Summer Games ratings go 'down under'

Sunday night's 111 million viewers may have been the most ever for a summer Games held outside the United States, but overall, NBC's ratings for the Sydney Olympics have been disappointing. They are down 32 percent compared with Atlanta 1996 and 19 percent behind the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain. Each rating point represents 1 percent of an estimated 100.8 million TV homes. The Nielsen numbers have yet to approach what NBC told advertisers they would. The first three days of taped telecasts - not a single second of competition is being broadcast live - have averaged a 14.5 national rating in prime time. Advertisers were told the prime-time average would be at least a 16.1.

Romania's women gymnasts took home the gold Tuesday in the women's team final competition, beating out Russia. The Romanian women, the world champions, won their only previous Olympic gold medal in 1984, when most of the Eastern bloc boycotted the games. Russia took the silver and the Chinese the bronze. The US women finished fourth. On the men's side, the US finished a distant fifth (China came in first, followed by Ukraine and Russia). The US men haven't medaled in a nonboycotted Olympics since 1932.

Olympic fans were reminded why the athletes play the games. The starry US softball team is a monstrous favorite to win the gold here. No wonder. Going into Tuesday's game with Japan, which hadn't beaten the Americans since 1970, the US had won 112 straight games. That ended dramatically in the 11th inning when Japan, thanks to two errors by the American's premier player, Dot Richardson, won 2-1. All, however, is not lost. It's a round-robin tournament, so the US is still alive - if not perfectly well.

American cyclist Lance Armstrong, two-time winner of the Tour de France, admitted Tuesday that winning the Tour was more important to him than winning the Olympics because the French race is "the biggest race in the world." Armstrong admits the road race "could prove to be too long for me." He's the top gold-medal prospect here but the imponderable is his injury (after being struck by a car in July) and how much it may have slowed his preparations. The road race is scheduled for Sept. 27.

Even more on Armstrong's mind is his increasing weariness with defending cycling against drug charges. "Cycling," he fumes, "has been criminalized and singled out. It's not just cycling. It's all sports. It's a sporting problem...."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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