Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Escapades in Early Music, Writing, and Editing

Thoughts on the Olympics

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Every four years, my family and I are frustrated at Olympic coverage. Oh, I don’t just mean the usual US-centric complaint, or the banal announcer comments, or even that all they seem to show is swimming, gymnastics, and a few team sports. It’s that they don’t cover some of our family favorites.

I don’t miss boxing, the focus of a lot of coverage in my childhood. I wouldn’t know what I was seeing with judo, wrestling, or dressage. It’s that the one sport that interests us as a family, sailing, either isn’t covered at all (as in previous years) or has really dreadful unedited, hidden in the deep-dark-recesses-of-the-NBC-website coverage, like this year.

I watched about an hour of the online sailing coverage the other day on the website. There was no narration at all, and the onshore announcer wasn’t recorded. We could hear the lovely susurration of the water against the boats and the creaking of lines, and even the occasional shout from a sailor. But as far as announcing who had to round the mark a second time, who was disqualified and why, those were muffled comments picked up so poorly from the at-sea cameras that they couldn’t be understood.

They did have cameras onshore, though, just not near the announcer. They panned across the people in the crowd (not an insignificant crowd, either), and we could hear those conversations quite clearly. They just didn’t bother to set the cameras up for onshore announcer sound. I checked several of the recordings (there were dozens of them, thank you!), but none had better sound. I didn’t see the medal race—perhaps they had sound there?—because they wanted my email address and login information, and I didn’t want to get on their mailing list. I only wanted to watch the sailing. Fortunately, I could get to the final results without signing in (and what a surprise the medalists were!), so I know how it all worked out. But it was frustrating not to be able to watch the best of the best. Even if no Americans were in the particular medal race that I wanted to watch.

As an entertainment, I wrote my own narration to about an hour of the tape, pointing out the time stamp for significant events, in case I wanted to review them again. It was a lot of fun, really, and to me, made the point very clearly that sailing is quite exciting to watch. It’s more exciting to be on the boat, of course, but watching is a lot of fun too.

Then a friend commented on Facebook that he didn’t think rhythmic gymnastics seemed like a sport, that it seemed more like Cirque du Soleil. Hmm. It IS a lot like Cirque. Does that make it not a sport? It takes a lot of years of plain ordinary gymnastics and dance and THEN working with a prop, which means hand/eye coordination, to be any good at it. Yes, it is dancelike and entertaining on more levels than simply outrunning someone might be. But does that make it not a sport?

I started thinking of other sports where there seems to be even less athletic prowess, in my uneducated opinion. Like shooting.

Shooting an arrow from a bow is probably pretty hard. Shooting a gun might even be hard. But basically, both bow and gun shooting are about maneuvering a prop, about eye/hand coordination. Dressage looks like the hard part is controlling the animal, which could be loosely interpreted as a prop too. But the success of dressage performance depends entirely on the athleticism (and mood) of the animal, not the rider. Do people doubt that these things are sports? I mean, basically, someone stands or sits and points their prop, and hopes that they do it more accurately than anyone else. Now, I’m not doubting that there is some considerable skill involved, but are these things sports?

Throwing something, or lifting something really heavy, those are sports, right? Once again, it seems like manipulation of props, but to me, these things involve more than good eye/hand coordination. They also involve some sort of honing and refining of physical strength. There aren’t quite as many tricks to the shot put as doing a double back flip with a twist while catching a 5-inch ball on the sole of your foot in time with music, but, still.

Today, I was watching the long-distance swimming that was considered exciting enough to be shown on network TV. I have to say, after a half hour of coverage, it didn’t seem like as much happened as had happened in ten minutes of the sailing once the races began. In fact, it seemed like less. All that showed of the swimmers were their swimming caps and some splash. There was some jockeying for position, but basically, the same person who’d led the pack won. I did find the bow-wave-like ripples in the water that spread from the pack of swimmers to be quite beautiful. And there were panning shots of the audience. It looked like not quite as many people showed up for that as for the sailing. The viewing area wasn’t as deep, so I can’t be sure.

So maybe there is something more relatable about the swimming? No, that can’t be it. I’m pretty sure none of us can truly imagine that we are beating Bolt in the 200M dash, out-butterflying Phelps, or holding ourselves effortlessly in the Iron Cross position on the still rings.

Like shooting, sailing is about maneuvering a prop in terms of prevailing wind (and water) conditions. But it has the added excitement of being a race, the people in the boats have a lot of strength in their cores, limbs, and fingers, they have the stamina to sustain the effort for at least an hour and possibly all day, day after day, and they need tactical intelligence both against other sailors and against the wind and water.

So why does sailing get less attention than long distance swimming? Go on and see for yourself. Look it up on the NBC site. You’ll see. After the usual dithering around before the race begins (ten minutes or so), it’s pretty darned exciting.

Written by Melanie Spiller

August 10, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Thoughts

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