Thursday, February 11, 2010

"We're Never Coming Back Here" - Günther Hujara, FIS Alpine Referee, at Whistler in 1998

Kitzbühel, Austria, January 2007

In terms of actuarial tables, my lease on life is due to expire somewhere between 2040 and 2050. I believe by that time, three of the biggest American cultural and financial powerhouses of the 20th Century - TV networks NBC, ABC, and CBS - will be bankrupt, worthless relics of another age.

Like the American railroads and American car companies, those three networks are doomed to ride a tsunami of their own overconfidence, criminally poor management, and changing technology straight into bankruptcy court.

It is also likely, when NBC's corporate obituary is written, that Lindsey Vonn's appearance on The Today Show this morning will be worth a mention.

Please indulge me while I meander across several digressions to my point.

NBC paid approximately $800,000,000 for the rights to televise the 2010 Olympics. That's almost a billion dollars. That was just one in a long, sad series of colossal NBC gaffes. No other country pays even 10% of that amount. US networks perennially overpay for Olympics rights by several hundred percent, then they botch the coverage to the point where it's unwatchable by putting in 20 minutes of commercials every hour to pay for their folly. But NBC lost this game of musical chairs worse than any other network in history; they got stuck holding the 2010 bag at a moment in time when the bottom fell out of the planet's economy.

NBC has already admitted that they are going to lose at least $250,000,000 on the deal. That's a quarter of a billion dollars. In a historically tight economy. I would venture to say that if the the 2010 Olympics are spectacular beyond NBC's wildest dreams, they will lose "only" that amount. Realistically, they will lose almost double that.

NBC's chances of an extraordinarily great Olympics are partly dependent on the weather in Vancouver, and if you've read anything on the subject recently, you know the weather in Vancouver usually sucks. It is forecast to suck even worse than usual for at least the first 5 days of The Games. The weather at Whistler (site of alpine skiing), dodgy even at the best of times, is terrible and getting worse. There's a very good chance that the downhills scheduled for this weekend will not come off, for reasons I'll get into later. The weather at Cypress Mountain, site of the halfpipe and acro ski events, is so warm that VANOC is flying in snow by helicopter. If you've ever seen a helicopter ferrying snow, it's a pitiful sight. Take it from somebody who lived through the 2007 Hahnenkamm races in Austria, with 4 choppers working dawn to dusk in a futile attempt to save the race. A chopper can only handle maybe a ton of snow at a time, and a ton of snow is about half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. In other words, not much.

One of the few potential lifelines NBC is clinging to is a possible record-setting performance by Lindsey Vonn, the statuesque World Champion downhiller with an All-American smile who has dominated alpine ski racing for the past three seasons. Up until today, NBC thought Vonn stood at least a decent chance of having a Michael Phelps Olympics, running the table of all 5 of her events. NBC has been promoting the hell out of this possibility, hoping against hope that they can parlay Vonn into enough viewers to keep their losses to “only” a quarter-billion. This morning, Vonn went on The Today Show and dropped a bombshell: last week she sustained a serious injury while training in Austria, and she might not even compete. Vonn has a shin injury, which for a skier is one of the worst injuries possible. It's like a tennis player who injures the palm on her racket hand. Skiers “feel” the snow through their shins, and their shins take a terrible beating when they race. They simply can't race with a bad shin.

If Vonn is out, or even injured to where her performances are compromised, then NBC goes from seriously fucked to totally, completely, historically, interplanetarily, intergalactically fucked.

Now for the weather. As I've mentioned repeatedly in previous postings, Whistler has the worst weather of any major ski resort in the world. The weather at Whistler is consistently atrocious. The problem is two-fold. First of all, Whistler is too close to the coast. It gets all the weather coming in off the Pacific Ocean. And it's too low. Whistler Village is only 2,000 feet above sea level. Whistler has got a simply awesome mountain (> 5000 ft vertical drop) with a superb downhill course, however, nobody ever gets a chance to race there, because it's always either pissing down rain or fogged in. Or both.

As I wrote previously in this space, my Winter Sports Group went there three years in a row to race World Cup (1996-7-8), and we never got a racer out of the gate.

World Cup and OWG ski events have a protocol for downhill (DH). The protocol states that for safety (and marketing) reasons, a downhill race is preceded by three “training runs”. These training runs take place on the DH course and are timed (some, such as the training runs for the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel, are even televised). Training is usually held over three consecutive days. In order for the downhill to take place, at least one of the training runs must take place, and a competitor must at least start at least one training run in order to be eligible to compete in the race. (NOTE: I used "at least" twice in that previous sentence because in order to be legal, a racer has to start, but does not have to finish.) Placings in training don't matter; the training runs simply give the racers an at-speed look at the course to reduce the chances they'll wind up in the nets (and therefore in the medical evacuation chopper) when it comes time to race.

In basketball, the expression "nothing but net" means something very good. In DH.....not so much.

So...the Mens DH is scheduled for Saturday, and the Ladies' Super-Kombined DH is scheduled for Sunday. (Note: the “kombined” DH and the DH are not the same thing, but they're both DHs. I'll explain that in another post later in the Olympics). Mens training today (Wednesday) was canceled due to fog. Big surprise. Both the men and women will attempt training Thursday and Friday. The men have reserved Saturday morning for a desperation training run if the schedule gets completely hosed by the weather. The women are also scheduled to train Saturday.

Already, all the remaining training runs and both races are in doubt. A big front is blowing in which may cancel training on Thursday and Friday with rain and fog. The front will then turn to wet gloppy snow, which will dump on the water-injected course all weekend, possibly rendering it too dangerous to race on (think wet, gloppy snow on top of an ice rink with a hockey game scheduled).

Guenther Hujara, the FIS referee, the guy quoted above vowing never to return to Whistler's shitty weather, has already rescheduled tomorrow's training to 10:30 from 11:45 in an effort to beat the incoming weather front.

And so it starts.

From FIS Alpine News:

Three training runs are planned to be carried out between Wednesday, February 10, and Friday, February 12. The men's downhill competition is scheduled for Saturday, February 13, a day after the official opening ceremony of the Games.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the next few days is not favorable for the region north of Vancouver as rain and snow are both projected to continue through Sunday.


Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the next few days is not favorable for the region north of Vancouver as rain and snow are both projected to continue through Sunday.

No comments: