Seeing more Olympics means seeing the Olympics differently

Thanks to the expanded coverage at, we’re not just seeing more sports, we’re seeing sports differently. The podium training for men’s gymnastics, for example, was a behind-the-scenes view that you’d never see on TV.

Now that we’re into the team competitions, another new perspective is emerging — and it’s been a revelation. As we see all the performers, not just the top echelon, I’m struck by the number of blown routines. I’ve felt for years that the sport has been emphasizing extreme difficulty at the expense of form, grace, amplitude, style, and rhythm. Watching the whole competition on high bar has confirmed that. I think you should approach an apparatus with a high degree of confidence that you can complete your routine. It shouldn’t be a crapshoot. And yet, apparently, that’s what it has become for many of these performers.

Did audiences vote for this outcome? If so, they’ve probably done so without full knowledge of the consequences. It’ll be interesting to see whether an expanded view might change attitudes.

As things stand, it’d be hard to compile a full analysis of all the routines, and to annotate the outcomes. It’s great that NBC is making these long feeds available, but there’s a lot of dead time in a 2.5 hour team competion on high bar, much of it spent watching judges discussing what they’ve seen and deciding how to score it. NBC doesn’t have the resources or motivation to distill and annotate all the footage it’s providing.

But fans and practitioners do. In high school we studied Super-8 films that our coach shot at an Olympics. With the video feeds now coming online, along with link-based editing that creates annotated playlists and a MTurk-like task allocation to distribute the work of annotation, that analysis could become a crowdsourced activity.

So this is the Olympics where I finally get to at least see so much of what formerly was hidden, and it’s a great thing! For the first time, online video has displaced TV as the viewing experience of choice.

Next time, I hope and expect, I’ll get to participate in the co-creation of views that will add value to the expanded coverage, and that might support a conversation about what kinds of gymnastics people really want to see.

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11 thoughts on “Seeing more Olympics means seeing the Olympics differently

  1. Yeah, but it’s in Silverlight, right? Across the board? Which means, yet again, that some of us are shut out. I rage at Flash a lot, but at least it makes the effort to be cross-platform.

  2. Based on earlier responses, it appears that lack of a companion cable TV subscription may currently be more of an obstacle than lack of a Silverlight-compatible computer.

    Still, point taken. Only Intel Macs can run Silverlight, and my Mac is a PPC model. Ouch!

    That said, Silverlight isn’t the only project that’s reluctant to invest in that orphaned platform. SPSS, for example, is withdrawing support for the chip. I expect that trend to accelerate. And I wonder, actually, where Apple itself will draw the line.

  3. I’ve yet to watch the nbc feeds, but big thanks for the early tip off about the live video stream. I woke at 8a to the portion of the opening ceremony where people were running upside down on the moon. I spent the rest of the day not quite sure if I’d dreamed the whole thing.

    Silverlight is surprisingly cross-platform for a Microsoft project, and response from the open source community has been relatively positive given the history.
    I’m happy to be able to write IronPython, instead of Flash although I confess to being all talk and no code so far.

    As for John’s comment about crowd sourced annotation, it reminded me of this japanese youtube + popup video blend
    and it seems a wiki based collaborative annotation might provide a best long term annotation, while I could instead subscribe to various IRCed realtime commentaries from average joes, or semi-experts who aren’t associated with NBC.

  4. Athlete’s behavior in this area must almost certainly be a rational response to the judging, right? So you feel that gymnastics judges undervalue style and grace in favor of technicality?

    I don’t watch gymnastics, but this is something I think halfpipe snowboarding judges generally do well: if you do a very technical run that was kinda ugly you’re going to get beat by somebody who does a beautiful, big, smooth, but slightly less technical run.

  5. the nbcolympics site assures me I will have a better experience with Silverlight, but seems quite willing to serve video without it. However as noted I don’t have the right cable subscription, so no go for me.. dang. I was looking forward to actually seeing some canoe races..

  6. > but seems quite willing to serve video
    > without it.

    Yes, there’s a non-Silverlight version of the site. I’m not clear on which if any alternatives to Windows Media Player, on which platforms, will work with that version of that site, and would be interested to know.

  7. > if you do a very technical run that was
    > kinda ugly you’re going to get beat by
    > somebody who does a beautiful, big, smooth,
    > but slightly less technical run.

    How frequently would you say people just crash and burn? If that happens a lot, it seems like a sign that difficulty may be overvalued. And in gymnastics it does seem to be happening a lot.

  8. I remember the last time I watched the high bar (which was probably the last olympics) the opposite was the case. One guy did 6 moves that involved releases. Only 2 were mandatory. He got marked down, the crowd weren’t happy. I seem to remember they booed so much that the judges actually upped his score slightly. It’s probably what’s driven the change though.

  9. But if you aren’t in the United States, you can’t watch any of it (“NBC is required to restrict this video to viewers inside the United States”)

    I’m in Australia at present and having a hell of time trying to find video footage I can actually watch. Fox is covering it here, but I’m not watching things live and all I can find on their website is still photos and “bits” by commentators. I don’t know what the licensing agreements are, but all my friends back home keep sending me links to watch this or that and I can’t watch any of it. Very sad.

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