Monday, August 25, 2008

The Olympics as seen from the Hexagone

So the Olympics have come and gone and for the first time since I've lived here, we've had the the Games on, at least running in the background, for the better part of the last two weeks. Four years ago I had my last American dose of the Olympics as we prepared for my move to France, and I don't know why I didn't get into the Winter Olympics two years ago, but I didn't at all. I reckon I either didn't understand enough French to follow the coverage or I was still suffering enough culture shock to want to watch American athletes.

So what makes the coverage in France different? The most obvious difference is following the French athletes as opposed to the American ones. Except Michael Phelps, of course. A friend of mine asked if the French were as obnoxious about Phelps as they were in the States, and while maybe obnoxious isn't the right word, the French media certainly gave plenty of airtime to his accomplishments. But then, France's men's swimming team didn't do too badly, either.

The second difference is that, unless you have a satellite dish here, your viewing is going to be very general and will change at the whim of France Television, which was the only place to see the action (channels France 2 and France 3 switched back and forth with the same reporting teams; Canal+ had coverage as well but this is a paying channel; no coverage at all could be found on TNT channels). Just as you'd be settling into a good game, you'd be whisked away to see France's medal contender in a completely different sport.

The good news about the format was that, because we're only six hours behind Beijing here, most of what I saw was live, as coverage lasted all day. And when I say all day, I mean that it started at 2:00 am and lasted until dinnertime. I also enjoyed the hour program at the end of the day ("Un jour à Pékin") that covered everything I missed, including important stories across the board (like that Tae Kwon Do guy that kicked his judge in the face - nice sportsmanship!).

So how did the French do? Some of the "surefire" medals were lost, like Laure Manaudou, the swimming phenom who cracked, and Yohann Diniz, the European 50k walking champion and native of Reims, who dropped out after two hours. Then again, we had some nice surprises, like the brothers that won gold and bronze in wrestling (in different weight categories), the ladies that took gold and silver in the very first BMX event, and a bronze in the men's gymnastics all-around event. The men's handball team pulled out an amazing gold medal win in the eleventh hour Sunday, bringing France up into the tenth position overall (following the IOC's pecking order of number of golds as opposed to overall medals). I'd say this is pretty impressive coming from a country of 60 million, which is five times smaller than the United States. You can see France's medal breakdown by clicking here.

Overall, I really enjoyed watching the games here, especially since I got to watch a few sports that don't often come up on the radar of American coverage, including Judo, Handball, and Fencing. Now I'm really looking forward to watching the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010.

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