Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Supermen

Man, you just gotta love the Olympics. Anyone who wants to see everything sport has to offer our society needs to sit down and watch a replay of the men’s 4x400 freestyle relay that occurred earlier in the night. This race had experts calling it the best relay race ever.

This event had it all:

Drama—The French, who tend to be not only stinky but shit-talkers as well, told the press that they would “smash” the American relay team, which included Michael Phelps, who spent a lot of time training at U of M (that’s how I’m rationalizing writing this for this blog, one with a focus on Michigan and Detroit sports). Honestly, does Phelps need any more motivation? This reminded me of when that Steelers safety called out Tom Brady before they played the Patriots. Don’t poke the bear!

Stakes—the somewhat ridiculous dream of Phelps winning eight gold medals would come to an end with anything less than a first-place finish. By the way, has any athlete ever had more pressure on his or her singular shoulders than this guy? Unless he wins eight, he cannot win. I’m thinking of guys like LeBron James when he entered the NBA, but he at least had a few years to fulfill those expectations, and there was some grey area as to what would be considered “failing” for him (if he averaged 20 and 10, would he be a failure?). Phelps has a cold, hard number as the only thing to measure his success. If he reaches it, he is perhaps the greatest modern Olympian ever. If not, he has failed. The really remarkable thing so far is he has handled it with such grace and humility and poise. The only hiccup was the drunk driving arrest, but I think we can put that behind us now.

National Pride—It’s the Olympics. Duh.

Team—Unlike the individual events, the relay forces swimmers to rely on their team in order to win. This would be substantially more difficult than, say, relying on your teammates on your basketball team to win. In basketball, you have the ability to make you teammates better (read: Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler). In swimming, you have to trust the other guy has done his homework and he is ready to go. Team camaraderie is one of the best aspects of sport, and this event provided it.

World Stage—Once again, the Olympics.

Quick note: I am very surprised at how easily I can tell all of the different white people in these games apart. I can tell the French were French just by looking at their faces. Same with the British. I can’t place what it is that tips me off, but it’s surprising to me.

The Yanks were the underdogs. The French had beaten them 2 Olympiads in a row. Apparently, those two victories had left their heads a little swollen.  This one French guy looked priceless when he warmed up near the pool. I don’t know if he put lotion on his nose or something, but it was so shiny it looked plastic. With his goggles on, it looked like he bought them and his nose as a set like at a gag gift store where you buy those glasses-nose-mustache combos.

We started off strong with Phelps going first, staying right with the French the whole first 100 meters. The second swimmer was the youngest one on the team, Garret Weber-Gale, and he performed admirably. I was mentioning earlier how much pressure Phelps is under, think about the guys on his relay team! They have the pressure of not messing it up for him! If they fuck up, not only do they let themselves down, they destroy the hopes of a man gunning to be the most decorated Olympian ever. God.

Cullen Jones, who the experts said was the slowest one of the four, came up huge in his 100. He looked like he was going to fall back after about 75 meters, but hung in there and set up our anchor and elder statesman, Jason Lezak, beautifully. When Lezak dove into the pool, he was about half a body length behind the French anchor, Alain Bernard. He remained so until about 50 meters from the finish, when he just reached inside and found something only he knew was there. He overcame a substantial margin at the very end of the race to beat the French by literally a finger. The man who had a bit of a rep for choking in big races swam the race of his life at the perfect time, beating Bernard by eight one-hundredths of a second and giving the United States the gold.

The best part was when NBC showed the underwater cam, and Bernard clearly looks at Lezak as they are about to finish. Lezak returns his stare, and opts not to take the extra stroke at the end that Bernard did, a decision that ultimately decided the race. The Americans were going nuts, nobody thought they would do it but them, nobody believed in them, blah, blah, blah, but they pulled it out on the grandest stage possible and kept the Eight-Carat Dream (a Joe original) alive. Bravo.

Afterwards, watching the medal ceremony, you could see the pride in the way the United States team stood up there and repped their country. They should be proud, and we should be proud of all of them. They performed like heroes.

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