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BEIJING 2008 : STEVE SPRINGER / ON SPORTS MEDIA

Not the only game in town

August 15, 2008|STEVE SPRINGER

It's riveting watching Michael Phelps leave the great Olympians in history in his wake. It was poignant seeing Alicia Sacramone fall from the pedestal she has pursued for so long. And it's entertaining to view Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh maintaining their hold on perfection.

But aren't we missing something here? Have the Olympics been whittled down to just swimming, gymnastics, beach volleyball and some diving?

Whatever happened to that Kobe guy? Don't they still play soccer in the Olympics? Isn't the compelling story of the U.S. men's indoor volleyball team carrying on while its coach, Hugh McCutcheon, mourns the murder of his father-in-law in Beijing worth following? What about table tennis, a sport the Chinese -- remember them, the hosts -- are so passionate about? How about at least snippets of baseball, softball, boxing and maybe even a rare look at archery or sailing?

NBC keeps reminding us these sports are available on other channels, the Internet and mobile devices. But for those who work all day, reserve their Olympic viewing for prime time and depend on the flagship station, NBC, it's all Phelps, balance beams and sandy beaches nearly all the time.

Thursday's morning/afternoon telecast devoted most of its time to heats of swimming events and -- you guessed it -- beach volleyball.

The other night, when beach volleyball ended early and swimming had not yet begun, with a chance to catch up on other sports, what did NBC show? A replay of Phelps' medal victories in Athens.

Enough already...

* With Bela Karolyi. The gymnastics coach turned analyst has a valid point in questioning the age of the Chinese competitors in a sport where the minimum age is 16. But he doesn't have to pound viewers over the head with it every time he's on camera, night after night. Maybe, to vary his routine, he could take a camera crew and pound on the door of the Chinese passport office.

* With Debbie Phelps. We love Michael's mother, enjoyed watching her cheer from her seat the first time her son won gold in Beijing. Even the second and third time. But eight would be more than enough. How about at least giving his two sisters equal air time?

* Showing President Bush slapping May-Treanor on her lower back for luck before a match. It was amusing the first 30 times MSNBC ran it.

Never enough of...

* Mary Carillo's adventures on the streets of Beijing. Whether it's inspecting a stud panda or visiting a restaurant in business for 600 years, or sampling native delicacies ranging from scorpion to goose lips to rabbit's head, she commands your interest.

* The tremendous NBC camera work. The underwater shots of the swimmers reversing direction, gauging their position and straining their arms to be the first to touch the tiled finish line enhance the viewer's understanding of what goes on below the surface. The successful search for Walsh's ring, lost in the sand in the middle of a match, offered an unusual look at the person behind the scores and the headlines. And the tight shots of Sacramone's agony-filled face after her two falls in the team gymnastics competition revealed the ongoing drama better than words could convey.

More numbers

In addition to the consistently high television ratings for the Games, NBC, through five days, has attracted nearly 25 million unique users to NBCOlympics.com. They have viewed 456 million pages and watched close to 22 million video streams.

--

steve.springer@latimes.com

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