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Dr. J. on Running

Sydney 2000 Olympics

Soapcast Holds Us Hostage

Published October 10, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

They were supposed to be the Internet Olympics. A year ago, NBC promised us a multimedia coverage that extended beyond television onto the world-wide web. The nationwide reach of its television network, the two cable affiliates C-NBC and MSNBC, and a dedicated web site at, could have broadcast every lap of every race and every match of every game.

As the games concluded and the Olympic flame started its journey towards Athens, the 2000 Games ended up being an American spectator's worst nightmare. After paying a billion dollars for the exclusive rights to broadcast the games, NBC executives opted instead to soapcast them, reducing the purest form of Olympic competition into tape-delayed soap operas.

As the people of the poorest nations in the third world joined the wealthy citizens of the industrial world to watch Olympic competition live on their televisions, the citizens of the United States were alone to suffer the indignity of a total Olympic blackout. Indeed, NBC did not show a single minute of live Olympic competition.

As if delaying the Olympics by eighteen hours was not enough injury, NBC added insult by curtailing the coverage of competition and focusing on stories. Thus, outdoing their own pathetic coverage of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, NBC dug deeper to find stories of misery and handicap in creating athlete profiles.

Admitting that the 1996 coverage featured too many athletes with minor challenges, a senior NBC executive boasted that an athlete needed to have some really serious medical challenges to make it into their 2000 soapcasts. Indeed, a blind runner and a rowing amputee made the cut.

Of what little television coverage I watched, an NBC commentator managed to turn an American proud moment into a shameful disgrace. As Marla Runyan, the reigning American indoors national champion at 3,000 meters advanced to the final of the 1,500-meter race, the announcer yelled off the top of his voice: "the visually-impaired, legally-blind runner from the United States has advanced to the finals." Clearly, he could not see past the handicap to celebrate the achievement.

Justice prevailed in harsh way as the final joke was on NBC. The fatal assumption that the American public were too naive to appreciate competition hit NBC where it hurted most, in their ratings. As their audience dropped by over 30 percent below Atlanta's, and 20 percent below the that of the 1992 games in Barcelona, NBC executives promised advertisers free spots in the line-up of the upcoming Fall season.

A fitting ending to soapcast of the Olympics would have been an up-close-and-personal profile of those NBC executives who made the deliberate decision to deny the American public the choice of watching the Olympics. After all, those executives meet NBC's own standards for profiling the severely challenged.

We, the People, own the airwaves on which NBC broadcasts its signals. On our behalf, the Federal Communications Commission routinely solicits public input before renewing the broadcast license of a television station. The time has come to speak up if we want to watch any of the 2002, 2004, 2006 or 2008 Olympics, for which NBC has already bought the rights.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. 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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