Behind the scenes: podium training for men’s gymnastics in Beijing

As a former gymnast, I’ve been quadrennially frustrated by TV coverage of the Olympics. I don’t need the “up close and personal” portraits of a few popular gymnasts. And I don’t need Elfi Schlegel and Tim Daggett to point out some subtle things I already know, or to state the obvious that anyone can see for themselves (“oops, a little hop on the landing”). Most of all, I don’t want to be restricted to the minimal subset of gymnastics performances that was historically all that got televised.

I’ve always dreamed of being able to watch raw footage of every performance, and even — why not? — all the warmups.

Finally that moment is at hand. A colleague writes:

It is midnight and we now broadcasting the gymnastics trials live from Beijing. —  click here to watch men’s gymnastics trials, then the woman’s trials & if you want the soccer game at 5am.

It has been a crazy ride!

As I write this entry on one monitor, a Silverlight viewer on my second monitor is displaying a 2.5-hour replay of the podium training for men’s gymnastics. That’s the one chance for the teams to practice on the floor of the venue, before competition begins.

It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on TV. The gymnasts are in their competition uniforms, but the hall is mostly empty — except for other gymnasts. You see the warmups, and you see the practice routines. And you hear whatever there is to hear. At the moment, I’m hearing members of the US team calling out “Go Raj” as Raj Bhavsar practices his parallel bar set. I’ve been there. I know what goes on behind the scenes. Well, the high school and college scene, that is, not the Olympic scene, but … tuning in like this is a dream come true.

If you’re not deeply into men’s gymnastics this won’t matter to you. But it’s certain that, for whatever Olympic sports you do care about, the televised coverage has in the past always fallen far short of what you would have liked to be able to see.

In an NBC press release, Dick Ebersol said:

For the first time, the average American will be able to create their own unique Olympic experience whether at home, at the office or on-the-go.

It’s staggering to me to be involved in a Games where we are producing 2,900 hours of live coverage – especially from an Olympics half-a-world away. It’s more live coverage from a single Olympics than the total of all previous Summer Olympics combined. The enormity of what we’re doing just blows me away.

Me too. This is the Olympics I’ve been waiting for since the dawn of the Internet.

Go Raj!

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12 thoughts on “Behind the scenes: podium training for men’s gymnastics in Beijing

  1. Hi Jon,
    I know the frustration you feel. I am a Judo person and every 4 years the coverage of my sport is on the whole unsatisfying. I get bored with having the scoring system explained every 2 minutes while there is little expert knowledge being provided.
    This games myself a few other Judo coaches setup a website to provide a little more depth, hopefully some of that will be comment on the extended coverage from NBC too.

  2. Excellent! I’ll be fascinated to see what you come up with at

    The time is certainly right for the crowdsourcing of coverage, where the crowd is divided into groups of expert observer/practioners.

  3. Can I vent? I wanted to try out the Silverlight-based video content, despite previous objections, but I’m part of a minority that is being excluded:

    Video is currently supported on the following browsers:

    Internet Explorer 6, 7 for Windows (Vista, XP SP2 or greater and 2003)
    Firefox 1.5, 2, 3 for Windows (Vista, XP SP2 or greater and 2003)
    Firefox 1.5, 2, 3 for Mac (OS 10.4.8 or greater, Intel only)
    Safari 2 & 3 for Mac (OS 10.4.8 or greater, Intel only)

    The minority that I’m a part of is non-Intel Mac users. Is the video a Silverlight2-only thing?

  4. And I’m a member of another minority that is excluded: I do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV, and so am not permitted to watch the Silverlight videos.

    I could probably lie…

  5. I got all excited about this, having not owned a television for 10 years and missing good Olympic coverage. I even updated to Silverlight 2.0 (shocked to find it is still a beta but required), and then was skewered by the cable or satellite subscription requirement (my closest truthful option was to specify off-the-air local TV for my zip code).

    Bummer. Ah well, lots of summer reading, writing, and Hulu watching to fill the void.

  6. I am a HUGE fan of American gymnastics. Too bad Canadian fans are excluded from viewing any video from . Is there anyway the video can be viewed outside of the NBC website?

  7. The Mac I’ve had for some years now is a PPC model. So yeah, if that were my only computer, I’d be feeling excluded too.

    FWIW, I’m told there is a non-Silverlight (Windows Media Player) version of the site, and that in theory you could decline the Silverlight option, use that version, and then (with Flip4Mac, watch the video that way. I haven’t gotten this to work, but if anyone figures out a way, please do let us know.

    As for the cable/satellite requirement, it’s interesting. While it doesn’t appear to have any teeth, if you’d rather be truthful, and aren’t a subscriber, and would actually pay something for access to the web video, it seems like that should be an option.

    So OK, things aren’t perfect. But wow, it’s quite an experiment!

  8. Count me among the excluded parties, on two counts: OTA only, and I watch my media on a Ubuntu/MythTV box. I was hoping the non-Silverlight fallback might be flash-based, but it seems to be WindowsMediaPlayer based, instead.

  9. Great website..I’m told there is a non-Silver light (Windows Media Player) version of the site, and that in theory you could decline the Silverlight option, use that version,can you please tell me..when will you update your new version …

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