Review: Following foreign athletes is cumbersome

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By ANICK JESDANUN, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — It should come as no surprise that much of the Olympics coverage in the U.S. is focused on American athletes and top performers from other countries. You're not going to hear much about the swimmer from Albania who won a preliminary heat or the Benin athlete who failed to advance in judo.

But in this land of immigrants, every athlete has a fan somewhere, no matter how obscure the sport or how slim the chances of medaling.

I still remember the interest I had in cross-country skier Prawat Nagvajara from Thailand during the 2002 Winter Games. He had little chance given that his tropical country lacks snow, but it happened to be the country my parents called home many decades ago.

Among the dozens of hours of television coverage I absorbed from my apartment in New York, I saw no more than a few seconds of Nagvajara competing. NBC showed him falling as part of a feature on countries that sent just one athlete. (He did manage to get up and continue, before suffering from cramps, nearly throwing up and withdrawing short of the halfway mark of the 30-kilometer race.)

With a lot more Olympics coverage online a decade later, I figured I could do a better job of following Thai athletes, even as NBC and its cable channels focus on competitors with larger followings.

Although it wasn't as easy as I had hoped, I did find a way to do so. Most of these techniques apply no matter what countries your ancestors may have come from.

Keep in mind that video offerings online will be limited because of the way broadcast rights are sold. You won't get a Swiss broadcast in the U.S., for instance, even if you're more interested in Swiss athletes than Americans. Instead, you may be able to catch a glimpse of Swiss competitors as part of NBC's online streaming offerings.

It will take work.

As I mentioned in last week's review of NBC's online offerings, I believe the NBCOlympics.com site could have used a better search tool. I typed the name of a Thai swimmer, Natthanan Junkrajang, into the main search box and got nothing — not even her bio or the results of her events.

I had to go elsewhere on the site to find out the two events she had entered. Then, I had to browse through the results of those events, making sure to first hit the tab for preliminary heats. Because video wasn't indexed well, I had to sift through a lot of footage to find the few minutes of her swimming. She won one of her heats, by the way.

I fared worse with shooter Sutiya Jiewchaloemmit. It turns out NBC's pledge to cover every event online doesn't necessarily mean coverage from start to finish. She didn't make it past the qualification round, and for that event NBC had only the finals online.

Fortunately, I found these gems elsewhere:

— British Broadcasting Corp. at http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/2012/

You won't get the BBC's rich trove of video in the U.S., but you will have access to the rest of its site.

I like that each country has its own page, summarizing athletes competing and medals won. There's a small medal under Pimsiri Sirikaew's photo for her silver in weightlifting.

Although NBC has pages for each country, too, I found no good way to get to them from the home page. Plus, clicking on "Athletes" from that profile page on NBC told me there's no one from Thailand competing, missing the 37 that were. And surely there are more relevant tidbits than what NBC found on Thailand: It lost to the U.S. in 1956 in a lopsided basketball game.

At the BBC site, you can click on any athlete to find out the events entered. The results are right there, in a single place for each athlete. NBC makes you fish around for those details.

The BBC also has a feature for comparing any competitor with top athletes in that event. With the swimmer Junkrajang, for instance, I saw she swam about nine seconds slower than gold medalist Allison Schmitt of the U.S. in the 200 meter freestyle.

— London Organising Committee at http://london2012.com.

The official site for the London Games organizers has pages on each country, too. There's quick access to events and results for each athlete.

Going beyond the BBC, the site gives you a list of all athletes from a particular country competing that day, along with the specific events and times. You'll have to figure out the time difference with London, though.

And you're limited to browsing events for that day — not tomorrow or this weekend. (Yahoo's website does offer upcoming events by country, though it's not clear without some extra clicks who's competing.)

A search came up with six photos of Thai competitors as of Tuesday, compared with none at NBC.

— Wikipedia at http://wikipedia.org

Wikipedia is a good starting point for an overview of athletes and results from all sports, as long as you go in with the understanding that anyone may contribute to it, regardless of expertise.

Go to a search engine and type in the country you're interested in followed by "2012 Olympics." You should get the Wikipedia page for that country this year as one of the top results.

Unlike the other sites I checked, I found results for all of a country's athletes on a single page. With others, I got one competitor at a time at best. But again, use at your own risk. Some of the sailing results for two Thai athletes were missing, and one boxer's name had an alternate spelling, for instance.

Armed with the information from Wikipedia, the BBC and the London Games site, you can then go to NBC's website to look for video of specific events. It's more cumbersome than it ought to be in this day and age, but it beats waiting around to see if those athletes will show up on TV for a few seconds.

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Anick Jesdanun, deputy technology and media editor for The Associated Press, has been following the Olympics online since 2000 and on television since 1980. He can be reached at njesdanun(at)ap.org.

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Online:

NBC: http://nbcolympics.com

BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/2012/

London Games: http://www.london2012.com

Yahoo: http://sports.yahoo.com/olympics

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