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Posts tagged ‘Olympic Games’

Skip the closing ceremonies, and just read this: The Greenspan Awards

Olympic Park London 2012

Good night, London. (Photo credit: williamsdb)

My mind has already moved off the Olympics, to other concerns of summer (The beach! Eastern Equine Encephalitis! The fast approach of kindergarten!), but, as threatened, I am pleased to quickly throw together The Greenspan Awards! Named for the late Bud Greenspan’s documentary series of very zeniths of Olympics past, these awards will add to the firmament of athletic honor my favorite people and moments from the 2012 London Olympics.

So let’s get right to it. Actually not, there’s going to be a bit of a wind-up. Usually I look forward to swimming more than any other summer Olympic sport, but I must say, while I enjoyed the events, most of the athletes left me cold. They were all great, they broke records and hit personal bests, but I did not end the week becoming a true mega-fan of any of them. And then there was Ryan Lochte’s diamond grill. Um, no. Great athlete, but, no Greenspan for you.

English: Photo of Ryan Lochte during 2008 Olym...

You could have just kept that peeing in the pool thing to yourself. Ryan Lochte during 2008 Olympic Trials in Omaha. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feeling as cold as a diver who has naught but a tiny towel to wrap themselves in as they climb out of an unforgiving pool, I turned to the track. There, I found all the Olympic heat and glory I needed. So – OK, here comes the first Greenspan! I’m just going to give the first Greenspan to Oscar Pistorius of South Africa. Really, he wins them all. Not even going to bother explaining why. He just wins.

Polski: Oscar Pistorius pozdrawia kibiców po b...

You win. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The track in London was actually full of gallantry, great sportsmanship, and thrilling events this year. Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, David Rudisha, Allyson Felix, just to name a few. They all get Greenspans. Also receiving a Greenspan: Kirani James of Grenada, who won the gold medal in Pistorius’s event, the 400 meters, and immediately after winning his heat, traded bibs with Pistorius. A great moment.

I know this might make me seem like I am jumping on a bandwagon, but if the Paralympics, which begin in London on August 29, are televised, I will be watching them. I’ll jump away. Call it the Pistorius Effect, but I’m all for it if it brings such a courageous side of the Olympic movement, often overlooked, to light. [While we're at it, I've succumbed to the Wiggins Effect too, and got a bicycle (not sideburns). Well, it's more up to coincidence than Wiggo: my commuter-biking husband has been pestering me to get a bike for years so that we can cycle as a family. I told him I thought the whole point of family cycling is that you can take the boys and do it without me. But here I am. I wanted a low-riding bike with a banana seat because I am afraid of falling off (the model I wanted had "Hot Rod" painted down the side), but we ended up going to some hipster antique market in Cambridge and getting a 1950's English bike called a Robin Hood. Which doesn't embarrass him, apparently. I'll let you know if I fall off.]

My new ride. Don’t be jealous, Brad.

OK, I’ve mentioned my two favorite Olympians, Wiggo (obvs a Greenspan winner) and Pistorius, so there’s not much more I can say.

No wait, there are a few more things.

  • I want to give an honorary Greenspan to the fleet of manicurists and waxers that are no doubt on call in the Olympic Village. Because there has not been a body hair or a patriotically-painted nail out of place among the athletes. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, even had a go:

I actually kind of love this guy.

  • Can’t do a wrap-up without mentioning my own local Olympian, gymnastics gold-medalist Aly Raisman of Needham, MA. Although I can’t figure out why everyone thought her parents were acting so strangely as they watched her up in the stands – that’s how we all act in Massachusetts. We are all that “hilariously awkward”:

It’s funny, I’ve been watching the Olympics since I was nine, but this is the first year, when I daydream of myself at the Olympics, I am no longer the one on the podium in an awesome Team USA track suit getting a medal (usually in Speed Skating). Instead I’m in the stands, watching one of my boys getting a medal. And afterwards, of course, he runs straight over to me to give me his bouquet. He gives it to me. Not some hussy.

  • Finally, even though I have ragged on Bob Costas and NBC’s broadcasting choices, watching the Olympics would not be nearly as fun without the network’s trusty crew of color commentators, all experts in their fields. I can’t imagine watching swimming without Rowdy Gaines going bananas, gymnastics without Elfi Schlegel and Tim Daggett having canaries; cycling without Paul Sherwen’s erudite wig-outs, or diving without Cynthia Potter’s subtle southern tsk-tsks. And Ato Boldon’s knowledgable rants have made a track fan out of me. Well, his rants and Oscar Pistorius’s…Pistoriusness.

Well, the rest of summer calls, and it’s time to get outside and stop watching sports on TV in the air conditioning (until the USA Pro Cycling Challenge! Andy Schleck returns! Actually, no he doesn’t!). There’s still the Closing Ceremonies to get through. Any chance of a reunion of Morrissey and Marr? No? Then I think we’re done here…

Hope in Curiosity

The Moon and Mars

The Moon and Mars (Photo credit: Tolka Rover)

Last night, instead of reading the continuing saga of Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants (O hilarity! Thou dost ensue!) to our little son, C , at bedtime, we took out the iPad and watched, on NASA’s app, the robot rover Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars.

“What I would have given to have had this as a kid!” my science-mad husband said. He’s right; it’s incredible that we have this device that can show our son the world – and beyond – at bedtime. (But don’t get any fancy ideas, C: there will be no eight o’clock rounds of Toca Boca Monster Kitchen. This was a special occasion.)

In awe, we watched what really happened, yonder: something approximating a vehicle from one of C’s Lego sets gingerly landed on the surface of the red planet. Then, surrounded by quilts and teddy bears, as night fell outside, we saw images transmitted from another world.

For all of us, it was a wonder. But what I enjoyed most, even more than the landing itself, was the elation on the faces of the engineers at NASA, on desk’s edge in powder-blue shirts. This moment was something probably all of them had dreamed of as children, looking out bedroom windows at the moon from under the covers. And then they turned their hopes into study, hard work, and determination, and now we all benefit (and their mothers must be so proud!).

This morning, the boys still had visions of Mars in their heads. C was on the floor building a robot out of wooden blocks that could keep taking pictures of Mars while Curiosity was turned off. As it must be from time to time. And their dad was sighing into his coffee. “I still want to go into space. I guess that will never happen now.”

“Have a little hope,” I said.

Maybe their dad isn’t an astronaut. But he started as a young boy who loved science, all of it, and now, it’s his job every day. And probably my greatest hope for my two sons, aside from their general health and happiness, is that someday, they will uncover something to aspire to, to work toward, that brings them such joy. That means something to them. All I can do now is show them the possibilities, on the screen or out in the world, encourage their curiosity, and wait for that light to go on, maybe as they lie in bed at night. It could be anything. And there’s probably an app for it. Sweet dreams, boys.

I’m happy to be participating in Melanie Crutchfield’s Blog Relay for Hope, inspired by the Olympics! Thank you to the excellent writer, Mom in the Muddle for inviting me to join in. Both of these blogs are great and worth checking out.

I’ve been complaining, er, blogging about the Olympics here for the past week, so as someone like Melanie who hates exercising, it feels good to participate in some way! And who knows, maybe all this Olympics-watching I’ve been doing will inspire the boys to athletic greatness some day. I’ve already chosen events for them that suit their personalities. For C, the Modern Pentathlon. A combination of pistol shooting, swimming, horse jumping, running, and fencing sounds like superhero training. And also very tiring. And for little T? Shot put. We already know he can throw food, and Matchbox cars.

I know we are getting close to the anchor leg of this blog relay, and there’s not much time left, so (no pressure) I’d like to pass the baton over to my husband over at drcraigcanapari.com to see if he’s got anything to say about hope. (He does! Read it here!) I know in his line of work he comes across it every day. I would also like to reach out to another blog I enjoy reading, scienceofmom.com. If you would like to join, be sure to link back here and to Melanie Crutchfield. USA!

To read the Closing Ceremonies of the Blog Relay for Hope, click…here!

This should just about cover it: my rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage

English: Usain Bolt at the World Championship ...

Usain Bolt in Berlin, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we enjoy the second, and final, week of the Olympics, I thought I’d get a jump on my wrap-up. Frankly, my enthusiasm for the Olympics is beginning to wane. Why? Before I get to my planned Olympic tribute: The Greenspan Awards: Candidates for Future Segments for Bud Greenspan’s Firmament of Olympic Glory (which I may or may not get to, let’s be real here), here’s one long, slightly unhinged rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage.

It’s Sunday night. Clearly I don’t have tickets for the Olympics. Husband and I are at home, stateside, listening to the static coming from two baby monitors. We’re in primetime Olympic coverage. It’s nine o’clock. We all know Usain Bolt is running the 100 Meters tonight, probably because my Olympics iPhone apps have been dinging in my ear all day. I have nine apps. I thought all of a sudden I was really popular and getting tons of texts, but no. Usain Bolt!

So never mind that these apps (and NPR!) spoiled me for the result several times over. As they did for Bradley Wiggins’ Time Trial win. (Do I learn? No.) AND never mind I am holding off on watching Breaking Bad for this. I want to watch Bolt win. I am ready. We know it’s already happened, so obviously NBC is going to show it as the centerpiece of the evening’s coverage, right? They can show it whenever they want. Nine o’clock passes…

YET MORE beach volleyball. How much of this sport am I going to have to fast-forward before the end of the Olympics? It’s not even a final, or semi-final. It’s one of about – as far as I can tell, I can’t be bothered to check my app(s) to find out – a hundred million qualifying rounds May/Walsh have played. I feel like I’ve seen about nineteen Olympics worth of THEM ALONE playing beach volleyball, and they keep getting the primest of the primetime spots. Meanwhile, Usain Bolt, running probably the signature event of the entire games, is relegated to the eleven-o’clock hour – that’s practically late night! Why? Is it because Misty and Kristy, or whatever they are called, are American, and he is not? Because there is certainly a bias toward only showing events that the USA is contesting. I was shocked yesterday to tune into a Track Cycling final between France and Team GB (and that’s another thing, addressed to my DVR: if you say you’ve recorded Track Cycling, SHOW THAT. Not more volleyball!). Again, why? Don’t say it’s about the bikinis, because a) insulting and b) too cold for bikinis in London.

To sum up, even with all of the options that NBC claims are available to us for watching any Olympic event, I am pretty much bound to watch whatever they decide to prioritize in primetime. Because really, I don’t have all day and night to watch the Olympics, bouncing back and forth from the computer, to the phone, to the iPad, to whatever live coverage they can show. I really can just pick and choose a few things from the daytime coverage, and hope the DVR records what the guide proclaims (ahem, Track Cycling). And then watch the primetime coverage. Which has turned out to be all-American, all the time, with a huge bolus of beach volleyball stuck in the middle. And if you are watching primetime TV, they force you to the beach volleyball (men and women’s) by not even showing any alternate events on the NBC Sports Network – they’ve been showing poker in primetime! Poker!!! I thought that was the whole point of having a second network; to double your options. But no, Bob Costas needs us to see his taut face, directing us to hang on for more hyperbolic purple prose after commercial breaks. And by the way, Costas, you can chill with the flights of poetic fancy. You are no Greenspan. You are from Commack, you get me? Islander to Islander?

I appreciate that, by and large, people are going to be watching the Olympics to root for Team USA. But the Olympics is an opportunity to let the world into our homes. To appreciate the human, not just the American, spirit. So, in that spirit, O media gods, please, let me watch Mark Cavendish comment on the Track Cycling! I would be willing to pay for BBC coverage of the Olympics just to see this. And anyway, isn’t me funneling more money into media conglomerates also very much in the spirit of the Games? Let us, in the spirit of international fellowship, break down those firewalls!

So, hopefully, tune in soon for these Greenspan Awards I keep threatening you with, highlighting my favorite moments and people from London 2012. Spoiler Alert: Oscar Pistorius is definitely getting a Greenspan. I mean, come on!

English: Oscar Pistorius during 2011 World cha...

Guess who? during the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is waiting…for my thoughts on the Olympics so far

London -- View from Tate Modern

London — View from Tate Modern (Photo credit: Nietnagel)

You might have noticed I lit up the internet with some live tweets of the Opening Ceremony. I feel like I should go along with peer pressure and say that it was brilliant and totally out-of-the-box, but I thought it was a bit uneven, and a waste of Kenneth Branagh.

I mean, how did they come to spend so much time, given everything that is great about Great Britain, on “the kids” pretend-Tweeting each other? What is this, From Justin to Kelly? I get that the kids today love social media, but young’uns looking at phones and writing jolly messages has become a very un-dynamic shorthand for reaching out to youth culture. All those incredible songs in the background, wasted, while people walk/dance around in weird costumes. And in the presence of all these amazing young athletes, we’re spending a good quarter of the Opening Ceremony on people and their ubiquitous phones.

And again, the National Health Service section: out of everything Danny Boyle and crew could have chosen to represent Britain, why this? I’m just wondering. I think that health care for children is incredibly important, I really do, but given the big swath of screen and stadium you have to fill, why fill it with children faffing around on beds? Visually, it’s just not that interesting.

I did like the opening film about the course of the river Thames, and the Tube, though that marker at the beginning looked like a gravestone. I also liked the pastoral scene, even though the choreography as it progressed felt like one overly-long set change, rather anything composed to look at. And I obviously loved the Rowan Atkinson/Chariots of Fire bit. That was hilarious, and to me, showcased British wit and personality so well. If it were me, and I am fending off phone calls from Sochi as I write this, I would have maybe used Branagh as a narrator, ala Our Town, throughout the ceremony, bringing him back periodically to spout off some appropriate lines of Shakespeare, as he does so well. I think that would have helped tie everything together, instead of these uneven blocks of action. And here’s my other big idea: I liked how the grass gave way to a floor that looked like city streets. How about running a river, mimicking that distinctive bend in the Thames (cue Eastenders theme song), through the stadium? I think that incredible river is a perfect emblem for London and the Games. OK, Sochi, I’ll do it.

***

Michael Phelps’s sister, you seem very nice. I even stomached that interview with you, the other sister, and your mother with that insufferable Ryan Seacrest because I thought you seemed so nice. But, as a pretend friend, I’m telling you: move on from that necklace you’re always wearing. The big huge red one. (Check out this London 2012 fashion rundown for a photo) I like the necklace in and of itself, but I feel that for the past six million years, every time I’ve seen you cheering for baby bro somewhere, you have been wearing it. It’s a statement necklace: you make the statement, then you get rid of it and make another statement. It’s not a string of pearls. People are going to remember that you keep wearing it. You’re not Kate Middleton; you have nothing to prove by rewearing your looks. Even your mother switches up her chunky jewelry.

So, sis, unless it is some kind of good luck charm and he loses if you don’t wear it (which we now know is not the case), how about you retire it, auction it off for charity or something, and let your fancy brother buy you a new one, like from Erickson Beamon, or J. Crew? Or, f*** it, Chanel? He can afford it.

***

Finally, my favorite win so far? The Great Britain Mens’ Gymnastics Team! I know I am supposed to be rooting for Team USA, but that was a great win, even though the Japanese team killed the buzz a bit at the end there…still, if someone picks up Bud’s mantle and makes a London 2012: Tales of Olympic Delight or somesuch, I smell a Greenspan! A Greenspan being my new term for excellent, documentary segment-suitable stories of Olympic glory. Stay tuned for a complete list of Greenspans (TM) as the Games progress! No, Ryan Seacrest, you are not eligible…

***

And FINALLY finally, one last Allez Wiggo. Click on the link to see the perfect backdrop to cap the end of an inspiring season.

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Does Zara Phillips have to do everything, people of England? No, never mind, Bradley Wiggins will take care of it. And he’s got his priorities straight.

More importantly, Nancy Hogshead: I thought you were amazing in 1984, and I still think you are amazing.

And the gold medal for watching the Olympics goes to…

London Olympics 2012

London Olympics 2012 (Photo credit: Andrea Vascellari)

Me! Team USA!

As a teenager, I found a questionnaire I filled out for school as a nine-year-old. Who was my hero? Nancy Hogshead, I wrote.

Nancy Hogshead? The name no longer meant anything to me. But it stayed in my head. Who was this person that I looked up to in 1984? That I valued more than my parents, or Madonna, or Garfield? And should I be embarrassed? It took the invention of the internet a several years later to figure out the identity of this hero I had long forgotten.

Nancy Hogshead won three gold medals and one silver in swimming at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Ah, that makes perfect sense, I realized. That’s why I became an ace swimmer at UCLA and won those five gold medals in Atlanta in 1996. I knew I was in Atlanta in 1996 for something. Thanks, internet.

I can’t attribute a stellar athletic career to Nancy Hogshead, but she is probably responsible for something else: how so very much I love the Olympics. Watching them, that is. I haven’t missed a moment since 1984. And now, as they are set to begin on Friday, I have that happy, carefree feeling that I get every other year, because two solid weeks of fairly uncomplicated patriotism, loud athletic fashion, underdog glory, and a tiny hint of schadenfreude are on their way to my television screen. And computer. And iPhone. Oh, the coverage. I love television events that aren’t called programs, but “coverage.” They just go on and on…I can just melt into it.

And it’s just in time to ease me out of my Tour de France addiction. AND better yet! They are about to begin in my second-favorite city in the world! Which is perfect, because my first-favorite city and home metropolis, New York, probably could do without the aggravation of putting on an Olympic Games. Enough already.

So what can you do if you can’t wait till Friday, when you can obsessively watch each and every participating nation parade into the Olympic stadium so that you can pick out some early favorites and make a top ten best (and worst) team outfits list? And then plan a viewing schedule that best coincides with nap times and camp? Here’s how.

If Showtime is not showing a round-the-clock marathon of Bud Greenspan Presents: Tales of Olympic Glory, which as an imprecise but apt name for this television series, they are severely missing out on some good synergy…what? They’re not showing it right now? Oh. That’s too bad. Guess you’ll have to read this blog to find out what you’re missing.

The late, great documentarian Bud Greenspan made a TV series that showcased a collection of the most inspiring stories to come out of each recent edition of the Games. While b-roll and properly-licensed footage ran, an announcer gravely, deeply, and with little – no – zero emotion provided a voiceover telling stories of self-doubt which turned to triumph, or fear which turned to tragedy, which turned to glory. Stories of economic/national/parental obstacles, or bodily harm overcome. And so on. The modern Olympics, since they began, are filled with thousands of these stories. I don’t know about the original Olympics – they didn’t have Showtime then. But probably.

I love all of Greenspan’s documentaries, but every time I see that dear man’s name come up in my channel guide, I manage to see the same episode: Nagano ’98 Olympics: Bud Greenspan’s Stories of Honor and Glory. And each time I turn on this show to indulge in said honorable and glorious tales, I see the same two tales again and again: the American speedskater Kirstin Holum, and the Italian skier Deborah Compagnoni. Which is fine. I love those two stories.

Kirstin Holum was an American high school student from someplace, I forget where. Unfortunately I can’t find any of this on YouTube, as I was positive I would, so work with me as I try to conjure up the key details. She made it onto the U.S. Speed Skating team, blah blah blah, and competed against her rival, some Norwegian or possibly Dutch lady who was very good, and very complimentary toward Kirstin when she came in, I believe, sixth. After the race, Holum’s coach said something to her like, “Look! You get a certificate for coming in the top six! Yay!” And…that is it. That’s the whole story. No meth addiction to fight through, she wasn’t raised by wolves or anything; she was just a high school girl who got to the Olympics. Which is awesome. But then…

…we get to Bud’s wrap-up of the scene, as we watch Kirstin skate away to collect her certificate or whatever. Again, I paraphrase: “Kirstin Holum, one of the many in a firmament of stars, that break through the atmosphere, kiss us on the face, so that we make understand glory before she disappears back into the universe.” I kid, but I’m not off by much. The word “firmament” was definitely in there.

Now, this girl came in sixth in a pretty minor, as it goes, sport, and he’s bathing her with language usually reserved for Jesus. I am loving her achievement, but this firmament business is overmuch, wouldn’t you say? The tone of the whole series is this grave and earnest. And I don’t usually go in for grave and earnest, but I have to say, you’ve got me, Bud. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because that’s one of the best things about the Olympics, to me: let’s allow ourselves (and by ourselves, I mean myself) just a few unironic, earnest moments every couple of years. Let’s drop our masks, and revel in someone else’s success, be inspired by their efforts, and hope that it may mean something bigger.

I, personally, have no desire in my life to skate, or swim, or do any sport competitively, if at all, but if these Olympians can do it, then that makes me happy. And I guess that’s why my happiness for them is so uncomplicated: it’s envy-free. If I were settling down to watch two weeks of people going for glory in the fields of awesome blogging, say, or tantrum-free parenting, then I might find it a little harder to watch. And by the way, did you know that later, Kirstin Holum left the sport and became a nun? You go girl. Sorry about the Jesus remark.

On to story #2. Deborah Compagnoni, as deep, serious, voiceover man will tell you, was the “female Alberto Tomba.” You know Tomba la Bomba, right? Compagnoni is a child of the Italian Alps, and as voiceover man talks, she walks through the green, sloping Tyrol in an oversized, Benetton-esque sweater and faded jeans. The Italians would call that kind of girl acqua e sapone: soap and water, pretty and natural. Long story short, she’s tough as nails and came back from severe knee injury to win another medal in her third Olympics. She’s one of the most famous Italian sportswomen, and, as the internet told me, later went on to marry Alessandro Benetton, so she’ll never have to pay for those chunky sweaters again! This is a great, straightforward sports success story, but I have to tell you, if I am asked to fill out another questionnaire in my adult life, under “hero,” I’m putting Deborah Compagnoni! I have no good reason, really: she’s not curing cancer or stopping global warming. That I know of. I just would love to be an acqua e sapone girl growing up in the Italian Alps, then national sport hero, then fixture of the Italian social scene married to a fashion magnate! Wouldn’t you?? And she looks amazing! Come on!

So we’ve established that I love the Olympics because I 1) enjoy occasionally basking openly in the happiness of others 2) enjoy living vicariously through glamorous international types (which is also why I enjoy the Tour de France). There are lots of other reasons, but this has gone on long enough. Suffice it to say I hope to add more stars to my Olympic-watching firmament over the next few weeks: big, bright ones like la Deborah, and others that glimmer faintly from nunneries like Kirstin. Here’s to hoping that Olympic fever will catch on with my children, and they’ll find their own Nancy Hogsheads, for future questionnaires. Here’s to loads of the kind of drama that makes sport great; really baffling outfits; underdogs that stun the world, and oh yeah, I did say schadenfreude.

That’s for you, Mama Phelps. I’ve already seen enough of your mug on TV in obnoxious commercials, not to mention your attention-hogging in the stands while people are trying to swim in the Olympic Trials. Give someone else a turn, am I right, Mrs. Lochte? Enough already.

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