Focus on storytelling drama gets low marks from Olympics audience

People really hate the TV coverage of the Olympic games in a special way this year.

Increasingly over the decades, coverage has had less to do with the actual competition, and more to do with the personal struggle of an individual athletes. The more drama, the better the storytelling and that’s what the Olympics are now — personal stories. Oh, and the medals. Except that a lot of the Russians aren’t there and what fun is that?

“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans,” John Miller, NBC Olympics chief marketing officer, told, which says NBC has plenty of marketing data to prove it. “More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

But a sloppy attempt at storytelling and drama got commentator Dan Hicks in trouble when reporting the competition with Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu.

She obliterated the 400-meter individual medley on Saturday night. And Hicks, when Hosszu’s husband and coach, Shane Tusup, was shown on camera, said he was the guy responsible for what just happened.

You could guess what came next.

The TV audience doesn’t follow most Olympic sports, so Hosszu and Tusup’s story isn’t going to be familiar to them. Not unless you read the New York Times story of an intense — some suggest abusive — coach whipping a medal-less Hosszu into a winner.

When the diffident Hosszu dons her swimsuit and stuffs her schoolteacher’s hair bun into a latex racing cap, she turns into a superhero with reserves of stamina and confidence. The swimmer who felt overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed in London has since become the first athlete to surpass $1 million in Word Cup series prize money for individual races and overall finishes and averaged more than 100 races a year.

She has accomplished all of this with her husband overseeing all the aspects of her preparation, to the unease of some in the tightknit swimming community. Tusup is more temperamental than Hosszu, and his eruptions on the pool deck have elicited stares, complaints and calls for his removal.

“I always say if you find a coach who can make you a step or two better, or if what we’re doing is not working and you think there’s something you need to change, you need to tell me because then I’ll step back, that coach will step in, and we’ll be happy,” Tusup said, adding, “She has that offer to this day.”

Maybe being a step or two better was the difference between a medal and heading for the showers. In any event, it’s a more complicated and contextual backstory than a TV announcer can risk telling in the age of instant outrage.

Earlier, a commentator said Katy Ledecky “swims like a man.”

Maybe the fellas should sit this gig out.