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Saturday, July 17, 2004

OK, NBC's Olympic Trials Coverage Does Suck
I’m already regretting my “not really as hideous as it could be, which almost counts as good” verdict on NBC’s coverage of the Olympic trials. Friday night’s two-hour show was dreadful.
The theme of Friday’s coverage was the “Olympic A standard.” It’s easily forgotten in the bulk of track and field events, where the United States dominates and the first three finishers win spots in Athens, but things really aren’t as simple as that. It’s not just where you end up in the race; you also have to meet the minimum standard for the event (times for runners, distances for throwers). This mysterious entity the “Olympic A standard” has been mentioned from time to time, for example, in the men’s 1,500 meters, Grant Robison didn’t even make it to the final, but he could still represent the United States in Athens because he’s one of only two Americans to have met the OAS. (Actually, I’m doubting this in light of NBC’s  misstatements with the men’s 5,000 meters.)
The men’s 5,000 meters final threw up a really confusing situation—Tim Broe won the race running away, but he hasn’t met the A standard, so the announcers said the guy who came in second, Jonathan Riley (who really needs to clear the scrub of a beard he’s sporting—this isn’t the Stanley Cup playoffs) was going to Athens. In fact, Riley was the only person NBC interviewed immediately after the race. Tom Hammond and Marty Liquori, who called the race, announced that Riley “had his ticket punched,” but when Bob Neumeier, the terrible post-race interviewer, asked him about it, Riley had a different story. As he told it, if Broe reached the A standard by Aug. 9, they’d both go to the Games. If Broe reached the B standard by that time, Broe would go alone.
I guess it makes sense that if the winner of a country’s Olympic trials is only up to B standard, that country would only have one representative in Athens, but the commentators, who are supposed to be experts, were totally lost. For one thing, the term “B standard” had never before been mentioned—and they certainly didn’t explain it, or even better just tell us what it was. What’s worse, after Riley (who went to Stanford, they kept telling us, so he must be smart) explained the situation, Liquori confirmed that what he had said was true (without admitting that they’d given a wrong explanation earlier), but immediately afterward, Tom Hammond said that all this showed it’s best to get the standard lots of time ahead of the Games (as Riley had done). This showed me that Hammond was still lost and confused—it would be better for Broe (if not the United States as a whole) if he got the B standard in the next three weeks and thus reduced his competition, so the comment about qualifying early was total bunk.
Sure, the rules are complicated (I looked them up, and they made my head spin), but it’s the commentators’ job to figure these things out. The worst part of it is that they not only gave out bad information, they did it in a not-live situation—isn’t the point of tape delay to ensure that they don’t make goofs like that? Two very big demerits for NBC.