Ive been watching a ridiculous amount of Olympics coverage. NBCs coverage has been predictably sappy, with wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Phelps. Coverage has not benefited the serious sports fan, as the focus has been on individual competitors and their soft-lighted stories, rather than the actual competitions themselves.
To a certain extent, I can understand the narrow-bore focus on Phelps; hes been the only American athlete so far to achieve dominance in his sport besides female gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, who traded off defeating the 13-year-old Chinese gymnasts. I could write a lot about the Olympics, but I think it is important to make three points that the media seems disinclined to.
1) These Olympics have only strengthened my discomfort with sports in which victory is completely determined by judges. Weve seen some gymnasts namely Liukin, who tied for first in one event but received a silver medal be denied what is rightfully theirs by the arcana of a scoring system that no one seems to understand. Most sports at least attempt to be transparent in their method for determining victors and let matters be settled on the playing field. Gymnastics, controlled by a small cabal of insiders and experts, seems to pride itself on being complicated. The sports governing authorities obstinately refuse to even look into the allegations (which are obvious to everyone) that the PRC is using underage gymnasts.
2) Theres also been considerable consternation in the media about Chinas huge lead in gold medals, which they will likely carry through to the end. Its rather unprecedented that the U.S. is losing by so many in the gold meal count. What we dont realize is that the U.S., in recent Olympic history, had only dominated the medal count in 1996. In 1992, the U.S. actually lost to the Unified Team (comprised of all the former Soviet states besides the Baltics). In 2000, the U.S. barely scraped by, 91-88, over the Russians. In 2004, the U.S. only won 102-92. The rise of China as Americas main sports threat is new, however, and likely to continue for the decades to come, as the Russian team has turned in a middling performance at these Olympics.
3) Theres been an interesting debate in political circles about the U.S. Olympic Committee wanting to ask Congress to supplement their $130 million annual budget, which comes from mostly private sources and corporate sponsorships. Most countries receive generous state subsidies for international athletics competitions, most notably the Chinese, who are said to have 46,000 full-time athletes on the state payroll. Funding from the federal government (if it replaces some corporate sponsorships) might be in the best interest of the U.S. Olympic Team, as the use of athletes (who make barely enough to get by) for corporations profit is one of the greatest misfortunes of the modern Olympics.
Despite my enjoyment of the Olympics, the intensity of the coverage in the American media has been exhausting and I will be glad when it is all over. Not only is it detracting from the presidential election, but its also detracting from preseason coverage of college football, which is surely the most important annual event in sports.