I continue my love – hate with the Olympics. The Games in Sochi just came to a close, and while they were full of horrifying politics, pathetic media coverage, and IOC bureaucracy, they were also full of incredible human triumphs through sport, by these incredible athletes.
The world, connectivity, and significance of these athletes as role models are changing quickly, so I’m hoping those who are part of crafting such an important amateur sports event will consider how to stay relevant in the Games to come. My thoughts on the winners and losers and lessons:
LOSER: Big media for spoiling the results. News, apps, scrollers, and TV felt they had to be the first to announce winners (and disappointments of course), and considering the time change from Sochi to North America, didn’t seem to care that some people sometimes enjoy watching sport without knowing the outcome. Consider that many events were broadcast time-delayed, this was so painful. NBC.com even titled their online videos with the result.
WINNER: CBC for broadcasting on-demand streams (often live) of all of the events, without titling the video with the outcome.
LOSER: Judged sports. There were no loss of controversy over who won and who didn’t in judged sports, from freestyle skiing to, worse, figure skating. There was no shortage of fuming about Russia’s own Adelina Sotnikova “stealing” the gold from favourite and defending Olympic champ Yuna Kim of South Korea. Lesson: if you can’t stand the uncertainty of judged sports, don’t play them; enter a race. Otherwise, realize how part of your fate is decided by other people’s opinions, tastes, and maybe even wallets.
WINNER: Snowboarders who put into perspective the realities of judged sports, like bronze medal, easy-going, Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris, “but it’s a judged sport, what can you do?”
It’s easy when you’re the gold medalist to be the one to put it in perspective, but you gotta love Sage Kotsenburg’s interview on Conan:
LOSER: NBC focusing on American athletes only during coverage. They would often skip an A Final in favour of showing the B Final with the American, or only report on the America’s result, not even the medalists.
WINNER: NBC improving by doing some great profiles on international star athletes, nearly making them heroes to Americans. NHL Revealed will even broadcast “NHL Revealed has two-hour behind the scenes special on Olympic hockey tonight” — I hope for Rio 2016, media with access could do the same for other sports, and build up personalities, history, and rivalries weeks maybe before the events take place. I can only think this would bolster their viewing interest.
LOSER: Russia and its $50B wasted. The glorification of the Putin Games did manage to gloss over the travesties of lack of human rights, burning Ukraine, and corrupt $50B spending during the Games. Media became pretty quiet on calling Russia and Putin out.
WINNER: Safety of athletes and fans. It’s almost hard to believe with all that friction and animosity, that no tragic incident took place in Sochi. Amen.
LOSER: Legacy of the Games. The new world-class facilities built for the Games will likely be wasted, or shut down, or moved, and will likely not help future athletes in their pursuit of excellence. Shame.
WINNER: Conan’s “Sochi’s PR Rep Says Everything Is Going Great”
LOSER: Too much figure skating on TV. And their ridiculously over-thought and over-sparkly outfits and haircut strategies. Is TV changing their approach to the viewing demographic? Do women watch TV and men watch streaming video online?
WINNER: Hero athletes, i.e. cross country skiing heroes. These incredible men and women push themselves so hard, right to the finish line, to their absolute limit, and cannot even stand after crossing the line. True heroes for grit and determination. Wow.
LOSER: NBC presenting their coverage as if it’s reality TV! Great read from Slate: “Why You Hate NBC’s Olympics Coverage: It’s reality TV masquerading as a sporting event.”
WINNER: The real, often overlooking stories of the athletes. I was watching the men’s slalom, and way, way back in the results and start list was this guy: Hubertus von hohenlohe, the one man Mexican Olympic team. He is also… a German prince, 55 years old, a world-class photographer, a professional musician, fluent in five languages, and an heir to an automobile fortune. And participating in his fifth Olympics. Despite his fortunate upbringing, he is valiantly trying to bring attention in Mexico to Olympic sport. In his mariachi suit, however, he was struggling, 17 seconds back of the winner. (NBC video)
WINNER: Bringing back Canadian former Olympians as commentators: Jenn Heil, Ashleigh McIvor, Adam van Koeverden, Kelly VanderBeek, Clara Hughes, Beckie Scott, Kristina Groves, Jennifer Botterill, Kerrin Lee-Gartner, etc. Nearly every event had a former great in the second seat calling it for TV. This was incredible not just giving an insider look, or even appropriately lionizing our Canadian heroes, but also giving them exposure to this world and a potential for some future work in media, for people who had dedicated so much, and often had to neglect their career in the past to pursue that level of sport.
WINNER: Canadians acting like champions. Canada had no reason to apologize and confirm to our “I’m Sorry” stereotype. They crushed it. Nice job.