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If you’re a cord cutter, or just someone enamored of the Internet, you may have noticed the increased prominence of the animated gif in this year’s Olympics coverage.

Thanks to the animated gif, you can watch McKayla Maroney’s all but perfect vault in the women’s team gymnastics final over, and over and over... and over again.

You can also watch her failed vault in the women’s individual event final over, and over and over...and over again.

You can watch Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang’s hop to the finish line in what will easily be one of the top three Olympic moments -- if not the Olympic moment — in these games over and over and — oh, you get the idea.

Oh, but I can’t resist one more, parental reactions. In animated gif format, you can watch the priceless tears and cheers on an infinite loop

So, here’s the question, are the animated gifs cheating NBC — an end-run around its exclusive broadcasting rights? The short answer: no. NBC’s ratings are doing just fine; in fact, they’re doing better than fine, outpacing coverage of the Beijing games, according to the Post’s Lisa De Moraes. And news outlets are allowed to use short clips of footage to illustrate their reporting on the games under the fair use rule.

With these games being repeatedly touted as the “first social games,” the incorporation of the animated gif was all but inevitable. For years, the animated gif was the hallmark of the poorly-designed Web site, the headache-inducing addition to the tired office e-mail, or a bandwidth-eating annoyance. But in the past three years, the medium has evolved, thanks in large part to the micro-blogging site Tumblr. Today, create-your-own-gif sites are scattered around the Web, giving users the tools to distill a video down to its Holy cow, did you see that!? moment. And that’s what’s happening online with NBC’s extensive video coverage, chock full of analysis, interviews and athlete story packages.

Besides offering a brief glimpse of Olympics coverage that many of us cord cutters might otherwise miss, the animated gif also expands analysis of athletes’ form -- most notably with women’s gymnastics. The Atlantic’s Olympics gif guides are the most comprehensive animated-gif and analysis marriages I’ve come across.

All told, the throwback format, much like Instagram, offers another lens through which to enjoy the games. It is also a boon for those without access to NBC’s wealth of live coverage or its taped, primetime broadcast. I’ve found the gifs have all but satisfied my desire for Olympics coverage of the games, giving me some of the best moments in short, digestible bursts and marrying them, at times, with wit that I could never get from the network’s broadcast announcers.

The animated gif is not, of course, conducive to every sport. In some cases, particularly in swimming and track and field, a still of the photo-finish is all I need.

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