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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Press coverage of the Olympics

This article gives an example of some rude behavior by some American journalists at the Olympics. Ever since my father brought it to my attention years ago, I have noticed how the American press covers the Olympics. And I don't much like it. My dad once told me a story of which I don't remember all the details now. It was probably from the '84 games. An American was favored to win a race and didn't, he came in second. A huge disappointment. The press ran up, immediately asking how he felt and how disappointed he was. In the same race was a Canadian athlete who finished last. The Canadian press rushed up to him as asked 'You just achieved a personnel best at the Olympic games? How great does that feel?" What a difference. It seems that all Americans are expected to win and when they don't the press are very happy to rush in and find out how devastated they are. Sure, sometimes the athletes in question are favored to win and losing can be devastating. But we all know that. We don't need the quote from the moment of disappointment. I would like to see more coverage of athletes that score a personnel best at the Olympics, whether they win or not. Athletes who overcome amazing odds to get there. Sure we should celebrate the winners. But lets make it about the struggle to be the best, rather than purely the struggle to win. Oh, and it would be ok to focus a little bit of camera time on non-Americans too. (article link via Instapundit)

20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Australian and we actually have a similar syndrome where our media focus is totally on Australian atheletes and winning medals.

8/18/2004 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Yeah, this is probably true everywhere now. Maybe it was different once but I certainly can't verify the truth of my Dad's story. It should have been true though. And it should be like that now.

8/18/2004 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember being totally disgusted at the Atlanta Olympics when a breathless reporter asked an American athlete what it was like to "lose the gold medal" when he had just won a silver!!! How many people in the world can say that they've accomplished the same? And how de-valued the reporter made that moment.

8/18/2004 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story of the Iraqi soccer team is huge, and I'm glad NBC has changed its schedule to cover it.

Extra points if they can stay nonpartisan, but I expect them to dutifully snipe on American foreign policy, like when the mostly-Greek crowd cheered us in the opening ceremonies and Costas was quick to fill in some gratuitous America-bashing, as if lack of "boos" from the audience required his personal redress.

The Iraqi soccer team is the greatest story of the 2004 Olympics, and even given the probable media sniping I'm glad it is going to be told. I hope those brave Iraqis win the gold, and I'll be cheering for them from here in America.

8/18/2004 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger MacBoar said...

Dave, I'm in the Puget Sound and am so fortunate get get CBC on cable. It is refreshing to get a non-American centric view. Don't get me wrong, I still cheer on our folks, but it's nice to see other nations when they win, too.

8/18/2004 07:06:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

But Nike tells us "winning is everything!" If a major corporation tells us something, it must be true!

8/18/2004 08:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Macboar said... I also live in the Puget Sound, and I often watch the Canadian coverage of the Olympics - you actually get to see what the other countries do.
We should fire about 90% of the so called reporters and jurnalists in this country.....

td

8/18/2004 08:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm on the other side of the country (New York) and we too get the CBC. Many folks around here prefer CBC's international sports coverage (Olympics, World Cup, etc.) for that precise reason, the non-Amercentric (can we say that?) coverage.

They also show athletic competitions as competitions between athletes, not maudlin movie-of-the-week sob stories of folks 'overcoming the odds' only to 'lose gold medals'.

Having said that, the Iraq team is the best story and I'm very proud of them.

Also, I do avoid CBC news for it's unabashed America & Bush bashing. We have a great President and your Stanley Cup, Canucks! Bwaaa-haaa haaa!

8/18/2004 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but the whole "American-centric" argument is an argument made by people who haven't been watching the Olympics much this year.

It's just not true. I love the Olympics enough that my TiVo tapes about 22 hours of it a day for the past week. I spend time trying to figure out what I want to watch during the 4-5 am timeslot when two networks are on at the same time. Yeah, I'm weird. :) But anyway...about 50-65% of what I've taped has been non-USA athletes. The primetime coverage has been focused on the US, but what did you expect? The Olympics are a haven for the clueless sports fan. You don't need to know any backstories or anything--just the little flag next to the athlete. And, no matter how hard it is to do so (see: men's basketball), I'm rooting for the Americans. And frankly, there's nothing wrong with that.

I wonder if there's someone telling all of those people waving Greek flags at the Games that they should really take some time to learn about the Hungarian water polo team...but I doubt it. :)

8/18/2004 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

I havn't seen as much of the Olympics as the last commenter, but I have watched quite a bit of it. And they do show other countries some, but that is mostly when they are covering an event. It would be nice to see a few more highlights of volleyball matches or water polo or stuff like that of games that no American team is playing on.

I cheer for the U.S. teams too...but I want to see more of the great atheletes.

8/18/2004 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

It's very true that Americans are obsessed with winning. But let's not all jump to condemn ourselves for that. The fact that Americans win all the time (at sports, business, technology, war, you name it) is inextricably bound up in our obsession with winning all the time. To your average European, second place may seem like a hell of an accomplishment. To your average American, second place seems like the first loser. Meanwhile, European nations are second-rate powers in a world dominated by America. I, for one, think these facts are connected.

As to your point about excessive focus on American athletes, you're right. However, let's not forget that TV coverage is meant to make money by generating ratings. Most Olympic events aren't exactly popular sports in the US. How often do most Americans watch non-Olympic Track and Field or Swimming? The only way NBC can get us to watch these out-of-character sports is to make them an issue of national pride. Take away the "USA vs The World" aspect and the Olympics are just a collection of sports Americans couldn't care less about. When it comes down to it, we only want to see American volleyball teams because we care a lot about America but don't give a lick about volleyball.

8/18/2004 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About the US press being "Amero-centric" -- there is some truth to this.

However, if you watch sports in other countries, the coverage tehre is also often country-centric.

During teh Euro 2004 Soccer Championships, I purchased pay per views of some of teh games. The feed was often the BBC or ITV feed. No matter the game, the English commentators were talking about England. Some Portugese guy could have flown through teh air, headed the ball down and knocked the ball in with his rump, and the guy woudl be talking about how Mike Smith of Everton scored an almost identical goal against Rushden in a preseason exhibition scrimage.

As for the Iraqi soccer team, it is pretty well documented that the soccer team and the Olympic team were subject to torture under the former regime.

8/18/2004 09:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BACK TO THE SUBJECT AT HAND---

Name names! You [journo] cowards!
If you want to call out: UGLY AMERICAN!!!

Call out your fellow perpetrators--then turn the camera on yourselves & expose the drunken, fat, old, ugly, pseudohacks among thy selves!

P.S. : Uncurious, Untalented & Unread . . . Print is DEAD!!

8/18/2004 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger Auto Report World Editors said...

Living in the Detroit area, I can get CBC from Windsor, Ontario on my cable. One of the recurring topics of discussion on the CBC broadcasts has been the poor performance of the Canadian athletes. They said that in the wake of the Ben Johnson steroid scandal, the Canadian Olympic establishment decided that the source of the steroid scandal was focusing on winning and medals, so they switched to focusing on "personal bests" (except, of course sports that Canadians dominate like hockey). The problem is that very few of the Canadian athletes are achieving even personal bests in these games.

It's not a surprise that deliberately not focusing on winning has led to a decrease in performance.

8/18/2004 09:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. I agree that there is definitley pressure from the press on athletes to achieve, but I don't think it's particularly American. Most of the pressure is, after all, from the athletes themselves, who feel that they are striving on behalf of their countries. When American Paul Hamm won the all-around Gold tonight (yay!), the South Korean who finished right behind him, far ahead of where he or any of his countrymen were projected to finish, was devastated. He put his head in his hands and just sat there. And he won a silver medal!

8/19/2004 01:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When US competitors always win, it gives the impression the US is winning with money (ie better equipment, do nothing jobs for athletes so they can train full time, etc). It doesn't make my heart swell with pride to think the US dominates because the Indian team all have 60 hour work weeks and train on the side. That is probably the one (and only) reason to miss the USSR. You knew that when we beat them, it was not because the USSR didn't fund their team.
Does the US team dominate because of money? I am not saying it does, but it does SEEM like it and that impression is enough to spoil it for me.

8/19/2004 05:52:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

I guess I'm just olde fashionede.

The American emphasis on victory is precisely why Americans are Americans and Candadians are... well... Canadian.

Our atheletes are supposed to win. If we don't care if they win, then why do we bother sending them?

If it doesn't matter, then why do they keep score?

8/19/2004 06:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm Dave's Dad. David, you got the story exactly right. At the time I thought it was a great lesson for us all.
But here's an even better one....
Yesterday, Paul Hamm of the US was competing for the best all around athlete in gymnastics. After round one he was in second place with only a tiny margin separating him from the leader. After round two he was in first place also with a slim margin. The competition was intense, with all of the leading athletes getting high scores. Then came the vault. Paul did a good vault, but on the landing he slipped to the side and ended up falling clear off the mat and sitting down. That major mistake brought him a score of 9.1 instead of a score in the 9.7 range that the top athletes were all getting. That left Paul in 12th position in the standings, and as the commentaters emphasized over and over, it dashed his hopes for any medal, let alone the gold.

Well, how did Paul respond. To put it simply he just did his best. The others did well too, but along the way they had a bobble here and there. With two events left, Paul give it his very best effort. With only one event remaining Paul had climbed back into 4th position, and then against all odds, with an incredible performance on the High Bar, Paul brought home the gold.

Lesson? Don't let your mistakes bring you down. Don't lament over what might have been. Do your best even if you don't expect it to result in a gold medal.

Paul's reaction to the news he had won the gold? No! Even to him this impossibility seemed impossible. After all, he was just trying to do his best.
Bill Justus, Sandpoint, Idaho

8/19/2004 07:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave, It's good to see that your dad reads your blog. My wife and I had this very same discussion this morning. Coming from a military family that traveled overseas a lot and spending some time in Germany herself, she felt the US media coverage was too focused on the United States and winning the gold and how this causes unreal expectations on the athletes. I, being the capitalist pig that I am, think that the media has to find some way to attract viewers. Just how much does it cost to provide 5 networks and near around the clock coverage. If people didn't want to see nationalistic, "yea US", coverage the ratings would go down and they would find something else to show or another way of showing it.

So, who is right? Being the diplomatic husband that I am, I would have to say we both are. Should we be proud of the personal achievements of these athletes even if they don't win the gold? Absolutely we should. I can't even imagine some of the sacrifices it takes to get to the Olympics. On the other hand, in sports, people like to take sides. It's all about good and evil even when there may not be an "evil". I think you would be hard pressed to find a sport that isn't this way.

If you really thirst for a different perspective on the Olympics and just can't take it anymore hop on a UK proxy and log into the BBC. They have live coverage and tend to focus more on British athletes.

Mike M.

8/19/2004 02:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's very true that Americans are obsessed with winning. But let's not all jump to condemn ourselves for that. The fact that Americans win all the time (at sports, business, technology, war, you name it) is inextricably bound up in our obsession with winning all the time. To your average European, second place may seem like a hell of an accomplishment. To your average American, second place seems like the first loser. Meanwhile, European nations are second-rate powers in a world dominated by America. I, for one, think these facts are connected."

What an ass you are. What you're essentially saying is that Europeans can never match the "awesome power" of America? Give me a break. "The fact that Americans win all the time (at sports, business, technology, war, you name it)" - You don't happen to watch Fox news (that incidentally is also owned by an Australian) by any chance? Yeah, i thought so. I don't even want to discuss a comment thats not even slightly based in reality.

You know, Americans often criticise Europeans for constantly calling them arrogant, but these journalists and people like you are what they see.. every. single. day.

I love to argue, because i'm good at it, but i can't do it here - i feel lost in all of the material you've given me. I could honestly beat you to death with it.

"European nations are second-rate powers in a world dominated by America." - Oh please, you're making it too easy.

8/26/2004 05:07:00 PM  

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