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Olympic Viewing: Watching parents squirm through routines is NBC pastime
American gymnast Aly Raisman earned a gold medal for her athletic prowess in London. It's her mom who's gone viral.
NBC's video of Lynn Raisman watching her daughter perform on the uneven bars Sunday, with her nervous murmurs and face and body contortions, was the single most replayed moment on Tivo digital video recorders that night. It has even inspired a YouTube spoof.
The network doesn't have "parent cams" trained on the stands during every Olympic event. Moms and dads are featured only when they are relevant to the story lines, veteran NBC producer Molly Solomon said Thursday. But they've already been indelible parts of the network's coverage in the first few days of the London Games.
The parents of American gymnasts John Orozco and Dannel Leyva were palpable presences during that sport's coverage. The bronze medal-winning Leyva's dad was his coach and a bundle of energy. NBC introduced Orozco's parents in a segment that talked about the sacrifices they made in helping the Bronx athlete reach a high level of competition. When Orozco's dreams were shattered by some subpar performances, he was near tears, and his mother's face reflected similar agony.
"Can you imagine the emotions of watching your kid compete?" Solomon said. "To me it's part of the fabric of the story."
One of NBC's best moments came after South African Chad Le Clos unexpectedly beat American Michael Phelps in the butterfly. Americans by now are used to seeing Phelps' mom, Debbie, cheer her son's many medal-winning performances. This time the camera caught her in a double-take, first thinking it was another gold medal before learning her son had been beaten in the end.
NBC producer Dan Beard was in the stands and heard a man shouting, "That's my son! That's my son!" He quickly ordered cameras to catch video of Le Clos' sobbing father, his head wrapped in a South African flag. The parents with their contrasting emotions made for arresting images. It was much the same Thursday with Phelps' mother and Ryan Lochte's disappointed dad following their sons' final pool duel.
For many American athletes, NBC producers know the parents already through the research-gathering process leading up to the Olympics. Seemingly more athletes these days are teenagers, and their parents are the emotional and financial support system through years of training. A Procter & Gamble ad campaign for the Olympics focuses on just these sacrifices that moms make.
Not all parents are comfortable being a part of their child's moments. Solomon recalled a recent Winter Olympics where the parents of an ice dancing team asked that the cameras stay focused on their children. The mother of American ice skater Evan Lysacek is usually out of the arena, unable to watch her son perform live.
"If they don't want to be on camera, we are respectful of that," Solomon said.
NBC learns from Olympics officials where an athlete's family has seats before the competition takes place. There's always a double-check, with a researcher going up in the stands to make sure that information is correct.
Imagine the embarrassment of getting it wrong. Judging by many of the expressions, however, it's usually pretty easy to tell when they've got it right.
THIS CAME OUT WRONG: "Gabby is far and away the best bar worker in the United States," said NBC's Tim Daggett as gymnast Gabby Douglas began her uneven parallel bars performance.
TAPE DELAY: NBC says its researchers have found that people who learn the results from major competitions before NBC shows them on its tape-delayed prime-time coverage are more likely to watch them later. The fear that people would find out early and not bother to tune in has been the major assumption behind holding back live coverage during Olympics where time zones present a serious issue. Nielsen said that 30.8 million people watched Wednesday night's NBC show, as the games continue to do better on U.S. TV than the Beijing Olympics of 2008. NBC said all of its cable telecasts are seeing ratings increases from four years ago, too.
READY, AIM. ..: Archery is the hot Olympic sport. NBC said archery is the top-rated sport of all the ones it shows on its cable networks, higher even than basketball.
JUDO CHAMP: Heart-melting moment watching Ohio's Kayla Harrison win the first American gold medal in judo ever. As a sensitive report by NBC's Stephanie Gosk pointed out, Harrison kept with the sport despite being sexually abused for three years as a teenager by a former coach. Her last hurdle Thursday was facing British underdog Gemma Gibbons before a boisterous hometown crowd. The 22-year-old Harrison leaped into the stands after winning to hug her fiance, who draped her with an American flag as David Bowie's "Heroes" played in the background.
QUOTE: "If I'm the Lithuanian coaching staff, I'm not showing this tape." ĚĚĚ basketball announcer Bob Fitzgerald, advising the next opponent of the U.S. men's team in the closing moments of the Americans' 156-73 victory over Nigeria.
UPCOMING: As swimming and gymnastics wind down, the track and field events begin. NBC will cover the men's shot put gold medal finals.