Brendan Hansen, Aaron Peirsol, Michael Phelps


Sure, it lasted for 17 days (not including soccer)—but still!

Thanks to NBC's multipronged, round-the-clock coverage, the 2008 Summer Olympics reached 214 million viewers, making it the most-watched event in U.S. television history, according to numbers released Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research.

The extra eyeballs glued to such spectacles as Michael Phelps' acquisition of a record eight gold medals, the triumph of the itty-bitty Chinese women's gymnastics team and the U.S. "Redeem Team's" total domination over all comers in basketball helped the Beijing games surpass the previously most-watched event of all time—the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta—by 5 million viewers.

Beijing also blew Athens away by 11 million.

"This audience record is something I thought I'd never see again, but what really satisfied me is the way in which these Olympics truly captivated and seemed to inspire our country," said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics and executive producer of the network's Olympics coverage.

"For me, the greatest measure of success at an Olympics is the number of messages I receive from parents of young kids who have fallen in love with the Olympics. That child means more to me than anything because I think a love affair with the Olympics is the greatest in all of sports."

So, who cares if the closing ceremony in Atlanta attracted more viewers (34.1 million) than Sunday's finale (27.8 million)?

The people who didn't watch over the weekend were probably just West Coasters who were too tired from staying up until 1 a.m. on work nights to watch their favorite events.


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