NEW YORK (AP) — Sometimes it’s important to take a break from the pool.
Swimming has given NBC some memorable moments in Rio de Janeiro, continuing Wednesday with a third gold medal for Katie Ledecky and her American teammates in a freestyle relay. But between the surprise gold medal by Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Balandin and the women’s relay race, the network aired a seemingly endless series of turgid semifinals.
Meanwhile, NBC held back video of the scintillating men’s gymnastics all-around competition, one of the showcase sports in any Olympics. Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, widely considered the greatest men’s gymnast in history, won the gold medal over Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev by less than one-tenth of a point.
American gymnasts were out of the running. So NBC started gymnastics at 11:37 p.m. The gold medal was decided at 12:19 a.m. Thursday.
We’re reluctant to criticize Olympics broadcasters for being “homers.” It’s only natural for citizens of any country to be most interested in the performances of their own athletes and want to see when they’re in medal contention.
Yet in this case, gymnastics fans have a right to feel cheated.
HOOPS SCARE: Seasoned pros Marv Albert and Doug Collins didn’t panic, didn’t root and didn’t hyperventilate when the U.S. men’s basketball team had an unexpectedly close game against Australia. Their NBCSN telecast calmly added perspective with a clip of the last time the U.S. team lost, in 2004. “This is a game you grow from,” Collins said. “If you’re going to win a gold medal, it’s not going to be easy.”
SEXISM WATCH: “Another stuff for the mother of three, Kerri Walsh Jennings,” announcer Chris Marlowe said during Walsh Jennings’ and April Ross’ unexpectedly close beach volleyball match against Switzerland. Now that may seem like a benign identifier, but not every woman takes it that way. Think about it for a second, when’s the last time you’ve heard a swimming announcer say, “great flip turn by the father of one, Michael Phelps”?
RATINGS: NBC had its best night of the Rio Olympics on Tuesday, registering 33.4 million viewers for a broadcast that included live coverage of Phelps winning his 20th and 21st gold medals and the dominating performance of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Add in people who watched tennis on Bravo, women’s soccer on NBCSN and those who streamed to their devices, the total Olympic audience in prime time was 36.1 million people, the Nielsen company said. An estimated 38.7 million watched the corresponding night in London in 2012.
STREAM TIME: In a reflection of how viewing habits are changing, NBC said that by the end of Tuesday, people had already streamed more minutes of live Olympics coverage through the network’s website and app than for the entirety of the London Games. Through Tuesday, NBC said 883 million minutes of Olympic action had been streamed, compared to 818 million for all of London. An estimated 1.3 million people streamed the live women’s gymnastics team final, which took place in the late afternoon but was not shown on television in the U.S. until prime time.
QUOTE: “I’m going to work on my Pokemon Go game for the rest of this one. It’s over.” — NBC volleyball announcer Paul Sunderland, toward the end of the U.S. women’s match against Serbia. Serbia staged a late rally, so he had to look up from his smartphone.
CYCLING: Good for Bob Costas to find time in NBC’s broadcast to mark the achievement of American cyclist Kristin Armstrong, at 43 the oldest American woman to win a gold medal in any summer or winter Olympics since 1904.