SPORT ON TV: No qualms with Kwan's artistry, but the ice still left me dry

IN A WEEK when the Americans are shaping up to play the global bully again, it was fun to see them having their butts whipped on the ice in Nagano (BBC, Eurosport). CBS had paid pounds 235m for the rights to the Olympic Games, nearly as much as Brian Laudrup's pay packet at Stamford Bridge next season, but once their men's ice hockey team was knocked out, Americans indulged in their true national sport, operating the TV remote. It was during the figure skating, which was about all they had left (and about which I was slightly unkind last week) that I began to muse on ways to make the Games more spectator-friendly.

My first idea was to run the skating and the ice hockey together. Picture Tara Lipinski, who seems to have been plucked from one of those obscene child beauty pageants (such psychosexual dynamite that adult spectators aren't allowed in), going through her routine at the same time as the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan were conducting research into the effects of severe physical trauma during sporting activity: weaving her way through a slalom of severed appendages, a Czech arm to her left, a Kazakh nose to her right, skidding nimbly through the pools of blood, which she rearranges in graceful arcs across the ice...

Or the style-free Frenchman, Philippe Candeloro, who cut easily the most ridiculous figure in Nagano in his red and black jumpsuit, clearly the result of an unnatural union between Michael Flatley, Bruce Springsteen and a dead dog, body-checked out of town by a couple of Finnish enforcers.

Or you could have a special bobsleigh course that dipped in the middle and put the two worst crews from the first run against each other, starting at opposite ends and providing fun and laughter for all the family when they meet in the middle. Or better still, strap drug cheats (or Naseem Hamed) to a luge and run them off against the four-man hit squad (I admit here to the influence of the greatest comedian who ever lived, Bill Hicks, who advocated letting aged relatives go out with a bang as extras in Stephen Seagal movies: "Go on, grandma, walk out into the middle - Wow, cool! He's kicked her head off!")

My favourite idea, though, and I don't see why it couldn't be done, would be to have knock-out head-to-heads in the downhill skiing, just like the FA Cup. OK, they'd have to do a few more runs, but they could manage that, and how much better to race man against man, woman against woman, rather than out there alone shaving microseconds off the clock. You could, of course, run them all together, but that would just be silly.

With last week's harsh words in mind, I settled down to watch skating this week equipped with a vat of pen-poison. A short while later, I found myself doing the hitherto unthinkable - rewinding to watch Michelle Kwan's routine a second, slightly shamefaced time.

The young American went to the Games riding a hype-wave hand-in-hand with her rival, Lipinski. It is unfair on them both, but I can't help associating them in my mind with Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding from four years ago, though I can't imagine Lipinski involved in anything more violent than thcreaming and thcreaming till she's thick. She is technically perfect, but a little soulless, while Kwan has the artistry: one manoeuvre, a spiral, in which she inscribed a line across the rink that had the finesse of a line drawing by Picasso, Matisse or Cocteau, was a lump-in- the-throat job. Honest. So I take it all back. Well, most of it. After Kwan, all else was bathos, apart from the experience of watching the third American, Nicole Bobek, falling apart like the Spurs defence, and then observing her tearful agony as she waited for her lousy marks. In its own way, as gory as the hockey.

It seems these days that you cannot go more than a couple of months without another sports magazine programme leaping on to the screens. The BBC's Onside was the most recent, and Carlton's imaginatively-titled The Sports Show is presumably intended as a response.

If so, it needn't bother itself, eschewing as it does the sports-lite, Cosy Corner approach of John Inverdale and his team. ITV have the Pudgy Twins, Eamonn Holmes and Will Carling, instead, and though Carling has still to learn how to look relaxed, Holmes was surprisingly unfluffy, making sure each discussion stayed rational and interesting. They tried to pack far too much in, Holmes leaping in on someone's mid-flow time and again. Having as guests the card-happy referee Graham Poll, and his assessor for the controversial Arsenal-Chelsea game this week, Philip Don, was a great idea, so why not let them expound at length?

The programme did, though, produce the line of the week, on the subject of the 40 per cent ticket-price hike at Chelsea. "I'm going to have my wages paid directly into the club," one fan said. "It's the only way to get a season ticket these days."

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