Well, we won’t have the Rio Olympics to kick around anymore. Events wind up Sunday and then they will blow out the torch and start thinking about Tokyo. Or South Korea is you favor the Winter Games.
I have mixed feelings about the Olympics.
Many times the athletic competition is absolutely breathtaking. Great performances this year by American swimmers and track and field athletes.
But I am continually frustrated with the way NBC televises the Games and I don’t really believe in any Olympic movement.
First things first. NBC. The network, which has televised the Games since they originated in Athens a couple of millennia ago (that was a joke) continues to refuse to show top-level events live. They package high-wattage events into a nightly “show.” Basically NBC has turned the Olympics from a sporting event … into a TV show. I was up until after 11 p.m. keeping an eye on the opening ceremonies, but they were only on the N's in the parade of nations. Go Norway! The torch had long since been lit. Why should I wait three hours to see it?
NBC also made you wait until the end of the show to see Michael Phelps swim. That would be like a network hanging onto the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl for a couple of hours before showing it on a delayed basis.
Repeat after me … the Olympics are a television show.
NBC’s commentators continue to be shrill and overwhelmingly pro-American. I thought Rowdy Gaines was going to hyperventilate himself into some sort of implosion the night Phelps had to swim two races within about 35 minutes. Overall the announcers scream too much. TV is generally a cool medium. NBC turns that on its head in the Olympics.
NBC also loves it when somebody has recovered from some sort of setback or their mom is sick. I wish they would cover the Games as a showcase for great athletes rather than trying to manufacture emotion.
That said, Olympics get killer ratings. Am I out of step? I don’t think so … but people are definitely voting with their eyeballs.
Sunday I plan to watch the men's gold medal basketball game between the USA and Serbia. I enjoy the way other nations are catching up to the U.S. in hoops. But I am wary of NBA on this one. When I watched USA-Spain in the 2012 final in London at about 6 a.m. they cut into the live action for commercials. At 6 in the morning! Networks never do that for Kings-Bucks ... why should they do it in the Olympics?
What is the “Olympic movement?” I’m not sure. Speaking cynically it is any activity that furthers the reach and profitability of the International Olympic Committee and NBC. Does it bring people closer together? Does getting to host the games mean you become a better nation or a more just nation? Sorry: Berlin 1936, Sarajevo 1984, Beijing 2008, Sochi 2014 … you do the math.
I heard IOC honcho Thomas Bock refer Saturday to the Rio Games as “iconic.” That is absolutely hilarious. The deal isn’t even over yet and it’s already an ESPN Classic. Reminds me of the wound-up Billy Payne, who helped lead the charge to get the 1996 Games to Atlanta. He called the Games essentially the most important event in history. Not just Atlanta history. History … period. Hilarious.
Do athletes benefit from meeting people from different cultures? Maybe. But an Olympic movement that makes the world a more peaceful place? Not buying it. You always hear about the number of condoms that are supposed to be given away in the Olympic Village. Is THAT what the Olympics are all about? Hell, there are apps for that. And trust me … most of the medal contenders in top events are not spending 4 to 6 hours a day playing video games with someone from Fiji.
Can a low-level archer from Singapore go to the Games, participate and have a good time? Sure … and more power to them. If there is an Olympic movement … that’s where it really resides.
One more thing before I start counting the days to Tokyo. Yes, Phelps is a great story. But one of the keys to winning medals is having medals to win. Phelps competed in six events and won medals in all six. Ashton Eaton of Bend, the former University of Oregon athlete, won the decathlon for the second consecutive Games. He competed in 10 events over two days and received one medal. Gymnastics can win medals in the team competition, the individual all-around and the individual apparatus. It adds up.
Michael Jordan won gold medals in men’s basketball in 1984 and 1992. Well, if they had had medals for layups and dunks and free throw shooting and defense and tongue wagging he might have approached Phelps.
Note to sports federations: Find a way to add events. That’s the ticket. Gymnastics has done it (rhythmic gymnastics). Diving has done it (synchronized diving … are you kidding me?). Speed skating has done it (short track, etc.). Alpine skiing has done it (adding combined and super G).
So, when does college football start?