Tag:Beijing
Posted on: September 12, 2008 4:06 pm
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Lack of Coverage of Paralympics is a Crime

Will someone slap me in the face? Please? Will someone bring me back to reality?

Not tomorrow or next week, not after Hurricane Ike destroys my apartment in the upcoming 24 hours, not on Saturday when I find out, but now. Slap me back to reality.

Maybe I've been brainwashed; maybe I've been lied to. Or, maybe, but unlikely, I am just missing something. The first two seem the likeliest.

This, the United States of America. This, the greatest, freest nation in the world. This, the superpower of the world, a leading power militarily, economically, communicationally, technologically, you name it.

And nowhere in it can I watch the Summer Paralympic Games.

Not on NBC, not on its subsidiaries, not online except for one event a night, that event usually being swimming or track. Nowhere.

You couldn't watch Erin Popovich, the American swimming sensation who won seven gold medals in Athens in 2004. Those, in addition to the three from Sydney and four she has won so far in Beijing give her 14 gold medals, the same amount as Michael Phelps.

Popovich was born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that restricts the growth of her limbs. Does that make her any less deserving of our attention?

You couldn't watch Jennifer Schuble, the American cyclist who won gold in the women's 500 meter time trial.

Schuble suffered two traumatic brain injuries, one while in commission officer training at West Point in 1996. She picked up the sport after the 2004 Summer Paralympics, becoming the best in the world in an ungodly short time.

You couldn't watch Jessica Long win two more gold medals to the three she won in Athens.

You couldn't watch Jerome Singleton take the silver in the men's 100 meter sprint.

You couldn't watch the men's goalball team stun top-seeded Slovakia in the quarterfinals, keeping alive longshot medal hopes in the sport designed for legally and totally blind persons.

If you were in Canada or Britain or China, or, well, any other major nation, you possibly could. You also probably would have heard when your athletes won.

The CBC in Canada is airing two hours of tape-delayed coverage on each of the four weekend days. It is also providing streaming video online.

The BBC in Great Britain is airing daily coverage, much of it live, both on air and online.

In the host China, up to ten hours a day of coverage is being broadcast on the state-owned television networks.

NBC? Nothing.

Yes, I know that NBC is not a state-owned network. I know it has to make a profit, and the Paralympics  will not do much to aid that attempt. Yet, NBC could do something.

NBC could sell or give the rights to the Paralympics, the rights it owns exclusively, to ESPN or another entity that would air the games.

NBC could air the events in poor time slots on its subsidiaries.

NBC could stream the events online for subscription. They already have access to the official olympic feed, so why not allow people to view it online.

But NBC has done just as much as nothing. It has put one event online each night on universalsports.com. It has made arrangements to air on tape delay a few events, not now, but in October, on the satellite network Universal HD. It has agreed to air one two-hour segment on NBC in October comprising the entire games.

The entire Paralympic games, all 471 medal events, in one small segment. Boy, that works.

And as I've already said, I understand the economic reasons behind everything. I get it. But NBC could at least do something.

There is a reason the United States is behind China and Great Britain in the gold medal count. There is a reason the United States has won barely more total medals than the Ukraine or Spain.

Nobody here knows that they are going on.

Sure, you probably have heard of the Paralympics. At the very least, you should have heard of them. But did you know that they are currently going on, that they've been going on for the past week?

I doubt it.

If anyone televised it, whether it was NBC or ESPN or even a fringe network like Versus, you can bet people will pay attention. In a world with enough people crazed for sports, we'll watch.

We'll watch, that is, if it is on.

And if it is on, some little boy or girl who is handicapped, whether mentally or physically, whether genetically or through some accident – it does not matter – will watch and say, “I want to be the next Erin Popovich.”

The same little boys or girls who last month watched Michael Phelps and wanted to be the next him, even though they know in their hearts that it can never be.

It's depressing to want something that you know you can never get, ever, no matter if everything goes your way.

And you can bet your behind that little kids in Canada and Great Britain and China have watched the Paralympics and become inspired to become a world champion.

The same world champion as Michael Phelps or Nastia Liukin or Serena and Venus Williams.

In the general scheme of it, there's no real difference between Phelps and Popovich: both have won 14 gold medals and are the best short-distance swimmers in the world.

Well, let me retract that last statement.

There's one real difference between the two: thanks to NBC, no one saw any of Popovich's remarkable achievements. No little boy or girl is going to idolize her.

And trust me, they should. There are no better athletes in the world.

There are Olympic equals, but none that are better.
Posted on: August 15, 2008 11:55 am
 

The Real Stories of Week One of the Olympics

There is Elizabeth Poblete of Chile, smiling jubilantly Friday afternoon after she snatched 86 kg on her first attempt in the 75-kg weightlifting woman's final.

Sure, it was 45 kg less than the existing world record set by Natalia Zabolotnaia of Russia in 2007, but it set her up to try a personal best 93 kg on her final attempt. That 93 kg attempt, her maximum, was still seven kg less than the minimum attempt of any of the other 12 competitors in the event.

While she failed, she showed the true spirit of the games. Poblete soaked in every minute of it and smiled as she walked off, even though her lifts would not have been even warm-up lifts for anyone who followed.

And there is Tuvshinbayar Naidan of Mongolia, standing on top of the podium Thursday evening crying as he sung his country's anthem, the first time it has ever been played at any Olympic games.

Naidan won the 100-kg Judo title after defeating Kazakhstan's Askhat Zhitkeyev in the finals, ending a long history of heartbreak for Mongolia. Before Thursday, Mongolia had won 16 medals in its Olympic history, all silver or bronze, by far the most of any country without ever earning a gold.

You could see it in his eyes; you could hear it in the crowd. It did not matter that China had by the end of that day won 22 golds in this Olympiad alone; not at all. This one seemed more meaningful to the Mongols than any one specific medal has to China, even the men's team gymnastics one. It seemed to define Mongolia.

And finally, there is Emanuel Thabiso Nketu of Lesotho, who after losing his first round boxing match 17-8 to Bruno Jolie of Mauritius, hugged his opponent and lifted him up to bring him over to his corner.

Sure, he had lost, blowing a 4-0 first period lead in the process, but Nketu did not care. His respect for his opponent was so great that he was willing to submit defeat to Jolie by carrying him to his coach.

Maybe that's tradition in Lesotho, a tiny nation of two million landlocked entirely within South Africa; maybe he just felt it was the honorable thing to do; it does not matter.

Of course I could tell other tales of pride, of sportsmanship, of love and desire. They are everywhere. No matter what I watch during the Olympics, I find something of that sort.

And that is what the Olympics are all about.

The Olympics are all about Elizabeth Poblete enjoying herself for the sport of it, even if not even in her grandest dream could she stand on the podium accepting a medal.

The Olympics are all about Tuvshinbayar Naidan crying as he is hearing his anthem played, the first time it's ever played on such a stage, because he has earned it for his countrymen.

The Olympics are all about Emanuel Thabiso Nketu embracing his opponent, giving all his happiness to his opponent, after his opponent beat him in his match.

And those are the stories that I love.

I love the story of Derek Redmond at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. I love how, after his hamstring pops, he gets up and hobbles to the finish, how his dad rushes down from the stands, how he does cross the finish line. I love that.

I love the story of the 1980 Zimbabwe women's field hockey team. I love how, after most every competitor pulled out to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviets called Zimbabwe two weeks before the games and asked them to come. They call up people and form a team at the last minute, fly to Moscow, and win the gold.

I love the story of Jesse Owens in 1936 in Berlin. Had he not been given advice from German competitor Luz Long, who would take the silver, he might not have even qualified for the final. He had faulted on his first two jumps before Long told him to mark a spot short of the line and just jump from there. Owens of course went on to win gold.

These are the stories that make the Olympic Games what they are.

These are the stories that make the Olympic Games compelling.

11,028 athletes from more than 200 entities in 28 different sports. Almost all in Beijing at the same time. And each with a story.

You'll never have time to hear each one's story; there's just too many. But if you take the time, you can at least catch a glimpse.

How do I know what was going through Poblete's mind when she snatched 86-kg? Or through Naidan's? Or Nketu's?

Sure, I can ask them, but I don't need to.

Each was there to bask in the Olympic spirit, to represent his or her country with class and dignity and to understand what that entails.

Do you really think Ron Artest understands what it entails to represent the Houston Rockets? Or Roger Clemens to the New York Yankees? Or John Daly to anyone?

No, they don't. That is why god willing none of them will ever be Olympians.

And of course, there are those who do sneak in. There are those who are forced to return medals, whether immediately or years later, for doping. And that is sad.

Those are the stories that I quickly forget.

But I will never forget Poblete or Naidan or Nketu, just like I never forgot Thomas Bimis and Nikolaos Siranidis of Greece from the 2004 games.

Unquestionable longshots before the games began to even contend for a medal, Bimis and Siranidis found themselves in fourth place heading into their final dive in the men's synchronized diving 3-metre springboard final, less than a point and a half out of third. However, they trailed first-place China by more than 14 points.

Bimis and Siranidis performed the dive of their lives, then watched as China, the United States, Russia, and Australia all botched their dives.

It was the first gold medal of the games for the host nation and no doubt the unlikeliest.

The entire building shook; no one, not even Bimis or Siranidis, could comprehend what just happened.

Sure, Michael Phelps's quest for eight gold medals is nice, but I'd rather watch the other events. That is where the truly memorable stories are, at least for me.

That is where the stories that define the Olympics are written.
 
 
 
 
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