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A World Record Embarrassment

Usain Bolt Wins the 100-Meter Final in Beijing

Photo: Matt Dunham/Associated Press

I had just finished watching Michael Phelps make history by winning his record eighth gold medal of these Olympics. It was a moment that gave me and millions of people around the world goosebumps. It was a moment that I will be able to tell my kids about years from now. Phelps was part of the 4×100-meter medley relay team, which was anchored by Jason Lezak. Lezak was able to hold off Australian Eamon Sullivan as the two swam hard right to the finish, right to the finish. It was an awesome race – one that embodied all that is good about the Olympics. I found myself briefly reflecting on how superb these Games have been so far.

Up next on the NBC broadcast was the much-anticipated 100-meter final. It was tape-delayed, and though I tried to avoid hearing who won, I found out earlier in the day that it was the Jamaican Usain Bolt. NBC showed an interview with Bolt, and he seemed like a humble enough guy, proud to be representing his country in Beijing.

After the gun sounded, Bolt surged out to an early lead, and within a few seconds it was clear that he was going to win, and probably set a new world record. What I saw next was shocking. When Bolt realized he had a big lead, he put his hands out, and then pounded his chest, while slowing down deliberately before crossing the finish line.

Bolt won the gold and broke his own world record, clocking in at 9.69 seconds. But it was a total sham – an embarassment to the sport and to the Olympics. I was furious that this chest-thumping showboater was going to be all over the news in the coming days, reaffirmed as “the fastest man in the world.” I could think of something else to call him. A friend of mine said to the television in disgust, “All that is asked of you, Usain Bolt, is about 9.7 seconds of effort.” Bolt disrespected his country and his competitors, two of whom were fellow Jamaicans. I hope the sports media and the blogosphere tear him apart, and I hope this selfish act turns out to be just an isolated occurrence in what has otherwise been the best Olympics in recent memory.

August 16, 2008   4 Comments

Top Five Summer Olympic Sports That Don’t Belong

Roger Federer at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

Have you ever turned on Olympics coverage and thought to yourself, “What the hell is that sport doing in the Olympics?” I certainly have, but before I unveil the list, here are my general requirements for a sport to be in the Games:

  • Winning a medal should be a pinnacle of achievement in the sport. It doesn’t have to be the number one achievement, but it sure better mean something to most of the athletes competing and the countries involved. If the athletes don’t care, and the countries don’t care, then the people watching won’t care either. What do I mean? Quick – name a few tennis players that have won gold.
  • The word “synchronized” cannot appear in the name. Sorry, I just don’t see how synchronization “sports” exemplify the spirit of athletic competition. I’m not saying that it doesn’t take skill, I’m just questioning the legitimacy of these events as sports to be displayed on the world stage.
  • The sport needs to have a strong Olympic tradition. I am biased against letting new sports into the Olympics under most circumstances. If there’s no history, then Olympic success often isn’t a big deal to the athletes.

So without further ado, the list!

  1. Synchronized Swimming. Impressive, artistic, beautiful to watch. But an Olympic sport? I don’t think so.
  2. Synchronized Diving. Again, it violates the second rule. If you’re a world-class diver shouldn’t you be competing in the regular diving competitions?
  3. BMX Bicycling. When did this sneak in there? Keep the extreme sports in the X-Games.
  4. Baseball. No Olympic tradition, and nobody in the U.S. is watching. Maybe the athletes do care because a lot of these guys probably won’t make the majors, but if the U.S. wins a gold medal in baseball it’ll be a footnote in the sport. It probably won’t even be as big of a deal as winning the uninspiring World Baseball Classic. Not to worry, baseball is out in 2012.
  5. Tennis. Roger Federer has won 12 Grand Slam events in his career and might be the best tennis player ever. But years from now, nobody will remember if he won Olympic gold.

Sports that you might think should be on the list but aren’t:

  • Beach Volleyball. Yeah so they’re not actually at the beach. It has no Olympic tradition. And it just doesn’t seem right. But the athletes play hard and it is damn fun to watch.
  • Men’s Basketball. Until recently, most of the best U.S. players didn’t even want to play. Winning a gold medal isn’t nearly as important to the players as winning an NBA championship. But it’s not all about the U.S. It’s a huge deal to almost every player in every other country. Just ask Yao Ming.
  • Softball. Ok, no tradition, and it should be on the list because baseball is there. But softball is different. There isn’t a strong professional league for softball, so there’s no World Series or World Baseball Classic equivalent. It is a big deal to the players.

August 15, 2008   5 Comments

The Best Sporting Event (to Watch)

Recently I had a discussion with friends about which sporting event is the best to watch. First, let’s define a sporting event. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll define it as any game, match, contest, or series of games, matches, or contests, which can be referred to collectively and which occur over a time span of at most two months. So one possible “sporting event” could be the Super Bowl, or it could be the NBA playoffs – both would qualify under my definition. I’m also writing this from mostly an American perspective so the FIFA World Cup, for example, doesn’t make the cut (although that is one hell of an event and rivals my #1 and #2 choices in some aspects). Maybe if the U.S. started having better results in soccer it would be a different story.

With that said, here is my list of the best sporting events to watch:

  1. The Olympics. Summer, then Winter. The key to having a great sporting event is drama. There’s just something incredibly dramatic about watching the best athletes playing for their country on the world stage. I’m talking about when some athlete you’ve never heard of before from some country you’ve never heard of before, wins a medal and proceeds to cry his or her eyes out. And this is something that happens almost every day in the Olympics for 3-4 weeks. Even watching USA Basketball obliterate their opponents is something to see, but even more so is watching some country that has no business beating the USA in basketball play like it’s the last thing they’ll ever do. I put the Summer Olympics first because there just seems to be more of a mystique about the summer events (with the exception of hockey in the Winter Olympics). Also, the fact that the Olympics happens only every four years puts more pressure on the athletes and makes for more drama.

  2. The NCAA Basketball Tournament. The next best thing to watching athletes play for their country is watching them play for their college, especially if it’s some podunkt college you’ve never heard of. In the tourney, there’s always a Cinderella, and there’s always a powerhouse team that loses to Cinderella. Also the television coverage is usually fantastic. There are no fancy camera angles, no gimmicks, no silliness – the next game begins just before the previous one ends so it’s nonstop basketball from the start of the broadcast to the finish.

  3. MLB Playoffs. Baseball is the National pasttime, period. There is such a great history and tradition in baseball, and history and tradition creates drama. The 2004 ALCS between the Red Sox and the Yankees might have been the greatest thing I have ever seen in sports because no team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit and the Red Sox had never beaten the Yankees in a big game and the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918. That kind of statement doesn’t make sense in any other sport because the other major sports aren’t that old, or they were played totally differently in their early stages. With the exception of steroid usage, baseball is the same sport as it ever was and the statistics and records are applicable going back 100 years.

  4. NFL Playoffs. The NFL Playoffs beats out the NBA/NHL because succeeding seems like so much more of a struggle due to the violence of the sport. Watching a dog-tired running back fighting for a few more inches to get to the first down marker as the 4th quarter winds down is some serious drama. The Super Bowl is sort of lumped in here, but I would not count the Super Bowl itself as a great event. It has just become too much of a spectacle, and there’s too many people that watch the game who don’t care, which takes away from the pleasure of watching for people who do care.

  5. Major Tournament Golf. Again, golf has great history and tradition. It also currently has the most dominant athlete in any one particular sport since Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods is that good and he is liable to do just about anything on Sunday when the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, or the PGA Championship is on the line (see this year’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines).

  6. NBA Playoffs. With the exception of hockey, this sport raises its level of play the most when the playoffs start. The first month of NBA Playoffs are incredible – multiple games every night of the week, going into the wee hours of the morning with the west coast games.

  7. NHL Playoffs. Yeah it’s a Canadian sports but the level of play goes through the roof in the playoffs. I love the new rule changes implemented after the strike but the league is in serious trouble. I’m sure the ratings were pretty good for the Bruins-Canadiens playoff series, and even Detroit-Pittsburgh was a great final this year. I’d suggest skipping the regular season unless you can stomach a steady dose of your favorite team playing a stretch of games against the likes of Columbus, Anaheim, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Florida, Nashville….ugh. The NHL needs to send some teams back to Canada and get the whole U.S.-Canada rivalry thing going again.

  8. EOT

August 5, 2008   11 Comments