By Adam Duerson
My apologies, Dick Friedman, but I respectfully disagree with your assessment of Bob Costas's late-night interview yesterday. I was up around 11:30 when Costas played matchmaker and finally put Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz on the phone together for an interview. And from my point of view, that was about as awkward an interview as I've seen this Olympics. (That's saying something considering Bela Karolyi's studio presence.)
Perhaps it was the timing: Phelps had just tied Spitz's record of seven gold medals at one Games. That, and he had done it in a seriously dramatic fashion, hitting the touch-pad a hundredth of a second before Serbia's Milorad Cavic in the 100-m butterfly. Imagine Spitz's emotional state. Ten minutes earlier, it had seemed evident that Phelps would fail and that Spitz's record would stand. I picture the guy lighting up a cigar, perhaps one donated by the '72 Dolphins... And then Phelps did it again. Back in Detroit (where Spitz was interviewing from) some NBC flack probably grabbed the shocked and awed Spitz and hurried him off to the interview. "You're on in three... two..."
What followed was just plain bizarre. Spitz, who appeared to be reading a prepared statement (main speaking point: "Epic"), let his answers run far too long. I couldn't help but see a guy whose fame was fleeting. He was clinging to every second he could, trying to remind people who he was. Meanwhile, Phelps tried his best to pay attention but his eyes kept darting off to the sides from time to time. I got the distinct impression that there was a party about two feet off-camera to the right and that Phelps was doing everything in his power to get the interview done so he could join in. At one point, he accidentally fielded a question meant for Spitz. When the interview seemed over Costas announced, "...aaand we'll be back with more after a quick commercial break." Ugh. Phelps didn't seem pleased.
What do you think? Was this the right time to roll out Spitz? Did he handle the meeting as gracefully as you would have expected? And Phelps?