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vancouver games

A Slow Night in Vancouver

Aileen Gallagher is writing about the Winter Olympics every weekday for The Sports Section. She is smart.

NBC's prime-time Olympic coverage last night opened with Bob Costas flying around Vancouver in a metaphor sea plane. We admire British Columbia's stunning scenery, but we wish the Games weren't so clearly in a holding pattern. When an in-studio visit from Michael Phelps is the highlight of your first hour of programming, you know it's day eleven of the Winter Olympics.

"It's been cool," said Phelps of his experience in Vancouver, and after a few variations on that theme he discussed his own plans for London 2012. (No distance and no breaststroke races, but that's all the swimmer knows for sure.) Less cool, but certainly more inspiring, was a feature Tom Brokaw did about snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered a traumatic brain injury last December while training for these games. (Pearce's father, Simon, is the renowned glass and ceramics artist.) Pearce was pitted as Shaun White's only real competition in these games, but now he struggles to walk on his own and regain speech. One of the other Pearce sons has Down's Syndrome, and their mother asserted with grace and conviction that the lessons learned from that child are what prepared the family, and Kevin, for what will be a long recovery.

What better adds levity to life's struggle than Ice Dancing? Possibly this line, from an NBC analyst: "Footwork sequences are like an ice dancer's quad." That sound you hear is Yevgeny Plushenko expectorating his disgust. And that's all we have to say about Ice Dancing, now and forever.

Fortunately, Men's Freestyle Aerials came on to remind us that we were watching the Winter Olympics. Skiers go down a hill at about 40 miles an hour and then shoot up, up, up in the air, to twist and turn and flip and fly against the black background of a clear night sky. It is a thrill to watch, and one of the only events where you can overhear the coaches working with their athletes as they compete. Plus, the event has characters: Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, an American, was sent home from Turino in 2006 for "conduct unbecoming an Olympian" after getting drunk and punching his friend in the face. (Peterson may have the most checkered past of any U.S. Olympian; that he's able to compete at this level says something about the healing power of sport.) Peterson will soar for gold on Thursday; both he and the event are worth your time. What we want to know is where to get those fuzzy, baby-blue starred U.S. freestyle skiing uniforms. They look like pajamas.

What to Watch Tonight

Men's Giant Slalom
Women's Ski Cross
Women's Figure Skating: Short Program

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Photo: Steve Freeman/NBC