Like about 30 million of my fellow Americans, I’ve been glued to NBC’s prime-time coverage of the Olympics for the past several nights, watching Michael Phelps assault the swimming record books in between less interesting (to me, anyway) bits of beach volleyball and gymnastics.
(I know, as a guy, that the sight of world-class female athletes competing in tiny bikinis is supposed to do something for me. It doesn’t, probably because it seems like such a foregone conclusion that the U.S. team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor is headed for the gold medal.)
And it’s been great TV, particularly all the stuff in the pool, with world records falling in seemingly every event. What I’ve really been getting a kick out of, though, has been the daytime coverage on USA and MSNBC.
It’s been cool, first of all, to watch the men’s basketball games live as I start my work day (though I, like NBC analyst Doug Collins, remain concerned about the U.S. team’s weak three-point shooting thus far). And — I don’t know if this was an intentional callback to NBC’s NBA glory days or just a messed-up music cue — after the American win over Greece this morning, the network played its old NBA on NBC theme music, which in my opinion is one of the great TV-sports themes ever (and almost certainly the finest piece of music John Tesh ever composed).
Later on, MSNBC was showing some table tennis (that’s American David Zhuang up above). Other than the equipment involved, the competitors in Olympic table tennis play a game that bears pretty much no resemblance to the garage- and basement-based pastime most of us have dabbled in. The precision with which they’re able to hit shots, not to mention velocity and spin, are about eight levels above rec-room ping-pong.
Except for this one thing: When the ball goes skittering off the table at the end of a point, the players themselves retrieve it. That doesn’t seem right, does it? Shouldn’t there be a couple of ballboys and -girls at the perimeter of the competition area? These are the best in the world, after all — it seems a little undignified to make them chase their own misses. Roger Federer and Serena Williams don’t have to; why should Ryu Seung Min or Zhang Yining?
During the daytime telecasts, I’ve also learned that despite some very fervent fans, archery is a terrible TV sport (it consists mainly of close-up shots of archers drawing their bows, then stationary shots of the targets as the arrows land); badminton can be a little bit mesmerizing in the way its competitors make the shuttlecock dance and float; and that Melissa Stark still works at NBC, although she didn’t get a ticket to Beijing.
I haven’t yet seen a summer Olympic sport that measures up to the goofy charm of curling (and its announcers for the past two Winter Games, Don Chevrier and Don Duguid), but the sheer breadth of stuff to watch on TV and online makes up for that to a degree, with sights like the Togolese (by way of France) kayaker breaking his paddle over his boat after winning the country’s first medal in anything, ever. That’s just cool.
Have you found any hidden gems during the Olympics? What (and how) are you watching?