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London 2012: final thoughts

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The Olympics are finally finished. Last time we dissected the first week of action from a point of view highly more sophisticated than NBC, or anybody else for that matter. Now it is time to break down the second week of action, and ponder some final thoughts for London 2012.

The dominant story of week one was Michael Phelps. The dominant story of week two was Michael’s conceited evil twin brother Usain Bolt. Bolt won the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m for the second Olympics in a row. But he was such a prick in doing so, I could hardly watch. After winning the 200m, he did pushups on the track in front of the other runners. Just a few minutes later, with his slobbering NBC groupies, he self-proclaimed himself a legend and one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Bolt even went out of his way to call out Carl Lewis, (who by the way still has more medals than Bolt and has done virtually everything Bolt has done, across more events, in a different time). Lewis said that Bolt and other Jamaican sprinters were suspect of doping, because of the fact they improved their times so dramatically in such a short period of time.

Despite Bolt’s punk antics, the media still deified him. Bolt acted like Randy Moss, but was treated like Barack Obama. Could you imagine if Michael Phelps had gotten out of the pool after his 135th medal (that’s how many he has right?) and struck a pose before doing pushups in front of the other swimmers? What about if Gabby Douglas started calling herself the best gymnast of all time after winning her all around? But Bolt gets away with it because he is from a small downtrodden, affable, and musical place called Jamaica. If he was American he would have been vilified at the Olympics like a doped up Soviet weightlifter.

In the interview he talked about all he had overcome since the 2008 Olympics. Are you kidding me? He was worshiped everywhere he went in the last 4 years up until and including London. John McEnroe had the naivety to compare him to Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens.

But I want to put things in perspective for Usain Bolt. First, in track, there is a new “fastest man off all time” every 4 or 5 years. I guarantee that in 10 years someone else will own most of Bolt’s records. Second, he is not relevant but every four years. No one will care about him in 6 months. And third, he is a sprinter. He doesn’t do anything but run from point A to point B really fast. He can’t catch, throw, hit, tackle, shoot, jump, kick, score, or punch. And technically he’s not really the fastest man alive. There are people who run 400 and 800 meters much faster than he can. He might not even be able to run the fastest 40 time in the NFL. Sprinting is relative to how far you are running. So Usain, get over yourself.

Enough of Bolt. I think the most relevant story during the second week of action, at least to the world of traditional sports, was the victory at the All England Club for Andy Murray. He had never been able to win Wimbledon, despite making it to the semifinals three times, and to the finals once. The UK had not had a British champion at the All England Club since 1936. Murray played Roger Federer, who had won Wimbledon seven times and had denied Murray in the finals just weeks ago. In front of Prince William and Princess Kate, Murray stepped on to the court and dominated Federer from first serve to match point, much to the delight of the home crowd. His victory was a career breakthrough at the perfect place and time.

During the second week of the Olympics, the United States dominated the track like they had dominated the pool just a week before. However, I appreciate it more when the U.S. has success in things we normally don’t win. On the second to last day of the Olympics, David Boudia won the first individual gold medal in men’s diving, a sport dominated by the Chinese, since Greg Louganis in 1988. He barely made it out of the preliminary round, but went on to face British fan favorite Tom Daley, and two heavily favored Chinese divers in the finals. He won gold on his final dive. The best tournament game of the Olympics was the semi-final in women’s soccer between Canada and the United States. The U.S. came back from a one goal deficit three different times, and then scored the deciding goal in the final minute of play, after two controversial calls.

The biggest disappointment of week 2 was men’s volleyball. The beach volleyball favorites of Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser fell in the first round to a young Italian team, and the men’s indoor team, who won the gold in 2008, fell in the quarterfinals to the Italian indoor team. Another source of American shame was the butchered lip-syncing of the national anthem. Athletes from basketball, to track, to swimming, were all over the place on the national anthem. It was as if Ashley Simpson kept winning gold. Even Misty May Treanor got caught mouthing, “For the land of the free…” I’m sorry Misty, but it is, “O’e r the land of the free…” And for the rest of you, it’s not “Who brought stripes and bright stars…” It’s, “Whose broad stripes and bright stars…” They should test American athletes on the Star Spangled Banner before sending them overseas. I’m surprised no one busted out the Enrico Palazzo rendition.

Maybe the most discouraging site of all was the American born and bred athletes who chose to represent other countries. Felix Sanchez was born in the U.S., raised in the U.S., and trained in the U.S., but won the 400m hurdles for his parents’ Dominican Republic. Leo Manzano won silver for the United States in the 1500m, but carried the Mexican flag with him in his victory lap. I guess that is what has always made America great. People can come here, thrive within our system and culture, and dismiss it at the same time. I just wonder if this mass identification with heritage over nation is turning this country into a collection of satellite populations who prefer to benefit from America without nurturing it.

Either way, contrary to cynical popular belief, the United States is still the world leader in almost everything. We won the most medals for the 5th straight Olympics, and the most gold medals for the 4th time in 5 Olympics. In 2012, the United States had 8 more gold medals than China, and 16 more medals overall. China also has 4 times as many people, and a state funded Olympic program. The United States won 15 times as many gold medals as Brazil, who has the closest comparable population size with the United States.

As for the Brits, London did a really good a job. I think opening and closing ceremonies, half time shows, and other assorted over-choreographed superfluously themed light shows are pretty gay. But London closed with really good music. That’s what these shows should focus on – good live music.

The Olympics are the best reminders outside of tragedy that we are all American brothers, and we are all global cousins. No buildings had to fall for us to root for one another. No theatres had to get shot up for us to encourage each other. But, alas the Olympics are over. Now we return to a divided nation where half of us like delicious chicken sandwiches and free speech, and the other half of us hate delicious chicken sandwiches and discrimination.

 

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