NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky made it look easy. But not every Olympic favorite wins, and sometimes the difference is as small as an opponent’s lunge, or a slip that causes you to grab the balance beam.
The stories behind Simone Biles’ bronze medal in the balance beam and Allyson Felix’s silver in the 400-meter run brought their own challenges to NBC on Monday.
“Could she post a score that would stun the gymnastics world, higher than Simone Biles?” NBC’s Al Trautwig said when Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands completed her balance beam routine.
To a layman, it was obvious. Wevers didn’t slip. Trautwig’s colleague Tim Daggett gently noted that Wevers would likely take the lead.
After the camera showed Wevers writing in a notebook, Trautwig wondered if it was a diary. Nastia Liukin explained how the Dutch gymnast was calculating the value of her routine to make sure she got the proper score.
Trautwig forged ahead with a remark both insipid and insensitive to many female athletes.
“She may have been writing down her start score,” he said. “But I’m going with, ‘Dear diary, I’m leading the Olympics!'”
Felix’s loss was stunning and heartbreaking. She seemed to be overtaking Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas at the finish when Miller went head first across the line and captured the gold.
Becoming the most honored female U.S. track star with her seventh medal will be small consolation for Felix, said NBC’s Sanya Richards-Ross, who called her courageous for coming back from an injury.
“This is the one she wanted,” she said.
It was hard not to think, however, about how the finish would have been celebrated if an American had done it, instead of an American being the victim.
YOUTHFUL POISE: She may have just turned 17, but American runner Sydney McLaughlin showed remarkable poise and self-awareness in an interview with NBC’s Lewis Johnson after finishing fifth in a qualifying heat. She talked frankly about being overwhelmed by the atmosphere. “These people are here to play and earn their spot, and if I want to earn mine, I have to work a little harder,” she said. An impressed Tom Hammond said afterward, “She’ll be back.”
TIGHT VOLLEY: As the ball sailed narrowly over American beach volleyball player Phil Dalhausser’s head and out of bounds, NBC analyst Kevin Wong quipped, “that’s one point when you’re happy you’re bald.” It was a funny line, and illustrated the on-target work by Wong and play-by-play man Chris Marlowe during Dalhausser and partner Nick Lucena’s Olympic-ending loss to Brazil on Monday. A stiff wind played havoc with conditions, and the NBC crew kept viewers informed on how that affected the match both physically and strategically.
SUNKEN SWIMMER: In a dramatic end to a two-hour swim off Copacabana beach, France’s Aurelie Muller was disqualified and lost her silver medal when she climbed over the back of Italy’s Rachele Bruni. Yet NBC cut away quickly, before announcers Mary Carillo and Rowdy Gaines had the chance to really explain what happened. Viewers who invested time watching the race deserved more.
RATINGS: NBC logged 26.7 million viewers for Sunday night’s telecast, dominated by Usain Bolt’s historic third win in the 100-meter sprint. Prime-time Olympic viewership increased by 5 percent to 28.1 million when cable and streaming are added in, but it was still below the 31.3 million viewers NBC had for the corresponding night in London in 2012.