Why I Love the Olympics (but hate the NBC coverage)

I love watching the Olympics.  I’m not usually a sport fan.  I watch the World Cup every four years, and other than that the Olympics are it.  I don’t have any local sports teams that I root for, and I find most popular sports in the United States fairly boring.  But the Olympics is about a lot more than sports.

English: Billy Mills winning the 10,000m in th...

English: Billy Mills winning the 10,000m in the 1964 Olympics: 1stLt William “Billy” Mills, USMCR, wove through a field of lapped runners and passed the race favorite, Ron Clarke of Australia, to win the 10,000 meters race at the 1964 Olympic Games. His victory is described as one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history and he is still the only American to ever win a gold medal in that event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To me, the Olympics are about physical prowess, hard-work, and dedication.  It is also about celebrating the interconnectedness of the world.  When so many countries come together for an event like this it’s a celebration of the world community.  Sure, I have pride in my country and I root for the USA, but I also relish seeing which sports other countries excel in, and seeing the good sportsmanship we’ve seen in most of these games.  I’ve noticed particularly in swimming a lot of positivity surrounding the end of the race, with the winners and loser congratulating those in the lanes next to them.

This global community is one reason I’ve been so disappointed with NBC’s coverage here in the States.  There is something really powerful about watching an event like this live, and NBC’s practice of holding off on airing the most popular events until prime time, while making practical business sense for them takes away from the sense of community you get when watching these events live.  Sure, you could also complain about NBC’s bias toward the American athletes, but that doesn’t bother me that much – it’s to be expected, though NBC does take it new heights.  When watching global events like this in another country they have bias to their athletes too (as I learned when watching my first World Cup while living in Japan).  Overall, I agree with NPR’s assessment that while NBC is doing what is best for their business, they are doing Americans a disservice with their coverage overall.  I’m certainly not the only one complaining, but like many others I’m also watching daily.

In my household we don’t have cable.  We get most of our TV viewing through our Roku and watch streaming from Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon.  That means that right now, with an event like the Olympics, we have to tune in to NBC’s broadcast and are at the mercy of what they want to show and when they want to show it, which is so late at night that I’ve never caught the end of their prime time Olympic showings.  Without cable, we can’t log in with our service provider credentials to access any of the extra stuff or live streaming on the NBC website.  At first I felt like I couldn’t really complain about that.  After all, we decided having cable was not something important to us, and normally it doesn’t matter, but with the way NBC covers the events on broadcast it kind of makes me wish we had more options.  It wouldn’t make sense to buy cable just for an event that happens every two years, and it certainly wouldn’t fix the fact that many cable users are complaining about NBC’s coverage as well, but I’d gladly pay for access to the streaming features on their site.

Lastly, it bothers me a bit the way that earning a gold medal is described as a win, but the rhetoric around silver or bronze depicts them as losses.  I think we should be celebrating every medal, not just the gold.  It’s a huge achievement for these athletes to make it to the Olympics, to compete, and then to medal.  I feel proud when the USA, the UK, and Japan (all countries I have a connection to) win any medal.  A silver is not a lose.  It may not be first place, but that doesn’t mean that athlete’s reputation is suddenly tarnished.

I’ve digressed.  The point of this post was not to bash NBC or the way we seem to talk about medals here in the USA, but rather to bask in the backdrop that the Olympics provides to the human stories of people in so many countries.  As fans, we live the rise and fall of these athletes, and the success stories that are most touching are the ones where the athletes have struggled the greatest in their personal lives, or through lack of support within their country.  I for one can’t seem to turn it off.

EDIT: I came across this great video about the NBC coverage this afternoon.  Enjoy.

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