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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 12:40 GMT
Washington diary: Olympic woes

By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

22 February

Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio
The personal drama reached a happy crescendo

The British know all about flops at the Winter Olympics.

In the absence of medals we created a hero out of "Eddie the Eagle", the belly flopping ski jumper who crashed and burnt at the 1988 Calgary Olympics to great national acclaim.

Something similar is happening to the skaters of the world in Torino. The New York Times splashed one of its front pages with four images of skating pairs wiping out on the ice.

The official Torino 2006 - or is it Turin, the networks cannot agree and no-one much cares - NBC-sponsored website features "today's crash video" and a slideshow of all the best crashes so far.

The problem is that NBC had touted the US Olympic team as the best ever and stars like Bode Miller, the Colorado answer to Franz Klammer have, to be frank, been a bit of a disappointment

Whether it is the country's relatively low medal count - I stress relative as the US has so far won 17 medals to the UK's 1 - or the dismal ratings of NBC's Olympics programmes, these winter games are laced with schadenfreude.

Live television was used to hilarious effect earlier this week when cameras kept an unflinching eye on the Cold War that had erupted between Italy's premier skating couple: Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio.

After nose diving on the ice during their first round, the couple blamed each other, fought in public and then spent the next 24 hours avoiding conversation, eye contact and, needless to say, all forms of physical contact.

Surely this is a risky ploy when the first act of breaking the ice - as it were - involves pirouetting on it. It did not help that both were dressed for their pharaonic dance like a pair of very expensive curtains at a plush restaurant.

US v GB women's curling match
Can the special relationship survive this tussle on the ice?

The personal drama, annoyingly interrupted by a commercial break every few minutes, reached a happy crescendo when the ice couple twirled, twizzled and zinged through the air like birds in flight and then came down to earth with a smile, a hug, a passionate kiss and a torrent of Torino tears from maudlin Margaglio..

The problem is that NBC had touted the US Olympic team as the best ever and stars like Bode Miller, the Colorado answer to Franz Klammer have, to be frank, been a bit of a disappointment.

So now America's hopes are pinned on a gold medal in that most glamorous and sofa gripping of white knuckle sports: curling. The principal challenge here comes from the Brits.

Can the special relationship survive this tussle on the ice?

Friendly fire

Lashings of Schadenfreude also greeted the vice-president's unfortunate peppering incident with his lawyer friend in Texas.

Dick Cheney hunting quail
What consumed aeons of air time was not so much the 'shotgun malfunction' itself but how the White House handled it

Opponents of "Vice", as the columnist Maureen Dowd calls Dick Cheney, relished a hunting accident "that could not have happened to a nastier guy". Friends of Cheney and fellow hunters lamented the fact that the straight-shooting politician was such a lousy shot when given a real gun.

What consumed aeons of air time was not so much the "shotgun malfunction" itself but how the White House handled it.

At first it was only Democrats who pounced on the delayed announcement as yet another indication of the administration's secretive modus operandi and the vice- president's sinister powers of manipulation.

But now even conservative columnists like the no-nonsense Robert Novak have rung the alarm bells. None of this bodes well for the much touted, still eagerly awaited re-launch of the Bush presidency.

Comparisons are being made with the extreme make-over of the Reagan presidency in 1987 after the Iran Contra affair.

Then the Gipper defenestrated his irascible Chief of Staff Donald Regan and replaced him with the genially effective Howard Baker - a man respected by both parties - and went on national television to declare about Iran Contra: "No excuses. I made a mistake!"

Ronald Reagan on horseback in 1985
Some are asking whether Mr Bush needs a Reagan-style makeover

Of course no-one is asking George Bush to apologise for Dick Cheney's marksmanship, but what about that other hunting accident on a colossal scale, the war in Iraq, where no WMD have been found and the US has been accused of mishandling the aftermath of its invasion.

Nervous Republican senators and congressmen are waiting for some kind of signal that the president will revamp his second term. Ronald Reagan improved his poll ratings by 20% and became a president so revered that there are groups of rich sober people who want to take hammer and chisel to Mount Rushmore and re-mint the dime in his honour.

No-one here is suggesting that George W Bush won't one day be hailed for bringing freedom to the sands of Arabia but so far there are more prosaic, immediate concerns at hand, like the mid-term elections.

Given the current popularity of the administration, those senators and congressmen/women running in swing states aren't exactly begging the president to help them out in the campaign.


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