The number seven is often referred to as God’s own number, and is associated with divine completion and perfection. If only that was an apt description for Seven in Australia.
The Rio Olympic Games are the 12th Olympic Games that I have watched on television in my lifetime, but despite the performances of the athletes for some reason this time around there is not the buzz that usually surrounds the quadrennial event.
Sure in 1972, colour television had only just come into effect, Mark Spitz won seven gold medals a feat we were unlikely to ever see again. I remember Alan Minter winning bronze in the boxing, David Hemery bronze in the 400m Hurdles and David Wilkie silver in the 200m breastroke. Having just taken up Judo I remember Brian Jacks also medalling in that event. Then of course there were the events of September 5th which meant these games would never be forgotten.
By 1988 I had moved to Australia but my visa expired at the end of the first week of the Games so I saw the first week on Australian television, and the second on the BBC. The difference in the broadcasts was incredible. The British still focussed on their athletes, but were aware that there were hundreds of others competing as well; whether that is still the case I do not know.
In terms of my Olympic viewing experiences I thought it had reached its nadir in London listening to cricketer Michael Slater commentate on diving and Eddie Maguire, just being Eddie Maguire. Yet somehow this time around Channel Seven have managed to take things to an even lower point.
This morning after many viewers in Western Australia had risen from their beds at 5am to watch the Kookaburras – that is the men’s hockey team Channel Seven – play the Netherlands, they decided to leave the game with five minutes to go and take us to the third set of the tennis featuring Great Britain’s Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina. Sure Australia were 4-0 down and the game was lost, but do you stop showing a movie if the hero is killed with five minutes to go? Apart from upsetting many hockey fans it seemed a very sad way to close the career of one of Australia’s greatest international athletes, Jamie Dwyer. Some would say it was disrespectful. After all a month ago he was being considered to carry the flag at the opening ceremony!
It seems strange that this Olympic Games has felt so flat and almost void of excitement as there have been some sensational moments. Vietnam won its first ever gold medal in the 10 metre air pistol, Joseph Schooling of Singapore won his nations first ever gold medal beating his hero Michael Phelps in the 100m Butterfly. Then there was the Fiji Sevens rugby team winning their country’s first ever Olympic medal and it also happened to be gold.Then there was Simone Manuel, a 20-year-old black woman, who won gold in the women’s 100-meter freestyle. She became the first African-American woman to win gold for the United States in an individual Olympic swimming event.Then there was Monica Puig winning Puerto Rico’s first gold in the Women’s singles tennis.
The stories have been there, but somehow the excitement surrounding many of them has been lost. It may be that the Olympics has lost some of its sheen, and have become almost too cumbersome with so many events. In Rio there are 28 sports and a total of 41 disciplines and 306 events. In Munich in 1972 there were 195 events in 21 sports.
Then again maybe it is because of the parochial focus taken by Channel Seven. During the heats of some events all we hear about are the Australian athletes even though they are way back in the field. Sure we want to know where they are and how they are doing, and how they qualified etcetera, but the Olympics only come around every four years so we want to hear about those leading the race.
Australia is a nation made up of people from all parts of the globe. It is a nation with a large number of the population boasting Italian, Greek, Croatian, Serbian, British, New Zealand and South African roots; to name just some. The viewers with those ties also want to know how those nations they have links to are faring. It is not that they don’t want to know about the Australian athletes, it is just that the Olympics are so much bigger than just being about how Australia goes. That is what makes being an Olympian so special.
It has been so hard to get excited about these Games as from the very first day Channel Seven’s studio presenters have been so torpid. Their lack of enthusiasm and the forced ‘banter’ between them and the update presenter has been cringeworthy. ‘Insincere’ was a word used over the weekend by one armchair critic.
Even when they cross to many of the events themselves where has been the excitement? Frequently the commentary teams have simply chatted through the whole event and we have had the odd moment describing the action. Even Bruce McAvaney has resorted to simply spouting stats on athletes rather than actually describing the action. In one event with Australia losing at the interval we were treated to, “Australia will come out hard because that is what Aussies do.” Surely as an expert you can be more incisive than that? Tell us what needs to be done, what they should try and do as a team.
It was the late ABC commentator George Gruljusich who frequently bemoaned ex-athletes being put in the commentary box with no training. Some make excellent experts, some sadly do not. Some are given training and guidance and again some sadly are not. Channel Seven may well have decided that they were looking to pitch their broadcast to those who only tune in every four years and so the chatty format will be more casual, but it is infuriating to those who follow sport.
Even the ‘talent’ in the mixed zone interviewing athletes post events have been dire. Two interviews spring to mind, one after the Australians won silver in the coxless fours rowing and the other with Emma Mckean’s after the 100m butterfly final, where the obviously shattered swimmer had failed to medal.
Seven boasted their coverage would change the way we watched sport before the Olympics commenced. It certainly has done that as it seems to follow no conceivable format. IF we are going to focus on Australian athletes, as has been the case for so long, why did we leave the Kookaburras match to watch two non-Australians. Trying to work out the reason as to why one event is on air, when other live events are taking place, and why certain events are replayed has been hard to fathom.
When they were talking about revolutionising the way we view the Games, Seven was of course referring to the fact that they would have it on free to air television, and also available on an app. The trouble is the app has not been reliable, frequently dropping or buffering. As for the live coverage the switching from channel to channel has been infuriating. Why would you show one half of a game on one channel, only to switch to another at half time?
Understandably commercials are paying for the coverage being free to air, but do we need so many, and do they have to be the same adverts everyday for two whole weeks?
So is our view of the Games ultimately influenced by the television coverage?
To be fair as bad and frustrating as the coverage has been, maybe it is not all Seven’s fault. Maybe the IOC have let the Games become too commercial. Maybe they have let it grow to an unwieldily size and allowed too many high profile sports such as Tennis and Golf into the Games, and that has ultimately undermined the Olympics as an event. Maybe it has nothing to do with any of these things, maybe it is just with the passing of time I am becoming a grumpy old man.
Yet sixteen years ago there was a magic to the Games when they were held in Sydney. That magic was there again in London; despite Channel Nine’s coverage. The magic wasn’t as evident in Athens and Beijing. So, maybe it has more to do with the host nation than the athletic achievements and the broadcasters?
Looking back on those twelve Olympiads, the ones that stand out are ’72, ’80 and ’84. Which is to be expected when one reflects on being at that impressionable age. After that it would be ’92, ’00 and ’12. Why? Having tried to analyse why some Games live long in the memory while others don’t it is hard to find an answer.
Hopefully as the last week of the Games get’s under way initial impressions of the Rio Games will change, and there will be so many more moments to savour and remember on the track, and in the remaining events. So time to turn the volume down and enjoy the remaining days action, remembering never to leave the remote control too far away!