Sochi Olympic TV moment: Wise halfpipe, Weir and Lipinski acrobatics

Sochi Olympic TV moment: Wise halfpipe, Weir and Lipinski acrobatics
Men's freestyle skiing halfpipe medalists, from left, Mike Riddle of Canada (silver), David Wise of the United States (gold), and Kevin Rolland of France (bronze), congratulate one another during the medalceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Cold-weather football games are about as perfect an example of the form as you'll find. So what better way to watch a skiing competition than with a blizzard backdrop?

That hasn't happened much in global-warmed Sochi. But on Tuesday night viewers were treated to a gold-medal run from the ski halfpiper David Wise against the flaky white stuff, along with some rain, and it was a doozy on both counts.

Okay, so ski halfpipe is a) an entirely new event and b) one that seems to be practiced by athletes in all of four countries.


But Wise, a 23-year-old husband and dad (as we were reminded multiple times) from Reno, was still pretty great to watch. He had a first run that involved the flips and spins that has made him a multiple X-Games champion, including back-to-back 720-degree spins and some impressive ski-grabs. And he did it as the snow was bucketing down, which seemed all the more stark in a brilliant shot high above the halfpipe that Roger Deakins himself would be proud of, Wise twisting and contorting himself against a black sky as snow poured all around him.

As Wise watched his Canadian competitor and final challenger Justin Dorey (hey, we didn’t say the four countries were far apart) flub his final run, the camera caught Wise blowing his lips out in an expression of joyous relief. Then the newly minted medalist told the audience — for a change among professional athletes -- what he was really feeling.

“That was really nerve-wracking,” he said. “Just watching him skip out all this relief flooded over me,” he added, referring to how Dorey ended up grounded with a bad landing.

Speaking of being grounded, Wednesday night marks the start of the women's figure-skating championship with the short program. That means some exciting teen skaters such as Gracie Gold and Julia Lipnitskaia--and coverage more buttoned-down than some of the skaters' outfits, courtesy of the earnest troika of Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic.

On Tuesday there was a glimpse of what we can expect when, in a Ryan Seacrest feature on the South Korean superstar Yu-Na Kim, we saw archival footage in which Hammond offered bursts such as  “The coronation is complete. Long live the queen.”

(Said package was equally a yawner. Seacrest went all the way across the Pacific but mainly managed insight such as  “In the crush of celebrity, Kim holds steady, a young woman with special power to do great things,” and, “Kim has a can't-miss reputation and sells everything from milk to smartphones in South Korea.” He also compared her to Beyonce and Madonna without explaining why, beyond the fact that she’s, you know, really popular.)

Into this stuffy air comes Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, the former figure-skating Olympic medalists and newly minted commentators who have been serving as a kind of broadcast B-team in Sochi. Given their daytime duties I haven’t had a chance to see as much of them as I'd like, and plenty has been written about them already, but I was struck by how lively and thoughtful they came across in a studio session with Bob Costas on Tuesday night breaking down the upcoming women's championship.

It wasn’t a David Gergen level of  on-air insight, sure, but it was fun and fresh, and they weren’t afraid to criticize as much as compliment. And even when they were paying deference, they did it with a sense of flair. (Weir on Kim feeling intense pressure back home: “So the Olympics might be like a vacation for her.")

At the end of the segment Costas thanked them. ‘You've been doing a great job helping out on the coverage," he said. I have a feeling it won't be very long before they're doing more than helping.


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