It’s been a while since I watched a televised marathon when I turned on NBC to see the United State Olympic Trials Marathon. What I watched was shocking. The actually covered the race.
So many times I’ve watched marathons on TV where the coverage seemed to be going out of their way to cover something other than the actual race. They would cut away from the race to show human interest stories of the neighborhoods the course was running through or some cancer survivor entering finishing in the mid-pack. While those stories have their own merit and can be inspiring in their own way, can you imagine the coverage of a football game to be interrupted to show a cancer survivor playing touch football in the stadium parking lot? Of course not. The focus in on the game. The human interest are for another time and place.
Now of course, the men’s and women’s fields were open only to Olympic Trial qualifiers, so there couldn’t be any human interest stories of mid-packers. But maybe it’s just me, but I remember watching world class marathons on TV and cringing and swearing at the TV the whole time through all sorts of fluff unrelated to the race and “up close and personal” segments.
The 80’s and 90’s are often looked at the dark age of American distance running, where we simply couldn’t compete with the rest of the world. It’s probably no coincidence some of the biggest media marathon stories of that period were about non-distance runners like Oprah Winfrey and Florence Griffith Joyner.
And so perhaps is it indicative of the resurgence of American distance running that the Olympic Trials Marathon was covered by NBC for what is actually was: A competition between highly trained athletes, rather than a whole bunch of human interest stories where some of the subjects happened to be pretty fast.
While the United States is not sending a men’s and women’s marathon team that’s going to keep the Kenyans and Ethiopians up all night, its going to be a tough one. And I’m looking forward to watching the big race on NBC if they cover the race the same way they covered the US Olympic Trials.