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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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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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NFL icon John Madden decides to quit broadcasting

By Calvin Palmer

Sunday night football games on TV will not be the same next season following the decision by John Madden to quit as the analyst on NBC’s Sunday night NFL game.

The popular broadcaster has decided to take a permanent time out after three decades of game analysis.

For the past three seasons he has featured on NBC’s Sunday night NFL game. His last broadcast was the Super Bowl between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It’s time,” Madden said. “I’m 73 years old. My 50th wedding anniversary is this fall. I have two great sons and their families and their five grandchildren are at an age now when they know when I’m home and, more importantly, when I’m not.”

Such is his love of the game and the job that it took him two months of careful deliberation to reach his decision.

His down-to-earth approach, knowledgeable insight and avuncular manner made him a favorite with football fans.

His Madden NFL Football is the top-selling sports video game of all time.

Madden’s playing career in pro football began in 1958 with the Philadelphia Eagles but was cut short after 12 months when he suffered a career-ending knee injury.

He turned to coaching at Buffalo State College in 1960 but it was his success in making San Diego State Aztecs a formidable team that led to his appointment as linebackers coach with the Oakland Raiders in 1967.

Two years later he was named as the Raiders head coach and at the age of 32 became pro football’s youngest head coach in what was then the American Football League.

In his 13 years with the Raiders, Madden led the team to its first Super Bowl win, a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in January 1977.

In 1979 he joined CBS and worked with the network until 1994 when it lost broadcast rights to NFL games.

He joined Fox, leaving in 2002 to become the lead analyst for ABC’s Monday Night Football.

Madden joined NBC in 2006 when it inaugurated a prime-time Sunday game. In the same year he was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]

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Ohuruogu atones for earlier misses

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.

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Rules bar Liukin’s path to gold

By Calvin Palmer

The Women’s Uneven Bars Final in Beijing became shrouded in controversy when America’s Nastia Liukin and China’s Kexin He tied with a score of 16.750.  In other events, when two competitors tie in a winning position they share the medal.  A case in point is the Women’s 100m Final; Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart finished in a dead heat for second place and both received a silver medal.
 
In gymnastics, where the ultimate arbiter is not the clock but the subjective ratings by a panel of six judges, when two competitors tie in a medal position a tie-breaking algorithm is initiated.
 
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has established six tie-breakers and He edged Liukin for the gold medal on the second level tie-breaker – the average of the three lowest of the four counting B-jury deductions.
 
The judges in gymnastics comprise two panels.  The A panel scores a competitor on the basis of the actual routine.  The A score starts at zero. The B panel makes deductions based on how the routine is executed.  The B score starts at 10.
 
Liukin’s B scores ranged from 9.3 to 8.8; her deductions ranged from 0.7 to 1.2 points.  He’s B scores ranged from 9.3 to 8.9; her deductions ranged from 0.7 to 1.1 points.
 
The first tie-breaker drops the highest and lowest deductions and averages out the remaining four deductions.  In this case, Liukin and He both had an average of 0.975 points for the middle four scores.  The second tie-breaker drops the highest deduction and averages the remaining three scores, which gave He an average deduction of 0.933 points to Liukin’s 0.966 points, hence the gold medal went to He.
 
Those rules were not introduced five minutes before the Uneven Bars Final began.  They were introduced in 2006 .  So why Liukin had a puzzled look on her face escapes me.  It is clear neither she nor her coach and father, Valeri, had done their homework.
 
Liukin looks a reasonably intelligent girl to me but could be forgiven for not having the rules and regulations at her fingertips because her focus is on her performance in the competition.  But her father, as her coach, should have known.  I cannot think of a professional coach in any field of sport who would not know the rules of the sport in which they coached.
 
When Liukin looked to her father as if to say, “What is going on?”  Instead of giving her an equally baffled look, he should have said, “They have implemented the tie-breaker and your deductions must have been higher.”  It is as simple as that.
 
Liukin’s mystified look, it was only lacking an indignant “Whatever,” only served to light the fires of American paranoia that started with the NBC commentators and quickly spread to the American print media.  For all their whining and complaining, there is no escaping the rules that govern the competition.  And those rules were applied accurately.
 
Failing to find any wrongdoing in that quarter, NBC proceeded to call into question the competency of the judges.  In order to avoid any bias, the judges selected cannot be a national of one of the competing teams.  NBC suggested that because the judges do not, therefore, come from the United States, Russia or China, countries with a long tradition of gymnastics, they are somehow unable to judge competently.
 
NBC even went on to say that of the six judges, four came from countries that had never produced an Olympic medalist.  Excuse me, but what has that got to do with their ability to judge?  It was almost as if NBC was implying that the judges were people who had just walked in off the street.
 
And then of course the American media had to find someone to blame.  When the score sheets were tallied, it emerged that the Australian judge, Helen Colagiuri, separated the two competitors by 0.3 in He’s favor.  The other five judges separated the two gymnasts by 0.1 or 0.2 points.  As I write, I expect Stealth bombers are on their way to Sydney to mete out retribution for Australia’s treachery.
 
The system of scoring may not be perfect.  How can it be?  It involves humans.  But the tie-breaking was applied in accordance with the rules and the decision should have been accepted with good grace.  And it was by Liukin, eventually. 
 
It is the American media that needs to take the stars, and stripes, out of its eyes and report with a little more objectivity.  Had this issue involved a Ukrainian competitor instead of one from the United States, I doubt there would have been little more than a murmur of complaint.
 
Clearly, the sport of gymnastics needs to undertake a PR campaign to explain the complexities of the scoring before 2012 and the next Olympic Games in London.  And maybe commentators should offer an explanation at the start of each event.  It took research for this article for me to discover the intricacies of the scoring and judging.  Even now, I am still baffled by the concept of the start value but am able to see how it can play a part in the final score and nullify some of the more easily discerned errors a competitor makes.
 
The simple solution to avoiding this kind of controversy in the future is to award two medals if two gymnasts have exactly the same score.  That principle applies to the World Gymnast Championships, according to the FIG rules, but not to Olympic competition.  It is up to the sport’s governing body in America, along with the governing bodies of other countries, to press the IOC for this sensible change.

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Silver puts U.S. girls under a cloud

They looked like girls at a high school dance with whom nobody wanted to dance.  Their faces had that bored sulky look because someone else was the center of attention.  And the rapturous roars of approval from the crowd served to remind them that it was the Chinese women’s gymnastic team.  I use the term “women” in the loosest sense.

Just like in Athens four years ago, the American girls had to settle for the silver medal in Beijing.  On both of these occasions, Team USA had entered the Olympic competition as reigning world champions and expectations ran high.  But in any sporting event, a competitor or team is only as good as the next game or event.  What happened in the past is the past and it is all about how well you perform in the present.  Last night, the American girls did not perform to the best of their abilities.  But it happens and that human frailty, coupled with consummate skill, is what makes sport, any sport, such compulsive viewing.
 
The American girls may have felt that because of the mistakes that occurred they lost the gold medal.  But how can you lose something that is not in your possession?  They did not lose gold.  They won silver.  And I will wager that the Romanian girls, who finished third in the competition, would swap places with the American girls in a heartbeat.
 
Even before the competition began, the NBC commentators were tipping the Chinese team to win but thought it would be a close run thing between them and Team USA.  The American mistakes only served to make the winning margin greater than it might otherwise have been.  The American girls did not hand China the gold medal.
 
It was the beam exercise that heralded the downfall, quite literally, of Team USA.  Alicia Sacramone begins her routine with an adventurous somersault to mount the four-inch wide length of wood.  On this occasion, after being kept waiting an inordinate amount of time to start, she somersaulted on to the beam but could not maintain her balance.  Her arms flailed as she desperately struggled to remain upright but the force of gravity prevailed.
 
Many of us in Alicia’s predicament would probably have run out of the stadium, grabbed our belongings and boarded the first available flight back home.  But Alicia is made of sterner stuff.  She regained her composure, climbed back on the beam and completed the rest of her exercise faultlessly.  Now that took some doing.
 
My heart went out to Alicia when she fell; my admiration grew for her as she conducted herself with tremendous dignity after completing her routine.  She avoided the usual American tendency, both male and female, for histrionics.  Her eyes did well up but she forced back the tears and maintained what the British call a stiff upper lip.  One can only imagine the thoughts that were racing round inside her head but she kept her anger, annoyance and frustration to herself. 
 
That fall either unsettled Alicia or it just wasn’t her night.  In the floor exercise, she came out of one of her somersaults, lost her footing and landed flat on her back.  Moments later she incurred another penalty when she stepped out of bounds; an error subsequently repeated by teammates Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson.
 
When Alicia came off the floor, she kept a brave face but knelt on the steps as if in prayer then held her head in her hands.  When the she stood up, her composure was still intact but, on this occasion, a few tears did roll and who could blame her.
 
In America the emphasis is on winning.  The word “loser” is often used as a term of derision.  But life, like the Olympic Games, is not all about winning.  How someone handles defeat, or a setback, is a far greater indication of a person’s strength of character.  In that respect, Alicia Sacramone gave a golden performance last night and was an object lesson to us all.  She did her country and herself proud.

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