Five Rings of Empty Seats, Empty Heads

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There were empty seats in London, and as the world of Twitter would have it, empty heads at NBC.

A young female swimmer from China did what an American coach said is impossible, making us wonder whether she was on something illegal or he merely was on a vindictive crusade.

Two individuals involved in a massive undertaking designed supposedly to improve respect among races and religions, were tossed for sending out hate messages.

Oh yes, the Olympics, an event considered so important we in the United States even are allowed to watch the competition televised within hours of when it occurs. Modern communication keeps advancing.

The delay has angered those familiar with the way, say, ESPN, covers the British Open or Fox the World Series, but patience never has been a virtue in America. And NBC simply is attempting to help us develop new habits. Take a deep breath. Take a nap.

There is something enlightening in watching Michael Phelps finish fourth, in California, up to eight hours after we find out on the Internet, radio or the news from a network other than NBC, that Phelps finished fourth.

But the moguls at NBC flick their ashes from cigars and chortle at what fools we mortals be. Ratings for the opening ceremonies were extremely high.

That the number of complaints about the style or timing of the telecast was equally high, doesn’t subtract from advertising revenues.

And the Olympics, as the Super Bowl, as the World Cup, as every major sporting event. Is held not to find out who is fastest, highest, or strongest – the Olympic motto as you are aware – but who is richest.

Some tickets for opening ceremonies were available at $3,158, but that was only 2,012 GB pounds sterling. Wonder if it the price included a picture of the Queen, who although avoiding Wimbledon since 1977 or the FA Cup final, did make an appearance at the Olympics.

The seating vacancies, however, were created not because of the high prices. They were caused by unused tickets held by Olympic executives who considered beach volleyball – everybody in London plays beach volleyball, of course – not compelling enough to lure them from afternoon tea.

Lord Coe, who when he won four gold medals in the Games of 1980 and ’84 was more familiar known as Sebastian Coe, insisted those seats would be filled. Chairman of the London Organizing Committee, Coe, according to a headline in the Times of London, promised “We will fill the empty Olympic seats.’’

If you recall this problem occurring in 2008 at Beijing, you get your own gold medal. The big shots are allotted the tickets the little folk are unable to purchase, then fail to make use of them. What good does it do to be an Olympic official if you can’t be a bit arrogant?

Dame Tessa Powell – everybody seems to have a title in Britain – the shadow minister for the Olympics and London, put into words what the common folk were thinking. “Anyone lucky enough to have tickets,’’ she said, “should either use them or give them up.’’

What Ye Shiwen of China is using may be nothing more than her talent.

But because she is 16 and swam one split of her individual medley victory faster than Ryan Lochte of the U.S. swam his split in the men’s race, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, John Leonard, said the performance was “disturbing.’’

The implication is Ye has benefited from some sort of performance enhancing drug, which may be true or may not.

It was back in 1984 at the U.S. pre-Olympic facility at UC Santa Barbara when Brooks Johnson, a longtime Olympic track coach, was asked about his sport.

“China is the coming giant in everything,’’ Brooks said in reflection.

“Gene pool. A billion people. It’s only a matter of time until they dominate.’’

Ye is dominating. Leonard, the coach, is skeptical. “At this point,’’ he said of the performance, “it’s not believable to many people. He added that it “brought back a lot of awful memories’’ of Michelle Smith of Ireland in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Two years later Smith failed a drug test and was banned.

“Ye,’’ said Leonard, “looks like superwoman. Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping”.

Maybe the rest of us are guilty of overreacting. While some of the dailies go after the Games big time, the three New York tabloids, the Post, Daily News and Newsday keep things in perspective and keep the Yankees, and Mark Teixeria, on the back page.

Those little gold medal gymnasts may capture the hearts of a lot of women for whom the Olympics are prime-time stuff, but this still is the USA. And in places such as Green Bay or Buffalo, the NFL camps take precedence over the uneven bars.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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