Liu Zhongqing must be a ghost. His name was on the leaderboard but the Chinese skier was nowhere to be seen.
NBC hopped around the Winter Olympics on Thursday night like a freestyle aerialist getting ready to launch, and the result was a generally satisfying variety of frigid frolics, beauty, grit, athletic insanity, and the Flying Hurricane.
Even a corrupt skating judge (they're all supposed to be locked in some cooler in Kazakhstan, but you never know) could see the wonder of women's figure-skating champion Kim Yu-Na.
Every one in the final group of women rose brilliantly to the occasion. Canadian Joannie Rochette spilled tears, drew ours, and got Scott Hamilton so verklempt that he was speechless for the first time in his life with her bronze-medal-winning turn just four days after the unexpected death of her mother.
It was just plain heartwarming to see 16-year-old American Mirai Nagasu freak and shout, "Oh, my God," when she finally realized she had finished fourth. Sandra Bezic, always a pleasure behind the microphone, added perfect color, with an earlier Nagasu quote: "I don't care about results. I just want people to know that I'm the future."
But the audience cares about results, at least in events that NBC decides to put on its prime-time air. American Jeret "Speedy" Peterson landed the only Hurricane - in which he turns himself into the ultimate high-flying Mixmaster (the kitchen appliance, not the Transformer) - in the history of freestyle aerial skiing, but who was this Liu dude who won the bronze medal?
When NBC cut to commercial as the competition unfolded, Peterson was sitting first and American Ryan St. Onge was second. When the network returned, there was Liu sandwiched between them as the competition went on. Announcers Todd Harris and Jonny Moseley never mentioned him. NBC, which you know has a replay machine somewhere around Vancouver, never showed his jump. Baloney.
Something similar happened at the women's giant slalom. When we left the crash site Wednesday, Frenchwoman Taina Barioz was 0.16 seconds behind, and Austrians Kathrin Zettel and Eva-Maria Brem were a couple of hummingbird wing-flaps behind her. Thursday they had vanished in the dreaded Whistler Mountain fog. "Foreigners," you can almost hear some producer say. "Who cares about them?" Well, maybe nobody, but come on: You started telling the story. You can't just cut out the middle 20 pages.
Zettel lost a couple of lightning flashes at the top of the course and finished fifth overall, and Brem and Barioz left entire eye-blinks on the snow, finishing seventh and ninth, respectively. All of them were comfortably within three-quarters of a second of German winner Viktoria Rebensburg. I sure wouldn't want my career hanging on such tiny margins.
The aerialists fly for about four seconds. The giant slalom racers go a little more than a minute each run. Thank goodness there were some Americans in contention in the large hill Nordic combined, so we could experience the heart-pounding endurance of the cross-country segment of the sport. Lots of weight lost on the couch in America last night, as millions of viewers bobbed their heads and shoulders with every thrust from gold and silver medalists Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane, and how'd you like to lose by 11 seconds after busting every muscle over hill and dale for 61/4 miles?
Austrian Bernhard Gruber didn't seem to mind that much.