Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Americans miss out on the best of the Games

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
August 16, 2012 -- Updated 1806 GMT (0206 HKT)
Sudan's team parades. Frida Ghitis says coverage of the Games overlooks fascinating stories of athletes from other nations.
Sudan's team parades. Frida Ghitis says coverage of the Games overlooks fascinating stories of athletes from other nations.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Olympic coverage in the U.S. understandably focuses on U.S. athletes
  • Ghitis: But fascinating stories, like the Sudanese runner who had been a slave, are missed
  • She says Americans won't see the Afghan athlete who endured threats to keep her home
  • Ghitis: In hundreds of hours of coverage, NBC should find time for the rest of the world.

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer/correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- If you've been mesmerized by the drama, like millions of other viewers watching coverage of the Olympic Games, you have heard the most heroic, inspirational stories of athletes reaching the pinnacle of international competition. Or, at least you think you have.

The truth is American viewers are missing out on the best of the Games.

Coverage of the Olympics in the United States understandably focuses on American athletes. That is as it should be, but not to this degree. By concentrating mainly on Americans' stories, the NBC network is depriving U.S. viewers of some of the most fascinating, moving and exciting aspects of the Olympics.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

How much have you heard, for example, about Guor Marial, who marched in the opening ceremony under the banner of "Independent Olympic Athletes"?

Marial became a marathoner after running for his life since he was a young boy in Sudan, growing up in the middle of one of the deadliest wars of the 20th century. He learned to run as he fought to escape from those who killed his siblings and relatives and later kidnapped and enslaved him. Imagine such a story of tragedy and redemption, from slavery to triumph.

His life is a most unbelievable odyssey, culminating at the Olympic Games. His parents live in a village with no electricity or running water. He hasn't spoken to them in years and hopes someone will get word to them to try to get to a television to watch their son.

Get Real! NBC spoils Franklin victory
Sanya Richards-Ross aims for redemption
Oscar Pistorius' fighting spirit
Human to Hero: Jessica Ennis

It's fine to cheer for the Americans, but how about a cheer for Marial? There's one who deserves to become a star -- and one who should have NBC's cameras following him.

His is not the only fascinating story at these Games.

American viewers are interested in the performances of American competitors. There's nothing wrong with that, and there's nothing wrong with NBC producers offering profiles, even fawning ones, of the hometown athletes. But the U.S. public is missing out on what truly makes the Olympics special.

The only time network viewers hear about other athletes, it seems, is when there are suspicions of doping or other violations, which could potentially help Americans. It would seem the rest of the world is there only to serve as the rivals Americans require to conquer the podium.

No question, the United States has brilliant, talented, exciting competitors; everyone wants to see them. But in hundreds of hours of coverage, there should be room in the spotlight, time in the schedule, for the rest of the world.

In NBC's telling, it's all about Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, about American gymnasts and swimmers, and soon enough about American track stars and, ultimately, about crowning the few who will grace the Wheaties box, who will sell us Subway sandwiches and Gatorade, Nike sneakers and Snickers chocolate bars.

It's about manufacturing heroes because, in a truth we all know, too much of it is about making money.

Behind the cynicism and the commercialism, however, the Games really do have the power to inspire. There truly is a history of toil and drama behind every athlete. That's because the Olympics are full of heroes, but they're hardly all Americans. (Although a remarkable number of them do make their home in the United States.)

Every athlete has a story, and there are almost 15,000 athletes at London 2012.

In addition to the rivalries at the pool and the very touching images of U.S. athletes' parents suffering and celebrating in the stands, we would all gain from hearing more about, say, Tahmina Kohistani, the lone woman in the Afghan delegation, who endured threats and taunts to keep her out of the Games. Because some people in some countries, including hers, are convinced that sports are no place for women. In Afghanistan, people have been killed for helping girls learn to read and write.

Kohistani deserves a gold medal just for making it to the Games.

Criticism of NBC's U.S.-centric coverage of the Olympics is nothing new. Overly nationalistic narratives and neglect of non-Americans are chronic problems, which attract attention every time the Olympics roll around. From the veteran sports writer Frank Deford to everyday viewers, many complain. As one blogger says, "Watching the Olympics in the U.S. is no fun because the only thing you can watch is Americans winning."

American viewers, I have no doubt, would cherish the opportunity to learn more about the first women to compete for Saudi Arabia, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and Sarah Attar, who represent a country where women are not only banned from participating in sports, they're even banned from watching sports events in major stadiums.

The Olympics would have given NBC an unparalleled chance to receive permission for a glimpse into the secretive North Korea. We could have learned about the mysteries of training in the Hermit Kingdom for the two North Korean medal-winning weightlifters, Kim Un Guk and Om Yun Chol.

Learning about how many hundreds of hours Lochte spent at the pool, or how many pairs of shoes he has in his collection is fine. But just think what more we could be discovering.

Does it have to be this way? Is NBC just doing what viewers want? I don't think so. I believe Americans would relish the opportunity to find out about many other fascinating individuals competing at the Games.

During my days at CNN, politics caused the United States and the Soviet Union to boycott each others' Olympics. CNN founder Ted Turner, my former boss, decided to create his own Olympics, staging the Goodwill Games over a span of 16 years. CNN producers and camera crews traveled the world to produce profiles of the men and women who would participate in Ted's most excellent sports adventure. The profiles were unforgettable.

Americans may be missing out on some of the best of the Games. Fortunately, the rest of the world is not. As Afghanistan's Kohistani said, "there are a lot of Afghan girls and women [who are] watching me and they hope that one day they shall be [in my place]. And I am going to open a new way for the women of Afghanistan."

One day, perhaps, Americans, too, will have the opportunity to gain inspiration from athletes like her, whose journey deserves more attention, even if she does not compete for the USA.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT