Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympics are here!

I'm sure we'll all be glued to our TVs tonight to watch the opening ceremonies. At least the first 5 hours of it. Then we'll channel surf while they wind their way through the alphabet of countries entering the stadium. We'll switch back in time to see Team USA come in, and then we'll watch the last 5 hours of the event. Bring it!

This post will be a top 10 list of the Olympics--Top 10 being a wide assortment of things. Observations thus far, commentary on China as a host, female athletes to watch, and a couple other juicy tidbits. We'll start at 10 and work our way down to numero uno.

Olympic "Top 10"

Commentary and Observations first...

The fact that these games are in China has raised a whole HOST of issues. Human rights are top on the list. China's human rights track record (Tibet, internal workers' rights, support for the Sudanese government, etc) is a hot topic. The Olympic torch route had to be changed or shortened a number of times, and the flame even had to be extinguished in Paris for security concerns. But the torch did make it to the summit of Mt. Everest...though this was basically a huge political move by China to assert its dominance over the highest peak in the world, which happens to lie on the border between Tibet and Nepal...

Oh, and Team USA chose Sudanese-born Lopez Lomong (track and field) as their flag-bearer for the Opening Ceremonies.

The air quality in Beijing. It's hard to ignore a huge cloud of goop hanging over the city when the world's most elite athletes are flying in to compete. Who will wear masks? How controversial will it be? I'll just say that I hope the athletes make a statement about the air quality there. I'd ask them to do the same in L.A. because I think global warming is something we should all confront. It's not a pointed political's bigger than that.

Team USA basketball takes on Australia on August 5th, 2008. Aussie Penny Taylor comes away with a huge black eye (from Tina Thompson) and the whole Aussie team claims that the US squad was a bit too physical and they feared injuries to their players. Emotion ran high for the Americans who are 3-time defending Olympic champs, but missed their chance at the 2006 World Championships as the Aussies took the gold. Don't worry--USA pulled off the 71-67 victory, but I think there are some emotional bruises, too, after that one.

USA Soccer vs. Brazil, July 16, 2008. In what was called a "pre-Olympic friendly" between the two teams, a collision with Brazilian defender Andreia Rosa left Abby Wambach with a broken tibia and fibula in her left leg. And that's kind of a big deal. Why? Because Wambach is the best women's soccer player in the world right now--or at least the leading scorer for the US team. They will really be hurting without her, no doubt.

Why in the WORLD are these women's teams playing each other right before the Olympic games?!?! Of course they should be fearful of injuries...your worst nightmare is what happened to the US soccer team. Losing your best player (or ANY player) from your roster just weeks or days before the Games begin is devastating. I seriously question whoever put together those schedules for women's soccer and women's basketball.

Athletes and Events you shouldn't miss...

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, beach volleyball
Misty May has pretty much dominated the beach scene for the past decade, first with teammate Holly McPeak, now with Kerri Walsh (since 2000). They're incredibly fun to watch, and they're gonna win it all.

Shawn Johnson, gymnast
She's 16 years old and only 4'8". Small but mighty, you might say. She's favored to have one of the best showings for the US squad.

Dara Torres, swimmer
41 years old
5th Olympic Games
When she won her first Olympic gold in 1984, 26 of this year's 42 member swim team hadn't even been born yet...she'll be swimming in the 50m freestyle.

Team USA Softball
I'm going to be honest, I haven't done all my research on this team. But I do know that they're favored to win. They're going for their 4th consecutive gold medal (and they've won 6 world championships to boot). Try to catch at least one of their games because it will be softball at its finest.

Team USA Basketball
This is a dream team like you can't believe. Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles are two WNBA rookies who will dominate the Games. They're joined by a crew of seasoned veterans, like Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Lisa Leslie, and Diana Taurasi, who will trounce their opponents. The Aussies might be the only team to give them a run for their money (with WNBA Seattle Storm star Lauren Jackson helping out the team from Down Under). Try to watch every game you won't be bored. Ever.

A few more facts for you:

- In 1996 at the Atlanta Games, 34% of participants were women.
- In 2004 in Athens, 41% of participants were women.
- In 2008 in Beijing, the IOC has added Women's Steeplechase and Women's Sabre Team Fencing to expand participation of female athletes.
- Some female athletes will be required to undergo "sex tests" to confirm their sex if it has been called into question. This will include a review by a panel of "external appearance" experts along with a number of blood tests. Apparently 8 athletes failed the tests in Atlanta in 1996 but were all eventually cleared with subsequent tests.
- There are 20 moms on Team USA, ie, women who have given birth. Madd props, mommas!
- They agreed to hold the swimming and gymnastics finals in the morning in China in order to create prime-time viewing for US Olympic fans.

Whew. That's my entire preview. Now we should all sit back and relax, and let the Games begin!

(Serious thank you to the Sports Illustrated Olympic Preview issue for much of the information you find here about athletes, Olympic history, etc).

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