2.18.2006

What's right, wrong with NBC Olympics coverage

Watched the women's Snowboard Cross event last night. Like the men's event, it was exciting and had a spectacular ending, when American Lindsey Jacobellis, far ahead of the Swiss snowboarder and within a few hundred meters of the end of the course, decided to show off and ended up crashing, handing the gold to the Swiss.

NBC did a good job analyzing what went wrong, had some great camera work, and was able to snag Jacobellis several times after the event for interviews.

But the network also screwed up big time. It's not surprising that it concentrates on the American athletes, but it's complete avoidance of talking about the foreign athletes borders on disturbing. For instance, in the same event, both Canadian competitors wiped out, one of them so badly that she had to be taken down the mountain in a stretcher. Yet NBC never revealed what happened to her -- it would have taken 10 seconds to say "Canadian snowboarder _______ was taken to the hospital and is reported to be in _______ condition." Yet, nothing. The Olympics is an international event, not an American event, and one of the hallmarks of good sportsmanship is showing concern for athletes who are injured, regardless of their origin. That's why when the Chinese pairs skaters Zhang and Zhang wiped out, the entire auditorium got on their feet and gave them a supportive round of applause. Why does NBC not get it for the other events?

One other thing about the NBC Olympic coverage that bugs me is the constant focus on the American "stars" and avoidance of lesser-known U.S. teammates. Case in point: The Men's 5000 meter skating relay. The camera was on Ohno 90% of the time, while the other three American skaters on his team were ignored.

At least NBC is not pumping up the show with special effects/music video fluff like in Salt Lake City. They seem to have realized that most people who are serious about watching the Olympics could care less for flashy glitter -- they want the camera on the athletes most of the time, with solid commentary in the background, and everything else kept to a minimum.

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