By Steve Ritchie for RunBlogRun
The second day of the U.S. Championships started for me at 4:50 pm, watching the commercial-free coverage on NBC Sports Gold for the first two and a half hours. I then switched over to the live coverage on NBC Sports Network for the last two hours of the meet.
At the halfway point of the meet, I'd have to say it is a draw between the online coverage and the cable network coverage. Pros and cons on both sides.
I really love watching track and field coverage without commercial interruption. Who doesn't? The three minute commercial breaks between races are tolerable, though just barely, but going to commercials during the 5K is outrageous and totally unacceptable. To make matters worse, NBCSN used the first half of both the men's and women's 5K races to do their field event recaps, which could have been done at any time. The pre-race graphic showing the women's 5K records had a whopper of an error, listing Helen Obiri holding the American record at 14:18.71!
The streaming coverage, though, does not escape criticism for its mishandling of field events.
The women's high jump is hands-down one of my favorite events in the sport. Though I have been watching and coaching the event for decades, I will never cease to be amazed seeing people clear high bars. It is spectacular and I especially love studying the fluidity and grace of the top women jumpers. With an immensely talented young star like Vashti Cunningham emerging in the high jump, I was hoping for extended look at the event on NBC Sports Gold.
The high jump started at 5:40 and concluded just under an hour later. Two-thirds of the 18 jumpers did not advance past the first two heights, so 30 minutes into the competition there were just six jumpers remaining. A perfect time to take a look.
On the track, at that exact moment, the first round of the women's 400 hurdles was getting underway. There were three heats of the 400 hurdles with a total of 17 athletes competing. 16 would advance to the semi-finals, so the three heats were being run to basically eliminate one person. Obviously, there was zero drama on the track for the 25 minutes or so of this event. The five minutes between heats was basically just reviewing results, introducing the next heat and talking about nothing important to fill the time.
Despite that, the coverage only shifted to the high jump two times, very briefly in both cases. At the conclusion of the last heat, with the camera focused on the first curve of an empty track, you could almost see high jumps being taken in the upper corner of the screen, but still no real coverage. After a couple of frustrating minutes we finally were filled in on what had been going on in the high jump and a few attempts were shown after the fact.
Vashti Cunningham, why did we not see this live on TV? photo by PhotoRun.net
So viewers missed the last four heights attempted, missed seeing Liz Patterson and Inika Mcpherson make the team and Brigetta Barrett not make it, and missed in real time seeing Cunningham clear 1.99 (6-6 1/4), her outdoor PR and the best U.S. mark of the season.
I've watched many televised meets in Europe and the coverage goes to the most dramatic thing happening at that moment. I just can't accept that U.S. broadcasts can't manage to do that as well.
In televised golf tournaments, the coverage shifts moment to moment when appropriate so that the most important shots are shown live. And, in those rare cases when they are not shown live, the replay comes up very quickly.
The triple jump was also mostly ignored on both cable and streaming coverage, even though winner Will Claye had a tremendous series of jumps - four of his five attempts were beyond 58 feet and his winning mark made Claye the fourth best U.S. jumper all-time.
On the plus side of the ledger on Friday, I once again enjoyed listening to the energetic and colorful Tim Hutchings and the wonderful Carrie Tollefson on NBC Sports Gold. The announcing on NBCSN was also quite good, as the team of Rick Allen, Ato Bolden, Sanya Richards-Ross and Craig Masback handled the mic with professionalism. Paul Swangard, who did the field event recaps, is a major upgrade to their team, and Lewis Johnson always does well with post-race interviews.
Bolden did a nice job setting up the men's 100, correctly focusing on the vet vs. the new kid angle. While he picked Coleman to beat Gatlin, his insights on the race were right on the money. But he was slow to acknowledge the major surprise, as Christopher Belcher in lane 8 came on late to place third and make the U.S. team to London.
I especially like listening to Craig Masback during the distance races. He seems to find a good balance in his commentary, giving the avid fan some tasty morsels of information, but not so much that he loses the more casual fan. His short anecdote about Natosha Rogers, who was leading the 5K at that moment, was perfect.
The pairing of Masback and Tollefson for distance event commentary would definitely be worth listening to.