Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I have been pretty immobile during my vacation, which means I have been stuck in front of the TV watching whatever Olympic coverage my girlfriend likes. Which is, apparently, almost all Olympic coverage. I like some sports - like waterpolo, because I played it. Or like the track races, because I have done that before as well. Running, I mean. Not competitively or anything, but you know. There have been moments in my life where I ran. So I get it. Also rowing. I have rowed before. So I like watching it. Let's see, what else...volleyball. I like volleyball. Not the beach kind, but the hardcourt kind where the crazy hard straight-down spikes happen. I've become a Logan Tom fan, even though she's American. I would enjoy watching basketball if we got games other than the American ones, or if any team in the world had a chance to win one of them.

But I don't like horse jumping. I'm sorry, Ian Millar fans. I AM happy he won a silver medal and all. But watching that is like watching paint dry for me. The whole idea is...not to knock over some fences? It doesn't really matter how fast you go? Then...what's the point? It's just horses walking from fence to fence, jumping them, and a guy with a silly hat. Or a girl with a silly hat. Come to think of it, is horse jumping the only co-ed team event in the Olympics? Where you can be a woman or a man or a teen or a grandfather? Oh, maybe sailling. Now there's a boring sport to watch. Look at how that guy...pulled that rope...and I have sailed before. And I still hate watching it.

The main problem I have is with the sheer number of events. Just "diving" isn't enough. You know, we could cram in another event here - let's do it synchronized. Just "gymnastics" isn't enough. There has to be a team event, a team all-around event, individual events, individual all-around events...if this business hadn't been going on for years, I would be throwing out conspiracy theories here. That it was all a way to crank up the overall number of China's medals. Nowhere is this more apparent than in race walking. I can accept some seemingly mutually exclusive events, like archery and shooting. Not that I like either one of those, but I get that archery has that classic event historic feel to it, and that shooting is the modern, easier equivalent of the same thing. But racewalking? There is, I am sure, no historic precedent for race walking. I'm certain that when people had to go a certain distance as fast as possible in the old days, they ran. Hence - marathon, from the Greek "Marathon". When did the idea hit people that doing something half as well for absolutely no reason could be an Olympic event? Isn't that kind of like adding a doggy-paddle event in swimming?

Actually, it's swimming that bugs me the most. The fastest way to swim is the front crawl. That's it. Nothing else. (OK, maybe, for some, the butterfly. Granted.) So why isn't that the "swimming" race? Why bother with the backstroke, or the breaststroke? They aren't as fast, so why would you ever use them? I used to play waterpolo. There is a lot of swimming in that sport. I never saw anyone use the breaststroke to chase down a ball. I did watch Michael Phelps win his eighth gold medal of the games, and it was certainly exciting. And he is, definitely, the best swimmer ever. But people are calling him the greatest Olympian ever. And I can't get behind that. He just happens to be the greatest Olympian in the event that allows you to win the most medals. You can't win eight gold medals in track. You can maybe, if you're the greatest ever, win the 100 metres and 200 metres and the relay and the long jump and the triple jump and the 100 metre hurdles and the 200 metre hurdles. Which is a ridiculous stretch. No one would ever be entered in all those events. But even then it's only seven. Phelps won two medals for medley, three for butterfly, and three for front crawl, including three relays. No other sport allows you to even participate in that many events.

So here are some of my picks for the greatest Olympian ever:

Carl Lewis. In 1984, he won gold in all four of his events. 100m, 200m, long jump and the relay. In 1988, he won gold in two events, 100m and long jump, and a silver in the 200. And in 1992, he won two more gold. And then, in 1996, he won another gold, in the long jump, and a silver in the 200m. That is 12 years of dominance in track, a sport that generally has athletes that stay on top for two or three years, tops. And spare me any reference to Ben Johnson, please.

Paavo Nurmi. This man was the ultimate distance runner, likely the greatest of all time. Nine gold and three silver in the twelve events in which he competed over three Olympics. The 10,000 metres is much different than the 3,000. And he dominated in both. Also amazing in the steeplechase, the 8,000 metre cross-country.

Bjorn Dahlie. I remember watching this man in Nagano, and being amazed. Able to rack up an incredible 12 medals in cross-country skiing, in all kinds of disciplines. Winning gold in the 10km and the 50 km in the same year is like a runner winning the 100m and the 1,000m in the same year. Unheard of.

Jim Thorpe. My personal pick. The most versatile, and therefore in my opinion, greatest athlete of them all. How can you argue with a guy who won the first ever Olympic decathlon in 1912, setting a record that wouldn't be broken for the next twenty years? It was the first, and only decathlon in which he ever competed. And who competes in the decathlon AND something else in the same year? Well, they had the pentathlon as well in 1912. And of those five events, he won four outright, winning a gold medal in that event as well. So now he has done two events, winning two gold. Two events that really comprise a total of fifteen events. And he still had more events to go. He finished fourth in the high jump a few hours after he had won the pentathlon. And then he went out and finished seventh in the long jump. While at the 1912 Olympics, and busy competing in four events, which were basically seventeen events, he also found time to be a part of the American baseball team, which played two games as an exhibition sport. (It was later discovered that Thorpe had played professional baseball for two dollars a day in 1909 and 1910, and he was retroactively declared a "professional", and stripped of his medals. They were later reinstated when it was discovered that the protest had been filed too late.) Then he went on to play on a barnstorming basketball team, when he wasn't playing baseball in the major leagues and football in the NFL. Without a doubt, the greatest athlete of all time. But only in one Olympics. I still think that was the greatest single Olympic performance of anyboy in history.

Counted out: Larissa Latynina. The all-time record holder with 18 Olympic medals (9 gold), she is disqualified because she competed in gymnastics at a time where you could conceivably win six medals each year, with help from your team. Although the fact she won convincingly over eight years is amazing. Considering gymnasts apparently peak at the age of thirteen. In fact, of the top 14 medal winners of all time, nine have been either gymnasts or swimmers. So both are discounted.


  1. Yes! I agree completely! Why not have a 20 minute, 40 minute, 60 minute, and a shootout hockey division at the winter olympics so Canada can medal more... Or a best ball, closest to pin, longest drive, match play, etc. so Tiger can rack up a whole bunch of gold medals for the US... (yes i know golf isn't an olympic sport, but why not when compared to sailing or horsejumping, as you mentioned)
    Makes no sense to me either.

  2. Carl Lewis - tested positive for several banned substances 3 times before the Seoul Olympics. Ben J. may have went from Hero to Zero in 9.79 but he wasnt the only cheater.

  3. I agree with most points in your Olympics blog.
    Have to disagree with you re: the equestrian segment. Have you ridden a horse before? (I did not mean that as sarcastic). If not, try it for an hour. Afterward you'll be very immobile. The next couple of days you'll just be whimpering in pain. By day 5 you should be OK.
    Canada won individual GOLD (not by Millar) as well as the team's silver with Millar as captain.

    It matters BIG TIME how fast you go, to one hundredth of a second, in case of a jump-off.

    Galloping is better than walking.because first, you'll be around because the fences the horse & rider are to clear are to about 5ft.6in. in height & in spread (depth). It would feel to many as trying to control a runaway freight train, let alone these horses are about the size of a wall in your house.

    If an experienced equestrian rider, male or female, challenges you to an arm wrestle: run fast, run far!

    Signed: Miss "Gotta give'em the real picture where equestrian SPORT is downplayed."