First half thoughts on the 2008 Olympics

by Paul William Tenny

The most impressive event visually is almost the most baffling when it comes to scoring. The twists, flips, spins, tucks and finishes are intense and sometimes jaw dropping only to be followed by two minutes of bewilderment. It's bad enough that most of the audience won't have any clue how the actual performance went unless somebody falls first, but to layer inconsistent scoring on top of that really makes gymnastics an exercise in patience.

And when the commentators start complaining about scores that are too high for obvious mistakes like balance checks on the balance beam -- what ought to be painfully obvious -- you've really got a serious problem.
User Friendly Without The Friendly
My DVR has been a Godsend, allowing me to record huge six-hour blocks of coverage on NBC and MSNBC mostly, but it's far from an ideal solution. Not everyone has good broadband and NBC/Microsoft's closed delivery system is a speed bump when they should be looking for established and familiar technology like what you'll find on YouTube and

Having to skip through six hours of rowing, badminton and archery to find a handful of 40 minute beach volleyball matches is a waste of diskspace and my time. The fine-grained control just isn't there yet even though it could be and should be. Here are three better solutions that NBC could try if it had the guts and creative vision.

1. Put the entire Olympics on Hulu. I should be able to see all swimming events from a single page, and view every individual event in its own clip. Compared to Hulu, NBC's Olympic website is a nightmare to navigate.

2. Leverage the ability of satellite providers to create channels on demand, removing PPV channels if necessary. If DirecTV can broadcast 200+ channels of crap I don't want, they can give me a swimming channel with nothing but swimming events all day, all night. Given that DTV is an American satellite provider, it seems reasonable to have a channel dedicated to events with Americans in contention if people want to filter.

3. Where possible, electronic program guides should have granular event scheduling. I don't want to see a six-hour block with six different events in a seemingly random order, I want six blocks so I can record only what I'm interested in seeing.

Time differential
No matter how hard NBC tries, it's not possible to give stellar local coverage of an event happening live on the other side of the planet. Events not being broadcast on the main network should be streamed live online.

This is 2008, not 1992.

Do You Want It?
If I have to see another Beckham/Sharpie commercial, I'm going to kill someone.

Captain Obvious
Everyone knew coming in that the new swimsuits were going to mean obliterating old records. Hearing announcers feign surprise every time a new world or Olympic record was set -- which happened at virtually every event -- was really annoying.

Enthusiasm: Check.
Professionalism: MIA.

Needs To Bake Longer
Watching certain events made clear that the U.S. has fallen behind in a broad number of events. Wrestling and rowing in particular need a lot of work.

Anti-competitive Rules
Wrestling is even worse than gymnastics; they are a bitter waste of time. Few wrestlers score points in the first period -- which only lasts 60 seconds -- and the sport falls back on drawing colored balls randomly from a bag to determine which competitor will get screwed first. Whoever loses has to get down on the mat on their hands and knees and allow their opponent to get a waist lock on them. If the guy on top doesn't score, which is common, the guy on bottom gets a point for not doing anything.

They then reverse positions and do it again.

If the match ends in a tie -- which happens often -- the last wrestler to score wins, even if if that point was scored by not being scored on.

Every match was short, boring, and anti-competitive. There are all kinds of analogies with other sports that can be made here. Imagine a soccer match that only lasts five minutes before the entire thing comes down to penalty kicks. How about a baseball game going two innings before everyone starts hitting off a tee.

I would honestly take wrestling off the table right now unless the rules grow up a little.

It may be a difficult "sport", and even popular, but it also is without a doubt the most pointless activity in the entire deal.

Blink or Sleep
The 50-meter swimming event is way too short. The 1500 meter event is way too long. They both need to go. There probably should also be fewer swimming events in general. Although I really enjoy swimming, there are so many events that the opportunities for medaling are actually far too numerous. It's impossible for a weight lifter, or a wrestler, or a volleyball player/team to win eight gold medals because there aren't eight individual events for them to play in.

That's not really fair to the rest of the athletes and honestly the excess of swimming events lessens them all.

The IOC has none. They got suckered by China on press censorship and suckered by China on the age of their "womens" gymnastics team. By the way, can we not call it that anymore? There aren't any women on the gymnastics teams anymore than there are women on the synchronized diving teams. No offense intended, but it's ridiculous to call a team made up of 16-year-olds women. China's team which was made up of 14 and 15-year-olds only serves to underscore the point.

Speaking of age, if China is willing to falsify passports for something innocuous like cheating in the Olympics, doesn't that raise some serious security concerns in general? If it means so little to them, who knows what kinds of things that country's government would do when they were actually serious.

A Proud People
I was strongly opposed to giving China the 2008 games because that government doesn't deserve it, but once I saw the determination and the pride on the faces of the Chinese Olympians, I was happy for them and able to be at peace with the decision. A government is not the people; Americans above all others ought to understand that.

Although I've never cared for the games before, this time was different. This time I felt something I'd not felt before even when the Winter games were in Atlanta: pride. After 7+ years of alternating between being angry and embarrassed of my country, I finally had something to be proud of.

To those who gave it everything they had, and those who will yet give even more, thank you for making your country proud.
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