My Olympic dreams died around sixth grade, when I realized I could neither swim nor run particularly fast. Thus, I have found myself watching the Beijing Games at home, a task made easier thanks to NBC, which paid more than $1 billion for the rights to show events on its cable networks and online.
I decide to take advantage of NBC’s round-the-clock coverage and embark on an Olympic journey: 24 consecutive hours of viewing from swimming to sailing, boxing to badminton. Armed with a 23-inch television, a comfortable bean bag, plus snacks and caffeine - no performance-enhancing drugs - I set out to achieve my own version of Olympic glory.
My quest begins on a Tuesday evening with Bob Costas alongside legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, there to comment on the night’s women’s team final.
“They have to hit the events. They have to hit the routines,” an excited Karolyi says with a heavy accent. “They have to be solid. They have to be sturdy.”
New Olympic motto: Swifter, higher, stronger … sturdier.
But before we get to the gymnastics, we see women’s synchronized platform diving. It’s two divers going at the same time, trying to look identical. The Chinese team of Xin Wang and Chen Ruolin win by about 4 million points. The Americans don’t medal. Boo.
NBC switches over to beach volleyball, where we see Todd Rogers and 6-foot-9 Phil Dalhausser taking on a pair of Argentines. We’re told that President Bush met with these two earlier in the week and referred to them as “Toddly” and “The Big Guy.” Sounds like a cartoon from the 1980s.
Toddly and The Big Guy win in two sets.
It’s back to the studio, where Mary Carillo presents a report about pandas making babies. Carillo tells us about LuLu, a male panda who is considered a “super stud.” I make several bad jokes. My wife does not laugh.
After the panda report, we finally get a shot of Michael Phelps, who is pursuing a record eight gold medals. We’re told that Phelps will swim 3,300 meters - more than two miles - during the Beijing Games. I’m tired thinking about it.
Phelps goes on to win the 200 butterfly in world record time. He manages a mild smile.
We go back to Karolyi in the studio, who is highly animated because the American girls are doing well on the uneven bars. “Vunderful, vunderful!” he yells. “Vow! Vow!” Karolyi should get his own cable channel.
NBC has settled into pattern that basically consists of gymnastics-swimming-gymnastics. We’re jumping back and forth so much I half expect to see Phelps do a triple back handspring. But instead we see him win his fifth gold medal in the pool, this time as a member of the 4x200 freestyle relay team.
Now it’s pressure time for the American gymnasts. They are in a battle with the Chinese, who appear to have a combined age of about 30. (If they are all 16, I’m Chiang Kai-Shek.)
American gymnast Alicia Sacramone falls off the balance beam. Then she stumbles on her floor routine. NBC’s Tim Daggett says it’s “a disaster of epic proportions.” Something tells me there are earthquake victims near Shanghai who would quibble. The Americans win silver and look sad.