Thursday, August 14, 2008

Swish-Whack Take That! Awards for 2008

Swish-Whack Take That! Awards for 2008
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Swish-whack, take that!

Four years ago, during the 2004 Athens Olympics, I created the Swish-Whack awards to shine a little light on the Olympic sport of fencing. Since it gets no coverage on TV, but it's such a cool sport, I named it after the sound the foil makes when a point is scored, and give it to people who surprise and astound us.

I created the 2004 Swish-Whack, Take That! awards after America's Mariel Zagunis, then 19 years old, won America's first fencing gold medal in 100 years. NBC's coverage was so lame, they only showed her three points, and then skipped the national anthem. The entire coverage lasted for 30 seconds.

Fencing is one of the few Olympic sports that are actually based on real fighting and killing skills people needed centuries ago: fencing, archery, shooting, javelin, and race walking, to name a few. As I pointed out in 2004, all the other sports are based on transportations (rowing, running), recreation (volleyball, badminton), and human cruelty (gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics). Olympic fencing, on the other hand, is just one rubber safety tip away from running your opponent through the heart.

You can keep the foil and epee, which is just glorified poking. Give me the saber, which is more like pirate sword fighting than the knitting circle of French-style fencing. I love watching sabreists swinging away with hearty pirate laughs and cries of "Avast, ye scurvy dogs!" as they buckle their swashes and wear really cool pirate hats.

But Zagunis wasn't a fluke either. This year, she took another gold in the Individual Sabre, while teammates Sada Jacobson and Becca Ward took silver and bronze. The three American women then took bronze in the Team Sabre (which, I presume, involved storming other countries' ships and swinging from the rigging), and yet I heard nothing from NBC.

So, the first Swish-Whack award goes to NBC's own online video department. NBC has spent months and years insisting that online watching would cannibalize the TV viewers and send ratings into the basement faster than when Japanese men's gymnast Hiroyuki Tomita fell off the rings and thudded to the mat.

The Swish-Whack was delivered by Alan Wurtzel, NBC's own president of research, who countered that argument. "The Internet hardly cannibalizes; it actually fuels interest," he told reporters. His department found that 90 percent of their viewers watched the Olympics only on TV; the other 10 percent also used the Internet, cell phones, and cable video-on demand. Only two-tenths of one percent got their fix on the web and not from TV.

Unfortunately, online viewing hasn't helped viewers who want more than just swimming, gymnastics, and beach volleyball. They can't watch the events until after they're finished. In other words, the game you watch online today was taking place last night.

This year, NBC's coverage, also called The Michael Phelps Show, has not made any time to show many of the other sports, unless they're on USA Network, MSNBC, and CNBC. And then, cable coverage is only during the day, when everyone is at work. And they're still showing replays of what happened 12 hours earlier.

The Internet won't cannibalize viewers; NBC is barbecuing them just fine on their own.

The second Swish-Whack award goes to Tuvshinbayar Naidan of Mongolia, who just became a household name in his home country. That's because Naidan won Mongolia's first ever Olympic gold medal, doing it in 100-kilogram Judo, another sport that will apparently never sully American airwaves.

Naidan defeated Japan's Keiji Suzuki, 2004 Olympic champ, so badly that Suzuki is now considering retiring from the sport completely.

"I didn't do what I wanted to. I couldn't use any of my techniques. I have nothing left," Suzuki told Agence Presse-France. "If I step onto the tatami again, I may probably be thrown again."

Suzuki was defeated in the first round of competition, the round where the big champions always tower over the no-name underdogs, expecting to squash them like a bug. Naidan spanked Suzuki so soundly, every underdog around the world thought, "hey, maybe I can win too!"
In honor for making Mongolian sports history, I'm renaming Naidan's award the Flip-Splat, Take That!

The third Swish-Whack goes to America's James Blake, who did the unthinkable by defeating Switzerland's Roger Federer, the world's top tennis player. It was an astounding defeat, because Federer has long been considered the Tiger Woods of tennis. (Or is Tiger the Roger Federer of golf?)

Blake's stunning victory came in the quarterfinals of the men's tennis competition against a man who has ranked number one in the world since 2004

“I’ve played (Blake) on many occasions, but I think this was the best I’ve seen him,” Federer told reporters. “I’m happy for him. He’s a good guy. I hope he can go all the way now.”

"I'd lost to him eight, nine, 10, 50 times, I don't know how many, but I had the feeling it could be my day," said Blake.

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