Thursday, 13 July 2017 19:01
by Steven Ritchie for RunBlogRun
The U.S. Track & Field Championships wrapped up a four-day run at broiling Hornet Stadium on Sunday with another exciting day of top-flight performances and a number of surprising upsets.
On this final day of competition, I decided to watch only the coverage on NBC. No streaming coverage. No checking results online. Only an occasional glance at twitter. I wanted to see the final day as most viewers at home would see it.
I have written in past days about the poor coverage for the field events on NBC and NBCSN, and Sunday was no different. The women's hammer throw recap was a total of 35 seconds which gave time to show one throw. Ditto for the men's high jump - a total of 30 seconds which included one jump and an extended celebration by winner Bryan McBride. Shot put got two throws, while pole vault and long jump had four attempts each. Very disappointing.
Thursday, 13 July 2017 18:45
by Steve Ritchie, for RunBlogRun
It is called American Track & Field, but many days, it should be American Field and Track. On Day 3, Steve Ritchie focuses on the increased coverage and quality of the field events, and provides some compliments plus some worthwhile critique.
Saturday at the U.S. Track & Field Championships was another day of marvelous performances, incredible drama and surprising finishes. The kind of day that reinforces our love for the sport.
Thursday, 13 July 2017 18:33
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.
Thursday, 13 July 2017 18:27
By Steve Ritchie for RunBlogRun
I didn't immediately sign up for the NBC Sports Gold track and field annual package when it was announced earlier in 2017. My hesitation was partly due to the $69.95 cost, when I am already paying a monthly cable bill that includes the NBC Sports Channel, which covers all the Diamond League meets.
Frankly, however, it was also because I wasn't sure how many hours I wanted to spend at my computer watching track meets, as well as marathon and road races. But when I decided not to travel to Sacramento for the USATF Championships, I knew I had to have some way to see ALL of the meet or I would go crazy.
So, a couple days before the meet, I signed up. It was, without a doubt, a very good decision. Had I been content to just check twitter and event results, I would have missed some incredible viewing. More on that in a bit.
On Thursday afternoon, I settled in to watch the men's hammer final at 1:45 pm, knowing that with the last event - men's 10K - set for 10 pm, it was going to be a long day of viewing.
Initially, the meet coverage was underwhelming. I love watching the hammer throw in person, but this did not work for me. There appeared to be just one camera in use, and it was positioned behind the landing area. The effect was that the viewer could see the spin, the release and the flight of the hammer, but you could not tell with any certainty how long the throw was.
The announcing of Tim Hutchings and Dan O'Brien was competent, but it was hard to track the standing of the athletes as they moved through the rounds.
At times, when the thrower entered the ring, there was a graphic on the screen showing the athlete's current place and their series of throws. But it wasn't consistent, and many throwers came and went with no graphic.
The single camera also made it impossible to show close-up views of the throwers. I missed seeing their reactions to their throws, and missed seeing how so many implements never made it out of the cage. With no mic near the ring, you couldn't hear the crowd clapping or the athletes grunting. It was like watching from a distance without binoculars. Not exactly riveting.
Things improved considerably when the action started on the track at 5 pm. Once the races began, there were only occasional cutaways to the action in the field. But, still, it was more than we usually get from TV coverage of field events, and it was in real time, which was a plus.
Visually, the track coverage was a huge improvement over the hammer event. Seeing the entire 10Ks without commercial interruption was almost worth the entire cost of the annual package, since both the Huddle-Flanagan duel and the Sam Chelanga surges were fascinating viewing.
I also have to say that the announcing duo of Hutchings and Carrie Tollefson was very good throughout the running events. They are both knowledgeable, and delved into topics that I found interesting as a track fan. Things like has marathon training taken something out of Galen Rupp's kick, or which male 10K runner might decide to push the pace like Shalane did in the women's 10K, or which of the top women had the best form late in the race.
Aside from Hutchings occasionally losing track of whether it was the top three or the top four who qualified automatically for the next round, both of them were accurate, incisive and amiable. In addition, they had good chemistry together. It was enjoyable to hear them bantering when they disagreed about something. Without question, Tollefson has star quality and excellent background in running; I would like to see her used by NBC as a color commentator anytime there is a distance race.
The things I was glad that I didn't miss on Day One?
- Ben Blankenship's Houdini-like move to break out of a box and into the lead in the 1500 with one lap to go;
- Alysia Montano running 2:21 in 108 degree heat while four months pregnant;
- Nick Symmonds in possibly his last major track race;
- NCAA D2 1500 meter champ David Ribich, a junior at Western Oregon, my alma mater, qualifying for the finals on time;
- Three current Oregon Ducks and one former Oregon Duck qualifying in one heat of the women's 100 meters;
- Stephanie Garcia seemingly losing her water jump confidence mid-race;
- Each one of the six 1500 meter heats which were all enthralling.
Best of all was seeing Gabe Grunewald's competitors gather around her after the 1500 heat, arms around each other with Gabe in the middle. We couldn't hear what was said but the picture was incredibly moving.
After day one, I am sorry not to be in Sacramento, but very happy I signed up for NBC Sports Gold.
Courtesy of www.runblogruncom. Steve Ritchie is a fine journalist hailing from Oregon. I met him over the last three Olympic Trials as he represented various media groups. I enjoyed his writing and our conversations. I asked him to cover the various media covering the 2017 US Champs, from June 22-June 25. Here is his first column, on NBC sports gold.
Why do we review media coverage, as we have since 2004? Because we want to see our sport thrive and we believe that providing a critical review of media coverage is key to improving that coverage.