Golden Voices: Olympic Edition

Photo shows logo of Rio Olympics, A blue oval transposed over a yellow round to form a green background. WIithin the green sits Rio in white text, golden text says 2016 and below sits the 5 rings of the olympics in white text.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.

Photo shows Leslie Jones headshot from SNL. She's smiling at the camera with her short hair upswept and she is wearing small hopp earings and a scoopneck shirt.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.

photo shows emoji for denied: a red circle with a slash across it.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.

Photo shows Whipple 2012 headshot from USRowing, she's wearing a blue polo shirt and her blond hair is parted in the center as she smiles to the cameraShe 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.

Photo shows Cynthia Potter smilesat the camera with short dark hair, weraing a dark blazer and green shirt.

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.

Photo shows Rowdy smiling at camera wearing a dark blazer, blue shirt and red tie.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.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Casee says:

    I didn’t think I would watch this year but I got sucked back in! I am enjoying everything but the volleyball. For some reason that sport puts me to sleep even though I played it and enjoyed it when I did. I like the sports I don’t normally get to see like handball and water polo. I admire the dedication these athletes put in to have their ‘one shining moment.’ I borrowed that from the NCAA basketball tournament but it fits. Despite all of the money and doping, I still find the Olympics compelling. I only notice announcers if they make glaring mistakes like giving the wrong score or mispronouncing a name. To me, a good announcer is one I don’t notice at all.

    1. Great thoughts, Casee. Thanks for sharing your Olympic spirit. We both have Olympic fever ha.

  2. I’ve been lucky enough to watch tv coverAgel of the Olympics with people patient enough to respond to my questions when something happens that I can’t see very well. What a great event and such a cheerful atmosphere. The commentators I usually prefer are knowledgable retired athletes. My overall favourite British commentator is Clare Balding who can make any event interesting and fun.

    1. In person commentary can be great fun. Thanks for mentioned your favorite British commentator, too. I will seek out some videos.

  3. JenelleJ says:

    Love this post, Susan! I am a huge Olympics fan and share many of your fan favorites! Oddly enough, Mary Whipple is my neighbor! Funny thing is that I didn’t even know she was a decorated Olympian (she won Gold at 2008 and 2012 Olympics) until we were walking home from a morning workout class together and she told me she was flying to Rio b/c NBC had hired her to be a commentator for rowing. I’m excited for her to come back so I can hear all about her Rio experience. I’ll text you some details from her and maybe a picture now that I know you’re a big rowing fan! 🙂


    1. Olympic fever hits hard. No way, Jenelle, what a small world that Mary is your neighbor Can’t wait for the updates!

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