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2012 London Olympics: Some Afterthoughts
By Gary F. Zeolla
I watched a lot of the 2012 London Olympics. I taped and watched the "Prime Time" edition and the "Late Night Wrap Up" that aired after the nightly local news every day. Since I didn't watch these shows until the next day, this required not listening to the news throughout the entire time of the Olympics, so as not to get the events "spoiled" for me before I had a chance to watch them.
But despite my diligence, I did hear what happened in some of the events before I had a chance to watch them, such as when I heard "Gabby Douglas won" just when I turned on the radio to listen to a political talk show. So that spoiled the women's individual all-around gymnastics final for me. But I also watched a spattering of "live" events during the day, when I had the opportunity. And I caught a lot of different sports. So in this article I would like to express my opinions on some subjects of relevance to the London Olympics.
The Greatest Olympian Ever?
Michael Phelps was once again one of the "stars" of the Olympics. He did not have as perfect of an Olympics as he did in Beijing in 2008, but he did win enough hardware to give him both the most gold medals and the most overall medals ever of any Olympian in any sport. And for that reason he has been touted as "The greatest Olympian ever." But I'm not so sure about that.
Yes, what Phelps accomplished in his four Olympics (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) was astounding. And you can rightly claim he is the greatest Olympic SWIMMER ever. But it is hard to compare his accomplishments to those of other sports.
Swimming is different from most other sports in the Olympics in that it is possible to attain multiple medals. In most sports, you can only win ONE medal per Olympics, no matter how good you do.
Consider for instance, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings in women's beach volleyball. They have won the gold medal in three consecutive Olympics. And not only that, their record in those Olympics is 21-0 in matches and 42-1 in sets. That is astounding as well. And you can easily declare that Misty and Kerri are the greatest Olympic women's beach volleyball players ever.
But they "only" won a total of three gold medals compared to Phelps' 19. But that is because it is only possible to win one medal per Olympics in beach volleyball. If they gave you a medal for every match you won, Misty and Kerri would have 21 of them.
My point is, ANY Olympian who medals in consecutive Olympics is great. And the athlete who wins the most consecutive medals or the most medals overall in their sport can be declared the greatest in that sport. But you really cannot compare athletes between sports.
I know that soccer is probably the most popular team sport worldwide, but like most Americans, I just cannot really get into it. I tried watching some of the soccer in the Olympics but got bored most of the time. But then I missed the American women's great comeback win against France. They were down 2-0 but came back to win 4-2. That might have been an exciting game to watch. But most of the time, what I saw was a lot of just kicking the ball around with no scoring.
But I did watch all of the women's gold medal game. And that became only the second complete soccer game I watched in my life. The first was the women's 2011 final game in the World Cup, where the USA lost to Japan in penalty shots, after being tied after over 120 minutes of play. So with the gold medal game being a re-match of that game, I wanted to see it.
And it was a good game with the USA edging out a 2-1 victory over Japan. And Hope Solo made a couple of great saves as goal keeper. But even with the close match and the few exciting plays, I got bored for most of the game, and was watching the clock hoping the game would end soon and not go into overtime like the World Cup final did.
Besides being boring, one think I don't like about soccer is how they handle the clock. In most timed sports like football and hockey, the clock stops when play stops. And when time is up, it's up. But not so in soccer. The clock keeps rolling even when there is a stoppage of play, such as when the ball goes out of bounds or a player gets hurt. But then they add "stoppage time" at the end of the game to make up for time that in other sports would have caused the clock to stop.
Usually, they add 2-3 minutes of stoppage time. But even when that is up, they keep playing! So in the gold medal game, two minutes of stoppage time was added. But they ended up playing an additional 2:20. What if Japan had scored during that "extra" 20 seconds? That would not have seemed fair to the USA. So you really don't know exactly when a soccer game is going to end. And that takes away possibility of the excitement of seeing a last second winning score.
But one good thing about soccer's method of time-keeping is that it gives you 45+ minutes of commercial-free action for each half of the game.
Track and Field
I participated in track and field way back when I was in eighth grade. I did the high jump for a short while. Despite being rather short, I actually did reasonably well, until I lost my form for some reason and just couldn't clear the bar anymore and gave up on it. So I have respect for those who are able to compete in field events like the high jump that require a high degree of skill and are able to keep that skill and form for the years it takes to become an Olympic athlete. And I am really impressed with how large and muscular the discus throwers and shot putters are.
But I have to admit that watching field events is not that exciting. That's why NBC devoted so little time to showing them, with most of the events being shown in the "late night" edition.
But the track events were really exciting. I ran the 50 yard dash back in Junior High, so I have a little idea of what track events entail. It is grueling and difficult to stay injury free. I remember that I injured my right quadriceps, an injury that bothered me for several years thereafter. It would flare up anytime I tried to run "out-out" for whatever reason.
Usain Bolt was once again the male star of the track events, winning the 100 and 200 meter sprints and the 4x100 meter relay for the second Olympics in a row, becoming the first Olympian to do so. But I was most glad to see Allison Felix win the gold in the 200 meter, after "only" winning silver in the last two Olympics, along with winning gold in two other events. So she was probably the female star.
I wrestled in ninth and tenth grade. So you would think I'd really be interested in watching the wrestling. But I really couldn't get into it, and only watched a little bit of it. But I did catch Coleman Scott, a fellow- western Pennsylvanian, winning the bronze medal match in the 60 kg (132 pound) class, which I was glad to see. But beyond that, I only watched a few other matches.
First off, I didn't like the way they score matches in the Olympics. There are three, two minute periods just like in High School, but the points don't carry over from one period to the next. The winner is determined by who wins two periods.
So basically what happens is once one wrestler scores a point in a period, he or she will "stall" the rest of that period to get that period win. So much of the match is spent with little action.
Another thing about the rules I don't' like is if the wrestlers split the first two periods and end up tied at the end of period three, one of the wrestlers blindly draws a ball from a bag. And what color it is decides who gets an "advantage" of having his/ her hands on the leg of the other wrestler to start the overtime period. 80% of the time the wrestler with the advantage wins. So basically, ties are decided by "chance."
But most of all, what I don't like about wrestling is what kept me from being that good of a wrestler in High School. I never had that "fighter" spirit that is needed to be a good wrestler. By that I mean, to be good in combative sports, you have to basically get mad at your opponent and attack him. But I just could never go "all out" against my opponent, as I felt like I was fighting someone that I was not mad at. The same spirit is needed in other "combative" sports like boxing or taekwondo. And for that reason, I didn't watch much of those sports either. It just seems like fighting. And fighting someone just for the sake of fighting just doesn't fit my personality.
Powerlifting and Weightlifting
But what did fit my personality was lifting weights. I found I could "attack" weights with full abandon. I guess with weights being an inanimate object not a person, I could attach them in a way I couldn't attack another person. That is why I turned to powerlifting in eleventh grade and powerlifted into college and then again in my 40's. Unfortunately, health problems prevented me from powerlifting after my Junior Year in college until my early 40's and once again after my late 40s.
That said, much to my dismay, powerlifting is not in the Olympics. I remember back in college there being talks about getting powerlifting into the Olympics. And at that time, I just assumed that eventually it would be. But here we are 30 years later, and powerlifting is still not in the Olympics.
There's a couple of reasons for this. One of the sticking points now is that powerlifting is a "fractured" sport, with their being over 20 different powerlifting federations in the USA, and multiple federations in some other countries as well. So it would be hard to determine who should represent a country at the Olympics.
Then there's the debate over gear. This point is outside of the scope of this article, but I cover it in detail, along with the different federations, in my powerlifting book. But basically some powerlifters wear gear that enables them to lift weights far greater than they could lift without the gear. This is a point of much controversy in powerlifting, and the International Olympic Committee probably doesn't want to get caught up in the controversy.
But probably the main reason powerlifting is not in the Olympics is that the Olympics already has a weightlifting sport, it's called simply "Weightlifting" or sometimes "Olympic Weightlifting" to separate it from powerlifting. And there are some similarities between the two sports.
The goal of both sports is to lift as much weight as possible for one rep. And you get three attempts for each lift, and there are three judges. A white light from a judge indicates a good lift and a red light a bad lift. You need two white lights for a lift to pass.
But that is where the similarities end. In weightlifting, there are two lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk. In powerlifting, there are three lifts: squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. In the two Olympic lifts, you lift the weights over your head, while you never do so in the powerlifts.
But the main point is that the Olympic lifts require a high degree of skill and quickness. Thus the winner of an Olympic weightlifting event is not necessarily the strongest lifter but could be the quickest and most skilled. But the powerlifts are more brute strength. Not that form is not important, it is. But it's not near as difficult to perfect as the Olympic lifts. So they are really different sports.
Moreover, the powerlifts are lifts that athletes and non-athletes who lift weights do who are not powerlifters, while basically only Olympic lifters do the snatch and the clean and jerk. You might see someone in a gym doing "power cleans" (the first half of the clean and jerk), but almost never see someone do the "jerk" part of the lift. And even less often do you see someone doing snatches.
In all the time I spent in gyms, only once, while I was at Penn State, did I see someone doing snatches. But you always see people doing bench presses in gyms, and lifters who are serious about making progress will do squats and deadlifts as well. What this means is, spectators would be much more interested in powerlifting than weightlifting if powerlifting were in the Olympics as they could associate more with what the lifters are doing.
That said, I watched as much of the weightlifting as I could catch, as it is closest to "my" sport as I could get. And there was some exciting action. But keeping it from getting more airtime is the USA is not a medal contender in weightlifting. In fact, for most weight classes for both men and women, there wasn't even an American in the finals. Only in the super heavy weights for the women were there two lifters in the top ten. They finished seventh and tenth, I believe.
The reason for this lackluster performance by Americans in weightlifting probably is because of powerlifting. Powerlifting is more popular by far than weightlifting in the USA. As mentioned, many people who are not powerlifters do the powerlifts as part of a weight training program. And some of these will go on to compete. But with the Olympic lifts not being done in gyms, no one learns them and thus few get interested in the sport.
What's that doing in the Olympics?
Making me even more disgruntled about powerlifting not being in the Olympics is some of the sports that are in it. My cousin posted on Facebook that synchronized diving was the "dumbest sport" he ever saw. And I had to agree with him. For some reason, it was shown during the Prime Time period of the Olympics, but I fast-forwarded through it. But then I don't like individual diving either, also skipping that "action."
But I think the silliest sport to be in the Olympics is badminton. I mean, badminton? That's a backyard picnic game, not a sport. And alongside it is ping pong. How did that ever get in the Olympics?
Another sport I found quite boring was the equestrian "Showing" event. A horse just trotting around a field. How exciting. When the horses had to jump over obstacles in the other events, it made it a little exciting, but still, not something I'd ever watch for more than a few minutes.
Rhythmic gymnastics was hardly shown at all from what I could see. And I understand why. I'm sure it takes a lot of skill and practice, but twilling around with a ball or a ribbon just doesn't seem like a sport.
Handball was another weird sport I never saw before. When I hear "handball" I think of a sport similar to racquetball, but played by hitting the ball with the hand rather than a racquet. But in the Olympics, handball is basically a combination of basketball and soccer. And those are two sports I'm not too fond of, and without understanding the rules, I didn't bother watching much of any of the handball.
I'm sure there are other sports that are in the Olympics that I missed altogether that I would find uninteresting. But somehow along the way they got added to the Olympics. And the proliferation of sports in the Olympics could be its downfall. It is just getting to be too big of an event for most countries to be able to afford to host them.
My apologies to anyone who likes or participates in the above sports. But I'm entitled to my opinion. And again, with my sport not being in the Olympics, you can't blame me for looking for sports that I think it should replace.
My disgruntleness with powerlifting not being in the Olympics and some of the sports that are aside, the Olympics are exciting. Keeping them from being even more exciting for most Americans was the time zone difference. All of the events that aired in Prime Time had actually already occurred hours before. So most people probably heard what happened before they saw them from some media source or from another person.
It's only because of the rather isolated life that I live due to my health that I could (mostly) avoid hearing what happened, thus the taped events were as good as "live" to me. And with my health forcing me to lie down and rest throughout the day, I could watch many Olympics events live. So for 16 days I had some exciting sports to watch.
And I was glad the USA did so well in the Olympics, winning the gold medal and overall medal races. I got to see many of the USA's medal winning events. And that of course, made it even more exciting.
2012 London Olympics: Some Afterthoughts. Copyright © 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this Web site August 13, 2012.
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