Tag Archives: Beijing Olympics

Top 10 worst moments of the Beijing Olympics

CBC’s calling it “a great Olympics” and everyone seems to have forgotten the smog and other hyped-up problems with the Beijing Games now that they went on without a major hitch. As news outlets produce their top 10 Olympic moments, I feel it’s time to counter that with some lowlights (if you’re just interested in athlete failures, CBC has some more national embarassments)

10. CBC commentators

It wasn’t deliberate, but a comment by a CBC commentator during an Olympic synchronized diving competition that the two Chinese divers “even look the same” when they clearly don’t didn’t impress one viewer. CBC’s habit of taking Olympic loser has-beens former athletes and bringing them in as commentators was good-intentioned, but ultimately led to awkward play-by-play as they didn’t have adequate training in broadcasting.

9. Adam van Koeverden, men’s K-1 1,000-metre kayak race

Van Koeverden, a world champion, our opening ceremony flag-bearer and presumed medal shoo-in, spent the first half of the final in a close second, then watched as almost the entire field rowed past him. He ended up eighth out of nine, two seconds slower than his previous heat time, and an embarrassment so great he immediately had to apologize. Of course, he redeemed himself the next day, taking silver in the K-1 500, taking Canada’s final medal of the Games.

8. Marie-Hélène Prémont, women’s mountain biking

Another medal favourite and multiple world champion, Prémont starts hyperventilating inexplicably on her second lap and is forced to withdraw from the race.

7. Janos Baranyai, Hungarian weightlifter (77kg)

Providing the answer to the question “can’t lifting twice your weight over your head hurt you?”, Baranyai’s arm can’t hold up his 148 kg attempt and the weight dislocates his elbow, bending his arm backwards. That was it for show-stopping injuries in weightlifting, which is pretty impressive considering all the men’s and women’s weight classes all trying to break world records in obscene weightlifts. Baranyai is probably out the rest of the year (and that will hurt him financially because of Hungary’s lacking athlete insurance policies), but otherwise he’s expected to recover.

6. U.S. 4×100 relay teams

Expected medal favourites (second perhaps only to Jamaica), the U.S. men’s 4×100-metre relay team fumbles, literally, in a preliminary heat as Darvis Patton and Tyson Gay can’t complete a handoff and the baton is dropped. The team is disqualified and doesn’t make it to the final. That would be bad enough, but mere hours later, Torri Edwards and Lauryn Williams fail to connect on their final pass in a women’s 4×100 relay heat, and both teams leave Beijing humiliated.

5. Liu Xiang, Chinese 110-metre hurdler

A national hero with endorsement deals up the Xiang-Xiang, Liu pulls up with a leg injury in heats and fails to qualify for the final. Not only is the country disappointed, but so are insurance companies and advertisers. The BBC compounds the awfulness with some misleading editing.

4. NBC

The U.S. national broadcaster disappointed many when they decided to embargo Olympic coverage, including the opening and closing ceremonies, until Eastern prime time up to 12 hours later. But it got worse when the network had “LIVE” on broadcasts that were clearly hours old. NBC tried to weasel its way out of it, as if there’s some loophole that allows someone to lie about these things.

3. Opening ceremony

Although it looked great, the opening ceremony took some heat when word got out that the little 9-year-old girl singing, Lin Miaoke, was actually lip-syncing a song by less cute 7-year-old Yang Peiyi, a decision that apparently made its way all the way up the political chain of command. Combined with computer-generated animation of fireworks, it prompted the obvious question: What kind of example are we setting for athletes when we’re cheating in the opening ceremonies?

2. Angel Valodia Matos, Cuban taekwondoer

Some have criticized taekwondo as being a sport that looks like fighting but isn’t. Matos might have helped its tough-guy image, but disgraced himself and his country when he kicked a referee in the face after a match filled with controversial calls. After he failed to apologize, Matos and his coach were banned for life from the Olympics.

1. Ara Abrahamian, Swedish wrestler (84kg greco-roman)

Upset over a semifinal match he thought was badly judged and cost him the gold medal, Abrahamian receives his bronze medal during the ceremony and then promptly walks off, throwing his medal to the ground. The IOC took his medal, disqualified him, and handed it to the next guy in line.

UPDATE (Sept. 11): As just about everyone in the world predicted, he’s asking for his medal back.

This is what I love about the Olympics

Yesterday, in the pole vault, Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia, the undisputed world champion and world-record holder (having beaten her own record numerous times) has eliminated her opponents, including a show-boating American who thought she would kick Russian ass.

Despite already securing the gold medal, she manages to inject some drama into her final vault by attempting a new world record: 5.05 metres, more than 16 1/2 feet. Her first two attempts fail as she brings the bar down with her.

The video above is her third attempt, taken from Russian television (until YouTube is forced to take it down because of the evil Olympic empire). The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs summarizes what happened.

Unlike Michael Phelps, Isinbayeva doesn’t hide her emotions. And it’s so much fun to watch that.

As a bonus: An Adidas “Impossible is Nothing” commercial featuring Isinbayeva.

Beijing Games online coverage analysis

As the halfway mark of the Beijing Games passes, here’s some thoughts on how the major news websites are covering the Olympics with their special Olympics sections. Some have improved on their “road to Beijing” sites since I looked at them a month ago. By now they should have ironed out any kinks.

(Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail provides an analysis of CBC commentators at the games)


The CBC website is a class above all the others, as well it should be since they have the broadcast rights.

Naturally, there’s plenty of video, including most importantly live video feeds from various events. Unfortunately, they’ve Windows Media and never worked for me properly, making them kind of useless. The schedule is tied to broadcasts, which means you don’t get the schedule for individual events and races. Items in the schedule also aren’t linked to more information about them or lists of Canadians who will be participating.

The “Higher Faster Stronger” page has video profiles of athletes, but they’re not sorted in any useful way. The videos themselves are also pretty uninteresting. The athletes give one-liners saying where they’re from and what sport they play, and then finish off with meaningless inspirational statements like “I refuse to let fear dictate my actions”

Medal standings page allows you to sort by G/S/B and total medals. Each country also links to pages showing who won medals for that country.

There’s also a blogs page with blogs from both Olympic athletes and CBC personalities.

What’s unique: Mandarin-language video highlights for each day of competition, special iPhone-friendly page.

Bottom line: This is everyone’s first destination for Olympics news. It does what it’s supposed to do well, but there’s definite room for improvement.

The Gazette/Canada.com

(Disclaimer: I work for The Gazette, though I had nothing to do with its Beijing website)

Canwest Interactive created a Beijing Games portal which has been copied for reuse by all Canwest papers. Stories are updated automatically on all websites without individual papers having to deal with them. With the exception of some local pointers to paper-specific pieces, all the websites are identical.

The design is visually appealing. The main feature is a “photo of the moment,” which cycles between four recent photos. While it looks good, it also pushes the main story downpage, so visitors have to scroll down to find out the biggest story. The photos are also not linked to the Olympic events they feature, so even though the main photo might be of a Canadian athlete winning a gold medal, clicking on it won’t get you the story of how awesome that was. You have to scroll down to find it.

URLs are unfortunately excessively long. Though the papers provide shortcuts, they disappear the moment you put them in, which doesn’t aid in memory retention. The Gazette’s Olympic homepage is at http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/sports/beijing2008/index.html.

The stories almost all originate from Canwest News Service. On one hand this is good, because you want to promote your own stories (the wires have hundreds of Olympic stories running every day). On the other hand, it means every story has a Canadian angle. Unless a columnist writes a story about Michael Phelps or other non-Canadian athletes, the stories won’t appear here.

There are separate sections for each sport, which include stories, (some) athlete profiles, schedules and results, all copied from the Beijing database.

Though Canwest has been making a big effort online for these Games (even sending an online editor to Beijing), a lot of the content clearly seems to have been destined more for newspapers than websites. This list of Canadians to watch, for example, is horribly formatted, includes no times and no links for more information on these athletes or their events.

There are news videos and animations of event rules, but both are provided pre-packaged by Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Same with things like medal standings.

There are some mistakes that make a perfectionist cringe. “Mens” and “Womens” aren’t words, for example. And clicking on “schedule” gives the schedule for Day 1 instead of the current day (and unless you remember that it’s Day 11 you have to guess at what the current schedule is).

Finally, it includes a trivia “game” with questions such as this:

Why not just say "Please select answer C"?

Why not just say "Please select answer C"?

What’s unique: Little separates the sites from other similar ones, but the stories, which are the most important, are Canwest-produced.

Bottom Line: All in all, a good effort, and good copy from Canwest’s journalists, but a bit too reliant on repackaging non-story information from other sources.

Globe and Mail

Homepage looks good, with a main story and matching main photo (like most websites, you’ll notice their layout requires horizontal photos). Design for medal counts/results is also sleek, with circular cropped flags (rectangles are so 2004).

A proper schedule page (with times and everything), but no indication there what events feature Canadians, which is what we want to know.

It includes a podcast page, which apparently nobody at the Globe looked at because the thumbnail images next to audio links are actually 6 megapixel images (over a megabyte in size) that the browser has to download in order to shrink to 1,000th of the size. The latest podcast is now four days old, and is just a series of interviews with Globe writers in Beijing. No interviews with athletes or audio of anything even remotely interesting. (There are athlete interviews like this one, but those are linked to from different pages

URLs are simple, short and sensical. globeandmail.com/beijing2008 for the main page. The boxing page is at globeandmail.com/beijing2008/boxing, as you would expect. URLs for individual stories, however, follow the standard Globe template and are far too long.

Stories are provided from eight Globe journalists in Beijing, but most comes from Canadian Press/Associated Press, and little to no time is spent formatting stories for the web.

What’s unique: “Games on the Box“, a blog about TV coverage (mainly from the CBC and NBC).

Bottom Line: In many ways, the Globe has led Canadian media in its approach to online, in terms of design and ideas. Audio interviews, podcasts and blogs certainly shows that. But this website is a pretty big disappointment from Canada’s national newspaper. I expected better.


A repackaging of Canadian Press content along with some videos produced for CTV National News and Canada AM. A joke of a website that I won’t dignify with a review. This is from the people who are going to bring our TV coverage of the 2010 games in Vancouver?

Toronto Star

A nice homepage with a simple URL (olympics.thestar.com). You have to dig a bit to get pages for individual sports, and results pages for those sports are nothing but (badly) rebranded pre-packaged pages from The Sports Network. Medals page (from CP) allows you to sort by total (ascending and descending), but in order to sort by gold you have to click on “POS”.

There’s a videos page with a mix of Torstar and CP-produced videos (sadly you don’t find out which is which until the video starts). Instead of simply being embedded on the page, clicking on a video brings a video browser in a pop-up window (and then doesn’t show the browser part). It’s more hoops than should be necessary here.

Schedule page provides a list of what sports are on what days, and clicking those sports gives a schedule for that sport on that day. Very good. But no hints at sports with Canadians in them, and there’s no general page with a schedule for all sports on a certain day.

What’s unique: There’s a Star-produced Olympic history timeline, and an interesting “in Chinese” page, with content provided by Sing Tao newspapers. The best part is probably the Athletes page, which lists all the athletes and provides pages for each one. Those pages include the standard CP biography plus links to stories that mention the athlete. It’s simple yet elegant.

Bottom line: It’s not perfect, but a very impressive effort from a single newspaper without the mega Canwest or Sun Media empires behind it.

Canoe.ca (Quebecor/Sun Media)

URL is simple but needlessly repetitive: http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Olympics/2008Beijing/home.html

The events page is called “Events”, “Disciplines” or “Sports”, depending on whether you look at the URL, the navigation bar or the page title. The individual pages there are needlessly gray, and the content provided entirely by AFP. (The country flags, where used, look like they were designed by three-year-olds using MS Paint).

Schedule page (also provided by AFP) distinguishes between competition and finals, but otherwise provides no details.

Athletes page sorts by publication date, not by name or sport, which kind of makes it useless.

What’s unique: a “comments” page, where people can give their opinion on controversial Olympics issues, like whether Quebec flags should be allowed there.

Bottom line: Far too reliant on AFP and other wire copy. No reason to choose this site over any other.

Cyberpresse (La Presse)

Page is the kind of boxy layout you come to expect from Cyberpresse. Main difference is that it includes a bunch of Flash-based widgets from Presse Canadienne which slow down page loading.

The URL is short but non-intuitive (like all Cyberpresse pages), with sections called “CPPEKIN01”, “CPPEKIN02”, etc.

Athletes page doesn’t include a list of athletes, but a list of profiles sorted by publication date.

There are separate sections for athletics, “acquatic sports”, gynmastics and “other” instead of having one for each discipline. (The “other” page includes “team sports” “racquet sports” “combat sports” and “other” — how insulting is it to be on the “other” “other” page?)

Schedule page is very basic, with times but no other information

What’s unique: A photo album from La Presse photographer Bernard Brault.

Bottom line: Not much to write home about. There are good stories here republished from the paper, but the website design is severely lacking.

Le Devoir

No Olympics website to speak of. A single page includes wire stories that were printed in the paper. Epic fail.

Olympics’ assault on fair use

Take a look at this clip from CTV News announcing our medal haul for today. Notice anything odd about it? The athletes look a bit stationary, don’t they?

This isn’t because of technical problems, or because a video editor got lazy, or even NBC’s controversial time-shifting of “live” broadcasts. It’s because of draconian rules about rebroadcasting of video from Olympic events.

Broadcasters pay a truckload of money in order to get rights to live Olympic events. That’s not so unusual. All the major sports leagues work the same way. The difference is that after the event is complete, other networks can rebroadcast clips from them in their news reports. It’s a gentleman’s agreement, but more importantly it’s the law. Fair use rules for copyright (“fair dealing” in Canada) allow broadcasters to show short clips from events as part of news reports about them.

But for the Olympics, that’s not the case. Even CBC, which has the rights to the Olympics, has to strip Olympic video from its National podcast because the latter is distributed out of the country.

The networks, including the U.S. ones like ABC and CBS, have tucked their tails between their legs and accepted these draconian rules. Instead, they awkwardly fudge their reports with still photos, file footage of practices or earlier events, or post-event press conferences.

It’s ridiculous. And someone needs to make it stop.

G to the S to the B

That’s more like it.

I was doing the Olympics pages last night, and there was a story from Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun about how the American journalists are starting to make fun of us for not having won any medals.

Just before midnight came word that a Canadian wrestler had reached a final and would be guaranteed at least a silver medal, so the piece needed a significant rewrite.

UPDATE: This New York Times story looks like it was similarly rewritten on deadline. It points out that Canwest News Service has 28 journalists in Beijing, and our medal-to-journalist ratio looks almost as bad as our medal-to-athlete ratio.

National humility in contrast

Two articles from two countries’ most prestigious newspapers compare two television networks’ coverage of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies.

The Globe and Mail says NBC’s coverage “outshone the work of the CBC, mainly because co-hosts Bob Costas and Matt Lauer brought more information and enthusiasm to the show than did the stolid, rather dull presentation of the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, who handled most of the commentary during the first 80 minutes.”

The New York Times: “how extraordinarily pleasant it was to be able to view that spectacle in Beijing without the annoyance of constant exclamation and endless recitations of trivia — just great swaths of wonderful silence from our narrators MacLean and Mansbridge between 8am and 9am or so, just letting the show at the stadium tell its own story with the least obtrusive economy of helpful footnotes, no urgency whatsoever to riddle the air with inane nattering and relentless fill.”

I guess it’s all a matter of interpretation.

NBC is lying to you

I just watched the Men’s 100m backstroke final race on NBC late night. It says “LIVE” in the corner, so I can only assume the images I’m seeing are, you know, live.

Problem is, the race happened five hours ago. I know, because I watched it live on CBC. And the results have been on the Beijing Olympics website since then.

This isn’t the first time I noticed this problem, either.

So is someone at NBC incompetent, running a tape delay without covering up the “LIVE” thing, or is someone being intentionally deceptive?

UPDATE: It seems it’s the latter, and I’m not the only one to notice. The official reason:

…the constant “Live” tag is accompanied by twice-per-hour time stamps that inform West Coast viewers that the event was only live on the East Coast (ex. “10:05 ET”).

“The audience makeup of the Olympics is very much like that of ‘American Idol’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ which have ‘live’ season finales presented in much the same way,” an NBC Sports spokesperson says. “You assume there’s a large amount of intelligence in the viewing audience, so when they see those twice-an-hour time stamps they’ll understand what is being presented.”

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

Let’s count how wrong this is:

  1. Lying isn’t OK if you air a disclaimer twice an hour.
  2. Lying isn’t OK if other broadcasters also lie.
  3. I’m on the East Coast, and what I saw wasn’t live.
  4. The difference in time zones between East and West Coast is three hours, not five.
  5. This isn’t American Idol. The time difference isn’t as obvious, and last I checked the Beijing Olympics wasn’t created by a U.S. or British-based entertainment company.
  6. None of these things are excuses for presenting a tape delay as live.

It’s either live or it isn’t. It wasn’t. I don’t care if it makes you look bad. It’s wrong to lie. And more importantly, it’s ridiculously transparent.


It’s nice to see the news media, politicians, fans, organizers and TV broadcasters are giving women’s Olympic beach volleyball the respect it deserves as a sport. And apparently deeming it insufficiently sexy, they have cheerleaders brought in during breaks.

This is what our world is coming to, folks.

Perhaps we should take it farther: Archery is among the least popular sports at the Olympics. But what if, instead of bows and arrows, we turned it into Semen Archery, in which the closest splat is the winner?

Most gymnastics competitions could be made much more interesting by pairing men and women and having them contort into various positions together. Marks would be awarded for difficulty.

Judo, wrestling and taekwondo would be a huge hit if instead of those bulky housecoats everyone just wrestled naked.

The possibilities are endless.

Gazette starting Olympics page, photographer blog

As editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips explains in a blog post, The Gazette is jumping on the bandwagon and has launched an Olympics website to cover the Beijing Games that start next week, at www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/sports/beijing2008/index.html. Most of the web content is provided by Canwest, which has a similar page (as does the Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun, etc.)

Other media outlets have already launched Olympics pages, which I have almost universally panned. That said, it’s clear the news media is making a much bigger effort toward these games in terms of online coverage. (It remains to be seen which of these websites will have better live coverage of the Games.)

As part of local coverage of the Games (and to justify the oodles of money spent sending him there), The Gazette is also starting a blog for photographer John Mahoney, who will accompany reporter Dave Stubbs to Beijing (Stubbs already has a blog up with funny little stories leading up to the Games). Mahoney has a first post relating Beijing to his first Olympics in Lake Placid in 1980.

The paper, of course, will also have special coverage. Mahoney has photo profiles of different athletes each day starting Saturday, there will be a special Olympics preview section on Wednesday, and each day of the Games will have special Olympics sections with pages of coverage (some of which will be edited by yours truly).

Olympics blogs ahoy!

La Presse unveiled its Beijing Olympics blog, noting that it’s sending a team of reporters, including columnist Pierre Foglia, to China next month. (Ten years ago, a newspaper sending reporters to the Olympics wouldn’t be news, but with the industry suffocating and cutting back, every plane ticket and hotel room has to be justified as a Newspaper Reporting Event.)

The Star, meanwhile, is putting links to its Olympics website on every page, including a logo next to its flag. Sadly, the website from Canada’s largest newspaper has about the same design finesse you’d expect from a YMCA bulletin board.

The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs, meanwhile, is still milking the Chinese news sources for weird stories relating to the Games on his Five-Ring Circus blog, which contrasts with Canwest’s matter-of-fact topic page.

The Globe and Mail hilariously has its Olympics coverage in a section called “Others“. Their Olympics blog is better, at least, though I’m not sure what “Wb” stands for in the URL.

The best Canadian Olympics news website unsurprisingly goes to the CBC, which not only has a general Olympics website, but has separate related sites for each major sport at the Games, each filled with stories. These will be the last Olympics the CBC has broadcast rights for.

And for completeness sake, Quebecor’s Canoe portal has yawnable websites in French and English for the Games with stories from its newspapers and wire services.

But even that’s better than CTV’s Olympics website, which doesn’t exist. (CTV has rights to 2010 and beyond, so you’d think they’d take advantage of the opportunity to get some practice online)