If it was Carl Lewis vs. a thoroughbred horse, would NBC get that live?


(AP Photo/USA Track & Field)
The third-place finish of the women’s 100-meter final last Saturday at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., shows a photo-finish camera, shot at 3,000-frames-per-second, how Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh, in foreground, finished in a dead heat at 11.068 seconds.

When the most bizarre storyline to date in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials did a freeze-frame on us last Saturday – a dead head produced by Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh for the third and final qualifying spot in the women’s 100 meters – L.A. viewers had to wait three hours for NBC’s tape-delayed coverage to actually witness it.

Granted, the race was all way up in Eugene, Ore. In the same Pacific time zone window.

NBC, which a week ago had no problem with live hole-to-hole coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament in San Francisco so it could get prime-time East Coast viewing, was forward-thinking enough with the track and field trials to air it live to anyone interested East of the Vegas strip.

As the USA Track and Field officials put on a Monty Python-like skit in coordination with the U.S. Olympic Committee to figure out a tie-breaking procedure – none is listed in their book of rules for such a rare occurrence – one option discussed, but not yet decided, is having Felix and Tarmoh compete in a match race. Officials want that to happen Sunday, a day after the two finish their competition in the 200 meters qualifying and finals, so that the final Olympic team can be announced. Bob Kersee, the coach for both runners, is lobbying to have it take place Tuesday.

Imagine the possibilities for an NBC reality-show like sendoff on Sunday.

Maurice Green, the famed Olympic male sprinter, said earlier this week: “You tell me, NBC couldn’t sell that to all its sponsors and put on a 30-minute show about it? … tell NBC to give them $2 million and have a runoff … and it’s going to be highly publicized and they’re going to get great publicity from it.”

You’ve got that, or the Bob Costas coverage model.

“This is a rare circumstance where you could tell a story beautifully in the space of 10 minutes, or maybe less,” said NBC’s prime-time Olympic host. “You explain the race, show the proceeding one, explain the dynamics of this . . . the fatigue factor and if there was any injury factor involved . . . and once you set the stage, you run race, you interview the winner and loser and you’re done with it. It’s self-contained in about 10 minutes.”

Or, in less the time it takes Howard Stern to vote someone off on “America’s Got Talent.”

Sunday, NBC is locked and loaded again with tape-delayed coverage of the track and field trials, giving KNBC-Channel 4 a window of 7-to-8 p.m., as the events take place live from 4-to-5 p.m. in Eugene. The closing ceremonies are set for 4:55 p.m., after the men’s 200-meter final.

KNBC follows with tape-delayed swimming trails from Omaha, Neb., from 8-to-9 p.m., followed by tape-delayed gymnastics trials from San Jose from 9-to-11 p.m.

Over at the companion NBC Sports Network – remember that one, Kings’ fans? – there is neither track and field nor or gymnastics airing, only some swimming qualifying in the 3-to-4 p.m. window. That’s followed by the CNBC “Sports Biz: Game On!” show hosted by Darren Rovell, who has already announced he’s abandoning the NBC business model and going back to ESPN to report on this beat. NBC Sports Net could break in live easily in the 4:30 p.m.-to-5 p.m. window, pre-empting a repeat of an IndyCar feature show.

NBC is protective, of course, of its prime-time viewership, especially in light of the fact that last Sunday, while doing the tape-delayed track and field coverage in the West, the national ratings were 20 percent down from the 2008 track and field trails.

Mark Lazarus, the incoming chairman of the NBC Sports Group after the departure of the tape-delayed yogi Dick Ebersol, said Wednesday that a Felix-Tarmoh runoff is “a compelling story, but we will have to wait and see the timing and where it could be embedded (in NBC programming) for what’s sure to be a very exciting 12 seconds or so.

“Once a time and day is determined, we’ll absolutely make sure we bring it to the American population. We’re anxious for the time to be set so we can tell the people how to consume it.”

Or force feed, depending on your gag reflexes.

Jim Bell, the NBC Olympics executive producer, says the network’s “goal for that event will be to make that available live on one platform or another across country regardless of what time zone. It may not be live on television but we’ll do our best on technology and timing when we’re made aware of when it is to make it available.”

How’s your NBCOlympics.com video streaming machine working?

Lazarus said NBC has “not been asked, but we’ve express what our hope would be (for the race parameters) and we await the decision of those governing bodies.”

One other option put forth by New York Times track and field writer Jere Longman makes as much sense as any at this point. He wrote this week (linked here): “Listen up, NBC. Here’s an idea for cross-platform promotion. Send Tarmoh and Felix to the swimming trials. First one to reach the wall in the 100 freestyle goes to London.”

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