This is going to be a long one, so I’ve divided it up into different subjects.
On the events themselves:
- Obviously, there really is nothing more that can be said about Michael Phelps. Right now, he’s one of the top 5 greatest Olympic athletes of all time. If he just wins another gold or two in London, especially if he learns to dominate his weakest stroke, the breaststroke as well as he does the other three, he is simply the greatest Olympics athlete ever – better than Lewis, Blair, Thorpe, Nurmi, you name’em. He’s simply better.
- I was really impressed by the way the USA men’s basketball team played and behaved throughout the entire tournament. Finally, probably for the first time since 1996, the team behaved in a the way that they needed to behave as the highest-profile athletes at these games. The USA hoopsters were spotted at all kinds of other events cheering on US teammates. Kobe had to go through all kinds of hoops to watch the soldout men’s soccer matches – which he clearly is really, really into. Like everybody else, I was really taken seeing these millionaires literally bouncing with excitement and glee as the gold medal game wound down and as they received their medals.
- The women’s soccer team deserves enormous credit for overcoming a lot of distractions both self-made (Solo’gate 07) and unprovoked (Wambach’s injury) to grit out a 1-0 win over Brazil and win the gold medal. I felt really good for both Solo and Sundhage who could finally tell their wrong-headed critics to shut up. That women’s program has had to endure a lot of heat, but this win not only showed that the US still has the players to compete with the best of the world, but that US Soccer and the coaching it provided could adapt (by going with Sundhage over another college coach) and change as the sport changes and improves.
- The under reported story of these games is the enormous improvement Britain showed going into London 2012. The country’s stunning medal total came despite serious underachievement in a sport they’re traditionally good at – track and field. If they get good at that (I think the key is to only run races in slow motion) then they could have a very successful games on home turf.
- I hyped up the boxing before the games and was proven entirely wrong by hideous judging and blatant, barely-concealed favoritism to the Chinese fighters. By the end, Bob Papa and Teddy Atlas were just haranguing the organizers with contempt and calling for changes in the sport including the scoring and even including removing the headgear from the fighters.
- Despite the shocking loss to Japan in the final, the Americans’ total domination of softball did little to dispel the legitimate criticism that not enough countries play the sport at a high level. Yes, in a way, the sport as a whole is being punished for the USA’s success at the sport, but that’s why football or Aussie Rules (both great sports) aren’t Olympic sports either.
- Sports that must go – softball (sorry), baseball, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline, and tennis
- Sports that must join the games – skateboarding and rugby sevens
- I think Boswell summed up my general feelings on the games as a whole in better words than I could ever come up with. You never could escape the fact that these games were being played in a totalitarian dictatorship. Of course, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that the IOC rolled over in the wake of Chinese censorship, cheating and human rights abuses. But I think NBC deserves from credit for at least approaching situation with open eyes and reporting on these issues in a very honest manner.
I think we’ll find a far more comfortable atmosphere in two years when Vancouver rolls around. Compared to the 3 hour display of totalitarian gusto we saw in Beijing, the 2010 opening ceremony will probably feature some orca whales, Native Canadian singing, and hopefully, hopefully, Don Cherry giving the Olympic Oath. “In the name of all the competitors, except those fruity figure skaters, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, like Gordie Howe – there was a sportsman, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams, but especially Canada… Because doping and breaking the rules is something the French do. Like diving. Or wearing face shields.”
About the TV coverage:
- The usual complaints apply about the track not getting any live coverage but the fact is that NBC did a great job getting events on live including all of the swimming and all of the other stuff they showed online. It’s not perfect, but NBC is heading in the right direction. Pretty soon, I suspect the only tape delayed stuff will be the gymnastics, diving and other woman-oriented sports where there is less clamoring for live coverage.
- Anytime you are broadcasting that many sports you’re going to have a range of commentary talent levels, from the good to the dreadful. Here’s a quick rundown of my good, bad, and ugly.
- Good: Mike Breen (basketball), Tom Hammond (track), Ato Bolden, who has the best voice of all the broadcasters at these games (track), Paul Sherwin (cycling), JP Dellacamera (soccer), Lori Walker (soccer), Lindsay Czarniak (like I noticed the event…), Bob Papa and Teddy Atlas (boxing)
- Bad: Tim Daggett (gymnastics), Brandi Chastain (soccer), Mary Carillo (features),
- Ugly: Marcelo Balboa (soccer), Kenan Harkin (BMX) who pulled the full “Pepper Brooks” routine during the otherwise really fun event, Cynthia Potter (diving), and NBC interrupting some soccer matches with commercial breaks. Is this 1991?