Notes from the First Weekend of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

I just thought I would share a few thoughts on the first weekend of the Olympics – not counting Sunday night’s primetime events.

First, I couldn’t help but noticing that the men were playing beach volleyball in a downpour with thunder and lightning – lightning even struck the remote camera – and they kept playing, so I’m waiting for the writers at the Chron to go into meltdown mode and start calling for firings.

I enjoyed the beach volleyball, especially Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, but twenty years ago, there’s no way this would have been a primetime event. Boxing, however, which was live over on NBC’s Universal-HD channel, would have been the primetime network event instead. But I’m not complaining because I watched the women. However, that leads to another question: how come the men in beach volleyball get to wear long shorts and t-shirts, but the women are in bikinis? Not that I’m upset about that, but it does seem kind of sexist. You don’t see the women in swimming having to wear bikinis.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the guys responsible for the sound at Minute Maid Park are over in Beijing because the music and noise being piped out over the speakers at the beach volleyball venue are just as loud and obnoxious as anything they do here at MMP.

******************* NBC’s coverage has been better during the mornings and afternoon than at night. Mornings and afternoon bring more actual sports – though the afternoon events are on tape delay. The evening broadcasts have been full of fluff, and though NBC pushed the International Olympic Committee to stage final events during Beijing mornings so as to be live in U.S. primetime, NBC opened up Saturday’s night coverage with tape-delayed coverage of men’s gymnastics.

The announcers also did a better job in the morning/afternoon coverage of being less American-centric in their coverage. This was especially evident Saturday night during the finals of one of the women’s swimming finals when there was a taped bio piece on American Katie Hoff, and all of the pre-race coverage was on Katie Hoff, and the first three-fourths of the race they talked of nothing but Katie Hoff, then had to go into scramble mode when it quickly became evident that the gold and silver medal winners were going to be Stephanie Rice of Australia and Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe – and I can’t help but thinking that Coventry’s story must be really interesting seeing as what’s been happening in Zimbabwe.

Technically, the coverage has been excellent, especially in the swimming events. The cameras are capturing everything, and unlike with some sports, NBC’s announcers, Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines, actually seem to know what they’re talking about. Yes, they had to scramble on the issue of Rice and Coventry during primetime, but they knew the info well enough to scramble, and they did good work on the South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan, who won his country’s first ever gold medal in a men’s swimming event.

**************** Bob Costas opened up the primetime show on Saturday from Tiananmen Square. And while making a big deal of being live from Tiananmen Square, Costas failed to inform everyone of why it was such a big deal – primarily being that the Chinese, after promising full and open press access, had changed things at the last moment and were shutting everything down. I can’t help wondering what NBC had to do to get the live shot. But missing from the primetime opening was any mention of the murder of the father-in-law of the coach of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Volleyball team on Friday night at a popular Beijing tourist site. Costas did briefly mention it later in the show, but normally, NBC loves to talk about the stress of a team performing under these circumstances.

****************** I noticed that Al Trautwig is doing the gymnastics for NBC. Does anyone else remember back in the 1980s when Trautwig was supposed to be the next Al Michaels? Now this guy just seems to appear every four years or so to do some Olympic events. What happened? And NBC also has Jim Lampley working the morning/afternoon studio show – he’s the midday Bob Costas. Why doesn’t a network hire Lampley to head one of its studio shows? Really. This guy is far superior to anybody that ESPN, CBS, and FOX have to offer. It’s kind of like the networks want to reward ignorance, so they refuse to give work to anyone of intelligence.

****************** And NBC, I don’t know if you realize this, but George Bush ain’t exactly the most popular of men in the United States, so there’s really no need to keep shoving him down my throat. I saw the piece on him dropping by the beach volleyball court twice on Saturday – he appeared to be just about as incompetent there as he does in the White House. And it didn’t make things make much better to keep going to shots of him in the stands while Kobe Bryant and the boys were beating up on the Chinese in basketball. Shots of a bully cheering on a squad of bullies doesn’t exactly put me in the Olympic spirit.

While I’m on basketball, I’ve got this for NBC: If you’re going to bring Craig Sager over from TNT to be your sideline guy, don’t handicap the man by not letting him wear his trademark jackets.

That’s it for now as I go back in search of women’s beach volleyball on my television. – John Royal

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