March Madness 2014 – Here we go!

Well, I had meant to do a post on the Winter Olympics, reflecting on how nice that it wasn’t dangerous and how nice that Team USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White won gold in ice dancing and that Bob Costas managed to pull through back on the anchor desk coverage.  And, how nice was that closing ceremony, even though I will never understand why NBC insisted on using (exploiting) the Olympics to promote its not very good new sitcoms.

But, then international realpolitick prevailed and kind of made my positive sentiment rather murky.  The Russia-Crimea-Ukraine situation is pretty mind-boggling, but the world is nuts, I think.

I kept looking for other things to distract me.  PBS NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien (the real one, although I’m sure he gets enough attention from Star Trek fans, since the Trek universe has its own Miles O’Brien) had quite a situation in losing his arm due to complications from compartment syndrome after his arm got banged up by his equipment.  He talked about the experience on the NewsHour, and I was so moved and wished him the best of luck.  Maybe his being a science journalist can bring some perspective to the situation.

Meanwhile, in time for the anniversary of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown of Japan, the NewsHour aired O’Brien’s three-part story on the status of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, with the meltdown’s consequences still ongoing,  Really fascinating exploration on the science and the policies, and I recommend watching the story.

The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines, Flight 370, is just capturing our imagination, with the endless speculation.  When or if we get actual evidence is a real question, which might lead to some kind of answer, even if still unsatisfactory.

Amid all the turmoil in the world, I look forward to March Madness as a nice distraction.  It feeds the economy to some extent (umm, all that junk food and cable tv and gambling, etc.).  We enter the delusion that scholar-athletes can bring a little glory, and maybe some money via the NCAA will get to flow to other, less high profile NCAA sports. At least, that’s what I keep hoping every year.

Of course, every year, I keep thinking that I’ll pay more attention to the regular season and I’m too casual a fan to really watch much.  My Alma Mater undergrad school’s men’s basketball team actually did pretty well this season (certainly tons better than our football team this past season), playing competitively outside and inside the Ivy League, until Harvard blew us away in a blow out.  I’m impressed that Alma Mater got invited to play some post-season tournament (notwithstanding that I never heard of CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT)).  I’ve heard of the NIT, and I don’t know what to make of the CIT, but hopefully people get some fun out of this.

Time.com has a good post on the five games to watch, among the 64 teams of the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball tournament.  I get the feeling that I’ll be too stuck at work to get to watch the games I’d like to watch.  Manhattan College has Louisville in (that’s what they call it these days) Round 2.  Hopefully Manhattan gets to be competitive.

I’m also hoping that Harvard gets a real shot against Cincinnati; hope springs eternal that the Ivy League can show that it can play with everyone else.  Then again, I picked them this time in my brackets so… eh, who knows?  Of course, I haven’t even done my brackets yet and it’s not like I followed any regular season games.  I’m also wishful about the Big East, but that’s old-fashioned local home region talking there.  Ah well…

I read this article in (dead tree edition) Sports Illustrated, about the Princetown v. Georgetown game, reputedly saving the NCAA.  Worthwhile read about that 1980′s era of college basketball and the personalities (the coaches, the players, the variety of issues/themes – race, class, the rise of Cinderella in the NCAA).

Meanwhile, President Obama has made his picks for his men’s brackets.  I guess he wants a distraction like the rest of us.

On with the rest of March.  Maybe we can some consistent spring temperatures already!

More Sochi Olympics 2014

This stuff has been addictive, as usual.  And, perhaps less mind-blowing, because Winter Olympics isn’t nearly as activity-filled as Summer Olympics.

But, really, who would have expected Bob Costas being away from the desk this long?  Meredith Vieira covered the desk on Friday and Saturday, giving Matt Lauer a break and reportedly becoming the 1st woman to do the prime-time slot for NBC.  (Mary Carillo, I believe, had hosted the late night coverage in the Olympics for NBC; they didn’t want to ask her to do prime time?).

Lauer was on Sunday night; the journey of Costas’ eyes became a bit of Internet fodder.  Fortunately, Costas will be back Monday night – finally!

I liked how this item from WBUR (Boston’s NPR) explained the difference between “Ladies’ Olympic sport” versus “Women Olympic Sport.” (which I found via NPR.org, I believe)  Really fascinating, how it turns out to be based on which international governing body governs which sport, and how the particular governing body wasn’t going to go change the name of the older sports to be “Women [whatever].”  Oh well.

“I had the whole country behind me…but I come away with nothing to show them and give back to them to say ‘thank you for following me and believing in me.’”—Shani Davis on his performance during the Sochi Olympics. Well, I still say “thank you” for your career, Shani Davis, even if I am disappointed. I just felt bad for the entire Team USA speedskaters. That look on Shani Davis’ face is just so sad, and who knows if he can be back in 4 years? Who knows if it was really the speed suit factor or sports psychology? (ex., the saga of Dan Jansen‘s Olympic speedskating was always one of those “Olympics does things to an athlete’s brain” to me – external tragedies and then internal pressure are just combustible).

Also – the Dutch are just doing ridiculously well in speedskating this time.

I thought it was just me, but apparently skeleton actually is less dangerous than luge, to the extent that luge is faster.  According to the Slate article I linked there, by Justin Peters, there is some issue of physics (i.e., the skeleton, as head first, loses speed due to the helmet of the athlete) and engineering (i.e., those luges are no joke as equipment).

People got really excited that US beat Russia in Men’s hockey on Saturday (see here and here).   I watched on Saturday night the highlights  and the rebroadcast of the overtime and shootout.  Not that I think that it reached “Miracle on Ice” level from 1980 (this wasn’t a medal contention game, after all, as thankfully even NPR remembered).  That the Russians’ goal got invalidated during the 3rd period was understandably  frustrating, but then neither team was winning during overtime, and then to take it to the shootout – well, that was just arresting television. T.J. Oshie’s winning shots made people happy. I mean, people were in bars at 7am to 10am (EST) to watch this game.

Then, Sunday, Team USA won with Phil Kessel’s hat trickThe Canadians are still in it, too.  (they are trying to win gold again, after all).  It’s like the NHL All-Star game with the excitement, only for a longer time period.

Jamaica’s two-man bobsled team didn’t do very well at all, but the point is that they tried.

Watching the Men’s individual Figure Skating was pretty brutal.  Sure, I saw the headlines and only caught the prime time edition on tv, but watching Jeremy Abbott fall early during his short program was still brutal.  But, the crowd gave support to get him up and go finish his program – that was Abbott courage right there, and an Olympic spirit: when you fall, you still get up, don’t give up, and finish anyway.

The pressure was intense during the long program on Friday.  I liked that Abbott redeemed himself (even though he really wasn’t in medal contention).   Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan won gold (trivia: he was coached by Canada’s Brian Orser and he was of Sendai - the city affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011).  Patrick Chan of Canada won silver.  Denis Ten of Kazhakstan won bronze (trivia: according to NBC, Ten is of the Korean ethnic minority of Kazhakstan).  Sure, this made Yuzuru Hanyu the first Japanese man to win gold ice skating, and probably made Denis Ten the first person from Kazhakstan to win an Olympic medal in figure skating (and Chan yet another Canadian man to win Olympic silver) – but I thought it was interesting that the podium had an all-ethnic Asian podium there.

And, thereafter, Chan is still dealing with the pressure of not getting gold for Canada (and nice of Orser to be pretty compassionate about it, since he had been in that position, notwithstanding that he was coaching the winning opponent).  Probably a good idea not to be too hasty about retiring while still processing what happened.

I finally got to watch some live Olympics, watching ice dancing’s short program live during the daytime today.  Comprehensive and fun (if only because I wasn’t watching everyone fall down over their quads or axles etc.).  Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated so beautifully, practically in their top form again, but Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White were amazing; the long program on Monday will be a competitive one.  Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir are the it-commentators of ice skating, and they kept things nice and entertaining (I work during the day, so I couldn’t catch them for any live broadcast).

On the other hand: Scott Hamilton’s enthusiasm is kind of hard to replace (this gag showed how his commentary can work just about anywhere).

Also, the ice dancing short program was a fun opportunity to watch Maia and Alex Shibutani, a.k.a., “the Shib sibs” (per Deadspin), the second of three American ice dancer teams at the Olympics (h/t Angry Asian Man blog).  I thought that it was nice to see them, since Alex, at the least, was previously seen on tv being a cheerleader during the team event with Team USA (as seen in the photo/screencap via Deadspin).

I don’t get curling, but it’s kind of mesmerizing to watch.

Also, how come I haven’t discovered Deadspin before?  Their Olympic coverage is freaking hilarious, particularly the running gag about the mascot, deemed by Deadspin “The Nightmare Bear” (LOL).

More Olympics to watch, while we can do it…

Sochi Olympics 2014!

On to Sochi Olympics 2014!  At least the Olympics commercials are all the feel-good stuff, compared to the okay-whatever aspect of the Super Bowl commercials.

Google’s founders had the motto of something along the lines of don’t do evil. While I’m never quite sure of what to make of Google half the time, I’ll give them loads of credit for the Google Doodle on the 1st day of Olympic competition, with its citation of the Olympics Charter: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

All that idealism…

Then again, all the talk about how ridiculous things have been on the way to Sochi in Russia… (i.e., how ready will Sochi be, or well, when even the water in the hotels freaked the journalists out, among many other problems…).  As this NPR.org post by Krishnadev Calamur notes, these fears of readiness and the bloopers aren’t really new; they get said about all the Olympics, no matter the season.

But, you got to wonder how the levels of ridiculous can get, when even NBC’s broadcast opened on the Thursday night (the night before the Opening Ceremony, since some rounds of competition just had to start early) with Bob Costas’ eye not looking very good, due to an infection.  At least he was upfront about it and a little self-deprecating about his wearing glasses, although I cracked that I hoped that the noxious looking Sochi water wasn’t the cause of the infection (and I don’t think that I was the only one wondering about that).  Anyway, I thought of Costas’ glasses as his Harry Potter glasses, but he had referred to them as the Mr. Peabody glasses – which would make sense in terms of what generation of cartoons you’re into…

And, later in the evening, NBC had the commercial for the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie. Ah – corporate synergy/marketing! Nice one, Costas!

Eventually, three days later, Costas also acknowledged that his studio looks like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.  These are, of course, attempts to distract us… from the fact that we have to get over the ridiculous tape delay of NBC.  It got really annoying to watch a piece of some skating, then some luge, then back to skating… and not really know when is on what, as usual.  The Internet helps somewhat, but oh well.

The Opening Ceremony had formality and charm, and somehow got boring during the Parade of Nations (well, ok, that probably happens a lot more than I keep expecting). And, of course, the blooper of the notorious snowflake that did not bloom into the fifth ring of the Olympic Rings.  Hmm. See here for a nice angle view of that from NPR’s On the Road tumblr.

The NPR blog had much more on the Opening Ceremony, compared to, say, NBC’s edited-for-time version.  In fact, NBC had cut off the the anti-discrimination part in the speech of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, which I had to learn about from Slate, where Daniel Politi notes:

a surprising edit considering how much attention Russia’s anti-gay laws have received in the run-up to the Olympics.

“It is possible—even as competitors—to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason,” read one portion of the speech that NBC edited out of the ceremony.

NBC said the edit was simply a time issue.

Also, I don’t know, maybe NBC could have had, say, actual Russian translators, since neither NBC’s own Meredith Vieira or Matt Lauer, nor David Remnick of the New Yorker (who was there to help the NBC people have context) were translating things and their summaries seemed so not-contextual.

I totally missed the part of the Russian Police Choir singing… Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”  I had to see this on NBC’s website. Actually, they sounded kind of good and kind of funny.

Actually, NBC’s introduction opening was beautiful and powerful.  NBC did do that one thing very well.

And, the pomp and circumstance of ballet dance and modern dance, and classical music to do a 1000 years of Russian history in half an hour were mesmerizing. If I didn’t appreciate Russian arts before, I certainly did after watching that. But, it felt awkward how, say, the period of the Russian Revolution(s) (one to get rid of the czarist era, the other to become Lenin-style Communist), World War II, and the Cold War and the Stalin era, not to mention the 1990′s and the pre-Putin era were very much minimized, at the expense of glory and hope.

Well, I understand accentuating the positive stuff is what one would want to sell in an Opening Ceremony, as opposed to, say, the London Summer Olympics’ celebration of their health care system (which was nice but really weird).

I’m a sucker anyway; I’ll watch the Olympics. The US’ slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg telling Bob Costas: “It’s sick” – hilarious. I watched some of the skiathlon – just watching made me feel tired, because these were men who were way fitter than I can imagine. And the team skating event – well, I got to say that the Russian dominance in ice skating might be back.  They won the gold in this new event, and the individual events will be quite the watch.

And, maybe it’s just me, but Sochi’s cauldron containing the Olympic fire – it looks so much like Olympic Stadium of Montreal (well, I grew up visiting there every summer, so go figure).  Pretty in that modern art way.

Ridiculousness continued though: the US bobsledder Johnny Quinn, who had to break down his bathroom door after his shower because he got locked in and nobody was coming to his rescue. Seriously: his bathroom door looked like cardboard. And, I think the US Olympic Committee ought to pay for the door to be fixed, since Quinn wouldn’t have been in that position but for the USOC.  Arguably, anyway.

Armin Zoeggeler – the “Superman of Sliding” – winning a bronze in luge for Italy – having been in every Winter Olympics since Lillyhammer 1994.  Slip and slide all right.  As Seth Myers noted once: “The Summer Olympics are a grand spectacle of sports; the Winter Olympics is just 48 different kinds of sliding.”

Or what about all those cute photos of the stray dogs of Sochi? Aww!  We’ll see what’s next as the Olympics continues.