In the Loop

In the Loop: August 13, 2008 Archive

Bela Karolyi, shootin' from the hip

Posted at 11:17 AM on August 13, 2008 by Jeff Horwich (17 Comments)

I'll bet NBC is getting more than they bargained for when they enlisted former U.S. gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi as a commentator! Anybody else noticing this?

No surprise he's partisan -- his wife now runs the team. But it's almost jaw-dropping the way he's using this platform to millions of viewers to fling accusations around of cheating at the Games. It's adding some high drama to the usually-boring "analyst recap" stuff they use to fill time during the broadcast.

I am this many!
(Harry How/Getty Images Sport)
chinese gymnast
It made me do a double-take when I first heard him during the preliminaries earlier this week. His biggest beef is that the Chinese government doctored passports to allow girls younger than 16 to compete. He has brought it up again and again, including after the Chinese won their gold last night. It's the most provocative sports commentary I've ever seen -- especially pointed given NBC's obvious effort otherwise to flatter the Chinese hosts.

The other night he also, in passing, accused the Argentinian (I think) judge of cheating, inappropriately docking the Americans' scores. Um...OK.

What's straight-man Bob Costas supposed to do in this situation? Does he have some obligation to stop Bela, or pull in someone from the Chinese Politburo for equal time? In practice, he's not doing much except looking slightly uncomfortable in his chair.

It raises a question about the role these commentators play. Do they have any obligation to respect news standards?

But what if Karolyi's right? I'd think if anyone can spot a 14-year-old girl, it would be him. Damn right someone ought to be making noise.

For what it's worth, he's not the only one suspecting conspiracies. Floor commentator Tim Daggett (favorite and highly overused commentary for all developments, good and bad: "Wow.") last night suggested the judges deliberately delayed releasing scores for the Americans to mess with their heads before the next event.

It's interesting to see how politics have slipped into these games after all.

And is it just me, or does the outside air behind Costas in their Tiananmen Square studio look basically disgusting most of the time?

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