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COLUMN: Words Don’t Capture The Big Moments

Assoc. Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 02:02

I have a weakness for ice dancing. My fondness for the sport—and I classify it as such because of the incredible strength, coordination, and practice that it takes to pull off a foxtrot on ice—may at first seem out of place among my other athletic preferences: mainly college football and any type of hockey. Upon further investigation, though, the captivating aspects of ice dancing—the perfect coordination between pairs, the fluidity and deliberateness of each movement, and the perfectly timed transitions between skaters—hold true through all great athletic endeavors.

Nine hours separate Boston’s Eastern Standard Time Zone from Sochi, Russia, where the world’s greatest athletes—ice dancers included—have gathered for the Olympics. As a result, on Feb. 8, when the first ice dancing competition was taking place as a part of the new figure skating team competition, I was made aware of the USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s score long before I had a chance to catch the event on TV. Davis and White, as Twitter alerted me, scored a 114.43, the top score of that element of the team competition.

When the event came on NBC primetime, however, I still watched.

It’s not just the difference in time zones that makes this topic relevant. As I sat at Monday night’s Beanpot final, I put out update after update on Twitter, trying my best to describe the way Clay Witt dove for the puck or the complicated maneuver that Patrick Brown made on his game-winning goal.

I can tweet the results, let them be known to anyone who cares, and even give a brief description. Just like I will never be able to live tweet a particularly complicated ice dancing combination in a way that will give you the same feeling as though you were watching it unfold in front of your eyes, though, my little updates will never convey the full picture of the big moment. There’s no complete substitute for watching the game.

It’s something that we will always struggle with as writers: how do you convey the true magnitude of a sequence or play without your audience experiencing it first hand? You can use all the descriptive language you want, but is there really a good way to describe a particularly agile sprawl from Thatcher Demko? And where do you draw the line where descriptive language becomes too much?
No matter how hard I, or any sports writer, try, it’s impossible to convey that moment of stress when a shot ricochets off the post, only to be covered by the goalie less than a second later. I’ll never give you that instantaneous lurch in your stomach when your team makes a fatal error, and I’ll never make your heart leap as high as it would when you see the unlikely game-winning goal hit the back of the net.

Part of it has to do with removal. You’re not at TD Garden or in the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, so you don’t feel the level of excitement that comes from the crowd around you, but the real value that is lost comes from the brief way information is conveyed via a single-sentence tweet.

I don’t think that any level of media—writing, tweeting, or otherwise, will ever replace the experience of watching the game and, apparently, I’m not the only one. A survey put together by NBC recently revealed that about two-thirds of people are still likely to tune in to primetime coverage of Olympic sports, even if they have already been made aware of results.

The survey tells us that the Olympics, and I would argue many other sporting events—the Beanpot and college football included—go so far beyond the results. As fans, we will always take a quick update on the score if it is the only thing available to us, but something put down on paper or on a computer screen will never encompass the entire experience.

The bits of media that we do consume are supplements. While watching a game, I’ll often glance down my Twitter feed to see what others are saying about it, and after the game I may read a story online. While that enhances my experience, it will never replace it.

The ice dancing competition in Sochi, the one that is not involved with the team event, takes place on Sunday and Monday. As an avid fan of team USA, I’ll probably check the scores when they pop up on my Twitter feed during odd hours of the day, but when it comes time, I’ll still happily sit myself down to watch the performances, the graceful turns, painful falls, and the gold medal moments, regardless of how much I know about them before hand.

 

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