Friday, February 17, 2006

I'm stuck on the Winter Olympics

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging this week (other than doing the Delta Green write-ups) is because I've been watching the Winter Olympics. This is the second set of winter games I've seen since moving to the South, and this time I can see a lot more of the events because we have cable! Last time around I had to ask my mother to tape the women's hockey final.

Each Olympics one event catches my attention more than others. In the 1976 summer games in Montreal it was gymnastics. In particular, it was women's gymnastics! (Hey, I was almost 14 at the time!) In the 1996 summer games it was men's short track cycling. I followed downhill skiing pretty closely in the 1988 winter games. I was obsessed with bobsled during the 1992 winter games. I first got interested in curling in the 1994 games. In the 1998 games my attention was short track skating. In the 2002 games it was hockey. This year, I've been getting the biggest kick out of watching snowboarding.

My favourite event, so far, is snowboardcross, a snowboarding event that looks an awful lot like motocross. Some people have complained about the X-games events and how they are gimmicks intent on bringing in a younger demographic. Sure, whatever. They are also fun to watch, and just as athletic as any other winter sport (and are far less controversial than skating; besides if you can have solo synchronized swimming as a summer event, why not snowboard cross).

As in the 2002 winter games and the 2004 summer games I find NBC's coverage leaves a lot to be desired. They do a reasonable job of compressing a number of diverse events into a short time frame. I will give them that. Unfortunately, they do it in a stupid manner. Every American in an event gets time in front of the camera. It doesn't matter if they are ranked first or twenty-first. This means that someone has to be left out, and that someone is usually a top 10 competitor from another country. To capture people's imagination, the NBC producers figure they have to tell stories. This means that they have to place important competitors in some sort of context. If they focus on a foreign competitor it means that competitor did well in the event.

An good example of this was women's moguls earlier this week. NBC gave air time to all three American competitors, even though the best U.S. woman finished 10th. Meanwhile, half way through the event they started talking about a Canadian skier. The Canadian was last (at least last during the broadcast; you can never tell if it was edited or not, as they don't show the whole event). The Canadian won. I knew the Canadian medaled only because there was no other reason for NBC to put any emphasis on her.

What bothers me about this isn't the coverage of Americans. It's an American network, after all. What bothers me is that the viewing audience doesn't get to see the best in the events. They get to see all the Americans, the people who medal, usually a fourth place finisher, and any foreigners who round out the event in the time available. If Americans do very well, that means we get to see more competitors. If Americans don't do particularly well, some better performances are missed while the show focuses on inferior Americans.

The one area where this isn't the case is figure skating. Since it's the big draw during the winter games, NBC would prefer that it was all skating and nothing but skating!

I was spoiled by Canada's Olympic coverage. The games were always broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which was a crown corporation. That means that while it's an independent company, it was owned by the Canadian government. It doesn't have to be as commercially successful as a private company. The CBC would run events live, even if that meant they were broadcast in the middle of the night. They know there are Canadians who will get up in the middle of the night to watch their favourite sport live. The CBC would hit the high points of the games during prime time. They would focus on the best competitors, though, not just the Canadians.

There are a number of reasons for this:
  • Canada is a cold climate nation. Winter sports are popular.
  • Canada is ethnically diverse, where immigrants aren't pushed to assimilate. As such, there is always a lot of interest in how other countries fared at the games.
  • Canadians do reasonably well at the winter games, but Canada is usually mediocre in the summer games. Canada doesn't push sports the way the U.S. does. There's a joke that Canada would have more medals than any other country if you got, say, a Tin medal for 4th place. In 1998 it was a national disgrace that the Canadian men's hockey team came in 4th. Canada is the only country not to win a gold medal while hosting the summer games.
I see that Canada is actually ahead of the U.S. in medal count right now! That's quite amazing. (As of today, the U.S. has 6 gold, 3 silver and a bronze, while Canada has 2 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze.) There's a big push for Canada to do well this year because Vancouver hosts the winter Olympics in 2010. NBC must be looking forward to that. They can run the events live (more or less), and there will be plenty of Americans visiting the games.

We're playing Delta Green this weekend, as long as the freezing rain holds off long enough for Jason and Jimmy to visit. I won't have time to blog because of that. Tonight I hope to watch the women's snowboardcross. Next week, it's the curling finals! What can I say, I like sports that involve strategy!

1 comment:

RennyBA said...

As a Norwegian, I love the Olympics too of course. They havn't done that good so fare, but you'll wait and see! If you like to see real young amatures in figure skating, take a look at my blog article on City White!