Mon, May 20

A look back at the London Olympics

VVN/Sean Morris

VVN/Sean Morris

How well did you do eliminating all forms of daytime media the last two weeks in an effort to keep the primetime tape-delayed London Olympics a surprise? I did horribly. Every time I looked at the Internet for any reason, Olympic tidbits caught my periphery. Once I knew the outcome, I read entire stories before viewing events on television.

Undoubtedly, media-provided foresight changes the Olympic viewing experience; however, so-called spoilers could never sour it for me. The story lines make the Olympic spectacle special -- displays of athleticism allure the world in the short term, but stories of cultural relevance, triumph, kinship, unity, and bravery endure beyond the 24-hour, scratch that, 12-hour news cycle.

Nine hundred sixty two medals were awarded and thousands of athletes participated, so of course I missed some things, but here is a look back on some of the story lines I found relevant to the most important cultural event in the world.

American women dominate

For the first time ever, America sent more women to the Olympics than men. American women won 58 medals including 29 gold. If American women succeeded from the union and competed under their own banner, they would have placed fourth in the medal count. Why were they so successful?

Firstly, they come from a country that values athletics more than any other country. America won the most medals overall (104).

Secondly, they come from a country concerned with equality. Saudi Arabia made headlines by sending female athletes to the games for the very first time -- they didn't do well, but the Olympic creed states taking part is the most important, and the female Saudis exemplified the creed.

Sarah Attar and Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani blazed a trail hopefully more women can follow, yet the fact only two of them competed, and didn't really compete, highlights inequality more than equality.

America celebrated 40 years of title IX this summer, and the USA women demonstrated what that legislation has done. American women looked amazing at the 30th Olympiad. National pride oozes like forehead sweat everywhere you look at the Games, and the American women displayed something we all can be truly proud of. We're still far from equality in sports, but we're still moving in the right direction.

USA gymnastics women win gold and Gabby Douglas wins All Around

Douglas became the first woman of color to win the All Around Gymnastics gold. I don't pay attention to gymnastics too much, but when the Olympics come around I can't get enough. I can tell Gabby Douglas isn't the most graceful -- the Americans aren't that graceful as a team -- but they're the most powerful.

Artistry in gymnastics has taken a back seat to athleticism and level of difficulty. I'm not mad at the development, not even a little, because the real artistry in gymnastics is not how competitors fancifully move their arms like a ballerina between tricks, it's in how the athletes are able to push themselves to the limit of what the human body can do.

I appreciate style and grace too, but the American women won because they powerfully executed difficult tricks better than the Russians and vaults were a big part.

Alexandra Raisman took gold on floor and bronze on beam after losing a tiebreaker for bronze in the All Around.

MiKayla Maroney is the No. 1 vaulter in the world -- in the team competition she held it down (one judge's jaw dropped in amazement), but in the individual vault final Maroney faltered and earned silver. During the medal ceremony Maroney made a funny face and became an Internet meme. Here is an explanation. 

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings win third straight

Misty May and Kerri Walsh had huge expectations on the beach volleyball court after winning in Athens and Beijing -- they won in '04 and '08 without dropping a set. They lost one set in '12, but still won the gold.

The final match was against another American team, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross (21-16, 21-16). Misty and Kerri immeasurably popularized beach volleyball and solidified an already great legacy. They weren't the best athletes on the court this time; they won with mental focus and great teamwork. Here's a funny ponder on volleyball sand.

Michael Phelps given title of greatest Olympian

The Baltimore Bullet won four gold medals and two silvers in London, adding to his boatload from Athens and Beijing, making him the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. With a total of 22 medals (18 gold), Phelps is without a doubt the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time, but does that make him the greatest Olympian of all time?

I'd say yes because he dominated the sport for so long. Phelps has twice as many gold medals as Mark Spitz, a man considered the greatest swimmer before Phelps. Swimming gives athletes many more chances to win than other sports, but Phelps won so many more than anyone ever has, he has to be considered the greatest.

Usain Bolt repeats at 100 and 200 meters

No man ever went back to back at 100 and 200 meters until Usain Bolt tripled in Beijing and London (he also anchored the world record Jamaican 4x100 relay).

Who faster? Nobody faster. Bolt made it look easy. The 100-meter final was the fastest average time for a field ever in an Olympics -- eight runners finished under 10 seconds.

Bolt's greatness came into question after he lost the 100 and 200 at the Olympic trials in Jamaica to countryman Yohan Blake. Bolt said losing to Blake forced him to refocus.

Here is an awesome computer generated info movie made by the New York Times that I think you will enjoy. 

USA women set 4x100 world record

40.82 is the new mark. Allyson Felix, Tianna Madison, Bianca Knight, and Carmalita Jeter reclaimed the 4x100 relay title for the US. They're the first women's team to run the relay under 41 seconds.

Felix won gold in the 200 meters and also ran a leg for the gold medal 4x400 USA team. Sanya Richards-Ross anchored the 4x400 and cruised to victory. Richards-Ross won the 400 individually.

17-year-old from Aurora

After Missy Franklin's performance in London, people said she's "the future of USA swimming." She won four gold medals and a bronze in her Olympic debut and posted a world record in the 200-meter backstroke.

She attends school in Aurora, Colorado, a place most known for a psychopathic killing spree at the 12-o'clock premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" just a few weeks prior to the Olympics. Franklin gave her community something to be proud of and now she has to decide whether to attend college or go pro straight out of high school.

Manteo Mitchell runs on a broken leg

He said he felt his leg break while running his leg of a 4x400 preliminary, but Monteo Mitchell still ran a 45 second split and his USA team qualified for the finals. Monteo hurt himself slipping on a stairway in the Olympic Village a few days before the relay prelims. The USA 4x400 men's relay team ended up losing two other runners, including top dog LaShawn Merritt, but USA still earned silver.

Oscar Pistorius runs with no legs

South African double amputee 400-meter runner Oscar Pistorius captivated the world by competing at the able-body Olympics and making it to the semifinals. There were arguments over whether he should be allowed to compete because some people said his prosthetic legs gave him an advantage. If that sounds cruel, it is.

Grenada's Kirani James exchanged bibs with Pistorius after the South African was eliminated in the semifinal race. James ended up winning gold in the event and was just as inspired by Pistorius' triumph as the rest of us.

Men's 800-meter final

Much attention goes to sprinters, and the 100-meter final did impress, yet the men's 800-meter final was the greatest 800 race of all time.

David Rudisha of Kenya won the race with a world record time (1:40.91). Every placer after that set an Olympic record for place: for instance Britain's Andrew Osagie finished eighth with a time of 1:43.77, and that was the fastest time an eighth-place finisher ever ran. It also was fast enough to earn a gold medal in the previous three Olympics. Timing is everything.

Women's marathon swim boils down to four tenths

Swimmers win races in four tenths of a second all the time -- sprinting in the pool! Hungary's Eva Risztov and American Haley Anderson swam 10 kilometers in a Lake and .4 seconds decided gold and silver. The same small margin decided bronze too, when Italy's Martina Grinaldi out touched Britain's Keri-Anna Payne. Check out story here. 

Jumper from Mountain Pointe wins silver and bronze

Phoenix's Will Claye earned a silver in the triple jump and a bronze in the long jump. He's the first guy to medal in both events since 1936! Doesn't that seem odd -- that jumpers don't normally medal in both? Way to go Will Claye!

Britain makes resurgence

A host nation needs to represent, and the Brits came up big with 29 gold medals and 65 overall. They also hosted the game flawlessly. Leading up to the games, security concerns existed. As the games commenced and the world came together, those fears were lost. Notable Brits: Mo Farah won Men's 10,000 and 5,000 meters, Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, Bradley Wiggins won Men's bike time trial, Andy Murray defeated Roger Federer to win men's singles in tennis.

USA Women's soccer

One of the greatest soccer games ever -- the semifinal between the USA and Canada. Christine Sinclair scored three goals for Canada, but the Americans came back to force extra time. USA beat Canada in the 122nd minute on an Alex Morgan header. Tidbit: University of Portland alum Megan Rapinoe scored two USA goals in the semifinal. The hat-tricking Canadian also attended the same school.

USA beat Japan in the final, the team that beat them in the last World Cup. Most impressive, the level of play USA had to beat. The world might be ready for professional women's soccer. Here is an article you might find interesting on the topic.

NBC coverage criticized

Many people complained about the USA television coverage of the London games - some of it warranted, but most of it just noise. It seems no matter what you do, someone will complain. I found myself cringing listening to gymnastics commentary, but for the most part, NBC did a good job. I especially liked Ato Boldon's track commentary.

Favorite quote about the games

"A bunch of countries coming across the ocean to put their flags in Britain and try to get a bunch of gold . . . it's like history but opposite."

-Cam Welch (a guy on twitter)