Messages from the East Coast: A review of the NBC coverage of Day 4 of the 2016 World Indoors, by Jeff Benjamin

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So, we asked Jeff Benjamin to sit in front of his TV, and provide a copious review of the Day 4 of NBC coverage. Here is his review, and yes, we think that NBC did a pretty good job.

Holusa-Centrowitz-WillisFH-Worlds16.JPgThe height of emotion: the men's 1,500m finish! photo by PhotoRun.net

Messages from the East Coast re: the West Coast NBC TV Waves
By Jeff Benjamin

Sitting here on Staten Island over the last few days this viewer could not make the trek to Portland. Yet, while one can feel some happy envy for friends Larry Eder, Dave Ross, and even Victah Sailer (who I hope is recovering well!) this new millennium has for us longtime track fans been a blessing with the advent of multiple channels, notably NBC Sports Channel, showing viewers live coverage of the IAAF World Indoor Champs. And make no mistake about it- NBC puts together a real good package and the proof is in the preparations.
This past winter at the Millrose Games one could take the time to see broadcasters Ato Boldon and Tom Hammond prepare thoroughly for the show they were going to preside over. Joining them in Portland would be Craig Masback and Todd Harris in their familiar roles as well, as viewers who've followed their work at previous Olympics and World Championships.

To open the third and final day of competition, NBC had a great idea to have Mo Farah join the broadcast team for the Men's 3000 final. Prior to the race the obvious question to Farrah was why he was not running. " I'm not competing, I'm just watching the guys here. I'm running the world 1/2 marathon champs next week to test myself and get back into the track", said the world's top distance man. Interspersed in the race was the question posed to Farah about the doping controversies. "I just want countries to apply the same rules that are here in the US and other countries to them as well so that it's fair, " said Farrah, echoing what other athletes have said before.
As the pace dawdled in the 3000, the crowd buildup was heard quite well on the TV. I was watching the 3000 meters, as 18 year old Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha injected a 56 second last 400 to win in 7:57.21. But the roar of the crowd for the fast closing Ryan Hill intensified as he gamely came on at the end to snatch the silver from Kenyan Augustine Kirpono Chogo in 7:57.39, leading Farah to proclaim, "distance running is back on for USA!"
Farah's great proclamation prompted Masback to ask Farrah why it's different in the US today in regards to the rise of distance athletes taking the World and Olympic medal stand. "You're training with your partners here," said Farah. "There are No secrets; you feed off on others" In the postrace interview with Harris, Hill said, "I loved my positioning...I was watching the moves but I possibly could have got the gold, but I secured a medal - I'm sure my coach is going to get on me about that"

It was then we viewed the Women's 800 final with Masback keying on Ajee' Wilson. "She's Only 21," said Masback. "But she's ready to be a champion."

Wilson did stay in the lead and looked real strong. Masback then talked about Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, who was a strong runner but had no idea how to run indoors " Her first indoor race was yesterday!", said Masback, alluding to the idea that she might have a hard time adjusting to the tight short turns.
But, after a 60 second first 400 by the pack Niyonsaba surged to the lead at 600 (1:29) and won 2:00.01), holding off Wilson (2:00.27) and Kenyan Margaret Wambui (2:00.44). American Laura Roesler finished in the dreaded 4th place, running 2:00.80. As Masback stated, "Wilson just couldn't cover the move...she fought hard but just couldn't catch her."

Right after the 800 Harris brought the viewers up to speed in high school sensation Vashti Cunningham, who made the 6'4" clearance in the high jump, according to Harris, "look easy." It was then a savvy Nbc move to focus the camera on Cunnngham's dad, former NFL great Randall Cunningham sitting in the stands.

Right after the High Jump, Harris talked with Wilson, who said, " I waited a little too late to make a move but I'm happy with what i did...I thank the crowd for that."

It was then on to earlier replays of both Men's 60 m hurdles semis, where top 4 in each race would go on to the finals.
For Jared Eaton in the first heat, Boldon said, "he turned it right back on when he needed it" but, it was Frenchman Pascal Martinot-Lagarde who got the decision over the American with both timed in 7.52. Heat 2 showed Jamaican Omar McLeod dominate despite, according to Boldon, "a pretty significant stumble." With a winning time of 7.52 also, Boldon said, "it will do wonders for his confidence"

When the women's 3000 field lined up, there was no doubt over who Masback really liked- it was Ethiopian Mesferet Defar. "They should name this race after her", he said. Hammond echoed that sentiment stating that Defar had won "14 medals in Olympics and World Championships both indoors and outdoors."
Attention was also given to Shannon Rowbury with the announcers stating that no American has medaled in the event since 2004. But focus generally shifted to Genzebe Dibaba, the World Record holder. After a slow 400 in around 80 seconds ("This is literally a training pace for Dibaba," said Masback), the pack continued to dawdle as the attention on TV turned to the men's high jumpers Jeff Henderson (26' 10 1/2") and Marquis Dendy (27 1/4), then followed by a commercial break.
When action resumed on television the viewer now saw Dibaba with a significant lead, but NBC went back to show her move in replay. As the race continued the big question was what could Rowbury, now in 4th place, do to medal? Masback then explained how over this preceding winter Rowbury, under the training of Alberto Salazar, focused on building up strength although she raced mostly the mile indoors. But the question asked by Masback was, " in 4th place she has the 1500 background for finishing strong but can she do it over the 3000 race?"
With Dibaba claiming an easy victory (8:47.43), Rowbury then moved into 3rd and tried to chase down Defar, who held on for Silver (8:54.26) over the American, who ended the medal drought with a time of 8:55.55. Happy with her Bronze, the TV camera then showed a smiling waving Rowbury.
Going back to the Women's High Jump, Harris reacted to the 18 year old Cunningham's successful clearance by saying that ," she's put the pressure on this veteran field"

The camera then rewound to the previous men's 60 meters final, with Boldon's focus on Asafa Powell. "This would be his first global title if he wins
tonight."
But it was not to be, as Trayvon Brummell won in 6.42. In a harsh but sadly true critique, Boldon said with the frustration of any track fan, "Once again Asafa Powell disappears in a final" Boldon then pinged his praise at the Champion. "Trayvon Brommel was wire to wire, and he got it done... He left Baylor early and is been heralded as the next great American Sprinter!"

The highlight of the broadcast was without a doubt the men's 1500, with the focus on hometown favorite Matt Centrowitz. Centrowitz, according to Masback, "ran the fastest indoor mile in 11 years at the last Millrose Games and Coach Alberto Salazar believes his athletes can peak twice in the season". As for his poise, Masback said,"When he's on, he's unflappable." Djibouti's defending champion Ayanleh Souleiman took the pack through the first 400 (61 seconds) with Robby Andrews, Nick Willis and Centrowitz, all in the slow pack. Soulemain still stayed in control with a real slow 800 of 2:07, with everyone still in it!
As Willis took charge Masback exclaimed, "Look at Centrowitz' face...how cool and relaxed he is." As the New Zealander charged through 3/4 in 3:04, Centrowitz was right in the Kiwi's shoulder, prompting Masback to excitedly proclaim, " Centro can win this race!! All he had to do is slingshot off of Willis on the final turn". Which is exactly how the script for this exciting race closed off, as the screaming crowd powered Centrowitz to a 52 second last 400 to become the first American to ever win the World Indoor 1500 Championship in 3:44.22. Czech (and 2015 Euro Champion), Jakub Holusa (3:44.30) passed the tiring Willis (3:44.30) who held off the fast closing Andrews (3:44.77) for the Bronze.
While Centrowitz basked in a glorious victory lap, the NBC cameras showed the victorious Cunningham in the High Jump, and then went to the Centrowitz postrace interview. " I had goosebumps and the crowd noise kept on building as I got closer to the front...I just had to get on Willis' shoulder."
As for the future, Centrowitz (whose father was quite a good runner and Coach himself!) said, "there are Definitely places I can improve on in racing." While elated, he also kept his victory in perspective. "You have to remember that there was no Asbel Kiprop or any of the other Kenyans here," he said of the Olympic and World Outdoor Champ.

In the replay of the Women's 60 meters, where Barbara Pierre won over over Dafne Schippers in 7.02, Boldon excitedly proclaimed, "So the US wins the men's and women's 60 meter dash!!!"

Next it was on to the Women's 4x400 where the relay team member of Jamaica falls which leads to a dominant USA win (3:26.38), by almost 5 seconds!

The cameras then moved once again to the 18 year old Cunningham, who won the High Jump replete with a cameo again to her father Randall.
Pointing out to the audience that she is the youngest World Champion ever, Cunningham said, "I was just trying to keep working hard and keep my focus." Then the bombshell- When asked about turning pro, the High School Senior responded, "I'm turning pro, so be on the lookout for me!"

The Men's Long Jump concluded with the camera showing Henderson's heartbreaking 4th place but Dendy's 27 1-1/4 victory, despite fouling on his last attempt. "I feel real good about my training," said the excited Dendy to Harris.

As for the Men's 60 hurdle final, Boldon said that despite the presence of the 2 Frenchmen, "If McLeod has a clean race he has a shot at the gold as well"

He did have a clean race! For McLeod - "there was no stumbling this time!" His lifetime best (7.41) led to his victory being Jamaica's first in Portland.
But McLeod's victory over Pascal Martinot-LaGarde (7.46) and Dimitri Bascou (7.48) led also to Boldon proclaiming, " This is the first time team USA has been shutout at an event"

After a commercial break, NBC rehashed the doping and corruption scandals affecting our Sport. To its credit, the network's reporting pulled no punches as the sad events where shown chronologically. Yet, with the camera then focusing on IAAF President Sebastian Coe in the stands, a reaffirmation statement made by Coe a few weeks ago was then projected in to the TV screen, giving every indication that Coe is in this fight and will, along with the IAAF, continue to fight.
The meet then concluded with the Men's 4X400 and there was no doubt about the US team's victory, there was a little drama pertaining to Belgium getting bumped by Trinidad and Tobago thereby with the former losing the stick. While Boldon said to the viewers to hold on for a possible protest, his point of view changed as he and the viewers watched the replay, which, according to Boldin, rules stated it was not a disqualifiable offense, due to "Incidental contact."
But, said Boldon,"The big story is 2 USA 4x400 relay victories!"

The Final thoughts of the show started with Masback, who deadpanned, "I don't think they'll let the US host this event anymore!", alluding to a record record 13 medals for the home team.
But it was Hammond who raved about the young Cunnjngham and the breaking announcement of her turning pro. "Watch out! She is a phenom!!"
Indeed she is, as were all the performances put wonderfully together by this knowledgeable and thorough crew. Here's hoping to great TV Coverage in Rio!
But wait--This viewer is going to Rio! I hope my friends in Portland who will watch the Summer Olympics on NBC this August will have that same happy envy towards me in return!

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