I am cynical of the Olympics for 3.95 years out of every Olympic cycle. I remember well that the events are obscure, the clichés are hyperbolic, and the coverage is amateur. Then once it starts, I admit I cannot look away. There is something about international competition and around the clock multi-venue multi-channel coverage that is just addicting.
This is not to say that my reasons for being cynical are unfounded. Trust me there is plenty to make fun of. But there is plenty to appreciate too. In the next week you will see, hear, and read plenty of commentary on the Olympics, but none so profound as the kind you will find in the Olympic Coliseum. Let us take a look after one full week.
First, let’s take a look at the events themselves. What happened to baseball? What happened to softball? Why did they pull these events? I would think baseball had tons of interest and international reach. I mean baseball is played all over East Asia, northern South America, the Caribbean, and North America. It is also played in some parts of Europe and Africa. That is almost everywhere. Are you trying to tell me more people around the world watch kayaking than baseball? I can make the same argument for softball.
I would think it is time to bring golf into the Olympics too. Golf has a heavy international presence on the tour, just as much as tennis, which IS in the Olympics. Some propose that auto racing should be added, it should not. NASCAR is an American institution, and open wheel racing is a high investment sport. You could be the best driver in the world, but if your home country is Nepal, you are not getting the car or track time you would need to win.
I do like having SOME obscure events. It is great to see some archer from Azerbaijan have the same chance of wearing a gold medal around his neck as Kobe Bryant. If you toil in some strange hobby your whole life, it is deserved that you have a platform for greatness and notoriety once every four years. My problem with the obscure events, and even some of the more recognizable events, are the number of variations within the same sport.
Weightlifting, wrestling, judo, boxing, and taekwondo need all those different weight classes to be inclusive. And track and field has a distinct history of running, jumping, and throwing for different distances. But rowing, shooting, diving, gymnastics, and cycling don’t need all these variations. Swimming is the worst. I cannot watch it anymore. It goes on for days. There is no end to it. They probably need a mathematical theorem just to schedule all the events. Sex * distances* types of strokes * relays/days * mc^2 = Olympic swimming events each day. This is why Michael Phelps has so many medals people! He competes in like 40 different events.
I am not going to hate on Michael Phelps though. He clearly is really good at swimming. And he has been for 3 straight Olympics now. He deserves all his medals. He might be the best Olympian of all time. However, I think the best of all time is Carl Lewis. Carl dominated the 100 and 200 in his first two Olympics, and won four straight gold medals in the long jump over 16 years. I wasn’t alive to see Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, or Babe Didrikson, so I cannot discount their greatness either.
The best American story in the Olympics so far is Kayla Harrison. She won America’s first gold medal in judo, which is surprising, because every time I go to a YMCA, I see little punks in white belts rolling around the gym floor putting each other in headlocks. I would think we should have won 30 gold medals by now. Kayla is cute, humble, and proud to be American. She also has a great story. She is a survivor of sexual abuse who used judo to turn her troubled life around. Another great story, and the more popular one so far, is the women’s gymnastics team. There is nothing like watching Russian girls cry in shame while the Star Spangled Banner plays over the PA system.
Gabby Douglas’s win was magnificent. Every time I see someone of a certain race or ethnicity succeed in an event that they traditional don’t succeed in I think, “wow, racial and ethnic divides are really disappearing.” Then someone like Bob Costas and NBC has to bring it up, and ruin it. Doesn’t making a big deal out of it reinforce these ethnic divisions? I know the sentiment is well intentioned, but an homage to every little success that a race or ethnicity has is patronizing. I would be so pissed if I won the 100 meter dash, and they started gabbing about how I was the first Irish-American to win the event. I am a fast ass American fool. Let me be.
The most shameful American story at the Olympics so far is the failure of U.S.A. Boxing. It appeared at first that the United States would not get a single fighter from fly-weight to super heavyweight, into the quarterfinals. Late yesterday, however, officials overturned a decision that would have eliminated the last U.S. Men’s fighter, welterweight Errol Spence.
Many blame the officiating in Olympic boxing, because it is horrendous. But it is horrendous for everybody, and the U.S. has failed to adapt. It is a problem in coaching. I used to be heavily involved in U.S. A. Boxing, and when I started, the programs were full with talented fighters, who stayed in the system for years, and smart coaches who cared and knew the sport well. Today, gyms are nearly empty across America and the coaches who run them have no idea what they’re doing.
Another shameful U.S. moment came from the dream team. They destroyed Nigeria on Thursday night 156-73. I am not the type that would get mad at Miami running it up on Notre Dame in football, or Kansas running it up on Colorado in hoops, but there were some extenuating circumstances here. First, a nation’s pride was on the line. This was probably the most high profile game in Nigerian history for basketball. Everyone in Nigeria had to be watching. Second, the talent gap was huge. It was like the UConn women playing a girls high school team. And third, and most importantly, it was the way it happened. Every team, no matter what the score, should be going 100%. But the U.S. team was shooting threes up by 60! And they were doing alley oops, and pressuring the ball for turnovers. You can settle for 2 pointers, run time off the shot clock, and drop back in a zone, and still play hard. It was classless and Coach K could have done something to stop it. It got out of hand by the 3rd quarter and he did nothing.
As for the second week of action, I am interested in the team sports. Not basketball, which we dominate so easily, but in the other team sports in which we have more competition. Look to see if U.S.A. Men’s and Women’s Volleyball can fend off Brazil and Russia for gold. The beach volleyball will go into elimination rounds this week too. Again, Brazil is a huge rival. Another interesting team tournament will be women’s soccer. The U.S. could win gold there too, but it is not absolutely destined to. Last, I like our rivalry with Jamaica right now in track. That is also going to be spicy.
All in all I forget just how therapeutic the Olympics can be for everybody. Earlier this summer, during Wimbledon and the NBA finals, I absolutely hated Serena Williams and LeBron James. Now I find myself rooting for Serena to win gold, and I find myself hating LeBron less. More importantly, the Olympics has taken a lot of attention and botheration (excuse the patois) away from a dirty campaign season and a national mass shooting tragedy. Just when we needed it. I guess that’s what the Olympics are all about.
Enjoy the second week of action. Go U.S.A.!
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