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!
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