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Finland, It's Your Time!

Has it really been four years? It seems like it was only last month when the bleached-blonde trailer-trash and the tubby hired thug were busting up the beauty queen with the really big teeth.

An episode of Jerry Springer? No, obviously not -- unless the beauty queen somehow got impregnated by the trailer-trash's pathological-liar boyfriend, that scenario's too tame for the Springster.

But not, unfortunately, for the 1994 Olympic Winter Games.

Yes, it's been four years since our hearts were warmed by the wonderfully life-affirming tale of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. (And it's a story, if my memory serves me right, that did finish with a happy ending -- Kerrigan visited Disney World and insulted Mickey Mouse.)

The '94 Games set all sorts of TV records, thanks mainly to the aforementioned figure-skating soap opera, but also helped along by smaller stories such as the speed-skating sagas of Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen.

The '98 sequel, set to begin in Nagano, Japan next month, have no such emotional ties so far. But just you wait. CBS goons are probably hanging around Nagano's back alleys with a blunt object or two even as we speak.

Despite the likely absence of sensationalistic stories, CBS still plans on cashing in big time on the '98 Olympics. Starting in just a few weeks, the One-Eye network will hand over the keys of its prime store to a bunch of skiers, lugers and Finns. That means those of you with a serious jones to see Dellaventura and Walker, Texas Ranger take some punk to school will just have to settle for the Slovakia-Germany hockey showdown. It also means that someone will be watching CBS besides old people.

And rest assured we'll be seeing CBS personalities swarming all over Nagano, bringing us the stories close to our hearts, the kind of news and information that the network knows Americans are dying to hear. Like the fact sake is called "rice wine" but is actually closer to beer, that Japanese people eat a lot of raw fish and seaweed, and they have strange tastes in game shows.

Maybe Dan Rather will be schussing down the slopes while reporting on the impact of the Olympics on the sagging Japanese economy. Bob Schieffer will probably file a story about how nobody in the U.S. can make a decent TV or VCR. And we're offering a 100% money-back guarantee that there will be at least a dozen stories on sumo wrestlers, all of them whimsically juxtaposing some wispy TV anchor such as Paula Zahn with the mountains of flesh in G-strings.

I am pretty certain Charles Osgood will wear a bow tie.

It's too bad Connie Chung is no longer with CBS. Otherwise, we could be treated to an interview with her and some figure skater's mother, where she would lean over and whisper, "Now just between us, Mrs. Lipinski, what do you think of Michelle Kwan?"

Despite this country's historical Winter Games incompetence, Americans seem to prefer the chilly-weather Olympics. First of all, there's the near-death factor. The snow and ice competitions contain hundreds more opportunities for high-speed maimings and dismemberments.

You've got the bobsled and luge, both of which not only feature blind curves and speeds approaching 75 mph, but also offer the attraction of razor-sharp steel talons just inches away from the competitors' noggins.

For those of you not satisfied with the danger value of the luge, and the dangers presented by throwing yourself on a brakeless sled and navigating a track with enough twists, turns and corkscrews to make a fighter pilot nauseous while your head rests two inches above ice screaming past at speeds that would get you a ticket on the highway, you can always do all of that with someone resting on your stomach.

That's the dual luge. And the dual luge, my friends, is Must See TV.

Then there's the ski jump, sometimes featuring morons like Britain's famed Eddie the Eagle, who was always one twitch away from shooting off the ramp and impaling several fans in the crowd on his skis. And, of course, everybody remembers the old opening of ABC's Wide World of Sports, featuring The Agony Of Defeat Guy -- that hapless schmoe tumbling down the ramp and slamming into the cold, hard ground.

Let's also not forget short-track speed skating, the epitome of made-for-TV winter sports. For those of you who didn't catch this event in Lillehammer, picture a dozen roller derby competitors on wicked skates whirling around a piece of ice the size of your living room.

And what does the Summer Olympics counter with? Rhythmic gymnastics? Race walking? Ballroom dancing? (That is not a joke. It will be a demonstration sport in 2000.)

Sure, there are guns at the Summer Games, but at the Winter Olympics, they make biathlon competitors cross-country ski for miles before they're allowed to shoot. If you've ever tried to cross-country ski a serious distance, you know that after a couple miles, you're lucky if you can control your limbs enough to walk. Yet athletes in this sport are instead given firearms and told to shoot away.

While the Summer Games are busy fitting ballroom dancers for medals, the Winter Games are adding sports like women's ice hockey. Sure, the competitors wear full face-masks and body checking isn't allowed. But these women are vicious. A couple of the Canadian players can slash with the likes of Chris Chelios.

It's not only new sports which separate the two Olympics. It's the human stories, the emotional peaks and valleys that bring us all together. It's the U.S. hockey team beating the Russians as Al Michaels shouts, "Do you believe in miracles?" It's Dan Jansen finally winning a gold medal in his third and final Games, the memory of his late sister still with us. It's the Jamaican bobsled team making millions in merchandising dollars, humiliating themselves in front of the world and inspiring an unfunny John Candy film.

Sure, we Americans aren't really a Winter Olympics powerhouse. But it's considered good manners in geopolitical quarters to let inconsequential ice-covered countries such as Finland have their share of the glory every once in a while. Let them have their cross-country skiing victories. When it comes to global crisis time, you don't really hear beleaguered nations calling out for help from the full might of the Finnish army, do you?

But that's all right. After all, these are the Olympics. And when all is said and done, the Olympics aren't about how many medals the U.S. can win in the downhill, or the slalom, or the bobsled.

It's really all about us American beating the snot out of those damned Canadians and bringing home curling gold!


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