Take your marks: Olympic Blogs

It's been three months: Where have we been?

(More appropriately, where haven't we been? Domestic hotels, international terminals; weddings, [metaphorical] funerals).

Basically, anywhere but Beijing.

Although, with so many great sports blogs reporting live from the Summer Olympics (we gave up counting at 159), who needs to leave the couch? Thanks to Internet 2.0, the Games are on demand.

So, using the standards we developed last year to critique wannabe-Deadspins, we're going to review 15 of the more popular Olympic-focused blogs across categories like style and following. Given the range of Olympic sports and athletes, we're adding one category--scope--to represent how well the blog captures stories that we wouldn't otherwise hear on NBC.

Just like the Games, there are winners and losers. Here are a few blogs that caught our eye--mostly for good reasons.

Group A--New Media Pioneers

If our review had a group of death, this would be it; while very different in style and scope, these five sites are uniformly well-done and varying degrees of enjoyable. Which makes sense; when it comes to blogging, these sites all employ top writing talent and technical know-how (are you listening, Access Hollywood Olympics blog?)

He may work for a newspaper, but Steinberg's mix of hard-won blog cred and participatory journalism--such as his bravery in sampling yak artisanal cheese--separates his work from the print or TV blogs we'll be profiling later. And to be clear upfront: We already loved the popular DC Sports Bog; its temporary transformation into the Beijing Sports Smog leaves us, like Chinese communists, tickled pink.

Post length: Average to slightly long. Several quick-hit posts are just a few paragraphs, but most reach about 500 words.
Output: Frequent. About six posts per day, almost all original reporting (as opposed to linking to coverage or offering brief commentary on, say, a certain swimmer's repeated victories). However, with just Steinberg writing up stories, the Smog's far less prolific than some of the other blogs that we came across.
Style: An engaging mix of reporting and analysis; like a bemused features writer who lets the reader in on the joke.
Scope: Impressive. Blissfully unaware of athletes named "Phelps" or "Nastia," Steinberg almost never reports the headlines. Still, he finds a story everywhere he goes--sometimes, even before he gets there:

So today, in search of my first Olympic sporting event, I walked over to the handball venue, and what did I see? Four parents of two Swedish women handballers, trying desperately to get into the venue.

"We asked everybody, we asked anybody," one of the fathers, Jonas Ahlm, told me. "If you get us tickets for handball, we will teach you everything about handball. You can have exclusive interview with two girls. You can spend night with them."

His wife, Marie, protested this offer.

"Just eat and drink and maybe some little kissing," Jonas clarified.

At this point, I was committed.

Steinberg goes bargain-shopping with swimmers and photographs chubby judo coaches, interviews fashion-plate Craig Sager and relays his fear while holding an actual silver medal. In short, he finds the stories of the Olympics that no one else even thinks to look for. A must-read.
Hat-tips: Steinberg's got a Postie links helper finding about five per day; that doesn't seem great...until you realize just how little love these Olympics blogs tend to show to non-mainstream sources.
Following: Strong. While Steinberg never draws a ton of comments, the ones he gets tend to be clever and interesting. Moreover, he remains a blogger's blogger; all of the other Olympics websites (such as the ones we profile below) clearly read and link to him.

Bill Fitzgerald, Chris Chase, Maggie Hendricks, Nick Friedell, Pat Imig, and Reese Hoffa

Another strong (and very clean-looking) site, mixing punchy commentary with beautiful Getty images. Unlike the Beijing Sports Smog, this blog's much more robust and powered by six contributors; most offer quick hit-analysis, but Olympic shot-putter Hoffa has provided an inside look at life in the Village.

Overall, it's a fine source for major Olympics news, but don't head here for anything that NBC wouldn't tell you.

Post length: Short, although varies by author; Ladies... blogger Hendricks appears to have a three-paragraph limit, while Bog Poll contributor Fitzgerald chips in with longer, less-cohesive pieces.
Output: Prodigious. At least 15-to-20 posts per day, although some (like Hendricks' posts) are essentially a picture with a two-line caption.
Style: Conventional and casual, if a bit irreverent. You'll find the mystery of Michael Phelps' iPod playlist mixed in with regular updates of races and gymnastics competitions. There are a few regular features, like the pictures of the day and create-a-caption, that are nice but not especially compelling ideas. Meanwhile, the daily what-to-watch post has good intentions, but typically just lists NBC's primetime schedule; a what-to-watch-via-NBCOlympics.com would've been much more interesting.
Scope: Nothing special. If you want a quick review of the major Olympic stories of the day (Phelps! Gymnastics! Wrestler refuses his medal!), this is the blog for you. But with the exception of Imig's posts that include would-be Facebook founders and Dream Team windbreakers, don't expect much off the beaten Mondotrack.
Hat-tips: Limited. There's a daily roundup of newspaper articles, but even when crediting another site, Fourth Place Medal doesn't always bother to offer a link.
Following: Very popular. Piggybacking off the heavily trafficked Yahoo! Sports website, every post draws dozens (if not hundreds) of comments.

Olympics FanHouse
Enrico Campitelli, JJ Cooper, Michael David Smith, Tom Ziller, et al.

At first, this solid blog seems like Fourth Place Medal's weaker sister (grubbier layout, smaller pictures, fewer contributors, and a lot less reader traffic). However, FanHouse has more edge--in a good way--and offers opinionated coverage, like whether Phelps' iPod makes him faster or if the much-hyped USA-Spain game even mattered. Meanwhile, NBA star and Redeem Team member Chris Bosh has chipped in a few videos, while a regular "Golden Ticket" post cleverly promised to identify each day's best basketball games (although at the time of writing this, the posts seem shelved), giving the site some extra appeal.

Post length: Short to average. Most posts are about 200 words, although a handful have been twice as long.
Output: Considerable. Up to 20 posts per weekday; not quite so many over the weekend.
Style: Conversational and analytical, with many authors first introducing a topic or recapping an event, then weighing in with a segue like "To me, the most interesting part..."
Scope: Sticks to the big stories, although can take interesting angles on them, such as a critique of FINA for waiting to release images of Phelps' win in the 100M butterfly. More importantly, Campitelli (the blog's sole Beijng-based blogger) uncovered perhaps the scoop of the Games: Beer is really, really cheap at the Bird's Nest.
Hat-tips: Hardly any; mostly links to previous FanHouse coverage.
Following: For whatever reason, none of the FanHouse blogs draw many comments, and the Olympics blog isn't an exception. And maybe that isn't a bad thing; the heavily discussed posts (like this one on Dara Torres, likely featured as some AOL cross-promotion) never seem to make the site's readers look good.

Slate: Five-Ring Circus

Assorted authors

It's debatable which is the bigger stretch: Deng Linlin as a 16-year-old, or Five-Ring Circus as a true blog. Still, the latter's close enough; Slate's built a separate page with daily stories, a Twitter feed, and even a nifty "Sap-o-Meter" feature that tracks NBC's use of...(you know what? Just go check it out). Plus, we need five contenders in the new media divison, and on quality and diversity, Five-Ring Circus can more than hold its own.

Post length: From very short to very long. Nothing gets more pithy than Slate's 20-word tweets; meanwhile, the site's bread-and-butter essays can easily top 1,200 words.
Output: Three-to-five posts per weekday, including the clever Twitter feed, which offers such gems as "I love Usain Bolt's adopted Chinese brothers!" and "The Americans are really struggling with the international free throw line."
Style: Between the essays, the videos, and the Twitter feed, it's all over the map, but consistently expect Slate's trademark mix of smarts and snark. While the writing is great, the headlines tend to promise more than the stories deliver. ("Short sprinters beware," warns one piece examining the freakish success of freakishly large Usain Bolt, but the author eventually concludes that Bolt-sized sprinters will be a rarity for the near-future.)
Scope: Not great with respect to sport--you won't find updates of badminton or handball--but the stories are at least unique. "Dispatches from Beijing" discuss what it's like to watch the Olympics on Chinese TV, while essays and analysis break down the new gymnastics scoring system and the Speedo LZR's effects on run-of-the mill swimmers.
Hat-tips: Very few; a handful of links to other mainstream media sources.
Following: Very strong. More than 1,200 users have signed up for Slate's Twitter feed in about a week, which is hardly shabby; while the comments can be critical, that's nothing new for a Web magazine that prides itself on being contrarian.

Olympics feed
Chris Mottram, Spencer Hall, Chris Littmann, Bethlehem Shoals, Dan Shanoff, Dave Larzelere, Tom Ziller

It's also a bit unfair to lump the Sporting Blog, which hasn't carved out special Olympics coverage, in with sites like Fourth Place Medal and FanHouse; however, the blog's focused on Olympics coverage for much of the past week, and the hard-working Ziller (doing double duty with FanHouse!) wrote up seven posts over the weekend alone.

Unfortunately, if FanHouse was Fourth Place Medal's weaker sister, the Sporting Blog is the drunk college-age brother obsessed with America's Dumbest Sports Videos; a series of three posts last week offered clips of a Chinese trampoline dunker falling on his head, the Hungarian weightlifter who gruesomely dislocated his elbow, and gym-goers accidentally dropping weights on themselves. Ha.

Post length: Short to average; most posts are a few-hundred words, and videos are frequently used.
Output: Three-to-four posts per day.
Style: Snarky, opinionated, and even humorous, although often sophomoric. Several of the authors (such as Ziller and Shanoff) are well-read across the Internet.
Scope: Ok. The site mostly covers the big stories and sports, with a heavy focus on Phelps and basketball, but there's some acknowledgment of lesser lights like 49er skiff sailing and water polo...even if the authors are generally denigrating the sports' existence.
Hat-tips: A few, including to some of the other blogs on this list, such as the Smog and FanHouse.
Following: Decent. Comments are few-and-far-between (most likely because of Sporting News registration requirements), but as a recent poll indicated, at least 1,000 readers were willing to weigh in on whether Phelps actually won the 100M butterfly.


Of course, these five just scratch the surface; we'll return to profile other well-trafficked blogs later this week. In the meantime, help us decide which Group A blog has done the best job covering the Games so far.

(Poll not showing up for you? Click here)

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