We watch everything, so you don't have to...
Track relay races began in the morning, with the women's 4x100. Much as I like them and find them very exciting, I was also going to write about how I have a hard time watching them, because they're so nerve-wracking, having to pass the baton and do it within a small, defined area. But before I could get to it, as I was watching the second heat, the U.S. women's team -- the defending Gold Medal winners -- got disqualified for dropping the baton.
But it's a more convoluted story than that. The second runner, Alysson Felix, dropped the baton handing off to English Gardner. I saw her stumble ever-so-slightly, and afterwards, it turns out her elbow had gotten bumped by a runner in the next lane. But there's more -- you see, a team has to complete their race to be eligible to protest. And Felix had the presence of mind to make sure Gardner finished. But there's more than just that -- because the second runner can't just pick up the baton and run. The runner who dropped it has to go get it and pass it over. Fortunately, Felix knows that rule, as well, and got it to give to Gardner. But wait, there's more. That's because if the U.S. protest was allowed...eight runners already qualified, and the there are only eight lanes. So, here's what happened: the U.S. protest was allowed. And the decision was that the U.S. relay team would get to run a solo race in the evening, and if their beat a qualifying time, they will be in the finals, and the team with lowest time (in this case, China) will get bump.. Running alone takes away a level of competition, and they'll have run in the morning and likely will be recouping from that. But -- they run solo in practice all the time, and there will be no obstruction from others around them. Given how good this team is, they should be able to qualify. And they did.
And that's one of the reasons I have a hard time watching the relays. And why they're so dramatic. All rolled into one...
When watching the women's high-jump, I had an odd thought. It seems surprising that some female jumpers during the competition. I say this because, while once upon a time high-jumpers went over the bar chest first, now they all use the "Fosbury Flop" (named after Dick Fosbury) and leap over the bar with their back. So, that means the back of their head goes up first -- and that means if someone has a pony tail, it could knock against the bar. This occurred to me when I noticed several women come very close to hitting the bar with their pony tail. Given what's at stake at an event like the Olympics -- let alone most any competition -- it just seems surprising that an athlete would even risk anything that could either knock off the bar or destabilize it so that any other jolt would knock it down.
The other day, I mentioned a long-distance runner I liked, Galen Rupp, who trains in Oregon with Gold Medal winner Mo Farah in the 10,000 meter race. They noted that he was going to attempt a rare double -- not only having run in the 10K race, but he'll also be competing in the marathon. That's a whole lot of Olympic running. Watch for him.
They also began the "X-Game"-type events, which are fairly recent to the Summer Games. I don't care for them. It's not at the level of hating and dismissing them like Synch-R-Swim (though close, for several of the events), but just finding them forced. I don't like these kind of competitions in the Winter Olympics, but I at least understand why they have them. There are far-fewer events in the winter than the summer, so the IOC wanted to build that up. But there's no such need in the summer, so I find these unnecessary. And silly. Yes, they can be fun to watch -- what's going on this morning is bike racing on a hilly, winding course. And it's skilled and athletic. So is juggling. So is rollerskating. But these X-Games sports strike me as gimmicky: "Okay, hey, let's take a normal bike race, but, wait, wait, how's about this: let's put lumps in the road!" This particular event (compared to most X-Game types) isn't terrible, and If you want to have a bike race with obstacles, then fine -- but in fact, they do have cross-country mountain bike riding, and it's great, That strikes me as a substantive competition, not something you jerry-rigged with party props for the heck of it. And my understanding is that next year they'll be having skateboarding. Swell. By the way, to be clear, the Olympics add new events all the time, and some I like and some I don't. And I don't like all the events they already have. So, this isn't about not liking something new-fangled. (Mountain bike racing is fairly new, and terrific.) I just think these are slight, silly events, no matter how fun and difficult they might be.
The triathalon was competed yesterday, but for some inexplicable reason, NBC chose not to cover any of it, or that I saw. They only had the very finish as the winner crossed the line. But that was notable -- and all the more reason why they should have covered it. The winner was Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain, who repeated his Gold Medal. But what was particularly notable, beyond that, was that finishing in second place, only six seconds behind, was...his brother! Jonathan Brownlee. (He'd won the Bronze Medal in London.) A shame that NBC didn't want to show any of that race, other than the six seconds at the end.
In the late afternoon, NBC ran a quite-wonderful hour-long documentary on legendary gymnastic coaches Bela and Marta Karollyi, called The Karolyi's. Lots of great footage, including from their early days in Romania with a very young Nadia Comenici, to competition footage of Comenici, Mary Lou Retton and Kerri Strug, along with interviews with them all. It was a little bit of a puff piece, but there were some edges to it, and overall it was solidly done. My favorite part was them talking about how after they defected, but couldn't find jobs coaching -- despite their great success in Romania -- they realized that the problem was obvious: they didn't speak English. So, what did they do? "We watched Sesame Street." They also watched other TV and I'm sure took lessons, but eventually that helped turn their lives back around. Afterwards, Bob Costas did a very nice 10-minute in-studio interview with them. I expect that NBC will repeat this at some point, near the end of the Games -- they should, it was very good -- though it, of course, won't have the in-studio interview included. Perhaps it also will be available on YouTube.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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