NBC had lots of cameras placed above, near and under the water for last night’s Michael Phelps race at the XXIX Summer Olympics – and needed every one of them. According to the underwater touch pads, only one-hundreds of a second was the margin by which Phelps managed to come from behind, grab his seventh gold medal in a single Olympics, and match Mark Spitz’s record.
NBC did that thrilling race justice, showing replays and analysis from every conceivable angle, explaining the significance in terms of sports history, and giving Phelps all the prime time glory he deserved, and more.
The crowning touch, though, came well after prime time, when Bob Costas presided over a live-by-satellite conversation between Phelps and Spitz. Both men were impressively gracious and respectful, and the connection between past and present, between 1972 and now, was an inspirational piece of television.
Tonight’s 4×100m medley relay, in which Phelps and three U.S teammates will race in prime time for another piece of Olympics history, is likely to draw the biggest U.S. TV Olympics audience since the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding showdown.
That, however, was a duel fueled by criminal behavior and tabloid headlines. Tonight’s race, in which Phelps is swimming not only for U.S. gold, but to become the athlete to win more golds at a single Olympics than any athlete in history, is pure speed, skill and strength. As Olymic events go, it’s huge. The ratings will be, too.
And the way NBC has covered this Olympics, this sport and this athlete, those ratings, like Phelps’ medals, will have been well earned.
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