Curling is the best Olympic sport

Some notes from the bi-annual Olympics crackfest…

I’m starting to say that Curling might be the best Olympic sport. Why?

  • It’s the most dominated by strategy. It also requires precision and grace, but above all the other Olympic sports, long pauses to think about the game are part of the game. If you haven’t guessed, I like strategy.
  • Yes, other sports have in-game strategy, of course, particularly the team sports. And since the gold medalist from 25 years ago in almost every sport would barely qualify, you can make a case that all the sports are mostly mental in their way. But with curling, it’s right there, and I think it edges out the others in how important it is.
  • While it requires precision and athletic skill, it does not require strength and endurance to the human limits. As such, skilled players of all ages can compete. (Indeed, the fact that out-of-shape curlers can compete has caused some criticism.) A few other sports, like sharpshooting and equestrian events, also demand skill over youth. All the other sports give a strong advantage to those at the prime age.
  • Mixed curling is possible, and there are even tournaments. There’s debate on whether completely free mixing would work, but I think there should be more mixed sports, and more encouragement of it. (Many of the team sports could be made mixed, of course mixed tennis used to be in the Olympics and is returning.)
  • The games are tense and exciting, and you don’t need a clock, judge or computer to tell you who is winning.

On the downside, not everybody is familiar with the game, the games can take quite a long time and the tournament even longer for just one medal, and compared to a multi-person race it’s a slow game. It’s not slow compared to an even that is many hours of time trials, though those events have brief bursts of high-speed excitement mixed in with waiting. And yes, I’m watching Canada-v-USA hockey now too.

Now of course there is some bias here. Being Canadian I have had exposure to the game and even curled (though just a couple of times.) Though it is nice to see a sport that, in my 40s, I could still do, and to see other people in my age group being the best in the world.

Other Olympic notes

  • I continue to be amazed at how anybody could watch this without a hard-disk TV recorder. Not just because of the ads but because of the huge number of boring parts that deserve FF. Endless profiles of Apolo Ohno as well as the first half of long races where nothing is actually happening.
  • Being away last weekend, we watched on a couple days delay for a while. That meant I had to stay away from twitter, facebook, the front page of the newspaper and radio to avoid spoilers. I did not manage it.
  • In fact, NBC managed to put spoilers in their own program when watched in sequence, at least here on the west coast. Twice I saw them put up “medal totals” showing medals for events they would not air until the late night segment of their program.
  • Boy, did NBC make a huge deal of the fact that Canadians did not win gold at the prior two home Olypmics of 76 and 88. I don’t think Canadians made as big a deal out of it. On the other hand, it meant that NBC actually covered some Canadians, and even played Canadian gold medal ceremonies with full Oh Canada, a big change.
  • Speaking of which, Canadian fans are pretty used to seeing lots of Canadians place 4th and having to watch the heats to see the local athletes, so medals are of course a nice change. But we’re a small country. Per capita, we’re humiliating the USA, but Norway is humiliating both countries.
  • As noted, it’s clearly more exciting to watch events where you can tell the winner without the aid of a computer or a judge. I am surprised they are not making more use of “virtual line” technologies that can paint a line on the screen where the time-to-beat is, or even paint in a virtual opponent. I know they have it, they’ve done it a few times. I would like to see it more.
  • In fact, I would venture that one way to do time-trial races would be to offer (after the fact) a virtual race with all racers superimposed. Perhaps done in slow-motion in parts to allow commentary on all that is going on. People could elect to watch either version, or both. Yes, they would overlap, especially in things like luge, but you could put in mini-sleds or other tricks to make it exciting. You don’t have to put in everybody, just the top 5-10.
  • A number of sports have become a test of how much the athlete dares to do, with mostly luck determining if they happen to make it work during their one Olympic chance. This results in sports with a lot of fall-downs, and gold going to the one who didn’t. Sometimes it’s not luck, and the winner doesn’t fall down because they rarely fall down while the loser often does, but sometimes it is pure luck, and that’s not the ideal result.
  • I am ambivalent, however about the knock-down sports like short-track speedskating and snowboard-cross. They feature an above-average amount of luck (particularly for those who are knocked down by others.) But there is no denying they are among the more exciting to watch.
  • I’m glad it’s all in HD now, even the CNBC and MSNBC stuff. I’ve gotten to the point where the SD stuff is becoming hard to watch. And now, finally, they seem to be composing their shots for HD. In the old days we would see insane stuff, like cameras coming in tight on figure skaters so we could see their faces, stopping us from seeing their skating.
  • On the other hand, during the opening (and I presume closing ceremonies) they don’t realize that most things are meant to be seen from a distance. That LED polar bear looked great in the full-arena view in HD, but up closer than anybody in the audience could see, you could see the ribs, hurting the effect.
  • The press is being quite critical of the VANOC for various problems. I agree with the criticisms of having too-fast a sliding track, and stupidly walling off the flame because it is next to the broadcast centre. On the other hand, having two ice resurfacers go bad is just bad luck — they did the right thing in having two, and I don’t think the right suggestion is to have three, unless they are known to be unreliable. Likewise the ravine in which the Latvian skier fell — can you really put up padding or walls around every edge in a cross-country course? Whether Vancouver is just too warm a city to have a winter Olympics is a bigger question.

I have created an Olympics tag for my prior Olympics related posts. Many of these ideas I still would promote, such as mixed sports and the use of additional audio tracks to allow me to control how much commentary there is.

DVRs and the Olympics

I agree with your point about using a DVR to watch the Olympics. This has made them much more enjoyable for me. Fast forwarding through the sports I don't like or the countries I don't follow is great. My only wish is that NBC would chop the programs up into smaller pieces. For example, I have been recording the curling matches played during the day, but NBC has been combining the matches with hockey, and a few other sports. The result is recordings that go on for 6-8 hours when I am only interested in the 3 hour curling match. My DVR fills up quickly when this happens. Since very few events are shown live, they should know exactly how long they plan to play a particular event.

Yes, it's huge

I had to put on a 500gb USB disk and I am recording the Olympics on that. This way I can record it all and quickly browse.

In the future, I expect a customized online delivery. For that Olympics it would break up certain events, and show me “the good parts.” But in a way that I can’t readily be sure of the winner by knowing I am getting the edited version. For example, take a time-trial event. It would show me:

  • The winners, of course
  • The athletes I am rooting for or am interested in
  • Enough other non-winners to spice up the mix so I can’t predict the ending.

Then it would also throw in great moments from sports I am not as interested in. Not just a highlight reel, but enough to get into them, if they offered truly great sport. I can always decide to skip. But all I will know is, “There’s something interesting here” but not what.

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