Olympic Coverage

By Frida Ghitis:

(CNN) — If you’ve been mesmerized by the drama, like millions of other viewers watching coverage of the Olympic Games, you have heard the most heroic, inspirational stories of athletes reaching the pinnacle of international competition. Or, at least you think you have.

The truth is American viewers are missing out on the best of the Games.

Coverage of the Olympics in the United States understandably focuses on American athletes. That is as it should be, but not to this degree. By concentrating mainly on Americans’ stories, the NBC network is depriving U.S. viewers of some of the most fascinating, moving and exciting aspects of the Olympics.

How much have you heard, for example, about Guor Marial, who marched in the opening ceremony under the banner of “Independent Olympic Athletes“?

Marial became a marathoner after running for his life since he was a young boy in Sudan, growing up in the middle of one of the deadliest wars of the 20th century. He learned to run as he fought to escape from those who killed his siblings and relatives and later kidnapped and enslaved him. Imagine such a story of tragedy and redemption, from slavery to triumph.

His life is a most unbelievable odyssey, culminating at the Olympic Games. His parents live in a village with no electricity or running water. He hasn’t spoken to them in years and hopes someone will get word to them to try to get to a television to watch their son.

It’s fine to cheer for the Americans, but how about a cheer for Marial? There’s one who deserves to become a star — and one who should have NBC’s cameras following him.

His is not the only fascinating story at these Games.

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  • PJ Anderson

    NBC’s coverage of the games has been perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Olympics. Their lack of a broader media exposure is one symptom of the greater case. Apparently they are trying to wring as much money out of this as possible. By using a media model from last century that is both outdated and hardens to old formulas which no longer work in the new digital age.

    So I’m not really watching the Olympics. It’s ridiculous though I follow a few things here and there on Twitter. The other day I watched some of the BBC coverage through a friend’s set up via a proxy VPN where he had the system believe he was in Ireland. The BBC coverage was excellent. I wish we could watch it and not have to endure the blackout from NBC.

  • I’d just love to see something other than gymnastics, swimming, diving, and volleyball over and over again. Unfortunately I only get NBC and MSNBC and neither of them seem to show the lesser sports like badminton and table tennis. : )

  • Jess

    Another disappointing aspect of the coverage was that during the Opening Ceremony, when the British were remembering the London Bombings of 2006, the US coverage switched to an interview with Michael Phelps!

    Apparently it wouldn’t be “of interest to the American viewers”. Shame.

    The rest of us have commiserated with 9/11, and will continue to do so.
    What a pity that the networks can make such an insensitive statement on behalf of the entire American population!

  • phil_style

    The BBC’s coverage is amazing.
    3 full-time channels, with really nice scheduling and some really excellent punditry.
    There’s a strong focus on GB athletes and events, but still, I’ve seen loads of non-GB events also thanks to the Beeb.

    Their web-coverage is even more expansive.

  • Peter Stone

    In the UK whatever sport u are interested in you can watch. Allyou need is to press the red button or go online. While the BBC does focus on the UK team they also focus a lot on others like Phelps, the Bladerunner from South Africa to name but a few.

  • Anderson

    I’m amazed by all the criticism I’ve read directed toward NBC. Anyone with basic cable gets three channels almost entirely devoted to the Olympics (NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC) plus boxing on CNBC and tennis on Bravo. Anyone with a basic cable subscription can watch every Olympic event—live or on demand—for free. Sure, it would be nice if NBC made the online content available to people without cable, but it wasn’t that long ago that, if one wanted anything more than what aired on regular NBC, one had to shell out a bunch of money for pay-per-view access or temporary premium channels. Now anyone with basic cable can watch just about anything.

    I think the criticism that NBC is focused almost exclusively on American athletes applies to the Primetime show, but not to the coverage overall. So far today, on NBC, NBC Sports, and MSNBC, we’ve had a field hockey game between Germany and New Zealand, a volleyball game between Italy and Bulgaria, table tennis semis involving China and Germany and South Korea and Hong Kong, Greco-Roman wrestling matches involving zero Americans, and a bunch of canoe/kayak events involving very few Americans.

    I think NBC’s coverage has been a lot better than people have given it credit for. The whole thing reminds me of the Louis CK routine, “Everything is amazing, and no one is happy.”

  • I have no experience of the Olympic coverage in the US living in the UK and watching BBC – whose tv and Internet coverage is live and comprehensive. What we have noticed on our trips to the States is the fairly constrained, not to say introverted, general news coverage. I sometimes think that American experience of foreign culture is rooted in Epcot – hyperbole, but you get the point.

  • DRT

    A neighbor of mine quipped that if we played beer pong instead of ping pong then we would win more medals. 🙂

  • Kenny Johnson

    I’m with Anderson, I think the NBC coverage has been fine — and I only have access to NBC (antenna). They certainly have covered non-American athletes (Bolt, Bladerunner, etc.).