Golden Perspective

Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson are 1-2!

United States media coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games is biased. It's true. America loves its champions. Nothing can prove this statement more than the non-stop prime-time television coverage of Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Natalie Coughlin, Misty May-Treaner and Kari Walsh, not to mention the rest of the U.S. Swimming, Gymnastics, and Beach Volleyball Teams. If you're from the United States and you're not expected to win Gold, don't expect television coverage.

It's sad really. Only the very few will win an Olympic Medal, let alone the most coveted Gold. But it's an incredible achievement to just make it to an Olympic Team and to compete in an Olympic Games. The truth is, all Olympic athletes devote the better parts of their lives training for an Olympic Games. They all have stories of training and sacrifice. They all have stories of setbacks and injuries. They all have stories of sublime elation and the most dejected disappointment. All these stories are just as worthy of press coverage, even if these Olympians are not members of the "Redeem Team" in Basketball, or a Grand Slam Tennis Star.

Shawn Johnson sharing a hug and bittersweet tears with Gold Medalist Nastia Liukin

Last night, Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson--both World Champions, both multiple medalists through the years--competed for the All Around title in women's gymanstics. And in that marquee event of all marquee events, what really bothered me was the television commentary if the judges took just an extra minute to pick up the phone and check with the technical committee president who makes decisions and rulings regarding start values and performance. Has American coverage become so biased and so scrutinized that our commentators feel it's necessary to question judging calls and second guess every deduction?

As a viewer last night, I got sucked in and fell for it and I was all but ready to condemn the gymnastics judges, but something didn't feel right. Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlagel should know better--they competed and Tim Daggett won Gold. He knows how the process works. And he respects his fellow Olympians. So when the older lady in the red coat who was the president of the technical committee was referred to as Nellie Kim, something was jogged in my memory. It seemed to me I had watched her compete for Russia and win gold herself, and I just kind of thought that of all gymnasts I had watched over the years, I had really liked Nellie Kim and her story and had rooted for her.

Sure enough, Nellie Kim is a five-time Gold Medalist, having won three golds and a silver at the Olympics in Montreal in 1976 and two golds in Moscow in 1980. There are a lot of qualified individuals that could be chosen to serve as president of a gymnastics technical committee, but I would think that a five-time Gold Medalist would be given the benefit of the doubt. What disturbed me was that none of the three US commentators could have given Nellie Kim the respect that she deserved and had reminded the viewing audience that she was a five-time Gold Medalist herself, and would undoubtedly make the right decisions regarding the judging of our Olympians Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin.

Greco Roman Wrestling Bronze Medal left on the floor after the Swedish Athlete who won the medal threw it away in disgust.

As much as I am enjoying the coverage of the United States Olympic Champions, I feel like I'm missing out on so many other stories. I would have loved to have seen in prime time last night what triggered a Swedish bronze wrestler to throw away his medal during the awards ceremony. I would welcome watching some of the sailing events, that seem to be taking place without any fanfare whatsoever, or the whitewater events or the fencing--in which the U.S. swept the medals!

To me, the Olympic Games are about so much more than Olympic Champions. They're a stage to celebrate the glory of all sport--even sports that we never think about unless it's in the context of an Olympic Games. But sadly, our media coverage is almost exclusively focused on the glory of our athletes that fulfill their Olympic Dreams in marquee events, or who succumb to the horrible fate of not fulfilling our expectations for them in the most pressure-filled competitions of their lives.

Ryan Lochte wins his first individual Gold Medal by beating Aaron Piersol.

Thanks for reading.

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tazdog said...

You are right on the money with this. I have to either watch soccer live at 5am on a web cast if I want to watch it at all. And your right about the prime time events. I think every night this week has been volleyball, swimming, diving, or gymnastics. Why not air some other events, games, etc. Show us some other stuff we never get to really watch!

August 15, 2008 11:46 AM
BK said...

Somehow I shared a little of what you felt there. Over here in Singapore, I would very much love to watch every event. Just the other day when I was watching the man's gymnastics, I could not help but amazed at their determination and the effort they put into the game. It was almost a 'pain' as I watched the competition; that day, many of them fell from their routine and there was this Japanese that fell from his ring routine on his leg and he continued in the competition with great performance in his other routines and eventually made it to 4th in rank. What great spirit!

August 15, 2008 11:53 AM
Doug said...

I agree with every point you make about Olympians and television coverage. I do note that nearly every event IS available on one or the other of NBC's broadcast channels, plus the really amazing internet feeds. I particularly have enjoyed the internet feed that allows me to see the Opening ceremonies again.

August 15, 2008 1:30 PM
Mister Scott said...

nice post...

while my son and i were watching the 800m woman's qualifiers this morning, I told him afterward that we would unfortunately likely be unable to see the finals... knowingly he added "yeah, there's no Americans in it." we only have regular tv (no cable or dish and while we could watch online i suppose) it is unfortaunate that athletes who make great sacrifices (MUCH more so than in the US where, let's face it, the cumulative sacrifice say a runner in Ghana makes is small) we are unable to see some more varied stories through to completion...

overall though, it is nice to see some events, like water polo, for which i have no background or experience... its kind of neat to watch and learn...


August 15, 2008 1:35 PM
Pamela Kramer said...

Thank you so much for the update! I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer to finish the gymnastics coverage.

August 15, 2008 2:43 PM
Anna said...

I agree. I'm a former gymnast and coach, so that is a particular sport I wanted to watch, but I would liked to have seen more of the gymnasts then just the US and China.

August 15, 2008 5:50 PM
Jena Isle said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for providing us with the updates on the Olympics. US has a good standing...congratulations.

It is something to be proud of.

All the best.

August 15, 2008 10:12 PM
WeblogLearner said...

This is a very good post, Matt (I read your name is Matt). It got me stumbling it! I am proud sharing this to eveyone. Great writing and insights. Keep it up, Buddy!

August 16, 2008 3:05 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

tazdog--Thanks for your validation! I guess NBC is broadcasting in this way to garner the biggest ratings. Back in the 70s when Jim McKay was hosting the Olympics for NBC, it was about the Olympics, not the business of it all. Olympic athletes were not giant stars with multi-million dollar salaries and endorsement deals. The Olympics were about the glory of sport. Maybe they still are, but they're also about big business and corporate greed.

An old tradition of the Olympic Games was the Olympic truce--where warring nations would honor a cease fire so that athletes could compete. It sure would be nice if there were such a thing as a business cease fire so that those who enjoy the Olympic Games could watch all the sports, not just the ones that might achieve the biggest ratings.

BK--absolutely! That was stunning when the athlete fell off the Rings! It's very interesting to hear about similar coverage issues in your country. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Doug--the internet feeds are great! If you have the time to watch them and a high speed internet connection. Here in the mountains of western North Carolina, I have access to a T-1 line at work, but I'd rather watch the games from the comfort of my own couch in front of my bigscreen television with access to appropriate food and beverage from my refrigerator, you know?

Mister Scott--thanks for your comments and commiserating along the same lines!

Pamela--it's my pleasure.

Anna--thanks for stopping by and adding your professional perspective. I seem to remember that in Olympic Games in the 70s and 80s we were able to watch like the Top 8 Competitors in the All Around--not just the Americans and their two Chinese rivals. Watching our athletes compete in isolation isn't anywhere near as tense, interesting or nerve wracking.

Jena--thank you and it's my pleasure.

WeblogLearner--thank you for your kind words! And thanks for the stumble! It's much appreciated.

Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment!

August 16, 2008 9:58 AM

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