Finally On Solid Ground
To those Americans following the 30th Olympiad on NBC — and they are in record numbers, according to audience count — there are essentially three sports in the Olympic Games: swimming and diving, gymnastics and beach volleyball.
Each of those also happens to involve attractive young women, many of them American, wearing next to nothing.
There are several dozen other sports taking place — not track & field, which begins Friday — but you wouldn’t know that by NBC, even though it has four entire hours of prime time every evening to report on anything of its choosing.
Is there a script to be followed here, laid out by viewer-profile and demographic marketing studies over the years? Regardless of whether actual news breaks out in some of those silly, marginal sports, involving athletes from silly, marginal countries?
Just when I thought post-competition interviews on television couldn’t get sillier, they have. Have you ever heard so many softball questions? This isn’t journalism, reporting or even conversation. It’s maudlin cheerleading. How many times can Andrea Joyce ask an American swimmer, “How are you feeling right now?” How many times can Heather Cox say to a barely dressed beach volleyball player, “You were awesome out there”?
There was a question of this trivial nature put to a swimmer from Cal — the middle-aged one with tattoos down his arms — and his lengthy response was so unexpected and wandering, the interviewer stopped. I believe this was because his answer wasn’t the preferred “because I love my family back home in Dubuque so much!”
Is track and field going to be covered in the same trivializing manner?
And now, back to the Aquatics Center, where believe it or not swimmers from China, France, South Africa, the Netherlands and Hungary have all won gold medals. Has any of them been interviewed on American television? Heck, in South Africa they even speak English! (The French, however, speak their native tongue.) Does NBC have any translators – for the Olympic Games, where several hundred languages are being spoken? Not a single non-English-speaking person has been interviewed on NBC, so far as this viewer has seen.
And now, back to the Gymnastics Hall: God forbid you should be an American who does not win a medal. On Wednesday night during the men’s all-around final, we were shown the early struggles of Johnny Orozco, from the Bronx, and his American teammate Danell Leyva, of Miami. Leyva came back heroically, and in the end claimed the bronze medal. What became of Orozco? Who knows? Not a word was mentioned of him again. Johnny be gone, no doubt sent back to the Bronx!
Why can’t NBC give a report each evening of what is happening in each sport? 30 seconds from water polo, a minute from equestrian, 40 seconds from judo, rowing, taekwondo, table tennis, fencing, cycling, kayak. Why instead are we shown every single dive by every pair, and every single routine by every single American gymnast, and every second of every swimming final? After five days, it’s become boring and repetitive. NBC is neither creative nor imaginative. Faced with an endless possibility of stories, events and nationalities, they are stuck in a giant rut.
One reason to keep watching is to find out what happens, but today this viewer caught up with two 30-minute sports commentary shows on ESPN, “Around the Horn” and “Pardon the Interruption,” where the hosts boldly reveal the day’s results, in order to discuss them. For ESPN this is a risk, because Olympics loyalists do not want their evening viewing spoiled. It is also a challenge, and threat, to NBC, because its shows are now so predictable, some viewers — such as myself — may decide that they don’t care any longer. Go ahead and tell me ahead of time. That way I can skip another four hours of flag-waving tedium at the pool.
At the ring, on the mat
NBC is providing alternatives, however. If you want to get the full flavor of the Olympic Games, tune to NBCSN — the NBC Sports Network — which is on much of the day. It has its own host and tends to go to something of interest, no matter what that may be. On Thursday that included a fascinating match in men’s water polo between two neighboring, rival nations, Montenegro and Serbia — it ended in a draw — and a dramatic victory in women’s judo by Kayla Harrison, the first gold medal in judo for an American in Olympic history.
Harrison and her coach were eventually interviewed in the studio, and she couldn’t have been more refreshing. Asked about her future, the 22-year-old — rather than saying how she was looking forward to cashing in on her newfound fame with sponsorship riches — said that she was going home to Ohio to take her last exam on the way to becoming a firefighter.
There was boxing news as well, when a bantamweight from oil-rich Azerbaijan, Magomed Abdulhamidou, was awarded the decision in his bout with Satoshi Shimizu of Japan, even though he had been knocked down six times. It seems the referee, Ishanguly Meretnyyazou of Turkmenistan, may have been on the take. The bout was reviewed by the ruling International Boxing Association, the decision overturned, the referee sent home.
The other news is that none of this was reported on NBC, at least as of Thursday evening. Does NBC have any reporters at the Olympic Games?
Finally, our favorite sport — track & field, or Athletics in OG parlance — is about to begin. There are two finals on Day One, Friday, the men’s shot put and women’s 10,000. The SP will have its preliminaries in the morning session — middle of the night here on the west coast — then the final in the evening session. Reese Hoffa is a slight favorite for the gold medal. If he wins, he would be the first apparently “clean” American to win the shot since Randy Matson 44 years ago. (U.S. gold medalists Mike Stulce, 1992, and Randy Barnes, 1996, later received lifetime bans for drug use, but they kept their medals and titles.)
Competition also begins in the women’s 100 and 400, meaning the first sightings of the Americans Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross.
Richards-Ross, who is favored to win her first individual Olympic gold medal, is one of 11 competitors in the 400 who has run at the Armory either in high school or college. That includes New York’s own Aliann Pompey, who will be in her fourth Olympics for her native Guyana. Pompey, 34, went to Cohoes High School in Albany and later to Manhattan College.
The other nine Armory vets are Marlena Wesh (Clemson/Haiti), Deedee Trotter (Tennessee/US), Francena McCorory (Hampton/US), Jenna Martin (Kentucky/Canada), Regina George (Arkansas/Nigeria), Shana Cox (Penn State/Great Britain), Afia Charles (Central Florida/Antigua), Carol Rodriguez (USC/Puerto Rico) and Kanika Beckles (Texas A&M/Grenada).
Come to The Armory and see the future!