Olympian Thoughts…

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beach-volleyball-1252930-300x225What’s with the pageantry of the opening ceremony of the Olympics? I’m sorry. I just never got into watching the Rose Bowl Parade. Show the actual game, then I might be inclined to sit a spell and take in the sport.

You can well appreciate, then, my attitude going into this year’s Summer Olympics presented a less than enthusiastic air. Left to my own devices, I would have skipped the entire spectacle, opting instead for a series of classic John Wayne movies. Alas, we have a “stay-at-home-son” (as he refers to himself) who, doing his best to maintain male stereotypes, can’t go a day, an hour, a minute, a second, without sports. Thus was I imprisoned in my own home, forced fed a steady diet of Olympian athletic cuisine.

“What the heck,” I thought. “Why not turn lemons into lemonade?” And so, what follows represents the good, the bad, and the ugly of my experience perched in front of the magic screen, absorbing the events going on in Rio. There’s no particular order to this. I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.

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Beach volleyball. What can I say, this is my new favorite Summer Olympics sport. The hardwood volleyball with its large teams is mostly about power and less about finesse. The two man (or woman) team beach volleyball really emphasizes finesse (although power does come in handy every once and a while). I spent nearly my entire high school gym career on the volleyball court (the default sport whenever the weather was bad – and the weather must have been bad a lot when I was in high school). While football always remained my favorite participatory sport (I played well into my 30s), volleyball wasn’t far behind. I once spent a week under intense volleyball training at a tropical resort. OK, most people focused on the “resort” side of things. I focused on the volleyball training. It was before there were a lot of adult leagues, and well before the sport attained the popularity it has today. I just liked playing the game. And for a guy 3-5 inches shorter than the others, I had to rely on a finesse that all the power players couldn’t appreciate until they saw it in action. I like finesse in volleyball. There’s a lot of finesse in beach volleyball. I like beach volleyball.

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Bob Costas. I used to like Bob Costas. He was once a great sportscaster. He had a broad knowledge of the sports he was assigned to. He also had a pleasant erudition about him that I enjoyed. But then he started believing all those complimentary press clippings about him. You know what generally happens after that, and it happened with Bob Costas. Soon, he began using his sports pedestal to comment on non-sports matters. It turned out he wasn’t as smart or as independent a thinker as the teleprompter made him out to be. I was very disappointed. This disappointment continues every time I see and hear him. Today, that pleasant erudition of old has become an annoying know-it-all demeanor. I’ll take Ryan Seacrest over Bob Costas any day. And that’s not saying much.

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Nationalism. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s gratuitous nationalism. OK, there’s one thing worse – politically correct nationalism, as in, it’s OK to cheer for some countries but not others. And I’m not just saying this because most of the world would rather see the USA lose, even (and sometimes especially) against countries run by ruthless first world and third world totalitarian regimes. Now, I know and understand why the Olympics were originally founded as a country vs. country (actually, city-state vs. city-state) event. Indeed, because they’ve become a proxy for other forms (both physical and economic) of international competition, the overt nationalism seems strangely inappropriate. I say, let the athletes compete as, well, athletes. Heck, if someone wants to create a bob sled team made up of a Jamaican, an American, and a Laplander, I say, “Why not?” Teamwork doesn’t need to be constrained to the somewhat arbitrary borders of nations. Besides, what better way to foster international cooperation than creating teams with members from different nations?

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Patriotism. That being said, I will always cheer for Team USA. Sure, I could do without the sappy back stories. I mean, really, so Michael Phelps got a couple of DUIs. There are a lot of stupid people out there, and athletes are no different. What sets athletes apart from everyone else, though, is their discipline when it matters. My guess is the last thing Michael Phelps had on his mind before a race was getting a drink. No, he focused on his race. Not even some weird French (“I’m coming for you, Ricky-Bobby”) guy in the green room could distract him. That’s cool. Especially because the weird French guy failed to win a medal and Phelps got the gold. Phelps showed a discipline that is nothing less than admirable. And I truly hope he and his new family (a son and a “fiancé”? – wait, isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?) live a productive, successful, and wholesome life. In the meantime, I am very happy to see him win. After all, he is an American.

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#NBCFail. Each Olympics we hear complaints about tape delays. This occurs most frequently when the games are half a world away. But Rio’s time zone is only an hour ahead of our time zone. We can see most of the events live – if only NBC decides we should. For the most part, I don’t mind short delays. I can understand the need to insert paid advertising or even to juggle schedule conflicts so the primetime network audience can see all the important events. This past Saturday, represented the low point (at least as of this writing) of NBC’s coverage. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Just see what everyone was saying on Twitter. After spending the entire day promoting the men’s beach volleyball match featuring the top American team, here’s what happened: So, there you have it. My favorite sport and my favorite country. Together. Beginning at 11pm. It was right there on the schedule. So, what does NBC show at 11pm? Tape delayed reruns of the track and field trial heats. Tape Delayed! Trial heats! And they had the nerve (via Ryan Seacrest) to continue to tease about the “upcoming” men’s volleyball match – that was going on even as he teased it. Well, twitter exploded and our TV went from NBC to the internet (thank you Chromecast and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).

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Bill Murray. Bill Murray is crazy. In fact, he’s so crazy he’s a genius. In case you missed his Tweet that went viral, here it is: “Every Olympic event should include one average person competing for reference.”

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And that’s enough thoughts from my end. At least for another four years. (Two if you count the Winter Olympics.)

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