Why Olympics coverage in the U.S. sucks

I thought I’d get this rant out of the way before the season hits. Watching the Olympics in the US is no fun, because the only thing you can watch is Americans winning. You’d think the U.S. is the only country ever winning from the coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for Americans to win, but I’m happy for other people to win, too. In fact, in some ways it’s much more interesting when you have a diversity of folks competing and this is portrayed clearly in the coverage. It gets boring fast when all you can hear is the U.S. national anthem.

Growing up in Hungary, I remember watching all sorts of sports competitions – and I don’t just mean the Olympics – where people from all over were taking home the gold. Sure, Hungary is a small country (population 10 million, that’s like Chicagoland having its own team) and its athletes are only going to win so many medals so you could argue that by definition coverage would have to feature other competitions as well. But actually, for a small country, Hungary ranks very high on the all-time medals list (whoa, I actually had no idea how high before writing this post) so it’s not as though there aren’t opportunities to feature its own. Also, TV could just show less of the event if there were not enough Hungarian nationals to feature. But that’s not what happens as featuring one’s own doesn’t seem to be the point. I remember hearing plenty of other national anthems and seeing lots of different flags.

This approach of showcasing athletes from all over doesn’t seem to be restricted to small countries. I was in Italy (pop ~ 60 million) recently flipping through channels and noticed the Hungarian national anthem playing on one of them. The station opted to show the end result all the way despite the fact that Italians were not the winners. Then they played another anthem (the Russian one so I could sing along in Hungarian, hah) for another winner, again, not Italians.

I wonder how this works in other countries, especially the ones winning lots of medals (e.g., for 2004, Russia, China, Australia, Germany, Japan, France, etc.).

9 Responses to “Why Olympics coverage in the U.S. sucks”

  1. Steph Says:

    Sadly, I didn’t ever notice this! Thanks for pointing it out.

    My favorite part of the Olympics coverage is that they always find someone who’s mother died and then they broke their back and were told they’d never walk again then they were refugees and then they are in the olympics and they win. Always makes me cry.

  2. Katie Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, and would throw this additional thought out there…US Network coverage of the Games tends to put most of the spotlight on those sports the network deems most “popular”. I understand that from a revenue perspective, but as a devoted fan of some less-popular-in-the-US sports such as rowing, field hockey and especially synchronized swimming, our best hope is to catch a brief update during primetime if that. I’m hoping that the NBC/Oxygen/online coverage this year will help those lesser-known sports get some viewers’ eyeballs on them…whether on TV or on the computer.

    So, go Hungary! And hooray for the smaller sports :)

  3. Lara Says:

    I am an Olympics junkie, but I, too, typically have several rants during the course of the Olympics about American coverage. A few for the overly heavy coverage of the Americans (Eszter) and a few for the overly heavy coverage of a few sports (Katie).
    In addition, I usually have at least one fit about the overly zealous endorsement some semi-expert announcer gives to an athlete. If an American announcer believes that a favored athlete has been slighted in some way, they waste my time telling me over and over why the announcer’s favorite should have won or earned more points. Again, this usually applies to American athletes, but recently the American announcers also loved a Canadian pair that I did not particularly like. I thought we all learned in sports that life (and rule enforcement) doesn’t always go the way we wish.

  4. Eszter Hargittai Says:

    Steph, so you actually like those human interest stories interspersed with the coverage? I guess they do have an audience for that then.:-}

    Watching the Men’s 400m IM swimming is a good example of how US-focused it is. I’m not much of an expert in swimming, but the little I read about the race beforehand suggested that the Hungarian Cseh would walk away with the silver. You never would have guessed it from the commentator’s discussion of the event right beforehand. You’d think it would be worth mentioning since it would make the race more exciting to watch without assuming that Americans will walk away with both gold and silver (as they did not in the end).

  5. Alex H. Says:

    What that means is that sports in which the US rarely or never medals get no coverage year after year. I am not a fan of spectator sports generally, but I competed in Judo for many years, and like to watch it, even though (with perhaps one exception), it is unlikely that the US will take a medal this year or any year soon.

    On the plus side, I fully expect that this is the first year I will be able to download fairly complete coverage of the Judo events as torrents recorded from broadcasts in other contries. NBC seems to have some coverage online of Judo, though you have to download Silverlight to watch them, so pfffft! (Erm, I mean “No, thank you.”)

  6. Mike3550 Says:

    I wish that they showed more sports that Hungary was good at — then maybe I’d actually get to see water polo (my sport growing up). Of course, since the US team has a chance this year, there is actually a decent amount of coverage, proving your point Eszter.

  7. Graham Says:

    Agree with your post. I actually chanced to be in Italy last week watching the games. Interestingly, there was a heck of a lot of Italians winning, but the other main set of events was basically U.S. athletes winning. The result, anyway, is that I saw U.S. basketball players on TV for the first time in many months and watched more fencing than ever before. Italians for whatever reason seem to be really good with skinny swords!

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