NEW YORK (AP) — It was a terrific night for American track athletes in Rio. Ashton Eaton won his second straight decathlon title, Ryan Crouser set an Olympic record in the shot put, Dalilah Muhammad became the first American woman ever to win gold in the 400-meter hurdles and Kerron Clement won the same race for men.
Opening acts, each of them.
NBC was waiting for one man, and one man only: Jamaica's Usain Bolt and his attempt to win his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 200-meter run, to match his third straight gold in the 100. Over and over, we saw camera shots of Bolt warming up or just waiting for his race to begin.
Eaton's achievement was the sort that have put past winners on cereal boxes, the decathlon gold medalist earning the unofficial title of greatest athlete in the world. On Thursday, coverage of his victory seemed strangely muted, even though there was more suspense involved than there was for Bolt's race.
We get it. Bolt's a star, one of the greatest Olympians ever. The spotlight is his oxygen. And he delivered a terrific performance.
Yet we're not sure if it was the fourth replay of his race, the super slo-mo of him giving his signature pose, his pause to take selfies with fans or his interview wish that he'd been faster that made us say, OK, we're done. Time to move on.
QUOTE: "Many people here will be telling their grandchildren they saw the great Usain Bolt in person." —NBC's Tom Hammond.
QUOTE: "He said he wanted to cement his legacy. I don't think it needed any cement." —Hammond.
QUOTE: "It rained here. But the only Bolt was on the track." —Hammond.
QUOTE: "He simply has had no equal in terms of getting it done when the spotlight is at its greatest." —NBC's Ato Boldon.
We get it! WE GET IT!
WRESTLING: While it was good of Bob Costas to mention wrestler Helen Maroulis' upset victory over Japan's Saori Yoshida, NBC missed a great chance to show some flexibility in prime-time. Here was a first-time Olympian beating a three-time Olympic champion and winner of 16 straight major titles to become the first American woman with a wrestling medal. Set up the drama and show the entire match. Cut the two showings of an American relay team racing alone against the clock because of a mishap earlier in the day and turn that into a Costas voiceover.
SUNKEN SWIMMERS: Who would have thought Ryan Lochte and his allegedly drunken band of American swimmers would turn into the biggest news story of the Games? Wise of NBC to lead its night with an update.
WATCH OUT: The U.S. women's volleyball team had momentum and experience on its side heading into a fifth-set tiebreaker against Serbia on Thursday, and got out to a quick lead. But analyst Kevin Barnett was worried. They could have been up by 7-2, but the game was closer because of a couple of unforced errors. "Keep this in mind," he said. His fears proved realized when the U.S. went on to lose.
LACKLUSTER HOOPS: "It's a win, that's all that matters," NBC's Marc Zumoff said after the U.S. women's basketball team qualified for the gold medal game by beating France. Such are the standards of a team on a 48-game winning streak dating to 1992 that a 19-point victory is deemed an artistic failure.
FORFEIT: NBC's Tim Hutchings wasn't happy to see Javier Culson of Puerto Rico disqualified from the men's 400-meter hurdles for a false start. He could see a racer trying to grab an advantage in a shorter sprint, but didn't think that's what Culson was doing. "It's a genuine error," Hutchings said, "and I think the rules, frankly, could be more forgiving."
RATINGS: With star power dimmed, the audience for NBC's prime-time Olympics coverage sank to its lowest level of the Rio de Janeiro games on Wednesday night by one measure. The Nielsen company said 20.7 million people watched NBC, with the number rising to 22.1 million when cable viewership and online streaming during the same time slot is added. The NBC-only viewership was slightly lower, at 20.6 million, on the first night of competition on Aug. 6, but adding in the additional Olympic content on other sources brought the total to 23.5 million. No matter how you measure it, that's significantly lower than the 29.1 million who watched the London Games in 2012 on the corresponding night.
Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder