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Dr. J. on Running

Sydney, Here We Come

Where's the Thrill of Sport?

Published August 21, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Let us play some Olympic trivia.

Q: Name the country that has hosted most summer Olympic Games.
A: The United States of America with four: St. Louis in 1904, Los Angeles in 1932 and 1984, and Atlanta in 1996.

Q: Guess the country that has won most Olympic medals?
A: The United States of America.

Q: Do you know which country has won most medals in the Olympic Marathon?
A: The United States of America with eleven.

Q: Which country expects to send the largest contingent to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney?
A: The United States of America.

Q: Guess which country will not be able to watch even one minute of live competition from the Sydney Olympics, not one live lap, not one live jump, not one live throw? I will give you a hint: NBC.

Last spring, NBC's director of sports programming announced grand plans for covering the Olympic Games, including 437 hours of coverage, all of which would be tape-delayed due to the time difference between Sydney and the USA. This tape delay would allow the network to reach the largest possible prime time audience, and to provide enough time to simplify the Olympic competition in Sydney into a soap opera suitable for American consumption.

NBC's market research concluded with statistical certainty that the American viewers, predominantly women, could not care less about Olympic competition. Rather, they indicated a strong preference for watching up-close-and-personal profiles, made-for-television tragedies, and hyped-up rivalries.

In the process, NBC changed the Olympic motto of faster, higher, stronger, into slower - half-a-day late in reporting the news, lower - in the quality of coverage, and weaker - in meeting their moral obligation to the first amendment.

The uproar in the track and field community may have influenced NBC into adding 500 additional hours of tape-delayed Olympic soap on NBC-owned cable networks MS-NBC, C-NBC and Pax. It came as no surprise that the additional 500 hours did not include one minute of track and field.

Traditionally, the host nation of the Olympic Games produces a world television feed for distribution to the participating countries. Everybody in the world will be able to enjoy the feed produced by Australian television, except, you guessed it, the United States of America. Our National Broadcast Corporation paid 900 million dollars for the right to have its own television production from Sydney.

The economics of sending television crews half-way around the world notwithstanding, NBC argues that the American viewer is more interested in gossip than competition. NBC's market research comes no surprise among a viewership that watches Survivor and Big Brother. Thus, NBC will bring us Michael and Mo whether they qualify or not. NBC will show us every one of Marion's long jumps whether she wins or not. NBC will show none of the distance events because their research shows that the attention span of the American viewer is 19.32 seconds.

Adding insult to injury, the International Olympic Committee declared a ban on any audio or video rebroadcasts of the Sydney feed on the Internet. The IOC justified its decision as protecting the investment of national broadcast corporations, read NBC. The IOC went further and prohibited posting any results on web sites until several hours after an event.

All is not lost. For those of us who wish to watch more than one mile of running, namely five replays each of MJ's sprints and MJ's jumps, there is hope in the skies. Those with direct satellite television may be able to receive numerous foreign feeds with live Olympic coverage. Also, if sunspots cooperate, our proximity to Ontario will allow many to receive Canadian television broadcasts from Kingston.

Finally - I never imagined myself suggesting this solution after the fiasco with the Junior Olympics - you may consider moving to Buffalo for the duration of the games. There, you can watch 18-hours-a-day of live Olympic coverage on the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's five channels directly from Toronto.

Kamal Jabbour has reacquainted himself with his 20-year-old short-wave radio, and dusted off his French and German in preparation for Sydney. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

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