By Dick Friedman
One week into the Beijing Games here are one viewer's impressions of what has come through the TV and computer screens. Winners and losers to the podium, pronto!
GOLD: Michael Mania. Churning through the water and captivating a nation as he pursues (live! In prime time!) a record gold-medal haul, Michael Phelps (aided by a hang-loose persona) has joined the pantheon of icons like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.
SILVER: NBC's Nifty Numbers. Beyond Dick Ebersol's wildest dreams? Say what you will, the crowds appear pleased. According to Sports Business Daily, through Wednesday the network was averaging a 17.6 rating and 30 audience share in prime time -- 12 percent above the rating for the Athens Games. Those Nielsens could grow when the Phelps-propelled numbers from later in the week are reported.
BRONZE: nbcolympics.com. In the Games' first five days the network's website had attracted 373.9 million page views, already 63 percent above the total number for Athens. This is hardly stop-the-presses stuff -- the web's reach has expanded considerably in the last four years. Some viewers reported frustration, and to really experience the online experience, you need an upgraded computer and plug-ins. The site at its best is a destination for amplified coverage of events, including many not shown live on one of the TV channels. At the least, with it various bells and whistles, it's a fun toy.
GOLD: The finish of the men's 4X100 freestyle relay. For days afterward, U.S. anchor Jason Lezak's overhauling of France's Alain Bernard to give the Yanks the gold (and keep Phelps' skein alive) was the most popular video on nbcolympics.com. It's an instant classic and destined to be an enduring one.
SILVER: The Opening Ceremonies. The breathtaking visuals set the tone for the splendid pictures to follow, especially if you have high-def. There was, of course, the little matter of anthem fraud (see below)...
BRONZE: Alicia Sacramone's slip. The U.S. gymnast's fall from the beam is the leader in the clubhouse for the Jim McKay "agony of defeat" moment.
TIN: The Teeny Gymnasts. Doubts persist that certain members of the Chinese women's team meet the Olympic age requirements. The bleatings of hardly unbiased NBC analyst Bela Karolyi (who has a built-conflict as the husband of U.S. coach Martha Karolyi) notwithstanding, NBC has left it to others to do the tough investigating.
IRON: The Spanish Snapshot. For their team picture the players on Spain's men's basketball team were prevailed upon to pull their eyes back to simulate slanting. An outcry ensued. But as my colleague Adam Duerson has pointed out, imagine the furor if the U.S. team had committed this personal foul.
LEAD: Lip-Sync Gloss. That cute kid, nine-year-old Lin Miaoke, who was singing Ode to the Motherland at the Opening Ceremonies? Guess what? She wasn't the one singing! Vocals were supplied by Yang Peiyi, two years younger and allegedly not cute enough to be seen. So much for transparency.
GOLD: Bob Costas, for his interview with President Bush. Get past your feelings (pro or con) about W and the answers he supplied; the NBC anchor did a deft and diplomatic job and covered an enormous amount of territory in a nine-minute, 25-second session.
SILVER: Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines, swimming. Sure, they were handed the biggest story, but Hicks and Gaines have enthusiastically and adroitly skimmed the fine lane line between analysis and amazement. By the way, Hicks, as anchor, also presided over Tiger Woods's epic U.S. Open win in June. (And how has your summer been?)
BRONZE (tie): Cynthia Potter, diving. The 1976 Olympic bronze-medal winner has been clear and concise in explicating the intricacies and scoring of her sport.
Doug Collins, men's basketball. The former NBA coach is in playoff form as he breaks down the performance of the Redeem Team.
TIN: NBC in prime time, for soft-pedaling the Chinese-gymnasts age controversy; and for focusing on babe-a-licious beach volleyballers and such to the virtual exclusion of worthy women like U.S. judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey.
Two issues worth keeping an eye on next week:
1. On Saturday night, when Phelps gets out of the pool, will viewers leave with him?
2. Will viewers sit still for tape-delayed track and field coverage of marquee events for which they know the results?
Who are your Olympic winners and losers so far?