Why Is Olympic Coverage Always So Terrible?

Walter Rhein

Image by Walter Rhein

If you turn on the television in the Chippewa Valley in the hope of watching the Olympics, you’re more likely to find yourself watching reruns of the Andy Griffith show. Even if you do happen to find some coverage of an actual event, it will likely cut away from the action in order to bring you commentary from some national reporter in a suit sitting behind a desk.

At best, watching the Olympics is like watching the Red Zone channel on the NFL football package. News stations seem to have the attention span of a squirrel and jump from event to event in an attempt to show what they believe is the most exciting thing currently happening.

Unfortunately, that approach destroys your chances at enjoying the natural drama of sports. Like any compelling spectacle, you need to witness all the elements in order to have the most satisfying viewing experience. There’s a build up. There’s growing tension. You can’t just tune in during the last minute and expect to get a full comprehension of the enormity of the moment.

To say it another way, you wouldn’t want to watch the Green Bay Packers play on the Red Zone channel because you’d miss all the best parts of the game. It’s unfortunate that the media doesn’t take the Olympics more seriously.

The greatest crime reporters can commit is to make the story about them and not the event they are covering. Olympic coverage in the United States always puts the sporting moments in the background. It’s as if they want to emphasize a reporter interviewing a gold medal winning athlete instead of showing the moment that athlete reached the pinnacle of his or her discipline.

Reporters are so desperate to steal the spotlight that they try to muscle moments of Olympic glory into the shadows. It’s extremely frustrating.

Many Olympic athletes are individuals who have made huge sacrifices in order to represent their country on the world stage. With the dedication that it takes to pursue athletic excellence, they don’t have the time to build lucrative careers. The Olympics are their shot, and it’s annoying to see national reporters steal their moment.

When it comes to the Olympics, the less we see of reporters, the better. Every time they cut to a desk to show some talking head explaining what’s going on, viewers should be annoyed. Some of the greatest sporting performances in the history of the human race are transpiring, and the network instead elects to show you a person sitting behind a desk! That’s insane.

If you’ve ever witnessed Olympic coverage in other countries, or you remember how the United States used to cover the Olympics back in the 80s, you’ll know what Americans are missing out on. Reporters used to know that the best thing to do was to step aside and let the pageantry and human drama play out on its own. We don’t need a reporter telling us what to think. Just show it instead.

In other parts of the world, they publish a schedule and show events in their entirety without cutting back and forth to unrelated sports. In other places, they respect more obscure sports and don’t subject us to gymnastics warm ups even as a gold medal match is being played elsewhere.

I’ve seen US media channels cut away from a three way sprint for third place just so they could show us some guy talking. Why would they do that? Show the race for the medals. That’s why you’re covering the Olympics.

The Olympics used to be an event. Careers were made and legends were born. I still remember watching athletes like Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton compete in Los Angeles in 1984.

Unfortunately, at some point along the way, the United States media decided to make the Olympics more about the reporters than the athletes. It has almost become unwatchable.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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