In my most recent Fish ‘n Chips column, I mentioned my declining interest in the Olympics. This week I was reminded why my interest has declined.
I’m disappointed because I watch the Olympics to see sports. But all I’ve seen on NBC thus far are gymnastics, swimming, synchronized diving (which shouldn’t even be considered a sport) and a smidgeon of beach volleyball. No basketball. No boxing. No soccer.
If you want to watch basketball, boxing or soccer, you can watch them, as I have, on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), MSNBC and CNBC. In prime time, however, the only choice is NBC.
Sometimes while watching the Olympics on NBC I wonder if I’ve mistakenly turned to the Hallmark Channel. It seems as if we’re “treated” to three or four sappy profiles every night. For example, we had to endure Ryan Seacrest’s interview with Michael Phelps’ mother.
My initial reaction was “Why is Ryan Seacrest on a sports show? Doesn’t NBC have enough knowledgeable sports broadcasters?” Then I remembered why I don’t care very much about the Olympics.
Seacrest is conducting interviews because the Olympics is not about sports. At least not in prime time. The Olympic coverage is geared toward attracting women. For NBC, this translates into sappy human interest features, preferably centered upon female athletes or, even better, an athlete’s mother.
That’s why boxing won’t see the light of day on prime time. NBC believes women will turn the channel.
Don’t blame me for stereotyping women. The networks are doing the stereotyping. I know there are many women who love basketball and other “traditional” sports. But in order to get the huge ratings needed to recoup its enormous financial investment, NBC must attract a large audience, meaning it can’t simply rely on traditional sports fans. The network believes the best way to attract the large number of women necessary for having a huge audience is with family-oriented human interest features.
Making matters worse is that London, where the Olympics is being held, is five time zones ahead of us. Because the events of NBC’s prime-time coverage are shown on tape delay, there is more time to put together highlight packages, sometimes set to music (particularly in gymnastics).
The Hallmarkification of the Olympics might generate huge ratings, but it makes me turn the channel. Gymnastics isn’t my favorite sport to watch, but at least let me watch the competition. Let me watch the sport. Instead, I have to sit through another feature package before the event actually begins.
Now I remember why I don’t look forward to watching the Olympics.
SACRIFICING FOR THE TEAM: If I don’t enjoy watching the Olympics, why am I going to devote this entire column to it? Like I said, the Olympics generates huge ratings. Covering sports is about what the readers are interested in, not the writer. So I watch. And I write.
GOLD STANDARD FOR ANNOYING: The most annoying sport to watch is gymnastics. Not only are we inundated with human interest features, but we have to listen to grating, over-the-top commentary provided by Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlegel.
Melodramatic doesn’t do justice to the styles of Daggett and Schlegel. During a poor performance by the United States men’s gymnastics team, Daggett described a mistake by one of the gymnasts as “catastrophic.” Either Daggett doesn’t understand the meaning of catastrophic or, more likely, his use of the word is indicative of the misplaced importance he and Schlegel attribute to gymnastics.
Daggett and Schlegel are also too familiar with the athletes. Except in obvious instances such as the “catastrophic” mistake referenced above, Daggett and Schlegel attempt to minimize the impact of mistakes by U.S. gymnasts and take pains to point out every mistake by gymnasts from other countries. Their jingoistic attitude makes Chris Wheeler sound like an unbiased announcer with no emotional stake in either team.
Daggett and Schlegel start disagreeing with the judges before the scores are even posted. They frequently make statements such as “There’s no way that routine should scores less than …” and “The judge shouldn’t take off more than (tenths of points) for …” Schlegel, in particular, acts as if a poor performance by a U.S. team is a personal affront to her.
With the amount of coverage gymnastics receives in prime time on NBC, it’s impossible to avoid Daggett and Schlegel. I certainly can’t argue with their expertise, but, as a viewer, I can give them a perfect score in the annoying category.
CLASS ACT: In contrast to Daggett and Schlegel, NBC’s coverage benefits from the professional presence of Bob Costas. As the studio host, Costas brings class and perspective to the Olympics. He is economical with his words and respectful of his interview subjects while still asking difficult questions. Unlike all the broadcasters mentioned above, Costas is unquestionably a journalist.
Costas behaved like a journalist during the opening ceremonies, calling attention to the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to hold a moment of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.
“The Israeli athletes now enter behind their flag-bearer Shahar Zubari,” Costas said Friday as the Israeli delegation entered the stadium. “These games mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 tragedy in Munich, when 11 Israeli coaches and athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. There have been calls from a number of quarters for the IOC to acknowledge that with a moment of silence at some point in tonight’s ceremony.
“The IOC denied that request, noting it had honored the victims on other occasions. And, in fact, this week (IOC president) Jacques Rogge led a moment of silence before about 100 people in the Athlete’s Village. Still, for many, tonight, with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost, and how and why they died.”
Thank you, Bob Costas.
OPENING MOMENTS: Except for the procession of athletes from all the participating countries, I’m usually underwhelmed by the opening ceremonies. I don’t watch sports to see song-and-dance numbers. I can appreciate the spectacle, but I don’t necessarily want to see it.
This year, however, I enjoyed the opening ceremonies. The humorous skit featuring Daniel Craig (as James Bond) and the Queen of England was wonderful. The inclusion of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and a general nod to British music – some good, some bad – made the over-wrought production numbers seem more palatable.
PHELPS PHENOMENON: These Olympics haven’t been nearly as successful as Michael Phelps had hoped. However, Phelps still broke the record for Olympic medals by picking up his 19th, this one gold, as a member of the winning 4 x 200 men’s freestyle relay team.
GOLDEN MOMENT: Although I am annoyed by the gymnastics commentators, that shouldn’t detract from the fantastic effort of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, which captured the team title for the first time since the 1996 Olympics. You can see some members of the U.S. gymnastics team at Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 9.
NON-OLYMPIC SPIRIT: Members of Lebanon’s judo team refused to practice on the mat next to members of the Israeli judo team until a screen was set up between the two teams. The screens are available to prevent teams from spying on one another, but, given the relations between Israel and Lebanon, which is heavily influenced by Syria, this request certainly seems questionable.
Israeli officials indicated that the request was based on relations between the countries. This would certainly be contrary to the Olympic spirit. Lebanese officials did not comment on the request for separation from Israeli athletes during the training session.
NON-OLYMPIC SPIRIT II: Eight badminton doubles players were disqualified for allegedly trying to lose matches during round-robin matches to get a more favorable draw in the tournament bracket. China’s world championship team, an Indonesian team and two teams from South Korea were disqualified. Fans booed a match Tuesday during which teams from China and South Korea both seemed to be trying to lose.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 23 years, is not exactly filled with the Olympic spirit.