It’s become an Olympic ritual to decry NBC’s sob sister TV coverage —in which the network molds every athlete into an up-by-his-bootstraps scrapper who overcame pain, adversity, poverty, and UFO abduction to grab hold of the Olympic dream. This year, the carping seems to have finally had an effect. Unless sob-sisterdom has crept into the sports I’m not watching—like, say, judo—this is the most objective Summer Games since Jim McKay first sat behind the mike.
The top American athletes—always strong candidates for hagiography—have been portrayed, more or less, as they are: flaky, or ultra-competitive, or divaish. So thank heaven for Tim Daggett, one-third of NBC’s gymnastics team, for refusing all such calls for impartiality. He’s a shameless cheerleader, and we’re better for it.
Daggett is the Scott Hamilton of gymnastics—the sport’s most ludicrous shill. This is saying something, since Olympic gymnastics has had some pretty ludicrous shills. NBC even hired Entertainment Tonight’sJohn Tesh to work play-by-play in 1992 and 1996. (His immortal line: “She is quintessential bars.”) To my great relief, Daggett has more than filled the Tesh-sized void in the NBC booth by shamelessly rooting for American athletes. His favorite adjective—used at least twice Thursday night—is “super-difficult.” Daggett declared Paul Hamm’s victory in the men’s all-around to be the greatest sports moment of his lifetime—this from a man who won America’s first ever team gold (and himself scored a perfect 10) at the 1984 Olympics.
Daggett speaks in sugar and exclamation points. On Thursday, during the self-destruction of Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina, the nastiest thing he could muster was: “That is not the kind of mistake you can make in the Olympic all-around finals. Not the kind you want to make, anyway!” Easy there, Tim! His tub-thumping for American champ Carly Patterson had the ring of a pimply teenager rooting for his favorite baseball team: “That has gotta do it right there!”
If Daggett is unnervingly sweet, it’s perhaps because his own life story isas heartwarming a fairy tale. At the 1984 games, Daggett was the XY Mary Lou Retton, posting a perfect 10 on the high bar and morphing into a legend overnight. As this motivational speaking site puts it: “Then disaster struck!” In 1987, Daggett tumbled off the bars in practice and suffered nerve damage and a ruptured disk. But he struggled back the very same year. Then disaster struck! At the ‘87 world championships, Daggett crushed his tibia and fibula and severed an artery after a flubbed “piked Cuervo” vault. But after some operations and skin grafts, he made triumphant return No. 2.
Tim Daggett is, quite simply, a perfect 10. OK, now I’m just quoting from that motivational speaking site—which you really must read—but you get my point. If NBC’s announcers want to call it down the middle in water polo, well, bully for them. But in gymnastics—where the contestants are 12; where, after years of exhaustive training, the results are left to the whim of skeezy judges; where the coaches look like Eastern European mobsters in their twilight years; and where the routines, as Tim might say, are super-difficult—give me Daggett or give me death.