The Big Five ... So Far

I'll state my bias up front: I'm an exuberantly irrational track geek (ran it back when, have followed it for a few decades, even went to the Olympic Track Trials in Eugene, Ore. in early July). So take this very short list with a big grain o' salt.

Anyway, these are my top five favorite Olympic TV moments of the past nine days. And please, no fair flaming me for not including Michael Phelps's eight golds. That's not a moment; that's a rock carving on Mt. Olympus. As always, feel free to chime in with your own list:

1. Usain Bolt's 100 Meter World Record

Bolt looked merely unbeatable in the preliminaries (just as Tyson Gay looked awful), but he was an absolute freak in the final. Considering that Bolt is basically a novice in the 100 (he specialized in the 200 until this year), it boggles the mind to imagine what he's truly capable of. To run the sort of showboating race that he did -- dropping his arms, turning his head and beating his chest over the final 15 meters -- and STILL run faster than any human being ever has is one of the, if not THE, most amazing things I've seen in track. Would it really have hurt NBC to have shown us this jawdropper as it happened?

2. The U.S.'s Come-from-Behind Victory in the 4x100 Freestyle Relay

Jason Lezak beats France's Alain Bernard down the stretch. Spectacular race, made all the sweeter by the U.S. victory over an uncharacteristically arrogant French team (uncharacteristic because it's been a few Olympics, indeed maybe forever, since the French men have had competitive sprinters).

3. Michael Phelps's "Touch-Out" in the 100-meter Butterfly

I'd grown so used to Phelps demolishing the field in his races that I was dumbfounded to see him barely in medal contention with 25 meters to swim. I'm still not sure how he won (possible answer: propellers?). I love this race not just because it enabled Phelps to tie Mark Spitz's seven gold medals, but because of the metaphoric vagaries of it. To wit, if Milorad Cavic, the Serbian-American whom Phelps barely beat, had been just 0.02 faster, the world would have forever remembered him as the man who derailed a legend. But history turns on that unimaginable margin. Alas, poor Cavic will be quickly forgotten. As is, I had to Google his name.

4. Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson in the All-Around

I like gymnastics about as much as I like figure skating, which is not at all (hey, I'm a guy; I can't help it). But how could anyone not appreciate such grace under pressure? I'm still puzzled by how it's possible to do those things on a 4-inch beam. That's some crazy circus act.

5. Dara Torres

Pick a race, any race, I don't care -- any of her "moments" will do. The fact that the 41-year-old Torres was in the Olympics and winning medals is to re-consider the limits of physical capability. It's not just that she's 41. She also had a baby two years ago. And she returned to world-class swimming after taking two Olympic cycles off (if she hadn't, she might have qualified for SEVEN Olympic teams, instead of a paltry five). Before one of her races, Torres was joking around with a 16-year-old Australian swimmer and I realized: Torres is old enough to be the teenager's mother. And don't forget the sight of Torres organizing her fellow competitors to stand down before a semifinal race and strolling over to appeal to a pool judge to buy time for another swimmer who'd had a wardrobe malfunction. A supreme act of maturity and sportsmanship. As Will Ferrell-as-James-Lipton once said, I have to make up a word to describe how magnificent she is: Strumtrillescent!


By Paul Farhi  |  August 17, 2008; 1:21 AM ET
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I think that finding Usain Bolt's "showboating" admirable and the fact that he made it look easy odd, because instead of winning the 100 easily and with a world record, he could have crushed the record. Injuries happen everyday, and motivation isn't always a given. One day he may regret that he didn't set a record that will last years, or at least until the next Olympics. Yes,
he will always have the gold medal, and
maybe he will get better and better. But with the whole world watching, why didn't
he go all out and show what he was capable of? I'd rather watch someone finish third and run the race of their life, than someone not go for it in the most important race of their life and win the gold.

Posted by: dan | August 17, 2008 3:14 AM

Sorry, I'm with Paul on this one and Usain Bolt. Because I love to see the athletes when they exhibit pure, unadulterated joy. They just won an Olympic Gold? They can celebrate all they like.

It's Bolt's talent, and his right to do with it as he sees fit. And sure, he could have established an even faster time...and another runner is just gonna break that time next year anyway.

I thought it was great to see an athlete simply revel in the joy of their ability, and then share that joy with his family and the crowd.

As for moments - hey, I'm all for the Men's Gymnasts taking Bronze. The look on Sasha Artemev's face, as well as his teammates, when he nailed the pommel? THAT was priceless. Followed by their huddle where you could clearly hear Jonathan Horton saying "No matter what, we came to the Olympics and we did our best", when they weren't sure they would lose that Bronze to the Germans.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | August 17, 2008 4:03 AM

Yes, the men's gymnastic bronze was really great. Those guys actually made what they were doing look like fun. Can't say the same for the American women/girl's team, though. As accomplished as they were, the whole thing looked like a grind for them.

Posted by: Paul Farhi | August 17, 2008 5:42 AM

Amen to your comment on Dara Torres actions prior to the 50 free semi. Instead of withdrawing into a self centered "zone" and thinking only about her race, she secured a brief delay to enable a competitor to fix a torn suit and get back to the pool. One other point- this was a Swedish woman, not a team mate and not a chief rival, whose race that day was likely her last in these Olympics. She did not, in fact, make it into the final race for the medals, but because of the sportsmanship of Dara Torres, she got to try. Torres went on to win the heat and advance and medal.

Posted by: kguy1 | August 18, 2008 11:13 AM

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