Sunday, August 24, 2008

Last Random Olympic Thoughts

You can have all the debates in the world about the politics surrounding the Olympics - the entire event is a walking, talking contradiction in terms - but in the end, it all boils down to the fortnight being the greatest manifestation of "the human drama of athletic competition." It's also one of the world's most fascinating melting pots - in some ways, the history of the Olympics is a microcosm of the history of the world itself. Through the results of events, you can trace the history of communism, the growth of new world powers, and the ups and downs of the United States and other countries, and if you look real hard you can even find some tidbits about social history and the mores of the day.

But enough "deep thinking." Now's the time to note some personal highlights of the games.

- Bryan Clay winning the decathlon. It's a measure of how far track & field has fallen out of the national consciousness that Clay not only is not the hero of these games, but also is relatively unknown. The decathlon has always been the gold standard of track & field - and Clay, who seems as unassuming as one can possibly be, can now proudly stand in a line of American heroes - including Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, and Bruce Jenner - who can justifiably make a claim of being "the world's greatest athlete." I look forward to seeing him on the Wheaties box.

- The Redeem Team. Say what you will (and I have, at various times) about the arrogance and hubris of American basketball stars, but you have to give them credit where credit is due. For the past three years, an extraordinary group of players has set aside the arrogance and the hubris in pursuit of a higher goal, and against a healthy set of odds was able to return American basketball to the prominence that it enjoyed for decades. It helped that it was among the few events that people living on the West Coast were able to view as it was happening, but the gold medal game was an absolute classic - one of the great basketball games in recent memory.

- Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. Grace and beauty under immense pressure, not to mention having to overcome a scoring system and set of judges that seemed to have been forged in the depths of hell.

- Usain Bolt. Yeah, the showboating was a little over the top, but this really was a performance for the ages. We're talking Bob Beamon amazing.

- Jason Lezak. The unsung hero behind the record-setting performance of Michael Phelps. Perhaps the most amazing single swim in the history of the Olympics.

- Michael Phelps. It's hard to find the words to describe the enormity of the achievement.

- Sanya Richards' anchor leg in the 4 x 400 relay, and the overall performance of both 4 x 400 relay teams.

- Volleyball. From the beach to the indoors, the teams were transcendent, even if I remain a bit skeptical about the beach version.

I'm probably forgetting something. But that seems like a decent list. I also enjoyed Tom Hammond & Ato Boldon covering track, and Mike Breen & Doug Collins & Anne Meyers covering basketball. The enthusiasm of Rowdy Gaines was infectious, and the professionalism of Bob Costas and Dan Hicks was, as always, impressive.

And of course, there was also the usual array of spectacularly unsportsmanlike moments, like the guy walking off the medal stand without his medal, and the taekwando dude kicking the referee in the face, and the usual doping disqualifications. But that's the gotta take the bitter with the sweet.

As always, I'm sorry it's over.

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