By Darren Franich
July 29, 2012 at 11:00 AM EDT
Stu Forster/Getty Images

The first full day of sporting events at Olympics XXX featured the first face-off between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, a thrilling beach volleyball battle between Team USA and Team Australia, an impressive (and not entirely believable) attempt by NBC to transform the men’s gymnastics competition into a topical America vs. China showdown, and the usual dose of filler melodrama. Look elsewhere for a breakdown of the impressive athleticism on display: Here’s your recap of the pure spectacle of NBC’s coverage of the 30th modern Olympics, Day 1.

Misty and Kerri: The Quest for Perfection

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings are the Rocky Marciano of Olympics Beach Volleyball. They aren’t just undefeated; they’ve never lost a single set, coming into London with a 28-0 record. But they almost didn’t come back. Misty was basically retired — she went on Dancing With the Stars and got injured. Kerri had a couple kids, but was prepping a return to the Olympics with Nicole Branagh. Then Misty called, Branagh went out the window. So, as Papa Costas repeated often, the Misty/Kerri narrative at these Olympics is a special cocktail of victory lap and comeback — of Rocky IV and Rocky VI, if you will.

Team America was facing off against a team that was arguably more interesting. Team Australia was Natalie Cook, the oldest beach volleyball player in the Games with a gold medal from Sydney; and Tamsin Hinchley, the tallest player in competition. Team Oz put up a good show, staying neck-and-neck with Kerri and Misty in both sets. The final match point between the two teams was an endless cutthroat rally — pure poetry in motion, filled with backward-dives and Matrix-worthy cuts. But Team USA emerged unscathed…albeit vulnerable.

Your Quadrennial Complaint About NBC’s Coverage, Volume One

John McEnroe — brilliant tennis player, Sandler-movie cameo actor — appeared in the studio, looking desperately uncomfortable while he talked about something that was decidedly not tennis. Turns out that NBC sent him to Gainesville for a dude-off with Ryan Lochte. The reasoning here seemed to be: “Lochte likes skateboarding. McEnroe used to kick his racket. Boom: Bromance!” Fortunately, Lochte is the rare athlete with curious non-athletic hobbies — he designs his own shoes — so the awkwardness was kept to a minimum. At least until McEnroe vaguely tried to connect Lochte’s showdown with Phelps to his own years-long struggle against Connors, which in context played out like Sylvester Stallone saying, “You know, once upon a time, I used to have a rivalry with this guy named Schwarzenegger.”

Papa Costas put a button on this whole sequence by noting: “This is the first of many appearances. Johnny Mac, folks!” Excited to see McEnroe hang out with the Fab Five?

Showdown at the 400 IM

Ryan Lochte trounced the competition in the first major swimming competition of the games. Lochte was riding the magic world-record line for the vast majority of the 400 IM. He didn’t set a new record, but he did win a gold medal. Meanwhile, Michael Phelps didn’t even make the podium — the first time he didn’t earn a medal in an Olympic race since 2000.

The post-race interview with Phelps was almost unbearably awkward. Very few athletes give good interview immediately after they lose. Adrenaline is still pumping through their brain. A sense of disappointment is encompassing their whole person. (Anyhow, why would the most physically talented people in our species’ history ever develop the talent to sound good on camera?) But Phelps stammered through his NBC chat. He noted at one point: “The plan we had coming in wasn’t the best plan.” It’ll be intriguing to see if this is the start of a comeback… or a complete collapse.

Your Nightly Seacrest-o-Meter Rating: 4 (Useless, but Not Aggressively Terrible)

Ryan Seacrest appeared twice last night. He looked impeccable, wearing a gray suit and a yellow pocket square. He interviewed the Phelps women and got nothing out of them that wasn’t explored four years ago. He came in the studio to talk about social networking, and noted that people on Twitter really loved that time that the Queen of England hung out with James Bond. He said, out loud, the following words: “Joe Jonas: Daniel Craig and the Queen, just saying, hashtag, awesome.”

Bob Costas pointed his cold dead eyes at Ryan Seacrest, as if to say: “You are swearing now that some day you will destroy me. Remember: Far better newscasters than you have sworn to do the same. Go and look for them now.” So, typical NBC news drama

[Aside: Apparently, NBC opted not to air a heartfelt tribute to the victims of the 7/7 2005 terrorist bombings. Hey, don’t blame Seacrest. End of Aside.]

Men’s Gymnastics: Turn, Turn, Spin, Turn

NBC’s primetime broadcast spent a lot of time with the Men’s Gymnastics event. It wasn’t quite high drama — it was just a qualifying session, although obviously “just” in this case requires the supplementary note that everything these guys do is a million times more impressive than anything you or I will ever do. Still, the basic narrative established here was a catchy one. China dominated this event in 2008, but came into these Olympics without injured ringer Teng Haibin. Teng was replaced by Guo Weiyang, who fell all over the place during the qualifier — which is either apocalyptic for the Chinese Men’s Team, or is vaguely reminiscent of Jamie Foxx in Act 1 of Any Given Sunday before he emerges as an MVP.

Either way, Team USA looked impressive. And that’s despite NBC’s craven attempt to build standout John Orozco into a reality TV-ready personality. See, Orozco was raised in…The Bronx. (Cue horrified whispers.) The Bronx in NBC-vision is a monochromatic wasteland where sad music plays — think Chino in The O.C., or think freaking Mordor. Silly production couldn’t defeat the vivid emotions on display when Mr. and Mrs. Orozco talked about how proud they were of their son.

And In Other News

Missy Franklin won her first medal (a bronze in a the freestyle relay), Louis Smith has the best hair of any male gymnast who isn’t Japanese, the women’s volleyball team trounced South Korea, and Meredith Vieira referred to Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremonies as “The world’s first-ever live movie,” which has to be the silliest thing any NBC personality has said in minutes.

Check back tomorrow for a complete recap of the NBC Primetime Olympics coverage!

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read More from EW:

NBC criticized for not airing Phelps race live

What is your damage, Ryan Lochte’s grill?

Olympics: All-Time Best/Worst Style

All EW’s Olympic Coverage

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