What has traditionally been the most transcendent event in the world of sports had its Opening Ceremonies in London Friday night and the competition started Saturday.
Over the next 17 days
With this unprecedented exposure, will the Olympics retain their impact and relevance?
The Olympics have normally created a global village of billions of viewers sharing the same experience in an intense two-week period. The normal interest of followers of sports like gymnastics, swimming, diving and track and field are eclipsed. Americans who do not normally have much focus on these sports are engaged in massive numbers. One of the stimuli is nationalism, pride in American athletes at a discouraging economic time. The audience consists of many more women than normal.
Advertisers feel that women are drawn to the human interest back stories about individual Olympians. This is why there will be an unending parade of features on athletes who have overcome hardship and challenge to become Olympic hopefuls. There have been less of these stories and less focus on the individuals competing than in years past. This means that the broadcasts themselves will have to work hard to engage viewers.
These games provide a dramatic opportunity for star building. When the television audiences are large the games transcend the narrow genre of hard-core enthusiasts, and engage the whole country. A dramatic performance combined with an interesting back story can vault an athlete to national prominence.
We have a powerful celebrity-oriented media which can transform athletes into national icons. Hundreds of television shows, web sites, publications are dedicated to highlighting interesting people. Winning athletes can be featured on Leno, Letterman, morning shows,
In 1988 I helped gold-medal winning ice skater
In 1996, I worked with Kerri Strug, whose dramatic vault with an injured ankle to win a gold medal for the women's gymnastic team transfixed the country. When Bela Karolyi carried her to the medal stand it created vivid imagery.
But who follows gymnastics in between
We were able to convince the Ice Capades that she would be an attraction in between skating, so they set up equipment for her to perform. We created her own Gymnastics Show to tour the country. Saturday Night Live agreed to do a skit where
Michael Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals in swimming in Beijing, is the best known star and he now has a handsome challenger in
The scenery and history of London adds appeal to these games, but will the television audiences respond?
And of course there are the inevitable off-putting decisions of the out-of-touch
There have been moments of silence at Opening Ceremonies for the9/11victims and individual athletes who had died, but none for the Israeli Olympians. Politics and anti-Semitism trumped decency once again.
So the Games have begun once again and it will be intriguing to see if they still carry the same world-wide fascination and focus.