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CNN Today

Gallup Poll: Track and Field the Most Popular Olympic Event Among American Viewers

Aired September 15, 2000 - 2:02 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: "An excellent beginning": That's how the head of the International Olympic Committee described the opening ceremony of the first games of the 21st century. Juan Antonio Samaranch called it -- and these are his words -- "the most beautiful ceremony of my presidency."

More than 110,000 people packed a stadium in Australia to watch the spectacle that brought the diversity of the Land Down Under and its history, beginning with the Aborigines, to the world. They cheered as the athletes, about 11,000 of them from 199 nations, paraded around the stadium. A standing ovation greeted the Korean team with North and South Korea for the first time marching together under a unification flag.

The torch was carried into the stadium by a relay of veteran Australian women athletes to celebrate 100 years of female participation in these modern games. Cathy Freeman, the world 400- meter champion and an Aborigine, was chosen to light the cauldron, creating a ring of fire right in the middle of a waterfall. The cauldron eventually made its way up a ramp to the top of the stadium where it will remain lit for the next 17 days. And it promises to be 17 days of extraordinary athletic competition, and millions of folks from all over the world are expected to tune in.

But what events will be the biggest draw?

Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup, knows the answer to that -- Frank.

FRANK NEWPORT, GALLUP POLL EDITOR IN CHIEF: Indeed, I do, Lou. You'll be interested to know that Gallup's been asking about the Olympics for well over 50 years. In fact, let's put that in some context for you. Way back in 1948, as an example, Gallup called up in the summer and said, Do you know where the Olympics are going to be held this summer? Well, back then in 1948, only 37 percent knew. By the way, it was in London that year.

Well, this summer we just finished this past week asking the same question, and 74 percent of Americans correctly identified either Sydney or Australia. So people are a lot more aware than they used to be.

Does it matter how well the U.S. does in the Olympics? Well, in Atlanta, for Atlanta, 1996, 55 percent said, yes, it's important that the U.S. have more medals than anybody else. Now about the same answer, slightly down. So about half of Americans think, hey, chauvinism here, the U.S. needs to do well.

Now, what are the most important, interesting events for Americans? Big differences by men and women. This is very fascinating to us. Track and field is No. 1 overall, but it's been very gender skewed. Look at this: For men, 31 percent tell us it's track and field is their most interesting event they're going to see. For women, only 13 percent.

Now, where do the women go when they watch? Well, swimming No. 2 overall. But look at this: For women, 23 percent say swimming is going to be important. For men, kind of boring, only 12 percent. And the biggest difference of all comes in gymnastics. This is a real key event for women in America, 26 percent of whom said that's their favorite event. But look at men: For some reason -- I'm not about to psychoanalyze males in this country -- only 8 percent, Lou, tell us that gymnastics is what they're going to watch most as the Olympics start.

That's where the public stands so, Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Will this dominate the media, Frank? I mean, in the eyes of the politicians at least, there's no sense in doing much over the next 17 days.

NEWPORT: Well, that's a good question we were talking about in the meeting this morning. I don't know. Some people argue, you're right, there's going to be a hiatus until those debates come up in early October and Bush and Gore might as well go home. We do have -- about 60 percent of Americans told us in our poll, Lou, that they are interested in watching the Olympics, so I think there'll be a lot of interests in it and maybe not as much interest in the presidential contest.

WATERS: OK, Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup.

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