Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Beijing Olympics - Where 13 Is The New 16

Okay, first of all…when did Bob Costas start imitating Johnny Carson? Is it the late night programming or what? If it weren’t for the mysterious absence of ANY gray hair (can you say “Just For Men”?), you would think it was JC, not BC, up there doing scripted monologues and interviewing people on couches. Where’s Ed McMahon when you need him? I hear he could probably use the work. “Heeeere’s Bobby!”

I really do like The Games though, even if I have to reconcile some serious issues with the host country, Al Trautwig, and the IOC in an effort to truly appreciate the athletes. Part of me just can’t help but be skeptical of a few performances but for the most part, the Olympics provide an opportunity to see the best of the best - often competing in events that hardly anyone will care about for another 3 years and 60 some-odd days. “Hello Badminton, my name is Field Hockey. Have you met Synchronized Diving? Didn’t think so.”

In cycling news, our often marginalized sport (but still better than Archery) did its best to distinguish itself by providing the first positive doping test of the Games. Which was nice. Way to go Spain - between this and the Basketball photos (seriously…?), you’re really the life of the party. It’s only the Olympics – no one’s watching anyway. Except, of course, many of the people who would rather see Checkers or some other weak “sport” replace anything with two wheels. See: WADA. Sweet timing.

The most interesting part about this doping story is that Moreno bugged out prior to the race and never even made the start, blaming her withdrawal on an “anxiety attack” after being tested on the first day of her arrival in Beijing. Yeah, I’d probably be a little anxious too – especially if I knew I was cheating and had a good chance of getting popped in both pre and post-race tests. Perhaps it could have been called an “anxiety/conscience attack.” That voice in your head can get pretty loud sometimes. Too bad she didn’t listen to it earlier.

In other news, the Men’s Road Race looked pretty rough from the 10 minutes of footage I was fortunate enough to catch over the course of about 17 hours of programming. I really liked how they showed the first clip of the start at like 9:30 in the morning, had three or four 60 second clips between then and noon, and then showed a whole 6 minutes of the finale at 11:00 at night. That was rad. Okay, it may not have been that strung out, but I do have a completely used 6-hour tape that supposedly has the race on it – I just can’t seem to find it amid the excitement of Beach Volleyball, Knitting and Toad Licking or some other crap. Thanks NBC – now I hate peacocks.

Anyway, the race played out as most people thought it would, with the field gradually succumbing to the course and conditions, thus allowing the big names to fight for the medals. Andy Schleck appeared to be the strongest on the day but was completely marked by Slammin Sammy Sanchez and Davide Rebellin. Everyone thought that there would be an Italian and a Spaniard fighting for the win but most eyes were on Bettini and Valverde, thus giving their less notorious teammates a chance at Gold. The best move of the day was certainly the effort of Fabulous Cancellara, who rode everyone in the chase group off his wheel, bridged up past Rogers and Kolobnev to the leaders and then grabbed the bronze ahead of a fading Schleck.

If it weren’t for the bronze medal that The Mayor of Santa Rosa brought back to the Golden State from the TT, I may have had to comment on the footage of Levi seemingly marking Fab-Can’s move and then looking around and sitting up. Oh wait, I guess I just did. Now…it would be rather foolish to suggest that anyone in the world could have gone with The Swiss Cheese at that point but man…it would have been nice if LL Cool Heimer could have held that wheel and been able to contest the final climb with the leaders. Oh well…11th in the RR and Bronze in the TT has to be regarded as a great week.

So…to the surprise of virtually no one, Nicole Cooke and a Spanish guy won the Road Race while Cancellara and Kristin Armstrong took Gold in the Time Trial. I think we saw those results coming. It’s pretty cool that AAA Armstrong has her own Cervelo commercial though. I can’t recall many female cyclists getting that kind of publicity – and she certainly deserves it. Amazingly, her result was the first Road Gold (not to be confused with Rold Gold – “These pretzels are making me thirsty!”) medal for the U.S. since 1984. Wow. Would it be too early to start putting Armstrong near the top of the list for U.S. women all time? Actually, the World Championship already did that so I guess we’re probably already past that point. Super nice lady too – way to go KA.

Speaking of famous female cyclists (Connie is still Numero Uno for those who don’t know), The Phinney Family logged some good airtime as Taylor slugged it out on the track in the newly renamed Bradley Wiggins Pursuit and Davis continued to inspire all Parkinson’s sufferers. I vividly remember DP telling me that he was trying to convince Mini-Phinney to race the Pursuit a little over a year ago and that he had an outside chance at the Olympics. I didn’t think too much of it at the time but in retrospect, I am amazed at how it has all unfolded and the wisdom of Davis’ prediction. Understanding that NBC was going to broadcast the event sometime on Saturday, I happily watched the Points Race on the USA network and was momentarily thankful that multiple cycling events were going to be on TV that day. Nice.

This brief state of pleasure was subsequently shattered upon flipping back to NBC and realizing that I had missed the beginning of the Pursuit coverage because it was being broadcast at THE SAME TIME as the Points Race. Then my head exploded as I tried to come to grips with the fact that the Donkeys in charge of Olympic programming had decided to basically screw those of us who actually thought we were going to be able to watch all of the events without the need for multiple television sets.

Honestly, have they done that with ANY other sports so far? I don’t recall having seen gymnastics or swimming literally competing for viewers on multiple channels at the same time. They couldn’t have staggered the airtime by 30 minutes so we could watch both? Really? Everything is tape-delayed anyway – so what was the problem? There has been some seriously heinous stuff going on at The Games but for me…the programming has been the most problematic by far. Well…maybe not by far.

Every time I start to get excited about watching an event, they inevitably cut to something that I could not possibly care less about. I am still recovering from the small brain hemorrhage I suffered the other night as they repeatedly tempted me with the possibility of 400m coverage and then force-fed me an hour of diving and gymnastics as an unwanted appetizer.

Thankfully, I did get to see my peeps Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt cruise to ridiculously easy 44’s in their 400 meter qualifiers and then reflected on some good memories of not running nearly that fast back in my School Days. Sadly though, I also watched Sanya Richards basically choke on her “accessories” in the Women’s Final, and get third in a disturbingly slow race. Honestly, did anyone else take issue with the amount of crap she had on during that race? The ridiculous arm warmers (style is not THAT important), the absolutely incomprehensible leg warmers (which were comically bagged up around her ankles as she flailed down the final straight), not to mention the 5 pound engagement ring from her NFL fiancée and half-dozen earrings and necklaces? Not to be too critical but…I ran those times as an 8th grader. But then again, all I had on was a track kit and not the entire contents of my Mom’s jewelry box.

I’ve always wondered about the jewelry/accessories thing in cycling as well. How many dudes will drill holes in their derailleur cages and then wear a huge watch or necklace while they race. Huh? Am I missing something here? I know that there is a weight limit for the bikes but don’t the pounds you carry on your body have something to do with the end result as well?

Anyway…Here are some final thoughts on the Olympics so far:

- How frustrating must it have been as an American swimmer this year? “Hey, you just won an Olympic medal so…what’s it like to see Michael Phelps win eight gold ones?” or “Good job setting that World Record in the relay…what would you have felt like if you had lost the gold medal for Michael Phelps?” or “Congratulations on being one of the best swimmers in the world…can you get me Michael Phelps’ autograph since he is so much better than you?”

Honestly, I couldn’t believe how dismissive many of the interviews were toward the other swimmers. Especially the relays - where they would have all four guys standing there after the race answering questions about Michael Phelps. I felt bad for the other guys but I also felt bad for Phelps. Somehow I think he’ll come out of it okay (the $100 million earnings projection will help) but it’s got to be difficult being on a “team” when the focus is so squarely on one person. But until he wins gold by swimming all four legs of the relay – let’s maintain some appreciation for the other athletes okay?

- Usain Bolt is a scary guy. He’s 6’5” and has a beautifully athletic running style but I am very nervous about him. Well, I should actually say that I am nervous about almost all Caribbean sprinters as they dance away with an overwhelming majority of the speed-related hardware – with nary an off-season drug test to disrupt their preparation or celebration.

But Bolt in particular is terrifying. The ease with which he mocked the 100m World Record was eerily reminiscent of a young Italian athlete who did some shocking things in the Tour de France a month or so ago. What was his name again…Ricky something? Anyway, the Lightning Bolt then proceeded to crush the 200meter World Record and immediately occupied a place atop my “I don’t know about this guy” list by dethroning my main man Michael Johnson in the record book and displacing Carl Lewis as the most recent 100 and 200 winner. Sorry man, I hope you’re clean but you just punked two of my favorite athletes of all time so…let’s just say my curiosity has been piqued.

Plus – the showboating and post-race foolishness (seriously, who poses like that? Tyra?), combined with an apparent total lack of humility or respect for any other athletes (past or present) has been a bit difficult to tolerate and has not exactly endeared the young man to my particular tastes. Or Jacques Rogge’s for that matter. When the notoriously lenient IOC Chief starts dissing you in public – perhaps you’ve stretched the boundaries of sportsmanship a little too far.

Maybe the wounds inflicted by the Ricco Show at the Tour are still too fresh, but anytime someone makes it look too easy and is exceedingly arrogant in doing so (like they KNOW that they have an extra advantage), I can’t help but get suspicious. Unless, of course, the athlete is named Michael Phelps and is incapable of human error - as the U.S. media would seemingly have us believe. At least he was respectful of Mark Spitz and the other swimmers though. Ugh…I don’t know anymore.

Anyway, as the shocking paperwork declaring all of the Chinese gymnasts over 16 years of age seems to indicate…perhaps not all is as it seems at these Olympic Games. Oh…you think so Doctor? Whatever, I’m off to go put on some Marley and crack open a Red Stripe in honor of the fastest country in the world. Let the chips – medals and World Records – fall where they may.

13 comments:

Absolute Goose said...

It could be a dead heat of performance enhancers between the ever 21 year old Costas and Usain Bolt.

Gotta say, if it looks too good to be true, well we know how David Millar would finish that....

I wonder five or six years from now if there will be a Marion Jones pleading at the gates of prison press confernce for Bolt. I hope not.

Sebastian said...

Geez, I hope Bolt is on the level, and ditto for Phelps. I also hope that they're both religious weirdos who can't parlay their many many many gold medals into tons of booty when they get home. Ha.

Indeed, speaking of famous female cyclists . . . your old favorite Jeannie Longo came within 1.75 seconds of a bronze medal in the time trial; though I'm not sure whether to read this result as good news for her or bad news for women's cycling in general.

I'm glad that the Olympics come only once every four years, because each time I almost lose several friends over those stupid arguments about what constitutes a "real sport." "Cycling? That's not a sport, I can do that." Yeah, and after six hours of doing it, you'd die.

Andi said...

i agree with the phelps thing. sure- what he did was great, but what the other guys did was great too. i hated that no one gave them any part of the spotlight, other than what they did to help phelps win 8.

and yes, coverage of the olympics was terribly done.

Sebastian said...

for the record -- another really enjoyable take on the second half of the games:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/09/01/080901fa_fact_lane

give it a rest said...

So anyone who wins anything and is not American must be on drugs... this line is trotted out so often it makes me sick. Michael Johnson made his golds look easy and was arrogant in doing so too, remember him watching himself on the big screen as he won the 200 in Sydney? Armstrong beat everyone way too easily in his Tour wins too, so he must've been on drugs. Oh wait, he was. And what about Phelps? Why isn't he under scrutiny, 8 golds and how many world records? But he's American so it must be talent and hard work, everyone else is a cheat. Get real.

give it a rest said...

It was the 400... and if I remember corerectly, the US 4x100 team was widely criticised for their over the top posing after winning in Sydney. Maybe you should read this too...

http://www.nowpublic.com/sports/us-relay-team-stripped-sydney-gold-medal

give it a rest said...

here you go....
http://www.smh.com.au/ffximage/2004/07/14/2000olympics3_gallery__550x398,1.jpg

http://www.cbc.ca/gfx/images/sports/photos/2008/05/05/history-relay-drummond.jpg

Anonymous said...

try this drummond sydney 2000
relay team showboating

Anonymous said...

Your "hero" was a cheat.

CaliRado Cyclist said...

Good job random angry anonymous person - looks like you did some solid research for your tirade on my blog that I wrote over a week ago. Much appreciated.

Although I fear that perhaps this anger briefly clouded some critical reading comprehension skills...because I'm not confident that we are referencing the same content.

For example:
"So anyone who wins anything and is not American must be on drugs... this line is trotted out so often it makes me sick."

WOW. Yeah, that line is pretty bad. I guess it's a good thing that I NEVER WROTE THAT or even insinuated it at all. Sorry it makes you sick though...

The funniest thing about this "comment" is that the mention of people who have won and are then later found guilty of cheating is a good indication that my skepticism has legitimate historical merit. Thanks for proving my point that we cannot take performances like this with unguarded optimism anymore. Regardless of what flag they represent.

For reference, my concerns were based on the apparent lack of off-season testing done in Carribean countries and their subsequent domination of the speed events in Beijing. If Victor Conte (of BALCO infamy)is skeptical enough to warn WADA...you probably should be too.

Google "Victor Conte + Jamaica" for some more research opportunites and perhaps some clarity on the basis of this statement.

Just out of curiousity, was the sarcasm of my Phelps comments that hard to understand? Or the fact that I explicitly mention the media coverage of his performance as being significantly less than objective? Again, I thought I had made that point already but thanks for confirming it.

Finally, where did the LA shot come from? I don't recall that being a relevant topic in this discussion.

Again, are we referencing the same post here or did this blog just happen to be the victim of much deeper resentment?

Whatever the motivation for this behavior, thanks for reading (at least a few things) and again, it's too bad that the false assumptions inferred from this post made you sick.

Peace.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough... sorry if I cam across a little angry, it was more a shot at the general comments I read on the net from bloggers/forum users who always infer that anyone who wins anything is a cheat... unless they are Lance or Phelps etc. As for the media coverage of Phelps, yeah it was ridiculous that other athletes got asked about him. But no-one has suggested that he could be a drug cheat, just 'the greatest Olympian ever'... he wins 8 gold and is a freak, Bolts wins 3 and is a cheat. Anyway, I enjoy your blog, peace to you too.

CaliRado Cyclist said...

Word.

Thanks for the comments. I fear my response was a bit more defensive than it could/should have been.

I've been thinking of the inherent hypocrisy involved with "Olympic Pride" though and admit that I am guilty of being a Home-er. Especially when it comes to the track.

All National Anthem singing aside, Carl Lewis was a huge inspiration for me as a young sprinter. Then Michael Johnson came along and made the 400m cool - something that my post-race infield vomiting never really seemed to accomplish.

I know there was a bit of glamour involved with both guys but they always seemed pretty respectful - if not overly humble.

I had lunch (sort of...) with Michael Johnson at the Village in Corte Madera a few years ago and he seemed like a nice guy. Ordered a chicken wrap if I'm not mistaken. No gold shoes though.

I have also been considering the psychological repercussions of being a skeptical sports fan. Sadly, I am guilty of this as well.

It's totally unfair - to both the athletes and the fans - but followers of cycling are likely a more pessimistic lot when it comes to "legendary" performances. We have been conditioned to question virtually all efforts but especially those which we were not expecting.

And it's safe to say that I was not anticipating Bolt's domination.

Especially considering that the only thing I really knew about him or his training regimen was that he ate Chicken McNuggets for basically every meal in Beijing.

Maybe it's all the steroids that they inject those poor McNugget Eggs with...

Anyway, being a sports fan kind of forces you to make emotional judgments based on really important things such as the name written on the front of the jersey. Logic and Fairness rarely enter in the process.

On the Phelps thing though - it's not as if swimming has been free of doping scandals. Therefore it is interesting to see the lack of skepticism with regard to Phelps.

I'm curious what the coverage of his performance was like in other countries. Did he get the "Chinese Gymnast Treatment" from anyone?

Alright - well, thanks for the comments and thanks for reading.

I really do appreciate critical commentary and look forward to disagreeing in the future. It's allgood.

Peace.

brettok said...

All good indeed. This was the first post of your blog I'd really read, and after reading other posts, I can appreciate more where you were coming from with your Phelps comments. You write well, and have a sharp wit and style. Much better than my style, I must say. You were just unlucky that I stumbled upon the post after being subjected to others' parochial chest-beating and non-USA-athlete doubting. I agree with all the points you made in your replies, and I see we are pretty much on the same page. And I was chicken shit for not putting my ID on the comments too, but if you like, maybe you can check out my humble blog. Cheers and peace!