We watch the Olympics all day so that you don't have to.
Excruciatingly tense game for the U.S. women's soccer team in the quarterfinal match against the Netherlands. After falling behind 1-0, it was 2-2 at the end of regulation, and still after another 30 minutes of Extra Time. All the more, the U.S. had three goals waved off because of off-sides, all three calls justified, though two of them were by about the width of a shoelace. But in the penalty kick phase, the U.S. goalie stopped two shots by the Netherlands and the American women only needed four of the possible five kicks to win. So, they're now in the semi-finals. Four teams left, including Sweden who crushed the U.S. in the opening round, and who the U.S. will play in the finals, but must first face Canada. Which remains an "if," given that the Americans don't seem to be playing at their peak. But still, they've made it to the semis.
It was great to see Katie Ledecky win her signature event, the 800-meter freestyle, for which (coming into the Olympics, and perhaps still) she has the 23 best times in the world, beating out Australian Ariarne Titmus. I think Titmus is terrific, and likely will be an even-greater competitor than she already is now, having won two Gold medals. But I was especially pleased to see Ledecky beat her for the third time in the games, my pleasure having nothing to do with Titmus but because I thought her Aussie coach was churlish when Titmus won the 400-meter race, dancing around and raving like a maniac. It got a lot of attention, and it seems many people thought it was a hoot. Excitement and happiness is one thing, but especially given how gracious Ledecky was in her loss, it made him look boorish and infantile, and as if he'd never been at a race before. In fact, many considered his swimmer the possible favorite in that race, not remotely a come-from-behind underdog.
I'm glad that during the 10,000 meters race (an event I always enjoy) they did an homage to Billy Mills legendary win at the 1964 Olympics, showing the last 15 seconds where this totally unknown American came from nowhere and out-sprinted everyone to win. I didn't see it, but actually heard it on the radio. Oddly, they covered the Olympics on the radio, as well as on TV, and had to take a shower, so I brought my transistor radio into the bathroom. And to this day, I clearly remember the stunned announcer screaming out, "HERE COMES MILLS!!!" My only disappointment with the homage to Mills was that they didn't mention that Disney made quite a good movie about Billy Mills (who was an American Indian and had a difficult, trouble life growing up on a reservation and later marrying a white woman), called "Running Brave," which starred Robby Benson.
Here's the last minute-and-15 seconds of the race. The huge favorites were r Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia and Ron Clarke of Australia. A big deal that gets overlooked by the announcers in their excitement is that at one point Billy Mills gets bumped an pushed to the outside. You won't hear it referenced (it was later), but you'll see it. The call is slightly different from what I heard, since this is the TV feed, but it's very similar -- since, ultimately, pure excitement just takes over.
And just for the heck of it, to show what a good job they did with the race (and as I said, the whole movie was quite well done), here's about five minutes near the end.
Note: It's say it's the "trailer," but it's not.
I didn't get to watch as much of the Olympics during the day as I normally do, since I got invited again to go out sailing on the Pacific Ocean with my cousin Jimmy Kaplan. So, I don't have as much to write about as usual. However, I justified taking the time off from my normal vegetation in front of the TV by recognizing that, rather than watching, I was taking part in a very late trials competition for the yachting preliminaries to make the USA Team. As you can see, we had tough adversaries with a couple of young girls to our right on solo sail board, and happily we passed them with ease and took our heat. We hopefully will be getting our credentials soon…
More to come…
From the archives. This week's contestant is William Beyer from Des Moines, Iowa. The hidden song is extremely easy, and most people should not only get it, but get it quickly. The composer style though is one of those where I can throw a dart among several people and hope for the best. In fact, the contestant, who from his analysis of musical styles was clearly very knowledge, and he had a great deal of difficulty, though eventually got it (albeit it with a a few descriptive clues). So, I took a total guess to the one I thought it might be closest to -- and was wrong.
We watch the Olympics all day so that you don’t have to.
It’s pretty remarkable that Sunni Lee won the Gold medal for best all-round in women’s gymnastics. Not that she won – but that she’s second best on the team, and was only put in this position because Simone Biles had to drop out. A friend said, “I heard though that she has a history of rising to the occasion in big moments.” That may be, I replied, but…she’s still second best on the team. My friend paused a moment, then said, “True.”
The other thought I had was that for all the highly-deserved celebrating Americans will have for her win, I have little doubt – that when she returns – if she was walking down the street in far too many areas of the country, there would be people (who had celebrated her win) who wouldn’t know who she was and start screaming at her for attacking the U.S. with the coronavirus. Never mind that she’s not even Chinese – not that that should even matter in the slightest.
I was happy to see Australian Jessica Fox win the Gold medal in the Whitewater canoe slalom. She comes from a deep “Whitewater slalom” legacy – her father was an Olympian and 5-time world champion – and she herself is the #1-ranked competitor in that field, but she’s never won a Gold medal. And always seems to have a big smile on her face after every race, whatever the results. She had won the Bronze medal earlier in the Games, but this was her last chance in Tokyo. And she went last, since she had finished first in the preliminaries – and she had a tremendous race and won. And was utterly overjoyed. Here – you can see her tremendous run crashing through the rapids…and her exuberance after winning, along with leaping up-and-down on the medal stand. This 4-1/2-minute video has the preceding race to start, but if you want to jump to Fox’s seriously-impressive (and adventurous) Gold medal-winning run only, it starts around the 2:40 mark.
By the way, although Whitewater races are probably my favorite of the lesser-known minor events, I still have no idea why they have both canoe and kayak competitions. Yes, I know that the boats are not exactly the same-ish, and I’m sure to those in the sport, the difference is significant. I’ve yet to figure out why it cries out for both. But – since I love Whitewater slalom races, I’m glad they have the two.
The women’s volleyball team had a scare in their qualifying round final. They were ahead of Turkey two games to none, in a best of three competition. But Turkey came back to win the next two games, to even things up. And in the tie-breaker, which is only to 15 points, the score was 10-10 – until the U.S. came on strong and won.
As popular as swimming is at the Olympics, I only watch it with mild interest. There are certain races I like – anything freestyle, individual medleys and relays. But most of the others don’t do as much for me. Butterfly, difficult and powerful though it is, is too silly-looking a discipline for me to take seriously, leaping out of the water with arms whirling like a windmill and then diving back in, head plummeting down into a water, a bit like a professional game of Bobbing for Apples. As for the backstroke, seeing someone lying on their back, a position usually associated with staring up at the stars and contemplating your navel, is not something I can mesh with the concept of “racing.” The breaststroke is a perfectly normal and respectable stroke, except it’s such a plodding one that it always seems to me like it’s impossible to go fast using it. So, that leaves freestyle, which is about as ideal as a swimming stroke gets for racing. Actually, there’s one other stroke that unfairly gets short shrift in swimming competitions, and that’s the sidestroke. Sure, it may be especially relaxing, something you use for lolling about, but to leave it out completely seems so dismissive and unfair.
More to come…
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a story here in Los Angeles about an increase of COVID cases in the Pacific Palisades and Brentwood, near where I live on the Westside.
And now there’s an additional story, somewhat related, of COVID cases continuing to rise in Los Angeles County on Thursday – although, happily, the article adds, “albeit more slowly.” And it says that what has been driving the rise have been the more affluent communities including Beverly Hills, Bel-Air on the Westside, as well as, Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Encino in the Valley (though the last three aren’t anywhere near the “affluent” level of the first two.
It’s important to note that the rise is in “cases” and not hospitalizations or deaths. That fits into my theory about the rise in cases in a lot of areas, including locales that previously hadn't been associated with an COVID increase, like white affluent areas.
I suspect that when people get double-vaxxed, many of them feel like they’re totally protected and almost have a defensive bubble shield around them, so they lower their guard and let down many of the protections they were doing before. And so they stop wearing a mask, almost everywhere. They stop washing their hands as often. The get together with groups more often. And they go into more indoor areas with a lot of people – like movies. And so, though they’re safe from serious illness and hospitalization, they’re leaving themselves much more open to getting infected than before. Again, I’m not a doctor, but I’m SURE that that’s at least a part of the reason. And even a sizable part.
It’s sort of like why we read for years stats that say many people in Los Angeles get hit when in a crosswalk because, by law, pedestrians have the right-of-way the moment they put their foot in a crosswalk, and so they think it means they’re fully protected, almost like having a force field shield around them, and so they aren’t as careful and don’t look for oncoming traffic. But since the law says cars have to stop and give way, they believe “By law, cars must stop, so cars will stop, and so I’m safe.” And, of course, cars don't always stop, and it's worse for the pedestrian in the sidewalk.
In affluent neighborhoods, where there’s likely a far-greater sense of entitlement, that probably plays a part in the COVID increase, as well. “We’re double-vaxxed. We’re affluent. We’re protected.” And so, the guards come down.
Again, at least it’s “cases” and not hospitalizations and deaths. But I sure wish it was lowering.
We watch the Olympics all day so that you don’t have to.
Yes, I spent some of the day with the horsies, and watched some Equestrian yesterday. And I admit to doing so to see if Bruce Springsteen’s daughter Jessica was riding. I have no doubt that she’s very talented, and her making the Olympic Team is an impressive accomplishment she’s achieved, all the more so for succeeding in something separate from her renowned father. But…well, yeah, I normally wouldn’t be watching it all that much. And I suspect I’m not alone. Though it does have its loyal followers. Alas, I was watching the dressage event, and she’s competing in the show jumping category. So, more Equestrian to come. And no, I have no idea what makes one dressage performance better than another – and I’m sure neither do the horses.
The U.S.men’s Basketball team had a big win today. I watched off and on, and they won big, 120-66 against mighty powerhouse…er, Iran. I hope that this win doesn’t give the team too much of a swagger since, as we’ve seen, they got beat by Nigeria and France, and no one should consider Iran much of a test, especially by U.S. basketball standards and expectations.
The U.S. women won the 3x3 Basketball Gold medal. And I was wrong about who plays in it, since it turns out that those on the women’s team are fairly accomplished, most even from the WNBA. But that defeats the only reason I could see for it as an Olympic sport, which was to have a venue for amateurs, since regular Basketball is now made up of pros.
There was a very nice moment at the medal ceremony for the double sculls rowing, won by the Sinkovic brothers Martin and Valent of Croatia. As you may know, because of the pandemic officials no longer put medals around the winning athletes’ necks, but hand them over. What the Sinkovics did, though, was the officials’ old job – and rather than put their Gold medal on their own neck, instead each put it on their brother.
I watched a bit of weightlifting, and the starting weight was 347 pounds, though I wasn’t impressed because even I have lifted that amount. In fairness, I didn’t lift it all at once – 30 pounds here, 20 pound another time, 40 pounds later, then 12 pounds – but eventually I made it to 347. More even.
Lots of good whitewater canoe slalom, which I said is one of my favorite, offbeat events. I stayed up until 12:45 AM two nights ago watching, and looked forward to more being shown the next morning on the USA channel, since it was listed as “New.” As it turns out, no, it wasn’t new at all, but just a repeat of the night before. Had they left off that pesky (and deceptive) “New,” I would have gotten to sleep a whole lot earlier, and just watched the whitewater racing in the oh-so far more convenient morning.
I keep meaning to mention this about the Opening Ceremonies, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. So, now is as good as time as any –
For the Opening Ceremonies, NBC generally has two hosts, one a sports expert and the other for more social color. While I understand the latter, since this really isn’t a sporting event – I tend to find it empty airspace. After all, there are only two parts of the evening: the first is the arts and cultural presentation, and the other the parade of athletes. For the arts portion, although you’d think a social host is appropriate for that, all they’re really doing is just reading a press release that explains the otherwise indecipherable movements, so there’s nothing that they or pretty much anyone bring to the event from their personal expertise, or could possibly bring to it. (“I don’t know, Mike, it looks like this is a tribute to abstract thought, or perhaps screen doors…”) As for the other part when the athletes enter – that does call for sports expertise, to recognize who is who, and ideally know something about their career to add historical perspective. Bob Costas was always brilliant at this – I’m sure announcers are given notes, but he also had an encyclopedic knowledge of such things. Mike Turico isn’t at that level (few are), but he handled things respectably. Unfortunately, talented as Savannah Guthrie is, this is just historically a poor venue for most people who aren’t sports experts, and I always dread the cringe-worthy moments that are sure to come.
The cringe moment that stood out this year is when host nation Japan came in, and she noted that their flag bearers were carrying “one of the most recognizable flags in the world.” All I could think was, well, yeah, but that’s probably because of all the WWII newsreel footage and movies about then uniting with the Nazis and attacking the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. Yes, that’s just a pure guess on my part. But it’s not like there is much of another reason for people to see the Japanese flag regularly – or (to be fair) any flag but their own. If the Stars-and-Stripes is so recognized around the world, that’s likely because American popular culture permeates the world, English is the international language, and America has commercialized its flag so egregiously on as many products as possible that it’s probably the only flag in the world that needs a trademark. I just don’t think the Japanese flag, unique though it is, is especially seen more over the years all that more than others – except perhaps on Red Dot Day. Or on the History Channel.
More to come...
I enjoyed The Voice during its first few years, though haven't watched for a while -- not for disliking it, but just finding a certain sameness. The show aside, they have a new ad running which I thought was a hoot. And when I went to check it out online, I found a longer and even better version. It's really quite amusing and endearing, with a big of an homage (intended or otherwise) to The Three Amigos, and someone came up with a weird and very successful promotion.
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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