Keeping the Dream Live

by Joe Dobrow ©2006


As 2,500 athletes play out their Neoprene dramas in Torino, Italy, seeking to fulfill a lifelong quest for Olympic glory, I, too, find myself limbering up my muscles and honing my reflexes for the ultimate test. Though I am one mighty big ocean and six time zones away from Torino – in fact, because of that – I am seeking to keep the dream live.

The problem, of course, is that the Olympics are happening just too damn far away to get live coverage. By the time the sun rises here in the Eastern Time Zone, most of the day’s key events in Sestriere or Palavela are over. The results are in, the records broken, the tears shed – all before I’ve had my Tropicana with Extra Pulp. Hence, to the unwary Olympics fan, an entire night of suspenseful television can be ruined by 7 a.m. All that’s left is to watch a few more “up close and personal” Jimmy Roberts profiles of obscure biathletes. True, the ancillary cable networks are offering some real-time coverage during the day; but I am not about to rush home and catch the Sweden-Finland curling match, breathtaking as it may be.

Thus, because I just happened to listen to the car radio while running out for bagels on Sunday, I already knew that France’s Antoine Deneriaz had won the men’s downhill and that the U.S. men had finished 1-2 in the halfpipe competition. And when I first booted up my computer on Wednesday, I couldn’t even get to e-mail without first learning from AOL that Lindsey Kildow had failed to medal in the ladies’ downhill. So much for drama.

To the seasoned Olympics spectator, this is nothing new. The recent Olympiads in Sydney and Athens left us in a twilight of tape delay – afraid to turn on the radio or television for fear that we might “prematurely” learn the results, long before prime time was ready to let them unfold at a “natural” pace (with only a few words from our commercial sponsors). Indeed, it wasn’t that long ago that glam events like the NBA Finals were still being broadcast on tape delay… and the only way to preserve the mystery – assuming you could stay up for the 11:30 p.m. air time – was to find some isolation chamber and meditate for a few hours.

New technologies have not helped much. Satellite radio DJs may still slip in a little unwanted Olympics update. The impossible-to-ignore “crawlers” across ESPN and CNN provide up-to-the-minute results. And anyone who has TiVo’d a sporting event knows the perils of accidentally advancing the program too far, catching the slightest horrifying glimpse of the final results, and effectively ruining the illusion of real-time suspense.

Not that the NBC tape-delayed telecasts are genuinely suspenseful. Because the editors have half a day to package and sequence their highlights, add appropriate background music and script the introductions, a certain cadence, a certain foreshadowing emerges in their coverage that astute viewers can detect. We can tell, for example, within the first couple of minutes on air, whether there has been a big upset or a big disappointment. Just by the intonation of Bob Costas, Jim Lampley or Tom Hammond, we can infer the key stories of the day. The early cutaways to tense family members and the gloom-and-doom music make it fairly easy to anticipate what is to come. But because we’re not quite sure, we can at least fool ourselves into believing that the events unfolding on our plasma screens are live, and so we can let our emotions rise and fall with the athletes we are watching.

Not so if we fail to change the radio station quickly enough when the Olympic kettledrums start beating their familiar song.

Keeping the dream live requires patience, precision synaptic firing, and not a little bit of savvy:

We must learn exactly when sports reports and teasers come on each radio station, and be cat-quick to shut them off.

We must anticipate that truly big Olympic news (i.e. – anything involving even the most obscure American) may leapfrog past the sports into the main body of the newspaper, and hence we must avoid that section, too.

We must change the vertical hold on our televisions to push the news crawlers down into an illegible zone.

We must seriously consider holding off on surfing the net until after NBC has signed off of its Olympics coverage for the night.

When necessary – for example, on the day of the ladies’ figure skating finals – we must impose an all-out news embargo, aware that even traffic and weather reporters could slip in a comment that will ruin the evening’s festivities.

I can’t wait for the Summer Olympics from Beijing in 2008, when each day’s events will have actually happened yesterday.

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