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As if the Summer Olympics needed Zika and dirty water to get people dissing it. Sigh.
Even if Rio was flawless in its presentation for the Olympics — and to be clear: it wasn’t flawless in the preparation phase, is not flawless as it kicks off with the opening ceremony and, well, likely won’t be flawless as it unfolds — people would find things to gripe about. It’s an Olympic sport unto itself.
And yet, every two years I get to be the Olympics Pollyanna — because I want to be.
I love the Olympics. I loathe (or at this point just eye-roll) everyone’s nitpicking about it, from the super-tired “it’s not live!” to the equally cynical, “All the athlete features are manipulating your emotions.”
It’s every two years, not every week. I’m pretty sure we can live with whatever perceived inconveniences and shortcomings exist.
Just a quick addressing of those nagging Olympic issues: If you want to watch it live, stream it online. The NBC site has more options than you can ever gorge on. As in past Olympics, but probably even more so now because two years’ time is two years of better technology, the NBC website will be able to help people who need to watch live or devour endless clips during bouts of insomnia.
NBC puts “the best” of its packaged presentation in primetime for two very good reasons: That’s when most people are watching, and NBC is a broadcast network that’s paying off its investment in covering the Olympics with commercials. That’s what a broadcast network does.
As for those features, yes, they are designed to pull your heartstrings and if you are excessively jaded — which I am clearly not — they might come off as too saccharine. What I tend to see is a story of uncommon commitment by athletes to represent their countries and win a medal. Some of them come from hardship, many have had heartbreaking setbacks along the way, and all of them display a passion for their sport that most of us can barely fathom. And after four years it’s over — sometimes in seconds — and often lost. Of course those stories are going to be emotional. It’s almost impossible for them not to be. The jubilation of triumph is such a wonderful experience after you’ve seen their backstories. And so is heartbreak and disappointment when they falter. Because viewers got to know them. They had a rooting interest no matter what country they are from.
That’s why NBC does the Olympic profiles. It knows what it has — a book of amazing stories heading into their last, climactic chapters. It always stuns me when people complain about that.
But like I said, complaining about the Olympics is an Olympic sport.
I choose to head into these next two weeks the same I do for all Olympics — eager to devour those stories, whether they take place in the pool or in gymnastics or out on the track. I’m already a pretty dedicated sports fan but enjoy the diversion of the summer and winter Olympics not only because I’m exposed to sports I only really care about at that point (like short track speed skating in the winter), but I think NBC does a mostly good job of getting the right announcers and analysts for the job. I’m less critical of them than I would be for a regular baseball, basketball or football announcing team. I want the background stories and updated information and rules and strategy. Then I want them to be quiet when the medal-winning (or -losing) moment occurs. Going back a ways, I remember very few times that an announcing team has botched this.
I’m also not such a Pollyanna that I don’t want news out of Rio. If the water and the mosquitos are in play and affecting events, I want to know. Same holds true for security concerns, failed drug tests, national issues, etc. I know that’s part of it. The hope is that the Games come off unblemished and enjoyable, but that’s not always the case.
More than anything else about the Olympics, I believe people who are super-invested in their television series (and believe me, I’m drowning in more shows than you are) will opt to take a little time off and devote them to what is automatically the better bet. From the opening to the closing ceremonies, we only get this show every two years. I like that specialness. I feel bound by some code that compels me to drop everything else and pay attention.
I will especially be there for the “smaller” sports, like archery, badminton, table tennis, whatever they are doing in those canoes and judo/tae kwon do. And yes I said table tennis and badminton. Hell yes.
I get it if those don’t hook you. Personally I’m not so big on most of the gymnastics, just as I’m not lured into the ice skating stuff so much in the winter. But I watch. I might choose instead to stream the modern pentathlon or volleyball or water polo or indoor track cycling. But the point is I’m engaged. I’m sampling around. Why? Because it’s the stuff I know less about that ends up being, often times, the most astonishing. The best television. Sure, the basketball, soccer, tennis and all the pro-athlete infused elements hold their own allure, but I prefer the stories of less famous athletes. In whatever they are doing — even if that whatever is BMX cycling.
I’m hoping for the unexpected across the board — finding the next great eye-popping, jaw-dropping Olympic moment, like the first time Usain Bolt burst on the scene. That insane display of athletic prowess that goes beyond winning into legend.
That’s the opportunity that awaits us at every Olympics. Live, taped, streamed — it doesn’t matter. I just want to experience that old-school thrill — the victory/agony of defeat thing. For the next two weeks, the Summer Games will be the best drama on television.
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