The Olympics Sap-o-Meter
The Sap-o-Meter bids a tearful farewell. Plus: the Sappiest Word of the 2008 Olympic Games.
Posted Monday, Aug. 25, 2008, at 1:03 PM
The Sap-o-Meter went into the last three days of NBC's Olympics coverage with several lingering questions. Would dream overcome all odds to defeat mom and become the Sappiest Word of the 2008 Olympic Games? Would Debbie Phelps extinguish the Olympic torch with her tears? Would Cris Collinsworth continue his inspiring journey to replace Jim McKay as the lord of Olympics sap?
Collinsworth got off to a flying start on Friday, asking LeBron James: "If you win the gold medal and they play the national anthem, think you'll cry?" (James' response: "It's possible.") Unfortunately, the rest of the night wasn't so fun for sap junkies. Bryan Clay brought the decathlon gold medal back to the United States, but his heroics didn't inspire many histrionics from the NBC team. Although the peacock's pundits were keen to note the many challenges (six mentions) of becoming the "world's greatest athlete," many notable sap words went unsaid. Mom entered Friday night on the inside track for Sap-o-Meter gold, but the word wasn't uttered even once on Friday. The day's pitiful tally: a mere 36 Sap Points.
NBC's penultimate Olympics broadcast included live coverage of the men's marathon; predictably, determination benefited with four mentions, its highest score of the fortnight. Bob Costas looked back at 2004, when a crazed spectator tackled race leader Brazil's Vanderlei de Lima. The runner's perseverance was "a celebration in the face of adversity," Costas cooed. On a night when Sanya Richards redeemed herself to lead the United States to gold in the 4 x 400-meter relay, NBC chronicled her redemption with 10 mentions of proud, bringing the day's score to 56 Sap Points.
On Sunday, the world said goodbye to Beijing and NBC toasted the closing ceremony with a gigantic vat of syrup. Beijing's finale was all about memories, which clocked in with 11 total mentions. In the first hour of primetime, NBC uttered only two sap words. But when coverage moved to the Bird's Nest, NBC matched the finale's splendor with equally over-the-top commentary, finishing off in Beijing with 53 Sap Points. That score was all the more impressive considering Bob Costas and company didn't even speak throughout most of the ceremony.
Now that the Olympics are over, we have three medals to award. First to step up to the podium, claiming the bronze medal as the Third-Sappiest Word of the 2008 Olympic Games, we have proud, with 70 total mentions. Proud rode a strong final week to beat challenges and emotion, which finished with 52 mentions each. And in a rivalry that lived up to its sappy billing, the gold-silver showdown between dream and mom was ultimately decided by the thinnest of margins: one single mention! Dream has long aspired to become the Sappiest Word of the 2008 Olympic Games. In 2008, however, it came up just short, settling for silver with 97 utterances. Mom burst out to a huge lead in Week 1, carried by Michael's mother, Debbie Phelps. NBC's alpha word barely held on after a shaky Week 2 finish with 98 mentions. Congratulations, mom: You are the new gold standard in sap. (For a complete rundown of how many times each of our 33 sap words got mentioned, click
It's also time to name the Sappiest Line of the Olympics. While there were many strong contenders throughout the last two weeks—"And now begins Shawn Johnson's dream sequence. She looks like a kid on the best of Christmas mornings," for example—a late challenger broke through the tape to steal the Sappiest Line title. Cris Collinsworth left no doubt about his treacly talent on Sunday night, summarizing his Olympics experience with an astonishing monologue combining cry, dream, mother, emotion, spirit, and a whopping four mentions of pride.
The Sappiest Line(s) of the Olympics: "What a couple of weeks it's been for me. It started at the swimming venue with Debbie Phelps, Michael Phelps' mother. ... She squeezed my knee so hard that I thought I was going to cry, as she was crying and hugging and living the dream with her son Michael. ... Of course, we all know the pride and the chills that we get when they play our own national anthem. But what I didn't realize was what it meant to guys like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Playing with USA on their chest, each and every one of them said it was a feeling unlike they had ever had in their lives before. The pride they took in playing for their country. Boy, did they represent us well. ... But beyond that, Bob ... if there's one word that comes out of the Olympics for me, it's hope. For two weeks, people from all over the world gather and they get along in a way that is just chilling, almost, in many ways. And you say, if it can happen for two weeks, why not three? Why not a month, why not longer?"—NBC's Cris Collinsworth shares his Olympics hopes, dreams, and memories. (Emphasis on sap words is ours.)
Final Sap Stats
722: The number of sap words uttered in the past two weeks *
45.125: NBC's average daily Sap Score
64: The highest daily Sap Score
16: The highest daily Sap Score for a single word (mom, Aug. 20)
*Slate did not calculate a score for NBC's coverage of Saturday, Aug. 9.
Derek Thompson is a senior editor at the Atlantic, where he oversees business coverage for TheAtlantic.com.
Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.
Illustration by Nina Frenkel. Interactive feature design by Matt Dodson.