RIO DE JANEIRO — Elliotte Friedman ran his hands through his head and hair. It was 4:10 p.m., and he had just signed off from the Olympic Aquatics Stadium.
He looked exhausted. And he was. A sleepless night will do that to you.
And he had to be back on the air to call the evening races for CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I didn’t want to talk to anybody today,” he told the Chicago Tribune, “but we (criticize) all over athletes when they don’t talk after a bad game. You can’t run away. If we expect athletes to face the music, I have to face the music.”
We all screw up. Writers. Broadcasters. Refs. Athletes. The other night Serena Williams, who possesses the most dangerous first serve in the history of women’s tennis, forgot how to serve. The 22-time Grand Slam winner double-faulted five times in a single game in her meltdown loss to Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.
Friedman, 45, did the equivalent Thursday night in calling Michael Phelps’ victory in the 200m Individual Medley. Friedman got his lanes confused and for an entire lap thought Ryan Lochte was ahead: “Ryan Lochte saving the best for last … finally he is going to do it … Ryan Lochte is going to beat Michael Phelps … and Phelps might not even make the podium!”
After going silent for several seconds, Friedman said: “I apologize. I got my lanes mixed up.”
Following the race, as an angry mob formed on social media, fellow broadcasters wondered why a producer had not saved him. Or his color analyst.
“I want to make this very clear,” Friedman said. “I don’t want anyone else blamed for this. It is no one else’s fault; it’s mine.”
He also declined to point out that he’s primarily a hockey reporter who had never called swimming. He drew the Olympic assignment about two weeks before the Games when veteran Steve Armitage fell ill.
“This is not a mistake because I’m inexperienced,” Friedman said. “This is a mistake because I screwed up. There’s no excuse for it.”
He said the same in a tweet Thursday night: “I’m sorry everyone. I blew it. No excuses.”
As of Friday, the tweet had received more 4,500 likes and 1,200 retweets, the vast majority of which were supportive. Friedman had not seen any of them, saying it was still too hard.
“I am incredibly appreciative of people who have written nice things,” he said, “but it will be a long time until I will feel really good.”
Friedman made a mistake and owned up to it.
Williams, as is her right, left the Tennis Center on Wednesday without talking.