Saturday, August 4, 2012

Olympic Wrap-up Week 1

I know, I know, it's been so long since I've posted that I should really be updating on how we're doing and what we're doing.  In a way this sort of hits that.  Trav's out of town again, in Carlsbad, New Mexico for the next month.  And the kids and I have been watching a lot of the Olympics.  Gideon's very cute, every time he sees the image of the flag pop up on the TV he says "Mom look the Americans won!" And he asks me to sing the Star Spangled Banner at least a half dozen times a day "Mom, sing that American song again." So yes we've caught Olympic fever around here.  You already knew I was a nerd about these sports as I've blogged about them before, but we're definitely taking in more than normal the last few days.

Because she knows I'm an addict, on Sunday, my mom, who doesn't have TV or time to watch anything online, asked me to send her a daily update each evening.  What started as just a medal count and brief description has morphed into "The Olympics according to Cali" of course, because I can't seem to keep my opinion out of it.  But she and my sisters seem to be enjoying my opinion on everything so much, that they've encouraged me to post my little blurbs on my blog.  I doubt if anyone will even care, but here goes.  Week 1 according to me.

July 28 & 29, Days 1 & 2
American Kim Rhode won gold in skeet shooting by hitting a record 99 of 100 targets. It was Rhode's 5th Olympic medal. At 17 years old she won gold in Atlanta in the Double Trap. She has qualified for & won a medal in every Olympic games since. She's the first American woman to win a medal in 5 consecutive Olympic games.

In the pool the Americans continue to dominate. Of the 8 events contested this weekend Americans have medaled in every single one thus far, winning 2 gold, 3 silver & 3 bronze. One of those silvers came Sunday night in a thrilling 4x100 meter relay where the U.S. & French repeated their showdown from Beijing 4 years ago. This time however, it was the French chasing down the American & out toucing him in the final seconds. In a reversal of Beijing the Americans were left in stunned silence on the pool deck while the French screamed & celebrated. That silver medal gave Michael Phelps his 17th Olympic medal & first silver to go with his 2 bronze & 14 gold from the two previous games. With one more medal Phelps will tie the overall total of most medals held by one athlete.

In other news on Sunday two American women, Abby Johnston & Kelci Bryant broke what some people are calling a drought & others a curse by winning a silver medal in the 3M synchronized springboard diving event. Although the U.S. dominated diving in the 80's, they've fallen off in recent years having won only 1 diving medal in the 2000 Sydney games & have failed to make the podium in any diving event since.

The 8 swimming medals make up 2/3 of the total 11 U.S. medals so far when you add in Rhode's shooting gold, the men's team archery silver & the women's diving silver.

Tomorrow looking forward to more excitment as swimming continues, but the biggest intrigue surrounds the U.S. men's gymnastic team who qualified in first place for today's team competition making them the first US men's team with a chance for a team gold medal in an unboycotted Olympics.

July 30, Day 3
The runner up for the day's biggest tragedy award goes to hometown favorites. Tom Daly & Peter Waterfield were leading the men's 10M synchro diving event when they botched their next to last dive & fell to 4th, failing to medal. The saddest part was how silent the diving venue became when the previously loud & largely British crowd realized that no medal would happen for them today.

But the saddest figures of the day were the US men's gymnastics team. After qualifying in first for the men's team competition they had a few major falls and ended up finishing in 5th, squarely out of medal contention. They still have a very fair chance of a half dozen or so medals with the all-around & event finals coming up later in the week, but after such a strong showing during qualification it was a major blow to go home without a team medal. Especially because they're the reigning Olympic & World bronze medalists.

Even without the gymnastics medal, the US picked up a half dozen more, bringing the grand total to 17 so far, tying with China in total medals. Two of those medals were bronze, one in women's judo & the other a complete surprise as Nick McCrory & David Boudia (a Purdue grad, mom) took advantage of the Brits' mistake and captured 3rd in the men's 10M platform synchronized diving behind the Chinese & a spectacular duo from Mexico. So the US, after a 12 year drought is now 2 for 2 with diving medals & hopes are high for the events to come.

As has been the trend thus far the other 2/3 of today's medals (comprising 2 golds & 2 silver) came in the pool as the American swimmers continue to dominate. 17 year old Missy Franklin lived up to the hype by claiming gold in the women's 100M backstroke just 14 minutes after finishing her qualifying swim for tomorrow's 200M freestyle. Rebecca Soni repeated as silver medalist in the women's 100M breaststroke being barely out touched by a 15 year old Lithuanian who won her country's first medal. The two biggest stories from the pool were Ryan Lochte's failure to win a medal in the men's 200M freestyle where he came in 4th and the Americans going 1 & 2 for the second straight Olympics in the 100M backstroke. This time it was my latest swimming crush Matt Grevers & Nick Thoman who claimed the top two podium spots.

July 31, Day 4
Let's call this one "Sweet Revenge"

Of 15 events which awarded medals today, the U.S. brought home another 6, bringing the grand total thus far to 23, still tied with China for overall total.

Day 4 started out perfect for the U.S. Literally perfect. When American skeet shooter Vincent Hancock hit 25 of 25 targets in the gold medal round, sealing his second straight Olympic Gold for skeet shooting, the first man ever to win two straight. It got even better when the US Women's Gymnastics Team somewhat helped to avenge their male counterparts by not only winning the team gold medal, but blowing out the competition. They were so far ahead after three rounds, that the TV cameras caught images of the Romanians looking dazed sitting in stunned silence, while the Russians were seen crying. While the rest of the field unraveld the American girls got better. They could have botched all of their floor routines and still won. Instead they made it a victory lap, nailing all three. The margin of victory was more than 5 points in a sport that counts everything in hundredths and thousandths. The "Fab 5" of London becomes only the 2nd American Women's team to win Gold in the Team competition, following in the footsteps of Atlanta's "Magnificent 7." Though the US has been the reigning world champs at the past two Olympics, the teams have failed to capture gold and ended up in the second podium spot in both Athens and Beijing. Look for much more hardware from this group as it's very likely two of them will place in the individual all-around and four of them have qualified for event finals, two of them in two different disciplines.

And in the pool, the Americans kept to form once again winning medeals in all 4 events contested. Allison Schmitt who already has a Silver in the women's 400M Freestyle added to her total by winning the gold in the 200M freestyle in Olympic record time, beating world record holder Italy's Federica Pelligrini in the process. And Caitlin Leverenz brought home bronze in the women's 200M Individual Medley. The biggest story from the pool, of course, centered around two names: Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Phelps suffered another stinging loss when he was out touched by South African Chad Le Clos in his signature event, the 200M Butterfly. It was reminiscent of his own miraculous finish over Milorad Cavic in the Beijing games. Only this time the tables were turned and it was Phelps who was out touched in the final seconds. Although disappointed in it's color, a medal is a medal and for those keeping track, this makes number 18 for him, tying him with Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most all time. That record has stood for nearly a half century now, since Latynina won the last of her medals at the 1964 games in Tokoyo. The final event of the night would make Phelps the undisputed most highly decorated Olympian of all time. With help from Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Connor Dwyer, the Americans got some sweet revenge for the brutal loss handed them by the French in the 4X100 M relay two nights ago. The 4X200 wasn't even a contest. With Lochte swimming first and Phelps anchoring, the Americans blew out the rest of the field trouncing the second place French by more than 3 seconds. That's a lifetime in swimming. It was a sweet victory for the Americans who were chased down by the French in the very final seconds on Sunday night. And it gave Phelps medal number 19 and gold medal number 15. He and Lochte each have 3 medals from London to take home now and there are more finals waiting each of them still to come. One of which (the 200IM) will pit them against each other and as usual, they are the two favorites going in. So there's still more drama (and presumably many more medals) to come from the pool this week.

Now for two stories from the warm and fuzzy file. Mexican Divers in the Women's Synchronized 10M Platform event matched the silver medal won by their country men yesterday by bringing home one of their own on the strength of the most difficult dives in the competition. Guess recruiting those cliff diving kids from Acapulco turned out to be a good move. 

And for the home crowd there was a big victory with a royal twist when the team from Great Britain won the Equestrian Team Eventing silver medal. Eventing is a 3 day competition that started Saturday with dressage, continued with cross country yesterday and finished this morning with the jumping portion. Queen Elizabeth's oldest grandchild, Zara Phillips was a member of the silver medal winning squad on her horse the aptly named High Kingdom. She finished 14th place in the Individual standings, which ironically is also her place in line to the crown. There were several royal family members in attendance throughout the event to cheer her on, including her two most famous cousins (that would be numbers 2 & 3 in line for the throne if anyone's counting.)

August 1, Day 5
15 more medal events and the US comes home with another half dozen, 3 Gold & 3 Bronze. Bringing the total to 29.

For the first day since the Olympics started, the majority of the medals the Americans won on day 5 weren't won in the pool. The U.S. swimmers had a spectacular night despite only bringing home 2 gold medals. The last 24 hours have been buzzing with news of Michael Phelps winning his record 19th Olympic medal, but the talk quickly changed tonight though when Nathan Adrian (my newest crush du jour) outtouched heavily favored James "The Missile" Magnussen of Austraila in the men's 100M freestyle final by 1 one hundredth of a second, which is the smallest margin measured in swimming. A fingernail. He literally won by a fingernail. The 100 M Freestyle is often considered the "marquee" event of swimming. It boasts the fastest swimmers with usually the flashiest personalities. Despite the American dominance in swimming, the U.S. has failed to bring home a gold in this event since 1988. Adrian's brilliant touch & GQ looks will most certainly make him the sports newest Super Star. Later in the evening Rebecca Soni put the world on notice when she broke her own world record in the women's 200M breaststroke during the SEMIFINAL! Watch out, the medals for this one aren't even awarded until tomorrow night! The American women put on a show tonight by winning the 4 X 200M Freestyle relay during the final leg which was anchored by Allison Schmitt. She was joined by Shannon Vreeland, Missy Franklin and Dana Vollmer. And get used to hearing the name Missy Franklin she's already won 3 medals & she still has three more events ahead of her and is favored to win a medal in all of them.

Over in rowing, the U.S. women won a bronze medal in the Quadruple Sculling event. An event they haven't medaled in since a silver in 1984. Speaking of droughts, the US divers continue their comeback as the men's team of Troy Dumais & Kent Ipsen won a bronze medal in the 3M Springboard, the last of the synchronized diving events. And Kristin Armstrong proved that being 39 years old and taking 2 years off to have and raise a baby, doesn't have to slow you down. She defended her gold from Beijing by winning the road cycling time trials. The hardest fought battle for the Americans today came from Danell Leyva. Two days after being part of the men's gymnastic's team meltdown and 5th place finish, Leyva came into tonight's All Around competition as the number 1 qualifier. A fall on pommel horse in the second rotation, (almost a duplicate of what had started the team's unraveling on Monday) left him in 19th place and well out of medal contention. But he didn't give up and go home, he fought all the way back and nailed both paralell bars & high bar routines, posting some of the highest scores of the night which put him back on the podium with a bronze medal around his neck & a huge smile on his face. Leyva and several other team USA men will be back next week competing in event finals.

The real winners of Day 5 though were the host nation Great Britain. After earning only 2 bronze and 2 silver medals in the first 4 days of competition, Team GB finally had a breakthrough when they won their first gold medals of the game and actually more than doubled their medal count by earning 5 medals on day 5. A gold and a bronze in rowing and gold and bronze in cycling and a silver in swimming.

Day 6 will be another big one for the Americans if all goes as expected. In addition to Rebecca Soni's quest for gold in the pool, we'll get to see Ryan Lochte & Michael Phelps in action again, going head to head in the 200IM where they are the co-favorites for gold, as well as finals in the men's 200M backstroke (where Ryan Lochte is the favorite) and the women's 100M freestyle. Elsewhere two American women compete for individual gold in the gymnastics women's all-around and the American marksmen try and uphold the high standard set so far in London in the final of the double trap event. And in Equestrian events, the individual and team dressage get underway tomorrow.

August 2, Day 6
Ryan Lochte looked tired. And Aly Raisman didn't cry. On a day that saw the most successful efforts from Team USA thus far, those are the two images that are the most poignant.

In Rowing the US Women's 8 took the gold they were expected to get. Having dominated this event since 2006, they were the huge favorites. They haven't lost a competitive race in nearly 7 years. That includes 5 world championships and the 2008 gold medal in Beijing. The only real surprise, is that the margin of victory wasn't larger. But that's due mostly to the improvement of the other teams in recent years. Kayla Harrison was another surprise as she gave the US it's first ever gold medal in judo by winning the -78Kg weight class by beating home town favorite Gemma Gibbons.

It was also expected that an American would top the podium at the end of Gymnastic's all-around competition, the only question really was which one would it be. 16 year old Gabby Douglas or 18 year old team captain, Aly Raisman. Though the world was focused on Douglas and Jordyn Weiber, Raisman was quietly and consistently hitting her routines. Which Sunday night famously put her in the top US position for the all-around. Although known for her steadiness & consistency, Aly had a few shaky moments on beam and left out a key tumbling pass in her floor exercise that left her slightly behind. At the end of the night she watched team mate Douglas win the gold, while she found herself in a tie for third. Following the tie breaking procedure the bronze medal was awarded to Russian Aliya Mustafina, while Raisman sat in fourth place. Aly Raisman is as tough as nails. Despite what had to be severe disappointment and sadness, she didn't shed a tear. She didn't cry foul or point a blaming finger at the judges or the tie breaking system. She simply turned up the collar of her jacket and watched it all unfold. When asked by the media later, she said stoicly it was her own fault for not being on. Next time she'll do better. The truth is, in a sport with as deep a talent pool as the US has, it's very likely there won't be a next time for Aly Raisman and she knows that. But you saw none of the disappointment or pain on her face Thursday night. Instead you saw acceptance & determination. And that's what makes Aly Raisman a real champion.

It almost sounds pedestrian to say that the US cleaned up in the pool once again. But it's true. Five of the total 8 medals won by the Americans on day six were in the Aquatic center. Three of them were gold. The first was another stunning world record by Rebecca Soni in the women's 200M breaststroke. Just 24 hours removed from setting the mark, she blasted almost another half second off that time tonight leaving the field far behind her and becoming the first womam ever to go under 2:20 in this event..

But of course the biggest story out of the pool centers around the two biggest names in the sport. Lochte. And Phelps. If there's ever any doubt that what Michael Phelps has accomplished in his career is astounding, one needs look no further than Ryan Lochte on this day. Ryan Lochte is tired.

Lochte came into these olympic games with the swagger of a man who won 5 gold medals at last year's world championships. At 27 (he's 11 months older than Phelps as he'll turn 28 tomorrow) these are his third olympics. And while Michael Phelps took two years off and only returned to serious training a year ago, Lochte has spent the last four years building himself into the best all around swimmer in the world. He's changed his diet, added more strength training and even strong man workouts to make himself the fittest man in the pool, possibly the fittest man earth. (Move over Dean Karnazes, I'd rather see Lochte shirtless any day!) Coming into London with the second most ambitious program ever attempted (behind only Phelps of course) he was favored to win, not just medal in all six events. When he blew out the field to win gold in the 400IM it certainly looked like he was going to live up to those lofty goals. But then Frenchman Yannick Agnel chased him down during the final leg of the 4X100M relay, and we started to see cracks that weren't there in last year's world championship. The next day, he finished in 4th. Out of the medals in the 200M Freestyle. Although still upbeat and positive about his chances in his final three races, people were seeing less bravado from Ryan Lochte. He rebounded though. And with trademark Lochte style & swagger when he led off the 4X200M relay, building the lead that none of the other teams were able to surmount.

Tonight was the opportunity to add more individual gold in his final two events. The 200M backstroke in which he's the reigning olympic champion and the 200IM in which he's reigning world champion and currently holds the world record. Yesterday he had to swim 4 times in prelims and semi-finals. And tonight the two finals were less than half an hour apart. The 200M backstroke was going well, he led into the third turn but was passed by team mate Tyler Clary who had the swim of his life and touched first for gold. Irie of Japan somehow snuck by him as well. So it was that Lochte got his first bronze of these Olympic games. 20 odd minutes later, not even dry from his first final, came the event of the night with Phelps and Lochte going against each other and the world once again. This time it was Phelps who had the advantage. He led the entire race and once again rewrote history by becoming the first male swimmer to win an individual gold in the same event 3 straight olympics. When the numbers flashed up and the camera flashed to Lochte he looked.... worn out. He smiled during the media blitz and said all the right things "I get to go home with 5 olympic medals, 2 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze, so I'm happy with that" and "Yeah," Lochte said, "I wanted to get all golds in my events. You know what -- it didn't happen. I'm going to have to live with that and learn from that and … and try not to make the same mistakes for the next four years." But it was clear to anyone watching both during the medal ceremony and afterward that Ryan Lochte is tired.

That's what a demanding program like this can do to an Olympian. Even though he's the fittest man in the pool and the toughest competitor in the sport right now, Ryan Lochte is still human. (It's the same thing that we've learned about Michael Phelps during these Olympics. He's human. Not perfect. Not a robot. But more on that later.) And the human mind and body can only do so much. Which brings me back to my original point, what Michael Phelps has done in his career, Olympic and otherwise, is astounding. Almost super human. There are great athletes and elite athletes. And then there are those that almost transcend humanity. It's a small class. Phelps is certainly in it. As is Lance Armstrong. Roger Federer is on his way there. I can think of a few others but won't name them right now. The feats those athletes have accomplished my never be equaled. And if they are, it will only be because they were there to set the bar first. Lochte is still one of the best swimmers in the world. And he says he plans to come back to the Olympics in 2016 albeit with a less intense program. Weather he does return to the Olympics or not, he's got nothing left to prove anyway. He's been the best swimmer in the world the last few years and the only one who wasn't afraid of Michael Phelps. And regardless of what happens in the future, 11 Olympic medals can already do his talking.

And so went day six. A day that saw the oldest Olympian of these games (and second oldest of all time) compete when 71 year old Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan took the field in Equestrian Dressage. Hoketsu was also the oldest Olympian at the games in Beijing 4 years ago. After his first olympics in Tokyo's 1964 games where he competed in equestrian's show jumping, he left the sport, got a master's degree and went into business. Only when he retired did he consider competing again. When asked if he'll return for Rio in 2016 (which would make him the oldest Olympian of all time, passing 1920's 72 year old silver medal winning shooter Oscar Swahn) Hoketsu said he would like to but probably won't because his horse is getting too old. (His horse is 15 already.) A day that also saw the host nation once again having a stellar day winning another six medals and Dutch swimmer Ramoni Kromowidjojo winning the gold in the women's 100M Freestyle, the only swimming event of the day where the American's didn't medal. (And yes, I put that fact in there just to see if you could pronounce the name!) Mexico also doubled it's medal total when they took both the silver and bronze in the women's archery event.

August 3, Day 7
"...And One More Time With Feeling."

Day 7 was an emotional one. When 34 year old American Shot-Putter Reese Hoffa won a bronze medal, his first medal in three Olympics, the tears flowed. His wife and mother who had watched him come close twice before couldn't with hold their emotions. Shot Put is not an event that pays well. To continue to train and compete costs a lot, and after two near misses in two previous Olympics, Hoffa had to decide if he would be able to continue financially as well as physically. Tonight the decision to make those necessary sacrifices is validated as he wins the first U.S. track and field medal of these Olympic games.

It was packed to the rafters in the Aquatic Center tonight. 17,500 people including LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other members of Team USA basketball, as well as royalty were in the house, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came to cheer on home town favorite Rebecca Addlington. It was another outstanding performance by the Americans who won 5 more medals in the water and did it in no less dramatic fashion than usual. The men's 50M sprint is an all out chaotic rush from one end of the pool to the other. And the person who gets there first, wins a medal. There were two Americans in the field, and veteran Cullen Jones ended the evening with a silver medal in the "Splash and Dash." 17 year old phenom Missy Franklin shattered the world record in the women's 200M backstroke, winning her 3rd gold medal of these olympics. 4 medals already and expected to pick up another tomorrow night in the women's 4x100 Medley relay. That's one heck of an Olympic debut for a girl who'll be starting her senior year of high school in less than a month. But Franklin wasn't the only teenager to make some history tonight. 19 year old Elizabeth Beisel in her second Olympics who already has a silver from the women's 400IM in these games, finished third to Franklin bringing home a bronze medal for the U.S. Even more surprising was the gold medal in the women's 800M Freestyle which was won by American Katie Ledecky, who is not only the youngest member of the swim team, but at 15 years & 4 months is the youngest member of the entire U.S. delegation. She built an early lead in the distance race and never looked back finishing well ahead of the rest of the field including the aforementioned favorite Addlington of Great Britain who finished with the bronze. With the rest of the team USA swimmers cheering her to an emotional finish, Ledecky looked stunned at the end of the race, and couldn't stop the tears from escaping down her cheeks or her lip from quivering as the "Star Spangeled Banner" reverberated through the packed venue.

Three times the National Anthem of the United States played in that building tonight. And for the third time of this Olympics it was played for Michael Phelps. Who won the 100M Butterfly in almost as dramatic fashion as he's won it in the past two Olympics. Having a terrible start (he was visibly the last one off the blocks) he was in 7th at the only turn. But somehow he pulled out the Phelps magic. Or maybe it's the Phelps talent. Or the training. Whatever it was, it worked and he outtouched the competition to add medal number 21 and gold medal 17 to the overall total. It was a fitting finish to what he insists is the final individual race of his career. And Phelps himself wasn't unmoved. His own lip quivered and he blinked back moisture in his eyes during his own medal ceremony. For a man who's stood atop that very podium more than anyone else in history, who has heard that anthem played more than anyone else in history, it was still poignant to see how much he was moved by it.

That's been my favorite aspect of these Olympics so far. The metamorphasis of Michael Phelps. 8 years ago he was this gawky teenager who took the world by storm winning medals in all 8 of the events he was contesting at the Olympics. The whispers were already beginning back then. There were commentators, journalists, spectators and analysts who started throwing around the name Mark Spitz and saying something about 8 gold medals in Beijing. (I'll admit, I had to look up Mark Spitz because I wasn't exactly sure who he was at that point. Speed skater? Thank goodness for the internet!) The build up to Beijing was intense. He hadn't lost a race in years, he'd won every possible world championship and owned almost every world record in his events. Beijing was thrilling and yet I never got the sense that Phelps enjoyed it. He was more machine than man. Even as he racked up the victories, the only real burst of emotion we saw from him was on the 2nd night of the games when Jason Lezak staged that epic comeback to out touch the French in the 4X100M freestyle relay, keeping that hope of 8 gold medals alive and winning one of the most breathtaking races the world had ever seen. The scream he let out on the pool deck is one of the most recognizable images from those entire Olympics. And yet through the rest of that impossible run, the smiles seemed more like smiles of relief than happiness. In the ready room he always looked stoic. Headphones on, speaking to no one, staring straight ahead. Locked in his own head and his own race. And perhaps that's how it had to be in order to maintain that level of competition. One thing is certain he came out of Beijing with more gold medals than anyone else in the world and the most ever in one Olympics.

Which is why watching him in London has been so fun. Although he came into these games with goals to make more history and win gold in 7 more events, the pressure was already off to an extent. He had nothing left to prove. His disappointment at not medaling in the 400IM was evident. As was his shock when the US settled for silver in the 4X100M relay. By the time he was out touched in the 200M butterfly you saw the frustration beginning to mount. But later that night, when he swam the anchor leg for the 4X200 relay, finally getting that gold, there was an emotion there we'd never seen before. Joy. The whoop he let out at the end of that swim was one of not only relief but pure happiness. And for the first time that night, he got visibly choked up during the medal ceremony. 14 previous times he'd stood atop that podium, and never before had we seen this kind of emotion. But that's because this is a different Michael Phelps. A Michael Phelps who laughs and jokes with team mates and competitors. A Michael Phelps who cheers on Team USA from the ready room even though they can't hear him out in the pool. A Michael Phelps who seems, for the first time, actually happy. Happy to be there. Happy to be competing. Happy to be winning. Happy it's all coming to an end. Happy just to be swimming.  His legacy was set 4 years ago, so anything that happens here is just icing on the cake. And it's fun to see him actually enjoying himself.

Perhaps Rowdy Gaines said it best. After the thrilling finish in his final individual race tonight the longtime commentator echoed the thoughts of so many when he said, "Gosh I'm gonna miss that man!"

1 comment:

Darryl and Cindy Cunningham said...

This is so much better than listening to Bob Costas and Meredith. I especially love your description of Day 6, Aug. 2nd. I have not seen those images but your description was so poignant that I caught myself sighing in empathy with two of the best athletes the USA has to offer as they gracefully took defeat. I love the story about the shot putter too! What a sweet pay-off for him and his family.