Category Archives: Olympics

Common decency divides two nations

By Calvin Palmer

Two gymnasts entered the North Greenwich Arena at the London Olympics yesterday with the expectation of walking away with a gold medal for an individual event. One was American; the other was British. One was female; the other male.

Mckayla Maroney, one of America’s Fab Five gymnasts who took gold in the team event, was competing in the vault. In the build up to the event, NBC presented her with typical American hype and depicted her in a series of photographs that would not have looked out of place in a men’s glamour magazine. For the record, Maroney is only 16.

In the arena, Maroney strutted around with a look of smug confidence that only Americans can conjure up. The look on her face simply said: “The gold medal is mine. I don’t know why these other girls have bothered turning up.” We saw that look of hubris quite a bit during NBC’s coverage because Maroney was competing seventh out of eight competitors.

Eventually, her turn came. Her first vault was the best in the competition and partly justified that smug look on her face. Her second vault ended in disaster – she landed in a sitting position.

Maroney lands in a sitting position during the vault competition (AP Photo/Gregory Bull).

Occasionally, nemesis has a habit of striking the right person and no one was more deserving of her fate than Maroney.

The final competitor, Sandra Izbasa of Romania, completed two less complex vaults with few errors and outscored the American to take the gold medal.

What followed seemed to reinforce the sense of nemesis. Maroney, like a spoiled brat, failed to congratulate the Romanian girl. In fact, the Romanian girl, with good grace, went to console Maroney with a hug. Maroney was unresponsive, looking over the Romanian girl’s right shoulder with a stony sulky stare, consumed in her own disappointment.

In the men’s pommel horse event, Great Britain’s Louis Smith had high hopes of winning a gold medal event after he recorded the highest score in the qualifying round.

The pressure was on Smith after Hungarian rival Krisztian Berki delivered a flawless routine that earned a score of 16.066. Smith rose to the challenge and matched the Hungarian’s effort. With both men scoring 16.006, the gold medal went to Berki who had a marginally higher execution score – 9.166 to Smith’s 9.066.

Four years ago, Smith suffered a similar fate in Beijing when he tied with Croatia’s Filip Ude for silver but lost out in the tie-break and ended up with bronze.

Once the result had sunk in, Smith – unlike the petulant Maroney – walked over to Berki and warmly congratulated the gold medal winner in the true spirit of sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship from Smith and Berki. Picture courtesy of metropol.hu.

Smith will have won a great many admirers for the dignified manner in which he handled his disappointment. Maroney’s behaviour earned her zero points for how to cope with defeat. Her behaviour was anything but fabulous.

The face of a champion: Mckayla Maroney on the medal rostrum after only winning silver in the vault event. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

No one likes a sore loser and Maroney was sore in more senses of the word than one. She did herself, and her country, no favours with her conduct yesterday.

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British athletes create an Olympic night to remember

By Calvin Palmer

Sporting events conjure up many memorable moments but I doubt I will witness anything more moving or memorable than the medal ceremony of Olympic heptathlon winner Jessica Ennis.

The award of her gold medal crowned an evening of great British achievements that started with the Women’s Pursuit Team of Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell burning their American rivals off the track to claim not only Olympic gold but also a new world record, breaking the one they set in the opening round of the competition.

From the Velodrome, the action moved to the Olympic Stadium where Great Britain was in with a chance of claiming three gold medals in one session of an Olympic games for the very first time.

Ennis had the gold medal in her grasp even before she stepped out on the track for the final event of the women’s heptathlon. She surpassed herself in both the long jump and javelin earlier in the day. Ennis just needed to run the 800 metres event in a decent time to ensure the gold medal.

She did more than that.

Ennis led the field from start to finish, winning the race in magnificent style and racking up a total of 6,995 points, 306 points ahead of Germany’s Lilli Schwarzkopf in silver and 327 clear of world champion Tatyana Chernova in bronze.

There was hardly time to draw breath before Great Britain chalked up its second athletics gold medal of the night when Greg Rutherford won the long jump. His fourth round of jump of 8.31metres (27 feet and 3.1 inches for Americans) was enough to give him the gold medal, and for the first time since Lynn Davies won gold in the long jump at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. I hate to say it but I remember that.

The crowning glory to make it a night to remember not only for British athletics but also the whole of Britain came when Mo Farah stormed home to win the 10,000 metres race. Farah made his move just before the sound of the bell for the last lap of the race. He stepped up a gear that left the other competitors trailing behind. They tried to catch him but Farah proved unassailable and supreme.

On this magnificent evening, I doubt there is not an expat anywhere in the world who does not feel immensely proud to be British. I know I certainly do, although times of great British elation are also accompanied here in Northeast Florida by the loneliness of the long-distance runner.

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Did NBC doctor the soundtrack of the women’s team gymnastic event?

By Calvin Palmer

When I watched the live broadcast of the women’s team gymnastic event on BBC One, I was not aware of the North Greenwich Arena erupting in huge roars every time an American gymnast competed. The only loud cheers I heard were when the British girls were performing their exercises and routines.

Several hours elapsed between the end of the event and its broadcast on NBC TV. The technology certainly exists to alter a soundtrack. Did NBC TV doctor the soundtrack of the women’s team gymnastic event?

Watching the evening broadcast by NBC, one would be forgiven for thinking that the women’s team gymnastic event was only contested by three teams – the USA; the Russian Federation; and Romania. It also appeared from the NBC coverage that the Romania team comprised just one competitor.

There is editing and editing. NBC absolutely butchered the live coverage.

In an NBC interview with Michael Phelps, who has become the most decorated Olympic competitor of all time, the American swimmer said that it has been an honour representing the greatest country in the world. America may be great in many things but accurate TV reporting of events does not appear to be one of them.

NBC’s coverage of the women’s team gymnastic event reminded me of the kind of reporting associated with the old Soviet Communist regime, totally biased and a completely inaccurate representation of the actual events that took place in the North Greenwich Arena yesterday afternoon.

It would be an interesting excercise to compare the soundtrack of the BBC’s live coverage of the event with NBC’s edited highlights.

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NBC goes for dollars in TV coverage of London Olympics

By Calvin Palmer

I am beginning to think NBC stands for No Bloody Coverage when it comes to watching the 2012 Olympic Games on TV.

Already we have had the farce of the Opening Ceremony not being broadcast live in America and it appears that decision has set the tone for the entire coverage from London.

The women’s team gymnastics event was scheduled to start at 11:30 am ET. I switched on my TV, only to find that NBC was showing women’s rowing instead. To watch the women’s team gymnastics in HDTV, I have to wait until 8:00 pm ET and then it will be the edited highlights, which basically means America, America and America to the virtual exclusion of everyone else taking part.

As far as NBC is concerned it appears that if Americans are not competing in an event or have no chance of winning, the event simply doesn’t exist, at least on HDTV.

NBC is providing a livestream of events and what a treat it is to view that on the computer.

I was forced to switch to the NBC livestream of the women’s team gymnastics when BBC One’s coverage, I have found a web site that gives an excellent livestream, ended prematurely for the BBC Six O’Clock News.

The BBC coverage showed the women gymnasts from the USA, Russia, China, Romania, Japan, Canada and, of course, Great Britain. I did wonder why no Italian competitor was shown in action. I guess that was payback for England’s defeat at the hands of Italy in the Euro 2012 Championships.

Watching the NBC livestream coverage you would be forgiven for thinking that Great Britain was not even taking part. In America it is all about winners, so the focus was only on those teams in contention for the medals, although they did feature a couple of the Canadian competitors, I suppose as a sop to its northern neighbour.

Any notion of a special relationship existing between the USA and Great Britain apparently does not exist in the minds of TV executives at NBC. I am not even sure it exists in the minds of many Americans.

And whereas the BBC’s coverage was uninterrupted, the NBC livestream was punctuated every couple of minutes with an adverts for Chevrolet cars – the same two adverts repeated ad nauseum.

In his speech at the Opening Ceremony, Lord Coe said:

“There is a truth to sport … a purity , a drama, an intensity.”

NBC is tarnishing and manipulating that truth and purity with its blatant pursuit of maximizing its advertising revenue. In America, it is all about money; truth and purity were sold off during the Nixon era, perhaps even before.

The Los Angeles bureau chief of The Independent, Guy Adams, has been banned from Twitter for voicing his criticism of NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games in London. Whatever happened to America, land of the free? America, land where nothing is free would be more apt.

Will my criticisms of the broadcasting company result in me being banned from WordPress? We shall see.

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Beijing leaves a rich legacy

By Calvin Palmer

What do we do now?  For the past 16 days, the Olympic Games in Beijing have gripped TV audiences across the world.  People have marveled at the amazing feats of honest human endeavor; the levels of speed, endurance, grace and agility that the human body is capable of.  I include myself among the many who have probably stared at their flabby and out-of-condition bodies and said, “Where did it all go wrong?”
 
Yesterday, the curtain came down on an Olympic Games that has surpassed all others.  From the comfort of our sofas, we have witnessed not only sporting history in the making, on the track and in the Water Cube, but also one of the greatest spectacles in living memory.  In the latter respect, the Beijing Games will be a hard act for London to follow when the Olympic flower blooms once again in 2012.
 
Beijing will go down as the games where Michael Phelps emerged as one of the greatest Olympians of all time, winning eight gold medals to beat the record set by Mark Spitz in 1972.  Two of those eight gold medals provided edge-of-the-seat excitement – the Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay, where Phelps had to rely on Jason Lezak to swim the race of his life to overhaul France’s Alain Bernard in the last couple of meters; and the Men’s 100m Butterfly, where Phelps just beat Serbia’s Milorad Cavic by a fingertip.
 
Those eight gold medals for Phelps, described by some as the great haul of China, brought his gold medal tally to 14, the most any Olympic competitor has won.  He plans to add to that total in London.
 
The gymnastic competition saw the ascendancy of China’s men and also the never-say-die attitude of the USA men’s team, which secured them a bronze medal.  The USA women’s team sulked as the controversial Chinese team took gold. But in the individual competitions, the grace of Nastia Liukin and energy of the irrepressible Shawn Johnson won our hearts.  Investigations are still ongoing to find out whether the Chinese did field under-age girls. 
 
A touching moment came in the men’s super-heavyweight weightlifting when Germany’s Matthias Steiner unexpectedly snatched gold from the favorite, Evgeny Chigishev of Russia.  Steiner was beside himself with joy, for a big man to be so delighted looked somehow comical.  But at the medal ceremony, a poignant moment came when Steiner displayed his medal and a photograph of his wife to the cameras.  His wife was killed last year in a car accident.
 
The track events provided the biggest, in every sense of the word, sensation of these games.  The Jamaican giant Usain Bolt, at 6 feet 5 inches, towered above his rivals in the 100m and 200m finals to perform phenomenal sprints not only to take gold but also set two world records.  His blistering pace in the Men’s 4x100m Relay Final helped put the Jamaican team on course for gold in another world record time.  Three gold medals, three world records and the headlines rightly proclaimed him as Lightning Bolt.
 
His personality will stand out from these games just as much as his running.  Bolt exudes fun and the Jamaican laid-back manner.  He is undoubtedly the best sprinter the world has ever seen but his greatness also embraces the ability to clown, a rare quality these days when sport has become such a serious business, with the emphasis on winning rather than taking part.
 
It was impossible not to warm to Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican athletes.  They set a shining example of how sport should be conducted — play hard, give it your best and, if you win, celebrate.  Shelly-Ann Fraser’s delight at winning the Women’s 100m Final was a joy to watch.  And if you fail to win, as Jamaica did in the Women’s 4x100m Relay Final, you just accept it as part of life; no excuses and no recriminations.
 
Jamaica’s response to a clean sweep of the medals in the Women’s 100m Final was in marked contrast to the USA’s clean sweep of the medals in the Men’s 400m Final.  LaShawn Merrit’s in-your-face attitude and Jeremy Wariner’s sneer may win races but few friends.  They should learn from colleague David Neville about good grace and charm.
 
Being British, I have to say that I am extraordinarily proud of the exploits of the GB Team In Beijing.  Fourth in the medal table and fourth in the number of gold medals won were the stuff of dreams before these games.  The British athletes have set the standard for greater things to come in 2012.  And with home advantage, who knows what Britain’s medal tally will be?
 
British officials are already saying that they have no plans to compete with the scale of the Beijing Games and that the London Games will aim for something quite different, promising a more fun-loving and relaxed atmosphere.  I have a feeling it is going to be an event where pop and rock meet sport; a party mood that sees the regeneration of Cool Britannia.
 
Just how free and relaxed the London Games turn out to be remains to be seen.  In these days of world terrorism, security is going to have to be tight and it may curtail the organizers’ hopes.  I can imagine terrorist groups are presently in the process of submitting bids to the International Terrorist Committee for the right to attempt to disrupt the London Games by some heinous act and thereby grab headlines across the world.  Forget Cool Britannia, it may well be a case of Fortress Britannia in 2012.
 
For now, the baton has been passed from Beijing to London and all our personal planners should have July 27, 2012 entered in as the date of the opening ceremony of the XXX Olympiad.  London becomes the first city to stage the Olympic Games three times, having previously hosted them in 1908 and 1948. 
 
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said yesterday, “London is the sporting capital of the world.  Sport is coming home and we are going to give those sports an Olympic Games to do Britain proud, to do London proud and to do the world proud.”  I hope he is right.

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Times-Union lags behind on ceremony

By Calvin Palmer

Timing is everything.  In the fiercely competitive world of the media, it is critical.  I have seen night editors fired for not carrying a late-breaking news story.  A newspaper can look decidedly amateurish if it misses out on a story that all the other papers are carrying the next day.
 
Jacksonville’s newspaper, The Florida Times-Union, falls into a class of its own.  It appears, as we British say, half-soaked in terms of its news values and that has nothing to do with the copious amounts of rain Tropical Storm Fay dumped on the city last week.
 
Somehow, the editorial staff at The Florida Times-Union seems to march to the beat of a different drum than the rest of the newspaper world.  And in the light of today’s edition, they also seem to march at a slower pace. 
 
The Viewpoint page, or op-ed page as it is known in the trade, carries a piece by Mark Powell, a freelance journalist who specializes in identifying error in major media and public facilities.  Powell wrote about the Chinese flag being carried upside down in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games.  Yes, you did read that right, the opening ceremony.
 
I eagerly await Powell’s future piece about The Florida Times-Union carrying his article the day after the closing ceremony and two weeks too late, although I doubt I will see it published in The Florida Times-Union.
 
Given that yesterday was the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, an event with a global audience, I was also surprised the story, and a photograph, failed to make the front page of The Florida Times-Union.  It’s that different drum again.  The main story, or splash as it is termed in the newsroom, was about students starting back at universities and colleges.  It also featured a picture of parents and students carrying stuff into a university dorm.  I bet Reuters flashed that one around the world pretty sharpish.
 
As to the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, it was relegated to the front page of the Sports Section and shunted to the bottom of the page, with a photograph whose size was more in keeping with a story about students carrying belongings into a dorm.
 
If the publishers of The Florida Times-Union are concerned by the newspaper’s declining profits, instead of blaming falling advertising revenue in the face of the economic downturn, they might care to look at the product they are producing.   Putting real news stories on the front page would be a step in the right direction.
 
Employing more journalists, of the caliber of Ron Littlepage who is not afraid to tell it how it is, rather than lifting stories from other newspapers in the United States would be another good move.  The two Beijing stories on the front of the Sports Section come from The Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.  That really helps to give the paper a local feel to it.
 
Jacksonville is a city and deserving of a daily newspaper of merit.  It may not be able to aspire to the great newspapers of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles but what it is getting at the moment is effectively the content of a weekly newspaper produced on a daily basis.  Such an approach not only does a great disservice to the city but also the newspaper itself.  I am sure that I am not alone in referring to The Florida Times-Union as The Jacksonville Joke.

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Jamaica’s day of triumph and disaster

By Calvin Palmer

Usain Bolt and the Jamaica 4x100m men’s relay team yesterday powered their way to Olympic gold at Beijing and set a new world record.
 
To everybody’s surprise, Bolt ran the third leg and handed the baton to Asafa Powell who stormed to the finishing line a good 10 meters clear of second place Trinidad & Tobgo. Jamaica’s win in 37.10 seconds took 0.3 seconds off the world record set by the United States in 1992.
 
Nesta Carter and Michael Frater ran the first two legs for Jamaica and put their team in a strong position.  Frater smoothly handed the baton to Bolt who ran the final bend and destroyed the field.  Despite a jittery hand over to anchor man Powell, the race had only one outcome.  It seemed an age before Trindad & Tobago crossed the line to claim silver with a time of 38.06 seconds.  Japan clocked 38.15 seconds to win bronze.
 
For Bolt, who turned 22 on Thursday, it was three wins out of three, his third gold medal and third world record in the games.  Earlier in the games, he won the 100m and 200m finals and also set new world records.
 
“I can’t explain how I feel,” Bolt told The Guardian newspaper. “”Jamaica has done well at these Games and we’re looking forward to going home. Sitting with these guys is wonderful. These guys came out and we had fun.”
 
And fun has certainly been Bolt’s trademark throughout the Beijing Games.  Has there ever been a runner who has achieved such success and, at the same time, brought such a sense of fun to the track?  Previous greats of the athletic track have had an intensity and seriousness that made it difficult to warm to them.  Bolt and the rest of Jamaica’s athletes have shown the world the joy of winning and the fun of competing.
 
Bolt’s sense of fun before and after a race has now been matched by his largesse.  As an expression of thanks for the wonderful time he has enjoyed in China, he donated $50,000 of his own money to the relief fund for the victims of the Sechuan earthquake.  Maybe that will diffuse the criticism of his showboating style.
 
But while the Jamaican men triumphed, the strongly tipped women’s 4x100m relay team, which looked an absolute certainty for gold, was disqualified earlier in the day after a disastrous hand over.  Sherone Simpson tried to hand the baton to Kerron Stewart’s right and then to her left.  In the process, Stewart looked round and in doing so ran out of her lane and collided with the British girls, Montell Douglas and Emily Freeman, who were unable to complete their hand over.
 
The Russian women raced to the line to take the gold medal.  The Belgian girls claimed silver and the first medal for their country at the Beijing Games.  Nigeria won the bronze.
 
The Jamaican girls were obviously disappointed but Shelly-Ann Fraser summed up the attitude of Jamaica’s athletes when she told The Jamaica Observer, “It’s a part of life, stuff like this happens. We can’t curse because we had a great Olympics and we’re happy anyway.”
 
The Jamaican government is planning to honor Jamaica’s Olympic athletes with a massive homecoming celebration.  Given the happy disposition of Jamaican people, it should be quite a party.

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