If she ever is to be remembered as an Olympic gold medalist, Brooke Bennett may very well have to win a swimming final at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
Thanks to NBC, Bennett's victory in the 800-meter freestyle practically was reduced to a footnote to the final race of the illustrious career of Janet Evans. Evans, a four-time gold medalist considered the greatest women's distance swimmer in history, certainly deserved attention.
But what we needed from NBC was balance between Evans' story and the dominating performance of Bennett. Instead, the scales were decidedly tilted in Evans' favor.
The most glaring omission came at the end of the race. On this night, Bennett was the greatest women's distance swimmer in the world, but when we looked to see her reaction to accomplishing such a feat all we saw was a long shot of the pool as Evans touched the wall in sixth place.
The post-race interview by Jim Gray did more damage. He spoke with Bennett as Evans stood by. Bennett began to tear up as she spoke of devoting the race to her late grandfather. But if you blinked, you missed it. Gray turned to Evans before the first teardrop, then asked a long string of questions that seemingly were designed to cause Evans to break down. We applaud Evans for standing strong.
In the final analysis, Bennett was not treated like the other American swimmers who won gold medals. The Bennett profile aired during the morning broadcast Wednesday, then the network did not show her heat. Before Thursday's race, the focus was almost entirely on Evans, who again was profiled.
During the race, analyst Summer Sanders talked more about what Evans needed to do to medal than what Bennett needed to win the gold. At one point, she remarked, "Janet is not where we need her to be." We? Who is we? NBC? Cadillac? Speedo? Certainly "we" did not represent Bennett's friends and fans in Tampa Bay.
Credit Bob Costas for lending perspective by noting that as Evans' career ends, Bennett's career is just beginning. In introducing the medal ceremony for Bennett, he mentioned Plant City and all of Bennett's pets. It was as if he realized there was too much focus on Evans and was trying to save the day.
Kudos to Gayle Sierens of WFLA-Ch. 8, who noted during a newsbreak just before 9 p.m. that WFLA was getting complaint calls about how the coverage slighted Bennett. Thanks to WFLA, we got a glimpse of the friends and family celebrating at Brandon Swim & Tennis Center. It was good to see they recovered from NBC's coverage.
Still, the proper treatment would have been to let Bennett bask in her first Olympic moment of glory, then come back with _ here's a novel idea _ a feature on Evans that capsulized her wonderful career, and spoke of how the torch had been passed to Bennett.
Sanders, speaking about a notorious year-old quote in which Bennett implied Evans feared her, said Bennett has not shown enough respect for Evans. On this night, however, it was NBC who did not show enough respect for Bennett.
LOOK AT US: U.S. Boxing assistant coach Pat Burns said the network's decision to show sports that appeal mostly to females, such as gymnastics and swimming, in prime time is flawed.
"Please, NBC, take a look at these guys," Burns said. "These guys are busting their butts for America and the people want to see them."
Burns said boxing has a rich tradition in America, from the time immigrants used the sport to get ahead. He said boxing has a potentially huge audience that NBC is choosing to ignore.
So far, NBC has shown almost no boxing, relegating what it does show to off-peak hours.
SMALL WORLD: From the long, long time ago category comes this note: NBC tennis commentator Bud Collins once was the tennis coach of Kerri Strug's father. While at Brandeis University, Burt Strug was "a little guy very steady player, and he hustled, very determined kid. He got upset when he didn't do well. He had to work at it because he was a short, stubby guy."
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.
Making a splash with Dive-cam
NBC's Dive-cam will allow fans to follow Olympic divers from the instant they leave the platform to when the dive is completed, 8 feet underwater.
How Dive-cam works:
+ 1.5-pound camera rides on track mounted inside glass tube
+ Technician releases camera when dive begins
+ Second technician "pilots" camera with remote control; camera tilts to follow diver
What Dive-cam shows:
+ Slow-motion view of diver's technique
+ Split-second images of complicated dive
Source: NBC; research by BRENNA SINK