Looking at the Sochi 2014 opening ceremony a week later

The Olympic flame is lit during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo)

The Olympic flame is lit during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

I finally got around to watching the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics last Saturday. I had the unique opportunity of watching it with my roommates, which made the experience more enjoyable and offered some insights that I may not have seen by myself.

We got pulled into the event when my roommate asked about the infamous Olympic rings malfunction. I quickly switched from a repeat of men’s curling to show the moment, along with the rest of the event. Although I knew what would happen, the others in my viewing party were intrigued to watch the flying stars coalesce and have four of the five expand properly into the rings.

They were also amused to hear that Russian TV viewers apparently didn’t see this, as the broadcaster there swapped the live goof with a dress rehearsal where it went right. One thing that I don’t think has been discussed much is that the correct ring sequence was projected onto the arena floor at the very end of the ceremony.

In the end, the ring malfunction was certainly noteworthy, but there were many, many other aspects to remember. Some portions of the artistic presentation were draggy (and I was often quick, perhaps too quick, to announce the three times where I initially skipped some segments during my first, partial viewing).

We were all dazzled by the deployment of dozens of video projectors to seamlessly turn the arena floor into a giant screen. The graphics were vivid and the actors’ movements juxtaposed with the video made for an excitingly dynamic display.

Some of the more trippy moments included the segment with the soldiers marching through a shifting historical line map of St. Petersburg, especially when there were explosions that appeared to come from canon in a fortress.

Characters perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

Characters perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

The arena seemed to disappear when a star field was displayed toward the end of the event. At one point, my roommate remarked that he couldn’t tell where the stadium floor was. The star field was part of a well-done display where a constellation of athletes was suspended midair. The use of an enormous and sophisticated gantry system was responsible for all the gigantic and fanciful objects flying through air and largely worked (aside from the aforementioned ring malfunction).

While I definitely enjoy watching sports and related events live, it’s certainly nice to have it on a digital video recorder. We were able to easily skip past some segments (like the two interviews with tennis player/Olympic torchbearer Maria Sharapova), while briefly touching on key points like how odd President Obama looked during his interview with Bob Costas.

I felt like a bit of a know-it-all about some portions of the event because I watched parts of it and read articles online. I could envision this might be how NBC announcers feel, especially since they have some advance documentation of what’s scheduled to happen.

The superlong Parade of Nations sped by at 4x speed while we paused on highlight countries, like Canada, the U.S. and Russia. We also made stops at Mexico to point out athlete Hubertus von Hohenlohe was set to compete in a mariachi-inspired skiing uniform, Germany with their great dayglo rainbow uniforms and the Indians competing as Independent Olympic Participants (due to a corruption scandal). I was able to use the giant floor map of each nation to point out the differences between the two Olympic languages (English and French) and Russian with its Cyrillic alphabet.

As the event wound down, we were definitely ready for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. I wasn’t favorable to giving some of the torchbearing honors to athletes who didn’t compete in the Winter Olympics, but I relented when I considered how the event can honor all of Russia’s sports accomplishments.

Still, I was heartened to see the final two torchbearers were Winter Games vets — pairs skater Irina Rodnina and hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak. As the pair ran, I realized they were headed outside through a giant set of doors and remarked they had a long way to go. It was a nice touch that they ran past the performers, volunteers and staff who helped pull off a wonderful ceremony.

Rodnina and Tretiak finally made it to the base of the outdoor cauldron and, together, they set off a sequence of mini-flames that jumped up the monument’s spine and brought the main cauldron to life. We were satisfied with the launch of these Olympics as fireworks erupted around the cauldron, the arena and the Olympic center.

More than a week later, the Opening Ceremony seem to have been a superb introduction to the sporting events we’ve since seen. The execution of the events seems similar to the opening — plenty of polish with some grandiose displays, but there are some things around the edges worth noticing (like sparse snow in some areas). It will be interesting to see how the Russians wrap things up with the Closing Ceremony on Sunday.

Other thoughts:

• We really, really loved the floor video projection. I wondered if there’s a way to incorporate this projector technology into sporting events. For example, less than half a football field is in active use at any given time during a game. It might be tricky, but it would dynamic to show replays or stats on the turf. I don’t know how well this technology works in daylight, but it clearly succeeded in an indoor setting so I could see possibilities for basketball, hockey or curling.

• The segment on the Soviet era was interestingly avant-garde. We all enjoyed when one of the NBC commentators noted the Art Deco steam train that floated overhead was a commonly understood symbol of propaganda. “All aboard the propaganda train!” a roommate quipped.

• Others have remarked that the event had a perhaps excessive nostalgia for the Soviet era, yet forgetful of the reign of tyrants like Joseph Stalin who engaged in brutal purges and other policies that affected millions. We shouldn’t forget those who perished or suffered under Sovietism, but I was shocked to be reminded that 20 million Russians lost their lives during World War II.

• Finally, NBC should be dinged for the extremely dubious decision to once again cut the Olympic Oath segment from its broadcast (taken this time by Russian short track speed-skater Ruslan Zakharov). As I opined during the London Games where NBC also cut it, the brief oath is impactful as one athlete pledges on behalf of all that they will compete fairly and drug free in the spirt of true sportsmanship. I swear, it’s only 54 words:

In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.

Amid all the pageantry, I think it’s important to not lose sight of such a key element of the Games. It’s such a short portion of the program (and it’s a required segment of the ceremonies), it’s baffling why NBC continually chooses to cut this.

#nbcfail: Complaints about NBC’s Olympics coverage reach new heights

NBC Live bug during Vancouver Games

“Live – NBC” Something West Coast viewers saw only briefly during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. For this year’s London games, seeing such a thing may almost be a mirage.

During the Calgary Winter Games in 1988, I remember the announcer for ABC (I want to say Jim McKay) explaining to the audience watching at home how, even though the event was live, there could be brief seconds of delay as the feed is uplinked from Canada and downlinked from orbiting satellites to local stations. I believe the point was that ABC was making was that the coverage was as live as technically possible.

Contrast that with NBC’s coverage of the London Summer Games, where they’re largely sticking with their “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” mantra. That motto didn’t work for summer reruns in 1997 and it doesn’t work for covering an immense, live sporting event in an age of Facebook and Twitter.

With the London Games fully underway, an old sport of sorts has taken off online — complaining about NBC’s ever-lackluster presentation of the Olympics. As this Associated Press article indicates, critics and supporters alike will point out that this isn’t a new event, but the increasing use of social networking has bolstered criticisms and underscored NBC’s relatively poor broadcasting choices.

Social networking spoils NBC’s tape-delay plans because people around the world are sharing results as they happen. Unless people go out of their way to avoid the results, the results of key competitions are known hours before NBC gets around to broadcasting them over the air.

This was an issue during the Vancouver 2010 Games, but it seems like a much bigger issue today.

I’ve never been shy to criticize NBC’s broadcasting choices, especially those that force West Coast viewers to suffer tape delays for events happening in their time zone (like during Vancouver). In the past, the complaints just seemed to peter out after a while. Not so in London, where comments are shared and added to like flames of a fire.

Thus far, people watching the London Games have taken to using the #nbcfail tag on Twitter to help express their disdain of the coverage. The complaints have been wide-ranging, but have thus far focused on the delayed Opening Ceremonies on Friday and a 7- to 11-hour delay for Saturday’s 400 IM men’s swimming final featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

Sunday’s gripes seem to be less focused, with people carping about a bevy of events delayed into primetime and some tweeting about the reaction to #nbcfail. There’s also a Internet meme where people are jokingly tweeting about NBC’s tape-delayed coverage of historical events.

So what’s the solution? I think the Canadian model works well for a sports fan and a viewer — live coverage whenever possible and highlights when necessary. I’m not sure what current rightsholder CTV is doing, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would only air highlight packages during times when live coverage wasn’t feasible … but after airing the live coverage.

Looking at NBC’s position, they did fork out the dough to air the Games, so they’re obviously in the driver’s seat about their decisions. Their arguments include the fact that they can reach a greater audience and earn more ad dollars by airing taped events in primetime. That seems to be borne out by the record ratings for the first two days of the London Games.

They’ve also made fun of the Canadian model. I remember during the Athens Games in 2004 reading about an NBC producer touting the higher American ratings than their Canadian counterparts.

NBC has also countered critics by saying all the events are streaming live online. I appreciate that effort — although I question how much of an effort it really is, considering that Olympic Broadcasting Services provides feeds of every event anyway. Still, it’s a step up from the Vancouver Games, where most events were kept offline until they aired on the Peacock.

The service was fairly comprehensive during the Beijing Games, but I’m shut out this time — people need to prove they’re paying for an expanded cable or satellite subscription before they can get access. People with rabbit ears on their televisions are shut out.

One final point about NBC that people rarely seem to consider is the fact that NBC isn’t a monolithic network — they have to keep their local affiliates happy. I have no doubt that local stations’ desires to garner the largest audiences is also a factor in NBC’s scheduling. That’s also why I believe local news and key syndicated shows are still shown, despite the huge amount of Olympics events available.

It’s hard to say what the ultimate impact of #NBCfail will be. For now, the ratings tend to support NBC’s decisions regarding the tape-delayed experience they offer television viewers. However, perhaps #NBCfail will continue to point out that this should be a golden era of sports broadcasting and that a significant number of people are aware of better, live offerings than what NBC is serving up.

Opening Ceremonies concerns: While I’m still making my way through an over-stuffed Opening Ceremonies, I have to ding NBC Olympics for its decision to air ads instead of showing the Olympic Oaths (prior to the caldron lighting). Amid all of the symbolism of the Opening Ceremonies, having athletes, coaches and officials swear to the true spirit of sportsmanship is a huge one.

The Age of Australia identified the oath takers as UK taewondo athlete Sarah Stevenson, boxing referee Mik Basi for officials and canoeing coach Eric Farrell.

Also, according to the International Olympic Committee’s guide to Opening Ceremonies (PDF), every ceremony is to include 11 elements. The oaths are three of the elements. NBC should have made time for at least the athletes’ oath.

For the record, the oath for athletes is — “In the name of all competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”

The network was also criticized for airing a pretaped interview instead of showing a portion of the ceremonies commemorating victims of terrorism (particularly the July 7, 2005, attacks in London).

NHL players needed in the Olympics

There has been some talk about the National Hockey League not participating in the Olympics after this year. The National Hockey League has only agreed to provide players through the Vancouver Games. And, according to numerous sources like the CBC, the league hasn’t committed to future tournaments.

As a fan, the Olympic tournament offers many more pluses for the sport of hockey, the NHL, the players and for the fans.

If it wasn’t for the Olympics, I may not be interested in hockey until the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in mid-April. I think the NHL season is already too long to sustain a general fan’s interest — it lasts three-quarters of a year, for crying out loud. A relatively short, two-week tournament is a great tonic to a 82-game slog.

The Games are a great showcase for hockey. I’ve watched more games in the past three days of the Games than I have in the past three months. In the early rounds, there are lots of games on the air (and they don’t air at 9 a.m. on Sunday, iike many of NBC’s weekly NHL games). Some of them turned into nail biters, like Thursday’s Canada-Switzerland squeaker.

The players also seem to enjoy playing in the tournament. There seems to be a much different attitude now than when the professionals were first introduced during the 1998 Nagano Games when Team USA players trashed their rooms after an early exit. At least, I hope there is a better attitude.

The benefits to the NHL seem less direct. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league’s presence in the Games is primarily because it helps “our game.” I would definitely think it helps build the global audience for hockey. Building such an audience is something the NHL has been working on for years — at least that’s why I think the league opened its season in Europe for the third year in a row.

The NHL does have some valid concerns — including the possibility of player injuries affecting a team’s playoff prospects — and they are putting a lot on the line in the form of the players. The worries about injury also concern columnists in Chicago and Sacramento.

Some of the possible discussion points — such as a greater say in the tangled web of Olympic broadcasting rights — may create complications that may make the Gordian knot seem like a Sudoku puzzle on Monday.

While some of these concerns may be daunting, I hope the league and the international hockey federation find a way to work together to keep the players in future tournaments.

The airing of Vancouver Olympic grievances – a list

I’m generally enjoying the Vancouver Games as it enters the seventh day of competition, but some things are sticking in my mind. Please share your “grievances” in the comments.

The fence around the Olympic Flame: I think the organizers were caught flatfooted by the fact that people may want to be close to the beautiful outdoor Olympic Cauldron. At the very least, the image of a chainlink fence in front of a symbol of peaceful competition is disconcerting.

Kudos for the organizers for making changes and creating more viewing opportunities (according to this CBC News article). However, I didn’t necessarily care for one of the organizers’ excuses:

Organizers said the cauldron is far closer to the public than Olympic flames of past Games, where they’ve usually been located in or atop stadiums.

The cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Games was outside Centennial Olympic Stadium and it was generally accessible to the public (at the very least it wasn’t blocked by a massive fence). I remember having lunch and taking photos mere yards from that Olympic Flame along with many spectators and families.

The Lack of Curling on NBC: This is a minor gripe at most, but it is sad when FOX has more curling on a 30-minute episode of “The Simpsons” than NBC will have in two weeks on its main network. Yes, curling is available on cable channels (that I don’t have) and is streaming live online (which I don’t have access to because I don’t have the right cable package). In recent years, curling almost always gets praised as a pleasant surprise of the Games. Maybe it’s not a primetime event, but it’s lame that NBC couldn’t find time to at least air the gold metal match on broadcast (like in the afternoon).

Shoddy online coverage: There’s a huge difference between the online coverage of the 2008 Beijing Games and in Vancouver. Just two years ago, many non-marquee events were streamed live and in their entirety. Now, it’s mostly hockey and curling aired live (with other events posted after NBC has aired them in primetime). Hockey and curling are both fine sports, but the offerings are like night and day.

Tape Delay: It’s a gripe as old as NBC’s coverage of the Games. It is certainly frustrating that NBC insists on starting its primetime program right at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) even though there are live events taking place at 5 p.m. Vancouver time. And, of course, Vancouver time is the same time as Chico and the entire West Coast which just compounds the silliness.

NBC didn’t have to do this. It could have emulated a model from Canada that I thought could work fairly well here. In previous games, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would air its primetime program live nationwide. After the end of that broadcast, the CBC would offer a special West Coast-only highlight package to help round out the night. I don’t know what the current Canadian broadcaster, CTV, is doing.

Media coverage of “the glitches”: I’m sure some of the criticism of the Vancouver organizing committee’s operation of the Games is justified, but the howling has seemed ferocious at times. The situation has drawn many comparisons to the Atlanta Games in 1996 when the media lambasted ACOG’s miscues, particularly regarding transportation (as this 1996 New York Times article details).

The disconcerting thing about the Atlanta criticism and the Vancouver gripes is that these woes somehow become part of the “legacy” of the Games. I was in Atlanta for the Games, and the woes weren’t my “highlight” of those Olympics. Yes, it wasn’t pleasant at times — I had to brave the crushing crowds on MARTA and I once had to give directions and a map to a bus driver so we could get to our destination. However, it pales in comparison to witnessing the opening ceremonies, watching track stars break world records and enjoying some of the finest art and music in my life.

Bruce Arthur of the National Post offers a nice perspective on the criticism. While acknowledging that Vancouver has been far from perfect, Arthur points out how there are at least three different views of the Games:

There is the Olympics that we in the media experience, the one the athletes experiences, and the one the public experiences. But only one of us write the verdict on the Olympics in question.

For another take on the Olympics’ legacy on host cities, The Independent looked at how cities capitalized on the infrastructure changes made for the Games. Atlanta seemed to fare much better on that score and I hope Vancouver does too.

More on the “New York” Olympics

As I noted earlier, NBC is having announcers in New York do the call on events happening half a world away. I’m not the only that’s noticed, The New York Times did a story titled “New York-Based Crews Just Call It as They See It” looking inside the Peacock’s New York broadcasting center — set up on the stages of “Saturday Night Live.”

It’s an interesting story that answered a lot of questions I had about the New York operation, including the number of sports being broadcast in this fashion (13) and the reason why they did it (because NBC agreed to send fewer people to the Games).

Live from New York … it’s the Beijing Olympics

Watching the overnight, live coverage of the Olympics on USA Network has been interesting. One huge thing caught my eye, or rather my ear. When equestrian dressage and soccer started, the NBC announcers took care to note that they were watching the action “along with the audience” from the NBC studios in New York.

It struck me as odd that at least two live events would be called out of a broadcasting booth 6,800 miles away. I wonder how many events will be aired like this.

Part of me thinks its a little ridiculous. If these announcers are “watching along with the audience,” why have professionals do the call at all? Wouldn’t an equestrian enthusiast perhaps have an equal chance to provide some interesting insights to a general audience? Especially when I’m fairly sure they spend a considerable amount of time trying to explain their sport to people.

Still, I can think of a couple possible reasons why they would do this. It might be the best way to cover some of the less-mainstream events when the alternative is to not cover them at all. I can scarcely imagine how much NBC is paying to produce its coverage when the license fees cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Maybe not flying some staff to China helps save costs.

I’m sure there are a few dirty secrets about airing a huge sporting competition halfway around the globe. Sometimes the announcers don’t record their play-by-play until after an event ends when they know it’s going to air later on tape. Also having broadcasters do a play-by-play far removed from the playing pitch is a trick that goes back to the days when there was just radio.

Ultimately, I guess it’s a good thing that they’re noting that the announcers aren’t on-site. Although the Internet and other near-instantaneous media have their advantages, I think someone who’s actually present has a unique perspective that a broadcast booth in Rockefeller Center can’t match.


The live Games – Part of me really wants to get into badminton and equestrian dressage, but the tired, up-since-9-a.m. part of me just wants to go to bed. Still, kudos to Katerina Emmons of Croatia for winning the first gold of these games for an air rifle event. She won shortly after the West Coast airing of the Opening Ceremonies ended.


The Opening Ceremonies – I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the ceremony while I was at a house party. There were some pretty rabid Oakland Raiders fans who wanted to watch a pre-season game instead of a show recorded 15 hours ago.

One thing stood out as I watched Yao Ming and Lin Hao, his young companion who survived the Sichuan earthquake. Lin Hao’s Chinese flag was upside down, which is either a sign of protest or distress in the United States (it most often generates ire when it’s flown in protest). Repeated displays of such an image stood out in what was otherwise a carefully and beautifully choreographed event.

The glances that I saw of the 4.5-hour event were pretty spectacular and I managed to see the climatic cauldron lighting. Good thing there’s a repeat of this taped event airing right now so I can catch up.


Online – Have I mentioned that you can keep up with the Games with ChicoER.com’s Olympics section? I’m just saying. 😉

Carrying a torch …

My excitement is building as the Olympic torch is just a few hours away from returning to its ancestral home. I look forward to seeing all the intense competition during the next two weeks. Regardless of how the Games are covered, it’s always a treat to see the finest in the world compete in the field of sport.

Apparently, this is a great time to be an couch Olympian, especially after reading NBC’s press kit for its Games coverage. The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius (meaning “Swifter, Higher, Stronger”). NBC is definitely going for more in this year’s coverage. It’s even trying to set the world record for continuous TV watching in a publicity stunt.

From the looks of it, it’s pretty impressive — over 1,210 hours of coverage on seven television networks. The networks are as varied as broadcast parent NBC to Spanish-language Telemundo. And it’s not all going to be gymnastics and track-and-field, either. NBC is promising some coverage of all the Olympic sports.

That said, NBC’s not getting its unprecedented coverage off to an auspicious start. Apparently not willing to preempt sudsy Passions, Friday’s opening ceremonies will air taped in primetime Friday night.

By comparison, Canada’s CBC not only manages to air the opening and closing ceremonies live (Starting at 1 p.m. EDT Friday), but they re-air the opening ceremonies in prime-time.

It’s true that the CBC’s coverage won’t be as comprehensive as the juggernaut that NBC is assembling (294.5 on its main network, 115 on CBC Newsworld and 150 on non-CBC network TSN). But, of all the NBC-Universal networks, I only get one — NBC. All the live sports that might air on Bravo! or USA are pretty meaningless to me. Just like I’m not too concerned about Radio-Canada‘s and RDS‘s Olympics coverage in French.

It’s no secret that I love the CBC’s comprehensive coverage of events — live whenever possible. Still, according to a Globe and Mail story, it seems the time difference is going to force the network to tape delay some coverage. I guess the fact that it would be 1 a.m. in Greece when the East Coast hits prime time is a pretty good reason.

While the CBC is resorting to airing a highlights programme each prime time, that doesn’t mean that its not airing the events earlier in the day live. I wonder if NBC would be nice enough to give us the same option?