Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The REAL Michael Phelps

Here's the heretofore (is that a word?) unseen video of Michael Phelps' amazing 100m butterfly victory in Bejing:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Your Home for the 2020 Olympics: Birmingham, Alabama!

At least that's what Birmingham mayor Larry Langford believes. Nevermind the fact that the city's infrastructure is in no way, shape or form ready to host anything larger than the first & second rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament or a monster truck rally, much less the Olympics. The pitch is to show people that "we can do something!"

Among Langford's claims: Badminton could be held almost anywhere...archery at the state park...basketball at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center or the "new dome"....kayaking in the Cahaba River....cycling at "the new Fair Park"....equestrian at the Birmingham Race Course (which features greyhound racing)...the possibilities are endless!

Not to mention fencing:

All you need is a big open place, a mask over your face, one of them funny little suits and a tip over your sword and you can just duke it out all day long.
Lankford claims that all Birmingham needs to do is "put a little grease on the bottom of the pan, butter the pan, put some flour on and put the mix in."

Sounds like a recipe for success to me.

The Roundtable: Larry Langford Montage

The Agony of Defeat & A Failure of Sportsmanship

Imagine this: you've worked tirelessly at something for years, taken odd jobs and sacrificed in a way that most of us never will experience in our lives. All for the chance to one day compete in an athletic event that won't last as long as most television commercials. You have sacrificed, compromised and trained your way into the position as the top performer in your sport. You are running the 100 meter hurdles final in the Olympics. You posted the fastest time in the world this year in the semifinals. You are so far ahead that it is a foregone conclusion that you will win the gold medal.

And then, your foot clips the top of the next to last hurdle and you go down, in a heap. In a daze, you stand and jump the last hurdle and finish the race seventh.

My God, how horrible that must feel.

That is what happened today to American Lolo Jones, the premier athlete in the world in the 100 meter hurdles. She was out front, cruising to victory, when it all fell apart:

"About twice a year you hit a hurdle and it affects your race," Jones said. "Unfortunately, it was the biggest race of my life."
After crossing the finish line, Jones collapsed and cried. Years of sacrifice came pouring out; she was simply heartbroken at what had taken place. You just had to feel sorry for her, right?

Not if you were fellow American and competitor Dawn Harper. Harper couldn't be bothered with even so much as speaking to her teammate:

Harper set off in a delirious victory lap and never bothered to look back at Jones, stricken on the track. Neither did the surprise silver and bronze medalists, Australian Sally McLellan and Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schleip. American fourth-place finisher Damu Cherry placed her hands sympathetically on Jones' shoulders as she sat on her knees and cried.
At least Cherry played the part of a human and stuck around to console Jones. The kicker was that Harper crossed the line a full tenth of a second slower than the time Jones had run in the prelims.

Now, I know that you've got to clear all of the hurdles in order to win the race; but, at the same time, don't you have to have a small bit of respect for the woman lying on the track? It wasn't like Harper beat Jones "fair and square"; rather, it took a catastrophic fall from Jones for Harper to even sniff the gold.

At any rate, in Bejing today, you were able to see the awfulness of the agony of defeat, only to watch it followed up by a complete failure of sportsmanship. Frankly, I expect more out of our athletes, and Harper failed her test of sportsmanship.

ESPN: Don't think Olympics can't be cruel?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Suck It, France

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

Monday, August 4, 2008

Yeah, So It's Been Like Two Weeks

Things happen. Life goes on. And today, our return is marked with enthusiasm from Alabama fans, Penn State fans, and, heck, fans of any school whose players can't keep from getting arrested. Not because we're back; no, my friends, because of the #1 team in America, both in votes by coach's assistants and on the local police blotter: Georgia.

It seems that these Bulldogs just can't keep from getting into trouble. Over the weekend, no less than four Bulldogs were involved in all sorts of shenanigans. Barfight at a bar called The Library? Check. Two players getting hit over the head with beer bottles? Check. Another player apparently went to the hospital to check on the two bottleheads and went all Hulk on a few trash cans. On video. Finally, UGA's long snapper was arrested for urinating on a bank.

From fans of programs who have been through the arrest ringer this offseason, I say a hearty thank you to you Bulldogs. Now keep on keepin' on.