Aug 4, 2012

Olympics 2012 Diary: Week One

And before I realized it, the first week of the Olympics were over.  I have failed again in keeping up with a regular diary.  If I was an Olympian, I would have been one of those guys who bombed out in the first qualifying heat.  The one who looked like he was doggie paddling in a freestyle race.  It would have been pathetic.  I'm glad my failure was more private and relegated to my recliner.

It has been an exciting first week.  The Olympics never fails in delivering the goods. There has been more than a fair share of controversy (a lot of it involving NBC), but nothing outrageous like a steroid discovery in a major event ala Ben Johnson.  All in all, I have enjoyed the many many hours I have spent watching people doing things I could not do in my wildest dreams.  While I had intended to be more prolific with my entries, I will have to settle for a recap of some major story lines.

NBC -  It almost seems unfair at this point to take shots at NBC.  They have made a TON of errors in their coverage of these games.  It almost is as embarrassing as the 2000 Sydney Games. One of my friends, Stuart, posted a funny tweet that just about summed up the complaints.  "It is nice of NBC to share their DVR with the world."  I've taken my shots at the coverage as well.  Tape delaying the games for sometimes twelve or eighteen hours is ridiculous.  Packaging and editing to only focus on Americans or to raise tension is obnoxious.  And their dumbo move of running a promo for their own show that spoiled a race outcome was inexcusable.  But I am going to take a different track this time.

-  I read a great post the other day that asked if we were to run NBC, would we do anything different?  He wasn't asking us as fans, but us as businessmen.  NBC paid a huge amount of money for the right to broadcast this event and needs to make their money back.  They need to get eyeballs on the screen.  What exactly could be changed?  It was a good point.  I couldn't answer.  Brings a different perspective.

-  The ratings are not showing a lack of happiness.  If it were offensive enough, wouldn't millions of people abandon the shows?  Instead, they are thrashing everyone.
-  There is a massive amount of coverage available.  I have been stunned to see it.  It's a shame that the live stuff that runs all day is the heats and qualifiers.  But there is a LOT of live coverage on the television.  NBC shows Olympic coverage on the main station from 9am to 5pm.  Then they air again from 8pm to 12am and 1230am to 3am.  In addition to that, their is almost non-stop coverage on CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network, and Bravo.  There also is an entire station dedicated to Soccer and another to Basketball.  If that isn't enough, EVERYTHING is available online live and can be viewed after on replay.  That is a mind-numbing amount of coverage.  I have seen every sport that has run at some point. That is admirable.

That all being said, there have been some moments that were very frustrating.  If you are going to delay coverage until 8pm, that's fine.  But then waiting to show gymnastics until 9:30pm or 10pm? Ridiculous.  My daughter wasn't able to watch any gymnastics "live" because she can't stay up that lated.  On the topic of gymnastics, I hated that they didn't show a single rings routine in the men's gymnastics team or all-around competition.  How do you leave out an entire apparatus?  Also, NBC had concocted a massive amount of coverage for John Orozco.  The second he fell off the horse, it was like he didn't exist any more.  They didn't reference him or show him again.  Pitiful.  They started to to the same thing to Aly Reisman in the women's all-around before she clawed back into the medal chase.  Even still, she didn't get a third the coverage of Gabby Douglas.  Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr Riker from Star Trek) tweeted that NBC was very jingoistic in their packaging of sports.  I agree.  If an American wasn't in an event or a final, it didn't happen.  That is annoying, because there are some great foreign athletes with stories just as moving, or more so, that the American reps.  The first female athletes from several Muslim countries?  That is huge.  But they weren't even acknowledged in the Opening Ceremony.  There are teams from countries in turmoil - Tunisia, Egypt, North Korea - what about what it takes for them to get to London?  I am always intrigued when there is an athlete from a non-traditional team in an event final.  What is their story? Good luck finding out on NBC.

There have obviously been some major issues, but some of them stem from things that I don't really know how ANYONE would figure them out.

TWITTER - This is one of those things.  I mentioned the 2000 Sydney Games.  That was the first Olympics that really had to deal with problem of the Internet.  NBC didn't have any clue how to address the fact that people could find out every result twelve hours before they aired.  This year, the problem is Twitter.  This is the first Olympics that had to deal with the obsession with instantaneous information.  The first day of competition, people everywhere were tweeting results.  You had athletes and fans in London, people watching the live feeds on NBCLive, sportscasters from around the world all putting results on their twitter accounts.  And no one was really prepared for that.  My wife and I both got burned independently of each other with a twitter update from someone we follow.  Honestly, I don't know if people would have been so angry with NBC if Twitter wasn't compounding the problem. It didn't take long before we realized we just had to avoid Twitter (and Facebook) on days that we wanted to not know results before the prime time showings.  It is awesome to see the comments from people actually over there.  But, at the same time, the spoilers have been very annoying.  Even today, when gymnastics spoilers were over, I had several swimming events ruined by people I never would have expected to say something.  

DUMB RULES -  Answer me this: Why is it that only two people from a country can compete in the gymnastics individual all-around finals?  No clue?  It isn't consistent, either.  There can be three representatives from a country in the track and field finals.  The US has swept events before.  So why is the rule two in some events and three in others?  It is one thing when you can only BRING two or three athletes in an event.  But why put a cap part way through a competition?  It was ridiculous that Jordyn Wieber wasn't allowed to compete in the all-around.  She finished fourth in the competition and sat home in the all-around.  The same thing happened to another American in an event final.  And I heard today that it happened in another sport.  There is no good reason.  Now, if that all got you irritated, wait until someone gets tossed on the "no mercy" false start rule in sprinting.

STILL HARD TO BEAT SWIMMING - For pure excitement and action, it hard to beat swimming. The races are usually short.  They have a lot going on.  And they are gorgeous on television.  With all the technological innovations, it has gotten even better.  We know who is in each lane.  We get camera angles that make it so exciting.  And the announcers are the best in any event, in my opinion.  The stories are good.  The hidden politics and rivalries are even fun.  And I love to see rising stars emerge that will be involved in several Olympics.  We saw Michael Phelps in Sydney as a precocious teenager.  This year, we met Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky - who will be back in Rio and wherever 2020 lands.  Very enjoyable sport.

PEOPLE NEED TO LIGHTEN UP -  This sound weird coming from a person who blogs and tweets and has a highly developed sense of snark.  But it is true.  One thing that is definitely true about America is that we are ultra-sensitive about anything.  If the events of the past week has shown us anything, it is that Americans can get all worked up about everything.  The thing we don't realize is that not every country in the world is that hyper-sensitive.  Not every country shares our beliefs, our views, or our paranoia.  And we also need to realize that not everything that is said and done is meant as an offense.  When a commercial with a monkey doing gymnastics airs right after Gabby Douglas wins the gold medal, it was not intended as a racist comment.  That commercial had run several times before.  It was part of a huge marketing campaign for NBC's new show Animal Practice.  There also was one of a dog swimming right after Michael Phelps missed the medal in his first race.  That wasn't a comment about him, either.  Gabby Douglas' hairdo isn't worth getting all worked up about, and neither is Serena Williams' hairdo.  When Lolo Jones tweets, wondering when the gun competitions are after the US lost the archery event in heartbreaking fashion, she is not saying she endorses gun violence.  She was saying that we are better at gun events - something that has been proven by our medal victories in them.  When a swimmer comments that Michael Phelps hasn't trained as hard this Olympics, it wasn't "calling him out" or minimizing his talents.  Phelps himself admitted as much.  If a Chinese swimmer puts up a ludicrously fast time, it does not automatically mean she is doping (as NBC went out of the way to claim they were not saying, but by claiming to not say it they were saying it).  And if an underwater camera accidentally catches one player pulling the suit down on another player in a water polo match, it is not the modern equivalent of the Janet Jackson halftime show.  I am a very conservative person.  But I also feel I am a reasonable person.  Let's work a little harder in the second week to lighten up a wee bit.

WHY THE OLYMPICS RULE - Lots of people wonder why the Olympics is so popular.  I have wondered that.  Some of it is the novelty of it.  We don't have to be invested in the process week in and week out like other sports.  We root for things based on our country, which just seems natural.  All the corporate ugliness that sullies so many sports seems to melt away.  Even mega-millionaires take the Olympics seriously.  But I think the real draw of the Olympics comes from the fact that MOST of the sports are very relatable.  Swimming?  I do that.  Running?  When someone with a weapon is chasing me, I do that.  Jumping, throwing stuff, picking things up.  I do those things.  It seems like those sports are the ones that are the most popular.  The simpler it is to put on the event, the more popular it seems to be.  Running is huge.  Swimming is mammoth.  Flipping around on a mat is easy to stage.  So it putting up a volleyball net and hoisting a basketball hoop.  Table tennis, badminton, tennis, soccer.  These are not foreign concepts.  You could argue that shooting guns and arrows, martial arts, boating, and horse riding are some of the older skills in the world.  We can all relate to these things.  Now, it may be true that I can't relate to the rifle events, where the people have Robocop-like attachments all over their body.  But the thought of shooting a gun is not that hard to grasp.  And I think that is what makes the Olympics so powerful, as well.  I can run (sort of).  So when I see someone running down the track so fast that they barely look human, I can really appreciate that.  I swim across our pool, kind of like a whale moving slowly along.  The fact that there are people that can swim 50 meters in 25 seconds is something I can grasp as being freaking ridiculous.  That feeling is worldwide.  I'm actually glad that they have gotten rid of some events, like baseball and softball.  The more accessible the event, the better chance it will rock out in the Olympics.

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