I almost hate to admit it, as cynical as I am, and as sarcastic as I am, but I've got to say it: I've got Olympic fever. I watched the incredible opening ceremonies on Friday night, alternately in awe and terrified at the 2,008 drummers shouting and beating their drums. I watched Michael Phelps win his first gold medal in the 400 IM as he started his quest to best Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at one Olympic Games. I've watched beach volleyball (men's and women's), indoor women's volleyball, boxing, team handball, men's and women's gymnastics, men's water polo, countless other swimming events, and even women's badminton. I've watched almost every chance I've had. I've commented on the fact that the badminton announcers call it a "shuttle" because they're afraid to say "shuttlecock." I've spoken with a buddy about how hard it must be to play five minutes of beach volleyball. I've thought that it seems rather sad that Michael Phelps can swim 400M faster than I can cover the same distance on the ground. I felt happy for Raj Bhavsar, who frankly got screwed after the U.S. Olympic trials when he was left off the men's gymnastics team, when after several injuries he ended up getting to compete.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the awesomeness of the U.S. 4x100M relay team sticking it to France last night. The French talked a bit of smack in the days leading up to the Olympics, declaring that they were there to "smash" the Americans. Unfortunately for the Frenchies, Jason Lezak did his best Kurt-Russell-playing-Wyatt-Earp impression, standing up and saying "NO" and over the last 50m ran down world record-holder Alain Bernard in one of those "I'm watching this but I don't believe what I'm seeing" moments. Lezak swam the fastest 100m ever recorded. Ever. All that was missing was Jack Buck exclaiming "I don't believe what I just saw!"
The race itself was a microcosm of almost all sports. You had the star, Phelps, leading off the relay and setting a new American 100m split record in the process, which although great, still wasn't good enough for the lead. Then you had Garrett Weber-Gale and Cullen Jones swimming the next two legs, both toiling in relative obscurity but now exposed on the biggest stage with the very real possibility of being designated as "the one who screwed it up for Phelps." They didn't.
And then there was Lezak, the sage veteran. He's anchored the relay team for years. He anchored the U.S. relay teams in 2000 and 2004, the only two years the Americans haven't won this event. He likely wanted to win this one more than any other swimmer in Bejing. At the 50m turn, he was almost a full length behind. I said, "Well, it's over." I kept watching, hoping for a miracle. 25m to go, and it was a half a length. The crowd began to cheer louder and louder. 10M to go and I was yelling at the TV, "COME ON! SWIM YOU BASTARD!" When that long, skinny, "look who won" American flag came up first, I went bananas. Over a swimming race. I had chills. In sum, it was amazing.
Aren't sports great?
ESPN: "No way" turns into "No quit" for Lezak, men's relay team