Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 8:50 PM
Despite my cynical comments about the men’s road race yesterday, I was positively captivatedby the women’s today; no, not that. It helped though that the women have not been caught in nearly as many doping scandals, which meant that one could be fairly impressed by their remarkable form.
What made this race so captivating was the way the 87 miles unfolded like an obstacle course. In fact, the intermittent rain, wind, and hairpin turns – all on slippery roads – caused so many crashes that it seemed like the women were in a roller derby instead of a cycling race. Nobody was seriously hurt, but I had the sensation throughout this race that I get when I’m watching a high-wire act and hoping, perversely, that the bastard would fall.
All the same, the Brits lining the course must have enjoyed the suspended animation one of their riders provided by joining a three-woman breakaway for the last 90 minutes of this nearly four-hour race: redemption for Cavendish’s failure seemed at hand. Alas, it was not to be: that British rider, Lizzie Armitstead, was edged out in the final sprint across the finish line by Marriane Voss of the Netherlands for the gold. Armitstead won silver; Olga Zabelinskaya of Russia, bronze.
No doubt they would have preferred gold, but all Britons seemed genuinely proud to have Armitstead’s silver as the first medal for the host nation.
I was exceedingly proud that one of the Canadian divers, Jennifer Abel, made Olympic history by being the first Black to medal in Diving with her partner Emilie Heymans. With all due respect to Heymans, however, if Abel had a better partner she could easily have won silver.
Anyway, perhaps today’s Google doodle featuring a Black Olympic diver inspired this good showing … eh?
The USA Dream Team, led by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, made an impressive debut by beating France 98-71.
Of course, as indicated above, the only thing newsworthy in this sport would be the USA losing a single game. Mind you, this could happen – as no less a person than LeBron can attest, having been on the putative dream team that ended up with a humiliating bronze at the Athens Games in 2004.
That said, the confidence among the players on this dream team is such that, instead of focusing on beating teams at these Olympics, they are spending more time trash talking about how they could beat the original dream team from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, which was led by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
For what’s it’s worth, I have no doubt that the Barcelona dream team would handily defeat this London dream team. Not least because there’s no center on this team who can block and rebound the way David Robinson did; there’s no forward who can post and score the way Michael Jordan did; and there’s guard who can drive and assist the way Magic Johnson did. Not to mention the mental advantages the 1992 team would have over the 2012 team.
So I say to Kobe and Co: shut up and play ball!
I won’t say that I jinxed him, but I did say that if Phelps lost his first race it would bode ill for all the others. That was borne out today when the USA was soundly beaten by France in the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay. This was all the more shocking because this team (comprised of Nathan Adrian, Phelps, Cullen Jones, and Ryan Lochte) was expected to swim even faster than the team that kept Phelps’s gold streak alive at the Beijing Games.
So, by his own standard, Phelps is now 0 for two. But it should also be noted that this result punctured Lochte’s boast of matching Phelps, to some degree, by winning gold in all of his events. Even worse, it must have been humbling, if not humiliating, for Lochte to have a French swimmer chase him down on the final leg of this race the way an American swimmer chased down a French swimmer to win gold for the USA in Beijing. This is the definition of going from hero (in the 400m IM yesterday) to goat (in this relay today).
On the other hand, how do you say payback in French…? And anyone who remembers the way Phelps reacted after the Americans won in Beijing will appreciate that primal scream one of the French swimmers let out after they won today….
In other swimming races of note: Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa not only upset reigning two-time Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima in the men’s 100m breaststroke but did it in a world-record time of 56.46. This was the first gold medal for a South African male swimmer in Olympic history. Christian Sprenger of Australia won silver; Brendan Hansen of the United States, bronze – finally getting that Kitajima monkey off his back. (Kitajima came in fourth.) And Dana Vollmer of the United States held off a surprising challenge from Ying Lu of China to win the women’s 100m butterfly in a world-record time of 55.98. Ying Lu won silver; Alicia Coutts of Australia, bronze.
I usually eschew the personal stories NBC runs as filler pieces in its 24/7 coverage – as I prefer to be moved solely by the athletes’ performances. But I find it particularly interesting that both the women and men’s teams are being led this year by Black gymnasts, Gabby Douglas and John Orozco, respectively, and their compelling backgrounds make this all the more impressive.
More to the point, both teams are top qualifiers going into the finals, and Orozco and Douglas are poised to medal in the individual events and all-around competitions as well. But it was a real shocker when their teammate Jordyn Wieber, who is the current all-around world champion, failed to qualify for the women’s all-around final. Only two members from each national team can qualify, and Douglas and Aly Raisman won those two highly coveted spots for Team USA.
In the interest of full disclosure I should begin by revealing that I lost all interest in Equestrian Eventing after I was thrown from a horse several years ago and nearly broke my neck. I know: you’re supposed to get right back on, right? Well, I wonder if anybody said that to Christopher Reeve….
Anyway, my interest in this competition stems solely from the absurd lengths to which presumptive U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been going to downplay his interest in seeing his wife’s horse, Rafalca, compete in Dressage. I mean, what does it say about him as a husband that he insists on knowing nothing about the sport he claims is his wife’s passion and, even worse, that he claims to have no interest in watching her horse compete at the Olympics even on TV, let alone in person?
Stupidly, it was only after watching the individual and team events and neither seeing nor hearing anything of Rafalca that I learned that Ann’s horse will not be competing until next week. But I think I’ve seen enough. Therefore, considering that Obama is the horse I’m backing in the presidential race, I shall suffice to wish Rafalca well in his race … but not Mitt in his.
By the way, I gather almost everyone else tuned in to see the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, compete in this first leg of the three-day equestrian eventing — with cross-country and show jumping to follow. She placed 24th. So much for the inherent advantages of royal birth….
NOTE: Because so many of you got a rise out of my comments about the pole dancers masquerading as Beach Volleyball players, it might interest you to know that the most attractive athletes at these games are not these beach bunnies but the field hockey players. And they don’t have to jump around in their bra and panties to show off their beauty … and skills. But don’t take my word for it. Check them out.
MEDAL COUNT: China: 12; USA 11, Italy: 7