Last month’s London Olympics could have been a lot better. Yes, we were riveted by Michael Phelps’ final showcase, as we watched him become the most decorated Olympian of all time.
We were dazzled by Gabby Douglas’ golden performance in the gymnastics all-around competition and floored by Aly Raisman’s individual gold in the floor routine. We were blown away by Usain Bolt’s dominant return to the sprinting spotlight and staggered by the performances of double-amputee Oscar Pistorius and broken-legged Manteo Mitchell in the 400 and 4×100 relay. But while these poignant moments shone brightly, the Olympic experience as a whole rang a little hollow.
The flaw with the Olympics was not in their substance, but in their presentation. NBC and its affiliate networks offered expansive access to the Games, but managed to grub their hands over the entire product in the process. For starters, there was justifiable uproar throughout the Games over NBC’s decision to delay the broadcasting of marque events, in order to air them during prime-time. Tape delay kills drama. To make matters worse, NBC frequently spoiled its own surprise by airing results of events they had yet to broadcast.
The other major issue with the Games was NBC’s arbitrary promotion of certain athletes. It seemed that the NBC broadcasters had a script of which athletes to push and which to neglect, regardless of the athlete’s actual performance. Did you know that Allison Schmitt won more gold medals than any Olympian besides Phelps and Missy Franklin?
Do you even remember hearing Schmitt’s name?
NBC must have decided that Schmitt wasn’t quite charismatic enough to pay much attention to, especially when they had modern marvels like Ryan Lochte to focus their lenses on. Lochte, hyped as the breakout star of these Olympics, only brought home two golds. Luckily, Lochte was able to keep us riveted with other good uses of his time, like wearing American Flag grills and trademarking a catchphrase – “Jeah.”
It seems strange when athletes are not only competing for medals, but are also competing for airtime, Bob Costas time, and maybe even The View or SNL time. Maybe it’s time to accept that the Olympics have become a television event, rather than an athletic showcase. The Olympics will provide spectacle, whichever way you slice them. If only NBC realized that they didn’t have to.