The most memorable and controversial moments surrounding this year’s Olympics
by Nick Gallinelli
There are many things about the Olympics that come and go. Many of the athletes are transient. They become popular for the month preceding the competition — answer Qs and As for profiles about sports most people know nothing about— are popular during the competition, and then live their legacy through Vitamin Water endorsements and stale Wheaties boxes. During the off-year between the Summer and Winter Olympics, nobody really misses them or even gives them a thought. Except for the prepping athletes, the rest of us are content with our MLB and NFL and NBA and get our athletic drama from the gripes of Dwight Howard and interceptions of Mark Sanchez.
But that said, there are always moments that people never forget. Even people who hate hockey (guilty) have heard about the Miracle on Ice, and people who hate the NBA still respect the Dream Team. Kerri Strugg still plasters opening Olympic montages and Michael Phelps really never disappeared.
There are moments bigger than others, more memorable than most. During the Olympics many of us are glued to our TVs to watch, live, our country match up against the rest of the world in a symbol of worldwide unification, NBC tape-delay notwithstanding. During the memorable moments we’re caught up in the drama and in the pride we vicariously feel for the athletes from our homeland. Even aside from the minor sense of patriotism we inevitably feel, the simple perseverance regularly observed is simply inspiring. We like to think of it as a reflection of us.
And it’s not just athletes winning things and shiny pendants, it’s a temporary cultural change. If you went on Twitter at any point during the Games, you were probably flooded with a stream commenting the media-driven storylines, the exhaustion of spending 6 hours per day staring at Bob Costas, and NBC’s terrible dismemberment of what used to be efficient and effective Olympic coverage. (Seriously, NBC, what the hell?)
For at least a month, we love everything about it.
And this year the Dream Team was rivaled, the first gold medal ever won by a black gymnast was won, and Michael Phelps stuck his stake in the “best Olympian ever” debate.
If you were even remotely attentive to this year’s London games, you’ll probably remember at least a few of these biggest moments. And if you didn’t see them, I’m sure your water cooler told you. And if Mr. Cooler didn’t, this list serves as an Olympics-for-dummies— an overview so you can sufficiently follow any imminent bar conversations. It’s also a list containing an annoying amount of links.
Here, along with a few odd observations from one fervent follower, are the best moments and stories from the 2012 London Olympics:
1 The sub-surface tension between swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte
Perhaps the biggest storyline leading up to the Olympics, Phelps’s success and Lochte’s tacit jealousy made for quite-the-epic aquatic scenario.
Since the 2004 Summer Olympics, Phelps had won 16 Olympic medals prior to the 2012 Games, which, even aside from Lochte, spurred an interesting-enough story to gain attention: Would Phelps pass Soviet gymnast Larisa Larynina to become the winning-est Olympian of all time? What would the most medals even mean?
All Phelps needed was three medals to catch the feat. If he swam any way like he did in 2008, he was golden (get it?). But then along came Ryan Lochte, fellow American. Lochte was the Olympic neophyte who posed the biggest threat to Phelps’s success. Lochte had actually beaten Phelps in the 2010 Pan Pacific Championship’s 200 metre individual medley, an event that excited and confused many swimming fans. And guess what? The two would race that same race in the Olympics.
The two were going to compete for medals (the mentioned 200 metre individual medley and 400 metre individual medley) but also for pride.
“Who is the best swimmer in the world right now?” ESPN asked Phelps before the Games began, spurring a debate between fans and sports analysts countrywide.
“Time will tell,” Phelps answered with a smirk.
“If I ask Ryan, what will he say?”
“I know what he’ll say. I’m not going to say it but I know what he’ll say. He’s not going to say me, that’s for sure.”
The two always spoke about a close but competitive relationship, but Phelps’s responses in his interview aren’t very convincing.
When asked if he believes he’d be Ryan’s friend if they weren’t swimming buddies, Phelps prevaricated, and never gave a straight answer.
Instead, he left it in the pool.
In the 2012 Olympics Phelps did indeed break the medal record. He settled at a final 22 total Olympic medals, shattering Larynina’s previous record of 18. Phelps won the 200 metre I.M., getting vengeance, but lost to 1st-place Lochte in the 400 metre while finishing fourth.
It’s tough to argue against Phelps as the best swimmer alive and best swimmer of all time, but Lochte will surely be all V for Vendetta in 2016 Rio.
2 The sweet moment for the Fab Five gymnasts
One of the best things about gymnastics in the Olympics is that it always seems to be on TV. There are just too many events. Vaults, Uneven Bars, Floor, Cool Streamer Waving Around Thing, it’s all awesome.
I never turn on the TV to watch gymnastics like I would the gold-medal basketball game, but never turn it off when I see it. This is what happened on Tuesday July 31.
While frivolously texting a girl I’ll probably never get, yet being happy with my success in avoiding all spoilers throughout the day, I turned on NBC for some Olympics action. What was on was the team competition in women’s gymnastics, and what was about to happen was almost tear-jerking.
After crushing the Beam and Vault, the U.S. girls were in the middle of the Floor, the last leg of the team competition that stood between them and gold. All Jordyn Wieber had to do was give an average Floor display and the U.S. girls were golden (did it again). A routine routine, and they’d all have gold medals.
What followed was history.
After her Floor display, Jordyn Wieber ran to her teammates, Gabby, McKayla, Kyla, and Alexandra with an uncontrollable smile and joyous tears (you could even see her smiling before she finished her routine). The five hugged and cried and stared at the scoreboard in anticipation of their official score, and when their winning score of 183.596 (which embarrassed second-place Russia) was posted they exploded. During interruptive NBC shots of the genuinely sad Russian gymnasts and a few glances to see if that girl had texted me back, the five laughed, smiled, jumped and kneeled in celebration of their victory. They had won gold together, which is always better than winning alone. I hadn’t even watched the whole event, but was already deeply invested in the fate of the U.S. girls. Unfortunately, they also won an agonizing interview with Bob Costas.
Despite my texts to said girl proving futile, this was my favorite night of the Olympics. The wild celebrations of the teenage girls will always tug your heart-strings a bit harder than Lebron James winning gold, smiling, and revealing this mouthpiece.
3 The Spice Girls at the closing ceremony
I don’t need an explanation here. And if you think I do, listen here. I’ll be waiting.
Back? I knew you’d listen to the whole thing.
4 New Dream Team?
Many will fulminate at my even bringing this up. I say to you: “I was four during your Dream Team and don’t remember it so this is my Dream Team so leave me alone!” and then burst into unconfident tears.
But it does pose an interesting question.
In 1992, the United States put together what many think is the best basketball team ever assembled. They had, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson. They were coached by Chuck Daly who was assisted by THE Coach K. That list of players and coaches alone is awesome. And oh yeah, they also had Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
They’re the most storied basketball team ever. They make the 2012 Miami Heat look like an ice cube. But this year’s team deserves its own story, and perhaps a longer one. It was just as successful, and played against better competition.
Boasting Kobe Bryant, the best scorer of our generation, and Lebron James, who some think rivals MJ as the best player of all time, and Coach K as its head coach, this year’s team beat a Spain team that boasted five NBA stars: brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon, and Serge Ibaka.
In 1992 the Dream Team beat a Croatian team that had two NBA players on its roster. There are five players from each team on the floor at a time— at any point, it could have been exclusively NBA players versus exclusively NBA players. I could write a whole new article about this, but NY Press probably wouldn’t like if I did.
Basketball’s become a worldwide sport, not just an American backyard hobby. I know that in ’92 basketball was stretching around the globe, but it’s undeniably bigger now. Does the increased quality of competition count for nothing?
4a Carmelo Anthony hustling on a basketball court
5 Seeing Usain Bolt, the fastest human to ever walk the Earth
I know, I know. How can I realllllllllllly know if he’s the fastest human to ever walk the Earth? Was I alive forever? Have I seen every human in history run? Blah blah. I get it.
But I also don’t get it. Between modern science and increased competition, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve luckily been fortunate enough to see the fastest human being ever. Ever.
The dude is kinda, sorta, faster than gravity!
We’re the dominant species, and he’s the fastest of all of us. If we were all running from an Apocalyptic flood, he’d be the last man standing— unless Phelps rides the wave.
The first Olympics, held in sixth century B.C. to honor Zeus, had one event: foot racing. Bolt is the best of all time at the oldest Olympic event.
So unless Hermes existed, or the gods actually physically aided humans like in the Iliad, we’ve seen the fastest human being to ever walk the Earth.
He might even be the best athlete to ever live, just ask Usain.
6 NBC’s tape-delayed events
This one piqued quite a few people.
It’s pretty impressive when you think about the abundance of events occurring during the Olympics and the Olympic Committee enduring the painstakingly tough task of efficiently scheduling all events so they can fit into a somewhat-reasonable time schedule. I mean, it was even hard to explain it.
Also, if you didn’t know, London is in a different time zone. And if you knew London was in a different time zone, you also probably knew time zones can be quite a pain in the butt. (Don’t even get me started with daylight savings)
The annoying mixture of these two things posed quite the quagmire for ratings-hungry NBC. This probably happened in a conversation among NBC executives during the 2008 Olympics:
“I can’t wait for women’s pole vault this morning.”
“Me neither, what time is it at?
“Around 5 a.m.”
“LOLZ YEAH RIGHT”
So how could NBC overcome the dearth of viewers available to watch big-time events during normal day hours? Well, they decided to instead tape all the big events and show them at night. Who would care anyway?
Certainly not me! I loved blacking myself out from the internet for entire days at a time and avoiding text messages and phone calls! All I had to do was bury myself in a pit, live off bugs, and hide until nightfall!
Besides! Sometimes watching something is better when you know what’s going to happen. I loved watching Phelps race while knowing he’d win! It made the race so much cooler!
This one only applied to fanatical fans.
Bill Simmons, creator and editor-in-chief of Grantland, flew to London to first-handedly cover the 2012 Games and provided his readers with six lengthy, hilarious, and informative pieces about them.
Every day I checked the site to see if Simmons had posted another piece of his Olympic journal, and had a terrible start to the day when he hadn’t— his coverage was great.
I’m not sure if NY Press likes this free press, but Grantland is simply awesome. If you spend way too much of your time (I mean way too much) watching sports, TV, and movies, I’d join the Grantland fan base. Simmons is a funny, well-versed database of a sportswriter, and should be read by all.
Just don’t forget NY Press!
(That should make them happy)
8 Alex Morgan
I’d go on a sycophantic rant, but will save that for the World Cup. Great things are looming and I could be in love.
9 The US of A cleaning house
Like I mentioned before: The Olympics are a minor, and for some, major, source of patriotism. They’re a test of which group of people, represented by the same government and working together, contains the most physically adept and athletic specimens. Even if patriotism is too extreme, it’s surely great to gain some bragging rights.
It’s only sports, but for people like me, it’s really not only sports. The English Premier League might be the best soccer league in the world —the league where all footballers aspire to play— but the U.S. has most of the other leagues where players of that sport aspire to play. The MLB, NFL, and NBA are best leagues in their respective sport.
To defend itself as the ‘athletic capital of the world’, the United States, by medal standards, won the Olympics.
The Olympics weren’t one big jumble of sports greatness. That’s impossible. It could have been better, maybe it should have been better. Maybe Ryan Lochte should have beaten Michael Phelps and run a victory lap around the pool, only to trip, fall, be out for the rest of his races, and Phelps replace him and add to his medal total. That would have made for some great Olympics and a huge ‘eff you’.
While perusing more Olympics coverage this morning, I learned that the United States didn’t even compete in table tennis, precluding the chance of Miracle on Table.
Practicing to change that is what I’ll be doing for the next four years.
See you in Rio.
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