Some Olympic Thoughts

Usain Bolt: the guy nearly stumbles coming out of the blocks (dragging his left toe on the first stride), shuts the engine off at about 80m (foregoing a full-power effort for the last 8 strides of what is for him a 42 stride race) and STILL shatters the world record and lays down a 9.69. I really, really hope that’s not chemically-assisted, because I want to like this guy a lot. On the CBC, Elliotte Friedman kept his impeccable record intact for “most consecutive interviews featuring at least one astonishingly stupid question”. He mentioned to Bolt that Michael Phelps has seven gold medals in swimming, then pointed out that Bolt still has the 200m and the 4×100 relay to go and asked whether he could “equal” Phelps. Bolt gave him a look, you know the one, the “are you really saying that?” look, then said “No, I don’t think I can equal that guy – he’s great.” Next up in Elliotte’s interviewing arsenal: “Usain, in a fight between an eagle and a dolphin, who would win?” and “Usain, who was smarter: Leonardo da Vinci or Charlie Babbit from the movie Rain Man?” It must have been tough for Elliotte to fit that one in to what was a relatively brief exchange, just a minute or so in duration, but – as always – Elliotte made the bold choice to forego asking the questions the viewer would like to have an answer for, such as “why did you let up in the last 20 meters”, instead choosing to concentrate on some nonsense about a guy from a different country who competed in a different event on a different day and in an entirely different physical medium.  In fact, the fascination with Michael Phelps is becoming somewhat thematic with Mr. Friedman;  last week he asked Canadian swimmer Brian Johns, who had swam a Canadian-record time to simply qualify for the 400 IM final what it was like to swim against Michael Phelps – that is to say that in the immediate aftermath of the crowning athletic achievement of this young man’s life, seconds after he has finished competing at the highest level he or anyone else could imagine after years of solitary hard work and lonely dedication to purpose, Friedman essentially took him aside, pointed at Phelps and said, “Canada wants to know:  don’t you think THAT GUY is fast?”  Keep it classy, Elliotte.

This morning, Spouse and I were watching a bit of the women’s trampoline competition. We were having the perhaps inevitable conversation about the legitimacy of this event as an Olympic sport, when one of the announcers observed of a particular competitor that she needed to “bounce back” from a disappointing performance. We descended into gales of laughter and pretty much didn’t hear another thing anyone on the TV said because we were too busy wheezing and gasping for air in between howls of laughter about trampolinists on the rebound, trampolinists failing to obey the law of gravity and simply shooting off into space, etc.  Oh, sporting cliches:  you give us so many hours of joy, and what do we give you in return?

Spouse and I are both excited about the upcoming equestrian show jumping competition. The first round of competition was yesterday morning – we watched bits and pieces of the round as we were dressing for work and later – when we had gotten to work – certain of the trips via CBC’s streaming feed on the Net. Canada’s Mac Cone and Eric Lamaze each laid down a perfect trip with no time faults – Lamaze and Hickstead, in particular, were absolutely blazing around the course finishing three seconds under the alloted time on a course where I would venture to guess more than half the competitors accrued at least one time penalty. Canada also benefitted from Jill Henselwood and Black Ice’s clean, but slightly slow round (1 fault) and Ian Millar and In Style’s 4 jumping fault trip. Captain Canada and In Style got a little unlucky on that one, when the horse’s trailing legs came down on the top of the far rail of the last oxer, rattling the rail out of the cups in circumstances where it might just as easily have stayed up. Canada stands tied in the team competition for second place with one penalty (the lowest individual score posted by a team member in each round is not counted), behind a U.S. team that managed to post a penalty-free score with strong performances from Laura Kraut, McLain Ward, and – as always – Beezie Madden and Authentic. Biggest surprise so far: poor performance of the German team, who posted twenty-two faults in all, and who were well back in the pack.

I don’t want to jinx it, but based on the way Eric Lamaze and Hickstead have been going all year, I will not be surprised if they end up battling for individual gold with Beezie Madden and Authentic in a jumpoff for the Olympic title.   It would be a great story of personal triumph for Lamaze, who has twice previously been expelled from the Canadian team for drug-related reasons, and who comes from a disadvantaged socio-economic background and had to scratch and claw for everything he’s gotten in what can be a somewhat elitist sport, so going to places like the Asheville Recovery Center is one of the better solutions to face this problem.  It is tough for me to root against Beezie, because she just seems so genuinely nice, but I have to confess there is a part of me that would like to see Lamaze put his Olympic issues behind him most emphatically with an individual gold.  Spouse and I have been fortunate enough to see him ride Hickstead on a number of occasions, and – although I don’t pretend to know a lot about the sport – this partnership seems like one in which absolutely everything is going the right way at the right time.