We must now suffer through the worst thing in the world: NBC's coverage of track & field. I'm not sure if I can take it.
The U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials are underway, and, like the Olympics, they are being covered by NBC. And that coverage is abysmal. As I mentioned, I planned to stay up on Friday to watch Blake run the 10k. (She finished 5th by the way, and looks set up for a strong showing in the Olympic marathon.) I stayed up also watched some of the coverage on Sunday night. I'm not liking what I've been seeing. Since I've been reading and listening to the podcasts over at Runnerville, especially the Toni & Matt Show (which is excellent), I've listened to them lament the poor treatment of track & field on television. And, you know what? They don't complain about it enough.
Let me explain: The race started at 12:20am EST with approximately 20 entrants. However, they basically ignored all but 5 or 6 runners. At the beginning of the race, they explained that in order to go to the Olympics, runners needed to meet a specific qualifying time, the Olympic "A" standard. There were a handful of women in the race that had run that time already this season. In that group, were the two favorites: American Record Holder Shalane Flanagan and World Championships Bronze Medalist Kara Goucher and two other runners—Molly Huddle and Katie McGregor. There were others on the list, but NBC failed to acknowledge them. If another runner were to make that standard, she needed to do it in this race. No chasing the time after the Trials. However, if the third place finisher did not get the A standard the Olympic the next best finisher with the A standard would be on the Olympic team.
Due to the dominance of Flanagan and Goucher the commentators, Tom Hammond and Ed Eyestone, stated that everyone else was racing for a single spot, but again they really only mentioned McGregor and Huddle as having a chance. The race started slowly, and 400 meters into a 10,000 meter race Ed Eyestone announced that there was no way anyone was going to get the A standard in this race. Eyestone himself is an Olympic marathoner, and he should know that anything can happen in a race the length of a 10k. Which is in fact what happened. From what I could tell (More on the cut aways in a minute), it was an awesome race, Eventually, Flanagan and Goucher broke away with Amy Begley on their heels. (She actually took the lead at one point, but we didn't get to see that.) Begley ended up third and she did get the A standard by just 1.5 seconds. It was electric. The announcers did show some excitement, but not until the final lap. Since I knew what was going on, I was riveted to the TV, but for the average joe on the street, they wouldn't have known what was going on. Note to Eyestone: it is possible to explain and be excited at the same time.
As I mentioned, there were 20 or so women in the race. A number of them had tried to make the Olympics in the marathon. This was their second and final shot. No mention of that. Certainly would have made the coverage more interesting, and given viewers an idea of how much was riding on this race. Speaking of the marathon, there were two members of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon in the race: Blake Russell and Magdalena Lewy Boulet. Magdalena led for a bit, so they mentioned her. At one point, Blake was running with McGregor (whom they'd practically given the third Olympic team spot to by 8k), and you could hear Tom Hammond ruffling his papers trying to find out her name. She's an Olympian! Do your friggin' homework! (Granted, this probably pissed me off more because I know her, but seriously get it together.)
What was most annoying was the constant cut aways. I understand that not many of us really want to watch the entire 32 or so minutes of a 10k. It's about ratings and advertising. I get that. But... Cutting away to show prelims of other events with very little bearing on much. "Here's another event in which the favorite advanced easily with no drama." They also showed an extended puff piece on Alicia and Ryan Shay. (Ryan Shay tragically passed away during the Men's Olympic Marathon trials...more here.) Now, I don't want to sound like an insensitive jerk here because it's a terribly painful story. I can't imagine how hard things must be for her right now...and every day. She was scheduled to run the 10k, but was out due to injury. She wasn't even in the race, and they spent 5 minutes talking about her. The race was full of women with great stories. Focus on them. Again, I'm not saying we shouldn't remember Ryan Shay, but it's not relevant to the action on the track.
Speaking of the action on the track, each time there was a cut away or an ad, the race continued. The whole race would look different when they brought us back to the action, but they didn't explain what had happened. They just announced who was now in the lead and moved on. The didn't provide any information. I had to look at photos online and read accounts of the race to piece it together. And from what I can tell, some exciting moments happened...too bad I was listening to "This is Our Country" for 8 millionth time.
Apparently, the mood and feeling in Eugene for the Trials has been off the charts. It hasn't come through on TV. Toni Reavis has done a good job conveying the feeling of being in Eugene over at Runnerville. And, as always, LetsRun.com has been spot on with there recaps. Add in the recaps from FloTrack, and it's almost not worth watching it live. The coverage feels like it's just trying to fulfill an obligation. No passion.
That being said, I don't totally blame NBC. I caught a bit of the Olympic Swimming Trials, and while not perfect, the coverage was definitely superior. Rowdy Gaines does a great job of describing the action and informing the audience. He teaches while he excites. That's a big difference. (Although on the track side, I have to give some credit to Ato Bolden. He's been getting better and is a small bright spot.) But, the reason, I don't totally blame NBC because watching the swim meet, it's clear they've created theater. The on-site announcer is hyping the events. There are spotlights on the pool. It's a show. Maybe they're doing this in Eugene, but it doesn't come through. This has been talked about on Runnerville, but why can't we create theater for track? Make it a show. Highlight the athletes. The whole deal. It's entertainment.
Anyway, this has been a long rant. I doubt you've stuck through to the end. But it's really too bad that the biggest track meet in the nation is being so poorly covered. The athletes deserve better. We deserve better. That being said, I'll still be watching...and grumbling.