By now, most people are aware that the 2018 Winter Olympic Games kicked off last week in Pyeongchang, South Korea (not to be confused with Pyongyang, North Korea or a suburban US “Asian” restaurant chain). For most TV viewers, this will be the only time they watch curling, snowboarding or figure skating in a four-year period. However, as is the case with any sports event, the Olympics have a lot of jargon that is confusing for the extremely casual viewer tuning in to see what the hell it is that people do during a curling match. Case in point: ice dancing, the weirdest of all figure skating disciplines.
Like just about everyone in Canada who pays attention to at least some form of mainstream national media, I am aware of the Canadian medal hopefuls competing in ice dancing, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The other night, I was watching the ice dancing pairs in the figure skating team competition and listening to the commentators rhapsodize about Virtue and Moir’s twizzles. I immediately could not help but think, “Dafuq’s a twizzle?” While it is relatively simple to figure out from context that this refers to when the couple is twirling around in unison on the ice (according to Wikipedia, this term describes when any skater is doing a twirl, not just a pair of skaters), puzzling out the jargon is not so simple when it comes to other Olympic sports, like snowboarding.
The same night I was watching the ice dancers, I also watched the snowboarding slopestyle competition, which is where snowboard riders have to navigate an obstacle-type course and perform airborne tricks. The jargon for snowboarding tricks comes from the same roots as skateboarding terminology, so I heard a lot about 180s, 360s, 1080s, etc. in addition to names such as “Twisted Sisters” (I hadn’t even realized up until now that this name referred to a feature of the slopestyle course in Pyeongchang, not a trick). The problem for me is that the action in snowboarding happens so fast it’s hard to figure out what the commentators are talking about when they start rattling off names and descriptions of tricks, and there’s not a lot of time for them to give explanations geared toward casual viewers. The biggest difference we can discern between different riders is whether or not they fell on their ass during the run. Same goes for figure skating. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a triple axel and a triple toe loop, but I sure know it’s not good if a skater falls down while trying to execute either of these types of jumps.
I know it’s rich for me to complain about jargon as someone who follows baseball, a sport with fans who love to nerd out about statistics with acronymic names such as WAR (wins above replacement) and WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). The difference between baseball and the Olympic sports I have discussed above is that you don’t have to be an expert to write up, or follow, the play-by-play. Example call of a baseball game: ball hit weakly on the ground to the left side, picked up by the third baseman Bryant and thrown across the infield to Rizzo at first in time to record out number three. Cubs win their first World Series since 1908!
Baseball also moves slowly enough that commentators have time to rehash plays after they take place, which makes it easier for casual fans to follow the call for the next play. Pretty much everything I know about baseball is from listening to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo’s (now Ron Coomer) call of nearly every Cubs game since the 1998 season. I even know, more or less, how to score a game even though that’s something I’ve never attempted. Thanks, Pat, for the countless reminders that you just called a 6-4-3 double play for those keeping score at home! I couldn’t say the same thing about figure skating. Here’s what my call would sound like: Good evening, Canada. We’re coming to you live from the Gangneung Ice Arena in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which is definitely not Pyongyang, North Korea! Time for the ice dancing short program! Alright loyal viewers, Canada’s sweethearts Virtue and Moir are heading out to perform their routine which includes selections from songs by the Rolling Stones and the Eagles – quite the ballsy choice for a Latin dance program if I do say so myself. Here’s a twizzle. That looks pretty cool. And another twizzle. Wow, more twizzling! Such twizzling! Now Moir lifts Virtue. It looks like she’s sitting on his face. That’s a little too spicy for national television! Outrageous! Oh no, he dropped her! They definitely won’t be able to win gold now. It’s a sad day for Canada…Hey, is that a Kim Jong Un impersonator in the stands?
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