Friday, May 11, 2007

“A Nation’s Horse” II

NBC, having produced “Barbaro: A Nation’s Horse” and lined up advertisers, showed their documentary Saturday, May 5 in prime time.

Over a syrupy soundtrack was footage of Barbaro’s greatest wins, pulling up with a shattered leg in the Preakness, and slide from successful surgery to illness and death months later. Narrator Bob Costas, Roy and Gretchen Williams, trainer Michael Matz , jockey Edgar Prado and others must have called him a “special horse” and a “gifted athlete” at least 20 times. Barbaro was compared to Triple Crown winner Man O’ War.

It has been surprising to me how much interest has been expressed on websites about when the program would air on NBC and how many have tributes to Barbaro. It is such a relief that a DVD of this program is available from NBC Sports for only $19.95 so fans can beat a dead horse again and again.

The hero of this story is not Barbaro but Matz. Matz not only walked away from a fiery airplane crash but he saved three children in 1989. He went on to win a silver medal for equestrian jumping at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta and carried the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies. The documentary, because it was about Barbaro, does not mention it was the third Olympics and first medal for Matz, that the medal was a team medal shared with two others and said only he had retired from jumping to go into racing. Actually Matz was at the pinnacle of equestrian jumping; he was U.S. national champion six times and retired as the all-time money winner in jumping.

Captain Brian Freeman was not as fortunate as either Barbaro or Matz. A West Point graduate, Freeman trained with other Olympic hopefuls from the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. Freeman began as a bobsled brakeman teamed with Olympic medalists and then started competing in skeleton. He never made it to the Olympics and he never will. He retired from active service but his reserve unit was called up and sent to Iraq. At 32, he was killed in a firefight near Karbala.

A documentary of Freeman’s sports competition is not available from NBC Sports. However, it would not surprise me if “Seung-Hui Cho: America’s Killer” is in development for NBC’s Infotainment Division.

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