Friday, August 22, 2008

Media notes: Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt

This post is not going to be very extensive or researched; I just wanted to ramble for a second about what I have perceived to be unequal treatment between the two biggest newsmakers at this year's Olympics. Without a doubt, Michael Phelps' historic eight gold medals has to be the top story, especially when added to all the ones he's won before. We truly witnessed history in real time and this feat may not be touched for years to come.

I found myself watching every race of his, even the preliminaries because it was just that captivating. This is coming from someone who, like most Americans, could not care less about swimming any other time except for right now. So I don't want to sound insane by suggesting for a moment that Phelps does not deserve top billing here; I'm not.

It's just that you have to consider what Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has done: he shattered the most glamorous world record there is, the 100-meter dash, the most basic determinant of the world's fastest human. He also easily broke the 200m record (which is his original event; supposedly he entered the 100m trials as a fluke on the suggestion of his trainer and broke the world record this past May, prior to destroying his own record to win the gold in Beijing) and won his third gold today in the 4 x 400m, again breaking a world record.

You cannot say that Bolt isn't an extremely close second to Phelps in terms of having the most incredible Olympics of any single athlete possibly in history. Not that many people are arguing that, actually, but what has me upset is this underlying resentment of Bolt's accomplishments from the media and fan reaction.

It may just be me, and I'm curious as to other people's thoughts on this subject, but it seems like every time Bolt's name is mentioned, it's followed by "never one to be shy," or "as much as he loves the cameras/spotlight/attention," or something along those lines (here is one example in the lead graph of a story on today's gold medal win). Okay, maybe it was a bit much when he shifted down on the last 20 meters of the 100, started pumping his chest mid-race AND STILL EASILY BROKE THE WORLD RECORD. I know that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. But in my mind, that is not enough to chastise him as being selfish and arrogant at every turn.

I don't know, I haven't seen any interviews of him so he may actually be arrogant. Still, if you were that fast seemingly without even trying that hard, wouldn't you have to be kind of arrogant? How can you not enjoy yourself on the world's biggest stage when you're having the kind of success he is?

I also don't want to paint this as strictly a racial double-standard in terms of media coverage, even though part of me feels that there is some truth to this. What this is unquestionably an example of, though, is an international double-standard set by NBC, whose coverage of this year's games has been terrible in my book. If an event doesn't feature an American in some way, I feel NBC has pushed it to the background. In fact, most of Bolt's exploits weren't even shown live, thus losing some of their luster. I feel as though this stance has been somewhat justified when it comes to sports such as gymnastics, where the host country is just clearly not playing by the rules. But even in events in which other nations thrive, all you hear is commentary about what the Americans did wrong, or how the Americans could have done better, or excuses for the Americans poor showing, or... you get the idea.

Okay, I feel like I've ranted about as much as necessary here. Whew, I feel a lot better now.


  1. Personally, I think Usain Bolt was more impressive. The records he beat were more impressive, he didn't have any advances in technology aiding him (swimsuits and swimming pools keep getting faster) and he could have possibly even gone faster in the 100m.

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