Don’t get me wrong: Michael Phelps is, indeed, one of the greatest athletes of our time. The man has pushed the limits of his sport, and as a former swimmer from a family of swimmers, I have the utmost respect for his contribution to the sport. That being said, it is time for Americans to stop turning the Olympics — an event created to celebrate all countries and their contributions to athleticism — into the Michael-Phelps-and-America Show.
I get it. Most Americans want to see their teams on television. It’s more relatable to keep up with your country’s team. The news channels certainly know this. I understand it is important for ratings and for views to feature events in which Americans are prominently competing and have a good chance of winning.
What I don’t get is the choice to completely focus the show on a couple of superstar athletes. In the swimming events specifically, the commentators focused solely on Michael Phelps, not giving anyone else competing (except, perhaps, his most notable rivals) any attention. Even during the races of other swimmers, the camera would flash back to Phelps for another update about his facial expression or the way he was stretching. It was almost like reality TV: Show a bit of an event, but really focus on just one person and his or her reactions.
During the men’s 200-meter butterfly semifinals, the main focus was on Michael Phelps and South African swimmer Chad Le Clos, who won the event in the 2012 games. There was little to no mention of the other swimmers in the race, not even the Hungarian competitor Tamas Kenderesi, who was seeded first from the heats. Kenderesi ended up placing first in the semifinals.
The commentators had been focusing on Phelps the whole time, so when Kenderesi finished first, they were completely surprised and momentarily forgot his name. It is tactless to not even learn the name of the top-seeded swimmer in the race just because Michael Phelps also happens to be swimming.
Athletes from other countries deserve recognition in these games, even from an American audience. I am sick of seeing swimming races during which commentators only say the names of American swimmers and don’t even show the rest of the competition. Every race, my father would pause the screen just as the names popped up to see which athletes the commentators chose to skip over.
I understand that the majority of Americans like seeing other Americans win big on television. But the Olympics is about more than just sweeping all of the gold medals and being the absolute best. In fact, the Olympic creed is, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” Every participant deserves his or her chance to shine, even if it is only for the 10 seconds his or her name will be flashed across the screen and spoken by the commentators.
The Olympics is not the America-Wins-All-Games. It is designed to celebrate all nations, their participation and how each has a chance to win.
In the men’s 100-meter butterfly finals, Phelps was beaten by Joseph Schooling of Singapore. This was not only the first swimming medal for Singapore, but it was also the country’s first ever gold medal. During the medal ceremony, when Singapore’s national anthem played at the Olympics for the first time, I saw that Olympic creed come to life as I watched my Singaporean mother stand up proudly and cry.
Petrana Radulovic is a UF English and computer science senior. Her column appears on Thursdays.