Sunday, February 22, 1998
Voices made Nagano golden
The year was 1980, the place, a tiny New York village called Lake Placid.
You think of the Miracle On Ice, and you can't help but remember the way a young ABC sports announcer closed out the U.S. men's hockey team's stunning upset of the Soviet Union.
I'm sure that, 18 years later, it still gives some viewers the chills.
"Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!!"
In some ways, those six words were almost a career-maker for Al Michaels, then a still relatively unknown ABC sports announcer. Today, he's the lead voice on the network's marquee sports show -- Monday Night Football -- and is widely recognized as one of the best two or three announcers in the business.
There were no Miracles on Ice in Nagano (disappointment ... oh, yes, there was that for Canadian hockey fans). But the point being made here is well taken -- beyond the unforgettable images television produces at a Winter Olympics, there are the storytellers. The men and women who enhance what we see in our screens, and make it that much more enjoyable.
On Friday, we handed out gold, silver and bronze medals to the sports producing the best television of the Nagano Games. Today, it's time to dole out the honors to the best voices.
An important point before we get started -- only announcers I spent a decent amount of time listening to were considered for places on the Around The Dial medal podium. Handling this any other way just wouldn't be fair.
So, here we go.
Drum roll, please ...
n GOLD: Brian Williams, CBC, evening host -- as the song goes, he's simply the best ... still. There is no other choice for the prime-time host's chair; Chris Cuthbert, Paul Martini and Sandra Bezic, CBC, figure skating -- the network's best announcing team in Nagano. Their analysis and insight was unmatched; Tracy Wilson, CBS, figure skating -- for her work unravelling the ice dance judging mess alone, the Toronto native rates a gold; Steve Armitage, CBC, speed skating -- Canada's stunning success at two venues demanded a strong, exciting voice. That's Armitage; Harry Neale, CBC, and John Davidson, CBS, hockey -- both showed repeatedly why they're the best analysts in their game. Especially strong during the Canada-Czech Republic drama.
n SILVER: Scott Oake and Kerrin-Lee Garter, CBC, alpine skiing -- as weather forecasters, they stayed busy. When the snow stopped, they were solid voices on the slopes; Bob Cole, CBC, men's hockey -- had a few rough moments, but lent his usual level of excitement to virtually every game; Ron MacLean, CBC, morning host -- doesn't have Williams' edge, but kept things moving smoothly for weary early-morning viewers; Verne Lundquist, CBS, figure skating -- the perfect foil to Scott Hamilton's boundless enthusiasm. Never overstated and steady as they come; Allen Abel, CBC, reporter -- was invaluable during the Ross Rebagliati affair; Don Cherry, CBC, hockey -- not as loose a cannon as on Saturday nights, but added his own touch to the games; John Garrett, CBC, women's hockey -- provided solid analysis throughout the inaugural women's tournament.
n BRONZE -- Tom Harrington, CBC, freestyle skiing/reporter -- network's best post-event interviewer in Nagano; Don Wittman, CBC, curling -- he's right at home with the rings; Jim Nantz, CBS, evening host -- easy to see why he's the network's No. 1 voice. Smooth and polished; Rob Stevens, CBC, snowboarding -- knows the lingo and made it entertaining; Cathy Priestner, CBC, speed skating -- A little too exciteable at times, but her familiarity with the Canadian skaters was a bonus.
For those of you not on the podium this time ... there's always Sydney in 2000. Or Salt Lake City in 2002.
HIGHS: You expect certain things when Don Cherry appears on your television screen. Sugar coating isn't one of them. The outspoken CBC hockey commentator minced no words when he talked about Team Canada's failure to win a medal of any color in Nagano. "This is a disaster for us to not come away with a bronze medal or something," he said after yesterday's 3-2 loss to Finland. "There's no other way to put it." ... Sometimes, it takes a child to put everything into perspective (ask Elvis Stojko). In a heartwarming little segment on CBC last night, nine-year-old Pavel Lubanski of Nepean told, in words and with artwork, of his dreams of winning Olympic hockey gold -- just like his grandfather did in 1948 in St. Moritz. And really, isn't that what it's all about? ... More memorable images came from the short-track speed skating venue, especially the emotion following Canada's gold-medal victory in the men's relay. Best of all: CBC's Armitage and Priestner stayed quiet and let the pictures tell the story.
LOWS: Can't imagine too many Canadian viewers found it easy to get up to watch Canada and Finland duel for the bronze medal in men's hockey. I'm sure even CBC's announcers had to work hard to build enthusiasm for the game. That's not a knock against them -- we just had bigger hopes in mind for our boys. That's why it was hard to call this enjoyable television ... Okay, we'll go along with a CBS News report that painted tiny Tara Lipinski as the embodiment of the joy that Olympic triumph can bring (get used to hearing those squeals of delight over and over again). But Wayne Gretzky, poster boy for Nagano disappointment? Surely, there are others for whom failed expectations at these Games stings even more. Maybe even someone who's American.
QUOTABLE: "Hello, Dahlie, he's done it again." -- CBC's Scott Russell, after Norwegian legend Bjorn Dahlie added another cross-country skiing gold medal to his record Olympic collection.