Olympic Swimmers, Rise and Shine!

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During the last couple of summer Olympics in Sydney and Athens, American viewers never tired of complaining of being forced to watch major prime-time events on tape delay; knowing the swimming or track-and- field competition had actually taken place 6 or 12 hours before, with the results widely reported over the Internet and on TV, sucked quite a bit of the excitement out of the experience. Now NBC wants some major events at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing rescheduled so they'll air in prime time in the U.S. — and it's viewers in Europe and Asia, along with the athletes themselves, who may be griping next.

NBC has asked the International Olympic Committee to take the extraordinary step of scheduling the swimming finals in the morning in Beijing — which, since the city is 12 hours ahead of East Coast time, would position them ideally for a live U.S. broadcast. In a letter sent earlier this week to IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge and obtained by TIME, Kerry Stokes, chairman of Australia's Seven Network, voiced strong objections.

"We are shocked to discover not only that wholesale changes to the traditional schedule are being considered for Beijing but that they are being approached in what would appear a pre-emptory fashion," writes Stokes. He warns Rogge that the decision will "decimate your audience," and says the only conclusion the world will draw is "that the IOC cares more about the North American TV viewer than billions of viewers throughout Europe and Asia." Stokes also says that other changes under consideration include moving key track-and-field events, as well as the men's basketball final, away from their customary afternoon and evening slots.

But if the move could annoy international couch potatoes, imagine how Olympic athletes would feel. Apart from the commercial impact of low ratings in Europe and Asia, morning finals events could hurt the odds of world records. "It's the natural body cycle to be at its best in the afternoon after a day of preparation," says former Australian 1500m swimmer Kieren Perkins, who won gold in 1992 and 1996. "To compete at your best first thing in the morning is very difficult. It's certainly going to have an effect on the quality of performances." Not to mention that many viewers in Europe and Asia may be sleeping through them.