Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Oh say, why can't I N-B-See?

Luckily for my sleep habits and the fast-approaching school year, the Olympics are over. No more staying up til midnight waiting for gymnastics scores or rain-delayed beach volleyball finals. All the spectacle and pageantry are over, and it was a great two weeks of sport. You'd have to be a total grumpus not to be thrilled by Michael Phelps's eight golds and Usain Bolt's sprinting records, or to be moved by the stories of the South African amputee who competed in the open-water swim, or the 33-year-old gymnast who moved from Uzbekistan to Germany to get cancer treatment for her son, and won a medal against competition half her age. The Olympics are full of great stories like these.


I am still quite displeased with much of NBC-Universal's coverage of the games. I understand that gymnastics, swimming, and track score high ratings, and that's why they get the main focus of the prime-time coverage. And this year satellite users actually got a button that took them to a menu where they could choose from several channels that had coverage (something only eight years behind, and vastly inferior to, technology that the BBC used in Sydney). And yet, with all those channels, I didn't see a single taekwondo match on the air. And this, after the Today show showed profiles of the Lopez family, who are the first three siblings to all medal at the same Olympic games.

Apparently, NBC has time to show four replays of every dive in preliminary competition, and a dozen replays of Bolt or Phelps, but not even one two-minute round of a TKD medal match? They weren't even pretending this year to show most events live, so they couldn't edit the competition to give us a little more breadth of coverage? On Saturday afternoon, they figured people would rather watch table tennis, rhythmic gymnastics*, and synchronized swimming** for three hours than see a single, 6-minute TKD match. Why? It wasn't because Americans were challenging for medals in those events, because they weren't. What world are the NBC producers living in? Certainly not the one where mixed martial arts shows draw high ratings and pay-per-view audiences, or the one where 1600 competitors of all ages (and both sexes) competed at a national TKD tournament not two months ago. Sure, TKD bouts on an Olympic level can be a bit slow, because the competitors are so good, but it can't be any worse than the Olympic boxing match I saw last week where the competitors grabbed and held and threw each other to the ground instead of actually throwing punches.

NBC seems totally oblivious to this, as shown in their coverage of the athletes during the Closing Ceremonies. They showed the Lopez family again, saying they medalled, but I had no idea what medals they actually earned, since NBC didn't show them. Then they focused on Bryan Clay, the American gold medalist in the decathlon, traditionally called the "the world's greatest athlete." The announcer said he seemed to be overshadowed in these games by athletes like Phelps and Bolt, and I shouted "DUH!" at the televison, for NBC blew off the first day of decathlon competition, moving it from primetime to late night, and then devoted about two minutes to each of Clay's second-day events before showing the entirety of the last event, the 1500 meter run. But that night they showed most of the marathon live, because there's nothing as exciting as watching guys run through streets for two hours. (Hey, it was LIVE!)

So I guess I'm going to have to wait another four years to see world-class TKD on the television***. Maybe by London 2012 I can get digitally broadcast CBC, or BBC America will offer their own coverage. Or maybe NBC will give us real choice through satellite coverage. You never know, it could happen.

* I'm sure the ladies of rhythmic gymnastics work hard, but to me their "sport" looks like something better suited to the circus, not the Olympics. There's virtually no tumbling, so it's more like dance than gymnastics. (Don't get me started on the idea going around about adding Ballroom Dancing as an Olympic event.)
** And just to be totally inconsistent, I hate it when people make fun of synchro. I actually did this for a year in junior high, and it's very tough.
*** And also "Team Handball." I want to see this because I have no idea how it works. I'm envisioning a dozen guys on a squash-sized handball court. Do they tag team? Take turns hitting the ball? My mind boggles.

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't too thrilled with NBCs coverage either, but thankfully I was able to catch some of the highlights (from a Norwegian point of view! :-) such as the women's handball final on the web. Although it's not the same sitting in front of your computer, after the game's already done (but with a 9 month old baby staying up until the wee hours of the night is not really recommended anyways...:-)