The 1994 Winter Olympics attracted some of the highest ratings in TV history, and not so much for the go-for-the-gold competition and the inspired television coverage, but for the good old-fashioned melodrama. From hard-luck skater Dan Jansen to hard-partying Italian skier Alberto Tomba to hard-to- forget Ukrainian orphan Oksana Baiul to, of course, Nancy and Tonya, there were enough compelling characters-and soap-operatic subplots-to fill a prime- time miniseries.
The characters are all here in The 1994 Winter Olympics Highlights Video -but this recap very rarely gets around to fleshing them out. From a total of 120 hours of TV coverage, the producers have sampled the key competitions in most events, preserving a lot of pure poetry in motion: the high-speed precision of the downhill skiers, the gravity-defying form of the ski jumpers, the tightwire balance of the speed skaters. But what the tape doesn’t capture is the drama on the sidelines-the stories that kept us tuning in for both their sudsy appeal and their influence on the outcome of the Games.
The tape falls especially short where the subplots were the thickest: the figure-skating competition. Rushing through the performances, the producers never address the controversial return to amateur competition of professionals Brian Boitano, Katarina Witt, and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. They barely allude to Baiul’s potentially disabling leg and back injuries. And they aren’t even all that interested in the Kerrigan-Harding affair. Ironically, what made these Games so great is what undoes the tape: There are simply too many highlights to fit into 60 minutes.
No wonder CBS has also released The 1994 Winter Olympics Figure Skating Highlights competition Video. But this is more than The Nancy and Tonya Show. Indeed, they’re just two of a dazzling ensemble, each of whom is in his or her own minidrama: Baiul staggers bleeding off the practice rink, then returns the next day to win the gold over Kerrigan; Torvill and Dean wow the crowd in the ice-dancing finals, only to be awarded bronze by the unimpressed judges; superstars Boitano (USA) and Viktor Petrenko (Ukraine) both stumble in their bids to recapture Olympic glory, while young guns Elvis Stojko and Philippe Candeloro triple-Axel into the limelight.
Ultimately what wins this tape high marks is the way it tells the other stories-like American pairs skaters Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, who skate together exquisitely, even though they know they’re out of the running. ”This is what every skater dreams about,” says Tracy Wilson, a former skater and color commentator. ”To skate better than you’ve ever skated, at the Olympic Games.” That’s still what it’s all about, even in the year of Nancy and Tonya. Highlights: B- Figure Skating: A-