Stop the presses, but NBC – kicking and screaming – has actually taken some positive steps in broadcasting the 2022 Winter Olympics.
For one thing, NBC anchor Mike Tirico – he himself bagging a checkered past of sexual harassment scandals – has been instructed to address the controversies of the Beijing Olympics right out in the open, including the Peng Shuai mystery, the Chinese government’s oppression of Muslims within its borders, and much-argued restrictions on potential COVID-positive athletes at the Games, which are said to potentially result in weeks or months-long exile in captivity.
Tirico’s a poor messenger for women’s rights, and his monologues about China’s government are so carefully worded and scrubbed of demonstrative opinions that viewers will be angered by his “both sides”-ness no matter what side of which controversy they’re on. But at least Comcast has found some way to bring up the elephant in the room, without turning us all into mad men.
That was a task largely left to quiet, muttering gymnastics announcers last summer, following Tokyo’s long medical and public-relations ordeal in getting a 12-months delayed “2020” Olympics off the ground.
Also, the network appears to have axed the most annoying and self-destructive habit of Olympics broadcasts in America, a “pro wrestling”-style tendency to take advantage of fore-knowledge of outcomes to manipulate a naïve audience.
Too many times to count, NBC and other networks have recorded a Luge or Ski Jumping event at an Olympic Games held in the Eastern Hemisphere, and having prepared “tinkly piano” documentaries on each highly-ranked competitor, synched the production choice of the “pregame show” to the gold-medal winner by airing his or her tinkly piano movie and only his or her tinkly piano movie beforehand. If you were watching the Winter Olympics in prime-time in the 2010s, and a little-known USA figure skater’s tinkly-piano documentary was broadcast instead of the gold medal favorite’s soppy tale, then you already knew the favorite was going to fall on her butt at some point during the climactic routine. It got to be as bad as watching the TV wrestler “Kane” blow up his in-ring pyrotechnics prior to a match and absolutely knowing he wasn’t booked to win, since even a WWE production crew can’t rig the turnbuckles to explode twice in a row without maintenance. Tinkly piano music during the Olympics became a sound as menacing as the intro to “Purple Haze” for bettors who’d picked an athlete whose piano was silent.
On Sunday night, prior to airing U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin’s maiden international slalom run of 2022, NBC ran a sad, touching documentary about Shiffrin unexpectedly losing her father. Unfortunately, it seemed, an Olympian’s heartfelt story was about to be mixed with the worst kind of cynicism, as the sound of pianos and violins accompanying Shiffrin’s interview would spoil a triumphant race’s outcome for the 2-time Olympic winner’s fans with its deliberate ratings ploy and “don’t worry, the old folks won’t catch on” broadcast ethos. But subsequent footage from the slopes showed Shiffrin crashing on a routine turn, and emotionally vowing to redouble her Olympic efforts after coming-up a caboose in the standings. That’s a tough break for an alpine superstar, but a nice move for NBC, which probably had to kidnap at least one Senior Producer to get the idiotic “run her documentary before she wins!” trick eliminated from the network’s wheelhouse.
Still, the fact remains that we don’t see the Winter Olympics on TV, at least not in prime time. We see highlight reels of events that happened already. Full-event gambling is strictly for ice hockey, curling, and skating fans in the AM hours.
Sportsbooks might collect huge action on the Super Bowl and the Olympic Games from high-rolling sharks, but recreational gamblers are investing in a new cheering interest and not just potential profit when placing their bets. How can speculators navigate a 12-hour delayed Olympics in which TV events are so chopped-up and expurgated as to make the “conveniently-placed lamps” in soft-core adult entertainment seem like magnifying glasses in contrast?
“Skin-a-Max” at 3 AM isn’t the answer – you’ll miss Men’s Ice Hockey. But scroll on for a concise cheat-sheet on the best odds and TV watches still to come in Beijing.
2022 Winter Olympics: Late-Night Gold Medal Events and Game Odds
The best place to start is with compact, simple Beijing Olympics events that are not popular enough with “the old folks” to warrant being held-off TV as they occur live. NBC’s not about to debut the gold-medal Women’s Figure Skating performance when it actually happens in the middle of the night New York time. But they’ll broadcast a big curling match or a hockey game live in its entirety, and China’s organizers are practical enough to schedule late-night and AM events which are viewed state-side in the morning or on the previous night respectively.
Gold medal games in ice hockey will be shown early in the day. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many genuine contenders for Men’s Ice Hockey gold on February 20th, thanks to the NHL’s pull-out and Team Sweden’s reliance on NHL-AHL ranks.
Pick a side – it’s USA or Canada at 1/1 futures-odds to mount the first ice hockey podium in China. Women’s Ice Hockey has also turned into a 2-team race for gold again, but don’t listen to anyone who says the USA and Canada should play their own non-contact ice hockey championship and leave the other nations out of it. Women’s hockey is solid enough to have produced a “missing medals” World Championship winner from Europe in 2019, when Finland scored to defeat Team USA in single overtime only to have the goal waved-off by a mysterious video judge. ROC, yet another team capable of challenging the North Americans, is playing with a “shorthanded” roster due to strict Chinese pandemic protocols.
It’s even worse for the 2019 WWC runners-up. Finland’s magnificent goalie quit her national team shortly before the Olympics thanks to a coach nobody could stand, who was fired 6 months too late after Suomi’s other distaff goaltenders blew a gasket to begin the Beijing Olympics. But even in their darkest hours, the 2 troubled European strongholds lost to Team USA by an average of 4 goals in the round-robin. Women’s hockey isn’t nearly as lopsided as it’s made out to be, and Russia – pending a full roster restoration – could turn into an excellent bronze-medal pick in addition to an ATS bet against IIHF-style “goal spreads” at FanDuel.
Bovada’s offering NHL-style “puck lines” on Women’s and Men’s Ice Hockey. God bless the offshore book for getting the women’s odds out with plenty of time to spare in 2022, but we get enough “(-1.5)” at the sportsbook for NHL games.
Curling is a meditative late-night wager akin to betting on chess matches. Nothing against The Roaring Game, but at the Olympic level, it’s hard for an inferior team to earn an advantageous “hammer” on most “ends,” so a favorite’s victory in curling can feel as doomy and inevitable as watching a defense-minded prep pigskin team defeat a weaker opponent 24-7 with 3 full quarters of ball-control.
But strangely enough, the deafening hype of Winter Olympics coverage can drown out the roar of a curling stone swept across an ice rink.
The careful, cautious sport literally carved-out of glaciers took hot-button center stage at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea, mostly thanks to 2 Team USA stories. The sister and brother team of Matt and Becca Hamilton were hyped bigly before the Games began, causing odds on the pair to shorten for the Mixed Curling competition. The 4-man team led by skip John Shuster was written off as “inaccurate” and not given a chance, making their odds-to-win long.
The Hamiltons had no substance to back up the buzz. Meanwhile, the U.S. men’s curling team brought a unique set of skills to Korea with which to snag a surprise gold. Yes, their shots were not always mathematically precise, as many pundits pointed out even after the 2018 Games. But as important as precise shots and communication are on the sheet, those qualities are not 100% of what makes a strong curling unit. Team USA deceived their opponents with unpredictable shots and sweeping, and Shuster’s tactical direction was always spot-on. The quartet knew when to take chances and when not to, and kept icy-cool in the clutch, largely because there was zero pressure on a “no chance” curling team at the Olympics. Contrastingly, the much-ballyhooed Hamiltons felt heat on the ice rink as the constant crush of reporters and fans ramped-up pressure to succeed.
The Hamilton siblings lost several times in their round robin and were out of the running soon after the Opening Ceremonies. Shuster’s team won gold in a tremendous upset. Is there a curling team at the Beijing Olympics that’s getting overshadowed by another team on the betting board based on hype alone?
In Men’s Curling, look to wager small units on Switzerland at (+850) odds to win gold. The triumvirate of Great Britain, Canada, and recent world champion Sweden is handicapped with far shorter odds at FanDuel Sportsbook, but the Swiss are overlooked after whipping Tre Kronor in Canada last year.
Shuster’s team of Cinderella champions returns as an 11-to-1 wager in 2022.
Only the Men’s 2-man and 4-man bobsled odds are currently online at Bovada Sportsbook, and boy, are the Germans prohibitively favored in each race. Driver Francesco Friedrich is a (-700) gold medal favorite in 2-man “bobsleigh” and a (-600) or 1-to-6 favorite to prevail in the climactic 4-man event on 2/18.
WagerBop won’t tell a lie that anyone on our sports staff has strong opinions about bobsledding. But the lopsided odds still allow for a “system” underdog wager on Beijing’s toboggan ride based on the blog’s #1 rule of sports forecasting.
When in doubt, bet against the media. A regrettable media trend in bobsledding is the habit of labeling each 2 and 4-athlete team as a 1-person show only. Friedrich could drive for a 15-man team on February 18th and the announcer would still say, “Here goes Francesco Friedrich, all by his lonesome as a single, solo, unaccompanied bobsled driver!”
The trend causes significant benchmarks of the sport to go overlooked, such as Willie Gault and other cross-sport athletes contributing to Team USA’s development in the late 20th century, or the fact that one of the only historical angles Cool Runnings actually got right (the list isn’t long) is that the fabled start-up Jamaican team had multiple trained drivers ready to compete thanks to the prevalence of boxcar-style racing sports in Central America.
Given the added pressure and variables of the 4-man event, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the German driver (and his invisible team of sprinters) go home with only 1 set of gold medals in 2022. Gamblers looking to pick a bargain line on men’s bobsledding in China can choose from a treasure trove of solid long-odds underdogs thanks to the odds on “Germany I,” including Justin Kripps’ Canadian quartet at (+1200) and legendary Johannes Lochner (10/1) with Germany II.
Beijing “Glamor” Games: Prime-Time Viewing or Sneaky Streaming
Fans of women’s figure skating, men’s downhill, and other “marquee” Winter Olympics events can have a better time – IMHO – by watching Olympic broadcasts from Canada or another country from where Beijing’s events are more faithfully documented in their entirety. We’d have more appreciation for top-notch figure skaters and gymnasts if everyone sat through Team Luxembourg to start. That would allow for crucial contrasts that go missing in “highlight reel” TV.
But for gamblers, there’s nothing wrong with betting on a gold medal pick in skating or skiing and then waiting for prime-time TV coverage…so long as it’s the gold. Bronze medal picks and other underdog “prop” wagers could be better spent on long-shots in sports where NBC can’t find a way to keep them off the air.
Of course, you can always stream Women’s Figure Skating or find a TV broadcast of the whole thing early the previous morning. But we bet on The Walking Dead or WrestleMania knowing that someone out there knows the outcome already. That doesn’t necessarily make it less fun, so long as the bettor doesn’t know.
Bovada is doing its best to make women’s skating a dull wager in 2022. Team ROC (Russia) teenagers have hacked the code of modern figure skating, inventing ways to out-shine their competitors in-between jumps. Let’s face it, figure skating competitions often come down to waiting for a skater to attempt a hard triple or a quadruple, and the rest is simply suspense and a lot of arm-waving. But because Russia’s young figure skaters have incorporated so many advanced elements of ballet dancing and yoga-style contortionism, ROC can fare equally and exactly as well on triple-jumps as the other teams, as still sweep the podium. Speculators shouldn’t look to use this “hack” as a betting angle, though, because Bovada Sportsbook is among the many books who’ve factored it into the odds.
Factored it in a little too much, maybe? Team ROC’s 3 skaters in the Women’s Freestyle skate are at shorter odds than any of the next-shortest wagers by a 4-fold scale. The inimitable Kamila Valieva is nearly a 1-to-10 favorite to win gold.
Similar to Lochner on the bobsled track, U.S. performer Karen Chen (+5000) could represent a rare “name brand” Olympic long-shot pick with some substance.
Lindsey Jacobellis of Team USA is a solid 11/1 underdog pick to win the Women’s Snowboard Cross, a fast and electrifying event that will be shown in its entirety on NBC. Alternatively, in the Men’s ski jump team competition, duck the mad trend on Austria wagers (and the hand-wringing over Norway) and try Poland at (+430).
Yes, the ski jump is on February 14th, not concurrent with the Closing Ceremony, and we’re winding-up this preview with it. But we’ve all got to admit that COVID-19 and politics have made the Winter Olympics a little sideways, if not upside down in execution. That makes a “closing” tout on Beijing’s penultimate week into nothing but par for the course…2 years before the IOC visits the parklands of Paris in ’24.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.