24 August 2008

The Games of the XXIX Olympiad

As the glow of the Olympic flame dies away, here are the thoughts from a 16 day Couch Potato…

The Highs:

Michael Phelps, Most Decorated Olympian Ever

His 8 gold medals in Beijing give Phelps a whopping 14 career golds (to go with the two other bronzes he received in Athens) while passing Mark Spitz’s record for gold medals in one Games. Many of the performances were dominating, two were squeaked out by a fingernail (including that unbelievable finish in the 100 Fly). But any way you cut it, the performance by Phelps was the headline of these Games, one for the history books. It’s also one for Frosted Flakes, which will be featuring Phelps on its boxes after the latest endorsement deal was struck.

Brian Clay Wins the Decathlon

An American winning the title “World’s Greatest Athlete”? Awesome. Clay did it in style, winning 7 of the ten events outright. Notable: Clay’s coach at Azusa Pacific was former US Olympian Dan O’Brien, who you may remember from the 1992 “Dan and Dave” Reebok ad campaign.

USA Volleyball Dominates – Indoor and on the Beach, and in Prime Time

In the not-so-long history of Olympic Beach Volleyball, no nation had ever taken the gold in the men’s and women’s events – until the US did it this year with the double duos of Misty May and Kerri Walsh along with “Professor” Rogers and “Thin Beast” Dalhausser. Walsh and Dalhausser were especially dominant at the net. May and Walsh provided one of the indelible images of the Athens Games four years ago, and their celebration was notable again this year, mostly for their irrepressible joy on the court.

Indoors, the US Women were led to the silver medal by outside hitter Logan Tom, whose booming spikes from all over the floor proved too much for the rest of the field to compete with.

But the US Men became one of the feel good stories of the Olympics. Coach Hugh McCutcheon’s father-in-law was tragically murdered in Beijing, and his mother-in-law was also stabbed and critically injured. The Men’s team rallied around their coach, pushing their way into a gold medal win over Brazil.

USA Gymnastics Women Weather Controversy, Bring Home Gold

Nastia Liukin (more on her shortly) wins the all-around gold over Shawn Johnson, while Johnson takes home the gold in the Balance Beam. They combine for a team silver as well (for now - more on that later). Liukin’s grace and Russian-style elegance contrasts with Johnson’s power and athletic execution – yet both are uniquely American, and both very successful. Watch for Johnson to return as the overall favorite in London in four years.

USA Womens Soccer Loses Star, Wins Gold

Despite the loss of superstar striker Abby Wambach in the last pre-Olympic warmup game (the Brazilians broke her leg - not kidding…), and losing its opening match with Norway, the US rallied behind stellar goalkeeping by Hope Solo and a well rounded attack to take the Gold in an overtime final match against Brazil (ironically enough). Best Medal Ceremony of the Games: All of the US Women singing along with the National Anthem.

China Produces Most Beautiful Opening Ceremonies Ever

OK, so with a reported budget of $300M, this wasn’t the highest hurdle to cross. Still, the Opening Ceremonies were truly memorable, a blend of Chinese philosophy, art, and culture (without the ugly Communist brown and grey). It was the largest LED screen ever, the largest fireworks display ever, and the largest cultural display – all at once. Fitting ceremony from the world’s largest populace, though not without controversy (more later).

The Forgotten Olympic Swimming Champion? Natalie Coughlin wins 6 medals

Coughlin takes home the gold in the 100 Back, plus two silvers and three bronzes, bringing her remarkable career total to 11 Olympic medals. I guess that was too few to get the press’ attention compared to Phelps, but Coughlin’s accomplishment is still extraordinary, and she wears it well.

The American Dream is Alive and Well

Nastia Liukin’s father? A Russian immigrant who won gold in Seoul, then came to America for a better life. Shawn Johnson’s Coach? A Chinese gymnast who came to America for a better life. USA Wrestler Henry Cejudo? Son of a single mom who was once an illegal immigrant. Cejudo’s father died in prison last year. Cejudo used his wrestling to get out of South Central LA and start a better life – and now he’s the “future of USA Wrestling.” Awesome.

The Redeem Team saves USA Basketball

Remember all of the bad buzz around the last Dream Team? Celebrity behavior, non-team gangsters out for personal glory, and no gold medal? (I have to admit – I haven’t been an NBA fan since Doctor J retired. Too many gangster thugs running around in too many tattoos now. But I digress). All is forgiven for this year. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were stellar team players and leaders, not to mention good American envoys. Kobe even took the time to tick off the American Left by talking up his patriotism and love of country (which even took Cris Collinsworth aback). In the end, the USA waltzed away with the Gold, and with the hearts of many of the Chinese fans.

USA Equestrians Jump to Gold

OK, so you’re surprised that I like the horses? Long story. Still, Team USA looked fantastic in winning the gold medal in the Team Jumping event. Beezie Madden and McClain Ward led the USA over Canada in a jumpoff for Gold – and in the process, legendary 61 year old, 9-time Olympic veteran Ian Millar won his first Olympic medal (the silver.)

The Bittersweet Hurdles

Liu Xiang was the defending Olympic champion, but a bad Achilles tendon made starting his race impossible. Yet, through the pain, Xiang lined up and at least tried to race. After another competitor false-started, however, the pain was too much and he limped off the track to the horrified gasps of the home crowd.

American champion Lolo Jones was leading the final after 8 hurdles, but tripped over the top of the ninth hurdle, somehow managed to clear the 10th hurdle, but finished 7th.

Lolo Jones and Liu Xiang are still champion athletes that can hold their heads high. They both conducted themselves with grace, even as they mourned their lost Olympic chance.

The Lows:

Russia’s Olympic Truce Aggression

Vladimir Putin shows his contempt for the international community, his neighbors, and the Olympic tradition by rolling troops and tanks into Georgia during the Opening Ceremonies, murdering civilians and bombing pipelines along the way. If the IOC had any guts, they would have kicked the Russians out, sent them home, and revoked the Sochi 2014 games. No such luck so far.

A Murdered American

As mentioned above, the in-laws of USA Volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon were attacked by a crazed Chinese man at a tourist spot in Beijing. Todd Bachmann died, and his wife Barbara was seriously injured.

Lipsynched Anthem during Opening Ceremony

So, what would your reaction be if you participated in a national singing contest for the right to sing your national anthem on live global television, you won that contest, and then were replaced at the last minute by “someone cuter.” Too much image consciousness led to a travesty for an 8-year old girl. Only the ChiComs would’ve even considered this blunder.

Gymnastics scoring and age questions

The Chinese also were involved in a scandal involving allegedly underage gymnasts (“fetal medalists” as the Jawas called them). But those questions were frankly overshadowed by the awful execution of a judging system that caused more questions than it answered, and led to some very questionable results – including women’s vault medalists who fell and landed out of bounds.

Boxing scoring debacle

As bad as the gymnastic scoring was, it couldn’t hold a candle to how awful the boxing venue was. There were rounds of Olympic boxing where dozens of punches were thrown and landed – and scored 0-0. The US team is alleging that there was misconduct of a political nature, pointing to the near systematic elimination of US and Russian boxers. I’m not so sure – I’d point to the comical ineptitude of a hopelessly broken system being run by hopelessly incompetent judges and officials. Olympic boxing is dead.

The end of Olympic Baseball and Softball

Now, the elimination of baseball and softball from the Olympic program can definitely be tied to the political anti-Americanism of IOC delegates. Jacques Rogge admitted as much in his final interview with Bob Costas. Most moving protest of the games – the USA softball players taking a page from the wrestling mat and placing their cleats on home plate to signify the ends of their careers after the gold medal match loss to Japan.

USA Track and Field Disappoints

OK, so USA Track and Field won more medals than any other nation. They were still a letdown from the dominance they were expected to achieve. No finalists in the men’s long, high, or triple jumps; or the javelin or 800m finals. Jamaica sweeping all six medal sprints. Two dropped batons in the 4x100 relays, preventing US teams from even reaching the finals. The injuries to Tyson Gay, Terrence Trammell, and Bernard Lagat. At least the 4x400 relays salvaged the day with impressive and exciting victories on the last night of competition.

Cuban athlete attacks judge

The video of a Cuban taekwondo guy kicking the judge in the head is surely going to become a youtube classis, but not for any good reason. It's good to see the athlete barred for life...


Olympic “Sports” that need to go away
Synchronized Swimming, Synchronized Diving, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Trampoline, BMX, Taekwondo, Judo, and (saddest to me) Boxing.

Sports to replace these with:
Rugby, Golf, Softball.

Favorite athletes at these games: Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, Hope Solo, Kobe Bryant, Allyson Felix, Lolo Jones, Jason Lezak, Dara Torres, Beezie Madden, Logan Tom, Kerri Walsh, Phil Dalhausser, Brian Clay, Kristin Armstrong, Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Mariel Zagunis, Jonathan Horton, Henry Cejudo, Dmitri Klokov, Kosuke Kitajima.


Anonymous said...

It is funny to me how something so "GoWorld" is good for our national identity and unity. I loved the patriotism shown by so many of these outstanding young athletes. I guess there have never been a games free of some kind of judging errors en masse. That is why I like track and field. There is no disputing a race with rules. I just hope the elections will be the same. Thanks for the memories.

Anonymous said...

Best Olympics since Berlin!

Anonymous said...

Amen about most of the sports that need to go. I personally think boxing should stay. They should fix the scoring system before they toss out a contest that has been around since the games in ancient Greece.
Bring in Rugby Union!