James is rating the TV broadcast one 1-5 stars, with 5 being the best rating.
The TV Trials
Jim Dunaway Saturday,
June 23 ***1/2
This evening NBC gave us viewers an unexpected-but-welcome bonus -- 90 minutes of live Olympic Trials TV, instead of the previously announced 60 minutes - for its first network showing of The Trials.
That's a big break for track fans following The Trials on TV and on the Internet. And since I'm here to help those viewers get the most out of their viewing, I think it's great.
The show started right off with two high-quality races, the semifinals of the men's 800 meters. The camera work was excellent, and it was easy to follow the racing visually, although the only splits I can recall in either race were at 400 meters.
However, the calls of both semis were, I thought, quite insufficient, with Tom Hammond and Lewis Johnson rarely going deeper than the first two leaders in each heat (who are those other six guys, anyway?). In Heat 1, third placer Elisha Greer didn't get a call until halfway down the homestretch, and in Heat 2, third place qualifier Ryan Martin didn't get a call at all.
In horse racing, it's standard procedure to make a complete first-to-last call of the racers not once but several times in each race. I know from experience that capable TV announcers can make those in-depth calls; so I must assume that the producer doesn't want them, although they can be done quickly and in my opinion make a race more interesting. And of course it helps viewers actually see more of what they're looking at.
This subject deserves a full discussion of how track-and-field should be presented on television, which I'll attempt sometime in the next week or so.
After the 800 semis came the 400 semis of both men and women. Here again there seemed to be a tendency on the part of Hammond and Ato Boldon to stick with the big names when calling the races - although actually they named more people as they flashed down the backstretch in the 400 semis than in the 800 semis. But since most of the runners in each 400 were only introduced as names, I think it would be helpful if they would also use lane numbers and uniform colors to give viewers some extra visual cues.
When we got to the women's finals in the 100 hurdles and the 100 meters, each finalist was allotted 10-15 seconds of full-screen introduction, so you the viewer could see what she and her uniform looked like, while Hammond or Bolden told you something about her. Here, I think, I'd have liked a somewhat more personal touch; for example, how did English Gardner get her name, where is she from, and how did she end up in Oregon? I'm sure people would remember a lot more about her with that kind of an introduction than the fact that she's the Pac-10 and NCAA 100 champion.
These athletes are people, after all.
The only really BAD thing in this telecast was a segment involving an announcer named Michelle Beadle, newly hired by NBC, and former Olympic decathlon gold medalists Dan O'Brien and Bruce Jenner. I could make no sense out of what they were saying or why they were saying it. Jenner, wise in the ways of media, did most of the talking, while Dan got in only an occasional word, and Ms. Beadle didn't seem to know what to say (although she laughed a lot). The segment lasted perhaps five minutes but seemed like fifteen. However long it was, it was a total waste of time.
On the other hand, the last part of the telecast was stirring, stunning and sensational. After nine events in the decathlon, born-and-bred Oregonian Ashton Eaton had clinched first place and a place on the Olympic team, but he decided to take a shot at Dan O'Brien's American record , and eh! maybe the world record.
You know that almost every decathlon 1,500 is sleep-inducing - oh, occasionally there's a little race-within-the-race which might allow Joe Zilch to overtake John Doe for third place, but that's about it.
But this one was unlike any I've ever seen. Soon after the 16 survivors began their 3 ¾ laps, Curtis Beach, who's good enough to be a sub-four miler, went to the front, closely followed by Joe Detmer, who's almost as good. A long way behind them was Eaton, in fifth, and then in fourth. With 400 meters to go, Eaton was third, maybe 40 meters behind Beach and Detmer.
I can not possibly write this to make it as exciting as it was, but in the past I have seen examples of Eaton's remarkable control of mind-over-body, and I began screaming at the TV set because I could see that he WANTED it. And amazingly, he did it. Right before the finish, Beach and Detmer slowed and separated and let Eaton finish first, Detmer with a huge grin, and why not: he knew he was taking part in something special.
The cameras, the announcers and the producer were perfect on this one -- absolutely on top of the race and of its significance -- and then let Eaton's victory celebration tell its own story.