What was so notable about this particular race was that American Bob Kennedy boldly dashed out from the pack running ever-so tactically to take the lead in the race at the backstretch of the final lap. It was an insane move by Kennedy not because he would quickly be swallowed up and passed by the superior African runners, but because of the big ones it took for him to go out there like that.
I can remember watching the race in the middle of the night and yelling at the top of my lungs when Kennedy burst into the lead. Actually, it was more like a girlish shriek and as soon as it sounded out it was over because Kennedy’s surge was actually a wake-up alarm to the rest of the field. But for a slight flicker of time, Bob Kennedy, the U.S. record holder in the 5,000-meters, was the baddest runner on the planet.
Second to that was the gold medal basketball game between the U.S. and Spain during the Beijing Olympics of 2008. If I recall correctly, the game was one of the few that was shown in real time from China, which meant it started at 1 a.m. in Pennsylvania. Since the U.S. was heavily favored, my plan was to watch the first half or until the game was safely put out of reach and then I would go off to bed. But that plan hit a snag when the game turned out to be just too darned entertaining.
So instead of sleeping I was wide awake and riveted by how the Spanish team countered every run and stand by the U.S. team. Then I found myself doing something I never thought I’d do…
I cheered for Kobe Bryant.
I couldn’t believe it either and I immediately picked up on the hypocrisy of it all. If this were an NBA game on any other night of the year, I would reflexively root against Kobe. Who wouldn’t? He said all those mean things about Philadelphia, rooted for the Mets as a kid and the Dodgers against the Phillies, and pretty much is the most arrogant and biggest jackass in sports. Plus, as rightly described by Bill Simmons, Kobe was like the wolf from the movie Teen Wolf, who took all the shots and made teammates feel worthless. Truth is, one of the times I was most proud of the Philadelphia sports fans was when they booed Kobe as he hoisted the MVP trophy from the 2002 All-Star Game at the Wachovia Center.
Yet there I was at 3 a.m. rooting for Dwyane Wade to get the ball to Kobe in a spot where he could score for the red, white and blue all while wondering why someone didn’t pick up Spain’s guard Ricky Rubio and heave him into a trash can on the concourse.
Make no mistake—it was a blast. As a sports and Olympics fan, part of the fun of it is waiting all day for the game/meet/match and adjusting your life accordingly. If a game comes on at 1 a.m., well, by golly, I’m going to be ready. That’s what sports fans do.
They want to see what happens as it happens.
It seems like a pretty basic concept, right? Broadcast the game when it’s scheduled. Simple. Uncomplicated. Who among us doesn’t secretly enjoy those summertime west coast swings where part of the allure is fighting sleep in order to make it through the middle innings?
For some reason the Olympics are no longer for sports fans. This is nothing new, though. In fact, I’ve been beating this drum for as long as this web site has been alive and I’m pretty tired of it.
If a network wants to stage an Olympics, stop being so damned insulting to the sports fans. Please.
Yes, I know. It’s not about sports fans during the Olympics… at least not in recent history. The truth is NBC must feel like sports—even Olympic competition—was not enough. Real drama is pushed aside while the events that are shown are more fake than the fireplace raging behind Bob Costas. Worse, they chopped up the recordings of the events, edited out the nuance and details, and presented them as it would an episode of “Friends.”
Look at how a compelling day of competition on Sunday was presented. Instead of showing more of the Bode Miller redemption Olympics live when it happened, NBC taped it, packaged it up and sprinkled it neatly between lulls in the ice dancing competition during its prime time run. As a result of that, the HUGE hockey game between the U.S. and Canada, one that was a trending topic on Twitter hours after it had ended, was pushed to MSNBC. Never mind that a lot of people don’t get MSNBC or that it isn’t in High Def in a lot of markets, the biggest hockey game of the year was shoved off as if it were curling match.
According to a story on Yahoo!, NBC says it bumped hockey because of American women. Yep, women apparently live life with their heads buried in the ground and want to watch ice dancing and other snowy events that already happened hours prior instead of real-life drama. Oh sure, they say that
But the NHL shut down its season for the Olympics, which means it closed up shop for two weeks specifically for NBC. There are a lot of dark buildings on a lot of nights over the next two weeks all over North America because the players wanted the best athletes in the sport to show off at the Olympics. So rather than promote the game by putting the biggest game of the year on live where most people could see it, while chastising news organizations for reporting things that already happened.
Oh yes, this Internet thing just might get popular one day.
Look, I’m not so naïve that I don’t understand why things are they way they are. I get it. If they could turn a profit by putting color bars on TV all day, they’d do it. Quality and merit don’t really matter these days. But that’s just mean. People work hard all day, they pay taxes on top of taxes. They have mortgages and debt and not enough time to enjoy a day free from stress. So rather than treat the folks (who don’t have the time to investigate the truth, etc.) to something good, they get pre-processed scraps.Not cool.
Hey, we’re sports fans and (in best Jim McKay voice) want the unparalleled human drama that is only captured in the Olympics. Once every four years athletes have a chance to capture immortality. Just think if the World Series or the Super Bowl happened once every four years and then they messed with it because it didn’t look like a dumb episode of a banal “reality” show.
Worse, they can pretend like things didn’t happen like in 2008 in Beijing. When the rest of the world was fawning over Usain Bolt as the true hero of the games and yawning over swimming, NBC went so far to black it out… Chinese democracy style.
Actually, NBC chose to ignore most events in 2008 because they did not fit into its broadcast plan devised way back when Beijing was awarded the games in 2001. According to a story in The New York Times, NBC and IOC chairman, Jacques Rogge, worked together to finagle the schedule of swimming events so that they could be aired during prime time in the United States. But before doing so, Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC sports, had to run the plan the network and IOC past one person:
Swimmer Michael Phelps.
When was the last time the commissioner of baseball asked a player what time he wanted the games to start? How about the president of ESPN or Fox checking with Jimmy Rollins to see what time would be best to put the game on TV?
So when Usain Bolt sprinted onto the scene and suddenly, like lightning, became the face of the Olympics—the unadultered, non-sponsored International star—well, NBC wasn't having that. To NBC, Usain Bolt did not turn in the most otherworldly performances in Olympic history. He was a party crasher. Didn't he get the memo that Michael Phelps was the star?
To knock him down a peg, NBC lapdog Jacques Rogge claimed Bolt's celebrations were unsportsmanlike (Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post nailed it). Costas waded into the fray, too, echoing the IOC boss' complaints. However, when Phelps pounded his chest, flexed, screamed and posed (nearly completely naked) after several of his victories, they said nothing. Actually, Bob and the gang fawned all over their White Knight and wanted you to do the same.
Please ignore that man running faster than anyone else in history of the world. That has nothing to do with us. Y’know, almost like hockey this time around.
There could be hope looming, though. NBC’s contract to televise the Olympics ends after the 2012 games in London and ESPN is rumored to want to buy in. Of course this is all speculation at this point, though it was worth noting that a quote in a story from a person in the know the sports network indicated that ESPN would produce the Olympic broadcast like it was a sporting event.
 See Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno.