Monday, August 13

Andy's Olympic Games Recap

Bill Simmons (whose coverage of the Games was outstanding, with wit and insight) made a good point about the Summer Olympics from the perspective of the United States fan: it delivers very consistently. Every four years we win a ton of medals, learn about a crop of new heroes, and generally have a good time of it. Pretty much every event has an American somewhere in the finals, so we have a vested interest in basically every event. It's great fun, every single time. Granted, we don't ever experience an underdog breakthrough like Great Britain did this year, but we don't have huge disappointments like...Great Britain most years. The 2012 edition was no exception (the US led the medal count with 46 gold medals and 104 total medals), and I'll take it. Here now are some unorganized thoughts about the Games of the 30th Olympiad.

I've really enjoyed telling people about the Modern Pentahlon, mostly to see the reactions when I explain to them exactly what it is. In case you were wondering, it's pistol shooting, epeé fencing, a 200m freestyle swim, a 3 km cross-country run, and equestrian show jumping. No, really, look it up.

The closeness of so many of the races amazes me. I saw a rowing heat decided by two thousandths of a second. But that's a short race; consider the gold and silver medal winners of the women's triathlon, both of whom finished in 1:59:48, requiring a photo finish. Imagine, after two hours of giving everything you have in an endurance race, to win or lose by sticking out your chest a bit farther.

For whatever reason, television coverage of the Olympics turns a lot of people into savagely cynical media critics. We hate the six-hour tape delay! The coverage is too United States-focused! Too many human-interest stories! Whatever. Chill out. Every time I tuned in, I saw Olympic sports and enjoyed them. I'm not sure why this has to be so complicated and inspire such negativity.

As usual, The Onion offered the best refutation of the time-delay situation, with the classic headline NBC: 'Sorry We Didn't Alter The Laws Of Space And Time To Accommodate People's Schedules'.

As for the whole USA-centric thing, which people mindlessly complain about pretty much every Olympics, let's think about this for a minute. NBC is a United States-based network. Most of the people who watch the Olympics on NBC live in the United States. The United States won easily more medals than any other nation and is pretty much routinely in the final of every event. Why on Earth wouldn't NBC feature American athletes and stories? What have I missed here? You make sure to show the medal events and races whenever possible, and when those aren't on, it seems eminiently logical to focus on the USA's representatives. Frankly, I think most people who complain about television coverage of the Olympics are just looking for something to complain about.

I read an article in the New York Times where a few writers opined about what Olympic events should be eliminated, and I thought they had a lot of good points. The contributors proposed dropping boxing (corrupt judges), synchronized swimming (because it's synchronized swimming), sailing (because rich white people do it), swimming (cut from a bloated 34 races down to 18), and tennis/basketball/soccer (not the pinnacle of their sport). I didn't always agree with the reasoning - it's not necessary to use class warfare to see that sailing is a dumb event, and boxing is awful even when judges have integrity, but I mostly agreed with the removals. I suppose in the end I'd keep tennis, basketball, and soccer, but when I watched I did prefer seeing the Olympic events that I don't usually see very often outside of the Games.


Usain Bolt is fast. I thought you should know that. In fact, a lot of people from the Caribbean appear to be rather swift, evidence by Jamaica cleaning everyone's clock in the men's 4x100 relay and Bahamas claiming gold in the 4x400 (the American women crushed the field in both relays). Every time I watch the Athletics events, especially the sprints, I wonder why Track and Field aren't more popular, but I suppose that will continue to be the way it is. They're thrilling events - all that buildup for a mad dash to the finish line that lasts less than a minute produces a heightened level of excitement that a typical three-hour sports contest can't sustain.

I read another article on ESPN that excoriated viewers and sports fans for not caring more about the American women's basketball team winning another gold medal in dominant fashion (it's OK if you didn't know they won again). Look, lady, I'm sorry no one cares about women's basketball..but we don't. We never will. It's not interesting, and there is no average margin of victory by the USA Women's squad that will make it so. Essays criticizing groups for not liking a particular sport or competition are pointlessly Quixotic and invariably annoying in tone, as if you're some kind of bad person for not caring about a sport. I'm glad the American women won, that's great, and I understand how strongly they played throughout the tournament...but that doesn't mean I have any interest in the games. You know the US also had a team with Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Chris Paul, right?

Note that this is different than my musing about track and field's lack of popularity. I'm not saying people should find Athletics more interesting - I pack it up for four years like most other people as well - just expressing some curiosity about why we do this, since on the surface the events seem to make for some compelling sport.

The things I wrote about the Athletic events in terms of excitement and watchability apply more or less equally to Swimming as well, though I think track and field has an advantage in that the sports stars aren't, well, underwater the entire time.

The Badminton intentional-losing controversy disappointed me, and by that I mean the conduct of the Olympic officials disappointed me, not that of the athletes. In case you didn't catch it, some of the women's matches head situations where both teams wanted to lose to set up more favorable draws for themselves and their nations in the medal rounds. These four teams (one South Korean, two Chinese, one Indonesian) were dismissed for "not using one's best efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport."

I say: nonsense. You're there to take home some hardware, and you do what's best for you and your team to get some gold, silver, or bronze. If that means taking a dive in a round-robin game, that's what it means. To me, this problem falls 100% on the shoulders of the people who designed a tournament where such an outcome would be possible. Naturally, those failures go unpunished while the competitors were DQ'd for trying to take the most logical path to a medal. I feel bad for those teams and resentful of the people in charge of badminton.

Despite the two disqualified teams, China went on to win all five badminton gold medals and 8 of the 15 total medals. China is really fantastic at racquet sports that Americans play in basements and at picnics.

I dind't catch much canoeing, but I saw enough that I wanted to break out the NES and play kayaking on Track and Field II. In fact, why haven't I played T&F2 yet?

The men's diving platform final took a long time to get through, but it was responsible for some terrific drama. Hometown favorite Tom Daley of Great Britain looked like he was in a favorable position to win after his final dive, but both Qiu Bo from China and David Boudia of the United States absolutely nailed their final dives to claim silver and gold, respectively. Clutch.

Despite that somewhat disappointing finish, Daley and his mates from the host nation had an outstanding Olympics, collecting 29 golds (3rd overall) and 65 total medals (4th). They won some huge ones too, like tennis, triathlon, heptathlon, rowing, long jump, and men's 5k and 10k. I liked seeing that.

Ashton Eaton of the US is the world's greatest athlete, in case you were wondering, having won the decathlon. Silver went to fellow American Trey Hardee, who was hilarious to watch because of his mid-event celebrations like one comical fist-pump before even reaching the apex of one pole vault jump. I very much enjoyed Hardee's performance and exuberance.

Good times on the soccer pitch, with México claiming their first Olympic gold in the men's tournament (over the ever-annoying Brasilians) and the American women avenging their World Cup final loss with a gold medal victory over their archnemesis, the Japan women's team.

I didn't watch any Gymnastics, sorry. Just not my style. I did, however, get harangued at a bar by a strange random fellow who expressed to me many, many times how appalled he was at a friend who had expressed some sexual interest in one of the gymnasts. I was like, yes, I see what you're saying, that would be an inappropriate thing to say, and he just kept on making his point loudly despite my lack of dissent with his argument. Ugh.

I did watch Trampoline, which made me think three things:
1) Trampolines are fun.
2) This is an Olympic event? Is fort-building one too?
3) I'm surprised none of the competitors have puked yet.

Remember how in the outset how I called this post "strikingly uninformed"? Well, here we're getting to that part, because I really didn't see a ton of the Games, just a few nights out worth. I don't know much about what happened in wrestling, weightlifting, handball, judo, shooting, sailing, field hockey, or table tennis, though admittedly I just looked up the latter of those and my guess was confirmed as China went 4/4 in gold medals. I think it'd be fun to immerse oneself in the Olympic Games sometime, but this year and this blogger wasn't the guy to do it. Still, as always, the Game provided lots of memorable moments.

Also: USA! USA!

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