Ultimately, everyone grieves in their own way. For two weeks I supplemented my regular triathlon training life with life as a dedicated sports fan. A fan of multiple sports. All sports. Too many sports. Even some sports that aren’t really sports (rhythmic gymnastics? Sorry, not convinced. . .).
And now the Olympics are just. . .gone.
So, to help me begin to work through the huge, gaping absence in my life, this shocking chasm of pain and emptiness (a chasm soon to be deepened and widened by the run-up to the presidential election) I’ve put some time into thinking about the Olympic moments that made the biggest impression on me.
From the Heights of Olympus. . .
Naturally there were the moments that I’m sure everyone thought were special:
- Oscar Pistorious
- Carmelita Jeter yelling in raw triumph at the end of the 4×100 relay
- McKayla Maroney not being impressed by the British coxless four (whose name was belied by a combination of unfortunate lighting and tight wet shorts)
- Ryan Lochte not being all that (unless you count his role as the Joey Tribbiani of the US swimming team (“How you doin!”))
But there were some other ones that I found just as special.
1) The Japanese Women’s Soccer Team: I think you had to see them play multiple times to really appreciate this team. One of the things that made this team stand out was that they almost never fouled. In a game where the “professional foul” is now endemic, and where even the golden girls of the USA are lauded for being “physical” (a soccer euphemism for thuggery) the Japanese women finished most of their games with a number of fouls you could count on one hand, and still have fingers left over. When they were tackled in the box they refused to dive. In fact, when they were tackled at all, they got right back up. This is not the game as it is now played. Even the US women when tackled go down and writhe about as if someone has removed their kneecaps with a spoon. Miraculously, mere seconds later their hellish torment has abated and they are bouncing around the park like young gazelles. And the US women are amateurs compared to the Brazilians; during coverage of one game Brandy Chastain reminisced about playing against Brazil and wryly alluded to the entire “Brazilian experience” which referred not so much to an extreme nether waxing procedure as to the repeated auditions by the Brazilian women for parts in a zombie apocalypse movie. I also don’t want to leave the impression that this is a problem with the women’s game. The men are actually even bigger drama queens. (What soccer badly needs is a “walk it off” rule; if someone is taken down, sure, give a foul, but then play on. As long as there is no blood or protruding bones, getting an owee is part of soccer; if someone wants to flail about on the grass and leave their team a player down, that is their business, but it shouldn’t interrupt the game. I’m betting that there would suddenly be a remarkable increase in the toughness of all soccer players). But the Japanese women? They don’t play that kind of game. In fact, they concentrated on playing the kind of soccer that the Brazilian men and women used to play.
2) Mountain Biking
FINALLY, they got it right. Since it first debuted as a demonstration sports, Mountain Biking has been televisually challenged. There are all kinds of sporting events that are really amazing, and you know that they are amazing if you’ve ever participated in them or watched them in person. But somehow they never quite translate to television (triathlon is still in this boat). As anyone who has ever even dabbled in mountain biking knows, it is some seriously cool fun. But in the Olympics a combination of course design and static camera work never really conveyed that feeling. This year, the Brits knocked it out of the park. A course that wasn’t buried away in a forest but was in instead open, accessible (to spectators on the course also) and filmed with a variety of mobile cameras (including ones that ran up and down slopes on tram rails) made for an up-close and gripping experience. The finale of the men’s race in particular with three guys sprinting it out, one without a seat and a seatpost (!) had me on the edge of my seat in a way that only the Tour de France ever has.
OK, this is hardly a new technology, but it seems like it took a big jump in quality during these Olympics. The mountain bike coverage was again a case in point (some amazing high-rez images of sinewy bodies taking a pounding). New camera technologies ideally aren’t just novelty items focused on surface appearances but help us see something deeper in people. In this case, underlying muscle structure.
4) Brian May
Sure, he looked like the walking dead, but the dude can still play. May’s piece at the closing ceremonies started out as a guitar break on “Brighton Rock” and then over the years grew into its own stand-alone piece and a concert favorite. Sometimes it was May alone, sometimes accompanied by drummer Roger Taylor. May’s particular technique on this piece involves using multiple single echos to build up elaborate harmonies and counterpoint, a trick often done in the studio but done live on stage. Seeing May rock this out on the center stage at the Olympics was a nice surprise, and a throwback to the glam rock era. You know, before the kids and their synthesizers began cluttering up my lawn.
The closing ceremony rendition of Bowie’s “Fashion” with the Nazi-stormtrooper fashion police accompany trailers that were later opened to reveal a number of has-been supermodels was one of my favorite moments, mainly because it had to be intended ironically (it is after all a song all about the idiocy of chasing trends) but one where the has-been models who were the former purveyors of said trends seemed to be presented without apparent irony. But that is perhaps the hallmark of modern culture: it is impervious to irony. Still, the piece did make a welcome counterpoint to the endless “OMG! Social media is, like, so totally awesome” song montage from the opening ceremony. Again, any intentional irony was probably irrelevant.
. . .To the Depths of Hades
1) Ryan Seacrest
and as if that weren’t bad enough. . .
2) Ryan Seacrest reading tweets
Let’s leave aside the fact that I still can’t figure out what audience this guy is supposed to be appealing to (aside from the frontal lobotomy demographic). NBC kept trotting him out to do nothing more than read tweets. Now, I don’t do Twitter, but I’m pretty sure that the idea for the twits who do tweet (and the twats who read them) is that you get the information in real time: you don’t rely on a celebrity suckup telling you what is trending on TV. This, of course, is the classic “borrowed glory” strategy where old media tries to incorporate references to new media in order to prove to the kids today that it is still hip and that they can dig it, man.
I believe the technical term for this is “lame.”
3) The Opening Ceremony
Now that I’ve had more time to think about it my conclusion is still: nope, don’t get it. I’ve read all the theories. That it was a celebration of Britain’s contribution to the world (that doesn’t explain the NHS stuff; I live in the US and I can tell you that the idea that the national government should actually look out for people is definitely not one that has caught on here). That it was a celebration of those things that made England what it is today (except that the biggest thing that made England what it is today was WWII. But this is the Olympics, so we all must obey Basil Fawlty’s stern injunction: “Don’t mention the war!). That it was a celebration of Britain’s contribution to the technological march of progress: whose apparently unlimited potential has reached the absolute pinnacle: exchanging monosyllabic texts while out on a bender with the lads looking for someone to shag. That it was a big party for the world. Yeah, nothing gets you dancing and reminds you that the world is all hunky dory like Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” (of course, if you are too busy exchanging “whr R U?” texts to actually listen to the words of any of the songs on your playlist then that probably makes no difference). It had its moments, but they were moments in a big, sprawling, incoherent mess, the worst opening ceremony since the craptastic LA Olympics and not a patch on Beijing.
Plus, there was a most shocking lack of Spitfires.
4) Paul McCartney
Awwwww, wasn’t he cute? No, actually, he was bloody terrible and everyone in the media seemed to have reached a polite agreement to cough into their hands and look the other way. With his voice scratchy, reedy and barely in tune, Sir Paul gamely tackled arguably his best known song, an excellent choice if you were trying to show everyone that it was really time to take down your shingle. Maybe for the media it just felt like kicking puppies. But their job is to call it as they see it (and hear it). And to anyone not in a persistent vegetative state, Sir Paul sucked ass.
5) NBC: STFU and Show the Sports
I’m not one of the people leaping on the bandwagon criticizing NBC for delaying some coverage and results until prime time. So some people couldn’t get to see some sports as they were happening. Boo Fucking Hoo. NBC was broadcasting on at least two and usually three channels all day with many, many events covered in real-time, more than I can remember from previous Olympics, actually. What’s wrong with having a little something to look forward to at the end of the day?
That said, when I tuned in to the prime time coverage, I wanted to see actual sports. I didn’t want to see fluff pieces, especially not fluff pieces lasting half an hour or more. Retrospectives on the Magnificent Seven (no, not the movie. Unfortunately,): nice, but save it for the post-Olympics cereal-box tie-ins. A bewildering series of long, long, looooooong items on the Dream Team. Yeah, we get it. There was this great basketball team from a great basketball nation. Apparently there was some doubt that this great basketball team from the greatest basketball nation would actually crush everyone else in the Olympics. They crushed everyone in the Olympics. Now, back to your regularly scheduled coverage of this year’s men’s basketball team crushing everyone in the Olympics. A long, long, looooooong documentary explaining some basic facts of English history (hint: there was this thing called World War II. Like World War I but with enhanced devastation and bloodletting) for US audiences. Seriously, why bother. Americans don’t care about history. Their historical knowledge is pegged permanently only just above their geographical knowledge. They do care about sports. Many of them only care about sports. So play sports.
This was the worst thing about NBC’s delayed coverage. That when you actually got to the prime time coverage they continued to delay. First you had to sit through at least half an hour of fluff. Then you had to sit through the obligatory hour of diving (honestly, is this sport really that popular in the US? Let alone the fact that all the diving competitions had a stunning lack of suspense to them. Will the Chinese win again? I don’t know, let’s see. . .). There were lots of big events that we never saw simply because we have lives that involve things other than TV watching (you know, actually earning money, training for an Ironman) that require us getting up some time before noon the next day and therefore tend to work against staying up to midnight to see 30 seconds of coverage of the 100 metres.
6) Enough with the goddam beach volleyball, already!
OK, I get the idea that it is scantily clad women. But if you need to tune into the Olympics to get your scantily clad women fix, then here’s a tip for you: there’s this little thing called the Internet, you may have heard of it. . . . The sheer quantity of beach volleyball also suggests that they really need to streamline their qualification process. At the moment it seems as if anyone who wants to front a team gets to compete. USA plays Eritrea. Oh the suspense. Of course, many of the matches seemed to be nothing more than competitions to see who had the most artfully applied (and biomechanically dubious) kinesio tape.
7) Remember when sports used to involve suspense?
Speaking of sports that need their qualification process revised, let’s talk basketball, men’s and women’s. Can we just give both USA teams a free pass to the gold medal round for the next Olympics? Honestly, you would have to be the most tragically puerile sports fan to enjoy the spectacle of your team not just winning all the time, but winning by stealing their opponent’s lunch, taking a crap in it, and making them eat it. Every game. All the time. For ever and ever amen.
8) USA! USA! US. . .Oh shut up and sit down.
To be fair, NBC actually did a pretty good job in allowing you to see that there were other countries competing in the Olympics other than the USA. Thanks to that I was able to see completely by accident a few Kiwi athletes (including one amazing woman kayaker just crushing everyone else). But at times the “must show US athletes at all costs” mentality just took over. Probably the low point of this was when they showed the men’s waterpolo team. Playing a match for seventh place.
9) NBC: The Nanny Network
One thing you can always rely on broadcast TV to do is to treat its audience like small children that need to be protected from the brutal realities of the world. Which don’t, apparently, include graphic violence, sex and racy dialogue. No, what is really going to fuck up the children of the world is bad language. This reached the height of idiocy in NBC’s already botched coverage of the closing ceremony when they bleeped out the word “shit” in “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Now unless you’ve been living under a particularly humorless rock you are probably aware of that song. You know how it goes. Bleeping out “shit” doesn’t really prevent anyone from knowing that that word is there. I’m betting that a goodly percentage of children (at least the ones who should still have been up at that hour) would be aware that that word exists in the world. And that sometimes it can be very, very funny. As in a, oh I don’t know, Monty Python song, for instance. NBC continued with this sterling effort by cutting off the final “Fuck You” (not bleeping but rendering it inaudible) of the amazing projection of Freddie Mercury doing the sing-and-response routine from the famous Wembley concert video (Freddie always let the audience win at the end, and then profanely mock-pouted). Clearly the crowd in the stadium heard it, and there was . . .what, shock? Outrage? No, laughter. English profanity is a lingua franca. But this also underscored the huge difference between the UK and the US: apparently one country isn’t threatened by the many varieties of language, but the other is.
One nation has a resurrected Freddie Mercury playing games with the audience and ending with a petulant “fuck you.” The other has an animatronic Ryan Seacrest reading tweets.