Is Anyone Else Sick of NBC’s Obsession with Michael Phelps?

NBC's love affair with Michael Phelps needs to end. There are hundreds other amazing athletes competing, too. Remember?

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt at the 2012 Olympic Games. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

In case you missed it (and chances are you didn’t, since NBC is breaking viewership records left and right), at the beginning of prime time Olympic coverage on Sunday night, NBC aired a 30 minute pre-recorded interview of Bob Costas and Michael Phelps chatting about how Phelps sees himself as the Michael Jordan of swimming. It was positively heart-warming inspiring vomit-worthy.

Is anyone else sick of seeing Phelps’s face plastered on the TV screen, in dandruff shampoo commercials, and on the front page of every major newspaper? I get it. Twenty-two gold medals are a big deal. (Well, actually, for a sport that hands out medals for six races at Phelps’s signature distance of 200 meters—there’s the 200 meter freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and individual and team relays—are they really a big deal? Usain Bolt, hailed as the fastest man in the world, had only one opportunity to medal in his 100-meter race.) To be perfectly frank, I’d had enough of Phelps before the closing ceremonies in Beijing four years ago.

But if we’re talking swimming, I’d rather hear Missy Franklin’s story—the 17-year-old brought home four golds—or something (anything!) about 15-year-old Olympian Katie Ledecky’s gold medal experience. But alas, there were no swimming events on Sunday. Which begs the question: WHY WAS MICHAEL PHELPS ON MY TELEVISION?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the purpose of prime time Olympics coverage to show viewers what they missed throughout the day, since NBC refuses to show certain events live in order to boost ratings at prime time? (See: Bolt’s 100 meter race.) Apparently, not.

The 90 minutes of prime time I watched consisted of the Costas/Phelps loveliest; “Blade-runner” Oscar Pistorius making a Green Monster shake for NBC reporter/tennis star Mary Carillo in a heart-warming fluff piece; an ill-placed segment about the James Bond films (what? why?), also featuring Carillo; some springboard diving; and volleyball. I turned the TV off at volleyball, having already seen two hours of the sport that afternoon.

My conclusion: When it comes to NBC’s Olympics coverage, prime time means it’s prime time to ignore a lot of awesome things and force viewers to hang on to the very last second to see what they actually tuned in for. Sunday’s oh-my-gosh-just-show-it-already event was the 100 meter race of the ages, with Usain Bolt defeating seven of the greatest track stars in history (and dodging a beer bottle thrown at him at the start). Two billion (!) people around the world saw the less-than-10-second event take place live. We Americans had to wait six hours after Bolt crossed the line to watch it on TV with our own eyes. This event was not shown until deep (deeeeep) into prime time on NBC’s broadcast, finally airing at around 11 p.m. People across the world laughed in disgust at NBC’s failure to cover what actually matters.

As our friends over at The Philly Post wrote last week, the 2012 American runners are awesome. So why isn’t NBC doing them justice?

Since I’m almost positive you missed it, here’s what happened in some of the running events on Sunday:

6 a.m. Eastern Time: Two American women ran themselves 26.2 miles into the ground to represent their country on Sunday morning. Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher led the front half of the race and finished in the highly respectable places of 10th and 11th out of 118 Olympic runners. NBC broadcasted the event live when most Americans were asleep. No mention of the event during the prime time broadcast.

3:15 p.m. Eastern Time: Two American men, Matt Centrowitz and Leo Manzano, qualified for Tuesday’s 1500-meter final. You may remember that many, many swimming qualifying races were shown during prime time NBC coverage last week. This one most definitely could have been shown live; we got volleyball instead.

4:25 p.m. Eastern Time: The 23-year-old steeplechase phenom Evan Jager, who broke an American record just his fifth time running the race, was running in the 3000-meter steeplechase final. He’s a great catch for NBC. Jager is young, attractive enough for a distance runner (more so than Phelps) and wears a distinctive headband to hold back his yellow locks. TV gold, no? Unfortunately, the network doesn’t seem to know he exists; the race appeared no where on television. What’d we get instead? Volleyball. Again.

Here’s some news: Galen Rupp, American distance runner, raced the 10K for a silver medal on Saturday afternoon. (Props to NBC, which did air this live, but with grossly undereducated commentators.) This is a HUGE DEAL, people. Rupp placed ahead of the heavily predicted winners, Ethiopian and Kenyan runners, and was only beaten by his training partner, British runner Mo Farah (hometown victory for the Brits!). Farah and Rupp train in Oregon. Rupp won the first United States medal in this event since 1964. So why isn’t Galen Rupp a household name? Sure beats me.

If you ask me, NBC’s doing a great disservice to these amazing athletes. Running, like any other sport, takes dedication and hard work; at the elite level, it’s an entire lifestyle. These athletes devote their lives to running, don’t make much money off of it, and the media moguls at NBC are not giving them fair air time. They may not be capturing gold, but neither did springboard divers Cassidy Krug or Christina Loukas, and I was watching them jump into the water for a good 30 minutes on Sunday night.

This morning I flicked on my television hoping to catch the tail end of the men’s triathlon. Instead I got Phelps’ face. Was I surprised? No. Disgusted? Yes. He was telling the anchors of The Today Show what he had already told Costas: that these will be his last Olympic Games. Twenty-two medals is enough for him. It’s time to travel, to live a normal life, to leave the spotlight. Great. We got it.

Hey, NBC—some friendly advice? It’s time to get off your Phelps crutch and move on with the Games. Give our other athletes—all 528 of them—the attention they deserve. By not showcasing their accomplishments, efforts, and determination, the network is wasting the opportunity to show the world their excellence. Which is a shame, because they’re pretty freakin’ incredible.

>> What do you think of NBC’s Olympics coverage? Share your thoughts in the comments.