Friday, August 17, 2012

Dear Olympics, Thanks.

I think, at this point, it’s pretty well known that I am a fan of the Olympics. Duh. There is a distinct possibility that I've spent more time in the past two weeks watching the Olympics than I will spend this fall/winter watching either football or basketball and those sports last for 6+ months rather than the 2 weeks the Olympics lasts. I am acutely aware of how incredibly dorky this is. I, frankly, don’t really care, though.  I loved it.  I loved every minute of it. 4 years from now, I’ll love every minute of it again. By the way, I am just putting it together right now that both the 2014 world cup and the 2016 Olympics are going to be held in Brazil.  I sure hope that country has their shit together. Well, without further ado, on to my final Olympic thoughts.

Because of the fact that every country in the world participates in the Olympics, there is most certainly a probability that there were be a slew of hilarious names.  Guess what?  This one is no different. There are enough hilarious names here to make a 12 year old school boy (or myself) crack up for days on end.  How these stack up against former great athletic names such as God Shammgod, Dick Trickle, and former English soccer player Dean Windass I’m not sure, but here are some good ones.

Dong Dong – China – Trampoline (HA! Double Dong!)
Karen Cockburn – Canada – Trampoline (Dirty)
Destinee Hooker – USA – Volleyball (At one point in the Olympics Bob Costas said “The 6’4” Hooker is taking on the whole team!” (I just made that up, but it certainly could have happened.))
The XXX Olympics – (yep, the 30th Olympiad could easily be mistaken for the porno Olympics)
Fanny Babou – France – Swimming (even more funny when you place the accent on the first syllable of her last name.)
Kelsey Titmarsh – Canada – Rhythmic Gymnastics (hehehe)
Endurance Abinuwa – Nigeria – Athletics (yep, she’s a runner)
Yoshi Takeshita – Japan – Volleyball (poop joke.  His name is a poop joke.)

Hillarious names aside, there was also some great athletic events. Everyone knows that it’s awesome to watch the US hoops squad ball on everybody.  It’s sweet to watch Phelps and the big swimming races.  The gymnastics (especially the women) are rad. Usain Bolt and all the other sprints are great. But what fascinates me is that almost every single event can be extremely exciting to watch.  Even the things you would never expect to hold your attention such as horse jumping, archery, water polo, and handball can be absolutely gripping if you pay enough attention.  Below are a few of the sports that were really came in way above my expectations on the awesomeness scale.

The Decathlon – It’s really hard to put into words just how amazing these athletes are. They compete in 10 different events (100 meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meter, 110 meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500 meters). They do all of these events in 2 days and compete in each event at an extremely high level. What’s amazing here is that many of the events are nothing like each other. Obviously, being good at running the 1500 meter (about a mile) race and throwing the shot put takes a completely different type of athlete. These guys do all of them and they do it well. This competition probably would have been a bit more exciting if Ashton Eaton hadn’t beat the snot out everybody and pretty much put it out of reach going into day 2, but, whatever. USA! 
I also find it quite interesting that there is the decathlon, which is 10 sports that anyone could play to test the best physical athlete.  And then there is the modern pentathlon, which is the decathlon for rich people. Pretty much just 5 sports that only rich Brittan and New Englanders play (pistol shooting, show jumping (yes, horses), freestyle swimming, fencing, and a cross country run.) Needless to say, this event is not quite as exciting.

Rhythmic Gymnastics – So, I am watching the 2nd and final day of the decathlon and after a couple of discuss throws they cut over to rhythmic gymnastics.  (if you are unaware, this is the sport where female gymnasts do ballet stuff supported by a giant ribbon, a ball, something that looks like nun-chucks, or a hula hoop).  There I am, pissed that I’m not watching more decathletes throw discuss, and all the sudden it happened; Some Russian chick walks forward throws a ball (the type of ball that could only be described as the same ball you find in a giant bin at Wallgreens and dribble around the store for the next 10 minutes because you are either a 9 year-old kid or you’re trying to piss of your girlfriend so she stops buying shit.) anyways..  where was I? oh yeah, She throws this ball as high as she possibly can in the air, does 3 flips, and catches the ball (hands free) in the small of her back, and then somehow does another flip without the ball moving from the small of her back, then contorts her body somehow so the ball rolls from her back up and over her head and back into her hands. At this point you either don’t believe me or you don’t fully comprehend the series of events I just described.  But, I’m serious. YouTube that shit.  A) I am amazed. B) I now know where all Cirque du Soliel performers come from.

The 4 x 400 relay – It is said that the 400 meters is the toughest race a runner can do.  It is a full out sprint all the way around the track.  You can see that the 400 just kills runners.  After the race, every time, there are multiple runners laying on the ground on their backs trying to catch their wind. So how does this get more exciting? Add a baton and have 4 runners run this grueling race. The best part of it is the rules, though.  They start on the staggered starting blocks like the regular 400. The first runner must stay in his lane for the whole lap. But, once the baton is passed, there are no lane rules anymore. So once the baton is passed the first time it is absolute chaos. 8 runners all trying to receive a baton and all trying to merge to the inside lane all at the same time.  As you can imagine, people fall.  And if you’ve ever seen a track fall, it is not pretty.

There was another sport that caught my attention, and that was the race walk.  Not to say that this was exciting to watch, because it wasn’t, but the endurance it takes for this event is quite impressive.  If there is one sport in the Olympics that is the easiest to make fun of it is some strange event where everyone is walking around like some combination of a turbo-charged duck and a grandma at the mall. Apperently, though, this sport is extremely taxing on the body and takes a serious endurance athlete. See here as some Russian racewalker passes out mid-race and (allegedly) craps himself.

For those of you that have managed to stick with me thus far, here is your reward.  Dutch Heptathelete Nadine Broersen, Paraguayan Javelin thrower Laryn Franco, and Czech volley ball player Marketa Slukova.

You’re welcome.

So there it was.  The 2012 London Olympics came and went. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.[i] It was something that I thoroughly enjoyed.   More than I’ve ever enjoyed them before.  But, the only thing that was different between this year and years past was that I paid more attention.  I have found that the more that you immerse yourself in the Olympics, the better they are. I love that every single event has its own intrinsic value and yet, they are each a part of the games as a whole. You would never catch me watching a rowing event or weightlifting event on TV in some random occasion, but when those weightlifters and rowers are competing equally to have made a difference in their country’s glory, I’ll tune in all day long.
Speaking of a country’s glory.. 

Final Medal Count: USA – 104, China – 88.  Final Gold count: USA – 46, China – 38.



[i] See what I did there? Quoted an English writer in the recap of a London event..  wordplay is fun, even when obvious. Thanks, Chuck. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Olympics and The Bat Man

Hey there..  You seen the new Batman, yet? I have. And I've gotta tell you it was pretty sweet.  Was it as good as The Dark Knight? Of course not, but how could it be? The Dark Knight was basically as good as super hero/villain movies get.  But, when looked at in the context of a trilogy or one long story, this third and final chapter serves as an exceptional ending. I think ultimately, in time, The Dark Knight trilogy will be looked at in the same light as the original Star Wars trilogy which is currently thought of as damn near perfect.  But even looking at those movies, was Return of the Jedi as good as The Empire Strikes Back? Nope. Not even close. But no one thinks of those movies in an individual context. Those movies, retrospectively, are looked as Star Wars and are lumped together as a whole.  I think that, in time, this Batman series will be viewed the same way.  Also, outside of the fact that the mask muffled Bane’s voice and made him sound like Sean Connery drowning in a pool with a megaphone, Bane was a pretty bad ass villain. Anyways, if you feel differently about the Batman, let me know in the comments.  Otherwise, let’s get to this Olympic business.

Bane: “Let the games Begin!”

I don’t know what it is I like so much about the Olympics, but they sure are awesome.  Maybe it is the patriotism. I love the fact that Olympians are out there competing to bring home a medal for the pride of their country. It’s awesome.  Did you know that the rings on the Olympic flag represent each of the five inhabited continents?  And that the colors of the rings (blue, yellow, black, green, red) were chosen because every competing nation has at least one of those colors in their national flag? Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.  But.. maybe it is the individual excellence, the epitome of mastering your craft. Maybe it is the fact that in one night I can watch swimming, volleyball, badminton, ping pong, and archery and in each of these events, someone is going to win a medal that they train every single day just for the chance to compete for. I love the fact that I can watch these obscure sports and, for today, I care about them like they are the Super Bowl. I didn’t give a damn about women’s balance beam two weeks ago and two weeks from now, I am, again, not going to give a damn.  But today, I know that little wobble after 6 back flips on a 4-inch beam is going cost someone a chance at something they have worked their entire lives to achieve. It’s Epic. It’s Dramatic. It is an event. Like no other, It is an event.

Roland Daggett: “You're pure evil!”
Bane: “I'm necessary evil.”

It seems that for the past three or four Olympics there has been a bit of a lull in enthusiasm for the games (at least, in America).  People get fired up for an event or two, but as a whole it doesn’t seem like people have had that unbridled patriotism that you are looking for.  I think there is a pretty good reason for this, though. Since the fall of the USSR in 1991, the US has had no major rival in the Olympics.  Technically, we lost the medal count in 1992 to something called the Unified Team (Former USSR), but no one really cared.  They weren’t even a country and all that mattered in the Barcelona Olympics was how awesome the Dream Team was.  After 1992, America went on a completely dominant ass-kicking run and everyone just felt like the Olympics were a forgone conclusion (though I think you’d be surprised to look back at the medal count at the 2000 games in Sydney.)

Conversely, let’s look at the 80’s.  In 1980 the Olympics were held in Moscow. An Olympics that many western countries (including the USA) boycotted because we were opposed to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (world has changed a lot since then, eh?).  Without some of the world powers there, the Soviets displayed unbelievable dominance, hauling in 195 medals.  East Germany was 2nd with 126.

Next up was 1984. Following the previous Olympics, where is the most dramatic place the Olympics could be held? Yep, you got it, right here in the US. But, the US boycotted the ’80 games in Moscow so, intern, the USSR boycotted the ’84 games in Los Angeles. Get a load of this; The USSR announced its intention not to participate on May 8, 1984, citing security concerns and "chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States."   Seriously, read that again. Soviets hate Americans, Americans hate the Soviets.  Shit was getting absolutely crazy. Without the Soviet presence, USA absolutely cleaned up, winning 174 medals to 2nd place Romania’s 53. American patriotism was absolutely through the roof and the USA-USSR rivalry was out of control.  Guess when production started on Rocky IV?

[This story becomes even more fascinating when you go back and look at the medal counts over the previous two decades, but we don’t need to get into all that…  I’m not writing a book here.]

So the stage was now set for the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea. Everyone knew which two countries were going 1-2 in these games, just not which order. The running narrative throughout these Olympics starts off, incredibly enough, as live doves are released at the opening ceremony to symbolize world peace, only to then be burned alive by the lighting of the Olympic cauldron (you can’t make this shit up!). Amid accusations if institutionalized steroid use, the USSR dominated gymnastics, weightlifting, wrestling and an Arvydas Sabonis/ Šarūnas Marčiulionis led hoops team took the gold as the USSR won the medal count with 132 medals.  Fellow communists, East Germany took 2nd with 102 medals and the US came in a disappointing 3rd with 94.  The USSR was certainly not the only country that was marred by steroid allegations in that Olympics, though, as both Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith-Joyner of USA had very similar rumors surrounding them. Also, the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who broke the world record in the 100m, tested positive for steroid use. He claimed it was all a mistake and that he was sabotaged, but he tested positive again in 1993.

In 1991 The USSR dissolved and with it went America’s animosity with the eastern European state both politically and athletically.  The US was left without a major rival in the Olympics until…  

Bane: “I will show you where I have made my home while preparing to bring justice. Then I will break you.”

The 2008 Olympics came up and it seemed that all of the sudden a new age both economically and athletically had been ushered in overnight.  It all started with a bang. In the most amazing Olympic stadium ever built came upon us the most amazing opening ceremony ever displayed. China, meet World. World, this is China. The Chinese didn’t just do it with sight and spectacle; they did it with their performance as well.  Falling just short of America’s 110 total medals, China had 100 of their own including 15 more gold medals than any other country. It’s amazing how these types of events happen to coincide with the location the Olympics take place, isn’t it?

Welcome, America’s new rivals.

The Chinese are dastardly.  The Chinese are deceptive. The Chinese are fighters. The Chinese are winners. The Chinese are Cheaters. From their scheming badminton team to their doping swimmers, this is a country that will stop at nothing to get a medal.  It is wonderful.  It’s brilliant. It is exactly what the Olympics needs. For there to be a hero (Michael Phelps) there must be a villain (Ye Shiwen). Ye Shiwen won her first gold of the Olympics by swimming her closing leg of the 400 IM in 58.23 seconds. How fast is that, you ask? Ask Ryan Lochte and he’ll tell you this, “It was faster than my closing leg. AND I’M A DUDE!, THE DUDE THAT WON THE GOLD MEDAL!!” So how does Shiwen react after blazing through the pool like some freaking robot-shark? She gets out of the pool and stares down the world like Ivan Drago did after he killed Apollo Creed in the ring. It was amazing. That chick is out for blood. Glorious, golden blood. 
Ivan Drago

While we are on the topic of the Chinese’s underhanded tactics, let’s talk about their badminton situation. Badminton is set up where a set of round-robin matches played which determines their seeding for the knock out round. The Chinese have both of the best two parings in the world. Their number 1 pairing advanced to the top of the knockout round, easily. But their number two pairing had a slip up and lost to the Danes.  Coming down to the number 2 pairing’s final match against Indonesia, their possible outcomes stood as follows: Win and they are matched up against the other Chinese team at the top of the bracket.  Lose and they go to the bottom of the bracket and wouldn’t face the other Chinese team until the gold medal game. So, what did they do? They threw their match in epic fashion. They didn’t even attempt to make it look like they were trying. Just hitting serve after serve into the net and watching every birdie that comes their way fall to the ground. These are professional badminton players (the 2nd best pairing in the world, technically), how hard is it for them to make it look like they are trying? Just hit a few shots long. Drill some long spikes into the net. Whatever! But, alas, the Chinese don’t care about sportsmanship or gamesmanship or Olympic integrity. They care about winning. They care about medals. And that is what makes them awesome. No one wants a friendly rival. We want a villain, and the closer they are to Darth Vader on the evil-villain scale, the better.

Bane: “We both know that I now have to kill you. You'll just have to imagine the fire!”

So here we are, it’s 2012 and as I glance at the current medal count it is US 37, China 34, both with 18 gold. It’s a battle, and a battle that has only just begun.  How can you not get fired up about this?!?! 

Note: As I look back at this post, I notice this:  Was this unabashedly American-centric? Yep, sure was.  Did I unfairly villainize our chief rivals? Probably did.    Do I care? Nope, sure don’t.        

The International Olympic Committee states that the Olympics are about individual and team excellence supported by your home country, not about international bragging rights.  Well, IOC, I happen to disagree.



Editor’s note: As usual, all facts were gathered from Wikipedia which, as we all know, is always correct.