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NBC zooms in on proud moms, dads

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Debbie Phelps, left, and Whiney, right, mother and sister respectively of United States' Michael Phelps, applaud after the medal ceremony where Phelps received the gold for the men's 100-meter butterfly swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics, in London. Enlarge photo

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press Debbie Phelps, left, and Whiney, right, mother and sister respectively of United States' Michael Phelps, applaud after the medal ceremony where Phelps received the gold for the men's 100-meter butterfly swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics, in London.

American gymnast Aly Raisman earned a gold medal for her athletic prowess in London. It’s her mom who’s gone viral.

NBC’s video of Lynn Raisman watching her daughter perform on the uneven bars last Sunday, with her nervous murmurs and face and body contortions, was the single most replayed moment on Tivo digital video recorders that night. It has even inspired a YouTube spoof.

The network doesn’t have “parent cams” trained on the stands during every Olympic event. Moms and dads are featured only when they are relevant to the story lines, veteran NBC producer Molly Solomon said Thursday. But they’ve already been indelible parts of the network’s coverage in the first few days of the London Games.

The parents of American gymnasts John Orozco and Dannel Leyva were palpable presences during that sport’s coverage. The bronze medal-winning Leyva’s dad was his coach and a bundle of energy. NBC introduced Orozco’s parents in a segment that talked about the sacrifices they made in helping the Bronx athlete reach a high level of competition. When Orozco’s dreams were shattered by some subpar performances, he was near tears, and his mother’s face reflected similar agony.

“Can you imagine the emotions of watching your kid compete?” Solomon said. “To me, it’s part of the fabric of the story.”

One of NBC’s best moments came after South African Chad Le Clos unexpectedly beat American Michael Phelps in the butterfly. Americans by now are used to seeing Phelps’ mom, Debbie, cheer her son’s many medal-winning performances. This time, the camera caught her in a double-take, first thinking it was another gold medal before learning her son had been beaten in the end.

NBC producer Dan Beard was in the stands and heard a man shouting, “That’s my son! That’s my son!” He quickly ordered cameras to catch video of Le Clos’ sobbing father, his head wrapped in a South African flag. The parents with their contrasting emotions made for arresting images.

For many American athletes, NBC producers know the parents already through the research-gathering process leading up to the Olympics. Seemingly more athletes these days are teenagers, and their parents are the emotional and financial support system through years of training. A Procter & Gamble ad campaign for the Olympics focuses on just these sacrifices that moms make.

Not all parents are comfortable being a part of their child’s moments. Solomon recalled a recent Winter Olympics where the parents of an ice dancing team asked that the cameras stay focused on their children. The mother of American ice skater Evan Lysacek is usually out of the arena, unable to watch her son perform live.

“If they don’t want to be on camera, we are respectful of that,” Solomon said.

NBC learns from Olympics officials where an athlete’s family has seats before the competition takes place. There’s always a double-check, with a researcher going up in the stands to make sure that information is correct.

Imagine the embarrassment of getting it wrong. Judging by many of the expressions, however, it’s usually pretty easy to tell when they’ve got it right.