Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Olympics


After careful deliberation, I deem the Rio version of the thirty-first Olympiad worthy of a score of roughly 4.2. This is much less of a reflection on the host city and the competing athletes than it is on the presentation of the games by NBC, which was simply dreadful.

First, as with all networks these days, NBC assumed that every television spectator has a cable or satellite service and could therefore tailor their Olympics-watching to their own personal tastes. This left those of us without such providers to endure basically only "race" events and women's gymnastics, interspersed with diving and beach volleyball. Seriously, that was about the sum of network coverage on free, commercial television.

The network also missed many an opportunity to profile non-U.S. athletes, though there were some stories here and there. Showing how athletes from what we might consider Third World countries can succeed against athletes from nations where they train almost full-time, and have many of their expenses covered, would be a real source of inspiration and hope to a jaded American audience. As it is, I find myself rooting for the "underdog," especially in the Olympics, because we already have it so good here in the U.S.A.

At least one friend commented on Facebook that it was nice to be free of political advertising and, ostensibly, other matters of more lasting importance economically and socially, during the two week span of televised competition. Still, the irony of someone firing a gun that sends a group of (mostly) Black people running is not lost on me, but no one else will say that because it "isn't the right time," and all of that kind of rhetoric. How doubly ironic that a privileged Caucasian male was the one that committed a crime after his own athletic events had concluded. I am still willing to help pay to extradite his ass back to Brazil, by the way.

The opening and closing ceremonies were the real treat, of course. It never ceases to amaze that the host nation raises art and pageantry to a new level. We need this kind of celebration at more frequent intervals than every four years. Why wait for an excuse? Let's do a world art olympics every two. Also, the commentary on the ceremonies was limited, much like it is for parades, and that is how every event should have been handled.

Among the worst aspects of Olympic coverage were the commentators and analysts. Every event should have been handled with a lot less verbiage, let alone criticism. If ever there were athletic competitions that could do without voice overs entirely, it would be the Olympics. Why not simply explain each event beforehand, then sit back silently and watch the athletes execute? Instead, we get negative comments on all but the most perfect dives and gymnastics performances. I really don't care that you know it all because you are retired from the sport you are analyzing. Shut up and let the rest of us enjoy.

What made NBC think a late night party with Ryan Seacrest was a good idea? His "interview" skills are non-existent, and the rest of the broadcasts were so exploitative of the locals as to make me want to vomit. Even Bob Costas seemed off of his game, relegated to presenting the latest medal count and trying to play along with female gymnasts half his age or younger. You are not "hip" anymore, Bob, get over it.

All of this said, spectator athletics are exactly that: entertainment. Few athletes recognize that they are entertainers, but it is those who do that we adore the most, and who are usually the most successful. It also makes some of those athletes the most hated, misunderstood, and mistreated of all.

Muhammad Ali was perhaps the first athlete in the modern era to recognize his stature as an entertainer, and he played it to the hilt. He was so masterful, in fact, that many people mistook his on-stage (in the ring) persona for his actual character as a human being. Later, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Jr. and Shaquille O'Neal took to the basketball court all smiles and we loved, as we do, watching someone who loves what they do for a living. Simone Biles actually smiled during her floor exercise routine. How can you not love that?

Well, another Olympiad is in the books, for better or worse. We can only hope that coverage for the next one in Tokyo is going out for bid. Maybe PBS will get it, though I wonder how many people would fall asleep during its broadcast. Personally, I am hoping that it goes to Comedy Central.

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