I think it’s a sign of bad things to come. I kept the TV off for two weeks, then the Olympics started. I, of course, had to watch every minute possible. I had to clean space off my Tivo (!) to allow recordings to occur. I had to sit and watch all of it.
Now, the Olympics are over. I can turn off the TV and get back to work. Only I can’t–thus far, I have finally watched the entire season 3 of Prison Break (13 more hours on my Tivo), the first two episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (haven’t yet determined if I like it or not), the season premiere of The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency (can’t explain why, really), and a Biography special on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have tried to turn off the TV, really I have, but it’s like a drug. I must watch. I must veg. I must get cramps in my back from awkward angles on the couch.
But that being said, I am still reeling over the Olympics. They always lead me down the path of awe and inspiration while simultaneously thinking that there needs to be some way that normal people can do that sort of thing (air rifle! It’s an Olympic sport!). But there were, as always, moments that stood out for me. Be it good or bad, noteworthy or inconsequential, these are the thoughts I had on the last week of the games as I was watching them.
There is grace to be found in the smaller moments…
Watching gymnastics is always a highlight of the games for anyone. What I enjoyed was the medal ceremonies of the women’s events when the Americans won. Each of the three athletes stood behind the podium waiting to claim their spot on the platform. The bronze winner climbs up, then the American claiming the silver is announced. She raises her arms, waves to the crowd, and instead of climbing up instead gracefully walks to the front of the podium and then congratulates the bronze medal winner before taking her place on the second tier. Same for the gold medal winner. This acknowledgement of those that were their fiercest competitors shows grace and poise that could be lessons for other disciplines and sporting events where instead of having the “I kicked your ass!” celebration by the gold medalist it is instead a graceful acknowledgement of the two individuals that forced the gold medalist to compete at his/her best and accomplish the ultimate prize.
Laura Wilkinson made us all fall in love with her when she pulled off the gold medal in the women’s 10m platform in Sydney. We were rooting for her comeback when she landed in 5th place in Athens. And when she came back this time as co-captain of the US Diving team we were cheering with her through all the diving events until it was her turn to ascend the platform. She made it through the qualifying and semifinals without a problem, and then unfortunately a torn triceps muscle in her right arm meant that she wasn’t going to be able to do her best. It was her literal swan dive into retirement. When she lept off the platform for her final competitive dive she was able to execute brilliantly and gracefully exited the stage for those to come.
There are people who could use a lesson in grace and/or tact…
Jennifer Stuczynski was the American contender for the medal in the pole vault. Relatively new to vaulting she has shot through the records in the short four years she has been competing. On this international stage, however, she understandably had some nerves and was competing at her best. What irritated the tar out of me, though, was the fact that she went to her coach, seated on the front row of the stands, after each jump for advice and tips on how to handle the next event. After she failed to clear on her third attempt, placing her in 2nd place for the silver medal, her coach was, in my opinion, downright tacky. He was fiddling with his Blackberry, telling her that it was her own fault, she choked, she should have known better, she could have done more but too bad, so sad, blah blah blah blah. Dude, your girl just won the silver medal in a strongly contested event. Be proud of her. Tell her she did her best, she should be proud of her accomplishments, she succeeded. Don’t tell her that the consequences of her actions means she ‘only’ gets the silver. It’s the A game with a field of dozens. A silver medal isn’t bad. Jennifer, my dear, he may be good, but I’d find a new coach.
Nobody doubts the strengths of the US Women’s Basketball Team. They have won gold for the last four games running, and Lisa Leslie has been on all four of those teams. They had a great run this time, and deserve all the accolades that go along with being the gold medal winning team. What they did not deserve, however, was Leslie’s antics off the court. Demanding that her team get a nickname too as they have never disappointed as the men had. Wearing her gold medal in public is fine–wearing all four in public is tacky. This is not about the accomplishments of what you have done in the past with other players. This is about the accomplishment you had this year, with the team you played with this year. This is not about you, Lisa Leslie, and your superiority over all other women ball players. You won four gold medals. Whoopee for you. You should be proud. But you should not brag, and you should not flaunt. Poor sportsmanship called on you.
There are those that surprise you with their manners, enthusiasm, and quiet dignity….
Kobe Bryant is famous. Not just here, but in China. Very, very famous. Yet his enthusiasm for the opportunity he had was inspiring. He was not being paid to play basketball, he was playing for the country that gave him the opportunity to be a star. He gave interviews, greeted fans, spoke four languages, showed up at the Water Cube and supported his American teammates, and yes okay he cheered for Brazil in women’s soccer. The important thing is that he enjoyed every single moment of the opportunity he was given. He recognized the once in a lifetime experience for what it was, relished and embraced every minute of it, and actually made me admire him a little bit. I hope he enjoyed himself, as I enjoyed watching him and was actually proud of the boy that grew to fame too fast, faced some difficulties, and finally became a man.
The 1500m was won by Rashid Ramzi of Russia in 3:32. The pole vault was won by Stephen Hooker of Australia in an Olympic Record of 5.96 meters. The javelin was won by Andreas Thorkildsen of Russia in an Olympic Record of 90.57 meters. Bryan Clay’s vault was only 5.0 meters. His javelin throw was only 70.97 meters. He came in dead last running the 1500m. So what makes him so remarkable? He amassed enough points to improve upon his 2004 silver and win the decathlon for the United States in 2008. A man of quiet grace and strength, I was extremely impressed with his accomplishment, and congratulations to him and his family for their strength and support.
Watch the US rowing team of 8 cross the finish line in first place. I dare you not to cheer along with them when the realize that they have pulled a personal best time and done what no US women’s rowing team has done in over 20 years. They were some of the most excited women I had seen at the games, and they deserve every minute of their enthusiasm.
Ian Miller of Canada is 61 years old. He was competing in his NINTH Olympics (that is 1976 in case you were wondering). And this year, I think he just might retire. After a jump-off with the United States for the team equestrian gold, Miller finally has his gold medal. Well done.
Things that I just don’t understand or that made me laugh outright
Bob Costas, as always, did a great job as the mediator for they Olympics. He cracked me up though, when talking about how the nation is losing sleep by staying up late to watch these world records fall he mentioned the rebroadcast that comes on at 2am–and is sponsored by Ambien sleep medication. Too funny.
The girl that mediated the Olympics over on Oxygen, however, drove me nuts. She was good enough journalistically, but she needs a new wardrobe person. She does fine when standing in front of the big screens, but when she sits for interviews, honey the cameraman needs to watch out because the button that is going to fly off her blouse at any moment is going to break that very expensive camera lens he is using to zoom in on the aforementioned area.
What was up with the camerawork, though? The gymnastics gala showed a lot of feet, rear ends, undersides of trampolines, people not doing anything, etc. I realize you need close expressions, but for the love of Pete at least show the gymnast that is performing!!!
Speaking of the inexplicable, what was the deal with the US track runners? People getting disqualified, people dropping the baton, people stepping on the hurdles instead of leaping over them, people blaming the price of cheese in India. Whatever, it was a mess. A big, runny, sweaty mess.
Speaking of mess, let’s get the gymnastics scoring system fixed before London in 2012, shall we? I don’t think that the tiebreaker methods are fair. I think that a girl that has the same level of difficulty that has a bad landing should not be placed above a vaulter that had a great landing and no penalties. I do not think that a girl with a lower degree of difficulty that has a bad landing should be placed higher than a near-perfect bars routine due to a tiebreaker. It’s a confusing process, and let me just say now that if He Kexin is under 16 and loses her gold medal on the bars I will be thrilled that Nastia Lukin got the gold she deserved in this apparatus. The men’s vault–same thing. Very weird tie-breaking process led to the second place person losing out on what he should have been able to claim as his. The FIG needs to figure it out. Two events, back to back, decided by a controversial tie-breaking rule that not even the gymnasts understand.
Two final thoughts….
Ironically enough, just before this Olympic Games began, I checked out the book Rome 1960 by David Maraniss. It was a fabulous tale of those games, which had many new countries from the emerging African continent competing for the first time, the beginnings of the cold war and the US/USSR tensions, the eve of the race revolution in the US, Germany on the eve of division, China’s struggles over Taiwan, the beginnings of the doping age, and many obscure athletes such as Wilma Rudolph and Cassius Clay just coming to the attention of the world. The games were not televised, they were not covered by mass press, they were the games on the edge of the modern version we know today, and it was a fabulous telling of the tale between the nations. Highly recommended.
The human interest stuff that aired periodically during the games sometimes was sheer shlock. But there was one tale, late at night, that was worth repeating. China is the birth nation of kiteflyers everywhere, and there was a good ten minute story done on the tradition and love of these miracle flying machines. It ended with a story on rokkaku’s, and the glass-coated string used to ensure that you become the sole ruler in the air. Brilliant fun!