Or in this case, “Blame Chi-i-na! Blame Chi-i-na!” I recently heard Robin Williams’s version of the South Park theme song, and it’s been playing in my head for the last week. Change Canada to China, and it’s apropos.
I did really well, actually, the first two weeks I was unemployed. Then the Olympics started.
I am an Olympics junkie. A HUGE Olympics junkie. The kind of girl that Tivo’s every minute she can and includes extra time so in case of exciting run over I don’t miss a minute. And sad to say I actually watch it all. Even if I’ve seen spoilers on the web that tells me who won the sport, I still watch it.
My friend S tells me that I have a problem. She was living on my couch during the Athens games in 2004, and thought it was weird that I was still watching them a week after they were over. Hey, a girl had to work, right? It was the only time I had to catch up. Everyone has a vice, this is mine.
So without further ado, here are the things that stood out for me, that brought tears to my eyes, that made me laugh out loud, or that had me shouting at the top of my lungs at 1 am for the athlete to “move your ass” in order to cross the finish line first.
- Yes, I’m in the midst of Phelps mania just like the rest of the world. I remember him at the Athens games, his second. I remember the competition between the 19 year old kid and Australia’s wonder Ian Thorpe, aka “The Thorpedo”. I remember thinking then that the guy that lived just a few hours north of me was going to actually bring swimming to the attention of America again, just like Mark Spitz and Janet Evans had done decades ago. But to me the most memorable moment of Phelps’s efforts was not the actual efforts of Phelps–though memorable, indeed. No, the biggest moment was Mama Phelps’s expression after the 200m Butterfly. She was convinced that her son had attained the silver by failing to catch Milorad Čavić of Serbia. When the scores flashed on the jumbo-tron and she realized that in fact her son had finished at the wall first–by 0.01 seconds–the look of utter astonishment and shock on her face as she stared at the times and then just sunk into her seat cracked me up. I cannot imagine her emotions at that time, but fully understand her need to sink to her seat as a result of the realization that her son had not only won, he had tied Mark Spitz’s record for seven golds in a single Olympics. And my fervent hope is that every time that photo-finish is played it includes footage of Mama Phelps realizing her son had just won his seventh gold medal.
- Michael Phelps could not have done this without the help of his teammates in the relay events. While the 4×100 medley relay was a fun swim to watch, for me the true inspiration of the meet came from Jason Lezak he surged to the finish line to beat out the French. An incredible run for Lezak, it was compounded by the attainment of his first individual medal as he won the bronze during the 100m freestyle. Despite being a four-time medal winner, this was his first individual reward and it was a remarkable race.
- The “Splash-n-Dash” for both the men and the women was outstanding. For the women, 41 year old Dara Torres was receiving Olympic medals before her competitors were even born, yet after the birth of her daughter Tessa Grace two years ago returned to the pool. She did a fantastic job in the preliminaries, and really grew in my estimation when she went to the main judge and asked her to wait to start the heat because a competitor had ripped her suit when the zipper stuck. Most people would just consider the competitor scratched, Torres made an effort to make sure everyone waited and everyone took their time so that their competitor and friend had a chance to qualify as well. She didn’t make it, but she was given the chance thanks to Torres’s efforts. Then during the final race, Torres won the silver–again, a difference of 0.01–and proved that you can do whatever you want if you put the effort into your dreams. For the men’s 50m freestyle, watching César Cielo Filho of Brazil’s exuberant rejoicing as he out-swam the favored Frenchmen for an Olympic record and the gold medal made you remember what swimming is all about. The excitement on Filho’s face was the same as what you see on a first-time winner at a Midget’s swim meet at your local neighborhood pool. Brilliant.
- The Olympics to me is not just about the brilliant stars like Phelps or Nastia Liukin or the US Basketball team. It’s also the story of those that have trained and are experiencing the greatest moment of their life with the knowledge that to medal is an impossibility, that the true reward is just to participate. On the news you don’t hear stories that often about those that come in last place or those that were several seconds behind the world record. But occasionally you happen to come across the one underdog and your heart just cheers for them to do their very best. People like Mamadou Cisse from Equatorial Guinea, who participated in the third qualifying heat of the mens 50m freestyle event. He came into the Cube with a giant beach towel over his shoulder wearing flip flops and looking like he was going poolside at the hotel instead of swimming in the Olympics. He wasn’t even sure how to climb onto the starting blocks as he had never used them before. He finished last in his heat, with a time of 29.29 seconds. He wasn’t the slowest in the event–there were eight people with slower times–but when you think that the ones that qualified were around 21 seconds for the event, Cisse had no chance of moving forward. Yet his story is one of the ones that means the most, as he will forever be able to say that he was an Olympian and that got to represent his country in the 2008 games.
- The women tried their hardest, and won the silver in the team competition. Yet there was disappointment on all their faces as they stood next to China who received the gold. While there is still some controversy over the age of the women on the Chinese team, it was still apparent the US women felt they had been defeated. By contrast, however, the US men were exuberant in their attainment of the bronze medal in the team competition. The expressions on their faces were proud, gratified, and joyful as they realized that they had competed to the best of their ability (including the two alternates, who replaced the Hamm twins) and were able to pull off a bronze medal in the team competition. Fantastic.
- You know, there is always something made of the stoicism of the Asian nations. Japan, Korea, and China among others are famous for not showing much emotion. Yet during both the men’s and women’s competition I was cracking up at some of the things that we saw. A Chinese gymnast (I forget which one) was so pleased that she had stuck the landing that she gave a fist pump. Chinese women don’t give fist pumps! It was a riot! Then there was Yang Wei, winner of the men’s all-around competition. After the final results confirmed that he was going to win the gold medal he was making “mwah hah hah hah” noises for the camera. A sense of humor? In an Asian athlete? No way!
- All the athletes can ask of themselves is to do their absolute best. To perform to the best of their ability and to take pride in their accomplishments. Especially in a subjective sport like boxing or gymnastics or diving where a panel of judges score based on their perception of the performance. And sometimes, against all hope or possible belief that it is attainable, those subjective scores add up to something that puts you on the medal stand. Such was the case of Benoît Caranobe of France. Utter joy that he was able to do this for his country and surpass the favorites to pull off a bronze medal.
- Alexander Artemev. Pommel Horse. Enough said. How he didn’t win an individual medal for this spectacular routine on the apparatus is beyond me, but it was masterful and beautiful to watch in competition. What a routine.
- Sometimes, those damned human interest stories get in the way of enjoying an event because you’re so wrapped up in the stories. Such is the case for Oksana Chusovitina, who is the Dara Torres of women’s gymnastics. Chusovitina competed in her first Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona. Not only has she competed in five different Olympics, but she has also competed for three nations–the Unified Team in ’92 (where she won a team gold medal), Uzbekistan in ’96, ’00’ and ’04, and then Germany in ’08. Uzbekistan to Germany is a big leap–turns out that she has a small son who was diagnosed with leukemia, and called upon her fellow gymnasts to reach out for medical assistance. She got a sponsor in Germany, and her family moved there for his care. Alisher is fine, in complete remission, and guess what. Chusovitina won the silver medal in the vault competition in the ’08 games, 16 years after her first medal and at the age of 33. Wow.
- Watching the synchronized diving events always make me dizzy. It’s bad enough that they are twisting and flipping against nature’s force, but to see them do it in double is astounding. Seeing the Mexican team of Paola Espinosa and Tatiana Ortiz sneak in and win the bronze in the 10m platform was fantastic, and the Ukranian team of Illya Kvasha and Oleksiy Prygorov in the 3m springboard win the same medal was fantastic. They had the events of their lives and should be proud of their accomplishments.
- Watching the men’s beach volleyball match between Rogers and Dalhausser of the US and Laciga and Schnider of the Switzerland was fantastic game. The second set had a bajillion match points before the Swiss pulled off the win at 23-21. Unfortunately, they went on to lose the match. But it was a darned good game.
Now that the diving and athletic portions of the games are underway, it’s going to lead to another unproductive week. I just feel it.