I'll warn you that this is likely to be long and rambling -- not that I haven't been long and rambling before :-).
NBC's 2004 Coverage
I cannot recall any Olympic games, either summer or winter, where I haven't heard at least once, often from my own mouth, complaints about how the coverage spends too much time on feature stories and not enough time showing the competition. This year, at least focusing on the coverage on the NBC network, and its local affiliates, I'd have to make the same complaint. However, I understand why they do this. Programing a broadcast of the Olympic games for maximum viewership requires balancing the appeal to various kinds of viewer. Some want to see only the sports; others are mostly interested in the features. I suspect that over the years the networks have determined what balance of programing during the Olympic broadcasts keeps the most viewers tuned in for the ads. We must always remember, when it comes to broadcast TV, the viewers (we) are the product that the TV station delivers to their customers, the advertisers.
On the other hand, most of the broadcasts on NBC-Universal's cable outlets (MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo and USA; they wisely chose not to put the Olympics on Sci-Fi, Trio or any of their other English language stations) have had a much higher percentage of time spent showing the sports either live, psuedo-live or in recap. One notable exception was the USA network this morning which at 6:00am CDT was recapping the finals of Thursday's gymnastic competition, including part of an interview.
Suggestion to NBC-Universal
If I can find a feedback section I may actually try to send this to NBC; but I'm sure they'll ignore it, so I'll post it here: NBC-Universal should start a new cable network focused on competition in the less-well covered Olympic sports, and perhaps some of the other sports that aren't in the Olympics. I'd probably watch at least occasionally to catch some of my favorite sports.
In college, I took some fencing classes and fenced foil in some novice-level tournaments. Later I did some practice fencing with foil, eppé, and even saber, I own several foils and an eppé. Even later I fenced with the SCA, participating in one competition.
So after years of wanting to, I've finally seen some Olympic fencing on TV, all of it saber fencing. To some extent I can now completely understand why so little of it gets shown. Even knowing what is going on, and have clue how to judge right of way in saber (it's similar or identical to the right of way in foil), the action is a bit fast to follow. However, the more I've watched, the better I'm getting at seeing, or at least sensing, the right of way. I still would like to see some eppé.
Other sports I'd like to see
Since 1984, when I first heard about it, I've really wanted to see at least part of a game of Handball. It sounds very interesting, and at least different enough from Basketball, (Association) Football, Water Polo, etc. that I think I'd enjoy at least one game.
although I don't know how well much of it would work on TV, I've also been intrigued with the Modern Pentathlon. This multi-sport competition covers a number of sports I enjoy watching, and think that the intrigue could be fun. The sports involved are, Swimming, fencing, shooting, stadium jumping -- on a strange horse -- and running. The format and sports are chosen based on a late-nineteenth century military scenario: The participant has to deliver a message. To do so they must swim across a river, fence an opponent, finally dispatching them with their pistol. They then grab a horse and ride it part way to their destination and run the rest of the way.
Unfortunately, so far my attempts to see handball have been thwarted by NBC's shuffling of the broadcast schedule to show other sports which they think will interest American audiences more.
The classification of Sport
Yesterday, I realized that most sports can be classified into a fairly small number of broad categories. OK, I know that this statement is true for just about anything :-). Here is the Oakes classification of sport:
- Direct Competition. Direct Competition are the sports in which all of the participants carry out the same basic action and are judged against an arbitrary standard, such as a clock or a target. Some examples:
- All forms of racing, including running, walking, swimming, bicycling, motor vehicle, horse racing, etc.
- Throwing sports: Shot Put, Javelin, Discus, Hammer, etc.
- Shooting sports: Shooting, archery, etc.
- Golf and its kin
- Bowling and its kin
- Judging Against Perfection. Sports that rely on judging against perfection are those in which the participants perform actions and are judged by an individual or panel against a standard of perfection for that action. Some examples:
- Gymnastics in all forms (Artistic, Rhythmic, Trampoline, Acrobatics, etc.)
- Synchronized swimming
- Vaulting (a.k.a. gymnastics on horseback)
- Figure Skating
- Freestyle Skiing
- Goal Sports. Goal Sports are games, where teams -- I cannot think of any individual goal sport -- try to score more goals than the opposing team. More specifically, the teams attack the goals defended by the other team, scoring when they put an object, usually a ball, into the goal. Some examples:
- Football (a.k.a. soccer)
- American Football
- Hockey -- Ice, field, roller, etc.
- Handball -- Olympic team handball, specifically
- Net Spots. Net Sports are games where individuals or teams play on opposite sides of a boundary, almost always a net, and score by passing an object over the boundary in a way that the opponent cannot return. Some examples:
- Table Tennis
- Bat and Ball Sports. Bat and Ball Sports are games played with a bat and ball, or sports that closely resemble them. A member of one team will throw a ball at a member of another team who will attempt to hit it with their bat, and score based on where the ball goes. Some examples:
- Rounders, I think
- Martial Sports. Martial Sports are sports where the competitors face off in combat-like situations, scoring points based on simulated wounds. Some examples:
- Karate. (although at some levels, it is judged against perfection)
- Mixed Sports. Mixed sports combine aspects of two or more of the above categories. These can be multiple sports events, such as the Modern Pentathlon, or they can be sports that combine multiple methods of scoring, such as ski jumping. Not all multiple sports events would be considered mixed. For example, triathlon is a race so it would be classified as Direct Competition.
- Other. Other sports are those that don't easily fall into one of the above classifications. The examples that I can think of are non-athletic sports: Chess and Bridge.
- I'm not sure. Some sports, including ones I've watched somewhat regularly, are scored in such mysterious, to me, ways that I'm not sure where to classify them. These are the equestrian disciplines of cross-country and stadium jumping.
Yesterday I was poking around on the IOC's website, when I discovered that there are a number of sports associations that are affiliated with the IOC, but aren't yet Olympic sports. Some of these are common enough sports that they probably should be on the Olympic program. Golf has petitioned to be included starting in 2008, and makes a good case.
There are a few that I'm sure some people would be shocked to learn might even be being considered as Olympic sports. These include the non-athletic sports of Chess and Bridge. If I were the IOC, I'd add these tot he winter games, since there is more room. One aspect of this affiliation is that the sports federations must adopt an anti-doping policy. Therefore, a chess geek who takes a banned steroid could be disqualified. "Dance Athletics" is also on the list, as are several motor sports.
However, there are also some sports that I think are even less well known in the US than team handball, although I suspect that they are all played here. The two I found the most intriguing are Khorfball and Netball. At first glance, these two games appear identical. They are both basketball like games where the basket is set in the middle of the field of play. However, beyond that their similarity seems to grow thinner. Khorfball requires a mixed team, 4 men and 4 women, and has rules that force the attacking player to evade their defender before scoring. Netball has very tight zoning, forcing each player into specific roles. Without watching games, probably with expert commentary, I don't know if I could see these differences, however.
Every four years, in the year following the summer Olympics, there is a multi-sport gaming event called the world games. This event, as I learned yesterday in my web roaming, features many of the non-olympic sports mentioned above. It also features disciplines of Olympic sports that are not contested at the Olympic games. If NBC-Universal were to start the channel I suggested above, they should cover these games there.
Conclusion, for now
I may have more ramblings on this subject, since we're only about a week into the 2004 summer games.