When Michele Tafoya asked American swimmer Caeleb Dessel how it felt to win the Olympic gold medal, she expected tears of joy or exultation. But that wasn’t what she got.
He was happy but still hurting. He said, “It’s been a very difficult year.” It’s really difficult.
NBC has been astonished by the courage of Olympic athletes, including Simone Biles, who have not hesitated to share their mental and emotional challenges during these pandemics.
The network that presents the Games has been forced to pivot, and the addition of Michael Phelps to its broadcast team turned into a master stroke for unanticipated reasons. It is worth asking if a strong focus on gold is too much for the Games.
It has been a very intense year for most athletes. Mark Aoyagi from the University of Denver, who coordinates the program in Sports and Performance Psychology, stated that after training with the goal of becoming ready for 2020, the Games’ postponement of 2021 and the pandemic that caused them, they had to decide if it was worth putting another year of their lives on the line for what can often be a lonely quest.
They then traveled to a locked environment to perform, with no friends or family present. In fact, they had very few audience members.
This strain was apparent when NBC connected Dressel to his family, including his wife and parents. He started sobbing.
Hillary Cauthen, a Texas-based sports psychologist, stated that NBC should talk to athletes about their mental and physical preparation for the games in its coverage.
Cauthen stated, “We must lean into that conversation.”
NBC Universal offers a glimpse into every aspect of the Olympics, thanks to its combination of streaming and cable networks. NBC’s prime time coverage of the Games is by far the most popular. It focuses primarily on the medal hunt for American athletes in swimming & diving, gymnastics and track & fields.
The Olympics is an athletic competition by its very nature. There are losers and winners, and there are dreams realized and lost. While many athletes thrive in that environment, Biles’ decision to pull out of the team and all-around gymnastics competition is the most prominent sign that for some, the pressure takes a toll.
Many television viewers don’t realize that many Olympians competing in the Olympics understand that they do not have any realistic expectations of winning a medal. Aoyagi stated that for them, just coming to Tokyo and competing in the Olympics is a joy.
He said, “We never see that kind of story.” “NBC always highlights medal contenders. This is a highly cultivated story that is told to people, but it doesn’t capture why most of them are there.
Molly Solomon is the executive producer for NBC’s Olympics coverage. She objects to any description of NBC’s philosophy as winner takes all.
Solomon stated, “We always celebrate the win of a silver or bronze and being an Olympian.” Solomon said, “That’s our foundational philosophy and our ethos. Listening to our remarks during the opening ceremony will reveal that we speak about the fact that for many Olympians, simply being at the Games is their greatest achievement.
NBC Universal sees the Olympics as a multibillion dollar business and needs stars to attract viewers. This put Biles and Katie Ledecky in the spotlight. The network’s poor ratings have likely been due to Katie’s decision to not compete. American Sunisa Lee won the all-around women’s gymnastics competition. This was a positive sign.
Biles was a woman who wanted to pursue her dreams, but the attention made her America’s greatest sports hope.
Cauthen stated, “We just need to have grace and kindness to understand their pain.”
NBC’s Olympics host, Mike Tirico, noted in a commentary that Biles’ story and the focus on mental health didn’t fit into society’s desire for instant results and a willingness to criticize athletes who don’t live up to expectations.
He said, “Maybe this helps us all understand that although they are a lot of attention-seekers and cravers, sometimes what we love them for and what they do well for is not the most important thing.”
Phelps, a 23-time gold medalist, was hired by NBC primarily to provide context for its swimming coverage. Phelps’ activism and willingness talk about his mental health has been a key element of NBC’s Biles coverage. Phelps stated that he understands how Biles feels she carries the weight of the entire world on her shoulders because he felt it too.
Solomon stated that he will continue to speak about the matter.