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Warren Miller

Olympic events of the future

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With the Olympics drawing to a close, here are a few remote control Olympic observations from someone who has been on a ski hill with a camera since 1949. I have to take my crash helmet off and salute the several thousand cameramen and technicians who brought us the delayed live broadcast of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

When I started filming skiers, television cameras were so large and bulky that they had to rest on massive tripods. There was no way to haul them around at sporting events. In 1949, only motion picture cameras that were not quite as big and bulky could capture ski action.

Today we have the magic video, instant editing, several dozen cameramen at each event and an indeterminate number of directors, editors, line producers, announcers, and makeup artists. I could spend hours and days trying to explain the technical side of how a dozen or so cameras down the side of the downhill capture every movement of a racer and how these movements are then all electronically glued together into one cohesive run from top to bottom.

During the coverage, while a racer waited in the starting gate, viewers were subjected to endless minutes of up-close-and-personal stories of the racer in his/her own hometown. However, when the touching tribute ended, viewers finally got to see the finished race from top to bottom. Of course, the actual race was followed up with instant replays, occasional stop motion, impressive double exposed overlays and an analysis of why someone won or lost. I for one enjoyed it all, but I was viewing the production from a different perspective.

My perspective is always a little different. I have always tried to film and show the humorous side of winter. If I had my choice, we would have seen some different events this year. There is huge resistance to include an event that I consider one of the most important alpine events. At least, this event is important from the point of view of the racer and the ski and binding companies that pay the Olympic racer’s bills and his or her annual retainer fee.

In this event, the time clock should start the instant the racer goes through the finish line and stop when they have their skis off and hold them vertically in front of the TV camera so that everyone can read the labels. Sponsors would love this event because they could really see the results of their investment. Instead of medals, the winners could receive extra sponsorship dollars.

Some people in the ski industry will hope that showing all of this fantastic ski racing and snowboarding will make all of the viewers run right out and buy ski equipment. I think the same thing would apply when the automobile manufacturers think that showing supposed stock cars at the Daytona 500 will make more people go out and buy hot cars and take up driving so that they too can go 175 miles an hour while only making left turns.

Does anyone really buy skis because a racer uses them? Maybe they do, but I also pose the question about the slalom race. Has anyone gone out and bought a pair of 165-centimeter skis because of how they performed on an ice-covered slalom slope, a slope so steep and icy that they would probably never ski down it? Still, if the athletes are going to go through the motions, why not make the event official?

It wouldn’t be the Olympics without some sort of scandal. Since scandals seem to be such an integral part of the Olympics, why not make it an Olympic event? Maybe then, Tonya Harding could really make a comeback.

If they decide to include scandals as an official event in the next Olympics, they’ll probably need to retroactively award medals to some figure skating judges. This year, when they showed the Canadian and Russian figure skaters side by side on the screen, it allowed ordinary viewers like myself to finally see the difference. I was watching the misjudgment of the event with Peter Kennedy who, with his sister Carol, won a silver medal in pairs figure skating in the 1952 Olympics. For years, Peter has been telling me that he and his sister would know in advance how they would finish in a skating contest by which people were judging the event. (Apparently it has been going on that long or longer.)

Finally, maybe filming the Olympics should be considered an official Olympic event. Many of the people involved in capturing the event on film are athletes who have to manoeuvre over difficult terrain and brave extreme weather conditions just to get the shot. Of course, medals would go to those who captured the real moments of the Olympics rather than showing us fluff and tear-jerking stories. I think there would be extra points for showing footage live, regardless of advertising dollars.

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