In A few other random thoughts, this time about the Olympics.
- All the talk from the pool is going to be about Phelps, and rightfully so – he is such a talented, hard-working goofball – but Jason Lezak’s final leg in the 4×100 m relay, in which he de-pantsed (or, at least, de-Speedoed) Alain Bernard, the French swimmer who hit the water with a lead of over a length and went on to win the 100 m free individual gold, was absolutely the best swim I’ve ever seen in my life. When you add up the pressure, the situation, the fact that Bernard had talked trash days before about the inevitability of the French win, and the fact that it was probably the event that Phelps was least likely to win in his quest for 8 golds at the Beijing Olympics, it was probably the most clutch single performance I’ve ever seen.
- Synchronized diving is an absolutely ridiculous excuse for a sport. I’d rather watch Olympic scrabble. Or poker. Especially Olympic strip poker. Hell, I’d rather watch Olympic synchronized strip poker.
- There is a hierarchy of sports. At the apex, in terms of competition, watchability, and such like, are sports where there is direct, interactive competition between the participants. Where there is defense, the ability of one team or player to directly affect the ability of another to complete their goals. Sports like football, baseball, soccer, even pretend sports (in the sense of ‘not really played in America’) like cricket and rugby count. Even inside this category, there’s a breakdown of sports where there is direct physical contact, like football or soccer or basketball or human cockfighting (a.k.a. mixed martial arts), and sports where these don’t really happen, like volleyball, baseball or tennis. Anyhow, the second level of sports is sports where there is no direct competition, but there are clear winners and losers. These tend to be racing sports like swimming, sprinting, marathons, but also throwing stuff events like javelin and discus, and winter sports like biathlon and downhill skiing. At the lowest level, the absolute worst that sports has to offer, are sports that are only scored in the minds of judges. Gymnastics, snowboard half-pipe and, yes, even figure skating fall under this description. Incidentally, that’s why I detest the X-Games. Almost every event they have is judged. Keep this in mind while watching the Olympics
- With these demarcations in mind, I think that it’s safe the say that the only two reasons the Olympics are interesting are the novelty of the events, and the nationalistic flavor of the competitions. Dan Drezner and Bob Kagan had a recent Bloggingheads.tv episode where they discussed this matter, although I’m too lazy to search up the proper Dinglelink for it. But the point they made, which I absolutely agree with, is that the Olympics are much more nationalistic than the IOC likes to admit. If all evidence of nationality was scrubbed, if the athletes paraded around the stadiums as solo acts, instead of as a national team; if the relay teams could be made up of any four people who wanted to swim/run together, regardless of nationality; if, when Michael Phelps won, he stood on the podium and they played his favorite Metallica song, we wouldn’t care nearly as much.
In all, though, I really am enjoying the Olympics. It’s fun to watch all this crazy shit, although I hope that there’s a chance to see some of the really obscure shit, like handball, before it all ends.