O’Neil: Beijing’s dumbest, wackiest, most touching memories
If you are like the squirrels who make that weird, annoying chirping noise all day outside my window, you probably did not know or care about the Beijing Olympics.
But if you were one of the unfathomable billions who tuned in at least for some of it, then you can relate to the sudden void in your nighttime hours.
I’ve since resumed life as it was (and I’m sleeping more), but I haven’t forgotten what I saw.
What follows is a list of takeaway thoughts these games left me with, as a channel-surfing observer, cynic, daytime procrastinator and, most often, plain-old sports fan.
Dumbest sport: Everyone has theirs; mine is trampoline. If baseball and softball are out of the Olympics, there is no damn way trampoline should still be in. It’s a backyard hobby, the place (among others) where failed gymnasts go to play – not an Olympic sport, for heaven’s sake.
Wackiest sight: The Cuban tae kwon do fighter who high-kicked the Swedish referee in the face when he learned he’d been disqualified from his bronze medal match, a move which earned him (and his coach) a lifetime ban from the sport – but, of course, drew praise from Fidel Castro.
Biggest upset: Easy. The U.S. softball team’s losing to Japan in the gold medal game, after the dominant Americans had beaten the Japanese twice earlier in the tournament.
Most eye-catching news: That the Cubans were using up all the condoms in the typically frisky Olympic athlete village.
Most infuriating truth: That the Chinese government changed their gymnasts’ ages on their passports to give them a better shot at winning gold medals ” and got away with it. I know, there’s never going to be any definitive proof, and it’s useless to probe. Which is what burns at me the most.
Biggest sigh of relief: When Kobe, LeBron and the rest of the superstar Americans held off pesky Spain to win the U.S.’s first men’s hoops gold in eight years. It’s terribly difficult to win when you’re supposed to, but Coach K proved why he is among the most respected coaches in the game’s history.
Most touching performance: Watching German weightlifter Matthias Steiner set a world record in the super heavyweight division, and then tearfully hold up a photo of his late wife, who died last year at 23 in a car accident. Steiner had promised her before she died that he would win the gold medal, and even though he made good on that promise, I just can’t fathom the emptiness that came with it.
Moment I’ll remember for decades: Michael Phelps’ fingertip win in the 100 butterfly, his seventh gold medal and the second that came via an improbable comeback, including Jason Lezak’s timeless 400 free relay leg.
In chasing eight golds, Phelps was forced to take on something of a robot’s approach, to block out everything else in the name of the overall goal. After this win, however, he splashed around the pool like a kid and let go of the façade. It was beautifully real.
The joy of winning just one individual gold medal got lost a bit in Phelps’ quest for eight, but this moment demonstrated the Olympic spirit as much as any of the lesser-known, participatory feats we like to celebrate. …
Turning to baseball, where there is suddenly only a month to go in the regular season, and it’s looking more and more like the Yankees will miss the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. They’re way behind Tampa Bay in the AL East, and both the Red Sox and Twins are ahead of them in the wild card race.
Those of you who read this column know I’m not a fan of the Empire, but with a Yankee-free postseason looking like reality, I must admit I’m suddenly torn as to whether I want that to happen. It’s just so much fun watching them lose in the playoffs.
Stat of the Week comes from the NL Central, where, if you’ve been hanging out with the squirrels, the Cubs are now 30 games over .500 and seriously threatening to end their 100-year World Series drought.
But incredibly, they’ve done it all with exactly one everyday guy hitting over .300 – utilityman Ryan Theriot, who, ironically, is also the only Cub with more than 14 stolen bases (he’s got 19 but has been caught 13 times). …
In parting, this came to me one night while watching rhythmic gymnastics. Can you imagine an alien just happening upon the Olympics? Just kinda swooping in for a fortnight in China, and finding all the different body types, ethnicities, uniforms, venues, apparatuses and flags?
I have to believe you’d think Planet Earth was the weirdest place in the solar system.
Breckenridge resident Devon O’Neil’s $0.02 column runs Tuesdays. He can be reached at email@example.com.