Adam Gopnik put it perfectly (if somewhat formally) in last month's New Yorker column "The Talk of the Town." He wrote about the London Olympics and this time every four years when Americans:
"... become passionate about athletes we have never heard of participating in games we do not follow trying to please judges we cannot see according to rules we do not know."
Pretty well sums it up for Canadians too.
Which is why, of course, CTV hires all sorts of experts to demystify such esoteric events as Women's Synchronized 10-Metre Platform (diving), Men's Omnium (cycling) and Show Jumping Individual (equestrian).
Most CTV's sports experts this year aren't demystifying particularly well. But more on that later.
I've spent the last five evenings dutifully watching the Games. Some impressions and notes (in order of taking):
Note #1: The opening ceremony is entirely bizarre. A mix of weird, magnificent, and puerile. Nice of the old Queen to go along with the James Bond sequence. But the way things are going, I'm worried that her stunt-double parachuting out of the helicopter will flash the royal knickers. Fortunately, it doesn't happen. The Rowan Atkinson fart (the puerile part) is in appallingly bad taste.
Note #2: International Olympic committee (IOC) president, Count Jacques "I'm working class" Rogge, drones another speech, starting with all that obsequious "Your Majesty, Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Guests" stuff before getting down to the rest of us with "ladies and gentlemen".
But he does pay tribute to the host Brits:
"In a sense, the Olympic Games are coming home tonight." He says. "It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified."
The Queen herself (presumably the subject of his first "Your Majesty") has only fifteen words to say. She reads every one, head down to paper, as if she's never seen them before:
"I declare open the games of London celebrating the thirtieth Olympiad of the modern era."
Surely, she should communicate a lot better than this after all these years of speechifying around her realms and Commonwealth. She obviously learned nothing watching The King's Speech, a movie about her stuttering father learning to do it.
Note #3: The entrance of the gladiators, as always, touches my heart. So young, so beautiful, so bursting with life. So dedicated to excellence, so worthy of this moment.
Eleven thousand of them march out of 204 nations into immortality. Olympians now, waving, dancing, laughing, singing. All those years of sacrifice, blood and sweat behind them. Years when every muscle and tendon screamed enough. And common sense said too much. But heart and pride called for one more impossible, agonizing effort.
Just one more...
These are the world's best at what they do. An elite clan, like no other on earth. Whatever happens over these 17 days -- win or lose -- these beautiful athletes are already at the mountaintop.
And always will be.
Their scripts are tedious, lifeless, boring. Presumably copied straight from P.R. stuff supplied by the organizers. Only interesting part is when Williams breaks away from his script to zap the IOC:
"It is wrong that the IOC refuses to have a minute's silence for Israeli athletes that were slaughtered in Munich."
(Surely the IOC's decision could have nothing to do with all that Arab royalty in the IOC. Like Prince Nawaf Faisal Fahd Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, Prince Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein of Jordan and Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of the United Arab Emirates? Could it?)
Have no idea why LaFlamme's in London. She adds nothing to the event beyond proving again that she can read a script. Incidentally, her CBC counterpart, Peter Mansbridge, is also here, even though he's got absolutely nothing to do with the Games.
I guess big anchors go to big events for the same reason presidents and prime ministers flock to disasters. To be seen to be there. Really nothing more than very expensive photo ops.
Note #5: Saturday and Sunday are fairly uninteresting except that Canada wins two synchronized diving medals and I start to get the feeling that host Brian Williams seriously outclasses the broadcast talent around him.
He's the pro. The reporters and analysts supporting him are mostly sports groupies.
Over the next couple of evenings, I become certain of it.
Years ago Williams was on one of my writing/interviewing/performance workshops for CBC Sports. Along with such great sports anchor/reporters as the late Ernie Afaganis, Bob McDevitt and Terry Evanshen (subject of the book and movie The Man Who Lost Himself).
Of all that talent, Williams was The Natural. He could do everything and anything.
He wrote just like he spoke. Short, vivid sentences. Using simple, colourful, clear, everyday language.
On-camera, he made the script disappear. The words -- whether he or someone else wrote them -- became his own. He genuinely saw the scenes, thought the thoughts, felt the emotions. He -- never the script -- was always the primary source of the information.
He was exactly the same interesting, thoughtful, intelligent man when the little red camera light turned on as when our group headed out for a beer afterwards.
And he was always fair. Always polite. Always considerate. Attributes not particularly valued in the rough world of broadcasters and jocks.
Back then, Brian Williams was a helluva nice guy and a truly fine professional.
I tell you this because in all my years of broadcasting and training people to communicate, I've come to believe that while the camera can be made to lie, over the long run it can't be fooled about people.
The camera isn't fooling you now. Watch him this evening. Or tomorrow. CTV's cameras at the XXX Olympiad tell the truth about him just as the CBC cameras told the truth so long ago.
Brian Williams hasn't changed a bit.
My next column will question why CTV spends so much time showing often meaningless heats and semi-finals when the Games burst with much more fun stuff.