More topical communications examples from the Olympics

Yesterday evening, Nastia Liukin of the United States and He Kexin of China received tie scores in the uneven parallel bars Olympic final. Even as the identical scores were posted, Liukin’s name immediately went into the second-place slot.

The people who were immediately baffled by this included: Liukin, her coach (and father – former Olympian Valeri Liukin), the Olympic commentators on NBC, and probably several million viewers. The tie-breaking mechanism was arcane and automatic, causing outrage from some and suspicion from others. Tim Daggett, NBC commentator and an Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast himself, could only say later in the broadcast that “the computer” had an automatic tiebreaking mechanism, and he seemed unfamiliar with the specifics. The impression that it left with many was that the system was arbitrary, and gymnastics is a subjective enough sport without opening the door any further to suggestions of arbitrariness or caprice.

What could have saved this situation? Proactive, transparent communication from the Olympic gymnastics organization. Even if the tiebreaking rules are available (and I’m sure that researchers at news organizations worldwide were sent scrambling for the IOC Gymnastics rulebook), the situation was unusual enough that someone in the Olympic gymnastics organization should have been able to make an immediate, on-the-floor statement to explain what had happened and why. When even the experts in the field react in puzzlement, you have a communications problem. Only transparency will fix it.