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The Olympics: A Solemn Event

Erin Ennis

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On Friday I hunkered down in my living room with my boyfriend, roommates, and some of my best friends on campus to watch the Olympic opening ceremony.  The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is probably my favorite part of the entire competition. I love watching the cultural displays of the host country. I love seeing the torch lit. And my personal favorite, the parade of nations, always incorporates incredible costumes and interesting groups. This year was unlike no other…and it wasn’t in a good way.

7:30pm rolled around and I tuned to NBC where the ceremony hadn’t started yet. Instead, they were showing pre Olympic coverage. Totally cool…we left it on for background noise. They started to discuss the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed during a test run on Canada’s most dangerous track. I immediately felt bad for his family and fellow competitors: I couldn’t imagine losing a teammate hours before the games opened. NBC was playing footage from his last run and I was watching out of the corner of my eye when it happened…they played the moment when he died.

Now, Kumaritashvili didn’t die on the track. He was rushed immediately to the hospital and passed in transit. But for those of you who only heard of the accident and didn’t actually watch it: don’t. I understand the need to highlight the most important parts of the Olympics, but no one needed to see a world class athlete fly into a steel pole at 88 miles per hour. No one needed to see the images, horrific as they already were, changed into slow motion so you could see the exact moment the Georgian luger flew off his sled, over the encasing wall, and come to a grinding halt. I was disgusted and slightly appalled by the coverage. My roommates and I sat in silence as they kept replaying the images, over and over again, so there was no possible way to miss the accident. My best friend Ally jumped when they showed his body hit the pole and we all cringed as the video replayed…knowing perfectly well what was coming.

I understand the need to put gruesome images on TV. It keeps people paying attention. You are more likely to watch the spotty coverage pre the Olympic opening ceremony if something “interesting” is going to happen. People enjoy gory details over the simplistic ones. Honestly…would you watch a sports car crash or an interview with the driver? Most people like the action. But where the hell is the respect for the Georgian Olympic team? Where is the respect for Kumaritashvili’s family? Did they really need to see their son, or teammate, or family member get crushed on national television? My boyfriend said it best, “there is no reason to show that on television. No one needs to see him die…we’ve all heard about it.”

From then on out, the remainder of the coverage and the opening Olympic ceremony were somber. The Georgian Olympic team received a standing ovation from nearly the entire stadium. With black arm bands and additions to their country’s flag, the team marched in the parade of nations with their heads held high. During breaks, NBC created a memorial commercial for Kumaritashvili, which showcased his athleticism, youth, and impact on the sport.

Overall, I think NBC covered the Olympic death very well once the ceremony officially started. The Georgian people and the team received appropriate respect and admiration for their fallen comrade. However, I think NBC as a network needs to learn the appropriateness of what is shown on the air. Yes, Tom Brokaw and the other popular journalists want to have their moments, but no one wants to see a luger sail into a steel pole at 88 miles per hour. No one wants to see slow motion cinematography of the incident. Keep it respectful, and keep live footage of death off the air waves.

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The Student News Source of the University of New Haven
The Olympics: A Solemn Event