By Calvin Palmer
The Beijing games have already become a great success for the Great Britain Olympic Team. Christine Ohuruogu’s win in the Women’s 400m Final brought the tally of gold medals to 16, surpassing the country’s previous best haul achieved in 1908.
Living in Florida, and dependent on NBC for my Olympic Games coverage, I have largely missed out on this golden success. My daily sorties on the Internet have informed me of the wins by British athletes but I have had little opportunity to savor them first hand, so to speak.
If I sat glued to every minute of NBC’s coverage of the Beijing games, no doubt I would have witnessed the British victories. However, the huge time difference between China’s capital and the East Coast of America makes it an unfeasible proposition. I am proud of my country but not to the point of staying up until five o’clock in the morning. And during the day, the only screen I am a slave to is the computer screen, not the TV.
NBC has set up a special Web site — http://www.nbcolympics.com/ – for its coverage of the Olympic Games. It contains a wealth of information, live video, replays and greatest hits. Live video is something of a misnomer because it only features items that have already been broadcast. When a company has paid in excess of $800 million for the rights to screen the Olympic Games, it wants people to watch the TV broadcast, thereby ensuring it recoups its outlay through advertising revenue.
When the British cycling team beat the French to win gold in the Men’s Team Sprint Final, it was a featured video on NBC’s Web page. I clicked on, waited for it to load, saw two seconds, waited for it load the next two seconds, watched those and then waited for it to load the next two seconds. It then froze, I gave up and have not been back since.
Last Sunday, NBC did air one of the British cycling victories and also one of the rowing finals where Britain won gold. I did not see either of those events. I only learned that they had been screened because my wife was upstairs getting herself ready to face the day, accompanied by the TV. Her shouts of “The British have just been on,” note the past tense, were hardly helpful.
If my daily newspaper gave a listing of events and the times they are going to be shown, it would enable me to cherry pick those that feature a victory by the GB team. But it does not. And they say we are living in an information age?
Up until last night, the only British gold medal I had seen live was Rebecca Adlington’s in the Women’s 400m Freestyle Final. That was early on in the games when swimming events virtually monopolized the TV coverage. I had no idea beforehand that it was coming on, I just happened to be watching TV when the final was broadcast.
Of late, NBC has become better at telling its viewers what is coming up in the next hour of its coverage. At 10:00 p.m. last night, I knew that within the next hour I would see the eagerly awaited, as far as I was concerned, Women’s 400m Final.
Both the men’s and women’s 400m races are, perhaps, my favorite races of all. The distance is the perfect length to test any runner in terms of endurance and sprint finish capability. With a winning time in the region of 45 seconds, it also lasts long enough for the various dramas to unfold.
The women’s final in Beijing was going to be even better because it featured a British win by a runner whose appearance at these games is a controversial talking point back in Britain. Ohuruogu missed three out-of-season drug tests two years ago and as a consequence was banned by the British Olympic Association from competing in future Olympic Games. But she got the lifetime ban overturned in November 2007 by the High Court in London.
Her main rival in the final, American Sanya Richards has strong views about athletes who use drugs. She told The Times newspaper, “I do think Christine Ohuruogu is fortunate, but her case was different. She never had a positive test and that made her case unique. She’s been working hard and, to me, she seems clean, but I do think she is fortunate.”
The American media have made the 23-year-old Richards one of the glamour girls of the Beijing games. She has all the right qualities – good-looking, articulate and ranked number one in the world. Her much publicized engagement to New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross has given her further celebrity status, as well as a seven-carat diamond engagement ring. All she needed was an Olympic gold medal to round everything off and, according to the media, it was a foregone conclusion.
NBC’s American-centric commentary team had built up Richards so much that they made the 400m final sound like it was going to be a walk in the park for her. Indeed, in the last 15 meters, it looked like Richards was walking as Ohuruogu powered through with blistering finishing speed to take the gold medal.
Ohuruogu’s finish put me in mind of a fast sports car, say a Corvette or Porsche, breezing past traffic on a freeway. It was worthy of a champion and may go some way to silencing her critics. She not only brought up a record tally of gold medals for Britain but also became the first British woman to win the 400m Olympic event. This historical significance was not uppermost in my mind, I was just thankful to have seen the race and Ohuruogu’s awesome power.