Sun | Aug 20, 2017

George Davis | No medals for Olympic coverage - Un-fantastic Felix and un-amazing Grace

Published:Wednesday | August 17, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Felix Sanchez might have bossed track and field as an athlete, but broadcast journalism is a whole different kettle of fish.
Grace Jackson - part of ESPN's shambolic coverage.
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Watching the coverage of the Olympics, you would believe the presenters are given a special fee each time they mention the word 'amazing'. Caribbean athlete finishes fifth in a heat - amazing. Caribbean athlete finishes eighth in a final - amazing. Caribbean athlete competes in a non-track and field event and fails to make the final - amazing.

And after totting up a fortune abusing and bastardising the word 'amazing', they turn next to 'fantastic' and begin giving that word the treatment. Caribbean athlete in one of the watersports fails to advance beyond the first round - fantastic. Caribbean boxer gets knocked out in Round One of qualifying event - fantastic. Caribbean athlete who was a strong medal contender before Rio and who wins a bronze or silver in Rio - fantastic.

Never mind that the athletes themselves are disappointed not to have landed the ultimate prize - gold. Through the eyes of our limited commentators, every performance by a Caribbean representative is worthy of hyperbole. So many times throughout the coverage, I have caught myself asking aloud, based on the analysts and commentators' verdict, 'Then if last place is fantastic and amazing, what is first place?' And if missing a medal is fantastic and amazing, what is it to win a medal?

When you ratchet up the adjectives to describe the performances of the also-rans, where do you go for the medallists, the champion even?

Aren't broadcasters who operate at a high level aware that your job is to contextualise events and add perspective? Do they really think that Alia Atkinson believed her performance in the 100m breaststroke final to have been amazing? The same Alia who, on her best day, would almost certainly medal in the event? And the commentators believe that this woman, whose talent is not inferior to any of the seven women who finished in front of her, believed that in the moments when everything went wrong for her and she came home eighth, that her performance was amazing? Sigh.

 

QUALITY THIN

 

TVJ cannot but provide good coverage given the quality of the talent they've recruited for the broadcast. But elsewhere, the quality is thin, more sheer than a pair of lace panties. We are being treated to a Caribbean-centred coverage where the lead anchor knows more and speaks more about the athletes competing for the United States than those running in the colours of the countries of the Caribbean.

As a lad, my friends and I took it as gospel however the commentators pronounced the names of athletes and countries. I hate to join the nostalgia brigade in their constant lament that nothing these days is as good as the times gone by. But on this score, they would be right.

Not only are the anchors atrocious in their pronunciations, they betray their lack of preparation by deliberately skipping those athletes, especially from Eastern Europe whose names present a challenge. Now if Ed Barnes, Hubert Lawrence, Lance Whittaker and a few others could've nailed their pronunciations in the days before Internet surfing was a staple, why now, in this the Google generation, are commentators incapable of pronouncing the names of athletes? And then the circus of coverage gets more interesting when the commentators mangle simple names, often inserting letters and making others silent.

As a broadcaster myself, I am the first to confess to getting pronunciations wrong from time to time. But because I recognise that my watching or listening audience comprises intelligent people, I endeavour to correct these errors. Maybe it is that our Olympics broadcasters do not have an error filter themselves, or their production support is so lacking that they are not provided with feedback on how they're getting on. Either way, it's a tragedy, and we the viewers lose.

The less said about poor Felix Sanchez, the better. Felix has made heavy weather of his interviewing duties to date. He must have said something stronger than 'good God of Grace' when he was interrupted and then assisted in his interview with Elaine Thompson. And #CommentateLikeGrace has been trending quicker than Bolt in the 100m.

I am unqualified to criticise what Felix and his colleagues know about athletics. But they've all retired now and are into broadcasting, an area I know a little about. And the little I know suggests that the broadcasting of these Games is distinctly 'un-amazing' and 'un-fantastic'.

Selah.

- George Davis is a broadcast executive producer and talk-show host at SportsMax. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.