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 Philly.com, 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.

  • Gary F

    And this story will be quickly glossed over………. I wonder why
    She’s been in 6 different Olympics, set lots of records

    http://www.teamusa.org/usa-shooting/athletes/Kimberly-Rhode

    NBC has ruined the Olympics. Jim McKay is turning in his grave.

    The Twins are much improved, there is no reason to watch the Olympics.

    • ec99

      I skipped the Olympics for the NFL HoF game. Great contest!

      • I thought that game got canceled.

        • Jeff

          I saw the highlights – a bunch of guys scraping the paint off field. Not sure who won the scrape off, but it looked more entertaining than gymnastics.

      • Gary F

        Nice!

  • Rob

    I caught the women’s bike event, and was disconcerted by how little attention the commentators gave to a very bad crash suffered by the leader, who slammed directly into a curb as she tried to negotiate a steep downhill curve going forty-plus mph. She was totally still and crumpled upon impact, clearly knocked unconscious – or worse. She did survive, but suffered a concussion and several cracked vertebra.

    • Barton

      But what more could they say? The cameras – not controlled by NBC but by the Olympics themselves – had moved one and nothing was known. They said twice after the accident, as we watched Mara get slowly overtaken, that they would let us know when they knew something about the Dutch rider. And just before they cut to the next event, they said that information would be given when it was available. And it was given about 30 minutes later, the same time as a statement was made by the Dutch cycling federation.

      Frankly, I think they did what they could do, and it was handled in the same manner as any other professional cycling event’s injury.

      • Ben Chorn

        It happened in the Men’s cycling too, when the cyclists in 1st and 2nd crashed going into a curve downhill. I think some people are looking too hard into the commentary in attempts to find something they can label as sexist.

        • Rob

          I wasn’t suggesting that the lack of commentary/concern re: the crash was sexist, just that it seemed to be a little lacking because it was so business-as-usual sounding.

          • John

            In cycling, this is almost business as usual. It’s a dangerous sport.

          • Rob

            Uh, yeah, I’m aware it’s dangerous. But that doesn’t excuse treating a crash that was clearly a little more than a garden variety incident as just another crash.

    • kevins

      That was a nasty accident! I too was worried about her given how she was positioned.

  • Al

    Not to mention that football wife who won her second medal. In her third Olympics. Or something. Whoever she is.

    https://twitter.com/chicagotribune/status/762401317050605568

    • Jerry

      See, there’s someone in shooting sports who got press coverage. Sort of.

      • Kassie

        And we saw the woman with the BB gun who won the first US medal like 10 times on Saturday. So she’s been covered too.

        • John

          but very little of her actual shooting, I bet. I tried to find footage of the competition on the app, and all I got were background fluff stories.

          • Kassie

            They showed about 10 seconds of her shooting. But that’s at least 75% of all the summer olympics sports. We won’t see badminton, lifting, judo, shot put, archery or any number of events.

          • Gary F

            LOTS OF WOMEN’S BEACH VOLLYBALL. I didn’t realize it was such a big sport.

          • Kassie

            Truth. Though only the women’s team from what I’ve seen. Hmmmmm, I wonder why that is?

          • The pictures the AP is providing seem like a big wink-fest.

            I’m kinda rooting for Egypt here.

        • Gary F

          A very expensive and precise BB gun,

          • Jerry

            Does it have “a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time”?

          • Al

            IT HAD BETTER. (And she didn’t even shoot her eye out.)

    • Gary F

      Who writes the tag lines on these. The fact that she is married to a football player is middle or end of the story information.

      • JamieHX

        Or not in the story at all!

      • Al

        Bingo.

      • This is another phony aspect of journalism, actually: What I like to call “the elusive local connection.” They do gymnastics to find the “local angle.” That’s not sexism — although it looks like it. It’s actually parochialism.

        • Gary F

          Yes,, the Twin Cities media will print a local connection to any news story, no matter how obscure.

  • Al

    Though I did catch one of the commentators calling the other out during last night’s race with Ledecky. He said something like,

    “Someone said Katie Ledecky swims like a man, but she swims like Katie Ledecky!”

    And then he went on to talk about the mechanics of her race. The tone shift was noticeable, and appreciated.

  • John

    I saw the race. It was amazing watching her swim. Unbelievable. Even more amazing than when Phelps was destroying the competition four years ago.

    I saw the cutaway to her coach/husband jumping up and down, and thought it was great that he was having such a strong reaction to her win (as I would have thought for anyone on deck jumping up and down after that kind of race – male, female, anyone). I was too busy trying to process how incredibly she had smashed the record to pay attention to what the announcers (who are not very good, by the way) were yammering on about.

    That being said, I find the games extremely hard to watch. It’s the one time every four years that the sportsball I have an interest in gets any major TV coverage – swimming, cycling, archery, shooting sports. And the coverage is terrible. I feel like the programming is being directed by squirrels – jumping from event to event, showing almost nothing but the Americans, and only showing the events that our country is likely to win. It seems like every hour is about 25 minutes of commercials, 25 minutes of fluffy backstory, and maybe 10 minutes of the events.

    Even the app is bad. My son loves sharpshooting (doing it, mostly). When we heard the first medal of the games was in air rifle (wouldn’t have even known if it hadn’t been won by an American, I bet). We went on the app and tried to watch the competition. Instead, a bunch of backstory, and no video from the actual shoot. Total garbage.

    I caught the end of the long women’s cycling road race yesterday, and it seemed like they were actually showing the race (I was at an event at a friend’s house, and they had the olympics on in the background). The volume was down, and it was a great race. I wish NBC did a lot more of that- so much went into the last 3 km of a nearly four hour race. It came down to less than a bike length, and the person who was leading for much of the last 3 km (by 40 seconds at one point) landed fourth.

    • Jerry

      Prime time olympics coverage is pretty much unwatchable. It’s all commercials and cliched back stories, when it is not jumping around to the most boring parts of the competitions.

      • John

        That’s a fact, and yet it’s when most of us have time/ability to watch.

        NBC has spent untold millions on this coverage, and they don’t actually show the games. what a waste.

        • Kassie

          Which is why we watched reruns of American Ninja Warrior on Hulu last night instead of the Olympics. I would have loved to watch some sport last night, but the non-stop talking and commercials just got to me.

    • Jeff R.

      My wife was in Canada four years ago on business and called to tell me that “Trampoline” was a sport. There were no Americans in the sport, so there was no coverage. If a tree falls in the forest….

      • fromthesidelines21

        I live close enough to Canada that we get CBC on cable (need our Hockey Night in Canada!). They do a great job covering the games!

  • jon

    Me and my wife watched this… we were both uncomfortable with how much the husband/coach was focused on after she smashed a world record.

    While I can appreciate that a great coach can push you hard, and bring you to do your best…. but it’s still not the coach who set that world record… focus on the person who just dominated the event…

    • Jerry

      I’m made uncomfortable by the fact that they all seem to be husband/coaches, and usually quite a bit older. You know the power dynamic has to be screwed up in some of those relationships.

      • Béla Károlyi used to totally creep me out.

        • Jerry

          Dominique Moceanu would agree
          http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jul/23/sports/sp-karolyi23

          And I find women’s gymnastics creepy all around.

          • ec99

            I recall when it came out years ago that the body fat percentage of women gymnasts was so low they stopped menstruating.

          • Kassie

            I think the concern was that the gymnasts never started having their period at all, not that it stopped for some time while they were training. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is more than just gymnasts who have such low body fat they don’t menstruate. If you look at swimmers and runners, many of them have virtually no body fat either. It isn’t fair to single out gymnasts.

  • Susan WB

    “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.” Can I just say, BLARGH?! Speak for yourself, mister.

    As a woman who has little interest in sports generally, I don’t care about fluffy personal stories about athletes very much. I am much more interested in the competition itself. I hate reality TV. I watch the Olympics to watch world-class athletes compete.

    • JamieHX

      Same here. And I mostly don’t care what country they’re playing for. It’s just fun to witness excellence by anybody.

  • jwest8

    There’s a reason we record and fast forward to watch. Even then, there is so very little of actual sports being shown. This is the worst broadcast ever.

  • Barton

    In general, generalizations are bad. The NBC execs statements re: what women like to watch holds no more true than NFL’s statements re: women going to games to watch the cheerleaders. Generalizations.

    Also, I’d really like them to bring back Tug-of-War. That was always fun to watch back in the day…

    • Jeff

      I looked it up, the last Olympic Tug-of-War was 1920. Our best year was 1904 when we swept the podium.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    Since I’m still a cable subscriber I watched some of the Olympics on CNBC and MSNBC over the weekend. The events: Men’s Team Archery and the quarter finals of Women’s Rugby Sevens. (Which is a very “Anglo” sport. Australia, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand are the semi finalists. The U.S. lost to New Zealand for in the last quarter final.) I was going to watch the Women’s Team Archery, but a basketball game got in the way on NBCSN.

  • JamieHX

    I’m going to take this opportunity, because we’re discussing possible sexism in Olympics coverage, to comment on another facet of the sexism at the Olympics (and in women’s sports in general). It’s about their uniforms. Of course the women’s beach volleyball “uniforms” are like some kind of stupid joke; they’re the most egregious. But swimmers, divers, gymnasts, track-&-fielders, and regular volleyball players all wear things that are clearly meant more for the display of their bodies than for any utilitarian purpose.

    The key to determining that is to compare the uniforms of the men in the same sports. If men can do their gymnastic routines, for example, with compression shorts or pants and t-shirts, the women should be able to do that, too. If men can play regular volleyball in shorts, women should be able wear shorts, too, and not those things that look like underpants. Don’t tell me they can perform better with the full length of their legs showing: at the very least, it’s got to hurt like hell to slide across the floor getting gym-floor burn on a thigh during a fall.

    I was watching the synchronized diving yesterday and saw women pulling the legs of their suits UP to show more of their butts. Whether it’s their decision to do that, or they’re told to do it by coaches or somebody else, it’s unacceptable. It’s been obvious for decades that women sports figures have been sexualized. It’s way past time we were over that.

    • John

      I can’t comment on most sports, but I can assure you that the suits swimmers wear for racing are (male and female) designed to be as fast as possible, while meeting the rules for materials and amount of compression, coverage, etc. set forth by the governing body.

      There are rules about logos and coverage for men’s and women’s suits, and if the men could go faster by wearing a women’s suit, and it were legal, they would. I’m certain the converse is true as well – modesty is not part of the equation for these athletes.

      Nothing matters more to a swimmer than squeezing every possible bit of speed that they can.

      As far as diving, divers do everything they can to try to influence the judge’s decision in their favor. This includes (again male and female) attempting to increase their attractiveness to the judge, hoping to squeeze one more fraction of a point. Suits, suntans, makeup and jewelry (though I think jewelry is not allowed), covering tattoos, showing more butt if that might help. It’s all about positively influencing the judges opinion – again nothing to do with either gender specifically – both genders do it.

      • JamieHX

        I’m sorry, I actually shouldn’t have said “swimmers” because I haven’t seen what the women are wearing this year and they have worn bodysuits that cover a lot in previous years. But a woman diver showing as much of her butt as possible to the judges (and the rest of the world) is all about her gender, and is not ok. I would be very surprised if the male divers worked at showing more butt.

        • John

          I guarantee that if the male divers believed that showing more butt, or emphasizing other parts of their bodies, would get them more points, they would. Guarantee it.

          Actually, the only sport in the Summer Olympics that I can think of where there’s a massive difference between the male and female uniforms (in terms of sexualization anyways) is beach volleyball.

          I seem to recall that there’s a lot of skin tight spandex on both genders in gymnastics – both tops and bottoms (I haven’t watched any this year, so I could be wrong – I probably won’t. I don’t care for gymnastics). Everyone wears a similar kit in cycling. Track and Field . . . maybe? I seem to recall that all the runners wear speedo-style shorts (for good reason in the distance events – chafing is real) and as light a top as they can get away with (both chafing and for temp control).

          Beach volleyball though, there you have a solid point.

          • JamieHX

            You’re wrong. The men I’ve seen doing gymnastics are covered neck to ankle, and the pants are loose-fitting. And the running men I’ve seen wear compression shorts (almost to the knee) and tank-style t-shirts, while the women wear what are essentially bikinis. And you can get a lot more chaffing from skin touching skin than you can from fabric-covered body parts.

            Also, to speculate about men hypothetically “showing more butt” is way different from the REALITY of women doing it.

          • John

            I stand corrected on gymnastics. A quick google search reveals skin tight shirts on the men (which is what I think I was remembering – again, not something I watch), and pants, which, as you said appears to be the norm.

            With running, (again, my frame of reference is the first 50 or so images that show up in a google search), there seem to be some men wearing spandex shorts (though nothing like a bikini bottom), while most wear more traditional running shorts (though of the nearly no inseam variety).

            My wife runs (quite a lot, actually – Boston marathon being her most recent long race), and she has slowly transitioned from technical, loose fitting, traditional casual running clothing to spandex (or similar – don’t know the material), because the tight stuff causes far fewer issues in terms of chafing and is cooler in the summer. That’s my personal experience in why she wears what she wears to run. She’s relatively uncomfortable wearing any of it in public, but the comfort and performance benefits outweigh the ick factor for her, so she deals.

            Back to the Olympics – I’m not saying it isn’t partly objectification, particularly at the professional – we need to sell tickets and make money off this to keep it going level – because it probably is, I’m saying there are practical reasons to wear skin tight clothing when performing some of these sports, which you seem to ignore. (You’ll note that I stayed away from Beach Volleyball completely, for what I think are obvious reasons)

            I’m not making any moral judgement here on whether or not it’s right – I clearly don’t have the knowledge of whether or not the clothing has a technical reason to be worn in most of the sports mentioned (and for the record, you don’t seem to either). I initially commented to correct your incorrect statement about WHY swimmers and divers wear what they wear to compete. Your initial post was incorrect, in particular with regard to swimmers, (which is what pulled me down this rabbit hole) in claiming that they wear what they wear for sexual objectification reasons. They wear the fastest suits they can. It’s 100% about taking another fraction of a second off their times.

          • JamieHX

            I already said I was wrong to include swimmers in my list (I sort of conflated them with divers momentarily). I was not wrong about the divers* however.

            And I haven’t said anything against skin-tight garments. I have for many years worn various iterations of “spandex”-type workout wear myself. It does perform better. That wasn’t the point.

            *I saw more of this tonight — some Canadian women. I didn’t think it was possible, but they were even worse than the Americans I saw the other day. If showing as much butt as possible makes them perform better, all of the women divers would do it, and they don’t. The Chinese show less skin on both divers and gymnasts. And there were a couple other teams that were *slightly* more covered in both competitions that I saw tonight.

  • Gary F

    US men’s basketball versus Venezuela. Think they’ll have side stories on people not having any food to eat or being forced to work in the fields?