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Guy Adams, the U.S.-based correspondent for Britain's The Independent, had his Twitter account shut down after he ripped NBC's tape-delayed coverage and tweeted out the e-mail address of a network executive so others could sound off. Twitter quickly apologized and reinstated Adams, but users questioned Twitter's commitment to free speech, especially in light of the company's Olympic marketing partnership with NBC. The U.S. broadcast rights holder highlighted a paradox: Many viewers disliked the patronizing control of its prime-time package. Yet NBC's ratings were up overall, and viewing among teenagers increased 27% compared with Beijing.
All of this suggests that the second-screen experience has become a generational norm, with a telecast simply the raw material. Yet to the cohort of Americans who turned #NBCFail into a trending hashtag and claim that North Korea is the only other country where the men's 100-meter final wasn't shown live, tape delays are an affront. "A tape-delayed broadcast isn't an immersive experience that you can fully share," says Mark McClusky, who covered the Olympics for Wired. "NBC was depriving people of the ability to interact with the rest of the world in real time."
The IOC has fretted for years over its graying TV audience. The introduction of BMX and beach volleyball is an attempt to reverse that trend. Now, thanks to Twitter, a new generation seems to be falling for the Olympics, only not out of nationalistic interest. London seduced the Twitterati because users could connect—with a Jamaican sprinter and with one another, as some 26 world championships engaging more than 10,000 athletes from 205 countries unfolded.
The next Summer Games host, Rio, intends to poke more holes in the membranes that London made more permeable. Rio's eight-minute segment at the closing ceremony on Sunday featured Renato Sorriso, a street sweeper who, while pushing a broom in the Sambadrome between acts during Carnaval in 1997, broke spontaneously into a dance of his own. The crowd went nuts, and Sorriso became the most celebrated street sweeper in the world. He represents what the Olympics aspire to be: a stage where someone literally off the street can become a star. "England knows multiculturalism well," says Daniela Thomas, a Carioca who was one of the artistic directors of the segment. "But in Brazil we've been embracing and intermingling for centuries. We hug and we touch. We take things, and with our spirit we remix them. We're like deejays."
FOR SEVEN YEARS Sebastian Coe and Adrian Warner, a reporter for BBC London, have neither hugged nor touched. From the moment London landed the Games in 2005, Warner would reliably call LOCOG to account for every shortfall, from ticketing to security to transport. At a press briefing last week, once it became clear that London would pull the damn thing off, the two renewed their verbal fencing one last time.
"Seb," Warner began, "there have been some quite shocking reports of people talking spontaneously to each other on the Underground, and of people smiling at each other who don't know each other and saying, 'Good morning.'"
Coe didn't miss a beat: "Adrian, I would like to unreservedly apologize to you for that outburst of camaraderie on the tube."
Apology mode is the British default setting, with "sorry" a comforting mantra. But for more than a fortnight the Brits suppressed that strain in themselves long enough to act confidently as hosts. And though the U.S. wound up atop the table with 104 medals, 46 of them gold, Britain blew past its target of 48 to claim 65. As a result, 33 more Brits now call themselves Olympic champions.
Of that spirit—spontaneous warmth marbled with sporting success—Coe shared one more wish. The way he put it had a faintly stuffy ring, but it's a sentiment that applies as much to the Olympics at large as to Britain and the three-time host city by the Thames: "Long may it remain."