Athletes overcome gravity, battle time, and push themselves to physical exhaustion in achievement on the international stage of the Olympics. Despite controversies like shoddy venue construction and income inequality within a host country, millions of us tune in quadrennially to watch the competitions. Why do you watch the games–is it for the feats of strength, the risks taken, the colorful uniforms and lively ceremonies? Rivalries and individuals facing adversity parallel the contests. It’s all drama, all the time.
Missing some of the dramatic action stinks. With low vision my limited perception desires extra detail from sports broadcasters. And yes–hands clasped in the air–during the Rio games, Comcast provides audio description. I tested it out. Unfortunately, I’m not impressed compared to movie theater audio description and Netflix efforts. I bet it will improve in subsequent broadcasts.
I wrote about my high standards for sports commentary. I’m holding those calling the world’s greatest athletic events to them, too. With an eye-popping 170 commentators working for NBC in Rio, it’s a thick field to trim. Cue the trumpet-y Olympic theme music. Here’s the commentator rundown of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics:
Fan favorite: Leslie Jones.
You may know her as a featured player on SNL, but Ms. Jones expanded her comedic realm into the sports arena. NBC realized she could not be contained after she wrote tons of uber-nationalistic tweets cheering on Team USA while in flag apparel at home. NBC flew her to Rio and now she’s injecting a fierce dose of fandom into the coverage.
Candidates for disqualification: multiple offenders.
Any commentator making sexist remarks, any commentator getting into social media feuds, any commentator saying disrespectful comments about athletes. Enough said by them. It makes me want to look for live coverage elsewhere. Let’s jump instead to the podium.
Bronze medalist: Mary Whipple.
She earned multiple medals as a coxswain in the US Women’s 8+. She may be retired from rowing, but her focused analysis proves she hasn’t left behind attention to detail on the water. She notes things like catch timing, racing shell positions, and pace in a heat and simply explains why it’s relevant. High Five.
Full disclosure: I coxed the rowing team in college. Ms. Whipple is crushing it.
Silver medalist: Cynthia Potter.
Her precise diving narration never fails to keep me engaged. She avoids repetition in word choice while describing similar dives and fully explains difficult elements to viewers. She separates a fast-paced performance into easily digestible bites, using the replay roll to highlight body posture and entry positions. She clarifies what would otherwise be a blur to these–and most–eyes. It comes as no surprise she represented the US in diving in multiple Olympic appearances. Well done.
Gold medalist: Rowdy Gaines.
A veteran Olympic commentator, this former gold medalist packs in excitement time after time, race after race. It’s no wonder he’s the top fundraiser for USA Swimming. He can sell it. It’s hard not to be caught up in his exuberance of a close event when he passionately calls the race. He will show you the beauty of a perfectly timed relay start and the power of a quick flip turn. Underwater angle coverage allows him to point out techniques amateurs on the couch may have missed. He states the facts and ushers you along with authority and glee. Everybody in the pool.
Are you watching the Rio Olympics? Which sports do you like? Which commentators engage or annoy you? What would you do to improve Olympic coverage? Tell me about it.