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More from the Olympics

Philip E. Karp's picture

The Water Cube (or the National Aquatic Center) is where swimming and diving events are held.
My colleagues David Dollar and Mara Warwick have already posted some impressions from the Olympics.  As Mara has noted, it is certainly exciting to be living in the host city.  Beijing residents seem to be doing everything possible to welcome the influx of visitors–both from other parts of China and from around the world. In addition to the thousands of official volunteers, I have seen old men and women on the street providing directions to visitors, and have observed Chinese giving up their seats on the subway to foreign visitors who were on the way to watch the games.

So far I have attended several swimming and diving events at the National Aquatic Center–otherwise known as the Water Cube.  One of the venues built especially for the 2008 games, the Center is particularly spectacular at night when the exterior “bubbles” can be lit up in various colors. Tickets for diving are among the hottest commodities in Beijing this week, and as expected, the Chinese have dominated so far. Indeed, their divers, some of whom are national heroes, have been almost flawless.  But China’s success in the pool hasn’t been limited only to diving, as one of the Chinese women claimed the county’s first-ever swimming world record this week, with a fellow Chinese swimmer winning silver in the same event. 

I have been impressed by the good sportsmanship of the Chinese spectators.  They certainly are cheering loudly for the Chinese competitors (and at diving they have had a lot to cheer about!) but they also are applauding good performances of athletes from other countries.  At the swimming session I attended last night Michael Phelps received an even bigger cheer than the Chinese swimmer who was competing in the same event. 

The TV coverage has been a pleasant surprise. China’s Central Television Network (CCTV) is broadcasting the games on 5 different channels. The contrast between their coverage and that provided in the United States by NBC is striking. Yes, the camera work and production have been a bit spotty at times, but the events are being shown live with virtually no commercial interruptions. And instead of seeing only the United States athletes, I can watch all of the competitors–even those (often from tiny countries) who have no chance of winning a medal. 

Speaking of tiny countries and medals, my favorite story of this Olympics so far is that of Benjamin Boukpeti, who claimed Togo’s first-ever Olympic medal, winning bronze in the men’s K-1 slalom kayak event. Having been a Peace Corps volunteer there, I know what an event like this can mean to small African country like Togo. No matter that Boukpeti lives and trains in France, I am certain that he will soon be a source of national pride. I know how cool it was for me to see the Togolese flag raised during the medal ceremony; I can only imagine what it must have been like for the Togolese watching on TV. In addition to the “feel good” nature of the Boukpeti story, his success is also a sign of what we could expect from other African athletes, if only they had access to the necessary training facilities and resources.   

Comments

Submitted by All China on
Philip you're watching a different CCTV than I am. It's "all China, all the time." I was frankly hoping it would be different from the coverage in the US, but sadly I candidly think it's worse. I'm not alone: http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/08/more_on_chinese_olympic_tv.php

Submitted by Henry on
This comment above (submitted by All China) is so bias that I feel embarrassed to read it on such a respectable website... It is true that, like NBC or any other local broadcaster, CCTV tailors its program to the taste of local viewers, ie, any event with Chinese participation with get live coverage. However, if there are less than 5 events that are going on simultaneously, which is pretty much most of the times, one or more of the CCTV channels will show other highly competitive events live, regardless of the origin of the participants. As for the case of NBC, if no American athlete is competing, instead of showing some highlights of the world's most compehensive and exciting sporting event live, they rather show commercials or "stories" about some American athlete's uncle... Don't get me wrong here, it is not that I do not care about the life story or background of the athletes, they are often touching and have important implications for people to learn from. But the point here is that the networks can show those recordings anytime of the year. They don't have the right to strip American viewers the right to watch history in the making just because they think these stories with receive higher ratings...

I guess that All China and I will just have to disagree on our assessment of CCTV's Olympic coverage. I certainly have not found it to be "All China, all the time". Yes, CCTV is indeed broadcasting matches involving Chinese teams, but not exclusively so. I have also been able to watch broadcasts of - for example - Brazil vs. Russia in women's volleyball, Latvia vs. Belarus in women's basketball, Netherlands vs Pakistan in men's field hockey, just to name a few. Yesterday, CCTV's live broadcast of synchronized swimming showed the full technical routines for all 24 teams in the duet competitions. I don't recall NBC ever showing more than about 15 minutes of coverage of this sport - with the edited broadcast usually showing only partial clips of the USA competitors plus the teams that medaled. The same holds true for coverage of other less popular sports such as archery and team handball, with CCTV offering start-to-finish coverage of a number of contests.

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