Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Olympics, Most of the Way Home (or: Earth to Bela)

Only now do I realize that I didn't make a post about Torino two years ago. That, come to think of it, is because I barely watched the Torino games at all. Probably I thought that "paying attention to schoolwork" was somehow a more worthwhile pursuit than paying attention to what was going on in the world. Or because the television belonged to my roommate, and his girlfriend was in a perpetual state of Dynasty Warriors addiction.

Of course, no blog would be complete without at least some nod toward current events, even if I usually stray from the arena, and I don't touch politics with a ten-foot pole. My first question, is there anyone who is not watching, or at least interested in the Olympics? If the answer is yes--and I imagine that it probably is--my next question becomes why not? Are there people who are so absorbed in counterculture that they can't stomach the thought of accepting anything associated with the mainstream, regardless of the fact that in this case "mainstream" applies to most of the rest of the world? Is there anyone so filled with boorishness that they can't find the uneven bars beautiful, a pinnacle of artistry? Anyone so filled with torpor that they can't get a thrill out of the last few meters of a freestyle swimming race?

Sadly, yes, those people are out there. But for the rest of us, the Olympics represent something very special indeed. Exposure to sports most Americans can't honestly claim to know anything about. Sure, you may have heard of water polo and handball, but who actually knows the rules for those games, much less strategies or nuances or personalities? (Tangent: handball is actually pretty cool, though you know what side of the Atlantic something is from when penalties are assessed at a seven meter line.) Even the huge marquee events of the games, the gymnastics and swimming and track, are sports that suddenly gain lots and lots of fans once per four years.

And about those huge events? I could gush over Michael Phelps for several paragraphs, just like thousands of other third-rate bloggers, plus a handful of real journalists. He absolutely does deserve gushing over, but the job has been done for me. Instead, I'll take the opportunity to gush over Nastia Liukin. If you've seen my Facebook page lately, then you've seen it: I have an enormous crush on Nastia Liukin. And why not? She's gorgeous: graceful, blond, elegant, incredibly feminine. Taller than five feet. Eyebrows that are the same height (that one's directed at you, Ms. Shawn Johnson). Extremely skilled and talented. Bilingual. Not content to rest on Olympic laurels, but headed to college after all this business is done. (Is there a new contender for my grad school application?) Even my friends support me on this one: "she's way better than Emma Watson." The one downside is that she has a sketchy Russian gymnast for a father.

While we're on gymnastics, one of the reporters identified an interesting meta-Olympic sport to observe: watching Bela Karolyi watch the Olympics. It's remarkable how into it this man gets, and it's equally remarkable that despite his generally good English proficiency, he hasn't quite gotten the hang of those articles yet. Karolyi identified the 4th-place finish of Alicia Sacramone as "ripoff", which was absolutely correct. (All of that gushing over Nastia would be remiss if I didn't mention that Alicia Sacramone was the second-most beautiful women's gymnast in the games.)

Sure, we've had our share of shady Chinese moments. The fireworks in the opening ceremony. The "not cute enough to perform" girl. The fact that the Chinese gymnasts are probably no older than fourteen. Less than consistent judging. But absolutely wondrous feats all around.

One question that my family has debated over the Olympiad was the issue of the "gayest sport" for both men and women. To make it a touch more politically correct, I'll rephrase it here to the "least manly" or "least womanly" Olympic sport. On the men's side, a lot of people immediately gravitate toward gymnastics, which with one major exception is completely unfair. I'll direct you first to the rings, and second to the pommel horse. Incredibly intense. The exception is of course the floor exercise--I can't think of anything less masculine than traipsing across a padded floor, pointing your toes, and doing it all in short shorts. Some people have said men's synchronized swimming, which would win automatically if it were real. When informed that it's not, a common response is to default to synchronized diving, which is a fine answer as well. Trampoline rounds out the common responses.

The women's sport that made me consider this curious question in the first place was beach volleyball. Scantily-clad women--not particularly feminine ones either--who go about smacking each other on the butt. Add to that all the talk of "partners" and "breaking up" with old ones to "hook up" with new ones. Tiny bit suspicious? Surprisingly, no. Most of these women are married, and a few have families. Actual contenders include water polo (especially that scary-looking Russian team).

Coming soon: the Wikipedia Band Name Game, plus a couple summer movie reviews.

Currently listening: "Marching Bands of Manhattan", Death Cab for Cutie