Changing China

Giant on the move

Welcome to the Stretchy Pants Olympics

August 14, 2008

WrestlersAnd now, live from Las Vegas, NBC Live Sports is proud to present: Saturday Night Badminton!

No? How about Saturday Night Fencing? Or maybe: Welcome to The Kayak Bowl!

The big U.S. broadcaster is paying a fortune to televise minority sports such as these from the Beijing Olympics, but don’t expect it to remake its fall TV sports schedule, no matter how many Golds Americans win at them.

We would have asked NBC why they go to the trouble of showing things like judo and rowing, but our top researcher, Keanu, already had a response: “They’d give you a boring answer, dude.” Then he went back to talking to his girlfriend on his mobile.

“So I was like…so he was like…so I was like….”

But, it’s no secret anyway. As everyone knows, track and swim and bike and gym have the lion’s share of gold medals, celebrity, television close-ups and cool stuff at the Olympic Games.

Athletics (47 Golds) has slick shades and gold chains, painted fingernails, cornrows and bad shoes. Swimming (34) already had slinky Speedos, now it has hydrodynamic artificial shark skin suits.

Gymnastics (18) has nymphs in glittery leotards and husky dudes in wife-beaters doing turns on dangerous gear. Cycling (18) has shaved legs and spectacular pileups. And check out the paint jobs on those bikes!

So far, so good. We know why we’re watching. In addition, that is, to the display of skill, strength and endurance from long years of selfless commitment by the athletes.

It’s okay then if, every four years, folks like NBC and the other big media help shine a light on the furthest corners of the world of sport, and even provide commentators to can explain it.

But are the interests of the great masses being sacrificed in the name of elitist sports for the middle classes, who can afford to buy specialist clothing and high-tech gear? Are the world’s most popular bat, stick and ball games being short-changed?

You judge: basketball and football get only two gold medals each. Baseball gets just one. But there are 14 for judo and 14 for rowing and 11 for shooting.

Okay, football and basketball and baseball have their own separate World Cup and NBA playoffs and World Series. But it’s still not clear whose perfect Saturday afternoon sports lineup the Olympic Games is supposed to reflect.

When was the last time you called in sick to sneak off to a fencing match (10 Golds)? Or try to bribe a client with a couple of tickets to the kayaking (12 Golds)?

“Thanks, I already got ringside at synchronised swimming (2 Golds) and after that we’re on standby for tickets to the archery (4 Golds)…”

Olympic wrestling (18 Golds) has come a long way from the jaggedy-assed wool combination suits the guys used to wear. But no amount of lycra can make up for the lack of lace-up leather facemasks, Indian headdresses, silk capes, oiled locks, weird tights and horrible fouls we’re used to seeing on Worldwide Professional Wrestling Federation night. There are no tag teams and no hair-pulling.

Jack Black knows that shunning showmanship won’t work. As he secretly transforms himself from monastery cook into successful wrestling pro in his movie ‘Nacho Libre’, Black explains the exigencies of pro sport to a puzzled orphan.

“When you are a man,” he says, “sometimes you wear stretchy pants in your room. It’s for fun.”

PHOTO: Daigoro Timoncini of Italy (in red) fights Kenzo Kato of Japan during their 96kg men’s Greco-Roman wrestling qualification match at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 14, 2008. REUTERS/Oleg Popov


Call me old fashioned but a big part of the allure of the Olympics for me is that it isn’t the world series, the NBA championship, the World Cup, or a grandslam tennis tournament. i get to see those sports all the time…ALL the time. I get to see the elite well-paid athletes of the world compete in the “top ten most popular sports” ALL the time. I get to see personal “me me me” competition ALL the time. I love watching the Olympics and all the “little” sports because it is a breath of fresh air watching people who will NEVER EVER make significant money off their sport (nor have any illusions they will) and they compete for the pure simple passion of loving their sport and competing for themselves and their country. If we just stuck to the “big sports” we’d probably only see about….what…10 to 15 countries compete. I like the inclusiveness of the Olympics even if that does mean I watch sports that mystify me as to why people want to do them in the first place. They do and I respect them and I’ll watch them in their endeavours…it IS only once every 4 years. And frankly…we don’t see ALOT of the “little sports” unless we stay up until 3 AM and watch it online. ( I will admit there was a bit too much synchronized diving for me…one of those sports that I scratch my head over…but I just fast forwarded through it when I got bored)

Also…the reason for so many medals in judo and rowing is the same for wrestling and track and field…different weight classes and different specialities. Last time I looked there was only one way to play basketball (5 tall men or women)…there isn’t an “under 6 feet” basketball playing anywhere that I can see. And while we’re on the subject of basketball. I STILL think having professional athletes play in the Olympics in BIG sports like Basketball and Tennis…well it is just wrong…and I suspect is driven only by TV ratings…sadly

Posted by Annette Baesel | Report as abusive

Hi Annette. I thought this was a very funny piece but deep down i agree with you. It’s a shame they’re not showing more of the smaller sports because they are the most fun. I love the wrestling especially. It looks absolutely brutal.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

I think this article is confused and misses the point. The allocation of golds is decided by the Olympic committee and not by NBC, and in any case it is irrelevant. I watch the Olympics to see people play, not just to find out who wins. I can read the newspaper or check the web to get a medal tally. This point NBC misses too. They skip all the heats just to show us the finals. It’s all Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps. I don’t give a crap about his personal quest. I want to see the one swimmer from Palestine who probably won’t make it to the final but is a huge thing for him and his country to be in the Olympics. Where can I see that? NBC doesn’t even have swimming or gymnastics online. You’re forced to watch what they want you to see. They hardly showed the Russian gymnastics team, for example.

I totally agree with Anette that the point of the Olympics is not to watch those massive team sports but to once every 4 years see those sports that we never see on TV, like Equestrian, or rowing, or archery, and see small countries compete that we never usually see in the news. As for team sports, I grieve when NBC shows a game of beach volleyball in prime time. For the 1 hour it takes I know I am missing a hundred other competitions in swimming, archery, equestrian, etc. By focusing more on team sports we’re missing a huge percentage of the games played.

Finally, while it is natural for a TV station to focus on its own country’s athletes, the USA is perhaps the most multicultural place on earth and many Americans would love to follow athletes from other countries as well, if given a chance. Just show us the games. In any case, it seems like all problems can be solved if Olympic coverage was spread over several companies instead of being relegated to a monopoly. Then you can choose what you want to watch, but this is supposed to be a free country – free for NBC to grab all the gold.

Posted by Rami K | Report as abusive

Although there only “one” gold medal for the sports such as Basketball and baseball, but the number of gold medals to be handing out are as many as the team members such as 12 for all NBA stars.

Posted by Max Y. | Report as abusive

Hi Rami K. I wonder if this is going to the last Olympics with this problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if in four years’ time we are most of us watching the Olympics over the Internet, with full access to choose whichever of the sports we want to watch at any given time, with commentary in any language or country.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

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