Sunday, August 29, 2004

OLYMPICS WRAPUP POST DAY #18: Capsules. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a giant highlight package, but I was emotionally effected by NBC's coverage of the closing ceremonies and especially the little "Best of" clipfests they ran. Probably because I knew what was going on in most of the clips, and I had this sense of this vast drama coming to an end, which is exactly what was happening. Sport is art, to put it Britishly.

Handball, Women's: The Danes and the Koreans were tied after two extra periods, so we went to the shoot out! Which works like a soccer shoot out: 5 open shots on the goal. The Danish goalie came out far from her net and stopped a few. The Korean stayed back and was completely porous and the Danes won.

Handball, Men's: Croatia beat Germany for the gold in a game I think I slept through. Handball--it's EUROTASTIC! So while people can speculate about how good we Americans would be in handball if we bothered to play it, it's still too European in some inexplicable way (because it's indoors and we don't need a lot of indoor sports? because they don't wear pads? Something.) and besides we play a jillion other sports to begin with. Arena football has tapped the potential professional handball niche.

Water Polo, Men's: Hungary beat Serbia in a contest I had no rooting interest in.

Wrestling, Men's: I don't think this was on tv, and I'm sorry it wasn't:

Daniel Cormier went down without a fight this time, and without an Olympic wrestling medal.

Cormier, America's last medal hope in freestyle, couldn't hold a 2-0 overtime lead Sunday and lost the bronze 3-2 to Iran's Ali Reza Heidari in the 211{-pound (96-kg) class.

Heidari's dominance of Cormier was similar to that of last year's world championships, a match that turned ugly when Cormier became enraged at Heidari's on-mat victory celebration and shoved him in the back. After the latest loss, Cormier was left to lash out only at himself.

Maybe it's on something I haven't watched or forgot to tape. Anyway--no freestyle gold for the US of A.

Rhythmic Gymnastics: "Four years after watching her medal hopes end when she lost control of her hoop, two-time world champion Alina Kabaeva from Russia won the rhythmic gymnastics all-around in a rout." And there you are.

Taekwondo: I saw Moon Dae-sung knowck out Alexandros Nikolaidis with a kick to the head that left the stronly pro-Hellas crowd stunned.'s strange to watch. Most of the time the big kicks don't connect, and you're left with one person holding a slim lead and running around the ring hoping for the time to run out. But then the big kicks do happen sometimes and it's spectacular. The rest of the time is this "Who's going to strike first?" dance that you have to be Pat Croce to appreciate.

Boxing: Andre Ward saved us from total embarassment by getting gold.

Marathon, Men's: Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima (and why he has two names I don't know) was in the lead until he got tackled by a defrocked priest. He managed to pull out a bronze, which was a fabulous acheivement. Meb Keflezighi is now the world's most famous Eritrean-American for taking silver. Italian Stefano Baldini was golden.

Hey--that's about it. The closing ceremony was great--nothing beats watching a Chinese communist party hack wave the Olympic banner for all he's worth, after getting the flag from a stauesque Greek lady in inflated pink pants--and I for one love the symbolism of the multiple nations on the way in, one nation on the way out thing. Graecopop stars mixed with traditional Chinese dancers and it was good. I am full of good will for the noble intentions of the Olympics.

Big stories at the Olympics, thrown up here so I can actually go back to this in 2008 and not be like "Hey--was he/she in Athens?":

Michael Phelps: Golden boy did his job and won eight medals. Thank golly swimming only lasts a week, though.

Hicham El Guerrouj: The master of the mile finally became a big Olympic star, winning the 1,500 and the 5,000. The big star of week two, and would've been the Phelps-like big inescapable star if he was American.

Paul Hamm: Overcame incredible odds just to get into medal range after he fell. Yes, the judges goofed, but that's just part of sports. How many NFL or NBA games are decided on one botched call? Quite a few.

Rulon Gardner: Big winner in taking bronze, due to his humility and his dramatic retirement.

Deena Kastor: Another big winner in taking bronze, though in her case due to coming out of nowhere to win the marathon. This is for my 2008 self: Mizuki Noguchi won gold.

The South African Men's Swimming 4 by 100 Relay Team: For smoking the Australians and the US.

Women's Beach Volleyball: The vulgarly glorious main attraction of the first week of the games.

America's Female Teams: Softball, basketball and soccer gold medals for the women--the soccer being the most impressive. I really wonder if we and China put together world-class teams for 2008, more them than us, because we'll have Wambach then. And if I'm a USA indoor volleyball player, in light of this item and the previous one, I'm wondering what happened to my prestige. Indoor volleyball is in danger of becoming water polo/field hockey obscure to Americans.

Carly Patterson: She won't become a Mary Lou Retton-like legend because she didn't beat the bad old Soviets, or even a Kerri Strug for flying with a busted wing, but somehow performing well when the stakes are low is even more impressive. In some way.

Team China: Made the statement they wanted for 2008, coming in with 32 golds to our 35. Can't we add skateboarding to 2008, so we have some more sports that we're really good at? Either that or we really need to start pushing table tennis around here.

Team Japan: Totally crushed the Bernard-Busse predictions. Judo, women's wrestling, swimming, the gymnastics all-around--one gets the feeling they're getting set for Beijing too.

Team India: Managed a silver in a shooting event. They are apparently not ready for Beijing. But they are sort of inching their way into things, what with Anju Bobby George and with the women's 4x400 team actually making the final.

Kosuke Kitajima & Aaron Peirsol: Yes, Olympic swimming's greatest hate-hate relationship. Only four more years until we hear about ILLEGAL DOLPHIN KICKS! again.

Team Argentina: As Costas pointed out, double golds in the world's two most popular sports, soccer and basketball.

Team Australia: I know there's more valid ways to look at it, but, for me, Australia proved itself to be greatest sporting nation on Earth, in summer games at least. I love how they're competitive in just about every team sport.

Handball, Badminton, Table Tennis: Stories because NBC decided to give them gobs and gobs of coverage. Thank you, NBC

Greece: Oh--and, of course--GREECE! They pulled off a flawless Olympics when I know I thought they couldn't. Excellent job. The opening ceremonies were untoppable.

There's more but I can feel myself reaching for things now--a good time to stop. Next time: medal-based Olympics stat dorkery, if I feel like totally exposing myself to ridicule.

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