Monday, September 13, 2004

Olympics, Final Thoughts

It's not that most sports are boring, because I can deal with that. You know going in that if you're watching, say, sailing, you're getting the sports version of a David Schwimmer movie - a mortal lock for unwatchable. If you hear, "next, Women's mountain biking" immediately you have to think, "is it worth watching in case they eat it?" and then you think, "No" and see what's on CNBC. Or Fox News. Anything.
Race walking. Rhythmic gymnastics. Even Kayaking, which you might perk up for expecting whitewarer rapids, turns out to be a straight line dash on flat, open water, ie track with oars.
On down the line through the list of sports which, through no fun- err, fault - of their own, are way, WAY too dull to watch and you know it going in.
So I don't feel cheated by those events.
I feel cheated - robbed - by Tae Kwon Doh. Because it dresses itself up like a mix of wrestling(maybe the Olympics' best sport), boxing and Bruce Lee. The competitors take the floor with more armor on than a 1st Cav patrol in Baghdad - big helmets, flak jackets that surround the entire torso, huge gloves, all over traditional white marital arts robes
It is, to be sure, the equipment of a sport designed to hurt somebody.
And for 10 minutes, they face each other, bounce endlessly in place, take turns throwing a foot in the air, fall over like bad ballerinas, run out of bounds, bounce a whole lot more, draw mystifying penalties and then the clock runs out and the winning American, Steve Lopez, starts in with his best Crash Stephenson impression.
Huh? In 10 minutes of Gold-medal deciding Tae Kwon Doh, very nearly nothing happened.
The only bright spot was the announcer, who grabbed the title of worst honk of the games from boxing's Teddy Atlas. When Lopez bounced his Turkish opponent into a corner of the mat and landed a leg to the umpire-chest plate, the announcer let loose with a "Bang! Take that home with ya!"
Evidently, a similar kick landed in an earlier bout by Lopez had "kicked his opponent down the ramp" leading to the mat. That would have been cool. But all I saw was one akward leg-slap, endless stalling and a lot of bouncing.
If I ran the Olympics, I would take a page from Jackie Chan and force one of the competitors to compete with skis on his feet while the other must complete the match without waking up a mat-side, light-sleeping panther.
On a crashing blimp.

During diving, which the Americans tanked in, they showed a Chinese guy and said, "This is his third Olympics and this is a special one because today is his 25th birthday."
I took that at face value, but Mandy almost immediately said, "Wouldn't the last two Olympics have been on his birthday, too?"
She may not know how to pronouce "Iverson" but Mandy brings some heat to any telecast.

"How will he meet his God when he has slaughtered so many people," - an Iraqi soccer player when asked about the Bush campaign's use of his country's Olympics success in a campaign ad. Same guy went on to say - echoing several teammates - that he would be fighting with the resistance if not playing soccer.
And all that aside, even if everything was a roaring success over in Tigris-Euphrates land, doesn't it strike anyone as deeply disturbing that the President of the United States wanted - maybe still wants - to go to the Olympics to watch a) a soccer game that b) wasn't the US?
I mean, even if you LOVE dubya, a Texan watching soccer?
I haven't seen any other heads of state show up for any event of their OWN athletes - and yet dubya wanted to go watch the Iraqis play soccer.
If he said, "I wanna go meet Amanda Beard," son, let me get my hat, I'll come wit'chee. But to watch some other country's soccer team? A land we currently, violently occupy?
Just put on a toga, call yourself Caesar and be done with it.

Anybody see a better moment than that Moroccon win the 1500 meters? Apparently the guy was the absolute international Hammer of the last 10 years in the 1500. Best ever at the distance (which is as close to the Mile as they get nowadays).
Only, he'd tripped and fallen in Atlanta and got out-touched down the stretch by a Kenyan in Sydney. He owned every title and record available except The Big One.
So as the race started, his teammate, who was supposed to go out as a rabbit, got boxed in and was nowhere to be seen. That was bad, cuz apparently this Morrocan wins by going out fast and holding on. But for 3 laps, he had to pick off the Kenyans at the front, work his way through the pack and finally took over the lead with a lap to go.
And with a fast-looking Kenyan right on his heels. Around the back stretch, the two of them pull away and on the last turn up comes the Kenyan. Down the last 100, the Kenya comes out, edges his shoulders ahead, pushes past the Moroccon and then...
Incredibly, the Moroccon re-surges forward, the Kenyan goes slack in defeat and the Moroccon wins by a stride.
One of sports rarest things - to be caught from behind in the stretch and then to retake the lead.
Finally, called to the Main Stage. Just awesome.

Are you kidding about the basketball uniforms? Are you SERIOUS? If you didn't see it live, the US Basketball team showed up with the wrong uniforms for the Bronze game. Now, by late afternoon, NBC and the officials were spinning at as "bad information for both teams" - yet, when it happened, they pointed out that Lithuania was the designated home team, and should wear white. The Americans, designated as visitors, had brought white uniforms to the game.
So when it happened, it was clear, and clearly reported, who had screwed up.
The hours-later rewrite that it was some inevitable glitch was just that - a rewrite.
Just another bright moment.

Let's see - to the list that now includes LeBron James, the Olson Twins and Lindsay Lohan, we can now add Michael Phelps. I've always said I believe the children are the future.

If you missed the Trampoline event, boy... you missed it.
Probably the highlight of the event was, when the studio host said, "let's go to the trampoline competition," Mandy immediatly said, "Whatever sportsbra they're using, I want that one."
So the stage was set.
What then occurred was just a clinic in jaw-dropping failure. Either trampoline jumping is really hard (my limited experience, and a few viewings of slamball, suggests otherwise), or these girls were just terrible.
In essencse, it's all back at the gymnastics facility, but this is clearly not even the JV of that world. The little girls run out on the middle of this HUGE trampoline and start bouncing straight up and down and are getting circus-crazy heights. Their feet are like 20 or 25 feet off the ground on every bounce. Then they start flipping around through a series of moves and then...
They crash.
I don't know if that's required, but I think so. I only watched - which is to say, i could only bring myself to watch - 3 competitors, but it was the same - they'd be in the middle of the tramp, do a giant 4X double twist flip 30 feet in the air, land slightly off-center, careen back up on obviously a bad trajectory, realize they were heading for disaster, flap their arms for balance in the air and WHAM - right on the side.
Absolutely awesome.

Living in Russia must be like living in the South. You only get two flavors of women: Drop dead knockouts and run-and-hide beasts. Check out their 4X400 team. Or the volleyball team. Or the gymnastics team, not counting Big Bird, the anorexic blonde.
Same with the Greeks. Check out the 4X400 tonight. All or nothing.

Loved the pole vault. Loved "Crash" Stephenson. Loved his helmet. All Olympians should be like that. Brash, loud, fearless (except for the helmet, I guess) and, in the end, joyfull. Of course, if I was anywhere close to the Olympics I'd be exactly like Crash's teammate (who, in the end, won Gold) - eyes ahead, count to 10, both hands on the wheel. It would be the only way to keep from mentally disintegrating.
In fact, that's like my job now - watch anytime I do a freefall jump. There will always be one or two guys jumping around, "whoo, here we go baby!" and I'll be on the ramp with that "It'll be over in 2 minutes - either way"-look on my face.
No doubt - I'd be a boring Olympian.

All obvious problems, and comic mistakes, aside, Allen Iverson has been terrific. On court, he hustled after loose balls, created shots, never quit (arguably, none of the US players did - they just got beat) and, most important, showed great sportsmanship. Off court, he was respectful but proud, didn't complain or make excuses and appeared genuinely invested in trying to win. After winning the Bronze game, he gave one of the most dignified post-game interviews imaginable. Called the entire experience an "honor." Good for him.
You can probably say the same for all of the American players, but he's the public face. In fact, I think he gets the Gold in "Public Relations Nightmares That Didn't Materialize," barely edging the Greek government and Athens' infrastructure.
(I personally never considered "terror attack" a reasonable threat, so it's not eligible).

Once again I'm reminded that traditional volleyball remains the best game on earth. Beach volleyball is a pale shadow - and really, shouldn't it be called "sand volleyball?" Cuz that didn't look like a beach, and I KNOW there isn't one in Bejing for 08. Anyway, the real thing remains one of the best things to watch. Sure, it's the California rich-kid version of basketball, with freakish height being a prerequisite, but no other sport puts teamwork on such obvious display. Soaring talents always fall to the better team. You can know NOTHING about VB, and yet in 2 minutes you can easily figure out whether a team works well together or not.
And on that note, is it a fair corollary to say that if a sports is a) fun to watch and b) features a women's version with slutty outfits, Brazil will be a world power?
And on the beach volleyball front, Mandy on the women's outfits: "fucking ridiculous" (and seriously, where else is there a larger discrepancy between men's and women's dress? Maybe rap videos).

Speaking of Dubya, if he wins this year, can he AT LEAST throw an amendment onto "No Child Left Behind" so that among all the unfunded requirements laid on our public schools, every classroom in the country has to spend 5 minutes a day on "baton passing?" What other skill can we just surrender to the world? First math, then telemarketing, now this. It's getting ridiculous.

Why isn't India good at anything? That occured to me last night when i saw the Indian women actually qualify for the final in the 4X400. It struck me that this was the first time I'd even noticed an Indian Olympian.
The more I consider it, the less it makes sense. India has the second-largest population on earth. Yet while Jamaica and the Bahamas are track powers, the Aussies are so good in the pool, Cuba and Iran dominant in wrestling and boxing and Iraq in the top 4 for Soccer, India remains invisible.
I've thought of several reasons, but none hold up:
If you take the cynical, but evident, view that almost every Olympian in every sport from every country is, in some way, a million-to-one genetic freak, then India should have 1,200 Olympic-caliber athletes, three times as many as the US.
Now, certainly, the gene pool of middle-Asia is not the genetic reservoir of size and speed that, say, Brazil is. You could probably select any three square miles in Rio and extract from it an Olympic team better than, say, Ukraine's. But that clearly doesn't matter: look at China, Korea and Japan, countries without particularly well-suited genetics. They post accomplishments roughly commensurate with their populations (Korea and Japan, arguably, do more with less than any country on earth).
Geographically, India has advantages unmatched in the world - thousands of miles of coastline (like swimming-power Australia) and some of the highest population centers, in the Himalayas, of any nation on earth, which should produce excellent endurance athletes. On top of that, almost none of India has a 'winter' climate - so none of its athletic talent gets drained away into, say, hockey or skiing.
Other sports? Too much emphasis on Cricket? Please... In America, what football doesn't weed out, weed, Playstation and pregnancy does. Nobody comes to more forks in the road than American Olympians.
How about economics? Do you need a thick middle class and decent health care to produce a sports power? Well, India is a democracy and has enough money to start a nuclear war. Money isn't the problem. And consider China, where the majority of the population lives in pre-Industrial countryside, yet still produces specimens like Yao Ming. Just today, the Chinese are in the gold medal game for women's volleyball and last night one of the men won the 110M hurdles by DAYLIGHT (tying a world record that's stood since 1993). Daylight? In a 110M? A Chinese guy? He was probably 2 full meters ahead of the American in second place. That has to rank on the short list of all-time amazing track accomplishments, right there with the last guy I know of to win a short sprint by daylight, Jesse Owens.
If a Chinese guy can win the Olympic hurdles by 2 strides, India should be good at SOMETHING. It is politically stable, socially liberal and has large centers of wealth. And, of course, it has the second largest population on earth. There's GOT to be a Michael Phelps in there somewhere.
Every other country with even half of those advantages is a major power. The Chinese are good at EVERYTHING. The Russians are good at everything (which extends to the Winter Games). The Brazilians are good at everything. And, yes, even WE are good at everything, as long as you don't count basketball and baseball. And that about covers it for the world's population centers - except for India.
So where are they? I just don't see any plausible excuse.

Fun facts: This very month, the city of Montreal, Canada paid off the last dime on it's last debt stemming from the 1976 Olympics - 28 years later. Thanks for the show, Athens, and good luck with your school system!

Among your top 10 or so US athletes has to be Cael Sanderson, the only undefeated college wrestler in American history (question: is that record a reflection of Sanderson's skill or the deflated state of college wrestling - I need you REACTION!!!). This is his first Olympics, in freestyle wrestling. Apparently, he couldn't go to the '01 world championships because of 9/11 and couldn't go to the '02 worlds because they were in Iran and the Bush administration wouldn't let us send a team (one Olympic email, 3 shots at Dubya - thankee). Last year at the '03 Worlds, he got silver, to a Cuban - his second loss to that Cuban.
In other words: Every College Wrestler in America 0, One Cuba 2.
Cael beat the same guy in the semis today, though. I'll be rooting for him because - well, because no sport reliably produces epic Olympic moments like wrestling - Americans versus Iranians in 84, Kurt Angle in 96, Rulon Gardner '00.
I've said it before, but no sport demands more than wrestling, and hence, no athletes come more emotionally unglued, in either direction, when they win or lose.
But I really like Cael cuz back when he was closing in on the undefeated career at Iowa State, I read a profile of him that talked about the time the ISU sports info people asked him what song he wanted played over the PA when he took the mat.
The Greatest Wrestler That Ever Lived chose "Believe" by Cher.
After a few matches, the staff changed it to AC/DC or something, but in the profile he stood by it: "I don't care. That's a good song."
Cael, I Believe, too! Get some!

My beef with Israeli politics certainly does not extend to their Olympic team. In fact, as a population, no one deserves a national shot of feel-good Olympic drama more than the Israeli people. I sincerely wish they had the athletic successes that we do. Or even that India does.
But if your nation is going to win it's first-ever Gold of any kind, can you really look yourself in the mirror if it's for wind surfing?

And finally - 45 mintues to kickoff in Blacksburg! Goodbye Olympics, hello AP Poll! Last year was fun, and a final nod of respect to LSU. But as another proud USC product, who I like to call George Lucas, once put it:
"They'll be no one to stop us this time!"

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