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The art of telling human interest stories at the Olympics

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A common complaint about Olympics coverage is the focus on athletes’ personal stories rather than the games. NBC correspondent Jimmy Roberts hopes the mini-documentaries enhance viewers experience of the epic event.

One common complaint about the Rio Olympics coverage is that there are too many human interest stories and not enough coverage of the competitions themselves. But for a worldwide audience that tunes in only once every four years, knowing the backstory for those seemingly super-human athletes — think Michael Phelps’ 22nd gold medal — may be as important as the games they play.

Documentary style profiles have been a fixture of the Olympics broadcast ever since ABC Sports President Roone Alredge took the reigns in the late 1960s. Below is an early human interest story from the 1968 games in Mexico City:

Video: Mexico City Olympics

And another from 1984. . . 

Video: 1984 Olympics

Jimmy Roberts has been a correspondent for the games, both at ABC Sports and now at NBC.  documenting athletes' struggles, determination and triumphs.

We reached Roberts in Rio where he is currently on his 16th Olympic assignment to find out more about what goes into the producing of these stories and what he makes of some viewers' frustrations with them.

You can hear the full interview by clicking the play button. Below are interview highlights.

Interview Highlights: 

ON THE LATE ABC SPORTS PRESIDENT ROONE ARLEDGE AND HIS VISION FOR "UP CLOSE & PERSONAL" PROFILES OF OLYMPIC ATHLETES:

ON THE CRITICISM THAT THERE ARE TOO MANY HUMAN INTEREST STORIES:

ON A RECENT STORY HE DID DOCUMENTING OLYMPIC ATHLETES WHO CAME TO THE GAMES AS REFUGEES: 

Refugee Olympic Team athletes for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games attend their welcome ceremony at the Athletes village on August 3, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
David Ramos/Getty Images
Refugee Olympic Team athletes for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games attend their welcome ceremony at the Athletes village on August 3, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

ON ATHLETES WHO DON'T WANT THEIR STORIES TOLD:

How do you feel about broadcasters' coverage of Olympic backstories? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page

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