The Battle of the Olympic Voiceovers: USA vs. Canada! Freeman vs. Sutherland!
Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 8:14AM
WViT in 2010 Winter Olympics, Alexi Salamone, CTV, Dan Jansen, Dominique Maltais, Donald Sutherland, Jan Hudec, Julia Mancuso, Kristina Groves, Lindsey Jacobellis, Morgan Freeman, Visa

Inukshuk: Symbol of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics

There’s a chill in the air, and frost on the ground, but a mighty flame will soon ignite, firing the imagination, and the spirit, in all of us,” or so says Morgan Freeman in one of Visa's many 2010 Olympic promos airing in the USA.

"Belief. Its essence is invisible, and its power is extraordinary. It’s the cornerstone of dreams, and it lives in the hearts of our Olympic athletes." At least according to Donald Sutherland in a commercial for CTV, the network broadcasting the Games throughout Canada. 

The 2010 Winter Olympics will kick-off tomorrow, February 12 in Vancouver, Canada. The 17-day competition will include 83 countries battling on snow and ice in 15 different sports for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand on the podium and, "believe." 

Just as USA and Canada will go head-to-head in an attempt to win the most golds, both nations have their own advertising campaigns. Each is designed to educate home audiences about distinguished athletes and build drama — just in time for the opening ceremony.

Over the past few months, the two different countries, two different brands, and two different narrators have been seeding and crafting their own Olympic storylines. This post will examine and rate Morgan Freeman's five promos (for the United States) and Donald Sutherland's five spots (for Canada) to determine the ultimate victor. Two men enter; one man leaves

Welcome to the first-ever (like, in the history of the world) Winter Olympics Promo Olympics (or WOPO). Let the games begin...

From Memphis, Tennessee, Morgan Freeman (also the announcer for CBS' Evening News) first lent his voice to Visa's 2008 Summer Games "Go World" campaign. He's back again as the voice of the credit card company's nine Winter spots which began airing in early January.

From Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, actor Donald Sutherland (father of Kiefer) is the voice of CTV's Winter Olympics promos. CTV put together the Canadian dream-team for their spots; also recruiting Torontonian Howard Shore, the Academy Award-winning composer best known for scoring the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Together the two collaborated on a six-phase campaign that began airing in January of last year and gradually rolled out in the months leading to the Games. 

The spots for both countries have their own unique feel that stay consistent throughout each respective series. Visa's commercials use a blue-washed-tone treatment (in contrast to 2008's sepia style), while CTV's feature Mr. Sutherland's narration with sound bites from highlighted athletes throughout. Both promos are full of inspirational and uplifting messages in every voiceover.  

Event I: Alpine Ski Racing — Julia Mancuso (USA) vs. Jan Hudec (Canada)

We'll first take a look at the two alpine skiing commercials. Visa's chosen athlete, Julia Mancuso took home a gold medal in giant slalom in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Let's learn more about Ms. Mancuso:

Now we'll look at CTV's featured alpine skier Jan Hudec. Mr. Hudec has not yet won an Olympic medal but he did win a World Cup gold in 2007. Mr. Sutherland, tell us more about this champion:

Alright, this is a tough choice. While I like the look and feel of Visa's spot, CTV and Mr. Sutherland really paint a picture. Theirs is more dramatic ("as a child he escaped with his family from communist Czechoslovakia in a wooden boat his father built!") and although Jan Hudec doesn't have any Olympic accolades yet, I find myself really wanting him to win something ("the first gold on Canadian soil!").

*Event I Winner: CTV/Canada* 
Sorry Juila, we're rooting for you this year but Jan's got a hell of a story. 

Event II: Speed Skating — Dan Jansen (USA) vs. Kristina Groves (Canada)

Dan Jansen is a former speed skater for Team USA, best known for racing his way to his first and only gold — and setting a world record — in the final (1994) Olympic performance of his career. While Mr. Jansen was heavily favored in the 1988 and 1992 Games, medals eluded him both times. In the clip below, Mr. Freeman describes the speed skater's six year quest for the gold, and a fulfilled promise to his late sister. 

Kristina Groves, "the pride of Ottawa," made her Olympics debut in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Games. Although she didn't go home with a medal her first time around, she did earn two silvers at the 2006 games held in Torino, Italy. Let's look at Ms. Groves story. 

I like Mr. Sutherland's technical analysis of speed skating: "Time, divided in to minutes, seconds, and hundredths of a second." But Mr Jansen's story is a compelling one, at this point it's legendary, and hearing Mr. Freeman tell the tale only makes it more powerful.

*Event II Winner: Visa/USA*
Dan Jansen's story is nearly impossible to beat. 

Event III: Snowboarding — Lindsey Jacobellis (USA) vs. Dominique Maltais (Canada)

Born in Danbury, CT and currently residing in Stratton VT, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis earned a silver medal in the Women's Snowboard Cross at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Ms. Jacobellis also won three consecutive snowboard cross competitions at the Winter X Games. What's her story? Let's find out. 

Like Ms. Jacobellis, Dominique Maltais competed in the debut of women's snowboard cross at the 2006 WInter Olympics. Ms. Maltais finished with a bronze medal despite crashing mid-race. Let's hear what Mr. Sutherland has to say about this Canadian heroine. 

Visa's story of Ms. Jacobellis, along with Mr. Freeman's narration, is completely predictable. Additionally, he compares snowboard cross to a "demolition derby" which is also predictable. Mr. Sutherland, on the other hand, treats the sport with reverence and grace. And then there's the mention of Ms. Maltais' other job as a firefighter. When she's not snowboarding she's fighting fires and saving lives?!

*Event III Winner: CTV/Canada*
Really no contest here. As much as we're pulling for Lindsey in Vancouver, the firefighting snowboarder wins this category by a mile.

Event IV: Pairs Figure Skating — Zhang Dan & Zhang Hao (China) vs. Jessica Dubé  & Bryce Davison (Canada)

China's Zhang Dan & Zhang Hao, unrelated, first began skating together in 1997. They both earned silver medals for their performance in the 2006 games. Of course, like so many figure skaters, the Zhang's have quite a dramatic tale. Mr. Freeman, take it away:

Jessica Dubé & Bryce Davison made their Olympic debut at the 2006 Winter Games, placing 10th in the competition. Together, the pair are three-time (2007, 2009, 2010) Canadian national champions. They too have a story of perseverance and fearlessness. I'll let Mr. Sutherland explain:

Both stories here are full of tragedy and triumph. But like in the Dan Jansen spot, Mr. Freeman's brevity speaks volumes. While little is said in Visa's commercial, you get the impression that the Zhangs will be a force in Vancouver this year. Conversely, CTV's commercial is too soft, and while that style might work for snowboard cross, it makes figure skating seem too reserved. 

And yes, I'm aware that the Zhangs are Chinese skaters but they were included in Visa's American campaign so we're considering them part of Team USA for the purpose of this post, okay? 

*Event IV Winner: Visa/USA (and China)*
We're especially interested in seeing how Zhang & Zhang perform this year. 

Event V: Hockey — Alexi Salamone (USA) vs. Gillian Apps (Canada)

We're tied going into the final showdown. USA and Canada each have two wins. Hockey, the sport of gladiators, will determine which nation will take home the gold in the inaugural WOPO.  

Alexi Salamone, from Grand Island, NY, is part of the US Paralympic team and is considered to be one of the best sled hockey players in the world. He was also part of the team that took home the bronze at the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino, and the 2008 Sledge Hockey World Championships in Marlborough, MA. Let's learn more about Mr. Salamone:

Gillian Apps is the granddaughter of hockey hall of famer Syl Apps, and carries on her family's long-standing tradition. She won a gold medal, along with the rest of Team Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Listen to Mr. Sutherland discuss Ms. Apps' — and Canada's — hockey legacy in the clip below.

Mr Freeman, you had me at: "born in the Ukraine, just outside Chernobyl." Throw in the line "Given up for adoption...," and how can you lose? Similar to Jan Hudec's story, a tale of overcoming all the odds to get to the Olympic stage will always win big in my book. And let's not even get into the fact that Mr. Slamone plays without legs. Even though I thought the Visa spot ended a bit abruptly, it's still game over for Gillian. 

*Event V Winner: Visa/USA*
Alexi, win it for USA.

2010 Winter Olympics Promo Olympics Champions
Morgan Freeman

Well, it was a close race throughout this post. But Mr. Freeman and Visa/USA managed to dig deep down, look in the face of defeat and say, no, not today, I will not lose today. They pulled it together because they believed. Visa, you are an inspiration to us all. Congratulations.  

Finally, one last thing. Mr. Freeman and Mr. Sutherland both narrated general Winter Games spots to appropriately frame the promos described above. In the spirit of Olympic unity, we've combined their clips to create the greatest Winter Olympic commercial in the world.

Article originally appeared on Whose Voice? (
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