TV Viewers Left to Figure It Out


This time, NBC’s figure skating announcers didn’t give viewers much guidance at all.

Ten days after their incredulity at the results of the pairs competition was followed by the Winter Olympics’ biggest controversy, the three commentators never got around to telling the TV audience why Sarah Hughes won the women’s gold medal.

Indeed, it wasn’t until 11/2 minutes after Thursday night’s results were official--and a camera captured Hughes’ spontaneous reaction, falling to the floor, shrieking and hugging her coach--that a graphic was put on the screen to show who won silver and bronze.

To that point, Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic failed to mention that Irina Slutskaya of Russia had finished second and Michelle Kwan of the United States was third.


Some might have thought Kwan had taken the silver medal, just as she did at the 1998 Olympics in Japan. That’s what was implied when Hammond said: “And for Michelle Kwan, Nagano revisited.”

Before Slutskaya skated, the network showed a graphic showing that Kwan was in first place ahead of Hughes. But the network didn’t explain that Hughes could pass Kwan depending on Slutskaya’s scores.

A skater’s final ranking is reached by adding their placements from the short and long programs. Until Slutskaya skated, Kwan’s combined score would have been enough to trump Hughes.

But Slutskaya’s performance in the free skate earned her second place and pushed Kwan into third for that portion. The placement differential left Kwan with the bronze medal and put Hughes and Slutskaya in a tie. Hughes won the tiebreaker because she won the long program.

Even by the time NBC closed its show 25 minutes later, there wasn’t a full explanation of why Hughes was first, Slutskaya second, and Kwan third, other than a reference to a “three-way tie.”

The only attempt at translating the results was Hamilton saying: “Mathematically, it had to be perfect. Mathematically, Sarah Hughes had to win the long [program] and Michelle Kwan had to be third in the long for this result. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Hamilton was also the one who most clearly framed what had happened right after the results were known.

“Sarah Hughes wins the gold medal! What an upset! What an unexpected result,” he said. “But the performance of the night won the gold medal. What a deserving gold-medal performance.”


To Bezic’s credit, she did make clear right after Hughes’ program--Slutskaya, Kwan and another U.S. contender, Sasha Cohen, were still to skate--that it was spectacular and put the American in position for a top finish.

“She’s just made a case for herself,” Bezic said when Hughes finished. “Those three skaters are going to have to skate their best. What a phenomenal performance.”

Then, after Slutskaya closed the competition, Bezic set the stage for the surprising final result, saying, “Sarah’s was the performance of the evening. What will the judges do?”




Figure Skating Judging

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