Saturday, August 16

Olympic notes

About a week into the Olympics, I realized that maybe I should have been watching the Games more than I have been thus far. It's a treat to watch people compete at such a high level, both in sports I'm familiar with and ones that I see at most every four years.

A word on my rooting interests. I know how fashionable it is in the modern world to bash the United States, given our prominent status in the world and foreign perception of many of international policies. Even among Americans, I feel like there isn't as much pride in the USA as there was when I was younger. Well, throw all that out the window when it comes to the Olympics. I want the USA to dominate everything. I want us to win 500 gold medals and send everyone else home disappointed (China is technically already home, but I want to topple them, too). I like winning. This is my country, and my athletes, and it's always exciting to see the red, white, and blue kick some Olympic ass.

That having been said, it's not the end of the world if we lose the overall medal count to the Chinese, who seem far more preoccupied with that than we are. This is especially true because of all the events we're not expected to even contend in because Americans don't really care about them. Like, who gives a fuck if we don't win in badminton or ping-pong ("All of my heroes are Table Tennis players" - Dwight Schrute)? Equestrian? Shooting? Weightlifting? I want us to win, of course, but any medals we get in these events are icing on the Olympic cake. Much more relevant is how we do in basketball, swimming, track, and gymnastics, the marquee events that Americans actually participate in during non-barbecue settings. And handball, can't forget handball.

I used to think the Winter Olympics' biathlon was weird; cross-country skiing and rifle shooting is an odd enough combo that Jerry Seinfeld saw fit to make fun of it in one of his routines. But now I've heard of the Modern Pentathlon. The events are epee fencing, pistol shooting, 200m freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping (?), and a 3 km cross-country run. Who has that sort of skill set? Why not add ping-pong and canoeing to it and make it a septathlon (heptathlon?)? Do you ride the horse in your running gear? Shoot in your swimsuit? Can you shoot your fencing opponent? This event raises far more questions than answers.

I kinda like the martial arts events like Judo and Taekwondo (I still hate boxing), even though I find myself consistently stumped by the scoring systems.

I gotta get me one of those bicycles with the solid wheels. I think it's only that, and a general lack of cycling skill, holding me back from Olympic bike glory.

One thing the Summer Games lacks that the Winter Games has is something as goofy, compelling, and thoroughly unathletic as Curling. I never tire of Olympic Ice Shuffleboard.

I've always enjoyed watching the Diving events, even though I generally disdain any event decided entirely by judges' scoring. Now that I think about it, that only includes diving, synchronized swimming (the most easily mockable event on the Games' roster), gymnastics, horse stuff (who cares?), and boxing (sometimes). Still, I'll make an exception for diving because of how amazing those people are. I wouldn't even want to jump off a 10m board, let alone flip and twist myself around frantically. I can do a few modest dives off a 1m and 3m springboard, but the guts and talent these people have amaze me. Or maybe I just like Speedoes, who the hell knows.

That having been said in praise of diving, it's too bad they don't have a belly-smacker competition, in which case my friend Todd from high school would be representing the United States in Beijing. They could also have an event like a game I developed called "Injure Yourself" where one runs full speed into the water, leaps, and tries to pack as many flips and twists in before hitting the water and awkwardly as possible. I would be a force to reckon with in this event. And, of course, the Pool Chair Toss, which HS friend Jason would lose at because he can never clear the rope. I'm going to start lobbying for the Andy Francis Silly Pool Games Triathlon for the 2016 Games.

Did you know that the battery of Track and Field events is officially called "Athletics"? Seems a bit generic to me. For my money, the 100m dash is the Olympics' signature event. Too bad our boy Tyson Gay didn't make it, but at least we get to see a guy aptly and improbably named "Bolt," who broke the WR in qualifying.

I'm surprised at how good we are at Fencing, because: Fencing?

Admit it: you can't watch Olympic Weightlifting without thinking about the Russian guy pulling his arms off while participating in the All-Drug Olympics ("some sort of fish paralyzer") on Saturday Night Live. That's gotta be disappointing!

I'm excited to see the Triathlon event as well, now that I'm kinda into doing those events myself. I executed an Olympic-distance race around Cleveland today, which took roughly 17 hours (not really) and made me salty (really), and I'm looking forward to see how actual athletes run it.

I can't believe I haven't busted out my copy of Track and Field II yet. That's a really fun game. The running and swimming events are kind of stupid - they hinge entirely on how fast you can press buttons repeatedly and you can pretty much only win with a paddle that has Turbo. But some of the other events are super-cool; I particularly liked the kayak event and the clay pigeon shooting contest.

I like listening to the broadcasters announce these games that they may not entirely be familiar with. Translating some of these sports for Americans who aren't accustomed to them isn't easy. On the other hand, that takes some of the pressure off - if these Rowing announcers I'm watching just straight make things up, it's not like I'm going to know any better.

Big, big ups to Abhinav Bindra of India for claiming his nation's first Olympic individual gold medal (in 10m air pistol, which sounds vaguely like shooting BB guns). I offer these congratulations with total sincerity - I'm always happy to see athletic teams and their fans break through.

Of the three athletes booted out of Beijing for doping, one of them was a shooter from North Korea. Why would you use PED's for shooting? Did he take a Xanax to relax or something? I'm not sure I want to know.

JHH claims here on the site that "baseball, soccer, and a number of other events (some involving horses) have no business in the Olympics" and I don't see the justification for such a statement. No, the Olmypics will never be the highest-prestige event in baseball or soccer (nor tennis for that matter), but these are games with broad worldwide appeal and participation (less so baseball, which may explain why it will not be an event in 2012). But hell, as long as we're going to have ping-pong, field hockey, sailing, and whatever other arbitrary events, I see no reason not to include these more popular team games as well. I suppose the argument could be made that basebal isn't well-suited to a tournament format, which I can buy into. Good to see Tribe farmhands Nick Weglarz and Matt LaPorta contributing to the Canadian and US teams, respectively.

There's very little I can add to the Michael Phelps story at these Olympics that hasn't already been said. I would like to point out that it's one thing to be the best in the world at all these swimming events and put in all the training (including the always-comical breaststroke), but it's another thing to get out there and execute in the medal races every single time. The focus this guy has is unreal. He hasn't just won these events - he (and his teammates) have claimed six world records and an olympic record in seven events. Ridiculous.

If Phelps was his own country, he'd be 4th in the world in total gold medals. Here I'd like to point out how the medal opportunities are a bit imbalanced. Yes, a once-in-a-lifetime swimmer can win eight golds at a single Games, but no matter how good you ever get at basketbal, you're never going to get more than one medal every four years. How come there's no basketball 1-on-1 tournament? 3-point shootout? Sprite Skills Competition? I want LeBron to get eight gold medals too.

Speaking of basketball, now that we actually have lost some world competitions, I really enjoy watching Team USA beat the stuffing out of whoever we play on the hardwood. This is our game, damnit, and we're better than you at it. I feel like a Canadian rooting for Team Canada in hockey, or a citizen of [pick any country in the world except the US] pulling for his nation's soccer club. I want this gold medal!

I just saw LeBron, playing for the USA Olympic team, make a beautiful assist to...yep...Carlos Boozer. That Carlos Boozer. It was weird to see, Boozer pointing to LeBron in acknowledgement, LeBron hopefully thinking what a cheap loozer Carlos is and how he sold the Cavs right down the river. USA! USA!


JHH said...

Nice Olympics post. Maybe I'll muster one of these before they put the torch out.

I still think large sports like soccer shouldn't be in the Olympics. If the team who wins a gold medal is less important than some other tournament then what is the point? It kind of cheapens the Olympics. Games like basketball had no country on country equivalent at such a high level, so I’m cool with it. Baseball doesn’t have enough world wide appeal and if you can’t get the world’s best athletes to participate then there is no point.

Table tennis and the like don't have a stage as big as the Olympics and so they deserve their time in the spot light that only the Olympics can provide them. I love the idea of a semi-pro athlete working really hard at a niche game to compete at the Olympic level.

As for as horse based events I find it hard to put so much reliance on a non-human participant.

Andy said...

Now these are reasonble arguments. Ping-pong bothers me because of how non-athletic it is, but other sports are too. B-ball has a World Championship. Baseball will be dropped. Horse stuff is silly.