behind the black horn rims have created a real distraction.
Now NBC says Costas won't be seen on camera for a day or two, throwing a major monkey wrench into the network's carefully considered plans.
White in maturity
Are you getting old at age 27? Well, maybe, if you are Shaun White.
It is fascinating to watch the great snowboard competitor straddling the border between his prime and his dotage as a world-class athlete.
This, remember, is the Flying Tomato, the long-haired, teenage redhead who introduced mainstream America to snowboarding competition and legitimized it for American audiences as an Olympic sport.
But that was three Olympics back. Today his hair is cut, his body is thicker and less flexible, and he had to struggle to make the U.S. team in one of his two events -- and he dropped out of that after taking a bad fall that blackened an eye and swelled a wrist.
White epitomized American youth in helping to lead the transformation of the winter games from something staid, stodgy, cold and dark into something far more exuberant, showy, exciting and, simply, more fun.
A compelling ingredient of sports is seeing a great young competitor get older while trying to maintain an edge, or find a new one. From Tiger Woods to Peyton Manning to Shaun White, this battle against time is one reason we watch.
Another youthful American icon of the "new" Winter Olympics, Apolo Ohno, is in the broadcast booth this time, not wearing his skates on the short track -- still a very young man at 31 but too old for the bump and grind of roller derby on ice.
Might this be the last Olympic hurrah for Shaun White as well? For the first time in his life as an athlete, age might be a negative factor in something he does physically. He goes for his gold Tuesday night.
Three goals in 55 seconds? The U.S. women's hockey team set that Olympic record Monday against Switzerland. It ended up being 9-0 in favor of the Yanks by the time the game ended.
American women's hockey at the Olympics is a far different thing from the men's version, and not simply because of gender. Recognizing fully the skill, power, speed and polish of the professional superstars who soon will take the ice for the United States against many of the same guys who were their NHL teammates last week and who will be again after next week, there is something more pure and "connectable" about seeing the amateur players of the women's team, a good many of them still college kids, playing for an Olympic medal in what will be the pinnacle of their hockey existence.
Obviously, fans appreciate seeing Sidney Crosby and Alexandr Ovechkin on the Olympic ice, but what they do can never -- and should never -- eclipse the magic moment of the all-amateur American team's victory in the 1980 Olympics.
That's a long time ago, of course. The Olympic Winter Games have changed with the times -- more than the summer games have, and that change has mostly been for the better -- but this old-school element of the amateurs that still can be seen occasionally is a worthwhile throwback to what in some ways really were the better old days.
Here's to a good week.
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