Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A New York Olympics

The Olympics aren't coming to New York anytime soon.  I know this.  The bid for the 2012 Games went up in flames as soon as the plans for a West Side stadium that would eventually host the Jets were squashed and they had to change everything at the last minute to one centered around Citi Field.  (No comment on the fact that five new professional sports venues, which currently play home to six of the New York area's 11 teams, have been built since then.)

And with all of the problems potential Olympic bids have with garnering the requisite public support have had in recent years, the chances of New York bidding again in the near future seem unlikely.  Even if a New York bid were put together, the USOC would likely go with somewhere else unless that support was unwavering, if only to avoid another embarrassment like Boston.

Of course, we all know what happened there.  The USOC picked Boston as the American bid city for the 2024 Olympics, only to switch to Los Angeles after Boston balked.  The LA bid is stronger anyway and has a very good chance of winning (while Boston definitely wouldn't have), and I suspect that LA will be presented as the American candidate until the bid is successful.  But, assuming that LA does host the Olympics again, whether it be in 2024, 2028, 2032 or some other point in the future, the USOC will need to move on to a new bid city.  And they could choose worse places than New York.

With 11 professional teams (12 including the Liberty) and so many colleges, there are plenty of venues already in place to make use of.  And transportation, which plagued the Rio Games, would obviously not be much of an issue.  Sure, it can take a while to get places on the subway and some venues would require a lot of transfers, but it could be done.

Really, the biggest problem with using all of New York's existing venues is that they're so spread out, so there wouldn't be a centralized Olympic park.  And you'd still have to drive out to Hofstra or the renovated Nassau Coliseum.  Plus, figuring out a location for the Olympic Village would be a challenge, although I'd imagine one of the colleges could chip in some land in exchange for the apartments being turned into dorms post-Games, like Georgia Tech did for the Atlanta Olympics.

There are a couple other venues that would need to be built, as well.  The most obvious is an Olympic Stadium.  That West Side land is almost certainly not going to available, and Icahn Stadium on Randal's Island is too remote to renovate and make the main stadium.  So it would have to be a temporary venue or one that could ultimately be downsized (this would be the perfect scenario if New York City FC eventually gets its soccer-specific stadium).  Likewise, there are no velodromes anywhere in the city, and a stadium for swimming would have to be built (the Goodwill Games pool in Nassau County would be used for water polo and diving).

An IBC would also need to be constructed.  Although, NBC shoots many of its New York-based shows in the Chelsea Piers area, so those sound stages could conceivably be used as the IBC.

However, my hypothetical New York Olympics would be able to have something that no other Olympics (at least any in recent memory) has done--have all the soccer games in the host city.  No ridiculous traveling to Manaus (totally unnecessary as an Olympic soccer city).  We're making use of existing professional and college football/soccer venues, which would allow the soccer teams to stay in the Village and actually feel like they're a part of the Olympics.

My venue plan is different than the one presented to the IOC 11 years ago.  In addition to venues like the Barclays Center, which didn't exist in 2005, there are more sports in the Olympics than there were then.  And, for the sake of consistency, I'm using the sports on the program for Tokyo 2020 in my plan for NYC 2028.

BROOKLYN
Barclays Center: Basketball
Coney Island: Surfing
Olympic Aquatic Center: Swimming, Synchronized Swimming

BRONX
Pelham Bay Park: Modern Pentathlon
Pelham Bay Shooting Center: Shooting
Yankee Stadium: Baseball

MANHATTAN
Baker Field (Columbia): Field Hockey
Central Park: Archery, Beach Volleyball, Marathon (Finish)
Grand Central Station Atrium: Sport Climbing
Hudson River Park: Triathlon, Race Walk
Javits Center: Badminton, Fencing, Judo, Karate, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Weightlifting, Wrestling
Madison Square Garden: Gymnastics, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Trampoline
Madison Square Garden (Theater): Boxing
New York Harbor: Sailing, Swimming (Open Water)
Olympic Velodrome: Cycling (Track)
West Side Highway: Cycling (Road)

QUEENS
Flushing Meadows Corona Park: Canoe/Kayak, Rowing, Skateboarding
Olympic Stadium: Track & Field
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center: Tennis

STATEN ISLAND
Greenbelt Park: BMX, Mountain Biking
Richmond County Bank Ballpark: Softball

LONG ISLAND
Belmont Park: Equestrian
Nassau Coliseum: Handball
Nassau County Aquatic Center: Diving, Water Polo

WESTCHESTER
Winged Foot Golf Club: Golf

NEW JERSEY
MetLife Stadium: Soccer (Finals)
Prudential Center: Volleyball
Red Bull Arena: Rugby

Soccer Venues: Citi Field (Queens), Icahn Stadium (Manhattan), Mitchel Field (Long Island), Rutgers Stadium (New Jersey), Shuart Stadium (Long Island)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Final Thoughts On Rio

Well, the Rio Olympics have come to an end.  And, despite of the Armageddon predictions about how these Games were going to be a disaster, Rio pulled it off.  Just like you knew they would.  Were these Olympics perfect?  No.  Were they a massive failure?  No to that one, too.  They weren't London.  They were Rio.  They had their own identity and left their own indelible moments.

In Rio, we saw the end of two of the greatest careers in Olympic history.  Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are already the stuff of legend.  Years from now, there will be Olympic fans watching clips of the two of them on YouTube just wishing they'd been able to see them in their prime.  We would've been lucky to see one in his prime.  We got to see both!  It really is amazing that they're contemporaries.  And I hope everyone realizes just how privileged we were to live in the Era of Bolt & Phelps.

But these Games were about more than Phelps and Bolt, both of whom made Rio their Olympic swan song.  We were introduced to plenty of stars that we'll see again in Tokyo and beyond.

Team USA paced the medal count with 121 medals, 46 of which were gold.  That's the most for an American team since 1984 (which comes with an asterisk because of the Soviet-led boycott), and the most for anybody since the Soviet Union won 132 in 1988.  It's also the most-ever for Team USA in an Olympics held in another country.  The women were particularly successful, contributing 61 of those medals and winning 27 of the golds.  If the American women were their own country, they would've finished fourth in the medal standings!

The United States won at least one medal in 20 of 27 sports in which it competed, which is a remarkable showing of depth.  But, as usual, most of the American success was found in the pool and on the track.  Team USA captured an incredible 65 medals (29 gold) in its two powerhouse sports of swimming and track & field, plus another 12 in gymnastics.

Towards the end of the swimming competition, Rowdy Gaines gave his theory about why the U.S. swim team was so dominant at these Olympics, and I completely agree with him.  The U.S. Olympic Trials are later than all of the other countries, so the Americans are in much better form heading into the Olympics.  Likewise, just making the team is so hard that all the pressure is on Trials.  Once they make the team, it's gravy.  If other countries want to close the gap in Tokyo, they'd be smart to take a page out of the Americans' playbook.

Meanwhile, it was quite a contrast between last summer's World Championships and this year's Olympics for the USA track & field team.  This was the best Olympics anybody can remember for USA Track & Field, with medals all across the board, including an impressive distance showing to go along with the usual haul in the sprints and field events.  So why did the Rio Olympics go so much better than the 2015 Worlds?  The same reason as swimming.  Olympic Trials were a month before the Olympics.  Last year, U.S. Nationals were nine weeks before Worlds.  Clearly a shorter gap is better.

As for Brazil, they enjoyed the usual host country boost.  It may not look like it to outside observers, but this was actually a very successful Olympics for the home team.  Brazil had its most-ever medals with 19, and its seven gold medals also set a record.  And, most importantly, they got the golds they wanted.  They won men's beach volleyball and indoor volleyball, which was nice, but they would've been willing to trade those for the gold in men's soccer.  And that's exactly what they got.  Neymar had the Maracana rocking when he clinched Brazil's first-ever Olympic men's soccer title on Saturday night.  it was Rio's signature moment.  Brazil's Super Saturday or Sidney Crosby goal.  If that had been Brazil's only gold medal, it would've been enough.

Speaking of the Maracana, it was full for every game.  So were Copacabana and the Maracanazinho and some other marquee venues.  But there were noticeable empty seats at some others, which the critics were quick to point out.  In London, everything was sold out, so that's not a fair comparison.  And all of the venues that were packed were the ones that housed sports popular in Brazil.

And, frankly, some of the other ones might've been full, too, if not for the media.  For months leading up to the Games, all you saw were articles trying to spread panic by saying how unsafe Brazil was or that they were going to get Zika.  Because of this, a lot of people who might've traveled to Rio for the Games decided not to go.  And they didn't buy those tickets as a result.  You can't have it both ways!  You can't tell everyone to stay away, then criticize the organizers for all the empty seats.

Of course, everyone loves to criticize.  And we never see that more than when people speak out about NBC's Olympic coverage.  I had a discussion with a friend earlier about NBC's coverage in Rio, and we both agreed that it was a solid B+.  The Opening Ceremony was a disaster, but they really did settle into a groove once the Games themselves began.  I actually kinda liked Ryan Seacrest on the late night show, and Mike Tirico further proved that he's one of the best in the business.

My "favorite" thing about the criticism of NBC's coverage, though, is when people get all bent out of shape about the tape delay.  Either that, or when they complain about what they show on which channel.  ("Why do they focus so much on the Americans?".  Well, because they're the American rights-holder, that's why.)  Well, guess what, they're never going to make everyone happy.  But no one is possibly able to say they weren't able to watch what they wanted.  They just needed to find it.

They had coverage on seven! different networks during the Games, much of it overlapping, and dedicated channels for both basketball and soccer.  If you didn't want to watch rowing on NBC, you didn't have to.  And if you couldn't find your sport on TV (or it wasn't being shown live), every event was streamed live online.  So, it would be inaccurate to say that NBC didn't give you plenty of options.  In fact, they offered more viewing options than ever before.  This isn't Sydney, or even Athens, where you had no choice.  It was what was on NBC, when they decided to air it, and that was it.

It also goes without saying that, like-it-or-not, NBC has Olympic rights in this country until at least 2032, so if you don't like their coverage, but still want to watch the Olympics, you don't really have much of a choice.  And the next three are in East Asia, which isn't ideal for anybody.  But that's the way it is.  We turn the page from Rio and get ready to head across the Pacific.  The countdown to PyeongChang 2018 is on.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Alright Lochte, What Really Happened?

Heading into these Olympics, there so much concern about security in Rio.  The city has a reputation for street crime and that, along with worries about the Zika virus, probably scared a lot of potential Olympic visitors away.  Brazil wanted to make it a point to let anyone traveling to Rio (whether it be a fan, athlete, official, family member, whatever) that they would be safe.  The last thing they wanted was a high-profile member of a country's delegation to become the victim of a street crime, yet that's exactly what happened on Sunday morning.  Or was it?

American swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed that he and three other swimmers (Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen) were robbed at gunpoint in the early hours of Sunday morning while returning from a party.  This was Brazil's worst nightmare, both from a security and PR perspective.  Not only was somebody the victim of a robbery, it was an Olympic athlete, and a high-profile one at that.

With Rio's reputation, Lochte's original account seemed completely plausible.  In fact, some spectators and athletes from other nations have said that they've also been robbed since they've been in Rio.  The Australian team went so far as to ban their athletes from going out in the Copacabana area at night, and they've barred two of their Olympians (one of whom was robbed) from the Closing Ceremony for breaking that rule.

Except it's becoming more and more apparent that what he claimed didn't happen at all.  First, there were changing stories and conflicting accounts.  Now there's surveillance video, which makes it pretty clear things didn't go exactly as Lochte said they did.  At first, I had no doubt they were robbed, but was skeptical of the ever-changing details.  After seeing the video, however, it seems obvious that they made the whole thing up.

Of course, the obvious question is why would they fabricate such a story?  Lochte said that they didn't come forward at first because they feared they'd get in some sort of trouble, and only did when he realized they wouldn't.  (Sidebar, how would four consenting adults who are all of legal drinking age and done with their competition deciding they wanted to go out and blow off some steam be a problem with anyone?)  But even if that was the case, how do you immediately decide on being robbed at gunpoint was going to be your story?  The only reason I can think of is because that with the time of day and Rio's reputation, that explanation was believable.

And people did believe it.  The four swimmers were viewed as victims and the Brazilian police began investigating it as a crime.  Although, frankly, it's because the Brazilian police are doing their job that the swimmers' story started to fall apart.  They claimed the robbery happened a little after 4:30 a.m., yet there's video of them returning to the Olympic Village well after 6 a.m., not appearing at all traumatized from the incident.  And the video from outside France House shows them leaving the party after 5:30, which would make it pretty tough to be in a cab and robbed at 4:30.

From watching the videos, you can piece together what actually happened.  They got drunk and were acting like idiots.  They stopped at a gas station, went into a bathroom and vandalized it in some way.  When the gas station attendant wanted them to pay for the damage, one of them took out their wallet and did (which I assume is the so-called "robbery").  They did have a gun pointed at them.  By a police officer who wanted them to get out of the taxi.  But it was never pointed at Lochte's head, as he originally claimed.

This story has taken one bizarre turn after another over the past five days.  Lochte went home.  The others tried, but had their passports seized.  Two were even pulled off their flight so that they could be questioned by authorities.  It was in one of those police interviews that it came out Lochte made the whole thing up.  They weren't robbed at all.  If any crime was committed, it was likely by the swimmers.  Vandalism, destruction of property, maybe even assault.  Now, police are seeking an indictment against Lochte and Feigen for falsely reporting a crime (although Lochte, perhaps not coincidentally, got out of dodge beforehand).

Which brings me back to my original question, how is this any better than being upfront about what happened?  Now this has been turned into an international incident.  One that has completely hijacked the Olympics.  When people look back at the Rio Games, this is one of the first things that's going to come up.  And it's not a good look for anybody.  Not the Rio organizers.  Not Brazil.  Not the USOC.  Not USA Swimming.  And especially not the four swimmers.

Sadly, this whole think wreaks of the Duke lacrosse scandal 10 years ago.  In that case, we all jumped to conclusions and assumed they were guilty, until the facts came out and, as it turns out, the players were all telling the truth.  Nothing happened.  This is the reverse.  We assumed they were innocent victims.  But now the facts have come out and revealed them to be liars, who made up a story to try and cover up their drunken idiocy.

So far, Ryan Lochte's erroneous account is the only story we've heard about that night.  I want to know what the other three have to say.  Because the truth about the incident is out there somewhere.  And it's going to come out.  Did they think it wouldn't eventually?

A good number of Brazilians are demanding an apology from the swimmers.  That's the least of what they deserve.  Because there was absolutely no reason to fabricate such a tale to cover up your own behavior.  Especially in a country so self-aware about its reputation.

I'm not surprised Ryan Lochte is the one who cried wolf.  He's a 31-year-old child.  (Proving how oblivious he is, he posted an Instagram video this afternoon where he was goofing around with a friend, only to delete it a couple hours later.)  Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call.  It's time to grow up.

Because this entire story is completely despicable.  And it never would've happened if you'd just kept your mouth shut.  Nothing happened.  We all know it.  You should be embarrassed and ashamed that you said something did.  It's not just the Brazilians who deserve an apology.  It's the 318 million Americans that you were representing in Rio who are owed one, too.  Because you're a reflection of us, and you're not making us look very good right now.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Let's Add Some Missing Events

During the swimming competition last week, Rowdy Gaines got pretty animated while discussing Katie Ledecky and the fact that the women's 1500 meter freestyle isn't part of the Olympic program.  They swim both the 800 and 1500 freestyle for both men and women at the World Championships, but in the Olympics, it's only the one long distance race each.  They also swim a 50 in each stroke at Worlds, but not at the Olympics.

Given the appetite most of the world has for Olympic swimming, why isn't every event held at the World Championships contested at the Olympics?  And, frankly, adding them wouldn't be very hard.  There's currently 32 events on the Olympic swimming program, which means there are four finals on each of the eight days of competition.  Adding the eight other events contested at Worlds (men's 800 free, women's 1500 free, men's & women's 50 back, fly and breast) brings that total to 40.  So, you have five finals a day instead of four.  You're not really adding any athletes, either, since many swimmers would just add the 50 in their discipline to their personal schedules.

It's not just swimming where they don't contest every event at the Olympics.  In fencing, there are six individual events, but only four team events.  They rotate which of the three team events isn't held at each Olympics.  Why?  What difference would it make if they had 12 fencing events instead of 10 and were actually able to have a men's and women's team competition with each weapon?

Likewise, in rowing, the commentators were talking about how the U.S. women's four is nearly as good as the dominant women's eight.  Then I noticed that the women's four isn't even an Olympic event!  Yet the men's four is.  There are 14 rowing events--eight men's and six women's.  The men have a four and a lightweight four, while the women don't.  How about replacing that men's lightweight four with a women's four?

One event that is being replaced with a women's event in Tokyo is the men's whitewater doubles canoe.  The women's whitewater singles canoe will be contested instead.  That one at least makes sense.  They have the whitewater singles kayak for both men and women, but the other two whitewater events are men's canoe, so I've got no problem with evening that out.  However, in flatwater canoe/kayak, there's still a big disparity.  There are 12 events, only four of which are for women.  The number of women's flatwater canoe events?  Zero.

A few years ago, the IOC made cycling balance out its men's and women's Olympic programs, and sailing has the same number of men's and women's events, as well as one that's mixed.  Wrestling just did the same thing.  They added two weight classes for women, and there are now six weight classes in all three wrestling disciplines.  Boxing had to adjust its weight classes when the women's divisions were added in London, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them adjusted again to make room for another women's class.

There are plenty of critics who like to point out that even though women's participation in the Olympics has reached a record number, there are still more men's events than women's.  Now, there are a number of reasons for this, so I don't view it as a particular problem.  For example, in gymnastics there are eight men's events and only six women's...because the men compete on six apparati and the women four, so there are two more event finals for men.  (There are also the women's-only sports like rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming that help balance out the numbers.)

We also have no idea if women even compete in some of these disciplines outside of the Olympics.  When wrestling was ridiculously dropped for a few months, that question was actually posed to federation officals prior to the vote about whether or not it would be put right back in.  And they noted that women have only show interest in the freestyle discipline, which is why Greco-Roman wrestling is contested only by men.  Just like we don't know if that's the reason there are more shooting events for men than women (or if women do those canoe events I was referring to).

In the past (meaning, under Jacques Rogge), they were hesitant to expand the Olympic program beyond its current size, both in regard to number of events and number of athletes.  If a sport wanted to add one event, it had to drop another.  But seeing as they let Tokyo add six sports (I'm sorry, but baseball and softball are NOT the same), some of which have multiple events, to the program for 2020, that's clearly not as big of a concern anymore.

I can understand the worry about adding too many more athletes.  There are already over 10,500 at the Summer Games.  But I never got the idea of an event cap.  Especially because most, if not all, of the events I'd like to see added would feature athletes already competing at the Olympics.  And you wouldn't need to construct any additional venues or really adjust the schedule that much.

And I'm not talking about adding events in every sport, either.  (How are you going to add an event in, say, soccer?)  I'm talking about adding maybe 30 events to the program, using, for the most part, athletes that are already competing and venues that are already being used.  That doesn't make the Olympics too big.  And it gives athletes the chance at more Olympic medals, which is the reason they all go in the first place.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The IOC Wins Gold

One of the strangest medals ceremony in Olympic history took place yesterday.  It happened after the men's double trap competition in shooting.  Except, after having the gold medal put around his neck, Fehaid Al-Deehani didn't hear his anthem or see his flag raised.  Instead, it was the Olympic flag raised and Olympic anthem played in his honor.  The whole thing was very weird.

You're probably wondering why that was the case, so let me explain.  It's fairly simple really.  Al-Deehani's country, Kuwait, is currently suspended by the IOC.  They still let Kuwaiti athletes participate in Rio, but as "independents" under the Olympic flag.  This isn't the first time that there's been a team of "Independent Olympic Athletes."  In fact, there were four in London from the Netherlands Antilles, which had recently dissolved and no longer had an Olympic committee, and South Sudan, which was such a new country they hadn't set one up yet.  This is the first time, though, that an independent athlete has won a gold medal and heard the Olympic anthem instead of his own (Yugoslavian athletes won a silver and two bronzes in Barcelona as independent competitors).

This case is completely unique, though.  I can't think of a similar situation in Olympic history.  Because here's the kicker.  Kuwait has never won an Olympic gold medal and technically still hasn't.  Al-Deehani's gold doesn't count towards their total.  In fact, the country has won two Olympic medals in its history--both bronzes by Al-Deehani.  So, he finally wins gold in his sixth Olympics, and he doesn't even get to celebrate what should've been the greatest sporting moment in his country's history.

At the Opening Ceremony, the Kuwaiti athletes were led into the stadium by a Rio 2016 volunteer.  Al-Deehani was asked to carry the flag.  He refused.  A proud member of the Kuwaiti military, he said he'll only carry the flag of his nation.  Based on those comments, you know he'd be representing Kuwait if it was up to him.

People have been weighing in all over social media about this unusual occurrence.  One of my favorite lines was, "Like it or not, IOC, he's from Kuwait!"  No one's trying to say he isn't Kuwaiti.  Especially not the IOC.  Do you really think they wanted to be in this position?  They were trying to do the right thing by trying to keep the politics out of it and letting qualified Kuwaiti athletes compete under the Olympic flag.  I'm sure they didn't necessarily foresee a Kuwaiti athlete winning gold and having to raise their own flag, knowing how ridiculous it was going to look.

And the reasoning for Kuwait's IOC suspension is valid.  The IOC wants each country's Olympic Committee to be an independent organization with no government involvement.  Well, guess why Kuwait's suspended?  In fact, they've been suspended twice in five years because of government interference.  They were suspended from 2010-12, forcing their athletes to compete under the Olympic flag at the 2010 Youth Olympics and 2010 Asian Games, although it was lifted in time for London (by only about two weeks).  Kuwait has previously been suspended by FIFA for similar reasons.

The Kuwaiti government obviously disagrees.  But the reasons for the suspension are valid.  And what they have to do for reinstatement is pretty clear.  India's athletes marched under the Olympic flag at the Opening Ceremony in Sochi.  They held new NOC elections two days later and got reinstated.  One athlete competed as an independent, the others as Indians.  All Kuwait's government needs to do is let the National Olympic Committee function as an independent entity...like it's supposed to.

It's unfortunate that Kuwait's first Olympic gold isn't even Kuwait's.  But I don't have any sympathy for them.  Yes, I feel for Fehaid Al-Deehani.  He deserved to see his flag raised and hear his anthem played.  But the flag on his jersey doesn't change the fact that he's an Olympic champion.  And I'll bet that all Kuwaitis are celebrating it as their own.  Which they should.

Maybe someday their government will act the way every other country's does and the Kuwaiti flag will fly at an Olympics once more.  Then their next gold medalist will get to see it raised.  Regardless, Fehaid Al-Deehani will always be their first.


Monday, August 8, 2016

A Disappointing Opening Ceremony Broadcast

NBC's overnight ratings for the Opening Ceremony were down from four years ago.  We'll start to see during the week if that's going to be a trend for Rio or not, but I do have a couple theories as to why.  The first of which is that the tape delay generated a lot of ill-will, so people tuned out just out of spite.  It didn't help that they talked down to the entire country when they said that they needed to put it in "context."  Or that even though it was taped, it ended at 12:30 (when it was scheduled to end at 12), despite being heavily edited.  And the number of commercials at the beginning was ridiculous.

As much as I try to defend NBC and their Olympic broadcasting strategy that has been proven to work time and again, I just can't get over how bad their Opening Ceremony coverage was.  The "context" that they wanted to give us consisted of a split screen with that lady who directed the ceremony explaining things...in English that you could barely understand!  They seriously would've been better off not saying anything.  And with the amount of stuff that was cut out, any context was lost anyway.  I saw pictures from the Opening Ceremony online and started counting off the stuff Americans didn't see...and it was a lot.

For example, did you know Kip Keino gave a speech after Thomas Bach gave him the Olympic Laurel?  Likewise, the head of the organizing committee always gives a speech prior to the IOC President.  Which NBC didn't show.  (I'm assuming it's because the speech was in Portuguese.)  They also continued their tradition of not showing the athletes' and officials' oaths (again, I'm assuming Portuguese was the reason).  And, from what I could tell from the pictures that I saw, there was at least one part of the cultural presentation cut out.

Likewise, I knew that gold mirror thing behind the cauldron had some sort of meaning.  It just took them until Saturday's primetime coverage to say what it was.  Since Maracana's not the main stadium, they moved the cauldron.  They did kinda what Vancouver did and set up the main flame in the center of the city during the Games.  It's in front of a church in downtown Rio, in front of a similar mirror sculpture that's at the church.  Would've been nice if NBC had said that!

Also, was there a need for all that filler?  They came on the air at 7:30, but didn't start the Ceremony until 8...and had that ridiculous three-minute piece about women's gymnastics between commercial breaks for really no reason.  NBC, we get it!  You like women's gymnastics.  We're watching the Opening Ceremony right now!  (That interview with Ryan Seacrest on the preview show was bad enough.)

The one thing I did like was that they didn't skip any countries during the Parade of Nations.  Usually, they'll go to commercial after one of the bigger nations and, when they come back, scroll through the teams they missed (so, good luck seeing any country between Canada and China).  At least every country was given its proper due this time.  I know that's been a complaint in the past, so it was good to see them listen to the criticism at least in one area.  Although, they didn't need to constantly remind us that the countries were "out of order."  Most of the time they don't march in English!

That brings me to my biggest gripe about the Opening Ceremony.  Why were Meredith Vieira and Hoda Kotb there?  Seriously, they brought absolutely nothing to the broadcast.  The only part where you even need hosts during the Opening Ceremony is to talk about the 207 countries, but Matt Lauer was the only one of the three who contributed anything worthwhile.  Meredith screwed up a bunch of country names, a few athlete names, and I'm pretty sure she got a couple facts wrong.  And I think Hoda was drunk the entire time.  (I didn't even get my quadrennial reminder of where the Central African Republic is!)

No complaints about Matt Lauer.  He's done plenty of Opening Ceremonies before, and it showed.  He did his homework, and he actually knew worthwhile things about the various delegations.  You don't need a news guy at the Opening Ceremony, but it definitely helps when you have to talk about political issues in the various countries.  The fact that Matt actually knows about sports, too (as he showed while filling in as primetime host in Sochi) is a plus.

With all that being said, it should've been Matt Lauer and Bob Costas.  I was shocked when I saw Costas wasn't doing the Opening Ceremony, and I'm still kind of confused why he didn't.  Don't you want your face of the Olympics to be the first one you see?  And those interviews he did in the beginning were clearly pre-taped, so you can't use that as the reason.  Yes, the IBC and the Maracana are far away from each other.  So what?  Did he really need to be in the IBC?  You couldn't have one of the other Olympic hosts manning the studio so that you could actually have the two people who should've been calling the Ceremony both be at the Maracana?

I had originally planned to have this post be about the opening weekend of coverage as a whole, but I went on too long about the Opening Ceremony (sounds like a post for tomorrow).  I will say this, though.  Mike Tirico, in his first Olympic assignment, has clearly been the best studio host so far.  And Ryan Seacrest is fine.  Much better than I thought.  The late night show is exactly what they want it to be, and he actually did his homework.

But I definitely have some thoughts on their coverage strategy that I've noticed throughout the opening weekend of the Games.  More on that as the Olympics continue.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Rio 2016 Medal Projections

The 2016 Rio Olympics are finally underway!  After that over-the-top Opening Ceremony eight years ago in Beijing and the dignified affair in London, this Opening Ceremony was much simpler.  And it worked.  The Brazilian spirit was definitely on display.

I thought the selection of Vanderlei de Lima as the final torchbearer was absolutely perfect, too.  He's not somebody that was remotely close to my radar.  But it was brilliant.  It took 12 years, but he finally got his Olympic moment.  And people are going to remember this a lot longer than they'll remember him getting pushed into the crowd by that crazy fan in Athens.

With the Opening Ceremony now in the books, we move on to the competition.  There are 306 events in Rio, an increase of four from London (golf and rugby are to thank for that).  And the usual suspects will be in play for most of them.  The United States has won the overall medal count at each of the last five Olympics, and had the most gold medals at each except 2008, when China topped the gold medal tally in Beijing.  But with the Chinese not enjoying the home field advantage in London, the U.S. moved back to the top of both tables.  It figures to be the same again in Rio.

Brazil should get the expected hometown boost.  They won 17 medals in London, their most ever.  Their most-ever gold medals were the five they won in Athens (after not winning any golds in Sydney).  Both of those numbers are in serious jeopardy.  In addition to the typical host-country boost, Brazil has its largest Olympic team ever.  Their stated goal is to finish in the top 10, which I think is very realistic (using either method of calculating the medal leaders).

Great Britain, obviously, won't match the 65 it won on home soil.  But they should still be up there in the top five.  Especially because Russia's medal haul will be significantly lower than it normally is.  Whatever your thoughts about that country's doping situation, there's no denying that their medal tally will suffer as a result of it.  The fewest medals Russia has won since the breakup of the Soviet Union was 63 in 1996, its first appearance as Russia.  I don't see how they even approach that number in Rio.

Russia is usually third in the medal standings behind the United States and China.  That won't be the case this year.  With a much smaller team and the country not allowed to compete in some of its strongest sports, there's no way they'll come anywhere close to the top.  They'll be lucky to place in the top five.  I've got them in fourth, but barely, just ahead of Great Britain and Australia.

As for the rest of the top 10, it's the usual suspects.  Japan, Italy, France, Germany, with Ukraine, the Netherlands and South Korea just behind.  (Although, using gold medals instead of total medals would move South Korea into the top 10 according to my predictions.)

In total, I've got 92 countries winning medals in Rio.  Of those 92 (which would be a record), I've got four winning one for the first time.  Believe it or not, Fiji's never won an Olympic medal.  That should change now that rugby's on the program.  I've got them taking the gold on the men's side.  The other three nations I have cracking the medal table for the first time are Antigua & Barbuda, Malta and Kosovo, which is making its Olympic debut.

If this were the Winter Olympics, I'd give you my whole list of medal predictions.  But with 306 events and a projected 92 countries winning medals, I won't subject you to that.  Since this is Rio 2016, I was going to give you my top 16, but I've got a three-way tie for 16th between Cuba, Poland and Hungary, so 15 it is...
  1. United States         47-37-32 (116)
  2. China                     27-20-22  (69)
  3. Germany               17-21-20  (58)
  4. Russia                   12-13-21  (46)
  5. Great Britain        21-12-12  (45)
  6. Australia              15-18-12  (45)
  7. Japan                    13-12-9   (34)
  8. France                 10-13-11  (34)
  9. Italy                      9-7-18    (34)
  10. Brazil                   9-8-14    (31)
  11. Ukraine                 5-4-14    (23)
  12. Netherlands          4-6-13    (23)
  13. South Korea       11-5-6      (22)
  14. New Zealand        5-5-7     (17)
  15. Canada                 4-8-5     (17)