NEW YORK (AP) — For a few minutes, it felt like 1980 again. An American versus a Russian, this time squaring off in a swimming pool instead of an ice-skating rink.
Lilly King’s victory over Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova in the 100-meter breaststroke Monday was portrayed by NBC as a victory of clean sportsmanship over cheating. Efimova had already served a 16-month suspension for doping and tested positive earlier this year for a now-banned substance, and her initial suspension from the Olympics was overturned on appeal.
King made no secret of her disapproval of Efimova, both in interviews and body language, and NBC ran with the narrative. Analyst Rowdy Gaines called King’s victory a “statement swim” for the rest of the world. It took an extra question from Michele Tafoya after the race, but King said she hoped to send a message “that we can still compete clean and do well at the Olympic Games and that’s how it should be.”
It was a feel-good win for television viewers.
Was King improperly taking the role of judge and jury for herself? Was she reflecting the Olympic ideals of competition? Was she acting like an ugly American?
Those are some uncomfortable questions that could have been brought up, but weren’t. And if NBC made an effort to get Efimova’s side of the story after her silver medal-winning race, it wasn’t apparent to viewers. She spoke afterward and was quoted by other news organizations, including The Associated Press.
TAKE TWO, AND THREE: After getting heat for referring to Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s husband and coach as “the guy responsible” for her career resurgence after she won a gold medal Saturday, NBC’s Dan Hicks had the chance for a do-over. She won another gold medal, and cameras again found husband Shane Tusup and his man-bun up in the stands. This time Hicks identified Tusup as “instrumental in the turnaround of his wife.” Hosszu raced another time Monday, in a semifinal, and this time NBC wisely showed no pictures of Tusup.
CHILDHOOD DRAWINGS: Bowing to shorter attention spans, NBC sometimes needs to move quickly to give viewers a taste of athletes’ personalities. Showing childhood drawings made by backstroke gold medalist Ryan Murphy when he dreamed of being a competitive swimmer was a particularly effective example.
QUOTE: “The emotions created by platform diving. There is nothing else like it.” — NBC diving announcer Ted Robinson.
RATINGS: Sunday was a bounce-back night in the ratings for NBC. The network’s prime-time telecast averaged 29.8 million viewers, higher than Friday’s opening ceremony and 9 million more than Saturday’s lackluster first night of competition. The stars aligned for NBC on Sunday, with Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky in gold-medal swims that aired live, and a dominating performance by American women gymnasts. It was still below the 36 million viewers NBC had for the corresponding Sunday at the 2012 London Games. However, Olympic fare was also shown on NBCSN and Bravo in prime time this year. Adding those viewers to NBC’s total brings it to 34 million watching the Olympics on Sunday evening. There were no such competing networks in 2012, and NBC also didn’t stream its broadcast online, as it does now.
MR. TRAUTWIG REGRETS: NBC gymnastics announcer Al Trautwig said Monday he regretted saying on Twitter that the adoptive parents of U.S. gymnast Simone Biles were not her parents. Biles was adopted as a toddler by her maternal grandfather and his wife after she was placed in foster care. Advocates for adoption had objected to the characterization, and NBC ordered Trautwig to delete the offending tweet.
JONESING FOR THE OLYMPICS: Who says NBC can’t call an audible? Charmed by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Leslie Jones’ goofy enthusiasm for the Olympics, expressed primarily on her Twitter feed, NBC invited her down to Rio and on Monday she accepted. Jones will arrive Friday to become part of the network’s coverage.
BACK TO MARV: It’s great to have the ageless Marv Albert (OK, he’s 75) back behind the mic covering the men’s basketball tournament for the first time since 2000. Wasn’t he shouting, “Yessss!” when the ancient Greeks successfully drove to the hoop? Make no mistake, Doug Collins is the star of the basketball announcing team now. He analyzed the Americans’ slow start against Venezuela on Monday with bite and precision. The Venezuelans are “not going to be talented enough to beat the United States, but teams moving on will watch this,” Collins said as the 50-point underdog kept things even for the first quarter.