Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympics Withdrawal

Last night, I watched the Closing Ceremonies of the London Olympics. The rock concert (mixed with a preview of Rio) marked the end of the first Olympics I have not attended in person since Sydney in 2000. Although it was fun to follow the action on social media, I knew we were never getting the full story. I already miss the Olympics, but my withdrawal started early this year because I couldn't be there in the thick of things.

Sadly, the coverage of the Olympics on American TV was very disappointing. (I'm visiting my family at the moment, so I don't know how the HK coverage was.) NBC chose not to show the Opening and Closing Ceremonies on live television even though the Closing took place on a Sunday afternoon our time. I watched the Opening first on a live BBC feed and the commentary was infinitely better than the abbreviated prime time version I watched on NBC later that day. All of the popular Olympics events were squished between long commercial breaks in the evening. There were frequent stops for reality TV-like segments about the athletes and a History Channel documentary about WW2, meaning there was even less time for the actual sports. The result was that we only saw the performances of some of the American athletes and whatever competitors also ended up on the medal stand.

This is a dangerous game to play because it creates a subjective picture of the Olympics. One example is that the team gymnastics coverage did not include a bad fall by one of the Russian gymnasts, a fall that gave the US team the gold medal. We saw every match of the star US beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, only to discover that another US beach volleyball team was also undefeated. We didn't even hear about them until their gold medal match against Misty and Kerri.

When I was in China for the Beijing Olympics, it felt important that we were seeing the Games without the bias of either the American or the Chinese media. That was why I felt compelled to write The Olympics Beat about being a spectator at the Games. There are so many filters on our knowledge about what is going on in the world. Now more than ever, it's vital for us to tell our own stories about the things we've witnessed. I'm thankful for my social media friends around the world who helped me experience the full impact of the London Games.

By all accounts, London did an excellent job hosting the event. I hear it was an Olympics to remember. However, the American viewers and the athletes were short-changed by NBC's dedication to its advertising revenue. Unfortunately, this network that doesn't understand Olympics viewers has purchased the rights to keep a chokehold on Olympics coverage until 2020. With any luck, I'll be watching Rio 2016 in Asia, or in person.

Inside the fencing venue at the Beijing Olympics (Dad's t-shirt is from the Athens Games)


  1. I was so frustrated by the NBC coverage. I found the commentators unusually critical. They often had clear favorites among the athletes - McKayla Maroney, fir example; I was amazed at how much they discussed her performances, even though she was there to only perform one event, and Gabby Douglas was near overlooked.

  2. I am in the UK (outskirts of London) and on the whole, I think the BBC coverage was good. There was obvious bias towards Team GB athletes but this was balanced with coverage of other athletes and teams and the commentators were respectful of all the athletes. I didn't get tickets to an event but did visit the Olympic park and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Quite laid back.


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