Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Olympics in Austria

I'll preface this post by saying that I haven't watched a minute of NBC's Olympics coverage, I've heard the ratings have been great, and that in contrast with previous games, much more additional coverage is available online. Still, having grown up watching numerous Olympics in the USA, I'm pretty sure how the deal works- for every minute of actual sports, there's a minute of human interest stories and a minute of commercials. To some extent, this can only be expected. Not too many Americans, myself included spend more than three seconds following synchronized diving, competitive archery, and equestrian (to name just three sports) in the four years between Olympics. So a little bit of introduction may well be in order.
In Austria (and Germany, and Greece too) however, the emphasis is clearly on the sports themselves. In smaller countries, people tend to be more familiar with their Olympians, even if their success pales in comparison to certain American athletes. To wit, the Austrian swimmer Markus Rogan, who had a disappointing games and failed to win a gold, was an A list star in Austria coming into Beijing. Michael Phelps, on the other hand, though now being compared to the likes of Tiger Woods, Secretariat, and Babe Ruth (and rightfully so) was hardly a household name in the USA, despite having won 8 medals, six of them gold in Athens.
There's no right or wrong here- it may very well be that the approach that the European countries take in broadcasting the Olympics is what Europeans like best, while Americans need a little background info. And to be fair, with four major sports leagues compared to just one in most European countries, this is only to be expected. Still, however, it's sometimes nice just to sit back, relax, and enjoy the water polo or fencing- no human interest stories, few commercials, and a minimum of commentary. Pure Olympic sport is beautiful and worth watching in its own right, even without Bob Costas.

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