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Yesterday's Olympics today

You'll probably know who won before you see the taped events on NBC. The network prefers prime time to live coverage.

Watching the Olympics these next 17 days is going to be a little like watching ESPN Classic, the network that shows all those vintage World Series games. Or better yet, the History Channel.

Forget Bob Costas hosting the Sydney Games for NBC. Roger Mudd should work this gig.

Here's the problem. NBC is planning to air 441{ hours of Olympic coverage _ the equivalent of more than 18 continuous days of running, jumping and interviews with people related to the Crocodile Hunter _ almost entirely on tape delay.

That's right. Everything you see will have happened at least 15 hours earlier. You'll be able to find scores and highlights on the radio, in the newspaper and on the Internet. Even NBC's own official Olympic Web site,, will give results as they happen.

But the video won't be available until NBC wants to show it _ probably during prime time that night.

Why is this happening . . . or should we say not happening?

Syndey is 15 times zones ahead of the east coast of the U.S., meaning that an event that occurs at 7 p.m. in Australia will happen at 4 a.m. in the Tampa Bay area. Of course, hardly anyone would be watching TV at that hour, so NBC _ to maximize audiences _ will wait until prime time to air the events.

There was one alternative. NBC could have aired the events live in the wee hours of the morning and then repeated them in prime time. But the network figured, and rightly so, that most people would videotape the live version and edit out the commercials. Advertisers had a major problem with that.

So this summer, the Olympic motto of "Faster, stronger, higher" will include the word "later."

Officials at NBC are not worried people will stay away.

"It's been shown time and time again," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, told the Baltimore Sun, "that the average American viewer who comes to the Olympics comes with the attitude of, "Tell me a story.' Not, "Who won?' "

Oh, really?

Unless you somehow manage to have no contact with the outside world, there's a good chance you will already know who won what medal. And for most sports fans, that's the whole point. All the fun of watching a sporting event is not knowing who's going to win. If we knew in advance, ESPN would be four meaningless letters and Las Vegas would be a gas station in Nevada.

But the Olympic Games are a different animal. A typical baseball, football or basketball game on TV tends to draw an audience that is more than 75 percent male. NBC projects that nearly half of its Olympic audience will be female, and about 17 percent will be children. That's why there are more than 100 athlete profiles ready for airing and at least a dozen stories that focus on the host country.

So maybe Ebersol is right.

What can you do to make your Olympic viewing experience more enjoyable? Here are some suggestions.

+ Get cable. Or make friends with someone who has it. NBC will air the popular sports _ basketball, gymnastics, track and field, swimming and diving _ on its broadcast network. But sports such as boxing, tennis, baseball and women's soccer and softball will be played out on CNBC and MSNBC.

Unfortunately for people who don't have cable, the less-popular sports often have as much or more drama than the big boys. Even sports like table tennis and fencing can be fascinating if a commentator knows what he or she is talking about, and if the network gives them some time.

+ Don't rely on ESPN. Sportscenter won't have video of the Games first. And no one else will, either. The key word is "video." ESPN can give you up-to-date results, but that's all. The International Olympic Committee prohibits all broadcast news operations from showing any Olympic footage until after NBC's prime-time broadcast has ended. Even then, the highlights can be shown for only two minutes at a time, and the footage must be separated by three hours.

Sound pretty restrictive? There's a good reason. The IOC is protecting NBC's investment, which is considerable. The network paid $705-million for the rights to the Games and spent another $50- to $100-million in production costs.

+ And don't rely on the Internet. You'll be able to get current scores and results at a number of sites on the Net, but as at ESPN, that's all you'll get. By IOC decree, Web sites can't carry any video until the day after the event. Of course, some sites will try to sneak video onto their pages, which is why the IOC has hired private software developers to find and close any pirate sites.

+ Toronto is nice this time of year. And it's not just the weather. Canadian television will offer live Olympic feeds to its audiences. But if that's too far to go, most Americans who live in border states will be able to tap into the Canadian broadcasts. Montana is nice this time of year, too. Another possible way to beat the system: a satellite dish.

+ Step into the isolation booth. If you tell your family and friends you don't want to know what happened in the hammer throw until that evening, they'll probably play along. Or pretend you're on jury duty and can't listen to or read any accounts of the game.

Above all, remember that seeing a dramatic moment in sports, even if it's not live, can still be exciting. The Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire, the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid, Hank Aaron's 715th homer _ most of us saw those events after they happened.

But they were worth the wait.