Reflections on the Olympics 2016

The games of the XXXI Olympiad are just over. The two-week event featured amazing athletic feats, spectacular shows of teamwork, touching personal narratives, and inspiring examples of hard work paying off.

Broadcast and Social Media Coverage

With a diverse slate of 11,000 athletes, wall-to-wall coverage, live commentary, and the often jarring peek into the minds of viewers around the world that social media offers, the Olympics are truly one of the great broadcasting events

During the two weeks of the Olympics I watched the games on both Canadian CBC and the American NBC as well as observing social media

The CBC coverage of the Olympics is wall-to-wall and most coverage was live while NBC coverage was mostly prime time with too many tape-delayed events; over-hyping of a few stars; fawning feature pieces; and, of course, jingoistic emphasis on American athletes.

Throughout the 16-day sports extravaganza, viewers ripped NBC on social media for tape delays, endless commercial breaks, and announcing blunders. More offensive to Canadians of all ages seems to be NBC’s American booster-ism. Does NBC, even know there are other countries in the hunt?

Every Olympics has its share of winners and losers. At the 2016 Rio Summer Games, however, many seem to be in the broadcast booth. It may be the rise of social media, but Games gaffes are almost as big a story in Rio as the medal counts. Angry tweets were flying faster than Usain Bolt.

Mistakes happen and they happen on both sides of the broadcast border. Canadians winced when an NBC commentator briefly identified our bronze medal sprinter Andre De Grasse as being from France.

Nobody has felt the wrath of social media more than Elliotte Friedman. who was fried on Twitter after confusing U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps with pool rival Ryan Lochte during the 200-metre individual medley final.

As I mentioned, NBC is often accused of cheer-leading for the Games, as opposed to covering them, because of the company’s enormous investment in them. In that regard, the network deserves some credit for flipping into news mode, however uncomfortably, to report on swimmer Ryan Lochte’s discredited account about being robbed at gunpoint along with three teammates. The scandal has added a strange coda for the Olympics

CBC does not have the resources of NBC, so their packaged, pre-event profiles while generally pretty good are not as elaborate. But despite smaller budgets, the CBC did shine during the week. Most of the “colour coverage” provided by former Olympians was very well done and CBC broadcasters as usual were first class.

Prime-time host Scott Russell did an admirable job of covering the events. The veteran CBC sports host wisely allowed commentator and former gold medalist Donovan Bailey to seize the moment for the 100 and 200 metre sprints.

CBC seemed to be trying to piggyback on the surge in social media with their Rio on the Edge clips, a sponsored segment featuring ski and snowboard specialists Philippe Marquis and Craig McMorris capturing Brazil on their phones.

As for the tremendous number of ads, anyone with a PVR knows the best way to watch the Olympics is to do some recording, the better to zap through them.

Some Personal Observations of the Games

Karina Leblanc, who formerly played soccer for Canada, was fabulous in the broadcast booth. I suspect we will be seeing more of her on CBC sports coverage.

What happened to the men (except Track and Field where the men were outstanding) the women clearly outshone the guys? Also what happened to our rowers, canoe and kayak athletes. They seemed to have had a blowout.

Our women swimmers were fabulous and a star is born with Penny Oleksiak who is just 16 and has many great Olympic moments ahead of her. She leaves these Games with a gold medal, a silver and two bronze. She’s one of the most decorated athletes in Canadian history, even if she fell one short of tying speed skater Cindy Klassen’s record of five medals in one Olympics.

The other star in the future will be speed merchant Andre De Grasse. The 21-year-old sprinter from Markham, Ont., needed only a few days in Rio de Janeiro to become a household name outside of Canada and get people talking about De Grasse as the heir apparent to Usain Bolt

One of the highlights for Canadians was the performance of the women soccer, rugby and basketball teams. Two of the three put on courageous performances and won medals and although the basketball team did not win a medal this time they are clearly a team to watch in future

Call me old fashion but why do we allow professional basketball players, both women and men from the USA, play against mostly amateurs. It makes no sense. At least with hockey we have professionals from most countries playing for their respective teams.

Rosie MacLennan, Canada’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony, and who repeated in Rio as gold medallist in trampoline, was clearly a highlight for Canadians.

First we had corruption in figure skating now we have a number of boxing referees and judges dismissed for their controversial decisions in a series of bouts during this year’s Olympics. How do we get rid of corruption in judging Olympic events?

Bolt and Phelps are tremendous athletes and have received more than their share of recognition for their incredible performances at three Olympic games but have we not seen this movie before, why not focus on some of the younger athletes who deserve more recognition.

And what’s with Gulf State countries like Burundi and their rent an athlete program. Many Gulf countries have routinely recruited athletes from various African countries to participate in their teams, prompting accusations of unfair competition and, sometimes, of using false documents to register new roster members. Burundi’s athletics men’s team has four athletes born in Kenya, three in Ethiopia, one in Nigeria, one in Morocco and none in Bahrain. Their women’s team also features three athletes born in Ethiopia, another three in Nigeria, one in Kenya and none born in Bahrain. Meanwhile, both women who qualified for the United Arab Emirates’ athletics team are from Ethiopia.

Why was Russia allowed to participate in these games? The action the IOC took has forever set a bar for how the most outrageous doping and cover-up and corruption possible will be treated in the future.

And one more thing, why are females who are more male than female running in a race against other females? This happened at the women’s 800 metres, won handily by South Africa’s Caster Semenya, with silver and bronze respectively going to Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya. All three have faced public questions about their testosterone levels. Semenya is routinely described as an “intersex” woman with high testosterone levels. British runner Lynsey Sharp told The Daily Telegraph earlier this summer, “Everyone can see it’s two separate races, so there’s nothing I can do.”

That’s it for now. Congratulation to all of our Olympic athletes. You were wonderful!

Can’t wait for the Winter Olympics where Canada really does “own the podium”!

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