The calm before the Vancouver 2010 storm BY BILL MCCOLLOM
Writers are stuffed into small outdoor pens like cattle near the finish
line in most venues. Athletes, who have unobstructed, designated lanes
adjacent to the hoards of milling media, will generally stop and speak
with the press of their home country. When the athletes are done with
those interviews, however, they then march steadfastly past all the other
outstretched digital recording machines with eyes straight ahead, and
ignore the din of questions posed in 10 different languages.
The post-race press conferences can be equally unproductive. Lan-
guage difficulties often lead to monosyllabic answers, and the English
translations on the headsets seem to be more closely related to pig Latin.
The medal winners seated at the interview table are usually pleasant and
willing to answer questions, but more often than not, reporters leave the
conferences with a blank notebook, a deadline looming and a severe bout
of acid indigestion.
NEWS SURROUNDING THE upcoming 2010 Olympic Winter Games
has been surprisingly muted to date. But batten down the hatches, because this is just the calm before the storm. Media madness will soon be
coming to every news outlet near you.
There will be some great stories coming out of these Games, as well
as ample doses of mind-numbing drivel. I won’t be going this year so I
won’t have the opportunity to make my contributions to both spectrums,
but that’s alright. It’s a great gig to be able to witness sports history, but
it’s a journey that rivals The Odyssey in terms
of drama and suffering, and one that leaves a
reporter equally spent at the conclusion.
I suspect that sports writers are currently
scrambling to collect data on all those obscure winter sports that they know little to
absolutely nothing about. Bobsled, skeleton,
curling, ski cross and luge are as foreign to
most Americans as Buzkashi (an Afghani
game played on horseback using a headless
The media-savvy U.S. and Canadian athletes
are generally as forthcoming and accommodating to the seasoned, professional reporters
as they are to the rookies with leather shoes
and no hat, shivering in the finish line pens.
But there are exceptions.
Event organizers try their best to accommodate the media and ensure knowledgeable reporting. They provide spacious press
rooms with cafeterias; mountains of bios and
information on the events; and high-speed
computer connections. At Beaver Creek a
few years ago, officials even arranged for a
tour of the Birds of Prey with course designer
Bernhard Russi. The collection of writers,
mostly on rental skis, snowplowed happily
down the flat upper section of the course until they reached the water-injected section,
which plummets down a near-vertical drop
of several hundred yards. As Russi was speaking, he looked up just in time to dodge four
or five journalists who had lost their footing
and were accelerating down the icy pitch on
their backs, feet waving in the air. Only the B-netting saved them from a nonstop trip to the
lobby of one of the upscale hotels at the foot
of the mountain. All emerged unscathed and
with a healthy respect for the challenges that
the racers face, as well as a good story line.
Bode Miller, for example, can be as chatty,
entertaining, and insightful as any college frat
house buddy when pens, pads and recording
devices are not present. But at press conferences, Miller can be, let’s say, uncooperative,
even at the best of times. Therefore, when the
press started pounding Miller at the Torino
Games for failing to win four gold medals,
staying out late at the bars, letting his country down, and being the anti-Lindsey Vonn,
Miller shunned the press like the Bubonic
plague. After races he could be seen hopping
over fences to avoid the salivating writers and
darting into the sanctuary of his bus outside
the athletes’ village. With editors screaming
for stories on Miller, and writers having only
frozen pens and pockets full of Mylanta to offer, writers were left with few options — make
something up or skewer him with the poison
pen. Most happily obliged.
And that is only the beginning of the trials
and tribulations of covering a major event. In the past I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone to write stories on Olympic halfpipe, aerials and
snowboardcross, and can attest that this is much like trying to write a
plot summary of an Italian opera. Covering alpine ski racing can be just
as daunting for the uninitiated.
For these Games, I suspect that the universality of the web as the prime source of information will also put a strain on writers. The
web is a hungry, piranha-like beast requiring
writers to scramble to publish a preliminary
story even before the event is concluded, followed by several updates with increasingly
more quotes and details. I have to wonder
what will be remaining for the print media — leftovers or the full-course
meal? But with an experienced team of writers making the trek to the
great white north, I’m sure Ski Racing magazine will be up to the challenges, and I look forward to being the ultimate Olympic junkie.
Sure, I’ll miss the excitement that comes with covering the Olympic
Winter Games. Seeing these events firsthand is the ultimate thrill for
every writer and fan of winter sports. But I’ll be happily watching from
the couch with TV remote in hand, computer on my lap, following all the
action. I’ll get some sleep, my hair won’t turn white, and acid indigestion
won’t be an issue.