America seeing scars and stripes
Sunday 08 October 2000
The United States may have finished on top, but as far as the Olympic Games are concerned, they are very much Down Under. The embarrassingly inadequate television coverage from Sydney by NBC, who had a team of 3,000 (10 times that of the BBC) but failed to show a scrap of live action throughout the entire 17 days, reflects the general malaise affecting American sport at the moment. The decision by the network to screen everything on tape hours after anyone remotely interested was aware of the results from listening to news bulletins, reading their newspapers or surfing the net, has brought the worst ratings for more than 30 years and the prospect of head-rolling becoming an Olympic event at NBC's New York headquarters. NBC had paid $705m to televise these Games, but many US viewers were forced to watch the early-morning live TV coverage supplied by Canada's CBC. Bud Greenspan, the former TV sportscaster who was making his seventh official Olympic film in Sydney, called the coverage, or lack of it, "disgrac
The United States may have finished on top, but as far as the Olympic Games are concerned, they are very much Down Under. The embarrassingly inadequate television coverage from Sydney by NBC, who had a team of 3,000 (10 times that of the BBC) but failed to show a scrap of live action throughout the entire 17 days, reflects the general malaise affecting American sport at the moment. The decision by the network to screen everything on tape hours after anyone remotely interested was aware of the results from listening to news bulletins, reading their newspapers or surfing the net, has brought the worst ratings for more than 30 years and the prospect of head-rolling becoming an Olympic event at NBC's New York headquarters. NBC had paid $705m to televise these Games, but many US viewers were forced to watch the early-morning live TV coverage supplied by Canada's CBC. Bud Greenspan, the former TV sportscaster who was making his seventh official Olympic film in Sydney, called the coverage, or lack of it, "disgraceful". He says NBC completely misjudged the impact the Games would have. "The only news organisation not providing up-to-the-minute information on the Games was NBC. Incredible." The fact that the Games were held in September, when the baseball season nears its climax and the football season kicks off, meant the Games had strong competition in the US, while the lack of success in the two most popular American Olympic sports, boxing (no gold medals for the first time since 1948) and gymnastics, added to the viewing misery. All this on top of the continuing stench of the athletics drugs scandal that has the US Olympic Committee defending, somewhat unconvincingly, allegations of a cover-up made by their former chief medical officer. With the NFL's TV supremacy now being challenged by professional wrestling, boxing again under federal investigation and a number of top football and basketball stars involved in unsavoury controversies, including charges ranging from murder to sexual assault and drug-taking, US sport has never been so sick. But worst of all, say friends in New York, those damn Yankees have lost their last eight baseball games in a row.
Home jackpot for Harrison
For someone who took the biggest gamble of his life when delaying his professional career to play for the big stakes of an Olympic title, it is appropriate that Audley Harrison's next major engagement should be in Las Vegas. The super-heavyweight hero of Sydney will be invited to be ringside when Lennox Lewis defends his WBC and IBF crowns against the big-hitting Polynesian David Tua at the Mandalay Bay Hotel on 11 November. Just who funds the air fare has yet to be determined. It could be Lewis himself, the US promoters or Sky Television, but the one certainty is Big Audley will be there. He is very much in the shop window, with a future as good as gold, but he needs to be sold to an American public who are largely unaware of his advent. The fact that he is British, 29, and a southpaw are not the best of credentials to whet the appetites of American promoters who would prefer to establish their own home-grown Michael Bennett, the reformed armed robber who lost in Sydney to Felix Savon, as the next heavyweight drawing card. Bennett, personable and articulate like Harrison, is a more saleable commodity this side of the Atlantic, where British heavyweights are still regarded with disdain. (The exception is Lewis, but America regards him as one of theirs rather than one of ours.) The word here is that Harrison would be best advised to base himself in Britain, where he could pick up a signing-on fee of £500,000, proving he doesn't actually have to go to Las Vegas to hit the jackpot.
No such thing as a free skate
While the Sydney shenanigans slowly subside, we are reminded that another Olympic extravaganza is just 16 months away. On the day Sydney reluctantly pulled down the final curtain, America was watching a ski jumper symbolically launch himself into space, landing on a synthetic strip named Everslide, to celebrate the coming of an event that at least will be seen on prime-time TV, the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City; the first Olympics under new management at the IOC. Tickets have yet to go on sale but, astonishingly, one sport is already sold out in advance despite seats priced at up to $375 for a session lasting less than three hours. Ironically, it is the free skating.
All part of the American scream
Even by the bizarre standards of our own leftfield section, where we have embraced oddball activities from toe wrestling to bog snorkelling, some of the things they get up to here really do give credence to the phrase "Only in America". Forget the Olympics (most of the US already has), the real Games have just taken place at Lake Placid, in upstate New York, where such pursuits as dog jumping and log chopping attracted more than 200 competitors, a crowd of 15,000 and a massive TV audience. The ESPN Great Outdoors Games, otherwise known as the "Redneck Olympics", also incorporate a fishing and shooting festival, and next year it will feature boulder climbing for men and women. Elsewhere, there's a chap currently driving his lawnmower through the 48 contiguous states of America without cutting a single blade of grass, while in Iowa they are taking their partners for tractor square-dancing. Step right up folks and see the good 'ol boys, all local farmers and half of them dressed as women, taking their partners for a do-si-do, revving up their engines, twirling and sand-spinning the machines to the handclapping of the crowd. Titter ye not, for we do things just as daft in the name of sport back home. The latest recruit to the list of activities which come under the auspices of the Government-funded Central Council of Physical Recreation is that of competitive metal-detecting.
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