Action for an Olympics sports junkie |

Action for an Olympics sports junkie

Barry Smith

Television coverage of the Olympics in Athens might just be able to win a bronze medal this year, if for nothing more than the massive number of hours on multiple channels that NBC is able to show events.

For once, I seem to be getting more athletics than television fluff – a complaint I’ve been making since, oh, the original Greek games. (OK, so they didn’t have television back then. There probably still was some slick scribe standing by to tell us breathlessly how dramatic the event was, instead of shutting up and actually showing us the drama.)

This year, though, with hours upon hours of competition not only on NBC but MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, USA and Telemundo (1,210 hours total), there has been enough action to satisfy even the hungriest Olympics junkie. Frankly, it would be impossible for anybody to watch it all.

I have just one question: What time is it in Greece?

Here in the Pacific Time Zone, we’re 10 hours behind. That makes for some difficulties in scheduling for NBC, but not to the same magnitude as created by the 17-hour difference during the 2000 Games in Sydney.

Yet nothing from the Athens Games is being shown live, or even close to live. It’s all being prepackaged – as always – for consumption during prime time.

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Except that they’re not really in prime time, are they?

Maybe I shouldn’t be critical of NBC, because maybe it’s my own darn fault for being unable to catch several of the events so far that I wanted to watch.

Final of the women’s all-around gymnastics. Fell asleep. Missed it.

Final of the men’s all-around gymnastics. Fell asleep. Missed it.

Final of the men’s swimming relay. Fell asleep. Missed it.

Final of the men’s 100 meter race. Fell asleep. Missed it.

Final of the men’s 400 meter race. Fell asleep. Missed it.

Why, oh why, are they showing the biggest event of the day after 11 o’clock at night?

I’ve seen enough gymnastics to last at least four more years. Apparently it’s a big ratings-grabber for the network, so they show more of it by about a 3-to-1 ratio than any other sport.

Women’s beach volleyball – not exactly an Olympic sport, in my opinion – seems to be a major event this year. I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with Misty (May) and Kerri (Walsh) because I’ve seen so much of them. Literally.

I watched the entire men’s basketball game between the U.S. and Lithuania in the hopes that it would eventually dawn on the NBA stars representing America that basketball is, indeed, a team sport. Never happened.

On the other hand, I was able to catch only a few seconds of highlights of the women’s softball team, which looked to be exciting and dominating. If there was an opportunity for me to watch an actual game, I wasn’t aware of it.

Could NBC have broadcast some of those events live? Of course.

The 100 meter final actually occurred at 1:10 p.m. our time. The 400 meter final was at 11 a.m. West Coast time. Sure, most people are working and wouldn’t be able to watch. But most people are sleeping after 11 p.m. and, like me, missed the events anyway.

So I’ve adopted the habit of checking out Olympic results at during the day. That way I know whether it’s going to be worth trying to stave off sleep in order to watch it on TV. Otherwise, I’m satisfied to just wait until the next morning and read about it in the newspaper.

What’s the problem with live sports? Well, the networks can’t control it. They can’t smooth off the rough edges, hype the stars they’ve already prepackaged and present it to the viewing public in the same bland manner that has sucked much of the life out of watching the Olympics.

I have to admit, so far this year the NBC commentators have done a much better job of scraping away a few layers of hyperbole and “up close and personal” schtick. If an athlete’s story is compelling, then it’s compelling. It doesn’t get more so by gushing.

So many of the events remain so subjective as to defy comprehension. I don’t care how many times they explain to me the intricate scoring systems for diving, say, or the gymnastics exercises, it still comes down to one thing. If there’s no splash, it was a good dive. If she sticks the landing, it was a good routine. Yet the winners are determined by some thousandth of a point that no one – and I mean no one – can explain.

Kind of reminds you of figure skating, doesn’t it?

Give me a contest in which the first person across the line wins. Where the person who jumps the farthest or the highest gets the gold. Where the team with the most points beats the other team.

And give it to me live, so that I know anything can happen. Give me sports, not show-biz.

Maybe I can stay awake long enough to watch it.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at 881-1221 or