Saturday, August 16, 2008

They Had Me at Hello

OK, so my last post -- 10 days ago -- summed up my general lack of interest in the then-upcoming Olympic Games, except for men's soccer and men's basketball.

The next day, I set my DVR for the United States' opening soccer match, airing in the middle of the night on the West Coast. Upon waking on Friday morning (8/8/08), I attempted to watch the game, only to find that Time Warner Cable managed to capture the scoreless first half ... but somehow experienced a technical snafu that resulted in a cultural arts/dance program from KCET occupying the hour of recording where the second half should have been.

So, I'm now fuming and basically ready to write off the whole Games, period, in an irrational fit of pique.

Yet, I still recorded the Opening Ceremonies, figuring everyone would probably be talking about it, so I might as well watch, if only not to be left out of the conversation.

Of course, the spectacle that unfolded was among the most stunning presentations ever seen at an Olympic games. From the chilling drum-powered countdown to the human artists beneath the boxes making the visual story come to life to the former Chinese Olympic gymnast lighting the torch in mid-flight while being suspended above the stadium by wires ... it was amazing.

(Sadly, the subsequent revelations that much of the fireworks were CGI fakes, an anthem was lip-synced because the original singer was deemed not photogenic enough by Chinese authorities, and some offensive casting imbroglios took a bit of luster off of the presentation.)

My favorite parts of the ceremony involved the backstory of two participants:

Lopez Lomong was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, ripped from their homes at a young age and left for dead. He survived 10 years in a Kenyan refugee camp, was adopted by a family in New York and is now a U.S. citizen and decorated distance runner. He was given the honor of carrying the U.S. flag into the stadium. Read more about his amazing life experience in the Los Angeles Times.

Lin Hao is a 9-year-old Chinese boy who survived the devastating Chinese earthquake in May and had saved the lives of two of his classmates by going back into the rubble of their school and helping them escape. When asked why he did it, the young boy responded that he was a hall monitor, and it was his responsibility to look after his fellow students. Cue the tears.

We're a week into the Games now, and the performances have been inspiring.

Michael Phelps has captured the imagination of the world by equaling Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics, and he's going for eight later tonight.

My dormant love for track and field has been reignited by the historic performance of Jamaican sprinter Usaine Bolt.

A 200-meter runner by trade, Bolt only began running the 100 meters this year. He bettered the world record twice in 2008 before the Olympics, establishing 9.72 as the fastest time in history in only his fifth 100 meter race of his life, according to

Bolt stunned this blogger, the crowd at the Bird's Nest stadium, and the global TV audience last night by winning a quarter-final heat in a lightning quick 9.92 seconds, all the while appearing to jog for the last 40 meters or so while swiveling his head from left to right to see if anyone was going to catch him.

The semi-finals and finals have already taken place today in Beijing but won't be televised in the U.S. until tonight.

Therefore, SPOILER ALERT ...

According to the official NBC Olympics site, Bolt ran 9.85 in the semi-finals today, again shutting down after 80 meters to cruise in unimpeded.

He then went on to do the unthinkable in the final, winning the gold by covering the 100 meter distance in 9.69 seconds, the first time in human history that a person ran under 9.7 without the aid of wind.

And, of course, the first time in human history that someone ran under 9.7 with his arms hanging at his sides for the last seven strides and celebrating his victory before even crossing the finish line ... making other world-class sprinters in the race literally seem like turtles.


Looking forward to seeing this on TV tonight.

The U.S. men's basketball team is rolling along, beating Spain handily today.

Brazil's mens's soccer team made the semis today, beating Cameroon 2-0 after being forced to extra time. Lionel Messi scored one and assisted on the game-winner in Argentina's extra-time win over the Netherlands, setting up a semi-final clash versus Brazil.

Can't wait.

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