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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Michael Phelps is one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen. (PHOTO: Bryan Allison)

Final thoughts on the XXX Olympiad


The Games of the XXX Olympiad have concluded in London, England, and we can all begin forgetting all about it for the next four years.

So, some final thoughts on the Summer Games:

Yes, Michael Phelps is great

The chatter that Michael Phelps is not one of the greatest athletes of all time because he's a swimmer is patently ridiculous. Every athlete in every sport has skills and talent that don't translate to others. It doesn't mean one person is "more athletic" than the other. Phelps assuredly can't high jump over seven feet, just like Usain Bolt can't perform a gymnastics routine.

But to say swimming is easy and less physically taxing than other sports is absurd. By medal count – the only count that matters in the Olympics – Phelps is the greatest human to ever participate. By swimming standards, he's the greatest to ever put on goggles. By athletic standards, he's in the top 10.

I don't think you can ever say there's one "greatest" athlete for the reasons noted above – you can't compare across different skills and talents. But being the greatest swimmer the earth has ever seen puts him in the conversation.

Go away Lolo Jones

No one cares if your feelings are hurt about The New York Times ripping you apart for being all image and no substance. Last I checked, you don't have any Olympic medals. That's what you are measured on. No one cares about world championships or track meet victories between Olympiads. We care about one race, in one meet, every four years. If you don't medal there, you're a loser. Plain and simple. In sports, you win, and you lose. You've lost.

What Ms. Jones isn't realizing here is that if you take the endorsement dollars (which she should) and you appear in magazine shoots and TV shows (which she should), the reaction to that isn't going to be positive if you don't win. She should wander over the men's basketball arena and talk to LeBron James about that.

Then, going on the "Today" show to cry about it proves the point further. You want attention, clearly, so don't cry when it doesn't fit what you had in mind.

You're an athlete. A world class athlete. You deserve credit for that. But you also fell down in 2008 and missed a medal by a 0.10 seconds here in 2012. You know what that means? It means you lost. Go away. I want to hear from champions.

NBC should learn a lesson

NBC Universal fashions itself a major multi-media company, and it is. The problem is, it didn't act like it during these Games. It has affiliates up and down the television guide, and the web, to pull from. It had the three greatest living sportscasters in Bob Costas, Al Michaels and Dan Patrick. All were utilized, in some fashion, but not in the right ways.

Costas should be the lead anchor, but Michaels and Patrick were buried. Patrick's strength is in studio hosting – give him a platform. Michaels' strength is in play-by-play – give him track and field and the marquee calls. And where were the other polished, proven sportscasters from the NBC network? Dan Hicks was great in swimming, but the track calls were awful. The post-event interviews were awful. The event analysis was subpar.

Ryan Seacrest, surprisingly, wasn't awful in his pre-produced interviews (and when he didn't mention Justin Bieber). He was an OK selection for the mass audience, though making him work in pop culture and social media references felt forced. If you let him stick to his strengths in the coming Games, he can become a bigger asset to the telecast.

The biggest criticism of NBC was its decision to tape delay and package events for prime time, which I didn't mind. What should change, however, is the way it's presented. Everyone knows it's not live. Many know the results. So let's not pretend it is live. Let Patrick host some of it, like he does on "Football Night in America." Edit it down. Bring in some legitimate experts to analyze what we're seeing – heck, they've had hours to dissect it!

Now, this doesn't need to happen all the time with Olympics coverage – only when there's such an inconvenient time difference as there was with the London games. The 2016 the Summer Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, a country two hours ahead of us (one hour ahead of the East Coast), so it won't present the same issues. People have proven they will watch – even on tape delay – but it doesn't mean NBC doesn't have room to improve.

The biggest criticism I had of the coverage was the lack of highlights and features on the "other" sports during the prime time package, like the martial arts, handball, rafting, etc. This is where Patrick could be utilized. Yes, we could tune in to some of the other NBC outlets to watch extended coverage, but if an American wins a medal, or if something incredible happens in another sport, we shouldn't have to search for it. Let's see it.

And finally...

I'm a guy who likes dominance in sports. I love to see the greatest perform at their best and win. Usain Bolt winning the 100 was fantastic. It's what everyone wanted to see, and we got it.

What makes the Olympics truly great however, are the athletes who earn a silver or bronze and react with more pure emotion than many of those who win gold. For Phelps and Bolt, gold is an obligation. Less than that is failure, and a win is relief.

For the others, a bronze or silver is the culmination of so many years of effort, and sometimes is unexpected. The difference between a bronze and nothing – as Jones found out – can be as little a tenth of a second or centimeters on a throw. More athletes in a final have a chance at bronze than gold, so that shock and happiness at seeing a 3" next to their name is so pure, so joyous, it totally captures what the Olympics are about.

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