Published on September 1st, 2012 | by John Morton0
London Olympic Highlights
A full disclaimer at the start: I’ve had the amazing good fortune of attending eight Winter Olympic Games in a variety of roles from biathlon competitor to volunteer. Perhaps because of that experience, I feel a stronger affinity to the Winter Olympics. The figure skaters may be the prima donnas of winter sports, but I can relate to them more easily than I can to the synchronized swimmers or the dressage riders. As a result, I wasn’t glued to the tube for endless hours during the recent London Olympics. My wife and I did, however, catch enough of NBC’s coverage to develop some impressions.
First, some thoughts about the television coverage itself. I smiled when I heard a radio personality criticize NBC for focusing almost exclusively on American athletes. How soon people forget! It doesn’t seem that long ago that ABC was criticized for featuring primarily the leaders and eventual medal winners. At many previous Winter Olympics, that excluded most of the American participants, who were fortunate even to be mentioned. Actually, I thought NBC did a pretty good job of covering the favorites, regardless of nationality, while also acknowledging the American participants.
Like the coverage of most professional sports in this country, NBC paired an experienced announcer with one or two “color commentators,” in most cases, former athletes. While it’s helpful and interesting to have some insight into the nuances of the sport (for example, the platform divers hit the water with flat palms to make a hole in the water and thus minimize their splash) I felt some of the color commentators became smug and even arrogant in their evaluation of the competitors.
I know it is obscenely expensive to televise the Olympic Games, and that NBC claims to lose money every time, but the preponderance of commercials is agonizing. There were evenings when I was convinced that we were watching 10 minutes of commercials for every five minutes of sports.
One final comment about the TV coverage. NBC deserves tremendous credit for allowing us to experience the growing excitement and emerging tactics in some of the events, which the spectator on the scene has no way of discerning. Aside from the annoying commercial breaks, we watched the men’s marathon from start to finish, including Ryan Hall’s agonizing withdrawal from the race and Meb Keflezighi’s phenomenal surge from 16th to finish fourth.
Although such a massive undertaking always has its critics, it seems to me that London set a new standard for hosting the games. The organizers took a part of the city that had become an eyesore and revitalized it. They struck a balance between creating wonderful new facilities and temporary venues that will be dismantled after the games. And if hosting the Olympics is an opportunity to showcase your city to a worldwide audience, the organizers made certain that we had plenty of opportunities to see the Parliament building, the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace.
And how about those opening and closing ceremonies? I’ve seen some terrific ones, especially Albertville in ’92 and Lillehammer in ’94, but the Queen arriving by parachute! It will be interesting to see how the Russians top that, two years from now in Sochi.
The unsung heroes of the London Olympics may very well be the security details. If they do their job well, everything goes smoothly, and we are only vaguely aware of their presence. But in today’s geopolitical climate, with the eyes of the world focused on London, I have to believe that there were dozens of lunatics and fanatics determined to spoil the party. The athletes and coaches of the world could focus on doing their best because relatively anonymous, dedicated, public servants had them covered.
Regarding the events themselves, there seemed to be the typical spectrum from unrestrained exuberance to heartbreak. Michael Phelps may actually be human after all, but as Ryan Lochte discovered, Phelps is still pretty phenomenal. What a welcome dose of joy high school swimmer Missy Franklin must be to her home state of Colorado, especially after the tragedy in Aurora.
Some have called the London Games the Women’s Olympics, and the US women’s soccer team contributed to that impression. I had mixed feelings regarding last year’s, women’s world cup, believing that somehow, Japan deserved the victory following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated their country. But there can be no doubt which team deserved this year’s gold medal in women’s soccer.
Of the dozens of memorable performances, the one that will stick in my mind is Meb Keflezighi, the 37-year-old, who persevered through injury and personal hardship, simply refusing to give up. His fourth place finish in the marathon was a significant victory by any measure.
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