NBC Interviews Non-American Athlete!

With respect to the NBC Olympic coverage that has aired in the U.S., it’s as if only U.S. athletes are competing.   Thankfully, NBC finally interviewed an athlete from another country, South Africa’s Chad le Clos who won gold in the 200 meter butterfly.  Of course, the interview would not have taken place had it not been for the fact that le Clos beat out Michael Phelps by a fraction of a second in the race.  The interview was framed as South African, who idolizes Michael Phelps, achieves upset of historic proportion over the world’s greatest swimmer.  The substance of the interview was less about the swimmer’s victory and more about his “obsession” with Michael Phelps.

To be fair, NBC may have interviewed other non-American athletes, but I just have not seen them yet.  I think NBC should have an Olympic interview channel. I do.

NBC missed a big opportunity last night in the women’s gymnastics all-around competition.  The Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina apparently has quite a temper and it appeared that she wouldn’t let her coach anywhere near her after she fell off the balance beam.  She brushed him off and may have said some choice words in Russian, but we will never know.  Where was Andrea Kramer when we needed her?  I guess she was at the pool asking Michael Phelps how he felt winning another gold and how Ryan Lochte felt losing another.

I saw this amusing bit the other day on the basketball channel. The Tunisian athletes were getting autographs from the American basketball players after their loss to the all-NBA Olympic team in a qualifying match.  Richard Angle of NBC speaks Arabic.  Granted, he’s probably on assignment in Syria, but if he had been available, he might have asked the Tunisian players to talk about the game and why they sought autographs from their opponents.   And while he’s at it, why not interview the Egyptian who won a silver medal in fencing, to date the only medal the country has won.  I’d also like to hear from the two women from Kazakhstan who won gold medals in weightlifting.

And why not interview the horses from the jumping and dressage competitions.  Surely there are reporters fluent in horse.  I’d ask Mitt Romney’s horse, “crazy legs” Rifalca if he has any tax savings tips he’d like to share.  I’m not being silly.  Horses can talk.  They can.  Just ask Mr. Ed.  What happened to Mr. Ed anyway?



Olympic Athlete Sideline Interview Blues

I imagine the job of the sideline reporter is a difficult task. Not only is the journalist expected to interview the victor, but has an obligation to interview the popular athlete who performs poorly, or not up to expectations. But to be honest, I have not been pleased with some of the interviews during the Beijing Olympic Games.

Sideline reporter Bob Newmeyer has had some good interviews during the games, and some embarrassingly bad ones. Unfortunately, the bad ones stand out. Case in point, Jeremy Wariner. As the defending 400 meter Olympic champion, Wariner finished second, but was gracious enough to grant Newmeyer an interview. The interview was going fine, until Newmeyer asked Wariner about a coaching change. In doing so, Newmeyer insinuated that the change was a factor in Wariner’s silver medal finish, but Wariner said that he didn’t want to talk about it and that the coaching change had nothing to do with his performance. You may say that Newmeyer has an obligation to ask the tough question, but I didn’t think it proper or respectful immediately after the race, when it was clear Wariner was so disappointed.

Another example of awkward interviewing came when Newmeyer spoke to Allyson Felix after one of her qualifying rounds and then again after her silver medal run in the 200 meter final. Apparently being fed information from the broadcast booth by Ato Boldon, Newmeyer asked her about her mechanics, implying that she might be less than 100%. She said she was fine. He asked the same question after the 200 meter final, saying that Ato Boldon had noticed a hitch in her stride. Again, she said she was fine, speaking with humilty and grace.

The interview with Tyson Gay immediately following the botched baton exchange in the 4x100m qualifier was difficult to watch. Perhaps being fed by the booth, Newmeyer asked Gay if he had been practicing the baton handoff with his partner, which I felt was an unfair question to ask at that particular moment. Tyson appeared to be in shock because of the disqualification, but somehow pulled it together and got through the interview. You had to feel for the American relay team, one of the favorites to win the gold in the event and especially for Tyson Gay who will leave the Beijing games without a medal of any kind, but with his head held high, like the true champion he is.

You could argue that Newmeyer has to ask the tough questions; that you, as a spectator and fan, have a right to the information. I don’t have a problem with a tough question, I just think it shouldn’t be asked immediately following a race. Athletes need time to digest and reflect on their performances. I’m ok with  open ended questions like: “tell me about the race, or your race strategy, or what was going through your mind as you crossed the finish line”, but leave the tough stuff for the presidential candidates. You could also argue that Newmeyer was giving the athletes an out – an excuse for not winning gold, but not a single athlete I heard interviewed took the bait. The great ones never do.

The interview with 16 year old diver Haley Ishimatsu, took a dramatic, and perhaps unexpected turn. After Ishimatsu failed to qualify for the 10 meter platform finals, Andrea Kramer asked about her Olympic experience. Haley became so overcome with emotion that she could not finish the interview. To Andrea Kramer’s credit, she tried to console the tearful Ishimatsu telling her that she should be proud of her performance, and indeed she should be making it to the semis in platform and placing 5th with her partner in platform synchro. But in my view, the interview should not have aired. There’s no shame in crying, but I felt like Haley should have had some support during the interview, particularly given her age. Couldn’t she have been interviewed with Laura Wilkinson, who has been like a big sister figure?

And the Phelps interviews – about 4 too many. After the third inteview, there was nothing more for him to say that hadn’t already been said. The photo finish interview was the best of the lot I thought.

Olympic Coverage Update

As I’ve written previously, I think NBC has done an excellent job of covering the Beijing Olympic games. The reporting has been first rate. I have a sense of what it would be like to be an Olympic visitor in Beijing. Granted there is more to China than the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and learning to eat with chopsticks – just a few of the featured reports – but for those of you like me who have never been to China, NBC has been like a friendly tour guide, careful not to stray too far off the beaten path. There was one compelling beaten path feature in which a college student (from Iowa I think) strolled through a typical Beijing neighborhood outside the manicured zone of the Olympic village to experience an authentic slice of life. Kudos to NBC for airing it.

After watching each slickly produced athlete spotlight, I became an instant fan, and hoped they would do well. These hook stories definitely snagged my attention. Most of the spotlights have been on American athletes, however. While I have not seen every minute of NBC’s coverage of the games, I would have liked to have seen more stories on athletes from other countries. I understand that NBC is an American based corporation and is covering the games for an American audience, but we should not lose site of the fact that the Olympics Games are a global event.

In particular, the sideline reporting could have featured more athletes from countries other than the United States. Chris Collingsworth, who I think has been a refreshing addition to the NBC Olympic broadcast team, interviewed the men’s Beach Volleyball duo of Dalhausser and Rogers, but he could have interviewed the Latvian team who handed the American team their first loss. Instead, one of his first questions was “how did you guys lose to the Latvians”? Rogers answered simply that he didn’t play well and let his partner down. The rest of the interview was fine, but that first question was disrespectful to the Latvians who actually finished ahead of the U.S. team in Group B.

To be fair, athletes from other countries have been interviewed and featured. There was an interesting profile of Guo Jinging. Bob Newmeyer interviewed Usain Bolt didn’t he? Also, one of the sideline reporters interviewed a Russian athlete immediately following her performance. And wasn’t a Canadian diver interviewed as well. But why didn’t anyone interview a Chinese diver after a round? If this happened, I didn’t see it. Perhaps the Chinese have forbidden its athletes to have direct contact with Western media? If it had been simply a language issue, with a little planning, NBC could have arranged to have interpreters at the ready to assist. For better or worse, English has become the lingua franca of international commerce – call it English language imperialism if you want – and most of the athletes, Americans excepted, are multilingual, therefore the language barrier could not be a legitimate explanation as to why so few European and Asian athletes have been interviewed.