NEW YORK (AP) _ After Usain Bolt’s dominating performance in the 100-meter semifinals, NBC track analyst Ato Boldon summed up the chances that a rival could prevent the Jamaican from winning a third Olympic gold medal in track’s showcase event: “You better hope he loses a shoe or something in the finals.”
He didn’t lose a shoe – or the race. Like with Michael Phelps, another Olympic headliner had come through with a crowd-pleasing performance.
“It’s not supposed to be that easy,” said Boldon, who suggested the accomplishment puts Bolt in the conversation for greatest athlete of all time.
Boldon smartly explained what makes Bolt special: his ability to maintain speed when others decelerate, coupled with the long strides that make him virtually unbeatable in the second half of a race.
Silver medalist Justin Gatlin was booed lustily by the crowd, most certainly a reference to the American’s two past suspensions for use of banned substances. Earlier Sunday, NBC aired a soft-focus feature on Gatlin that made you wonder if an athlete from another country under such a cloud would get the same treatment.
Oh, wait. You have that answer. Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, painted as a villain by American rival Lilly King, did not.
QUOTE: “It has the feel of a heavyweight championship fight, and the champion has made his entrance.” – NBC track announcer Tom Hammond.
NEGATIVE VIBRATIONS: Bob Costas didn’t even have to get pink eye to set social media aflame. Plenty of armchair music critics didn’t like his suggestion that Bolt had exceeded another legendary Jamaican, Bob Marley, in popularity.
JONES AND SEACREST: NBC’s first recipient of “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones’ burst of energy is late-night, or early-morning, host Ryan Seacrest.
Hurriedly brought to Rio de Janeiro after her fan-girl social media posts about the games became an Internet hit, Jones is bringing the same enthusiasm in person. She’s giddy at meeting Shaun White and Kerri Walsh Jennings, and cries at the achievement of Simone Biles.
Seacrest interviewed her early Sunday for his show, which begins every Olympic day at 12:30 a.m. To viewers steeped in cynicism, Seacrest had to broach the subject: Is this some kind of elaborate joke? Jones insisted it was genuine. “I can’t believe that my enthusiasm is the biggest thing going on,” she said.
It was a welcome jolt for Seacrest, whose relatively buzz-free show was developed especially for Rio. The hour’s centerpiece Sunday was a beach volleyball match featuring Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena that took place too late for the prime-time show. There was also a thoughtful story about the Brazilian beach volleyball team of Larissa and Taliti, who live and train with Larissa’s wife, Lili, another professional volleyball player.
As the two women showed off their wedding pictures, you wondered whether NBC would have thought it too risky to air in prime time. The piece should have dug even deeper: it never really explored why the couple weren’t teammates in beach volleyball, beyond Lili’s simple declaration that “love and work must be separate.”
Later, White turned up with an interesting story about skateboarding’s future as an Olympic sport. In sum, Seacrest’s show skillfully did what was intended – appeal to the next generation of Olympics fans – without being patronizing or heavy-handed.
SYNCHRONIZE IT: Speaking of “Saturday Night Live,” it’s impossible for anyone of a certain age to watch synchronized swimming and not think of Martin Short and Harry Shearer’s classic skit. Then you feel guilty seeing how hard it looks and hearing NBC’s Heather Olson describe a practice routine for Americans Mariya Koroleva and Anita Alvarez that includes ankle weights, which feels like a recipe for drowning. Olson said Sunday that Koroleva used to tell her teammates at Stanford that she was “business under water, party above the water.”
NOW, THE NEWS: Thumbs up to Costas for not ignoring an unpleasant Rio story, leading Sunday’s telecast with news of the robbery of American swimmers, including Ryan Lochte. Lester Holt led NBC’s “Nightly News” with the story, too.
RATINGS: Phelps proved a draw for his final race in Rio, as 25.5 million people tuned in to watch NBC’s coverage on Saturday night. The audience peaked at 32.7 million when Phelps was in the water. NBC’s prime-time audience was 26.8 million with cable and streaming added in, compared to 28 million for the corresponding Saturday in London.
Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder