Team figure skating was a notable addition too -- if the rules and combinations seemed overwhelming, it gave us the distinct benefit of a 15-year-old Russian phenom dancing to music from “Schindler’s List.”
The death spiral. Olympics coverage on TV has been about the death of an athlete's loved one since at least the aforesaid Dan Jansen lost his sister during the 1988 Calgary Games. But Jansen's story was rare, and it was legitimate -- his sister was near death when he lined up for the first of his speed-skating runs, and his falling right off the starting line seemed directly related to it. Since then, though, the mother/cousin/sibling with a disability/terminal illness/tragic misfortune has become de rigeur, and at these Olympics you couldn't hear about or from an athlete without hearing that tale too; in fact, it was more notable if you got through one of these segments and everyone was still alive. From Christin Cooper's haranguing of Bode Miller about his late brother to Meredith Vieria's focus on American skeleton medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace's miscarriage, death was everywhere at these Games -- in fact, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune's Nate Carlisle, there were more than 50 stories involving death across NBC and other media outlets.
Sure, a tragedy is a way for viewers to connect to athletes they don't know about, and a human-interest story with the occasional tragic undertone is fine. But turning a sporting event into the obituary pages is exploitative and, after a while, lacking meaning. Here's hoping that in Rio and Peyongchang NBC starts to trust we'll care about the athletes even if they haven't recently undergone a death in the family.
The kids are all right. Olympics are about breakout stars -- Michael Phelps in 2008 being, of course, the gold standard. NBC had those in spades and made sure to milk them for all they were worth this time out. Primarily, it had Gracie Gold, a U.S. figure skater who wasn’t on the map a year ago but stormed through U.S. nationals in January, and Mikaela Shiffrin, a fellow 18-year-old who’s been making waves on the slalom World Cup circuit. Shiffrin didn’t disappoint, winning gold in slalom Friday, and Gold did her part too, helping the U.S. to a team bronze and skating strongly for a fourth-place finish behind some world-class rivals. NBC slightly overdid the "this is the future" angle, but it’s true, they are, and these Games made us glad of that fact.
A different kind of upstart label, meanwhile, attached itself to the South Korean-born, Russian-dwelling Viktor Ahn, who was nothing short of dazzling on the short track -- this after missing Vancouver and changing nationalities in the interim. Ahn won four medals, including three golds, and NBC did a strong job covering his bizarre story.
Now for those Austrian psychiatrists...