Sunday, August 31, 2008

HardDoor's Olympic Wrap-Up! '08

A little late coming, as a number of things occurred in the past week that prevented me from getting this finished earlier. Nonetheless, here are a few of my thoughts on the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. --HD

Alas, the Summer Olympics Games have concluded, and Beijing certainly didn't disappoint. The level of competition all around was great, the athletes and those involved seemed to enjoy themselves very much, many new faces made their presence know and a few old ones made their final bows. Outside of a relatively very few unfortunate acts unsportsmenlike conduct, the human rights antics and information suppression of China even during the Games, and the usual gymnastics drama, the events were very smooth and went without a great deal of controversy. The following is a simple list of random thoughts about the experience of watching all of those events, which gladly dominated the bulk of my TV viewing time, and of how the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games played out.

--I was a little too young to fully remember Barcelona '92's and even Atlanta '96's, but as great and memorable as Sydney '00's and Athens '04 opening ceremonies were, Beijing's own may have been the best yet. The fusion of masses of people and state-of-the-art technology really signified the attributes of the growing profile and power of the host nation. It was truly exceptional and without peers given its scale and execution.

--Great to see Mariel Zagunis strike it twice and win the gold medal in fencing after breaking the U.S.' near century-long drought in winning the event in Athens.

--The architecture for the venues was creative and magnificent, yet not gaudy or overdone. The National Aquatic Center (the "Water Cube"), the National Stadium (the "Bird's Nest"), the flower-shaped Beijing Olympic Green Tennis Court were awe-inspiring and even the more traditionally-design buildings ( ) had a great modern look to them. The pre-existing ones looked very nice, as well.

--That Michael Phelps...he didn't do too badly...

--In all seriousness, Phelps thankfully lived up to the rather controlled hype around him and had perhaps the best performance of anyone in a single Olympics. Not only did he race 17 times in a week's span, he won his races in every way--from blow-outs to by-sheer-luck-and-timing out-touchings of the wall--both individually and as a teammate.

--The number of down-to-the-wire finishes across the board was great and only heightened the level of athleticism and passion of competition.

--Jason Leizak, the captain of the U.S. swimming team who many thought couldn't hit it big, erased all doubt and past critique with that out-of-mind swim on the mouthy Alain Bernard of France, who boldly predicted that they would smash the U.S. team in the 4x100 IM relay.

--Dara Torres is a superb example of not only a top athlete, but of great sportsmanship and grace. 41-year-old recent mother who got herself in shape, held up a race for a competitor whose suit got torn, and only missed out on the 50M gold by .01 seconds!

--Alexandre Artemev, who many, including myself, thought was a mistake to put on the U.S. men's gymnastic team considering his history of melting down on the big stage, came through big when the team needed him after the pommel horse (of doom) crippled their chances to medal. He was said to excel more at international meets and said event was his speciality, so he went all out and went from "shaky guy with potential" to "hero", preserving the bronze for a jubilant squad.

--I felt really bad for Alica Sacramone, after her numerous faults helped cost the woman's team to lose a chance at gold (there were other problems that occurred and the Chinese team was challenging them, but her's had the biggest impact). She made some uncharacteristically bad mistakes on rather solid routines and was one of the team's leaders and was understandably inconsolable afterwards. What made up for it was her honesty and the team rallying around her despite that happened. Everyone was very classy.

--Nastia Liukin was so graceful and masterful in her routines, without a doubt worthy of the All-Around title. She moved so smoothly like a classically-trained dancer and demonstrated such a great deal of skill, she looked nearly perfect and showcased her abilities by transitioning the little faults she would make into another move, thus covering it up. That's a rare trait that you just don't see enough of in gymnastics or one that many people have the unction of pulling off and it further cements her history in the sport.

--Good to see Shawn Johnson at least get a gold medal in an event (balance beam, which she's great on), even though I wasn't too high on her. While she is an accomplished gymnast herself, she's more of the upper crust of the modern type and style, while Liukin was more transcendent and more of what the classic gymnast should look like (in my opinion). I can see the signs from time to time, but with that gold medal and some of the pre-Game anointing of her being the next Mary-Lou Retton, I hope that this won't mean that Johnson gets top billings over Liukin, who is the All-Around champion and has one more medals than her (and is arguably the better of the two, once again IMO).

--Great to see Raj Bhavsar finally get on the team and win a medal after years of rejection.

--Such a shame to see Russia's Ksenia Semanova get edged out of anything, as she was so on point and performed so well. Unfortunately for her, there were three or four other gymnasts that were also game.

--The Chinese women's gymnastics team, underaged (probably) or not, was in top form and deserved the win, as well as the males'.

--The Chinese diving team put on quite the show for the home crowd, well deserving of the gold each time. The women's platform champion's (Chen Ruolin, only 15!) final dive was ridiculous!

--Usain, or as I have dubbed him, "Unsane", Bolt was superb in dishing out the world records in the 100M (even while letting up and celebrating before the end) and 200M (eclipsing the great Michael Johnson's seemingly untouchable mark) with ease. A little cocky and arrogant, for sure, but it's hard denying his talent and power. However, I don't see him lasting too long, due to his unique body type and the continued strain that running the way he does will most likely put on him.

--Jamaica completely and utterly ruled the sprints and did so without breaking a sweat. A certain country they picked up the slack for in their inept absence could've used the whatever they were drinking because...

--Jeez, U.S. track & field team, what the heck happened?!

--Despite a sweep in the men's 400M and the big win in the 400M relays, the talent-packed U.S. track team both botched and got blown out of the Bird's Nest. Zero medals in any of the 100M races besides Walter Dix's bronze and Lauren Williams non-bronze performance after getting nipped out of one due to the tie at silver by two Jamaicans, was lowlighted by two facepalm-worthy relay runs when poorly-coordinated baton exchanges on the anchor legs from both genders spelt nothing for the usually-dominant teams.

--Way to drag down another competitor when one of your own first got disqualified for stepping into another lane in the 200M, U.S. track officials! Understandable and kind of fair (and it did boost Dix and Athens champion & zebra runner Shawn Crawford to a bronze and silver, respectively), though it does feel kind of slimy, too...

--Thanks for showing up, Bernard Lagat! Next time, try not to sound too presumptive that you'll get into the next round after running so poorly!

--This was simply not the Olympics for Tyson Gay. The injury from the 200M run at the U.S. Trials hampered his chances at the 100M qualifying, and the failed baton pass-off at the qualifying relays put a bad exclamation point on his Beijing experience...

--In all of the morass that was the U.S. sprints (and that jerk of a coach of the silver medalist in women's pole vault), at least there were some bright spots in the competition. There was the historical win in the woman's discus (first since the early 20th century), Bryan Clay finally winning the decathlon (in dominating fashion), and bronze in the women's 10,000M.

--It's always wonderful to see an athlete win a medal for a country in an event that they never medaled in before. This was the case with Togo's surprise bronze in rowing, it's first Olympic medal ever, and with Kenya finally adding a Marathon gold to its illustrious long-distance running history.

--The scoring system for boxing was absolutely atrocious. With the judges essentially playing the role of punch counter, the sport was reduced to nothing more than a numbers game. With the human element in play for something more suited for computer work and sophistication, there were plenty of times when perfectly clean blows (even by the standards of laid out, in which the white portion of the glove had to land either in front or on the sides of the head or on the body) were never counted, bias towards certain countries (Cuba, sometimes China, though some of those boxers were not immune the other way around) and against others (U.S., Russia, though that can be up for debate), and even the refereeing was horribly inconsistent. Where was the proper judging criteria? Ring generalship? Effective aggression? There's more to boxing than merely punch output and connect percentage, but with the rules in place in this Olympics, there were far too many boxers more willing to clinch, hold, backpedal, and shove their opponents into the ground than actually fight...

--For a far more satisfactory boxing tournament and one that is closer to the professional level and the ideals of the Olympic Games, I think that a 10-point system in which the boxers in each round is critiqued on their ring generalship, punch output/connect percentage (by computer only and only taken into consideration), effective aggression, and activity is one possible step in the right direction. Excessive clinching, holding, backpedaling (if done in a clear manner that suggests that the fighter is actively avoiding combat because they are ahead or are avoiding it altogether), and unsportsmanlike conduct (shoving opponents into the mat, "deadweighting" on an opponent, making obscene gestures) should invoke one point deduction per violation (even if they had zero points at the time of violation, they must work their way out of the negative range regardless). Too many warnings and violations should result in the fighter getting disqualified.

--Judo is so easy to get sucked into for hours on end.

--Good to see the "Redeem Team" live up to its name--and act like good sportsmen in the process.

--Sailing and rhythmic gymnastics may seem simple in concept, but they look difficult to master.

--Even for being a fan of volleyball, I've never had much love for the beach kind. This Olympics, however, I have grown to appreciate it and the level of competition present.

--Shooting and archery can be so tense to watch. Especially when it gets down to the wire...

--NBC Universal did a fantastic job broadcasting the Games. They didn't overdo it in coverage of any one sport or featurettes (the focusing of their primetime spot on certain, more popular/"TV-friendly" sports was actually acceptable and a good way at bringing in many viewers), commentary was sharp and informational (and unbiased, for the most part), and their online video streaming and features were top-notch and of great quality. This was easily the best handled Olympics, yet.

--If there were any complaints about their coverage, it's that it would have been nice to see them showcase a few of the lesser-known sports during primetime and other major timeslots, as it would have been a great opportunity to expand people's knowledge of the many other sports contended at the Olympics.

--If the marathon was grueling, I can only imagine how strenuous the open-water swimming event was...

--Rule #1 of BMX racing: Don't blink.

--Rule #2 of BMX racing: Never make a bet on BMX racing.

--Rule #3 of BMX racing: Always remember Rule #2.

--The modern penthalon is so interesting and has such a deep tie to the Olympics and its founder, I think that it deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

--To bring the anime portion of HardDoor full-circle, during American boxer Deontay Wilder's quarterfinal match, one of Naruto's distinct BGM's played throughout the arena in between one of the rounds (the piece usually played when ever the title character or another protagonist made a big "breakthrough" during a battle to turn the tide around). Playing music in between the action was a common practice during the competition and a few other events, but boxing was the only one where I heard the Naruto song played. This was not the sole instance either, as it could be heard during a few other matches, as well.

--Great closing ceremonies, and it was nice to see it retain the sort of spirit that the opening ceremonies had. Most closing ceremonies are more loose, festive, and concert-like, and though Beijing's was like that towards the end, it was still fairly close to the rest of the show and very well done. I like it when the latter event matches the previous in style, so it was good to see it carry through in some capacity.

--I don't think London will disappoint in 2012...but in the meantime, how about some Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in 2010?!

I enjoyed myself immensely with the Olympics, as each one seems to top the other each time. It helped that Beijing and China did a fantastic job hosting it and that the athletes seemed to have enjoyed their time there as well (some more than others, of course...), and the same goes for NBC Universal's consummate broadcasting. Watching so many great events take place over the course of two weeks was time well spent, especially with Games as memorable as these were. Everyone truly did great with it.

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