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Where Did Everybody Go? They Put On Show

March 05, 1988

There seems to be a direct relationship between ABC's at-best mediocre coverage of this year's Winter Olympics, and the overall mediocre showing of U.S. athletes. In an apparent attempt to sustain viewer enthusiasm for less than awe-inspiring American performances, ABC redoubled its usual efforts to overdramatize the purely banal.

The most grievous example of ABC's "big lie" approach was in its coverage of American world speed skating champion Dan Jansen. His performance (consisting of two unprecedented falls in both the 500- and 1000-meter races) after the sad death of his sister was characterized by the imaginative broadcasters of ABC as an example of unparalleled courage. Apparently they were eschewing Hemingway's famous definition of courage as "grace under pressure" in their eagerness to invent new milk and water heroes for an undiscriminating American public weaned on trite and insipid "up close and personal" profiles in so-called athletic courage.

The words tragic, heroic and courageous have become such an integral part of the ABC sports lexicon, and such verbal crutches for its inarticulate and uncritical announcers, that these words have in most cases ceased to mean anything at all, and, as in the case of Jansen, have almost come to signify their opposites. The closest thing I heard to outright criticism of an athlete during the course of the Games was Dick Button's chivalrous use of the term unfortunate to describe a woman competitor's disastrous skating program. Just once, I'd like to hear Jim "Marbles in his Mouth" McKay comment to Keith "Mr. Cliche" Jackson, "Boy, Keith, what we've just witnessed here is a choke job of epic proportions."

To say the least, the choice of ABC (Anything But Critical) as network of the Winter Olympics was "unfortunate." Hopefully, NBC will provide more provocative, critical and sports-intensive coverage at Seoul.

KEVIN McALEER

San Diego

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