Olympic Flame

Coverage Of The Sydney Games Is Rating High On The Suck-o-Meter.

ABOUT EIGHT EDITORS ago, it was decided that I would branch out from my extensive sportswriting duties and cover TV as well. Actually, I was having lunch with that editor and while she droned on about responsibility or professionalism or something, I kept looking over her shoulder at the TV on the wall.

Suddenly, it came to her in a flash. "We can name you TV editor as well as sports editor. Of course, there won't be any more money in it. But you'll have an extra title for your résumé when we finally fire you."

Ever the tough negotiator, I held out. I insisted upon, and received, the title of radio editor, too. And that's how I came to corner the Moron Market. Here's some of what I learned while doing my duty last week:

· An awful lot of people in the media are full of crap. This isn't that "liberal media bias" nonsense. Those who are full of crap are generally crap-ful in a non-political way. Do you realize that we chop down trees and conscientiously recycle so that USA Today can report that the TV ratings from the Olympics are down 5.3 percent from the corresponding first Tuesday from the Atlanta games four years ago?

Is there anybody in America who cares about that at all? OK, there are legions of suits working for the networks and ad agencies who care, but is there anybody in America whom you wouldn't throw into a live volcano if you could get away with it, who cares about ratings? This is a non-story, people. Stop reporting it.

And are we supposed to be surprised that the numbers are down, anyway? The games are being played in September instead of during the lull period of summer. Kids are in school, football has started, and to find out what time it is in Sydney, you have to subtract six hours from Tucson and add a day! Does it surprise anyone that there is a certain lack of urgency?

They're the Olympics and they're fun, even if we did somehow manage to find out yesterday who won today.

· Let's get this straight. I'm a guy and I like watching women's gymnastics. These are some fantastic athletes. Of course, I wish they would use real people for the events instead of genetically altered 17-year-olds who stand (if you'll pardon the expression) 4-foot-8 and have somehow managed to evade puberty.

I heard one idiot on the radio claiming that the TV coverage spends way too much time on gymnastics. I think it's great. Part of the mystique is that we don't see gymnastics all the time; it's one of those things that only comes around every few years. Like Joseph Sweeney.

· One of the most daunting tasks for putting on the Olympics is finding an army of commentators and analysts who have an understanding of the sports and are capable of speaking in complete English sentences. The other night, when it was discovered that the vaulting horse in the women's all-around competition was five centimeters too low, this one imbecile kept using the (non-)word "heighth." Then, when it was learned that it was a full five centimeters off, the dude 'bout passed out. "Five centimeters! Five centimeters! That's about ... uh ... (long, painful pause) ... uh ... (apparently responding to a voice in his earpiece) ... oh, OK ... two inches."

What's the matter, were you home-schooled?

Then his partner used the made-up verb "impacted" about 8,000 times. Here's the deal. If I were running these things, I'd get the people and tell them this: We'll fly you there, pay for your meals, and put you in the hotel. Then, we'll give you $50,000 and a really neat blazer that you can wear to Backstreet Boys concerts when you're done. However, the third time you butcher the language and every time after that, we take back $1,000. You can have whatever's left over.

Half these guys would have to sign on as entertainment on tramp steamers just to get back to America.

· I was one of millions of Americans who screamed for our country to send NBA guys to the Olympics for 20 years after the Russians cheated and stole the gold medal in the '72 games. When it finally came to pass and we had the original Dream Team beating people by 80, it was like, "Gee, that wasn't very much fun. Let's go back to the old way."

It's not going to happen. While a majority of Americans would probably prefer that we go back to sending collegians to play for us, the rest of the world loves the opportunity to see our best basketball players. And/or Kobe Bryant, depending on whether he can stop cruising around high schools with a bag of candy, looking for dates.

· Finally, my favorite Olympic story from last week was when a Mexican guy won the 20-kilometer walk and then was disqualified because he walked wrong! It was claimed that he lost contact with the ground more than the allowed three times.

Last I checked, 20 kilometers is around 12.5 miles. (Don't tell that home-schooled gymnastics guy; he's still working on the centimeters problem.) Do you mean to tell me that they have judges who follow along for 12-and-a-half miles to see if a dude skips or trips or catches a butt-cramp? (This, of course, avoids the question of why people would want to walk-race in the first place. Why not have a contest to see who can sit down on the couch the fastest?)

And how high on the Suck-o-Meter would the job of walk race referee be? "OK, as part of your work-release program, you have to run alongside these fast walkers and make sure they don't skip, trip or get a butt cramp."

"Can't I just go back to Devil's Island and serve out the rest of my sentence? Dancing with Turk wasn't that bad."