Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I had no plans to watch the Olympics, but I tuned into the opening ceremonies for the heck of it. Nothing else was on TV. Part pageantry and part Triumph of the Will. It was both an impressive demonstration and a reminder of how China wants to be a worthy rival on the world stage. The way the Chinese have been competitive in so many events shows the determination. And yet, how much of their prowess is the vacuum left by the Eastern Block nations?

During female gymnastics on Sunday, Romania was competing and they showed Nadia in the stands all grown up. The commentator lamented that the Romanian program was no where near as good as it used to be. They have lost their greatness and such. A girl on the team made a pretty big mistake on her routine and when she returned the coach hugged her. The announcer said that they never would have hugged her for that routine in the old days. Yeah, in the old days it was off the gulag. Imagine a couple of Mississippi farmers lamenting in the 1880s that they use to have a great cotton picking program here some years back and they can’t figure out what happened.

Sports are great. Life is tough and sports teach that there are winners and losers. But the Soviets and their allies used sports as a form of war. That they could create and train the world best athletes was supposed to represent how greatness could only be achieved through the loss of personal freedom. Jimmy Carter made us wonder if the Soviets were right. It took the 1980 U.S. Hockey team to teach us differently. The former satellites have different priorities today. The kids on that team have no memory of communism or the collective mechanism that delivered Nadia. To a person so focused on gymnastics it probably looks like a great loss. But a great many Romanians are better off as a result of the same thing that makes their gymnasts stink. The Romanians could be great once again, but it’s not the same priority anymore. It will take individuals in that nation who can step up. If they were to do so it would be more significant than any medal they won before.

I like the production that NBC is putting on. Bob Costas is underused at NBC with no baseball and seeing him is always a pleasure. I suspect too that it was his idea to bring Cris Collinsworth over for feature stories. Collinsworth is a unique guy who always seems happy and yet pulls no punches when talking about football. It was a pleasure to see him show up. It has also been a pleasure not to see Keith Olbermann. I cringed when Costas invited him into the Sunday night broadcasts and maybe I wasn't the only one. I thought Costas was great in his interview with Bush too. For a guy who covers sports he seemed quite knowledgeable about the issues and he asked Bush questions that were tough yet respectful. Bush too was at his best. He is not a good speech maker but he quite good off the cuff. For instance, Costas asked if he pressed the Chinese on their human rights record. Bush replied that he doesn't need the Olympics for that. He presses them every time he sees them.

I have been staying up too late and watching every event. Phelps is a great story and that relay win on Sunday was tremendous. I wanted to jump off the couch.

I watched volleyball, cycling, gymnastics, fencing, basketball and even soccer. I have already watched more than Athens and Sydney combined. It somehow seems important since China is an up and coming nation and potential rival. The Chinese athletes themselves have been quite gracious unlike the Soviets and that has made the whole thing more enjoyable too.

It was another great night for the Americans. Despite losing two big players to injury, the men's gymnastics team won bronze in the all-around. And Natalie Coughlin's teary singing of the National Anthem after winning gold in the backstroke was the most touching Olympic moments I have seen this time around.

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