Sunday, November 11, 2018

What is NBC Sports Gold and Should I Get It?

I watched the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating today on NBC, where we got two competitions - men's and women's figure skating - in just an hour and a half. Without too much fanfare, we got barely any of the short programs and a handful of free programs. No pairs, and no ice dancing.

The supreme editing makes sense since it was on NBC proper, but still a bit disappointing. The crew actually doesn't travel there, either, which is why we don't get any interviews.

But at the end of every broadcast, we are urged to check out NBC Sports Gold to get even more figure skating, including live broadcasts of many of the competitions NBC would air instead of the tape-edited features.

It frustrates me, because as much as I want live-streamed coverage, I don't want to fork over more money since I already have the yearlong pass for track and field.

Here are some details for the Gold pass:

  • NBC offers a Gold pass for a given yearly period for certain sports, including
    • Track and Field
    • Speed Skating
    • Figure Skating
    • Skiing/Snowboarding/Ski Jumping/Nordic Combined/Biathlon
    • Premier League Football
    • Cycling
    • Rugby
    • Philadelphia sports, and 
    • Portland Trailblazers. Not sure why they have the last two. 
  • The year pass ranges from $19.99 (speed skating) to $74.99 (track and field), though they do offer sales. (Figure skating is currently ten dollars off - $59.99 - and track and field is $5 off - $69.99.) Most just have a season-long pass, but the Philly pass offers a monthly plan.
  • You get a login, and the pass allows you to live stream events from the main broadcasting feeds. You can also view replays of events. 
  • The subscription auto-renews at the start of the next season unless you cancel beforehand, so a credit card is required. 
I bought the track and field pass back in May, and I got my money's worth. Even last month I was able to use it to watch Eliud Kipchoge's world record-breaking Berlin Marathon run. 

There are two caveats to the Gold pass: it's very expensive, and the app isn't great. 

I wish that it was a bit cheaper, because then it would be no doubt to purchase the figure skating and snow passes. It's nice that it is just a one-time payment, but that can creep up on you when the auto-renewal kicks in. 

I am not a fan of the app. It doesn't always work with Chromecast, which is something I really enjoy. The app also kicks me out a lot of the time so I'm constantly logging in, and it always forgets which pass I subscribe to. It says "NO SPEED SKATING AVAILABLE" and I think, "Good, because that's not what I want!"

Hopefully they can make the app a little easier to work with, and someday they can offer a combo discount where the more passes you buy, the less you have to pay. (Kind of like a Disney vacation: the more days you buy, the less the daily passes cost!)

I really enjoy having the international broadcast feed because then you can see everyone competing instead of NBC's chosen few. But it does also mean you have to sit through ice resurfacing, breaks in the action, or bad weather delays. Keep that in mind. 

So is this something you would consider purchasing? Does it make you angry that NBC is nickel and diming Olympic lovers by making these single passes? Should I splurge for the figure skating pass since it's on sale right now? I'm curious what other people think!

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

There were some great videos this week - I especially loved yesterday's look at the Samoan weightlifting craze - but the one I adored from this week is the "On the Line" interviews about  Duke Kahanamoku and Johnny Weissmuller. It revealed so much information about these great athletes!

Weekly Cauldron Check

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I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Play it Again, Sam

I have a love/hate relationship with Sam Mikulak.

Love, because c'mon. The dude is gorgeous, AND he attended the University of Michigan and helped their gymnastics squad win two NCAA titles. He always has a smile on his face, and is very upbeat and supportive of his teammates.

Hate, because when it comes to international competition, Mikulak fades. At least, that's what I've always thought.

Last week was the artistic gymnastics world championships, and while the world was talking about Simone Biles (as they rightly should), I decided to take a different spin by looking at the only US male gymnast to get a medal. He had to wait until the very last event to get it, but he did.

This is a time of peak performances in the male gymnast world. It is absolutely incredible the things that they are able to do with their massive muscles and tumbling skills. It is an entirely different sport compared to women's gymnastics, and doesn't get the publicity that maybe it deserves - especially in the past six years. (I've been writing an article about the difference between men's and women's gymnastics in my head for about three years - someday it will be ready!)

Maybe that's why I magnetize to Sam Mikulak. He has been America's best hope for a medal since Jonathan Horton retired, and I'm expecting him to be able to compete with the likes of Kohei Uchimura from Japan or Artur Dalaloyan from Russia.

Unfortunately, maybe the incredible competitiveness of the male gymnasts of today means that he can't quite meet those insanely high expectations. I had all the faith in the world that he would medal in Rio, and event after event Mikulak flubbed in some way or didn't have the beginning difficulty score to be level with the elites. I ended my Rio Olympics pretty sore when it came to Sam Mikulak.

I did think that was his last chance, honestly, and it surprised me to see that he was still training at the USOTC in Colorado Springs and planning to compete in this year's world championships. We as Americans can sometimes gain a false sense of eliteness when watching a national championship, because when those same amazing athletes go up against the world's best, they tend to be knocked down a peg. Mikulak fit that mold for a long time; he was clearly the best in the States, but was not nearly as good as the rest of the world.

This year, it looked like things might change. Going into the final round of the individual all-around, Mikulak was in third place - bronze medal position. But then he made a costly mistake in (arguably) his best event - the high bar - and finished in fifth instead.

During the event finals, Mikulak did almost every discipline, but was always barely out of the medal positions. He even started the parallel bars competition but had to watch as three gymnasts passed him for the podium.

Finally, in the event that took him off the all-around podium, he knocked it out of the park and only lost to insane high bar specialist Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands (look up his stuff - it's incredible) and King Kohei himself. Can't argue with that!

Will Mikulak ever be atop a men's gymnastics podium? I know he still has another Olympics in him, barring any injuries. But it is going to be really hard to catch up to those amazing elite gymnasts. However, this week made me feel a little better about rooting for him. He'll keep working hard - there's no doubt about that - and hard work yields results. Let's make those results global!

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

If you have half an hour, watch this mini doc about the women's handball team from Montenegro, who took silver in 2012 in London, giving the country its only medal ever. It covers the aftermath of the competition, and how it has positively affected the country:

Tokyo 2020 Prep

If I get to see any gymnastics, it's going to be an event finals night for sure. Forget the all-arounds! I want to see the men and women compete, and I don't want to be distracted by four or five athletes going at the same time.

Ugh, what am I talking about. I'll never be able to get a ticket for gymnastics!

Mini Blurbs

  • The Japanese gymnastics teams mirrored their Tokyo 2020 logo on their singlets, but they made it black instead of blue to match their country colors. In the end, it looked like a checkerboard across their chests. 
  • I am all about women gymnasts competing who aren't teenagers. Aliia Mustafina, who won the Olympic gold in uneven bars the past two Games, had a baby and still qualified for the Russian world championship team at age 24. And then there's Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, who qualified for the vault final at age 43 and placed fourth! I think Simone Biles would heartily disagree, but I want her to be the next Chusovitina and compete for longer than her competitors have been alive.
  • This is the magical time of year where summer and winter sports are going on together. While Biles is competing in Doha, Qatar, Yuzuru Hanyu is winning the men's figure skating competition in Helsinki, Finland. While Shalane Flanagain won bronze in today's NYC Marathon, Abzal Azhgaliyev is winning the men's short track speed skating 500 meters for Kazakhstan. Just a beautiful time!
  • Finally got to catch NBC Sports' Curling Night in America on Friday evening, and liked the setup, even though the actual match was recorded back in July, I believe, and they are milking it for all it's worth. Check it out if you're curious next Friday!
  • Instead of NBC airing the NYC Marathon, the honor went to ESPN, though a few of the normal commentators and journalists switched allegiances for one event. Tim Hutchings, who announces many NBC Sports Gold track events, also analyzed this event, and they should have just let him do the whole thing - he is my favorite track announcer by far!
  • Speaking of ESPN, their coverage of the marathon basically sucked. They didn't show any of the wheelchair competition (which ended up being quite exciting) and threw in some puff pieces during the race. DON'T DO THAT, ESPN. JUST SHOW THE RACE. Or at least keep the men's and women's elite events in the corner of the screen! When Mary Keitany pulled away, guess which cameras didn't show it? When Shalane Flanagan overtook several athletes to finish in third (after winning the whole thing last year), guess who didn't show it? I never thought I'd say this, but I missed the NBC Sports coverage. No, ESPN, I don't need to see a touch-screen feature about steps per mile for some runner I don't know. 
  • My guest sting on the Olympic Fever podcast aired on Thursday - you can catch it here! (And regardless of the title, we were not running for our lives - that's the title of the book we covered.)

Weekly Cauldron Check

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I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Book Review: Running For My Life

Often we hear Americans complain about "first world problems." We know that our issues aren't as bad as those who live in smaller, poorer countries, and we acknowledge it with that phrase. But let's be honest - even though we might convince ourselves that we get what they go through, we don't.

The things that I read in Lopez Lomong's book, Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games were eye opening. As a six-year-old, Lomong was taken from his parents by Sudanese soldiers in the People's Liberation Army in order to be trained as a child soldier.

The boys were stuck in one large room, ate terrible food out of one bucket, used the bathroom wherever they could, and watched as fellow boys died around them. With the help of some boys from his village, he escaped the camp and literally ran for his life to Kenya.

At the UN refugee camp, we would assume that Lomong's life drastically improved, but it took longer than that. One of the shocking aspects of this section was that on Tuesdays, the refugee boys would jump into the dump where the UN would dispose their garbage and take all the food they could fine. They ate garbage, and that was the best day of the week.

Eventually Lomong hears about a program that sends boys like him to America to be adopted, and he makes it to Syracuse, New York to be adopted by Rob and Barbara Rogers. The kind of culture shock that Lomong experienced was very different to what we're used to - he was suddenly in a huge house with all the food and drink he could have, a bedroom of his own, indoor plumbing, and multiple sets of clothing. Yet he was scared - scared that it would all suddenly get taken away and he'd be back where he started.

Lomong's story is enthralling. I read this in the span of 36 hours back in August. I started reading and I couldn't put it down! (It helped that I was still plodding my way through The Games and was excited to read a book that wasn't so dreary and documentarian.) Although I read this because it is related to the Olympics, I realized that the Olympics aspect of the story was secondary to Lomong's life.

The book was selected as the Olympic Fever Book Club book for the fall, and Jill, Alison, and I will be talking about it on this week's podcast. I would highly recommend that you pick up the book and read Lomong's story - it won't take very long! Then make sure to download the Olympic Fever podcast to hear our take. If anything, this book will give you insight into what people have dealt with in Sudan and South Sudan for many, many years.

Honestly, the I feel like I wouldn't even bother saying "first world problems" ever again. It just seems to put third world country problems into a nice, neat box - and we could all do ourselves a favor and see how real this world around us is.

Tokyo 2020 Prep

In listening to a podcast centered around Japan, I heard that interviews in Japan are very formal. Japanese students who are interviewed at school do not just have a conversation with their teachers, but are grilled intensely. It makes me wonder about the interview process for volunteering at the Olympics. Should I expect something casual? Or should I prepare myself to be grilled? (It never hurts to be prepared for both.)

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

Marjorie Jackson is an Australian sprinter who won gold in the 100- and 200-meters in the 1952 Olympics. In her own words, we hear her story. How cool!

Bonus Video: I loved Runner's World's video from the Chicago Marathon Expo. They set up a giant treadmill and set it at Eliud Kipchoge's world record marathon pace that he ran last month in Berlin. It really makes people realize how fast these distance runners are - and they keep it up for two hours!

Mini Blurbs

  • The World Gymnastics Championships started last week and the team finals start tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I work during the day, so I'll have to catch it later. But I will be watching and covering it next week!
  • Speaking of gymnastics, Simone Biles had to go to the ER in Qatar last week - the night before qualification day - because of a kidney stone! She still has the stone, and is competing with it. Amazing!
  • I have been catching up on the Skate America and Skate Canada figure skating competitions. It is a lot of fun watching the figure skaters I watched last season in PyeongChang skating to completely different routines. A standout is Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue's free dance routine. Last season they did a hot and sexy routine, but this year they are doing a dance that is much more fluid and emotional. Hubbell does an amazing job emoting throughout the routine!
  • The Olympic Channel has been airing track cycling, and I got to watch a women's points race - 100 laps, with a sprint held every ten laps. This is where the long track speed skaters found the inspiration for their mass start race, which first happened in PyeongChang. It is just as confusing on the track as it was on the ice!

Weekly Cauldron Check

Is the cauldron lit????


I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!