Italy’s Caterina Carpano (in yellow at far right) lands on top of Canadian snowboarder Meryeta O’Dine during the women’s leg of the mixed team snowboard cross big final at the Beijing Olympics. (Photo credit: YouTube)

Italy’s Caterina Carpano (in yellow at far right) lands on top of Canadian snowboarder Meryeta O’Dine during the women’s leg of the mixed team snowboard cross big final at the Beijing Olympics. (Photo credit: YouTube)

The Editor’s Desk: It’s the Danger Games!

Viewership of the Winter Olympics is down this year, but there’s a simple way to change that

Did you see Prince George snowboarder Meryeta O’Dine’s dramatic final run, that ended with her and teammate Eliot Grondin winning a bronze medal in the mixed team snowboard cross big final at the Beijing Olympics last week?

O’Dine was in third place out of the four women competing in the final when, about halfway through the run, she and Italy’s Caterina Carpano — who was right behind O’Dine — came out of a roller. Carpano jumped a bit higher out of the roller than O’Dine did and came down smack on top of the Canadian, sending both athletes sprawling to the ground at the foot of another hill.

Who would win bronze came down to who could get to the top of the hill first and push off to complete the course. Both athletes had snowboards strapped to their feet, and watching O’Dine turn her board sideways to the hill and hop her way up it, inches at a time, was to see pure determination in action. Gold and silver were out of reach, but bronze was on the line, and dammit, she was going to make it to the top first if it was the last thing she did.

Sadly, you probably didn’t see the run (at least not live): both CBC and NBC, which have the Canadian and American broadcast rights to the Games, are reporting a massive drop in viewership, even with a lot of events scheduled for what is prime time viewing in North America. I’m somewhat puzzled as to why more people aren’t tuning in to the Winter Olympics, since — as O’Dine’s race shows — many of the sports involve the potential for violence, even catastrophe, that seems to be a large part of the attraction of North American football, or race car driving, or even hockey.

It says something that hockey is actually one of the tamer sports on offer at the Winter Games. Don’t believe me? Consider:

Snowboarding: Despite the name, these sports do not (at least in Beijing) take place in snow, which is soft and fluffy. They take place on ice, which is neither soft nor fluffy, and involve long periods in the air before coming back down on ice. You are also strapped to what is essentially a large plank, just to make things more interesting.

Skiing: Again, when you picture skiing you might think of people cutting a graceful path through untouched snow. In reality, the skiers are strapped to two narrow planks, and proceed down what is essentially an ice rink on the side of a mountain, hitting speeds of well over 100 km/h.

Speed skating: Everyone has knives on their feet. And have you watched short track speed skating? It’s like Black Friday morning at Best Buy, but on ice. With knives.

Biathlon: Yes, it’s cross-country skiing — where the potential for disaster is fairly limited — but it’s combined with rifles. Yes, the competitors have firearms. Fun!

Ski jumping: If you cannot see the potential for disaster in launching yourself off a 90-metre jump into space, then you have no imagination, or are Eddie the Eagle.

Bobsled: One, two, or four people sit in a fiberglass shell and attain speeds of more than 150 km/h. Driving that fast in a car on a bare, straight road is somewhat scary (allegedly); now imagine doing that in an icy tube, in a vehicle with limited (at best) braking ability.

Luge: Competitors lie on their back on what is basically a sled and proceed down a slide made of ice, with very little ability to course-correct, slow down, or even stop. Fun fact: the fastest luger ever recorded hit a top speed of 154 km/h.

Skeleton: Like luge, only you lie face down. I think the name says it all, really.

What this means is that there is vast potential to market the Winter Olympics to viewers, if broadcasters would only go the right way about it. A little lighter on the flag-waving and “all one family”, and a little more emphasis on ice, speed, danger, and knives should do it. And don’t forget those biathletes: they’re armed.



editorial@accjournal.ca

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