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Post-Olympics Reprise: One More Look at Theresa Corigliano's On-the-Scene Olympics Report
March 1, 2010  | By Theresa Corigliano  | 2 comments

[Bianculli here: Our newest TV WORTH WATCHING contributor, Theresa Corigliano, filed her first report straight from the Olympic Games, where she compared a lifetime of Olympic TV viewing to her weeks of being there in Vancouver. Her piece was posted for a few days just before the Olympics ended -- but for those who didn't catch it, it deserves an instant reprise. So here it is...]


Watching Olympics With Help from TV Osmosis

By Theresa Corigliano

The first Olympics I clearly remember was Grenoble, 1968. Instead of pictures of Monkees or Beatles in my high school locker, I had pictures of Peggy Fleming and Jean-Claude Killy. I wanted to marry Killy.


I dreamed about bumping into him somewhere in the mountain town of Val d'Isere. I can still see the bright green of the skating costume that Peggy Fleming's mother sewed for her when she won her medal, and recently found the Life magazine I saved all these years with Peggy on the cover. I keep it because a friend told me Peggy and her husband own a winery in Northern California and sometimes host private dinner parties at their house to talk about their wine. If I ever get to go to one of these soirees, I am going to bring the Life magazine. I visited their wine shop in Los Gatos, CA. Framed, on the wall, is the skating costume, and her skates and her medal. I cried when I saw it.

That's how much the Olympics have always meant to me. For all these years, I have watched the Games obsessively. I always weep when they end, and think to myself: Four years. That's forever in human years. I always think with a chill, how will my life be different four years from now?

Of course, it is always different in ways I could not have imagined, some good, some bad. But the joy I feel when it is time for the Games to return is unparalleled, compared to anything else I anticipate watching. And I am a TV girl. I love TV. I work in TV. I watch TV. But the Games are the kind of drama you cannot make up.

The sacrifice these people make to participate moves me. I was always a sucker for ABC's "Up Close and Personal" peeks into the athletes' lives (though now that I know better, I sometimes wince at the clumsy reach of some of these stories, so the networks can build excitement where there is none: Lindsey Vonn's shin! Russian ice dancers' aboriginal costume controversy! Bode Miller, from disgrace to redemption! Please!)


To my mind, no one did the Olympics better than ABC. There was no better voice of the Games than Jim McKay. But maybe that's because you never forget your first. When I sometimes see clips from these long-ago games, they look like kinescopes compared to how they unspool in my head. In fact, the Innsbruck Games, which I dimly recall, were broadcast in black and white, but those memories of mine -- they are in Technicolor.

So when I had the opportunity this month to go to my first Olympics, as exciting as it was for me to realize I was finally in a position to make it work, I also was a little worried. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but it occurred to me that it could feel like looking down the wrong end of a telescope, a much narrower perspective. Would I miss feeling that feeling, as a TV viewer, of being omniscient?

Having just returned from Vancouver, still glowing, I can honestly say, it was specific, and different, and challenging and exhausting -- and it also was the experience of a lifetime. It was one of the happiest weeks of my entire life.

I smiled constantly -- I don't know, maybe being Canadian is contagious -- and every event I got to participate in was a thrill.


The Opening Ceremony, where we were given drums to play, and ponchos to wear (to everyone who asked, yes, we were wearing pale blue paper ponchos, the better to make us into the background where the light spectacular could play), and two different torches to flash and swirl.

The normal hill ski jump: a three-hour journey to Whistler, where we sat with happy Poles and Germans and Norwegians, and saw only the thrill of victory moments. The short-track night: when the Koreans went down like bowling balls and Ohno found himself just one medal short of his new nickname -- Apolo 7. The pairs skating, the men's short. With no commentary to rely on, I made sure I read newspapers and magazines even more obsessively and more intently for information. Who was injured? Who was favored? With no expert in my ear, I had to be my own color guy.

The irony was that some of the venues were offering little radios with an in-house commentary network for $20, but it was so poorly publicized around the arenas, or I was so immune to whatever ads there were, I didn't hear about it until the last event I was at. But it turned out to be a good thing.

Here's what happened instead. I found myself talking to my friend Marie about the high jump, the body position of the athletes over their skis. I heard myself critiquing the pairs' teams and the men figure skaters for my friend. I talked about toes pointed in boots, finishing a jump, doubling a jump rather than tripling it, the speed and leg position in the spins.


I knew that when a speed skater is in last position it means nothing for the champions; it's a strategy. I remembered athletes of games past and what they had done up till Vancouver. I knew my Olympics history. Marie said, "How do you know all this?" -- and that's when the two-word answer came to mind: TV osmosis.

I realized I know what I know because I have been watching and listening closely for over 30 years, and it stuck. Everything Dick Button has ever said, or Peggy Fleming or Sandra Bezic, or Scott Hamilton, Keith Jackson, Curt Gowdy or Chris Schenkel has stuck with me, and it stuck because I loved it. I realized I didn't need TV to enjoy the Games, but having watched the Olympics on TV all these years made it possible for me to have had the wonderful experience I had last week. TV didn't rot my brain; it anchored me.

What I did miss most, of course, was the aforementioned overview.

When you are at the Olympics, you're lucky to fit in one event a day, and pretty much have no idea what else is going on or what the results are. The one day we tried to do two events (ski jumping at 9 a.m., over at noon, and speed skating at 5 p.m. -- sounds doable, right?), we barely made it to the second event. When you're at the Olympics in this post 9/11 world, the start time of the event has no bearing on when you have to get there. Factoring in travel and security checks, we were often at a venue three hours before it began. That can cut into your day.

olympics 10 georgia-nodar-kumaritashvil.jpg

You would hear things in passing about other competitions (food station lady to souvenir sales clerk: "We won the gold medal!"), or the horrible news about the Georgian athlete who died while training. So I still counted on the late night Olympic wrap-ups on NBC, or CTV's saturated coverage of the Games for a rundown of what else had happened that day.

In truth, I couldn't wait to see the Opening ceremony on TV, because sitting in BC Place, we not only had no idea how all the special effects looked, we also had no idea till we watched television that there was a fourth post to the Olympic cauldron that didn't rise when it was supposed to rise. We couldn't tell the difference. The replays of the skating performances showed nuances that the naked eye can't possibly see, which is why the judges and commentators rely on their screens at the venues.

And as far as soaking up the atmosphere of the Games, we asked everyone we met where we should go in Vancouver; with no Today show to tell us the must-sees, we found our own.

We were out in the world, with the world, and that is something that television cannot communicate. Turn around at an art gallery, there are the Czech hockey coaches. Who are those guys buying pins? It's the curling team, in their pop art golf pants. Is that Sacha Cohen sitting next to us, in worse seats? Yes, it is, right next to Evan Lysacek's combustible sisters.

The Russian lady sitting next to me at the men's short waves two flags, because her husband is Canadian -- and she tells me conspiratorially that Evgeni Pluschenko was persuaded to un-retire by a concerned Soviet Skating federation, who feared their skaters, for the first time in years, might be shut out of the medals.


We were truly LIVE at the Games, and I am here to tell you, that is the remarkable difference you don't truly understand until you are living it -- and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. When London rolls around, and Sochi, I may be watching the Games on TV as I always have done, but Vancouver's Olympic flame will burn in a different way for me ... because I was there.

[Go to the original posting, GUEST BLOG #78, for previous comments -- then add your own here. -- David B.]


[Theresa Corigliano, our newest regular contributor at TV WORTH WATCHING, has an eclectic background in book publishing, sportswriting, and primarily, for the last 20 years, television -- as an executive, screenwriter and reporter.]



Carrie H. said:

I have to admit I actually like Minute to Win It. It's very entertaining!

Comment posted on March 19, 2010 2:23 PM
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