I know it's been a while since I posted, but I've been on vacation. My trip ended two weeks ago, but my vacation ended yesterday.
The Games of the XXIX Olympiad just came to a close, to borrow from yearbooks everywhere, what a wild ride it's been. Below are my thoughts and observations in no real organized order.
The Rivalry: In many ways the Olympics peaked in 1988 when we saw the last Olympiad before communism fell. That year the United States finished third in the medal count behind the Soviet Union and East Germany. Four years later the US was second behind the Unified Team, but with the cold war over it was clear the US would no longer be the underdog in the Olympics. Now it seems that the Americans are the favorite in every event, at least among the few events NBC shows. I miss the Soviets and East Germans, who played the part of the bad guy so well, better than Notre Dame, the Lakers, the Yankees, the Cowboys or the Patriots. Even the Australian swimmers seemed less formidable than in previous Olympics. In fact, I was sad to hear that Ian Thorpe had retired, because I loved to root against him. A huge part of being a sports fan is rooting for the underdog, and in today's Olympics the underdog is rarely wearing the stars and stripes. That's why I'm not ashamed to admit rooting for a few athletes from other countries, even when their events featured Americans. Consider Kirsty Coventry, the swimmer from Zimbabwe who has now won seven of her country's eight medals ever. When she brought home a gold medal in 2004, her war-torn country observed a few days of peace in her honor. While it would be wrong of me to claim that medals mean more to some athletes than others, it is clear that gold medals can mean more to some countries than others. (Trivia: The United States has won 2,514 medals in the history of the Olympics). A lot of times it's national heroes versus millionaires. I do not mean to sound unpatriotic, but I do long for a viable rival, and it would now appear that China is just the country to step in to that roll. When the dust settled, the US had claimed the overall medal crown (110-100), but China won more gold medals (51-36). I'm excited to see what both countries can do at a neutral site in 2012.
Volleyball: What a year to be fan of the American Volleyball with double gold in beach volleyball and a gold and silver on the court. I was especially in to Rogers & Dalhausser. May and Walsh were good too, but it's kind of hard to take the women's beach game seriously with those uniforms. The men's hard court team had an amazing run to the gold, although Sherstin didn't like watching them because while at BYU she had a roommate who was dating Rich Lambourne, the US libero. We won't go into more details than that.
Michael Phelps: Congratulations are in order for Mr. Phelps, his coach and his mother. Most of all, however, congratulations are in order for NBC, which is happier than anyone else the way the swimming competition turned out. In fact, the way they hyped up the story detracted somewhat from the moment. Anything less than 8 golds would have been a failure so when he succeeded, the accomplishment was a little diminished, at least from a spectator's point of view.
Gymnastics: I hate gymnastics. I suppose it was inevitable that, considering how much of it NBC had jammed down my throat, I would eventually gag on it. I can even trace it back to the specific moment I vomited: The 1996 Gymastic Gala when Alexei Nemov took off his shirt to do a pummel horse routine set to Snap's "I've Got the Power." Since then I have refused to watch any gymnastics. This year was no exception. So my only comment on the 2008 gymnastic competition is Nastia Liukin has a funny name.
Usain Bolt: Jamaica has emerged as a viable rival for the US in sprinting. In the six sprint events (Men's and Women's 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay), Jamaica came away with five gold medals, a silver and two bronze. The US managed zero gold, two silver, two bronze and two dropped batons. The Jamaican grabbing all the headlines was Usain Bolt who set the world record in both the 100m and 200m. That guy is just plain fun to watch.
Baseball & Softball: For the foreseeable future, both of these sports will no longer be a part of the Olympics and I can't say that I'm disappointed. Softball's out because of US domination, which is rather ironic considering Japan snuck away with the gold. And Olympic baseball is a joke. The United States—you know, the country that invented baseball—always sends a bunch minor leaguers who can't cut it against the Cubans or Koreans. I will say this, while they're at it, there are plenty of other sports that don't belong in the Olympics either, mainly equestrian, sailing, trampoline, synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics or any event where gobs of makeup are worn (cough-gymnastics-cough). I do not in any way discount the skill and dedication required to compete in these events, but you don't see billiards, darts, Nascar or cheer leading in the Olympics either.
The Coverage: If you couldn't tell by now, I'll go a head say that I think NBC's coverage was poor, despite what the ratings might suggest. Most of my complaints are centered on the live vs. tape delay. I get that NBC paid a billion dollars for the rights and they have to save the marquee events for prime time. While I would have liked to see more stuff live, my bigger problem is NBC showing highlights of certain events and then showing those events later. Similarly, NBC often showed matches out of order. If I'm watching the a beach volleyball semi-final where the announcers are saying that the winner will take on Team X, you can't follow that match up with Team X playing Team Y in the other semi-final and expect me to watch. Worst of all, however, were the ill-timed commercial breaks. I don't know how many times I was watching a tape-delayed soccer game that had a goal scored during a commercial break. Can someone explain the logic behind that? If it's tape delayed, you can pause the broadcast for a commercial break.
In the talking heads department, my award for worst announcer of the games is a tie between soccer's Marcelo Balboa, who talks in second person more than any announcer ever, and track & field's Ato Bolden who thinks we tune in to the Olympics just to hear him talk (check out his piece-of-crap web site where he, not surprisingly, talks about how great he is).
All that negative ranting aside, I love the Olympics and look forward to 2010 (Vancouver), 2012 (London), 2014 (Sochi, Russia) and 2016 (Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo).
3 months ago