Thursday, February 25, 2010

What She Said

Mary McNamara of the LA Times, on one of the major reasons why NBC has rendered the Olympics unwatchable:

If the Olympics are a celebration of athletic excellence, of the human spirit triumphing over the limitations of the human body, why do we insist, like a bunch of preschoolers, on talking all the way through them?

It seems unfair to criticize sports commentators for doing what they've been hired to do, and certainly the irritation caused by a voice buzzing in your ear while you're trying to watch people do extraordinary things is not limited to the Olympics. However, in watching the events in Vancouver on television, I find it hard not to befriend the mute button. For all its touting of the glory of the Games, NBC doesn't seem to think people will watch unless an array of former athletes and TV personalities talks us through it.

Though the Olympics commentary was an alarmingly clinical recitation of past injuries that seemed at times to have replaced the Tragic Personal Back Story as the hushed-voice intro, the women's figure skating short program on Wednesday put an end to that. With the tragic death of Canadian Joannie Rochette's mother on Sunday, there was no denying the pathos of her extraordinary performance. But did we really have to learn, mere moments before each woman began to skate, about the death of Australia's Cheltzie Lee's friend three years ago or that Mirai Nagasu's mother is battling thyroid cancer.


As anyone who's ever watched a televised football game knows, most sports commentary is 95% blather and 5% insight, and the same is certainly true of the Olympics. Most of us don't understand the nuances of curling or what the judges are looking for in a skater or snowboarder, and it's nice to feel instantly informed.

But too often, the commentators are so busy talking, offering their own Olympic memories or the mini-Wikipedia entries of information provided them, that it seems like they are bored with what is actually happening. Which cannot be what the producers had in mind.

Even with the more restrained commentary, an air of participation inevitably creeps in -- the commentator's admiration and enthusiasm or, occasionally, anger and bewilderment become part of the experience, which then becomes more about entertainment than athleticism.

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