September 16, 2000

Olympic Dreams (if you're Nike!)
   by stacy <>

Well, it's time for the Olympics again. NBC claims 4 billion people around the world will see these games. I find that figure suspiciously high, but I'll give them a little credit and assume they mean 4 billion people will see at least 30 seconds of these games at some point in their lives. That's easier to swallow. Anyway, nobody doubts that the Olympics are hugely popular around the world, from countries like the US where many athletes are heavy favorites to medal (if not foregone conclusions, like the men's basketball team), to France, which also boasts a huge number of athletes if not so many medal favorites, to Jordan, which sent only a few to represent the country.

The Olympics are a chance for athletes from around the world to prove something on an international stage. For most who compete there, it will be their only such chance. Thanks to the totally unbiased coverage by NBC, all countries are shown equally. *cough* Ok, maybe not. After all, NBC's focus is the American audience, and Americans care about watching their fellow countrymen, not the field hockey match between Norway and Mongolia. That's sensible, from their point of view. I suppose other countries are free to send their own media representatives to show what the people back home are interested in watching.

I do have a few comments, however. First of all, why is it that every 4 years, we become totally enamored with gymnastics, swimming, beach volleyball, and amateur boxing? Between the Olympics, we don't care anything about those sports. I guess it's ok for the novelty once in a while, and they can always hope that those sports will turn out like figure skating did after Tonya Harding tried to off Nancy Kerrigan several years ago. Skating is now all over the airwaves during the winter, thanks to that incident. And I suppose the real fans and athletes who compete in the more obscure sports are thrilled when they become heroes every 4 years (hello, Kerri Strug).

Does anyone else out there have a problem with the ridiculous human-interest stories they show, usually in the middle of an event? We all enjoy getting to know the athletes a little bit, but it really helps when there is an actual story to tell. The one about the kayak guy who carried the flag for the Americans in the opening ceremony is a great example: he was electrocuted as a young man, nearly had his legs amputated, and now he's one of the best at his sport. However, spending 10 minutes in a little feature on a triathlete who is just really, really competitive is not so good. They can tell us that while we watch her cycle along and we'll believe it. We don't need her father to tell us (no offense, Dad).

Perhaps the worst transgression at these games is the constant advertising. Even when there's not an actual commercial on the air, they are advertising because every athlete has the Nike logo, the Speedo logo, the Coca-Cola logo, the UPS logo, etc ad nauseum, on their uniform or sweatsuit. They say, "Buy this product and you too can be an Olympian!" PFFT! Makes you wonder how it can possibly be an even playing field when some athletes from some countries, Canada, US, UK, and Australia mostly, get huge corporate endorsement contracts, while others get nada. I bet that Nike money comes in handy when you need to fly around the world a lot to compete at bigtime meets or buy the best equipment and coaching.

I suppose in the end, the Olympics are basically a testimony to human willpower, endurance, and sportsmanship. They're also a testimony to capitalism, greed, and the ability of the TV networks and corporations to stoop to all-time lows in their attempt for eyeballs and consumers. If only the International Olympic Committee had approved Internet broadcast of the events. Not relying on NBC to give us what sports they want us to see when they want us to see it, interspersed with what the advertisers want us to see, would be a dream come true.

Published: September 16, 2000
Editor: stacy

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