Athens Olympics Watched by 4 Billion People

The Athens Olympics (search) broke global TV viewing records, with nearly 4 billion people tuning in, IOC president Jacques Rogge said Tuesday.

Rogge said 3.9 billion people watched an Olympic broadcast at least once during the Aug. 13-29 games, beating the previous record of 3.6 billion viewers for the 2000 Sydney Olympics (search).

World population is about 6.4 billion.

In the United States, 203 million people watched at least some of the games, a record for any Olympics held outside the country. NBC's coverage ranked as the top program every night of the week, while NBC's cable channels attracted more than 60 million additional viewers.

The figures, described by Rogge as "staggering," were based on research conducted by a sports marketing firm for the International Olympic Committee.

Rogge estimated the total cumulative world television audience — with viewers counted each time they watched — at around 40 billion.

"Athens has set a new benchmark with the highest audience, images of spectacular quality, expanded coverage of sport, new technologies and ... a high level of satisfaction among our rights-holding broadcast partners," he said.

Rogge also commented on the case of Tyler Hamilton (search), the American cyclist who tested positive for a blood transfusion in Athens but kept his time-trial gold medal because his backup sample was mistakenly frozen and destroyed.

"There was an error in the lab, this is frustrating," Rogge said. "But the only positive thing out of it is that it proves the (testing) method has worked."

As for the credibility of Hamilton's victory, Rogge said: "He can keep his medal. It will be up to everyone to judge what the value of the medal is. I will make no comment on that."

Hamilton still faces a possible ban because of a positive blood test at the Spanish Vuelta race two weeks after the Olympics. The American insists he is innocent and has vowed to clear his name.

Rogge also said the IOC is waiting for action by the international equestrian federation, or FEI, on the cases of four horses who tested positive for banned drugs in Athens — including gold medalists from Ireland and Germany.

"If the FEI changes the results, we will swap the medals accordingly," Rogge said. "We have to wait for all the appeals procedures to be exhausted and that might take time."

If the Irish and German medals are revoked, the United States would move up to gold in the team jumping event and Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa would be promoted to gold in showjumping.

Rogge spoke at the Sportel television industry convention in Monaco and in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Other findings released Tuesday:

_ Athens offered 35,000 hours of television coverage worldwide, a 27 percent increase over Sydney, with viewers watching an average of 12 hours;

_ In Europe, the Olympics recorded 350 million viewer hours in 54 countries and 19 languages. Viewing was up 50 percent over Sydney, with each European watching an average of 14 hours of Olympic coverage;

_ China, which will host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, reported 9 billion viewer hours, including more than 53 hours of prime-time coverage attracting an average audience of 85 million people. Japan doubled its coverage from Sydney, dedicating more than 700 hours to the Olympics, with each viewer watching 29 hours of coverage.

Rogge told broadcasters the IOC was committed to keeping the size and cost of the Olympics in check, including a cap of 28 sports, 300 events and 10,500 athletes.

The IOC is assessing the 28 sports on the program in Athens to determine the lineup for the 2012 games. Five non-Olympic sports — golf, rugby, karate, squash and roller sports — are in contention for possible inclusion.

Sports only will be added if others are dropped.

Any proposals will be voted on by the full IOC assembly at its next meeting in July in Singapore. Rogge, however, suggested there may be no immediate changes.

"I think this is something that I might not see in the short term but definitely something my successors will see," he told the AP. "What I do not expect is a revolution, it will be an evolution.

"We need an intelligent evolution in due time. Is the time now or will the time be in 2008? I don't know. What is important is to have put a system in place."