An Olympics without fans struggles to survive
We've started the 2021 Japanese Olympic games without much fanfare, other than on NBC. The shell of a once-interesting celebration of human tenacity and prowess goes on, hollowed out by lack of fans in the venues and marred by masked faces everywhere. Individual contests, from my point of view, take center stage. Team sport USA seems to have degenerated, due to politics, while network coverage is a P.C. ad-fest with a bit of sport thrown in.
There are two alternatives to NBC's coverage. One is sound-and-video "highlight" reels. Here, on Comcast, you can choose to rank them by relevance to your interests. These are itty-bitty bites, edited, no doubt, by someone who must be used to making music videos. Trying to watch them is an exercise in frustration, guaranteed to leave you puzzled. They hop, skip, and jump through an event in a matter of two minutes or so, with disjointed commentary that left this viewer unsure what it's all about.
The other alternative is the NBC-owned USA network's full coverage of some of the contests deemed less worthy of the main channel. Some of their coverage, like the men's triathlon, was a bit long and boring, although we did gape at the amazingly inept start, which saw half the swimmers blocked from the water by a boat sitting in the wrong place.
Skeet shooting, which we watched last night, was more interesting, as were some of the fencing competitions.
We ignored our women's soccer team, a group undeserving of acknowledgment or accolades. Their loss was just desserts after they disrespected the flag. Until that story broke, I had no idea the games had even started. Then the equally woke men's basketball team fell to France — a game that, like Groundhog Day, NBC seems determined to replay with painful frequency.
When we decided to try the highlight reels, we started with the equestrian category. The choice brought us a beach volleyball match, with no horses in sight. That's a hard "no" in terms of our interest. Switched to softball, which was a USA vs. Mexico match. One moment, there's an American at bat. She gets on base, and the next batter is someone from the Mexican team, followed by a two-run scoring hit by an American, and some celebration of the win. Granted, softball games can be slow and tedious, but the "highlights" were so abbreviated as to be inane.
Switching to archery, we watched the Korean mixed pair trounce the Netherlands in a final match, but they showed only a few of the arrows being released. They didn't show enough of the match to get a feel for the contestants. The same with judo. By the time the thing ended, I still had no idea how a person even "scored." The lack of coherent commentary, I guess inherent in condensing the action to three minutes or less, was universally disconcerting. We did see one medal "ceremony." When the two Korean archers accepted their gold medals, they were simply handed to them. The pair stood there in the field, awkwardly put the medals over one another's heads, with no anthem playing. Talk about a let-down!
A three-round boxing match took place (on our screen, at least) in under two minutes. The American featherweight won. And he had an interesting name — Duke Regan. Purposeful or not on his parents' part, his name evokes pleasant memories. Switching to full coverage, we caught a men's 150 m relay heat in the pool, which the Americans won. That way, we had coherent commentary as it happened and saw the whole thing.
Later, I went back to give the highlights another try. I managed to find an equestrian event this time, where the female riders pranced their mounts in elaborate footwork. Again, it was about a three-minute clip of bits of three different routines. By the time it was over, I at least understood that the point of the exercise was to keep the horses moving in their special gait, knees high. That segued into a skateboarding contest, where everyone got to do one move, skating to a stairway and riding down the railing. Talk about boring! To me, that's kind of like having the gymnasts do one handspring and done.
The bottom line is, as a fan, there is something inherently wrong with an Olympics without cheering fans at the venues. The near-ubiquitous masks, which we know are useless (and doubly so outdoors), kept us from seeing most athletes' and trainers' faces before and after their events. The echo of each empty venue left us bereft of the emotion of each triumph and loss. For the athletes, it must feel as though they're taking part in a more tense than usual practice session. The whole thing wasn't at all conducive to making the best memories after a lifetime of intense training.
Image: The false start at the men's triathlon. YouTube screen grab.
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