Marit Bjørgen’s gold medal performance in the 30km cross-country ski race on Sunday was yet another historic moment for the legendary Norwegian Olympian.
- This is the 8th gold medal of her Olympic career, which ties the record held by Ole Einar Bjørndalen and Bjorn Daehlie for the most gold medals won by a Winter Olympian.
- This is the 15th Olympic medal of her career, which augments her record as the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. She leaves the 2018 Games with two more medals than the previous record holder, Ole Einar Bjørndalen.
- The medal is her 5th of the PyeongChang Games (2 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze). She is the most decorated Olympian of 2018.
- This is the second time Bjørgen has walked away from the Winter Games with the most hardware, the first time being the 2010 Vancouver Games, where she also won 5 medals. The only other athlete to lead the Winter Olympic medal count twice is East German Speed Skater Karin Enke, who shared the top position with two other athletes in 1984 and seven other athletes in 1988. For both Vancouver and PyeongChang, Bjørgen sits atop the medal stand alone.
- She is the only Winter Olympian to win 5 medals in two different Olympiads.
But will the most successful Olympian of the Winter Games get significant coverage on NBC’s primetime Olympic television broadcast tonight?
History suggests NBC will only mention her in passing.
NBC decided Bjørgen’s four previous record setting accomplishments in PyeongChang did not warrant substantial airtime on its primetime Olympic broadcast.
When she became the most successful female Winter Olympian in history, she received a very brief mention on NBC’s Saturday, February 10, 2018 primetime broadcast at 10:28pm as part of a larger discussion of a cross country event. She was not, however, the subject of a feature, nor was she interviewed.
When Bjørgen added a 12th medal to her record, which also tied her with Bjørn Dæhlie as the cross country skier with the most Olympic medals in history, she was acknowledged on NBC’s primetime broadcast within a 27 second discussion of Norway’s dominance in cross country skiing on the Thursday, February 15, 2018 primetime broadcast. Once again, she did not receive a feature, nor was she interviewed.
When she collected her 13th Winter Olympic medal on Saturday, tying the record held by Norwegian Biathlete, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, as the most decorated Winter Olympian in history, and breaking the record for most Olympic medals by a cross country skier, her feat was mentioned, briefly, during the primetime broadcast as cross country skiing received 28 seconds of coverage. No feature. No interview.
Bjørgen was also mentioned very briefly on Sunday, February 18, 2018 during the primetime broadcast within the context of Norway being the overall medals leader for the 2018 Games.
When she became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time, with her 14th medal on Wednesday, Bjørgen played second fiddle to two American skiers on NBC’s primetime broadcast. Though the women’s team sprint received 14 minutes and 36 seconds of airtime – exponentially more airtime than women’s cross country has received in primetime during the previous five Winter Olympiads combined – NBC’s focus was on Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall, who became the first Americans ever to win gold in a cross country Olympic event. Their accomplishments marked only the second time Team USA won an Olympic medal in cross country and NBC emphasized Diggins and Randall, who were interviewed after the event. While Bjørgen was mentioned, and shown during the race, she was not interviewed, nor was there a feature about her record setting accomplishment. The Iron Lady’s presence on the broadcast was more to serve the narrative of American success than her own.
Bjørgen was largely invisible on NBC’s primetime Olympic broadcast in previous Olympiads, where her achievements received little airtime. This year, she has received passing mentions on NBC’s primetime broadcast, but not the coverage her record setting accomplishments would suggest is warranted.
Heading into tonight’s broadcast, where NBC will recap the most compelling stories of the Games, the question that has existed for more than two weeks remains: Will Marit Bjørgen – the most successful Winter Olympian of all time – finally receive the NBC primetime television coverage her accomplishments deserve?
Or will the most successful athlete of the PyeongChang Games remain a footnote on NBC’s primetime Olympic television broadcast?
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Olympic Television: Broadcasting the Biggest Show on Earth contains a detailed 20-year examination of how male and female athletes have been covered within primetime Olympic broadcasts. The book also has analyses of how race/ethnicity and nationality impact Olympic coverage, interviews with NBC personnel about the content and production of Olympic broadcasts, and an overview of Olympic television history. Published by Routledge, it is available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.com, the Routledge website, The Bookstore Plus, and other outlets.