LaConte: Announcing on Swaney’s run was as deplorable as the run itself (column)
February 23, 2018
Last week I watched North Korean skier Kim Ryon Hyang take on the giant slalom at the 2018 Olympics. It was pretty ugly.
But that was to be expected. After all, it's the Olympics, where small countries are allowed to send their best, even if their best isn't actually from that country. Every Olympics and World Championships has a handful of non-competitive competitors, athletes who are just out there to soak in the experience.
So why, this year, are people so offended by skier Elizabeth Swaney's halfpipe run?
Perhaps the answer lies in the way that run was presented.
When I was watching Kim Ryon Hyang, I wasn't listening to an announcer pretend it was a legitimate run.
"She's wide, she's struggling," were the calls.
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On Swaney's runs, however, we listened as the announcer took a serious tone and said things like Swaney is "showing the judges she has variety," when she had no variety. We were told to look for "the safety grab you'll see there," when we were definitely not seeing any grabs out of Swaney.
Finally, as she finished, the live call on Swaney's final trick was "a nice 360 to switch." She did finish switch, but not after a nice 360.
Through the tone of the announcing, the viewer was being led to believe that Swaney's effort was just another halfpipe run to be taken seriously along with the rest of the competitors.
The erroneous announcing, while funny at first, started to wear on me by the end of the games.
During the 2018 Olympics, the first time I heard a freeskiing commentator use the term "three-and-a-half full rotations," I said which is it, half or full? But then I realized he didn't know either.
The experts had difficultly calling the tricks throughout the freeskiing competitions, confusing 360s and 540s, using contradicting terms such as "cork-bio" and inventing new ones such as "forward cork."
By the time the men's ski halfpipe rolled around on Thursday, Feb. 22, it seemed that in every grabbing effort the skier was portrayed to be "tweaking out that grab." Gold-medal winner David Wise was credited with spinning double corks "all four ways" when there's actually eight different ways to spin in a halfpipe.
Double flairs and double flat spins were called double corks, incorrectly, and in talking about "getting corked," it was like the commentators were deliberately playing off a riff funnyman Steve Stepp has been using in his videos and memes trolling the ski industry, "Live, laugh, cork."
A common criticism of Swaney was that she didn't belong there, at the Olympic level. I would say if that's true, then the people calling her run also proved themselves to be not worthy of the level they had reached.
Saying that Swaney was "showing the judges that she has that variety," for me, invalidated that statement moving forward. After Swaney, every time a competitor was credited by the announcers as "showing variety," the viewer is left to assume that's just a cliche the commentators use when they don't know what else to say.
You could say the live call was foolish, or that the announcer was dumbfounded and didn't know how to improvise in that situation, but you could also say it was misleading and borderline on dishonest. Did that announcer really think Swaney's no air 180 with a revert was a "nice 360 to switch?" I do not believe that he did.
I don't necessarily want to see the Elizabeth Swaneys of the world at the Olympics, either. Her case says much more about halfpipe skiing than it says about her, though, because unlike the giant slalom, the halfpipe event cuts off the number of entrants at 30. That means that eight countries couldn't come up with four athletes who are competitive enough in the sport to make it there. If more skiers around the world cared about the halfpipe, then Swaney would have never been able to sneak in. Athletes within halfpipe skiing are concerned about the future of the sport and what it may bring, and for good reason. Elizabeth Swaney just exemplified how low the interest in halfpipe skiing is around the world.
Seeing athletes such as Swaney at the Olympics is not likely to change, but the announcing can be changed for the better. Not a month before the Olympics, we heard former competitive freeskier Tom Wallisch call the ski halfpipe events at the X Games. That was Olympic level announcing.
The calls being made at the freeskiing events in Pyeongchang, however, were as embarrassing for the sport as Swaney and her run.