Penalty shots hardly Olympian way of settling things


Imagine the NCAA basketball championship being decided by a couple of guys shooting foul shots . . . or the World Series outcome being determined by a pair of beefy sluggers swinging for home runs. Ridiculous?

Of course. Just as ridiculous as that silly shootout Tuesday that sent Canada on to a semifinal test against Czechoslovakia today in the Winter Olympics hockey tournament. Making matters worse is the fact the referee messed up the format as at least a dozen International Hockey Federation bigwigs sat around and watched.

To begin with, it wasn't as though someone had hired the arena to conduct figure skating lessons or something. The rink in Meribel is an Olympic venue until the end of the Games Sunday, then it becomes a flower pot. Why not determine the outcome in a series of overtimes just as the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders did a few years ago when they played four sudden-death overtimes until 1:55 in the morning?

Once every four years they get together to conduct the Olympics and this is an example of some of the half-baked things they do.

* Save for previews of tomorrow's semifinal match between Team USA and the Moscow all-stars in hockey and the free skate of women's figure skating, CBS will really be strapped for subjects for tonight's prime timer.

Check out this schedule: The second run of the women's slalom . . . a men's 20-K biathlon . . . men's 10,000-meter speed skating . . . three consolation-round hockey games (that matchup for the 11th and 12th spot should be a barnburner) . . . and finals of short track speed skating.

Sounds as if CBS might have a chance to slip an extra commercial or two into the mix.

* Just wondering: After the terrific job Larry King did anchoring the 1990 Goodwill Games in his shirtsleeves and suspenders, how come Ted Turner didn't have him host TNT's Winter Olympics coverage? Oh yeah, Larry knows ski jumping; used to do it as a kid growing up in Brooklyn.

* For an outfit that fancies itself as a basketball hotbed, TNT has been the place to be as far as the exciting Olympic hockey tournament is concerned, although CBS will carry tomorrow's U.S.-Unified Team game live at 11 a.m.

TNT's daily shows from 1 to 6 p.m. have been ideal since games can be seen live and, quite frankly, CBS isn't crazy about the sport because there aren't enough breaks in the international game for the insertion of commercials.

Four years ago, recall, ABC had a marquee meeting between the United States and Soviets in prime time and was repeatedly away in commercial when goals were being scored. The howling just subsided.

One of the highlights from the rink occurred the other afternoon when, during a 2-on-1 foray down ice, announcer Jiggs HTC McDonald said of a player, "He married a girl just to gain himself French citizenship. They didn't like each other a whole lot at the start, but then fell in love." He then went right back to the play, not missing a beat.

* The more you watch competitors work the different distances in speed skating -- five races from 500 meters to 6.2 miles, the more you appreciate Eric Heiden sweeping the board clean in 1980. Picture a guy, in one and the same track meet, winning the --, the mile and the 10,000 meters. The pressure was on, too, because the previous three years, mostly as a teen-ager, he had been the overall world champion. Dan Jansen, by the way, finished fourth in the 500 in 1984, same as his standing in Albertville.

Good thing CBS didn't know about it, they would have grilled him on that disappointment, too.

* The longer you watch the Olympics -- what has it been now, a month and a half? -- the more you wonder about the thinking of CBS and TNT in making event assignments. The screeching voices of Pam Fletcher and Leah Mueller just won't go away. Billy Kidd adds nothing to skiing but a cowboy hat and shades. Michael Barkann's an interviewer who can't interview. Mary Carillo? And please, Ron Thulin, hurry back to covering pro hoops.

* TODAY'S TIP: The Fox Network will attempt to put a dent in the strong Olympic ratings tonight (8 p.m.) with a baseball theme on "The Simpsons."

The names of stars, Clemens, Mattingly, Canseco, Boggs and Strawberry, are tacked on characters as Homer's softball team goes for the city gonfalon and they're brought in as ringers. Terry Cashman's rewrite of his epic "Talkin' Baseball" is a highlight.

Speaking of Fox and Canseco, the network will run a Summer Games special Saturday (9-10 p.m.), the Oakland slugger taking on Cecil Fielder in a home run derby in Dodger Stadium (taped Feb. 9).

Jim Palmer hosts the contests and begs to differ when someone refers to this as trashsports. "The fact is," he says, "people like to watch long home runs [especially those surrendered by Jimbo]. And they have a contest at the All-Star Game, don't they?"

Palmer will interview the contestants after each "inning," just as they used to do in the '50s when "Home Run Derby" was quite popular. The best shot is a 435-footer by Canseco and it is caught by nearly every one of the 21 cameras in use.

* One of the more interesting features of the Games came the other night when they showed a couple of cameramen being flown by helicopter to what looked like an eagle's perch, where cameras give a heaven's-eye view of the surrounding peaks and valleys below.

The location produces the equivalent of a blimp shot, but is so remote and inaccessible, they had to set up a shelter in the event of inclement weather. There's food enough for five days for two men and one of them was asked if it was pretty good stuff. "No, it's terrible," he answered in typically straight forward French fashion.

* Incidentally, all those skaters hauling the medals out of Albertville, the Midori Itos, the Duchesnays, Kristi, Tonya, Marina and Sergei, will be part of the Campbell's Soup Tour of Champions show at the Baltimore Arena April 11 and the Capital Centre the next day. Tickets ($25 and $35) are available at TicketMaster, all Hecht's stores and by calling (202) 432-SEAT.

* Before the Olympics end, each and every athlete should be reminded of what the father of the Modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, said about the struggle being the important thing, not the end result. Far too many competitors seem to be carrying a four-years-of-hard-work-down-the-drain attitude around with them after not winning a medal.

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