Dick Ebersol Was Right: High Drama at The Olympics, in Brilliant HD

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There has been much hand-wringing about NBC’s tape-delayed broadcast of the Summer Olympics.  After a couple of drama-packed evenings glued to NBC, can I just say: I’m having a blast.

I’ve never been so grateful for my plasma screen and my Comcast HD.  My investment has paid off in spades and spades of viewing thrills.  For all the talk about the "digital platform explosion," on-line viewing has its limitations.

I watched Sasha Artemev’s spectacular pommel horse routine this morning on-line, on the NBC site.  (Forms must be filled out each time users tap the live coverage.  The registration process was simple but a bit of an impediment.)

While it’s great to have access to extra footage, the on-line picture quality is mediocre (compared to the plasma) - it’s muddy, as if someone slathered Vaseline on the camera lenses.

Some vids didn’t stream smoothly. They were erratic and jerky - stopping, starting, halting every couple of seconds. 

Caveat - resident tech geek on my Twitter group, Dave Winer, cancelled his Comcast account after much frustration.  Dave offers sage advice on high def receivers that work with EyeTV software.  "It plugs into a USB port on my Mac, and it receives digital high-def programming over the air," reports Dave.

David Neal, executive producer of NBC Sports and also executive vice president of NBC Olympics, touted NBC’s high def efforts at TCA press tour. 

"All 34 Olympic sports from all 37 Olympic venues throughout China will be 100 percent in HD, it’s really a remarkable evolution of the technology…." Neal told critics by satellite from Beijing, "the thing for me that’s so amazing is how quickly the technology has matured. So not only are the handheld and the hard cameras in HD, but even the smallest lipstick camera - the camera that’s embedded in the target at archery that gives you that point of view of the arrow coming directly at the target - even that camera is in HD."

And wow, does it show.  On my big plasma screen, on Comcast HD, the Summer Olympics are thrilling and visceral.  It’s a bit like being right there, hovering in and around the drama.  

And drama it has been.  At TCA, Dick Ebersol - chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics and executive producer of Olympics - promised there would be drama.

"I think the country is really ready for this," said Ebersol, also by satellite from Beijing, "it isn’t exactly a joyful time in America right now, $4 gas, people who can’t afford vacations, wild prices on food….they’re really looking for something to cheer for. This American team, these Olympic athletes certainly offer that…The audience has really suffered of late from a paucity of great, scripted drama. They’re about to get 17 days and nights of unscripted drama."

While I agreed with Ebersol’s "paucity" observation, at the time I brushed off his comments as just so much network hype.  But Ebersol’s remarks have been prescient so far.

Fireworks began with the French ‘ze Americans, we are going to smash them’ trash talk.  This led to one of the most exciting (and satisfyingly crow-eating) races in Olympic history - the men’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Twitter went nuts.

"Magnifique! IncreDAHble! Pass ze freedom fries," pecked Kansas City Stars’ Aaron Barnhart on Twitter after the Americans captured the gold by a mere 0.08 seconds.

Last night, the men’s team gymnastics competition also shifted into high gear.  I’m just sayin’.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

The underdog (read: not a snowballs’ chance of medaling) U.S. team was written-off after losing Olympians Paul and Morgan Hamm to injuries.

"Their six-man roster was a makeshift thing," said Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, "pieced together out of rookies and retreads, not one of whom had ever been in an Olympics."

The team stitched themselves with heart and camaraderie and can-do, jumping and leaping for joy at every success.  Pumped by the endearing, pep-talkin’ Jonathan Horton, they thumbed their noses at the pundits and doubters.

Raj Bhavsar, an alternate admitted to the team after the Hamms withdrew, set the tone by leading off with an excellent ring display.  Bhavsar, born of parents who emigrated to the U.S. from Gujarat, is now something of a cross-cultural ambassador, the darling of the Indian press, too.

An African-America presidential nominee.  An Indian-American, a Chinese-American and a Russian-American on our gymnastics team.  An African-American on our French-trouncing gold-medal 4×100 meter relay team.  I’m starting to feel a little warm and fuzzy inside about the rainbow representing our country.

Top contending Japanese flopped all over the place while the U.S. guys killed it on the high bar and the vault.  Horton nailed his routines again and again.  On high bar, the aptly named Justin Spring flew so high and so far on his TRIPLE somersault dismount that he landed at the very edge of the mat - a landing that he stuck.

Then, American hopes for a medal dimmed following a mediocre showing on the floor exercise.  Hopes were almost dashed after team captain Kevin Tan’s (a Chinese-American) heartbreaking dead stop on the pommel horse.

The only chance for a medal came down to the last routine (for the Americans) on the very last apparatus: the pommel horse and USSR (now Belarus)-born Sasha Artemev - an American initially nixed from the team because of his tendency to fall from…the pommel horse!

At this point in the competition, I’m thinking: you’re kidding, right?  Who wrote this script!?

Artemev flew, his long legs windmilling around the apparatus.  He seemed nearly weightless, suspended by an invisible thread above the horse.

He was brilliant.  His routine was the clutch performance of a lifetime.  On the sidelines, the U.S. team went mad with joy, leaping wildly into the air.  I dashed over to Twitter to post this:  "We’re goin’ swimming in the river tonight. [the Yangtze] ..never give up, that’s how we roll!" said Horton.

According to The AP, when the final standings popped up confirming a team bronze, Horton screamed: "Nobody believed in us! Nobody believed in us!"

Can I just say, Mr. Ebersol, you were so right.

Oh, I forgot to mention: David Durante was the other alternate.  He never had a chance to compete.  He sat in the stands and wept openly for his team after Artemev completed his routine.

P.S. Props to the Chinese crowds too…who showed great sportsmanship by cheering for other teams. 

Here’s a nice profile of Raj, at the Olympic trials, practicing yoga etc:

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