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BEIJING 2008 : STEVE SPRINGER / ON THE MEDIA

It's not just all about 'us'

August 13, 2008|STEVE SPRINGER

Jingoism.

That's an ugly word sometimes used to describe ugly Americans in previous Olympics. The dictionary defines it as "a person who professes belligerent patriotism."

American announcers in particular have been branded with that term, but not so much in the Beijing Games, where the coverage has been generally evenhanded.

Sure, the decibel level has gone up and the passion has flowed when some American athletes are competing, but how do you avoid getting poetic when describing Michael Phelps walking on water, getting excited when watching the men's 400-meter freestyle relay team stage a comeback for the ages, getting awe-struck when watching LeBron James pluck an opponent's shot out of the air?

The problem is when the blinders go on, when it's only about America and the announcer shortens U.S. to "us."

That happened on the first day of competition when fencing analyst Mika'il Sankofa, describing a hat trick by the American women in the individual sabre, said, "We won gold, silver and bronze."

Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines, handling the stroke-by-stroke of the relay, and Andrea Kremer in the post-race interview with the victorious Americans lapsed into a bit of homerism by mocking the French swimmers who had belittled the U.S. squad with a wave of trash talk.

"I think it has been clear throughout the Games that we are certainly not rooting for the Americans," Hicks said. "The excitement that we had was just simply about an unbelievable piece of drama in the pool."

He said his reference to the pre-race remarks by the French team at the end was "a way to wrap up the story. Maybe it didn't sound that way, but that was my intent."

A prime example of professionalism behind the mike is Doug Collins. He played on a U.S. Olympic team, yet he doesn't lapse into self-indulgence over his moments on the court or openly root for the red, white and blue. He is a former coach, yet he doesn't hit the viewer with a constant stream of Xs and O's.

Instead, Collins informs, telling the viewer what Coach Mike Krzyzewski might have been thinking when he made a certain substitution, explaining why a Dwyane Wade dunk is impressive by detailing Wade's injury-riddled past, highlighting key matchups.

Although the U.S. may be dominant in sports such as basketball and swimming, China is proving every bit as effective at collecting medals. One way NBC might have avoided any charges of jingoism would have been to employ some Chinese analysts. It has 105 announcers.

Couldn't the network have found at least one from China?

Hardball

No one can accuse Bob Costas of going soft for his country. In his interview with President Bush at the Games, he went well beyond the standard lob questions about how the president liked being the nation's No. 1 fan.

Costas hit every button from human rights issues in China to the country's support of the Sudanese government to the barring of Darfur advocate Joey Cheek to China's policy on Tibet to Bush's conversation with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about the ongoing conflict between his nation and Georgia.

More big numbers

NBC has drawn an average of 30.4 million viewers through the first four Olympic nights. The 2004 Athens Games averaged 24.7 million for the comparable period. The national ratings average for prime time for Beijing is 17.1/30, highest for an Olympics outside the U.S. since the 1992 Games in Barcelona, which registered a 17.4/33 through the first Monday.

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steve.springer@latimes.com

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