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All curling all the time in Nagano

Time flies, but after spending nearly a week on the other side of the world, I'm no longer prepared to say in which direction.

People keep insisting the time difference between Nagano and the eastern United States is only 14 hours, but don't believe it. If you lay a copy of the actual Olympic schedule alongside TV Guide, the only thing you can be certain of is that curling is going on nearly every minute of every day here.Think about that: All curling all the time - and only one hour of it will make it back on TV in the United States. It's almost as though the rest of it never happened.

History records that it took Americans 75 years to reach Japan. That is only slightly longer than it will take the television pictures from these Olympics to make the return trip. Or so it seems.

Once the higher-ups at CBS figured out the audience for "Tonya-gate" didn't care that it was watching six-hour-old videotape from Lillehammer, somebody at the network came up with a new Olympic motto: "Better Late Than Never."

That's why the figure skating drama this time around, starring Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski, will be pawned off on America a full 15 hours after it begins in Japan.

Remember when NBC got roasted for showing events from the Atlanta Games a few hours after they took place? At the time, a spokesman defended the presentations as "plausibly live," a phrase that would have been better if applied to John Tesh.

CBS has already said it intends to come clean about what's live and what's not, but don't expect to see the words "taped earlier" pulsating too often in a corner of the screen.

So what's the difference, really?

You will have to keep your eyes closed and fingers stuck in both ears all day to avoid knowing what happened. And even then, at some point, you will crash into a desk, or forget to turn the radio dial fast enough, or fail to choke the wise guy in the next cubicle before he blurts out the result. And an entire year of watching those overdressed Lilliputians spin across the ice until you're dizzy, of learning to distinguish a lutz from a salchow, will all have been for nothing.

And there's more. The National Hockey League closed down for 17 days and freed up 120 players to put together a "Dream Ice" tournament. And it might yield some of the best hockey ever played. But as far as television - and as a result, most of America - is concerned, it might as well be a dream. The eight games CBS will show will all begin at either 11:35 p.m. or later. Which begs the question: The puck stops where? Or is it when?

And there's more still.

Try watching David Letterman in the afternoon. The Top 10 list loses its sting when you know how things turn out in advance. Try calling home in the middle of the morning, only to be reminded that it's the middle of the night. You've never heard the word "hello" pronounced that way before.

CBS showed the opening ceremony live on Friday (at least in the Eastern and Central time zones), including one awesome sequence in which choirs on five continents performed Beethoven in stunning synchronicity. Meanwhile, I'm still struggling to remember that the sun can't be in two places at once, that when it's dark here, it's light in the United States.

It will be helpful to keep that in mind while watching the downhill, among the few glamour events you'll see live, unless you stay up into the wee hours of the morning for hockey. Just about everything else will be on Memorex.

Try and sort it out at your own peril, or just do what the monks at the Zenkoji temple down the block did. They turned over part of their grounds to CBS for use as a studio, and in exchange, they'll get a complete set of videotapes to pop into the VCR and watch - any time they please.