Tears for Joannie Rochette.

Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 24 2010 5:14 PM

Tears for Joannie

What an amazing, yo-yo hearted moment.

Though this magazine's "Olympics Sap-o-Meter" is excellent at gauging the flow rate of NBC's treacle, it isn't calibrated to record instances where the network does a commendable job of keeping its sentimentality honest. Because such instances are nearly as plentiful as Bermudan medalists, this is not a major flaw, but it should be noted that the network is acquitting itself well with its measured coverage of the Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette, who performed her short program two days after her mother's sudden death.

Rochette skated well and then wept heavily. The camera did not flinch in soaking up her tears, which meant that some viewers did, squirming with the sense that we were intruding on private sorrow. The announcers were sensitive enough not to compound our uneasiness—or to introduce mawkishness—by flinging any bromides. You can tell a first-rate broadcaster by his skill at knowing when to shut up. Whatever Tom Hammond, Sandra Bezic, and Scott Hamilton said immediately after Rochette skated wasn't memorable, which means that they hit the right tone.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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Still, they are commentators, and later in the night it was time to comment. Bezic said, "To watch this process is truly an honor." Hamilton added, "It's like she's taking everything her mother ever gave her and applying it to this process." In returning to that word, they suggested that the grieving process and the creative process were in this case connected. A show of art and athleticism on this level must have soul in it; the soul suffers; the show must go on; the going nourishes the soul. Hammond, looking back, called the performance "the emotional high of the night—the low of the night—however you want to grade it," which was slightly goofy and exactly right, evoking the yo-yo-hearted sensation of witnessing Rochette's beauty and bravery. No matter what happens, I'm gonna cry like a baby when she skates again Thursday night.

NBC aired those remarks during its late-night show, which is hosted by Mary Carillo, who has no business hosting a show. A treasure though she is—sharp and sensitive and skilled at taking McEnroe down a peg during tennis coverage—Carillo is not well-suited for this particular gig. She is stiff and forced. Also, she is literally not well-suited, regularly wearing jackets with wide, weird, gaudy lapels that call to mind the Flying Nun's wimple. A Google search determines that others have beaten me to the punch line: She is ripe for a Kristen Wiig lampooning on SNL.

We would be remiss not to mention that Tuesday offered two great shooting-sport moments. The first came courtesy of the South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-Na, who punctuated a radiant short program with a delicious bit of pantomime gunplay. Fast-forward to about the 3:30 mark in this video to see a bang-bang like a blown kiss. This was a Bond girl move, but Kim also conjured a vision of a charismatic Annie Oakley, who can do anything better than you. The gesture made the whole elegant routine look all the more effortless, as if the new sheriff in town had merely been twirling her pistol.

The second firearms incident came during a wee-hours airing of a biathlon relay, an exciting contest that saw the German and French battle fiercely (though both were bested by the Russians). The announcers got quite keyed up. "If you're a world history major," said one of them, "you could do your thesis on what it means for Germany and France to collide." That's right: As implied, the women's 4x6K relay ended with Panzer tanks rolling down the Champs-Elysées.

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