Why Olympics coverage in the U.S. sucks

by Eszter Hargittai on August 8, 2008

I thought I’d get this rant out of the way before the season hits. Watching the Olympics in the US is no fun, because the only thing you can watch is Americans winning. You’d think the U.S. is the only country ever winning from the coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for Americans to win, but I’m happy for other people to win, too. In fact, in some ways it’s much more interesting when you have a diversity of folks competing and this is portrayed clearly in the coverage. It gets boring fast when all you can hear is the U.S. national anthem.

Growing up in Hungary, I remember watching all sorts of sports competitions – and I don’t just mean the Olympics – where people from all over were taking home the gold. Sure, Hungary is a small country (population 10 million, that’s like Chicagoland having its own team) and its athletes are only going to win so many medals so you could argue that by definition coverage would have to feature other competitions as well. But actually, for a small country, Hungary ranks very high on the all-time medals list (whoa, I actually had no idea how high before writing this post) so it’s not as though there aren’t opportunities to feature its own. Also, TV could just show less of the event if there were not enough Hungarian nationals to feature. But that’s not what happens as featuring one’s own doesn’t seem to be the point. I remember hearing plenty of other national anthems and seeing lots of different flags.

This approach of showcasing athletes from all over doesn’t seem to be restricted to small countries. I was in Italy (pop ~ 60 million) recently flipping through channels and noticed the Hungarian national anthem playing on one of them. The station opted to show the end result all the way despite the fact that Italians were not the winners. Then they played another anthem (the Russian one so I could sing along in Hungarian, hah) for another winner, again, not Italians.

I wonder how this works in other countries, especially the ones winning lots of medals (e.g., for 2004, Russia, China, Australia, Germany, Japan, France, etc.).

{ 126 comments }

1

Kieran Healy 08.08.08 at 3:15 pm

I started into something like this line of argument in the car the other day and my wife said “You give this speech every four years”, so I had to stop. But that doesn’t stop it from being true!

2

Dave Maier 08.08.08 at 3:22 pm

For me it gets boring fast not when all you can hear is the U.S. national anthem, but when all you can watch are boxing and swimming and running, including all the preliminary matches and heats, simply because that’s what Americans are good at. Let’s see some more team handball!

3

Aidan Kehoe 08.08.08 at 3:25 pm

(the Russian one so I could sing along in Hungarian, hah)

I’ve known lots of French people quite well over the years, and they (well, those of my generation, I’m currently in my late 20s) have never known the words to the Marseillaise. My current flatmate is the first person I’ve met who does—and he’s from Budapest, and knows it in Hungarian and Hungarian only.

4

riffle 08.08.08 at 3:26 pm

Decades ago the coverage used to be more sport-oriented and, while it showed a lot of Americans winning, it didn’t exclude other countries.

Now, not only is the focus USA USA to the detriment of enjoying sports in their variety, but they show those damned “triumph over adversity” biographical pieces about the athletes — so predictable they are awful –when they should be showing competition.

Even though I like to see Americans win, the great thing about the Olympics is the variety of competitions (show some of the strange sports!) and competitors. Distilling it to a marketing message kills it.

5

fabian 08.08.08 at 3:37 pm

hey, i’m from germany and i think our tv coverage is like the hungarian one. we can watch lots of competitions, even if germans are not involved.

6

George 08.08.08 at 3:41 pm

In Canada we get both Canadian and American coverage, so a comparison is easy. Canadian is better – more live events, more cosmopolitanism. On the other hand I was in Moscow for the 1980 games – a boycott year so that skewed things no doubt – but I would estimate the order of coverage as follows: 1) URSS-winning events (maybe 70%), 2) Soviet bloc winners (15%), 3) others. And, considering we were in the same time zone, quite a large proportion of taped events.

7

notsneaky 08.08.08 at 3:42 pm

Agree 100%. Glad I’ll be watching it in Europe. In home country in fact.

8

Eszter Hargittai 08.08.08 at 3:46 pm

the words to the Marseillaise. My current flatmate is the first person I’ve met who does—and he’s from Budapest, and knows it in Hungarian and Hungarian only.

Indeed, that’s one more national anthem I could sing along to, but as you say, more in Hungarian than in French (even though I speak French). I think the Russian one I may have at some point also known in Russian, but those days are long gone.

George, the 1980 games would be a tricky one to compare.

Kieran, the same speech once every four years doesn’t sound that bad.:)

9

Chris 08.08.08 at 3:47 pm

Right on. I’ve lived in Germany and been there for lots of major sporting events (skiing world cup, Olympics, tennis, etc.). They show a great breadth of the games and winners from all countries. I’ve always found that sort of coverage much more fun and engaging – as opposed to rags to riches bios of every single American athlete.

10

matt 08.08.08 at 3:49 pm

In Russia the focus, at least in the years when I watched the Olympics there (2000, 2004) was also heavily on Russia. I suspect this is common in any country that has lots of athletes in many events. What really gets me isn’t so much the focus but the sappy and annoying coverage.

11

Ben 08.08.08 at 3:50 pm

I just watched the BBC coverage of the opening ceremony, and they showed representatives of every country. That’s what impartiality gets you, I guess.

12

Z 08.08.08 at 3:52 pm

France has a very slanted coverage, but interestingly they show both french defeats and triumphs, so you get to see a bit of everything as long as a French is in it. Of course, if the French looses in the quarter final, then you’ll never know who got the gold medal. Aidan, some French people don’t know the Marseillaise (not in full of course, but the first verse and chorus)?! That is amazing to me.

13

David in NY 08.08.08 at 3:53 pm

Agreed. I’ve hated this always. Used to be at least the US was crappy in the winter Olympics, so you saw lots of Austrians and Scandinavians. Somehow the “USA, USA” hockey craze in 1980 or so even changed that.

I think every country has a little of this tendency, but the chauvinism is relatively muted. Four years ago in Italy, I learned more about some Italian archer than I wanted to (and I speak no Italian). Slovenia was even better, but they were hoping for at most 2-4 medals from their athletes, and could hardly put all their programming on them. But the US coverage is really sickening.

And, hey, don’t get me started on the “human interest” pieces ….

14

Rick 08.08.08 at 3:57 pm

Adding to your take on the winner coverage – I like watching all of it, but hate that so much of it is filtered thru the NBC network advertising machine, probably after it’s been filtered thru the China machine as well. Just feels so much more like “here’s all you can eat, and that’s all you can eat”.

15

sg 08.08.08 at 4:01 pm

Australia’s coverage is just as bad, Eszter. I have seen major sports just disappear from the screen at the final stage, because an aussie was knocked out, to be replaced by the preliminary stages of some useless game where an aussie is still playing. It’s absolutely shocking.

The British coverage is best, because it goes through 3 distinct phases that are highly entertaining:

1. this is the best team ever! ra ra! Prepare to wipe the floor with the whole rest of the world!
2. we lost… oh woe, whoever saw this coming? How can it be?
3. that was the worst team ever! What is so wrong with England that we are so shit at sport? Should we blame the yoof, the players, or foreigners? Let’s blame all 3 in an orgy of hatred!! Let’s all watch re-runs of the 1966 world cup!

16

Eszter Hargittai 08.08.08 at 4:11 pm

SG – LOL!

I didn’t want my rant to go on endlessly so I didn’t meantion a related issue, but I’ll stick it in the comments now: living in the U.S., I suspect most people don’t even realize that there is such a thing as a world cup for most sports. I used to enjoy watching those as well, for various random sports.

17

ogmb 08.08.08 at 4:20 pm

My favorite Olympics coverage was from Barcelona 1992, which I watched in Germany. The organizers had put a lot off effort into making even the most obscure and viewer-unfriendly disciplines (shooting, sailing) interesting, and German tv spent at least a modicum of time covering each of them. Atlanta 1996, which I watched in the U.S., was horrible, and I only checked in the last two times to see if anything had changed. (Hadn’t.) In addition to all the jingoism watching the Olympics in the U.S. one always gets the impression it’s the female gymnastics world championship with some other sideshow competitions happening in the wings. During Winter Olympics, it’s figure skating.

18

CJColucci 08.08.08 at 4:45 pm

I’ve always hated Olympic coverage because many of the sports I like to see are sports in which the US hasn’t been particularly competitve. On Hungary, I seem to recall a lot of good Hungarian fencers and weightlifters (speaking of sports in which the US hasn’t been particularly competitve). Maybe they account for a lot of the medals.

19

Pierre 08.08.08 at 4:49 pm

The nationalistic skewing of which events are covered is annoying, but worse are the protracted background stories. I would rather watch a thirty-minute speedwalking semi-final than another cloying story of how some athlete overcame Some Great Adversity.

20

Bob Locksley 08.08.08 at 4:59 pm

This may not be quite the apples-to-apples comparison you are looking for, but as far as the Asian Games go, there isn’t a whiteout of winning athletes from other countries on Indian TV as far as I have seen. In media markets like India, the problem is really the reverse. The sponsors have nobody to bully for since India has not done very well historically in the Olympics. The Indian contingent came back without a medal from Barcelona, and has had a total of three medals since Los Angeles 1984. The blogosphere, for its part, seems to be interested in the performance of the Indian diaspora as a whole – which is obviously quite international – and not just the Indian contingent.

21

sharon 08.08.08 at 5:00 pm

But sg, it’s going to be the best year ever for Team GB, the politician said so! We have targets!

22

Nick 08.08.08 at 5:08 pm

During my backpacking days in 2000 I do remember staying in a pension in Amsterdam, trying to get over my jet lag, and the (England-based) sport channel playing over and over again Stephen Henley’s (possible sic) winning gold in men’s rowing. Every hour. One week later in the Czech Republic, in any bar with the Sydney Olympics on the television all you would see were Czech athletes. Memories of both cases are made more vivid by the fact that the actual sports broadcast on those televisions were of no interest to me (rowing, weightlifting, wrestling). The slanted coverage is not unique to Australia and the United States alone, and I think it’s natural (though potentially very boring) for any country to intensely focus on its own athletes, as we in Canada did, unfortunately, when Ben Johnson ran the 100m in Seoul games :(

23

Katherine 08.08.08 at 5:14 pm

There was a story going around 8 years ago that when the amazing Steve Redgrave won his fifth Olympic gold in his fifth consecutive Olympics the US coverage of the race mentioned him (or his team mates- Matthew Pinsent was getting his third gold) not at all but concentrated the US team coming 4th (or some other non-medal winning place). This may well be apocryphal, but it seems vaguely borne out in the sentiment if not the detail by this post and the comments.

Myself, I rather like finding a sport (preferably a bit obscure) I know nothing about and becoming an armchair expert over the Olympic period. Last time it was synchronised diving – I never did get to the bottom of the scoring system – but that’s rather spoiled (in a good way) this year by the presence in that event of the British 14 year old.

24

Danny 08.08.08 at 5:14 pm

NBC is promising the most comprehensive coverage ever seen in the US. I’m sure the NBC primetime broadcast will continue to be the standard mix of USA! USA! and courageous athletes overcoming adversity. But the online coverage looks to be awfully extensive. Handball, modern pentathlon, table tennis, canoeing…

25

mpowell 08.08.08 at 5:21 pm

It is true. The hypocrisy of the Olympics is only exceeded by the hypocrisy of the coverage here in the States. I am actually a huge sports fan, and I think the primary reason that I hate the Olympics is that it pretends to not be about the money. I expect to watch very little of the coverage this time around. All the human interest crap and the uninteresting race-oriented events the USA is good at are just not very good programming.

26

Lee Sigelman 08.08.08 at 5:30 pm

Back in the old days of intense rivalry on all fronts between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., there was a story (which could just as well have been turned around the opposite way) about Soviet coverage of a dual track meet between the two countries that was won by the Americans. According to the Soviet press, the Russians were the runners-up and the Americans finished next to last.

27

MSS 08.08.08 at 5:31 pm

Well, George sort of stole my thunder, but I’ll go ahead anyway…

One year here in the San Diego area I had access to CBC coverage via an old C-band satellite dish (surprisingly with no blackouts or subscription requirements).

It was a breath of fresh air to see coverage directed at actual sports fans and to find out that there were many nations sending very fine athletes to a whole bunch of different events. Who knew? (I agree with someone above that the US coverage seems to have gotten worse in these aspects over the last 20 or 30 years or so. My solution now is just not to watch.)

28

salazar 08.08.08 at 5:52 pm

Ezter et al. are right about US Olympics coverage focusing on American athletes. Paradoxically, though, I think viewers in the States care much less about national glory and pride than do those in many other countries. My sense of watching the Games here in the U.S. is that TV networks nowadays cater primarily to a public that cares relatively little about U.S. prospects, enjoys the triumph-over-adversity athlete bios and likes watching gymnastics or elegant figure-staking pirouettes. By the way, I once read that these sports get the highest U.S. TV ratings in their respective Olympics. The same report said the single most popular Olympics event on American TV in recent Games has been the opening ceremony. If that’s true, then U.S. TV Olympics coverage — and viewer interest — are much less about sports than they used to be, as riffle said earlier.

Besides, the Summer games here are really little more than a distraction that kills time until U.S. viewers get to see the domestic sporting events and rivalries that really matter most to them: The NFL, the Baseball playoffs, college gridiron and basketball. Elsewhere, people genuinely care about their home sports teams outclassing those of other countries, as shown by the FIFA World Cup, the European Championship, the Asian Games. Over here, no gold medal even comes close to the interest generated by a Yankees-Red Sox series.

29

noen 08.08.08 at 6:00 pm

Apparently there are still people who believe the purpose of the media is to report fairly on news events.

30

christine 08.08.08 at 6:04 pm

Actually, Canada gets at least three sets of coverage: US, English CBC and French CBC. French CBC is far and away the best at both showing a variety of sports, and at not having complete idiot commentators (I think – it’s entirely possible my French is just not good enough for me to recognise that they’re complete idiots).

I didn’t think Australia’s coverage was as bad as sg thinks, and at least most of the commentators were vaguely knowledgeable and/or funny (Bruce McAvaney!), but I’m probably a bit nationalistic myself there (the thing that annoys me most about Canadian coverage is that they don’t show the whole 15 or so minutes of the 1500 freestyle).

31

Randy Paul 08.08.08 at 6:22 pm

In fairness, I was in Brazil for part of the 2006 Winter Olympics and the amount of coverage given to a Brazil snowboarder who finished ninth because all three of her competitors collided was a bit over the top.

What is interesting is how heavily covered the Pan Am Games are trhough the rest of the Americas outside of the US.

32

Cliffy 08.08.08 at 6:25 pm

Building on what Danny’s mentioned, the primetime coverage on NBC is as you describe. But if you have cable there’s also tons of Olympics on the USA Network, CNBC, MSNBC, Oxygen, and Telemundo, and if you have HD there’s the temporary Olympics Soccer and Basketball channels which will show every game of those sports. Not to mention near-constant web streams of live events — I believe every single match of every event is available, either on NBC, one of the cable channels, or over the web. From my experience watching cable coverage of the ’04 and ’06 games, the subsidiary channels are much less concerned with US medal chances and just show the games, without nearly as many of those turgid “up from adversity” story pods about the athletes.

I used to be one of those who complained about the quality of coverage, but (at least as long as you’ve got cable or satellite), it’s not true anymore and hasn’t been for some time.

33

Scott Wood 08.08.08 at 6:35 pm

Do you think that the American television coverage should choose not to cover Americans? Just because of the size of the country, a lot of Americans compete, and win, in the Summer Olympics. For most of them this is the crowning moment of their lives, and the culmination of years of dreams work. It seems churlish to say that the home country media should ignore their success. But if the home country media doesn’t ignore their success, there isn’t a lot of time for anything else.

34

roac 08.08.08 at 6:46 pm

There is no point whatever in complaining about the fixation on dying relatives in US coverage of the Olympics. Somebody figured out decades ago that the key to maximizing viewership was to pitch the coverage to women, and that what women want is (1) human interest stories and (2) gymnastics in the summer, figure skating in the winter. It was one of the most profitable moves in the history of broadcasting.

(This is not speculation. I read a factual account, years ago, of who made the discovery and when. Don’t remember any of the details.)

35

des von bladet 08.08.08 at 6:55 pm

Last time out I lived in Britain with no TV. The BBC (Radio) Five Live coverage was as wretched a jingoistic travesty as you could reasonably hope ever to hear.

Alison Curbishley (for it was she) spent so much time breathlessly eulogising St Paula of Radcliffe before the marathon, to the extent of claiming that the Japanese runners worshipped her as a goddess, and I kid you not, that I for one wept tears of genuine joy when the Anointed One pulled out. (Having apparently neglected to consider that Athens in August might be on the warm side.)

Now I live in the Netherlands, but I will be spending next week on a campsite, and I aim not even to know who wins the inaugural wimmin’s steeplechase.

I’d make an exception for the honkbal‘s last hoorah, if I had TV coverage to hand, and there is surely no one outside the Free and Democratic Republic itself who isn’t hoping it gets comprehensively stuffed in the basketball (go Latvia! or Lithuania! whichever is the one that’s good at basketball…), but they’ll have to do it without me this time.

36

novakant 08.08.08 at 7:19 pm

I would like to point out to all the lovers of obscure sports that this is probably your last chance to see totally awesome catamaran racing(Tornados to be precise) at the Olympics, as the ISAF for some strange reason has decided to eliminate the fastest and most spectacular class of boats from the 2012 Olympics and very likely beyond that – shame on them!

37

Agithehun 08.08.08 at 7:51 pm

Congratulations Eszter on saying exactly what has been on my mind. I absolutely hate the US’ Olympic Coverage. It is atrocious. I echo ever single word about not showing any event except where the US is a participant or a key player. For 18 years (the time I have lived in the States) now I have not been able to see great events. It is sad. Thank God for the Internet where I could see the opening ceremony LIVE with the rest of the world.

38

Delicious Pundit 08.08.08 at 9:04 pm

that’s like Chicagoland having its own team

Which I suspect would dominate the competitive eating events. That and improv.

39

Watson Aname 08.08.08 at 9:08 pm

That and improv.

Only if they were allowed to keep the Canadians.

40

mollymooly 08.08.08 at 9:27 pm

I think any responsible broadcaster catering for the general public will show the events where the viewers can cheer a likely medallist. It would be absurd to show foreigners fencing when your compatriot is coming second in taekwondo. So if you don’t like the jingoism, find a country with only a few crap athletes and watch their coverage.

41

Eszter Hargittai 08.08.08 at 9:43 pm

where the viewers can cheer a likely medallist

.. except that you’re ignoring the many comments about (and the reality of) how much coverage in the U.S. is not about sports at all. They are human interest stories. I wonder if there’s info out there about proportion of sports vs other material that gets broadcast as Olympics coverage.

42

novakant 08.08.08 at 11:43 pm

So if you don’t like the jingoism, find a country with only a few crap athletes and watch their coverage.

Or watch Eurosport – the masters of eclectic niche sports coverage!

43

Canadian 08.08.08 at 11:50 pm

You should watch CBC where you will not know that the US, China or Russia are the major winners in the Olympics. Instead you can see plucky countries stick it to the man and Canadian athletes happy to make the finals.

44

WRM 08.08.08 at 11:56 pm

NBC sucks. They are politisizing the entire coverage. Sound feed is bad (we know China spent millions on proper audio technology)

NBC is using the news media commentators to micromanage the opening. Also many many hours late from live buty they claim “live”

Sometimes the American stangard is the sewage hole.

We know it is the toilet bowl already.

45

Bernard Yomtov 08.09.08 at 12:32 am

The fact is that the broadcasters need to attract a mass audience, and many Americans simply don’t care about most Olympic sports. Hence the “human interest” segments, and the effort to create some sort of rooting interest by focusing on American participants.

Boring for those who care about the sports? Sure. But for a huge percentage of US sports fans, as Salazar says, the Olympics are just an interlude before football starts and baseball finishes.

46

Bruce Baugh 08.09.08 at 1:01 am

My impression is that the justification “we need ratings” is as bogus with regard to jingoism in Olympics coverage as it is for the conservative shift in news and commentary. Ratings are, it’s my understanding, down and down and down since this shift began with the rise of Reagan toadies among media owners. It turns out that the public is more interested in the world than news decision makers are prepared to believe, and less interested in the jingoism.

47

Bernard Yomtov 08.09.08 at 2:18 am

I don’t know, Bruce. You might be right, but I don’t see any reason why the networks would be motivated by anything but business concerns, and I suspect they have pretty good data as to what people watch and don’t watch.

My own opinion is that they are giving viewers what they think viewers want, and that they are probably, though not necessarily, right.

48

Bruce Baugh 08.09.08 at 2:30 am

Bernard, it’s certainly the case that the news is in a long-term secular decline and that in recent years the networks have done things like fire a channel’s top-rated host because he was liberal and they wanted a conservative in the spot. I believe that something similar applies to the Olympics.

Their business concern in cases like this is their standing with the conservative movement machine. Sufficient favor with power more than compensates for the alienation of general viewership.

Here we go: a chart of prime-time ratings that shows a peak for the 1976 games and a pretty steady decline thereafter. This matches my recollections of earlier discussions.

49

Slocum 08.09.08 at 2:30 am

What what does NBC pay for broadcast rights vs the various European networks? NBC is obviously providing the coverage they think will attract the ratings that will justify the huge investment they’ve made. Is NBC making an error in judgment? Would ratings in the U.S. really be higher if they covered more team handball games between Hungary and the Czech Republic?

50

Bruce Baugh 08.09.08 at 2:33 am

Yes, Slocum. Or at least it’s not a hypothesis contradicted by the evidence. Ratings went up when viewers saw more and more of the world. Ratings went down when they saw less and less.

Nobody has ever come close to Jim McKay’s genuine interest in whoever’s taking part.

51

Bloix 08.09.08 at 3:00 am

Slocum – NBC paid $770 million for the US rights – they were the high bidder. A European consortium of national networks paid $440 for the European rights. They were not the high bidder – the IOC rejected a Murdoch bid that was higher. The reason, I would guess, is that the IOC needs the support of the European national governments and that means making sure that the games are on the national networks, not on Murdoch’s channels.

The difference in cost means that the European channels have the luxury of treating the Olympics as a sporting event, while NBC must maximize viewership by attracting and holding viewers who don’t care much about sports but like a good story.

That, plus what Salazar and roac said, is the reason that the US Olympics coverage sucks.

PS – this being my first comment on one of your posts in a while, I hope it’s not too late to offer congratulations to you, Eszter, on winning tenure! Best wishes for a long and successful career, and may you keep on entertaining and enlightening us on Crooked Timber.

52

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 08.09.08 at 4:58 am

sg is half-right – Australian Olympic coverage may be bad, but it mostly uneven, and depends on the broadcaster. Channel 7′s treatment of the opening ceremony is a good example. In the first half, it had lots of commercial breaks. I’d be getting into the Tai Chi demonstration, and then they’d cut for an ad, and I would lose my temper and swear. I actually rang up and complained, which I never do. Given the wait I had on the phone, I wasn’t the only one calling up.

By design (or by an emergency change of plans), 7 kept the show advertisement-free from Greece’s entrance onto the track to the end of the ceremony. At least 2 hours without a commercial, I believe, and good for them. I think they have learned from previous years, where broadcasters got blasted for taking ad breaks during the procession. Given that roughly 25% of our residents were born overseas, even omitting Monaco would have pissed someone off.

53

Arruns 08.09.08 at 5:10 am

I was in China during the 2004 games and it was far more slanted than even the U.S. coverage. Clip reels of Chinese success was intercut with their U.S. competitors failing. The whole thing had far less of the human interest and color commentary stories that NBC loves so much but it made up for it with a stream of heavily edited Chinese dominated sports (and women’s basketball) repeated multiple times through the day.

54

dr ngo 08.09.08 at 6:30 am

Over the years, I’ve watched the Olympics on TV channels originating in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Hong Kong (which featured the New Zealand feed one year!). I also missed a couple of Olympics, in 1972 because I was in the Philippines and 1980 because the US was boycotting.

Those who think the US coverage is uniquely biassed or inadequate need to get out more.

Every country “features” its own athletes, or at least events in which its own athletes figure to do well. (As some commentators above have pointed out, this is more a problem in a large country which has competitors in many sports. When you don’t, you’ve got more airtime to fill with “others.”)

Every country garbles or downgrades at least some of the “foreign” athletes or arcane (to them) events. The American announcers, by and large, do not mispronounce the names of foreigners worse than most!

Every channel offers long stretches of boredom or irrelevancy. Each one also provides absolutely memorable moments that make you glad you were watching.

The US does indeed overdo the “Up Close and Personal” bits that distract from the actual sporting events. OTOH, American TV often winds up providing more, and more detailed, total coverage than most of the rest. It’s just never what you want when you want it.

I, too, bitch about it every four years. My particular peeve this year is NBC’s insistence on tape-delaying – by about 12 hours! – the track and field, which for me is the Real Olympics [accept no substitutes]. And then they have the effrontery to babble on about “all the world watching this at the same time.” NOT US, YOU MORONS!! ALL THE WORLD HAS ALREADY SEEN WHAT YOU’RE SAVING FOR “PRIME TIME”!!!

But I digress. IMHO, anyone is entitled to whinge all they want about NBC coverage, provided they acknowledge they’re comparing it with the model/ideal we would hope to see.

If you think it’s bad compared with other countries, however . . .

55

Katherine 08.09.08 at 9:38 am

“that what women want is (1) human interest stories and (2) gymnastics in the summer, figure skating in the winter.”

What strange and mysterious creatures us women are! Thank for concisely reducing my interests and experience to one “study” someone (a man, I deduce) once did.

56

Otto Pohl 08.09.08 at 10:49 am

Here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan I am having trouble finding coverage of the Olympics. I get a Russian station, afew Kyrgyz stations and a Kazakh station. Last night I found the opening ceremony on the Kazakh channel. The Russian station was covering the war in South Ossetia and I do not remember what was on the local stations. This morning I found a woman’s volleyball game between Russia and France on a Krygyz station, but nothing else. I would be very happy if the Russian station (RTR) played nothing, but sporting events where Russia won. At least I could watch some sports then. But, I do not even have that.

57

Marco 08.09.08 at 12:34 pm

Swiss coverage is nearly 24-hour and available on several channels, in three languages. If the announcers get too jingoistic (and at least the Swiss-German ones tend to, though the Swiss have little opportunity for such in the Summer Olympics), you can switch to Austrian, French, German or Italian coverage — also nearly 24 hours a day. Eurosport has English/German coverage here that is literally around-the-clock and shows all events: swim heats of all kinds (on right now), archery, table tennis, badminton (judging by past years) and all sorts of other stuff that doesn’t get nearly enough advertising support in the States to be worth broadcasting.

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Eszter Hargittai 08.09.08 at 12:37 pm

First, Bloix, thanks for the good wishes, much appreciated!

Second, dr ngo, if you read my original post, you’ll note that I was basing my comments on comparisons.

Third, it’s not clear to me how NBC knows that they’re on the right track in coverage when viewership has declined for the last 30 years. What in those figures suggests that the change in coverage has helped?

Interestingly, NBC realizes that some people just won’t want to watch the Olympics, not at certain cost anyway. It continues to run new episodes of shows like Law & Order Criminal Intent on the USA network. What the company doesn’t seem to realize is why those people don’t want to watch the Olympics (in my case: their crappy coverage).

59

JSB 08.09.08 at 2:36 pm

I too was ready for all-USA coverage, but have been presently surprised by non-US action. Angola-France in women’s team handball is on right now…

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Matthew T 08.09.08 at 3:41 pm

its because NBC’s audience is American. If NBC shows a team other than USA, their audience would probably go “Who are these guys? Where’s the US team?”

CBC in Canada shows by far, the best Olympic coverage. On their site cbc.ca they have live streams of all the current matches and stuff thats going on at that time. Right now they’re showing gymnastics with a bunch of different countries. They had swimming a while back.

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Hannah 08.09.08 at 3:50 pm

Hey I am an Aussie and just thought I’d throw my two cents in about how the coverage is here.

The coverage seems to be biased towards showing Australians during “normal” viewing hours as far as I can tell, however late at night (as it is here now) they show a broader cross-section: I am currently switching between USA vs Japan women’s Volleyball and Russia vs Latvia women’s Basketball!

The coverage is being shown on 2 channels, Channel 7 has coverage rights (It is atrocious, with stupid commentators, millions of advertisements, and an uninteresting array of sports – this is the australians only biased channel) and SBS (which is the “foreign” channel, showing a broader range or sports etc). The only problem is that both of these are on free to air tv, no cable tv coverage, which means million of ads… It is so annoying!
The main coverage on Channel 7 is also terrible as there is no set programming… They will switch between sports however they please to show where the “action” is (or should I say, wherever the Australians are?). This means you might be getting right into something, when they switch it with no warning or anything.
Not only this, but you have no idea which sports are on when? I personally don’t enjoy sitting through archery, shooting, and equestrian, but it seems there is no choice here unless you want to miss the good sports (depending on personal taste of course – no offence meant to archery, shooting and equestrian fans :) ).
I am just glad we don’t have the uplifting overcoming adversity stories the US seems to.. I think I would just turn the whole thing off!

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Agithehun 08.09.08 at 3:57 pm

Ok, I’m ready to vent again. I feel like I’ve been cornered by NBC. They tell you on their website that they have over 2200 hours of coverage online but most Americans won’t be able to see the best parts. The reason is because you can only see the events online that are not as popular (luckily, I love water polo and team handball … which of course, are deemed too obscure for the every American viewer who is only interested in junior league baseball or whatever). The more “glamorous” sports, such as swimming (where again the US wants to bask in Michael Phelps’ glorious wins of the most number of gold medals … ever), gymnastics, and track & field will be broadcasted 12 hours later when people are comfortable tucked in their recliners with big gulps in their hands, thus netting NBC the largest possible revenue. You cannot watch their archives either until after the prime time broadcast … about 13 hours after the actual event took place? Honestly, I am so fed up with this system that I’m ready to schedule my annual vacations to Hungary to coincide with the Olympics where I can actually watch whatever I want on the internet or on one of the numerous channels that cares to share the passion of the Olympic Games with people.

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Luis Villa 08.09.08 at 4:00 pm

NBC is so far this morning fairly US-centric (volleyball; all-US sabre finals) but I haven’t seen any Americans yet on Universal; I’d imagine Telemundo will be heavily Latin America-centric, etc. The sheer amount of coverage this year will make it very difficult to be US-centric, even if they wanted to.

In fact, I just noticed that on my cable system I not only have about a half-dozen channels of english coverage, I also have coverage in Mandarin and Korean.

So, yeah, I think this may have been a valid complaint at some point in the past… but probably not so much anymore.

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koki mourao 08.09.08 at 4:35 pm

The worse is that NBC (sucks) are not allowing foreign stations to broadcast events that are of ZERO interest for the main stream media and would provoke no loss in revenue once there would be no advertisers anyway. I for one love beach volleyball, soccer, sailing, gymnastics, Judo and many other sports. It is all extremely frustrating… If are not a pro sports station dont even try to get the rights. Simply Sad

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Luis Villa 08.09.08 at 4:45 pm

(And note that generally I agree with the criticism- American sports coverage is pathetically narrow and parochial. Every time I go to Europe and see how much deeper and broader European sports coverage is, it makes me cry. But like I said, the vastness of the Olympic coverage right now, at least on the first day, seems to make the criticism mostly moot in this particular case.)

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crk in washington 08.09.08 at 7:45 pm

Heh, is this some kind of liveblog?

Anyway, I agree with your assertion about NBC’s past coverage of the olympics. Yes, every country will have a bias towards their own players, that is understandable. But I pray, *pray* they dont go with that touchy feely Overcoming Adversity crap they pulled the last two olympics.

There are *so* many bizarre and cool sports to watch and *that* is what makes the Olympics interesting. My ladyfriend and I will be watching weight lifting or something and go “wow… that is hardcore”.

We’ve been watching their coverage of the trials, and if they cover the real deal the way they covered the trials, I’ll be happy.

I’ll say one thing though. Having a Tivo (or in our case, Tivo-like device) is the only way to go for stuff like this. Add the Olympics as a favorite and you can skip through all the touchy feely crap.

Please, NBC, do us right this year!

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Winston Chiang 08.09.08 at 8:25 pm

I lived in the States for twenty years and the past six years in China.

It’s no difference. China only play its anthem on TV here too. China does win lots of gold medals though. I guess when a TV station paid so much money for the broadcasting rights; their first concern is ratings; diversity of coverage doesn’t mean ratings; national pride does. After the first day of Beijing Olympic coverage; it’s the same.

China has three national tv stations moving from events to events. I still don’t feel it’s enough stations. China should have at least 7 of their national stations showing different events from prelims to finals. Now with only 3 stations; they are jumping straight to the Gold and Bronze matches.

I wonder how many USA tv stations are showing the events?

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Luis Villa 08.09.08 at 10:10 pm

But I pray, pray they dont go with that touchy feely Overcoming Adversity crap they pulled the last two olympics.
And the one before that and the one before that… every one of my memory (which goes back to ’84.)

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Mark S. 08.10.08 at 1:05 am

Others have already noted, but today, in the course of about three hours online, I watched handball, swimming, air pistol, judo, fencing, weightlifting, rowing, cycling, and badminton. Could have watched volleyball and football. The swimming was Phelps but otherwise it was largely US-free. (Also commentary-free and nearly commercial-free; perfect sports television!)

The woe-is-me-for-NBC gripe was totally valid back in, say, 1996 or 2000 but those days are gone. And good riddance.

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Daniel 08.10.08 at 2:15 am

NBC Sucks

Phelps just set another world record and here in San Diego it is impossible to watch it live. What a shame. The opening ceremonies were like 15 hours delayed and shown when real sports action was going on.

NBC should not even be given the rights to show the games, they suck and take all the fun out of sports. Show athletes, competitions from all countries – not edited highlight films of American athletes with all the cheesy background stories. The Olympics should be shown in its purity – live and non edited.

The stupidity goes as fas as being able to watch the same event on two channels but at different moments. I saw China vs Canada soccer and on one obscure NBC channel it was the 65th minute and on the other it was halftime. Of course the game was long over and the result already know.

NBC socks and there is no such thing as free press with them controlling access the way they do……

NBC should be fired from the games – forever.

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Agithehun 08.10.08 at 3:13 am

NBC online is showing Hungary vs. Montenegro water polo. Thankfully, the US deems water polo too obscure :)

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Luis Villa 08.10.08 at 3:14 am

For the record, I watched the Korean and Chinese feeds for a while, and they were China and Korea focused, about as you’d expect.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.10.08 at 3:19 am

What the company doesn’t seem to realize is why those people don’t want to watch the Olympics (in my case: their crappy coverage).

Eszter,

This is too broad. Lots of people, like me for example, don’t care to watch because they don’t find the events compelling.

Someone mentioned swimming. As far as I can tell there’s nothing to watch but a bunch of splashing followed by a winner being announced. I don’t mean to denigrate the efforts of the swimmers, but the races themselves are just not very interesting viewing, aside from the outcome.

The coverage may not appeal to you and others, but I very much believe that NBC is not deliberately providing “crappy” coverage. They cover the Olympics the way they do because they think, no doubt based on substantial evidence, that it’s the way to attract the biggest audience.

Could they be wrong? Yes. But it will take more than a few complaints to prove it.

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Neal 08.10.08 at 4:16 am

Hmmm. I imagine coverage from various perspectives is available online and on satellite TV. What you see is what the majority of Americans want to see. Which translates into revenue for the networks, which translates into the most comprehensive and reliable coverage on the planet. I too appreciate all of the athletes and the countries they represent. If you are a true fan of a particular country, you will dig deeper to find the content you desire.

Just a thought!?

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Glenn Stolfi 08.10.08 at 4:50 am

I don’t think I have enough time to express everything that I hate about how NBC dictates how people in the United States are allowed to see the Olympic Games. The tragedy that took the life of the father-in-law of men’s volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon was given virtually no coverage today, despite the fact that NBC was on the air with Olympic coverage for over 12 hours. Why? Because that would take away time from the endless and repetitive stories of how dedicated the athletes are and what they have gone through to get to the Olympics. Also, no mention has been made of how oppressive the weather and how nasty the air is in Beijing. Yesterday, the men’s cycling road race was contested in temperatures that were in the mid 90′s and humidity that was well over 60 percent. Maybe I’m crazy, but if you treat the Olympics as the pinnacle of sports competition, would it not make sense to hold the games at a time and place where the weather is actually condusive to allow the athletes to achieve their best performances?? I was appalled when I learned that the U.S. athletes who dared to wear masks when they arrived in Beijing were ordered by the USOC to apologize to China. It is China and the IOC who should be apologizing to the athletes of the world for putting the Olympics in a country that has no regard for air quality or the health of its own people. The Chinese are the world’s ultimate consumers, polluting the air on a scale unparalled in world history. However, this problem could have been reduced if these games had been held in September when the heat and humidity would have been much lower. However, the recent history of the Summer Games includes multiple examples of how NBC is able to manipulate when the Olympics are held.
In 1956, the Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia began on November 22th and ended on December 8th, because that’s when summer occurs in Australia. There was also no coverage of those games from any U.S. TV network. The 2000 Games in Sydney started on September 15th and ended on October 1st, despite the fact that it was early spring in Australia and during most of those Olympics, temperatures were quite chilly. Again, this happened because NBC refused to let these games take place during sweeps month and interrupt their precious primetime TV series. The people who organized the Sydney games were outraged, but their complaints were ignored because the amount of money NBC pays allows them to dictate to the IOC when the Summer Olympics are held. In 1996, the Atlanta Olympics began on July 19th and ended on August 9th, despite the fact that this is the hottest time of the year in Atlanta, with daytime temperatures in the 90′s every day. Considering that the Seoul Olympics and Sydney Olympics were held in September and were both televised by NBC, no suggestion was ever made to hold the Atlanta games in September, when temperatures would have been at least 10 degrees cooler, which would be far more tolerable for athletes, especially the marathon runners.
My final point concerns the recent news about NBC frantically pleading with foreign websites to block access to live Olympic coverage by people in the United States. This was precipitated by reports of people who were able to use the internet to watch the Beijing Opening Ceremony live, instead of having to wait until 12 hours later when NBC showed it in primetime. We were virtually the only country that was denied the opportunity to watch the Opening Ceremony live. I for one hate the way NBC covers the Olympics, using commentators who almost never stop talking for more than three seconds. It is truly a shame that those of us who live in the United States are held hostage by NBC when it comes to our ability to watch the Olympics.

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X-Girl 08.10.08 at 7:44 am

I agree it is fully rational that a country’s broadcasting network would emphasize havily on events in which their native athletes excels in; it is still frustrating how often they edit and modify the coverage.

I have been watching NBC and CBC’s coverage since the Opening Ceremony, there are countless times when they would abruptly cut coverage when Canadian / American athletes didn’t fare well (such as in day 1′s Men’s Bicycle race). They also show only the weaker athletes from other countries during spare moments (such as in showing only UK female gymnasts struggle in the qualification rounds, and not the stronger competitors such as the Japanese and the Italians who did better than the Americans.)

CBC had in its schedule that Female Diving Sych 3M Final would be on its coverage from 12AM-3AM est…and they have obviously cut that out too…now I am watching some weird Asia movie and disappointed ranting on this comment…cus I have stayed up just to watch the diving finals… :(((

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billdo 08.10.08 at 9:00 am

Living in a border community where I can get both the CBC (broadcast) and many of the NBC-brand networks on cable, I would have to concur that the CBC does a FAR better job of covering sport in a timely manner than NBC. Yes, NBC does toss us a few bones on the other cable networks (USA, CNBC, etc.), but their flagship coverage is highly slanted towards jingoistic rah-rah go-U.S. programming.

I watched the CBC’s version of the opening ceremonies broadcast live and NBC’s version 15 hours later. NBC managed to edit out about 45 minutes of the ceremony, making room for more advertising. Most Americans probably had no idea that big chunks were missing.

Sure wish I could watch the CBC online streams on the Internet — they’re blocked out here in the U.S. The same seems to be true for many of the other streaming Olympics sources from around the world. I’m tantalized by what’s available to everyone else but not available within our borders.

It’s NBC’s Great Firewall of the United States. What’s that they say about stones in glass houses?

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Katherine 08.10.08 at 9:24 am

Another thought on coverage. One of the great things about the BBC coverage, I’m finding anyway, is that now everything is digital I can choose to watch say, archery, even if the main coverage is, say, cycling. Now, I don’t have complete freedom – it depends what of 5 or 6 sports the Beeb has put on the digital options, but still, I think that is an enormously good feature.

Is this not something happening in the US?

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Geoff 08.10.08 at 9:32 am

I’d echo the above commenters who note that almost every country slants the coverage towards their own teams (I’m living in Asia at the moment and have seen the evidence first-hand for the past few years).

But more to the point, it seems pretty likely to me that there are large numbers of US athletes competing in the events shown *because* these events appeal to Americans – we’re more likely to have developed talent in those areas in which there’s fundamental interest in the country. In other words, NBC isn’t showing sports only because the athletes are American – they’re showing sports that Americans care about and thus are able to field teams in through the long term. (I’m sure there’s some nationalist element there, because it’s hard for many people care purely about any sport if they have no skin in the game… but it’s hardly the defining rationale.)

I, too, would like less track-and-field coverage than we tend to get. Judo and fencing are high on my list. But it seems rather presumptuous to assume that the country in which you are living should demonstrate its cosmopolitanism by showing the sports that your home country found most interesting.

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Eszter Hargittai 08.10.08 at 11:56 am

Luis and others – online helps, but there are still constraints. I just went on a BBC site to check out some videos and this is what I got: “Cannot play media. Sorry, this media is not available in your territory.” When I go on the NBC site, I’m required to download a plugin (one that’s not exactly mainstream) that then requires me to restart an application, disrupting other things I’m doing. Annoying.

Geoff and others, I certainly am not questioning or challenging that a country’s coverage would slant toward sports in which the country’s athletes are strong, that’s completely understandable. My point was that there is a lot going on at the Olympics, as others have also noted, partly what’s interesting about it is precisely all the many sports and also nationalities participating. In that sense, it’s a pity to focus on only a few sports and nationals.

Geoff, your point about what’s of interest in a country certainly makes sense, but I’d say it may even be the other way, at least in part. A country has strong competitors in a sport and thus covers it more than usual leading folks in that country to develop an larger-than-usual interest in it.

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Eszter Hargittai 08.10.08 at 12:54 pm

Watching the Men’s 400m IM swimming is a good example of the extreme US-focus of the coverage. I’m not much of an expert in swimming, but the little I read about the race beforehand (and I don’t mean in US media) suggested that the Hungarian Cseh would walk away with the silver. You never would have guessed it from the commentator’s discussion of the event right beforehand though. You’d think it would be worth mentioning since it would make the race more exciting to watch without assuming that Americans will walk away with both gold and silver (as they did not in the end).

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Cala 08.10.08 at 1:33 pm

Personally, I’d settle for just seeing more contests. The U.S. women’s sabre team swept the individual medals and barely got a highlight reel, probably because it would have cut one of the examples of the two variations of ridiculous montages they’re running this year: a) soft-focus American rags-to-riches stories or b) soft-focus Chinese inscrutable Eastern mind collective stories.

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Roy Belmont 08.10.08 at 5:17 pm

Maybe it’s the elevation to primacy of raw selfishness as the default human posture.
It’s become more important that the self, or the collective self, triumph. More than anything else, including stuff like nobility, love of the game, etc.
All those antique virtues that proved to be so limiting, and frequently even debilitating.

This by way of explaining the now solidly in place US Olympic media coverage rah-rah jingoism.
The Olympics were at one time about higher things than merely winning.

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agithehun 08.10.08 at 6:17 pm

To: Bernard Yomtov … you mentioned the following: “They cover the Olympics the way they do because they think, no doubt based on substantial evidence, that it’s the way to attract the biggest audience.” Does this mean that the United States — in general — contains a bunch of shallow people who could care less for the Olympic spirit, diversity in games, etc? I don’t know what kind of sports you like but I’m sure that could be characterized in a similar manner as you have characterized swimming such as “a bunch of splashing.” I guess one could simply state baseball is just a bunch of people standing around occasionally hitting a tiny ball. And the list could go on …

To Neal: I’ve tried to dig deeper to find out how my countrymen did and see the other preliminaries for swimming but thus far I couldn’t. I have tried to enlist a couple of computer engineers but so far they couldn’t offer me a good solution. To what lengths do I have to go in order to watch a variety of different sports that normally the US does not choose to cover? Why do I have to be forced to try less-than-legal methods to enjoy these games like the rest of the world?

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CallmeMitch 08.10.08 at 7:14 pm

I just pay an illegal piraste website to watch streaming video from Europe. Problem solved. NBC can suck my left nut!

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omarwashington 08.10.08 at 9:23 pm

I also agree that watching the Olympics in the US sucks because they only show what the American team is good at. So this time I just don’t care anymore. I also think that the Olympics is a pointless representations of which country is better at this and that. I’d rather watch world champion achievement towards the individual person rather than the country.

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SSReporters 08.10.08 at 9:32 pm

NBC will continue with their poor coverage as long as the general audience only watches NBC and considers what they get as “top quality”, when in reality, it’s not.

CBC is far better, and not nearly as biased as NBC. They show more coverage on their main network than NBC, and show events live, and when I mean live, it’s coast-to-coast.

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dr ngo 08.11.08 at 12:20 am

To what lengths do I have to go in order to watch a variety of different sports that normally the US does not choose to cover? Why do I have to be forced to try less-than-legal methods to enjoy these games like the rest of the world?

Esther: This kind of thing, not your original post, is what I was quibbling about.

Someone who seriously thinks that “the rest of the world” enjoys more coverage than the six (?) channels NBC and its affiliates (CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Telemundo, special soccer & basketball channels, &c.) offer, to say nothing of streaming videos, is clearly deluded.

Just today I’ve seen boxing, beach volleyball, volleyball, swimming, diving, gymnastics, rowing, basketball, football (soccer), bicycle racing, and a couple more sports I’ve forgotten – and most of these did NOT feature American athletes. (Although, of course, if Americans were involved they were featured, understandably.)

One can still complain, rightly, that there’s too much “up close and personal” at the expense of sport. One can even rant – reasonably – about the tape-delaying of T&F and other key events. AAAAGGGHH.

But if the “rest of the world” has MORE different sports – as opposed, perhaps, to more of the particular sport your commentator enjoys – then it’s a “world” I haven’t encountered in my many years of travel and residence overseas.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.11.08 at 1:13 am

Does this mean that the United States—in general—contains a bunch of shallow people who could care less for the Olympic spirit, diversity in games, etc?

No. It means that the United States contains a bunch of people who like sports they grew up with and are familiar with. In this the US is no different than anyplace else, and I grow weary of hearing how we are crass, or “shallow,” because we don’t like the same sports Europeans like.

The point about swimming is not that it isn’t worthwhile, or that the athletes are not to be admired. It’s that it’s boring to watch. It looks like a bunch of splashing. I see no strategy, no critical moments, no clever maneuvers, etc. Just water and arms and heads. If I don’t care who wins it holds zero interest.

I don’t know what kind of sports you like but I’m sure that could be characterized in a similar manner as you have characterized swimming such as “a bunch of splashing.”

You are right that baseball can be similarly characterized. But I understand baseball. I love its subtleties because I’ve watched it all my life. Not true of swimming, or water polo, etc.

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SICK OF IT 08.11.08 at 1:56 am

I’m sick of seeing the same cr-p, the whole point of the Olympics is sportsmanship and a WORLD of sportsmen. The skewed view of only US winnings and US athlete stories that is given by NBC sucks and is quite monotonous and embarrassing. If we wanted to watch US players then we could tune into local sports events. This is the Olympics, for heaven’s sake!– a time to celebrate the talents of humans around the world, not just of Americans!! The fact is that majority of Americans only care about themselves and are ignorant of other peoples and cultures, and NBC’s broadcast caters to this fact.

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USA! USA! USA! 08.11.08 at 3:06 am

Don’t let the sobriquet fool you; Although not a Socialist Euro-Commie; I do abhor the American-centric coverage of the Olympics here in the good old U.S. of A., the interminable chick-flick, weepy back-stories, and hours of commercials as well.

But the whole affair went into the toilet years ago (probably after the 1968 Olympics in Mexico), when people realized there was a tremendous market there and satellites could bring the coverage to the rest of the world. Then there was the politicization of the games with those terrible events in Munich — as if the U.S.A. versus the U.S.S.R. hadn’t already done that.

Also, if Uberroth hadn’t made a financial success of the 84 games, it is most likely that the Olympics would have tailed off into oblivion because of the excessive costs to host cities.

But the biggest joke of all is watching the basketball (or baseball when it was an Olympic event one time) and seeing the same clowns you see in the NBA or American or National Leagues. Sure, the USSR fielded their own “pro” teams back in the day, but the idea of some clown pulling down 15- or 16-million bucks for the Lakers playing for a gold medal is ludicrous.

..sigh..is it August 24th yet?

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Katherine 08.11.08 at 7:48 am

“You are right that baseball can be similarly characterized. But I understand baseball. I love its subtleties because I’ve watched it all my life. Not true of swimming, or water polo, etc.”

And that is why you only see a bunch of splashing when you see swimming. Not because it doesn’t involve subtleties, but because you are ignorant of them. Perhaps, rather than revelling and celebrating this, and sniffily writing off anything you don’t understand, you could try to maybe expand your knowledge? Pick a sport, any sport – there are plenty on offer.

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Dave 08.11.08 at 8:30 am

“The Olympics were at one time about higher things than merely winning.”

Indeed, as the 1904 ‘Anthropology Days’ demonstrated, they used to be about displays of racial superiority. Thanks heavens we’ve moved on so far from those times, and now it doesn’t matter what colour the athletes are, as long as they wrap themselves in the right flag for the sponsors…

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christine 08.11.08 at 2:19 pm

Eszter, totally agree with you on the poor coverage of Laszlo Cseh, who’s a legend. But CBC didn’t really bother with him much either, really. CBC also said last night that the men’s backstroke would be a duel between Aaron Peirsol and Liam Tancock (at least not American), just after the two fastest qualifiers had broken the Olympic record in successive semis.

To be fair, NBC did do a human interest story on Laure Manoudou. If I recall, becuase she’s good looking, and had gotten lots of tabloid coverage over her love life.

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Agithehun 08.11.08 at 3:24 pm

It appears to me that the coverage of the Olympic Games (but I could have mentioned the news coverage is well that focuses only on the US or on countries where the US is involved) seems to mirror the cultural differences of the different countries. Because these cultural differences are deeply imbedded it is difficult to change them. Therefore, when I read comments such as those of Bernard Yomtov, I have to pause and remind myself that I cannot really change his value system. He, along with many other Americans (note: not all because there are always exceptions to the rule), value different things. He does not seem to want to learn anything new and is not ashamed to state that he is not interested in learning new things. He wants his baseball, basketball, and American football and that’s it. He does not want water polo, team handball, fencing, etc. because that would require an effort to learn. In a way, this sentiment is echoed by NBC because that is precisely the audience they cater to: people who don’t want to “waste” their time with learning about the world.

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Walt 08.11.08 at 3:35 pm

Yes, if you don’t want to learn about water polo, it proves you have no interest in foreign countries.

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raj 08.11.08 at 4:41 pm

Today, an Indian – Abhinav Bindra- won a gold medal in an ‘individual’ event, becoming the first Indian ever to do so.

All the TV channels in India have been covering this achievement- and only this- right through the day. Accolades have poured in for Abhinav from the high and mighty in the Govt, opposition parties, film stars,etc.

Nothing else matters today!

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Niro 08.11.08 at 5:06 pm

I agree. As a Canadian, I can say the Olympics were much more fun to watch in Canada than it has become in the US. I was so disappointed with the fact that NBC is treating the Olympics like a prime time TV drama instead of actual sporting event which needs to be shown LIVE!. I hope next time around ABC gets to host the Olympics, then maybe we’ll be able to watch it properly as it is meant to be. Also during the opening ceremony I heard few time the TV commentators making fun of small countries about their chance of winning in the these games and their highlight is being part of the ceremony. As a multicultural country, I would have thought NBC would have shown more class to all US citizens who are from all around the world.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.11.08 at 6:23 pm

sniffily writing off anything you don’t understand, you could try to maybe expand your knowledge? Pick a sport, any sport – there are plenty on offer.

Oh for Pete’s sake.

Look. I don’t understand Russian. A play performed in Russian will not interest me. This does not mean I think the play is inherently bad, or that Russian-speakers who enjoy it are nuts. It means I won’t enjoy it, and if you want me to buy a ticket to a play don’t perform it in Russian.

Further, my unwillingness to learn Russian for the purpose of understanding a play is not a defect of my character.

He does not seem to want to learn anything new and is not ashamed to state that he is not interested in learning new things. He wants his baseball, basketball, and American football and that’s it. He does not want water polo, team handball, fencing, etc. because that would require an effort to learn. In a way, this sentiment is echoed by NBC because that is precisely the audience they cater to: people who don’t want to “waste” their time with learning about the world.

This is, as Walt says, ridiculous beyond belief. You have no idea whether I am interested in “learning new things.”

Am I allowed to choose the new things I am interested in learning, or must I learn what you want me to? Gee, I’d like to learn Spanish, but don’t have time because Agithehun insists I study water polo.

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Agithehun 08.11.08 at 6:29 pm

Well, Walt, I’m detecting “some” sarcasm from your words … think about it. I’d be interested in some data on people who are interested in a variety of different sports (despite their familiarity of the sport) and their overall curiosity of the world. I can only tell you, as Eszter pointed out, that Europeans (in general) seem to be more interested in the Olympics and the different games and they are also more interested in the world, in general. As a Hungarian (now living in the US) I was brought up with watching different sports during the winter and summer Olympics and was disposed to news that covered the world not just Hungary. As a result, I have a natural curiosity for the world and the different cultures that make it up. While I don’t understand the intricacies of baseball I have attempted to learn about the game. I do prefer football (aka soccer) but it does not mean that I didn’t watch the Sox as they played for their championship title.

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Agithehun 08.11.08 at 6:39 pm

Sorry Yomtov but swimming (as it was your example) and most other sports are not that complicated! You swim and then you get a medal. It’s not like you have to learn the “language of swimming” to enjoy the competition and the level of skill, speed these athletes display. So I ask the question: Are you interested in learning new things? Maybe you are but that certainly is not the message you are sending out to these blog readers. And certainly, your comments and attitude sound way too similar to the ones I’ve heard from people who are not all that curious about the world during my 18 years of stay in this country. I certainly do not insist on you learning about water polo or anything else (though you may surprise yourself how much you enjoy it) I simply observed the shallowness your comments display.

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Walt 08.11.08 at 7:06 pm

Yes, I was being sarcastic. Sports are stupid. I’m only interested in the sports that I grew up with because I have enough stupid hobbies. I’m perfectly happy for foreigners (or Americans, for that matter) to regard American football as stupid, because it is stupid. It’s a bunch of cobbled-together rules that make no sense. I like it because I grew up with it, but I don’t think it’s a sign of cosmopolitan enlightenment if someone else bothers to learn to enjoy it.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.11.08 at 7:11 pm

but swimming (as it was your example) and most other sports are not that complicated! You swim and then you get a medal. It’s not like you have to learn the “language of swimming” to enjoy the competition and the level of skill, speed these athletes display.

Exactly. I was very clear that I wasn’t denigrating swimming, or the skills of the swimmers. It’s just that it doesn’t interest me to watch it. It looks to me like a lot of splashing followed by a winner being annonuced. On the one hand I’m criticized for not understanding the beauty and subtlety of it all, and on the other for not simply enjoying what is in fact a fairly uncomplicated contest. So which is it? And what exactly gives you or anyone else the right to draw conclusions about my character or shallowness or willingness to learn from comments I make about my level of interest in certain sports?

You seem to be reasoning as follows:

People who who are not curious about the world have little interest in sports other than those that are very popular where they live.

Therefore, people who have little interest in sports other than those that are very popular where they live are not curious about the world.

That doesn’t follow.

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Agithehun 08.11.08 at 7:32 pm

Well, the observation may not be logical but it seems to be the case. I have only stated my observation: those who are interested in a variety of different sports and are willing to learn something about these sports are almost always more curious people about the world. Is it 100% true? Probably not. You seem to be offended. If my observation does not apply to you then why are you so worried? Who cares what I think. But perhaps I’ve touched on something that may be true. You are the only person who can tell that. I don’t know you but I can make whatever conclusions I want to make about people’s statements. I think we all have the inherent right. Besides, I’ve simply commented on the fact that you are a great example to illustrate why NBC gives a crappy coverage. Because loads of people think like you do: Don’t give me anything I’m not that familiar with because I won’t enjoy it.

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Righteous Bubba 08.11.08 at 7:36 pm

I have only stated my observation: those who are interested in a variety of different sports and are willing to learn something about these sports are almost always more curious people about the world. Is it 100% true? Probably not.

My anecdotal evidence is exactly the reverse. Is it 100% true? Probably not.

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Walt 08.11.08 at 7:38 pm

Nice try being passive-aggressive, Agithehun. You can’t deliberately set out to insult someone (which you did), and then act like it was just a casual observation.

You know, I’ve just noticed that fans of the Olympics are more likely to rape babies. I doubt it’s 100%, but it’s just something I’ve noticed, so you can’t be offended.

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Amanda 08.11.08 at 7:42 pm

Look at all the above posts and you will see that we are all, pretty much in unison. The coverage is only dominated by the country you are watching from. I’m an American, but I have seen this and the last Olympic games in Turkey and Spain, respectively. I was a bit pissed not to have all the hoopla that surrounds such a grand event for my country. I have seen the badmitton, bycycling, archery, etc. only because Turkey or Spain was competing….but I want to see the real players come out to play. That means: show me USA, China, and any other country who is in contention. Otherwise, as an avid youtuber, I am not tuning in for live coverage. And to NBC: wake up and realize that your American audience is all over the world! Let’s get with the times and make online access so I don’t have to go to you tube and look later. And, by the way, I wouldn’t mind watching your advertising if that’s any condolence.

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Steinar 08.11.08 at 7:51 pm


Why do people here in the US accept NBC to broadcast the Olympics with a delay up to 2 hours, and still call it LIVE??
I have been following swimming and could read about Michael Phelps achievements in newspapers all over the country about two hours before it was sent live on NBC
well… unless someone voice their oppinion this is what we get

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Cliffy 08.11.08 at 7:59 pm

As about half a dozen of us have now commented, the type of coverage on the subsidiary channels and off-peak times is vastly different than on NBC prime time. It doesn’t appear that anyone else in the thread has noticed this. So, by all means, vent, but if instead you’d spend that time watching women’s handball or men’s epee — and you can — we’d both be a lot happier.

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Daniel S. Goldberg 08.11.08 at 8:33 pm

Even worse was the way this attitude pervaded the march of nations. no, I don’t expect Bob Costas or anyone else to be able to wax poetic about the Central African Republic, but (1) I do expect American announcers to strive to avoid the implication that all of the developing world — and a good portion of the developed world — is only relevant during this ceremony because of how close or far it is to the U.S.’s turn to march; and (2) to avoid reducing the relevance of the aforementioned Republic to a joke (i.e., it’s a republic, it’s in Africa, and it’s centrally located).

I know I’m obnoxious, a grad student, and hypersensitive, but couldn’t Costas even pretend to understand the implications of colonialism on the air?

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Agithehun 08.11.08 at 10:12 pm

Righteous Babba, if your observation is exactly reverse than you have a different opinion. You are entitled to it. Excellent. That’s what makes the world go round. NBC made observations based on studies and they’ve found that most Americans want to watch a select number of sports at a particular time which will average them the greatest profit. Obviously, there are exceptions to this majority opinion but it is, nonetheless, the majority.

Walt, where is my insult exactly? The “shallow” comment? Shallow means “lacking intellectual depth, superficial” and “curiosity” means “desire for knowledge for something.” If somebody makes a statement that he/she doesn’t want to learn new things because it requires efforts (learn a different language to enjoy a particular play or learn the rules of a particular game) and because it’s not something he/she is grown up with, that statement implies to me a lack of desire for knowledge.

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Walt 08.11.08 at 10:15 pm

Oh I see. By definition you are right. How convenient for you.

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Agithehun 08.11.08 at 10:19 pm

Isn’t it? I’m always right! I’m Hungarian :)

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Agithehun 08.11.08 at 10:30 pm

Hey Walt! You have a nice dosage of sarcasm, which implies a keen eye for irony, thus intellect :)

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dr ngo 08.11.08 at 10:42 pm

I was out this morning, so I set up to tape one of the subsidiary channel’s Olympic coverage, with no idea of what would be on it.

It included about an hour of team handball (Germany vs. S. Korea) and another hour of women’s volleyball (China vs. Poland). No American teams; live coverage (I think); one brief interruption to announce an American gold medal in some other sport (shooting?); i.e., none of the nationalistic/sentimental crap so many commentators are complaining about.

Why can’t people understand – it’s been said often enough here, and not just by me – that NBC coverage of the Games is not identical with American coverage, supposedly the subject of this thread???

It’s perfectly legitimate to complain about NBC coverage, which is clearly designed to be sports for people who don’t really care that much about sports. (Though whoever suggested it would be better under ABC needs some sense of cultural history – it was ABC who invented “up close and personal” coverage of the Olympics, Back In The Day.)

It’s also OK to complain that NBC is all you can access, if you can’t afford cable. There’s capitalism for you, and perhaps – or perhaps not – an argument in favor of a national television “service.”

But to claim that the US “doesn’t show” all the other sports, just because you can’t access (or can’t be bothered to access) any of the other channels that are *not* NBC, is just plain ignorant. Or the product of knee-jerk anti-Americanism. (Which is also just plain ignorant.)

For the record, I’m an all-purpose sports fan. If it moves and they keep score, I’ll watch it. I’ve seen Gary Sobers hit a century at Lord’s and Greg Chappell at the SCG. I watch the European Cup as well as the Ryder Cup and the Super Bowl and the Final Four and Wimbledon and – when I can see it – Seven Nations rugby and Australian Rules Football. None of this makes me any more virtuous than if I had become an expert on Science Fiction or tapestry-weaving. It’s just what floats my boat.

What does not impress me is self-righteousness, especially of the nationalistic variety, based on patterns of sports watching.

Of course that’s just my observation. ;}

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Bernard Yomtov 08.11.08 at 10:56 pm

Walt, where is my insult exactly? The “shallow” comment? Shallow means “lacking intellectual depth, superficial” and “curiosity” means “desire for knowledge for something.” If somebody makes a statement that he/she doesn’t want to learn new things because it requires efforts (learn a different language to enjoy a particular play or learn the rules of a particular game) and because it’s not something he/she is grown up with, that statement implies to me a lack of desire for knowledge.

Apparently, you don’t understand the simple idea that we all have limited time, and that being unwilling to spend some of it learning about X does not mean one is incurious or shallow or anything else. It means one would prefer to spend time on some other activity, which might even be learning about Y.

I think “passive-aggressive” is probably a good description. “I’m not insulting you. I’m just saying you’re shallow and incurious and lack intellectual depth.” No insult at all.

Now I’m tired of this. You decided to insult me based on some vague experiences you had with some other people. Now you claim that it wasn’t an insult, even though it was a plainly negative statement and you have no sensible basis for it.

To hell with you, Agithehun.

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dr ngo 08.11.08 at 11:07 pm


Why do people here in the US accept NBC to broadcast the Olympics with a delay up to 2 hours, and still call it LIVE??
I have been following swimming and could read about Michael Phelps achievements in newspapers all over the country about two hours before it was sent live on NBC
well… unless someone voice their oppinion this is what we get

I believe that the only times NBC specifies that an event is “live,” it actually is, which for swimming has been at 10 PM EDT, which is 10 AM Chinese time. (They paid millions to arrange that – there’s a legitimate source for complaint, especially if you’re Australian.)

Most other stuff is taped, and is tacitly acknowledged as such. (I.e., if it doesn’t say “live,” it’s probably taped.) You can usually figure it out if you calculate time zones, which is relatively easy this time around for those of us in the Eastern USA. If they’re showing anything in the afternoon (here) it’s after midnight in Beijing, hence almost certainly taped. If you’re watching at 3AM, you may well be watching events as they happen. Primetime is a mix of “LIVE” – labelled as such – and unlabelled same-day coverage. You just need to be alert.

(I’ve mentioned before that my personal gripe is that all of the track and field – the Real Olympics – will be at night in Beijing, hence in the AM here, but not showed until about *twelve* hours later by NBC. AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHH. But that’s just bloody-mindedness, and the inability of NBC to “buy” track [as they did swimming], not overt deception.)

So far I’m not aware of any outright deception on this score. If you have evidence to the contrary, I’d be interested in seeing it. And if you actually knew the result of last nights 4×100 freestyle relay (Phelps’ second gold) two hours before it happened, you could have made a fortune!!!

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SSReporters 08.12.08 at 12:15 am

Dr ngo

You get all these sports, you can watch it, but the commentary is amateurish and the broadcast overall is poor, that’s the problem.

And NBC, who went out of their way to buy up the rights to everything, put less coverage on the main network and more on CNBC and so on, and not everyone has cable.

CBC is doing a great job, and NBC should learn from them.

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Bob Locksley 08.12.08 at 3:20 pm

Web 2.0 changes the equation a bit, I think. It, of course, allows people to customize their viewing based on their preferences and their schedules. But also, blogs, youtube and wikis reach niche audiences (such as the paralympics audience) which thanks to their geographical dispersion have never before been reached so effectively. The coverage on NBC Olympics’s website is quite extensive, and the technology (Microsoft Silverlight) on there has delivered – at least for me thus far.

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Blitzzion 08.12.08 at 4:56 pm

swimming ,volleyball iv seen these events so much in the last 4 days to last me the next few years , Cmon now play some other events already there was NO JUDO Coverage ZeRo ZIP Zilch archery HAH! .
Getting fed up with the same 3 events

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Bernard Yomtov 08.12.08 at 10:49 pm

My apologies to CT posters, readers, and commenters (all but one) for my outburst.

Provocation aside, it was rude to the community and uncalled for.

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Maria 08.13.08 at 12:14 am

Thanks, Bernard. Onward and upward.

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Yanno Roseau 08.13.08 at 4:18 am

Not only does the coverage leave out other countries, it starts in PRIME TIME with some of the most boring sports ever: Synchronized diving and then beach volleyball. I would prefer seeing the swimming, gymnastics and anything else at 8 pm – 10 pm then putting on the other stuff late night.

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Stacy 08.13.08 at 1:49 pm

I have always liked watching the shooting sports and archery but I can never see them because they are shown at 2 AM on a work day. I also am tired of hearing the announcers trash the other countries. I have friends from other countries and we watch the games together. It makes me ashamed to be an American when they are bashing tiny countries that only have one or two people representing them. I don’t think this is what the games are about.

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Andy 08.14.08 at 1:44 am

Thank you for saying NBC’s Olympics coverage sucks. They seem to think the only things worth broadcasting are things with water, bikinis, or women’s gymnastics. Thus the coverage of swimming, synch diving, and beach volley. Face it, I can watch Baywatch reruns and get pretty much the same visuals. Of course they show women’s gymnastics because everybody loves that once every four years.

By the way, I would LOVE to see a medal ceremony — I’d love to hear the US National Anthem and watch the flags and the athletes on the podiums, but NBC doesn’t seem to show that, either. I guess it’s more important to have the bizarre United Airlines commercial or Bob Costas prattle on about something….

It’d be nice to see some variety — different sports and different countries.

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Oana 08.14.08 at 3:59 am

This is the first year I can say I am very dissapointed. I am surprised that some of the most popular (or so I thought) sports, like gymnastics, has so little coverage, and the coverage it has, is limited to China and the United States. This is not the China/USA olympics. Other countries have done well, and are more interesting to watch/follow. I’d much rather watch a speed version of all athletes doing craft then watch Alicia Sacramone and the rest of the US team step out of bounds, release too late, wobble on the balance beam. What a dissapointing year in coverage this has been. Please play Phelps as much as you can, I can at least “see” the other countries, even if they are 10 paces behind.

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