Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summer Olympics

The sporting world is being dominated these days by The Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, England. As I write this, I am somewhere over Novia Scotia headed out to the Atlantic Ocean and onto London for a three day stint at the 2012 Summer Olympics. I was fortunate to be invited as a guest of NBC Sports.

This was an unexpected invitation that I received in early July from Mark Lazarus and Jon Miller, the top executives at NBC Sports. The Olympics were nowhere on my 2012 radar. This trip comes on the heels of being at the Open Championship a couple of weeks ago. My first inclination was to decline the generous NBC offer. Work always comes first with me and I was having a hard time justifying another trip to England, especially with the PGA Championship on the horizon in early August.

But, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I accepted the invitation. NBC is the broadcast partner with the PGA of America for the Ryder Cup and the Senior PGA Championship. The network is part of the Comcast family and also owns The Golf Channel. That’s my connection.

The 2012 Summer Olympics have been an early success for NBC as it has racked up prime time ratings of nearly 20 percent. The network has come under criticism and scrutiny for some of its taped delayed coverage. One prominent British journalist actually had his Twitter account closed down after making disparaging remarks about NBC’s delayed coverage of the Opening Ceremonies. The ratings speak for themselves and it’s obvious that Lazarus and Miller know what they are doing.

As a guest of NBC, I will be housed at London’s famous Savoy Hotel, a five star masterpiece that recently underwent a massive renovation in preparation of the 2012 Olympics. The Savoy is located in the West End of London on the historic Thames River. NBC will provide all meals, transportation to and from Olympic competition with preferred seating at the events and tours of London if I get my fill of sports. It should be one of the best experiences of my lifetime.

The network will use this venue as a source for business entertainment. I will be placed in a VIP group with dignitaries from corporations and sports franchises. There is nothing not to look forward to this week. Still, I am hoping that being here and experiencing the Olympics up close and personal will rekindle my enthusiasm for the longest standing sporting event in the world.

I have to admit, the Olympics has lost a good part of its luster with me. Decisions have been made by its hierarchy in recent years that seem to violate the true spirit of the competition. For centuries the Olympics embodied the ultimate in amateur competition. That has all changed today with professional athletes competing in many sports.

Recently, high profile American politicians expressed their ire over the fact that the U.S. team would march in the Opening Ceremonies wearing Ralph Lauren clothing made outside of America. As if those same politicians have nothing more pressing to worry about? I sell clothing at my golf course and it’s virtually impossible to find American companies who produce these goods. Our politicians have played a part in that over years, handcuffing small business with taxes, regulations and policies that forced manufacturing to go abroad.

But, I will say this. Seeing Kobe Bryant and Lebron James in their blue double breasted blazers, white slacks and blue berets seemed out of character. Tyler Clary, a swimmer on the U.S. team talked about how thrilling it was to walk in the Opening ceremonies but his final comment to a teammate was, “Let’s go hang out with the NBA players and maybe we can get on TV.”

Call me old school, but there is something totally out of whack with that whole picture. Bryant, James and all of their NBA buddies looked like fish out of water during that march on Friday night. So, suffice to say, I won’t be attending any basketball games this week in London. I can see professional basketball all winter long in Indianapolis. I would rather see the best college basketball players compete as Olympic underdogs than watch NBA stars win the Gold.

One of the developing stories in London has been the disappointing performance of Michael Phelps. The celebrated American swimmer showed up here hoping to add to his career  medal total and become the most decorated athlete ever. Some critics will point to a lack of commitment by Phelps with his training and preparation.

I call it age. He has been a human marvel and I hope to get a glimpse of him in action. Sure, Phelps is a professionally paid athlete, too. But, in his sport the pinnacle is a Gold Medal not an NBA Championship, a Stanley Cup or a World Series title.

Give me some tennis, swimming and a little track and field this week. Sprinkle in some gymnastics and polish it off with women’s beach volleyball. Misty May-Trainer and Kerri Walsh-Jennings will be trying to win their third Gold medals in beach volleyball. The two are now 33 years old, married and they have kids. Now that’s a story.

Yep. That’s my pick. Give me Misty May and Kerri Walsh instead of Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Did I just say that?               

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