Walcoff: Olympics save us during an otherwise dull sports time 

Never underestimate the power of patriotism. You think NBC would ever televise ski jumping or snowboardcross during the February ratings sweeps? But splash an Olympic logo on the screen with lots of star athletes wearing red, white and blue, and the peacock network is the instant king of prime time, and rightfully so.

Sure we have to wade and wait through esoteric events such as curling, with its weird, Harry Potter-like love of brooms; biathlon: “Honey, did you pick up any ammo for our ski trip?”; and skeleton, where they race face-first on a sled down an icy track because the luge isn’t scary enough. Even with a great American women’s hockey team, it also doesn’t quite make a top-tier attraction, not because they can’t handle the puck, but Olympic rules forbid checking. Go figure.

The same International Olympic Committee that makes women’s hockey seem more like figure skating with sticks just added women’s boxing to the 2012 Summer Games in London.

So, while you may be underwhelmed by the competition so far, hang in there, the best is yet to come, especially for team USA’s marquee athletes. Tonight’s men’s figure skating long program should be a classic duel for the gold between defending Olympic champ Evgeni Plushenko and Evan Lysacek, the hard-charging world champion from Illinois.

Maybe even the flamboyant Johnny Weir, in sixth place after the short program, will wow the world tonight. Highly decorated
skiers Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn and Squaw Valley’s Julia Mancuso are all in line for more medals. Short-track speedskating phenom Apolo Ohno is one race away from becoming America’s most decorated Winter Olympian.

Shani Davis is a speedskating sensation and the first African-American ever to win a gold medal in an individual Winter Games sport. The incomparable Shaun White is shredding his way into snowboarding history.

Don’t forget the strong U.S. men’s hockey team. Although Sharks fans could be sweating out a possible finals showdown with Canada, which features four men of teal — Joe Thornton, Patty Marleau, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle. Trust me, little Joe Pavelski, the lone Shark on the American squad will be hard-pressed to get the better of Big Joe on enemy ice.

Bay Area sports fans should be particularly thankful for the Winter Olympics. Without them, all we’d have is the dreadful Warriors, an almost meaningless NHL regular season, the dull calm before the storm of college basketball’s March Madness and the beginning of the endless hype of spring training for the Giants and A’s. Pitchers and catchers begin workouts today in Arizona.

Baseball in February? I’d rather watch the nordic combined.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news and is also the co-host of “Raiders Gameday” and “Recap” talk shows on KSFO (560 AM). He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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