Pop Culture Junkette

Addicted to pop culture.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympics 2010, Saturday, Feb. 27

Today I watched:
Speedskating, women's pursuit, semifinals and finals
Speedskating, men's pursuit, finals
Snowboarding, men's parallel giant slalom, qualifications
Skiing, women's cross-country 30,000m mass start
Ice hockey, Slovakia vs. Finland, bronze medal match
Skiing, men's slalom
Bobsled, men's four-man, runs 3 and 4
Figure skating, champions gala
Curling, men's, Canada vs. Norway, gold medal match
Curling, men's, Sweden vs. Switzerland, bronze medal match

Most exciting event of the day? Cross-country, of course. It amazes me that the skiers are racing for over an hour and a half and yet the race still ends in a sprint: the gold and silver medalists were separated by just .3 seconds at the end of the race. Perhaps more surprising is that the bronze medalist was more than a minute and a half behind the first two finishers. It seems that almost every cross-country and biathalon event in these Olympics has had a dramatic finish, and this was no exception.

The bronze medal hockey match was exciting as well. Slovakia led 3-1 in the third period when Finland scored three unanswered goals, gaining the lead. With three minutes left in the game Slovakia went on a two-minute power play and by the end of the power play they had pulled their goalie, meaning they had six skaters on the ice to Finland's four. Despite several great scoring chances, Slovakia came up one goal short for the second night in a row, and Finland earned the bronze.

The speedskating pursuit events were exciting, even if the US didn't win, and the figure skating exhibition was entertaining, although not something I would have aired in HD instead of hockey.

The bronze medal curling match turned out to be more entertaining television than the gold medal match. The Canadians won the gold pretty easily. The bronze medal game was 4-3 in the ninth end when Switzerland had four stones in the house and Sweden had one stone left. They managed to knock all four stones out of the house, retaining their 4-3 lead. The tenth end was dramatic, since the score was separated by just one point, and Sweden made a mistake with its last stone, leaving the door open for Switzerland to score two points with the final rock of the match. Switzerland came through by just inches, winning the bronze.

Tomorrow is the final day of the Olympics, and there is very little left to watch, but that which is left is great: the men's hockey gold medal match between the USA and Canada, and a final men's cross-country race. Of course, the Olympics will end with the closing ceremonies, and I hear that my Olympic Boyfriend will have a special role as the games are passed from Vancouver to Sochi. Then he can return to DC and we can start watching the NHL again.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Olympics 2010, Friday, Feb. 26

Today I watched:
Ice hockey, men's, USA vs. Finland
Ice hockey, men's, Canada vs. Slovakia
Curling, women's, Sweden vs. Canada (gold medal)
Speedskating, men's team pursuit, quarterfinals, semifinals
Speedskating, men's short-track, 500m quarterfinals, semifinals, final
Skiing, women's, slalom
Speedskating, women's short-track, 1000m quarterfinals, semifinals, final
Speedskating, men's short-track, 5000m relay
Bobsled, men's four-man, heat 2
Snowboarding, women's parallel giant slalom
Biathalon, men's 4x7500m relay
Speed-skating, women's team pursuit, quarterfinals

Today I watched two of the most exciting finishes of the Olympics. First was the gold medal curling match between Sweden and Canada, which went to extra innings and came down to the last stone of the eleventh end. I feel like the sentence I just typed was in a foreign language. I will call that language Canadian. The second exciting moment were the last seconds of the Canada-Slovakia hockey game. Canada was up 3-0 with six minutes left in the game when Slovakia scored two goals in very quick succession. Slovakia tried to tie it up and had a number of good chances in the last three minutes, with a few notables in the last 20 seconds. It would have been great to see them come up with an upset, but it wasn't going to happen.

The USA-Finland game was not a close one--the US won 6-1. When the US scored their fourth goal halfway through the first period, Finland goalie Miikka Kiprusoff pulled himself. Nikolas Backstrom replaced him and promptly gave up two goals fifteen seconds apart. Absent injury, I don't think I have ever seen a goalie pull himself out of a game, but I give Kiprusoff credit for realizing he wasn't helping his team at all and deciding to do something about it. I only wish Nabokov had done something similar after letting up his fourth goal against Canada two days ago.

This produces the Canada-USA gold metal game that Gary Bettman has been praying for. Bettman actually did a spot with Al Michaels and was his usual annoying and moronic self. I do not understand how he has retained his job--no commissioner has done more to ruin his sport.

As for the rest of the day's events: Gobo thinks that Apolo Anton Ohno is a dirty speed-skater. Of course, the Koreans have been saying this for years, but Gobo wasn't aware of their allegations (he completely ignores the pieces done before and after the matches), yet after watching Ohno's performances, he has come to this conclusion. Is thinking such a thing unpatriotic?

I don't understand why NBC couldn't show us more parallel slalom. I really enjoyed the semi-final matches that they showed us, and wish they could have aired more. The coverage on NBC's secondary networks has not been extensive--surely they could have added an hour to one of the daytime slots on CNBC or MSNBC.

The high point of the night might have been finding out that there would be more biathalon. I thought that the sport had seen its last race days ago, so this was a wonderful surprise. It was great to hear the name Ole Einar Bjorndalen one more time. Maybe I should have made him my Olympic boyfriend. (Just joking, Ovi!)

Just two days of Olympics left. Tomorrow is the bronze medal match in men's hockey, which will be aired on the non-HD MSNBC so that the figure skating exhibition can air on NBC. Good work again, NBC, thanks for the coverage!


Friday, February 26, 2010

Olympics 2010, Thursday, Feb. 25

Today I watched:
Skiing, women's cross-country, 4x5000m relay
Ice hockey, women's, USA vs. Canada, gold medal game
Skiing, women's giant slalom, run 2
Nordic combined, men's large hill
Skiing, men's aerials
Figure skating, women's free skate

Wow. The Olympics are quickly drawing to a close, and I guess there aren't all that many events left. I have mixed feelings about this--one the one hand, I love the Olympics, but on the other, I am becoming absolutely exhausted. It's difficult to watch so many events on a daily basis.

Today was an easier day than most. The women's figure skating was the main event, and the top competitors all skated pretty clean programs. It's always so nice when everyone lands their jumps and they are all judged on their best performances. Canada's Joannie Rochette was the story of the night (and perhaps the entire Olympics), as she skated her short program two days after her mother's unexpected death and her long program just two days after that, earning a bronze medal. Japan's Mao Asada might have been the saddest story of the night, as she looked absolutely devastated after winning a silver medal. She reminded me of Midori Ito after the 1992 Olympics, apologizing to Japan for getting a silver rather than a gold.

I was expecting to watch the entire gold medal women's hockey game, but I wasn't home in time to catch the beginning and had forgotten to record it, so I only watched the third period. I fear the men's gold medal game will have the same competitors and the same outcome, but I guess we can hope otherwise.

I think it's interesting that the scores for the two runs in aerials are added to determine placement, while in half-pipe only the best of two runs counts. I would have thought the scoring would be similar between the two events. I prefer the half-pipe scoring system, because it doesn't discourage the competitors from trying a riskier, more exciting program. I was glad that Jeret (oops, I mean Speedy) Peterson went for the more difficult jump in his second run, even though doing so four years ago may have cost him a medal. It was great that this time he was rewarded with a silver.

Tomorrow is a slightly more active day: slalom, speedskating, curling, bobsled and, of course, the hockey semi-finals.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympics 2010, Tuesday, Feb. 23

Today I watched:
Ice hockey, men's, USA vs. Switzerland
Ice hockey, men's, Russia vs. Canada
Ice hockey, men's, Czech Republic vs. Finland
Curling, men's, Great Britain vs. Sweden
Cross country, men's 4x1000m relay
Skiing, women's giant slalom, run 1
Bobsled, women's two-man finals
Skiing, women's aerials finals
Ice hockey, men's, Sweden vs. Slovakia
Speedskating, men's short-track 500m qualifiers
Speedskating, women's 3000m relay
Speedskating, women's 1000m
Speedskating, women's 5000m

I already shared my thoughts on the hockey in my very long earlier post, and I don't have the energy to have an opinion on much of anything else. I did think that Julia Mancuso needed to control the crying a bit. Sure, I'm sure she was upset that she was stopped in the middle of her giant slalom run, and it does suck. But the non-stop crying certainly wasn't going to help. And she's won two medals in this Olympics already--ones no one was really expecting her to win.

The US women's bobsledders (USA2) won a bronze medal today. Normally I wouldn't really care, but the brakewoman for the team, Elana Meyers, is the friend of a friend. Pretty cool.

Tomorrow...no men's hockey. The one women's hockey game I have been planning to watch, USA vs. Canada, is tomorrow, as is the women's figure skating long program.


Russia loses, Mike Milbury remains an idiot

The Russia-Canada game tonight was awful. Russia got behind early, failed to gain any momentum, and didn't play well. Other than Bryzgalov, no one looked great.

The loss was disappointing, but not entirely surprising. I have been saying since the beginning of the Olympics that the Russians have looked disorganized on the ice, and that disorganization finally came back to haunt them. The team has appeared to be poorly-coached from their first game against Latvia. After the shootout loss to Slovakia, the Russian coach, Bykov, admitted that he hadn't had a plan in place for the shootout and randomly chose his shooters.

I can't fathom how the coach of a team in the Olympics can begin the tournament without a plan for the shootout. The game is three periods long, and if it is tied after those periods there is a five minute overtime. If it's still tied, it goes to a shootout. Thus, it would seem that having an idea of what you want to do when the shootout comes would be a good idea. The fact that Bykov was so unprepared in such a basic way did not bode well for Russia's chances.

Bykov's biggest mistake today was not pulling Nabokov earlier. Nabokov gave up four goals in the first period, a few of which were very weak. The team might not have been playing incredibly strong hockey, but the goalie really needs to stop the easy shots--and the hard ones--to keep his team in the game. Nabokov looked horrible. Rather than pull Nabokov after the first period (or earlier--many coaches would have pulled Nabokov after the third goal), Bykov put him back in. Soon after the start of the second period, the Canadians scored a fifth goal, but Bykov still refused to pull Nabokov. This was particularly shocking because Bryzgalov looked strong in the game against Slovakia (despite the eventual loss), and I actually thought Bryzgalov should have been the starting goalie from the beginning of this tournament. It was only after the sixth goal, when the Russians had pretty much no chance of getting back into the game, that Bykov pulled Nabokov.

Not one Russian skater had a good game, but if I had to pick out the player with the worst game, I think it would be Malkin. Malkin had a great game against the Czech Republic after having two poor games against Latvia and Slovakia, so I was hopeful he would be able to create some offense. Instead he allowed for a turnover that directly lead to Boyle's breakaway goal, and lost the puck throughout the game.

Of course, the Mike Milburys of the world would prefer to blame Ovechkin because it's easy to point to the biggest star (and in Milbury's case, because he clearly dislikes Ovechkin). Mike Milbury is a total idiot. In his commentary after the game he said he was disappointed in Russia for playing a "Eurotrash game." The fact that Milbury, who adds no valuable insight in his commentary, has a job with NBC Sports is ridiculous. But NBC seems to like Milbury doing racist things like calling the Russian game Eurotrash--I guess they think that it creates press, and they don't have a problem with commentators continuing to espouse the view that the way the Canadians play the game is somehow "pure," while the Europeans have defiled it in some way. (In the past, the Europeans failed the play hockey properly because they weren't passionate, weren't physical, didn't finish their checks, and didn't really care about the outcome. Now that the biggest star in the league is a European who exuberantly celebrates goals, wants to win more than anything, and is not only the best scorer in the league, but also lays down some of the hugest hits, the complaints are that they celebrate too much, and they are too physical.)

Milbury also defended Boyle's slew-footing of Semin. He claimed that Semin deserved it (despite slew-footing being against the rules) because of Semin's "dangerous" check on Boyle. I looked at the check several times, and I don't think it was illegal. Even if we give Boyle the benefit of the doubt and say the check was illegal (that it was late or that it was high), it was at the very least a play that could have been ruled either way. To slew-foot in response is not an appropriate retaliation, but Milbury applauded Boyle's actions.

Of course, the idea that the worst general manager in the history of hockey--the man who traded away Roberto Luongo (who looked pretty great in goal for the Canadians), Zdeno Chara and Tim Connolly--is providing commentary on hockey is ridiculous. He completely decimated the Islanders in his ten year reign of terror. That CBC and NBC think he is worthy of talking to anyone about hockey is misguided at best.

The other hockey games of the day were far more interesting. Switzerland and the US were tied at 0 for the first 50 minutes of the game, the Czech Republic and Finland were tied at 0 for the first 50 minutes of the game, and Slovakia beat Sweden 4-3, with Sweden having a few big chances in the closing seconds of the game. I'm really shocked that Sweden lost, and the road to the gold medal just became much easier for Canada. I know a lot of USA fans are hoping for a Canada-USA rematch, but I don't see the US beating Canada twice in this series. Miller had to stand on his head for the first win, and repeating that will be difficult.

I always love seeing teammates shake hands at the end of the game, and Lunqvist and Gaborik didn't disappoint, really looking like friends when the game was over. Not so much for Crosby and Malkin, who just gave each other a cursory handshake, as if they were total strangers.

Today started with five Capitals in the Olympics, and ended with no Capitals left. The big positive: no more worries about Ovie, Semin, Backstrom or Fleishmann getting injured in a game (I wasn't worried about Varlamov, since he has been hanging out in the team's box with Tretiak). Another big plus: all five of those players get a full week to rest. There's still a lot of NHL hockey left, and the less worn out and tired they are, the better.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympics 2010, Tuesday, Feb. 23

Today I watched:
Curling, women's, US vs. China
Ice hockey, men's, Switzerland vs. Belarus
Ice hockey, men's, Canada vs. Germany
Skiing, women's ski cross
Skiing, men's Nordic combined, team
Speed skating, men's 10,000m
Figure skating, women's long program
Bobsled, women's two man
Skiing, men's giant slalom
Ice hockey, Czech Republic vs. Latvia
Ice hockey, Slovakia vs. Norway
Biathalon, women's 4x6000m relay

After a relatively light Olympics-watching day yesterday, I was very busy today. I have to admit I haven't finished watching the women's biathalon relay--I am watching it as I type.

Today was a pretty exciting day in the Olympics. The most emotional moment was clearly Joannie Rochette's short program in women's figure skating. Rochette's mother had a heart attack and died at the age of 55 two days ago. Rochette still managed to skate a clean program and ended up in third place going into the long program. The US figure skaters were a disappointment. Apparently they both skated as well as they have in the past, it's just that their best isn't as good as the rest of the world's. The US has had great female figure skaters my entire life, so it's sad to see a competition where no one even expects our skaters to be serious medal contenders.

When NBC switched over to the final pair of the men's speedskating 10,000m race with seven laps left, I wondered why they even bothered to show us the skating at all. The lead skater in that last pairing was Sven Kramer, who was comfortably in the lead and on pace to break the Olympic record. When he finished his race the commentator declared Kramer the winner and said that he was "a short few seconds before celebrating officially." Those few short seconds never came. Kramer was disqualified because he ended the race in the wrong lane. Watching replays, it was clear that his coach had erroneously instructed him to switch lanes, costing Kramer the medal and Olympic record. NBC was, shockingly enough, airing the end of the race live, so watching Kramer learn he had been disqualified, and his angry reaction, was fascinating television.

I hadn't expected to watch all four hockey matches, but I ended up doing exactly that. I watched Switzerland vs. Belarus in its entirety. I ended up watching the third period at the gym, and had to extend my workout because the game went into overtime and I couldn't leave before the game was over. I watched the first half of Canada vs. Germany, changing the channel when the score was 4-1. I thought Germany did a really good job of challenging Canada through the first period, but they just couldn't sustain the effort. It was nice seeing Crosby miss a penalty shot.

Slovakia vs. Norway and Czech Republic vs. Latvia were both shocking games. The Czech Republic game went to overtime, with Latvia letting up a goal about six minutes in. Slovakia was tied with Norway until midway through the third period, when they finally scored to lead by one, and then barely held onto the one-goal lead for the rest of the game.

Tomorrow: Russia vs. Canada. I'm sure there are a lot of other events as well, and I'm sure I'll watch them, but all I can really think about is Russia vs. Canada. I'm worried for Ovi and friends, and it particularly concerns me that Ovechkin has said that he had trouble scoring on Luongo when Luongo played for the Panthers. (And speaking of Luongo, every time Mike Milbury says his name I feel hatred. Thanks again, Mike, for making the worst moves ever when you were Isles GM.) Game is at 7:30 on CNBC (no HD for hockey, yet again).


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympics 2010, Monday, Feb. 22

Today I watched:
Ski jumping, men's team, large hill
Skiing, men's aerials, qualifiers
Figure skating, ice dancing, free dance
Cross country, men's team sprint
Cross country, women's team sprint

Today was a very light day for watching the Olympics. I just wasn't in the mood to watch curling today, and you know my rule about no women's ice hockey until the gold medal match, and those were the only other sports offer. NBC just did not have a lot on the roster today.

I don't have much to say. I have come to realize that ski jumping might be my least favorite winter Olympic event other than bobsled, luge and skeleton. It's just not very exciting.

I enjoyed tonight's ice dancing. I decided to skip the cellar dwellers NBC showed at the beginning, and just watched the better teams. Once I cut out the weaker teams, the competition lost its tedium and became far more interesting. I personally enjoyed the free skate of the silver medalists, USA's Davis and Charlie White best, but I'm not an ice dancing expert.

Tomorrow should be a more active day. All of the hockey elimination round matches are going on, so that's four hockey games. Three of the four games are foregone conclusions (Belarus vs. Switzerland is the only game with some suspense regarding the victor), although I guess we can all hope for Germany to pull off the biggest upset of the tournament by beating Canada.

I'm not feeling good about the Russia-Canada quarterfinal match, but that's not until Wednesday. Also on Tuesday is speed skating, biathalon (yay!), Nordic combined (double yay!!) and the women's figure skating short program.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Olympics 2010, Sunday, Feb. 20

Today I watched:
Ice hockey, Russia vs. Czech Republic
Ice hockey, USA vs. Canada
Skiing, men's ski cross
Skiing, men's super combined
Skiing, men's biathalon, 15,000m mass start
Figure skating, ice dancing original dance
Speed skating, women's 1500m
Bobsled, men's two-man
Ice hockey, Sweden vs. Finland
Skiing, women's biathalon, 12,500m mass start

I already shared some of my thoughts about the ice hockey in my previous post, so I'll keep the comments here brief. After the USA-Canada match, one thing that struck me was the interaction between Blackhawks teammates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the handshake. Kane, who plays for Team USA, broke into a smile when he saw Toews, who plays for Team Canada. Kane gave Toews a hug and said something to him as they shook hands. The look on Toews' face, however, was of someone completely shell-shocked. Contrasting the expressions of the two teammates was pretty dramatic.

Also, a bit of criticism about NBC. I haven't really complained about the broadcasting of these Olympics, because I would rather just focus on the fun of the Games. But I have to wonder why NBC even bothered to break into the USA-Canada game when they did: after the USA scored its empty net goal, the score was 5-3, and there were only 20 seconds left in the game. What was the point? The three minutes immediately before that had been incredibly exciting: Canada scored to bring them within one goal of a tie, and then proceeded to control the puck, shooting at Miller mercilessly. They had so many chances to score; it was truly edge-of-your-seat hockey at its best. Yet NBC didn't cut over for any of that--at the very least, I would have thought they would have shown the final three minutes after Canada scored. Total miss on the part of NBC. Big shock.

As for the other sports: Biathalon is exciting! I'm sure you're shocked. Really, I love biathalon and any other sport that has cross-country skiing. Biathalon is my favorite because of the added drama of the shooting and penalty laps, but cross-country has not bored me once during this Olympics. To think that at the beginning of this Olympics I didn't even know who Magdalena Neuner was. Now I feel like I've known her forever.

Today was the debut of skiing cross, and I loved it. It's just like snowboard cross, but on skis! I love watching the skiiers race head-to-head.

If I weren't so tired, I'm sure I could say an awful lot about the original dance competition in ice dancing today. Alas, I'm tired. Suffice it to say, the costumes were quite special. After the compulsory dance round, my favorite team was Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin. They are now in third place, and according to the LA Times, they probably can't catch the first place team. I'm not really sure why that's the case, since they were in first after day one, didn't make big mistakes, but fell to third. Seems that the same could happen to the other teams tomorrow, but what do I know? I did think that the teams in first and second did skate the best today, Canada's Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue and the US's Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Looks like I might get to bed before 4 a.m. today, which I now consider an early night. Tomorrow is a hockey-free day (well, women's hockey semi-finals, but as I have written in the past, I'm only going to watch the USA-Canada gold medal game because the other teams are horribly overmatched and the games just aren't fun to watch). Tomorrow: more cross country and ice dancing!


The nightmare scenario

Today was an absolutely great day in Olympic hockey, and was particularly wonderful if, like me, you were cheering for Team Russia and Team USA. It was also great day for fans of the Capitals, as Ovechkin had a great game (and leveled Jagr--a player most Caps fans loathe--mid-ice, which led to Russia's third goal of the game), as did Backstrom, who had a hand in all three of Sweden's goals, with a goal and two assists. But then I started thinking about the elimination bracket and how that would play out through the rest of this tournament. And then I wasn't quite as excited as I had been.

Russia and the USA won important and dramatic victories today: Russia against the Czech Republic, and the US against Canada. Both teams secured byes in the next round of play and will go directly to the quarterfinals. All was wonderful until I realized that as the number 3 seed, Russia will face the winner of the Canada-Germany match in the quarterfinals. Germany is a pretty weak team, so unless Canada completely collapses, that means that either Russia or Canada will not make it out of the quarterfinals. A lot of people thought that Russia-Canada would be the gold medal match, and Russia will certainly be facing the toughest opponent in the quarterfinals.

However, even if Russia wins, they then face the winner of the Sweden vs. the winner of Slovakia vs. Norway. My guess is that Sweden will face and defeat Slovakia. If Sweden doesn't manage to win, I can't imagine Russia will fold to Slovakia twice in this tournament. But if Sweden does advance--which I strongly suspect they will--Russia will have to face the *other* most dangerous team in the tournament. That would mean that before making it to the gold medal round, Russia will have to face the two teams everyone thought would be their most difficult competition.

And then even if they do win, they could very well be facing Team USA in the gold medal match. I have been talking about cheering for Team Russia in the Olympics for over a year, but now that the games are here, I feel guilty cheering against Team USA. I would rather avoid having to deal with conflicting loyalties in a gold medal match.

Interestingly, the Czech Republic, the team that Russia beat today to earn the bye, has what is probably an easier road to the finals. They will have to face Latvia in the next round, which is as close to a free pass as a team could have hoped for, and they will then play against Finland (not an easy match by any means, but I would rather play against Finland than Canada), and then the winner of the US vs. the winner of Switzerland and Belarus (in other words, the US). Not a bad road at all.

Among the top four seeds, Russia certainly seems to have the most difficult road ahead of them. The US has a far easier path. They should be able to handle the winner of the Switzerland-Belarus match with relative ease. After that, they will compete against the winner of the Finland-Czech Republic match (to be precise, I should say the winner of the match between Finland and whoever wins the Czech Republic-Latvia match, but that's just not one I have any question in my mind about). That will give the US a lot of trouble, and if I were a betting woman, I would bet against the US in that situation, although I wouldn't be surprised if they did win. But it is still a more favorable scenario than facing Sweden, Canada or Russia. But I guess the number one seed having the easiest road is way it should be.

The rest of the hockey in this Olympics should be very interesting. An update on the rest of my Olympic Sunday coming up soon.