Bottom 5/Top 5 From London 2012

For me, nothing else in the 2012 Summer Olympics could match the excitement, intensity and suspense of the USA-Canada women’s soccer semi-final. (US press wire/nbcolympics.com)

For two weeks every four years, the entire world unites in a celebration of pure athletic ability. We spend hours on the couch or at our computers, rooting for people we’ve never heard of in sports we barely understand (how is dressage a sport?),

Watching t.v. makes us patriots, and for two weeks, “patriot” no longer seems like such a loaded, co-opted word.

And then, just as quickly as it begins, it ends. Two weeks fly by faster than Usain Bolt, but what two weeks they are.

So on the penultimate night of the 2012 Summer Olympics, here are my five favorite and least favorite moments from London.

I’ll start with the negatives and end on a positive note.

The Bad

5) Diving: I’ll never argue that diving isn’t a sport, and last-qualifying David Boudia denying China was kinda cool, but this sport just does nothing for me. Other sports (synchronized swimming, some of the cycling) don’t excite me either, but the diving competition always gets a much larger chunk of the prime time broadcast. To me, it’s just the same thing repeated like 50 times.

4) Tom Brokaw: All of Brokaw’s pieces boiled down to “old people doing old people stuff.” England’s pivotal role in WW2’s outcome? Undeniable. But that same day, Mary Carillo did a story on a young South African female runner dealing with accusations of being a man, and in general all her stories were on modern England. As such, her stories spoke more to me.

I think even Bob Costas wished Brokaw had chosen more contemporary topics. In his wrap-up interview with Brokaw after the WW2 piece, Costas basically said, “All these people made their impact on the world 70 years ago and haven’t mattered since. Doesn’t that suck?”

3) Runners’ ego: No one with working eyes and a pulse can deny Usain Bolt’s talent. But even greater than his speed: his ego, and I found it to be a major turn-off. Worse, I found it reflective of an obnoxious arrogance displayed by many of London’s track superstars, no matter what their country of origin (Grenadan Kirani James being a shining exception – see below).

Track and field rules the second week of the Olympics as swimming does the first, but by and large swimmers appeared to celebrate as emphatically but without looking like they needed everyone to acknowledge how great they were all the time. The runners looked like jerks, the swimmers looked like teammates, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the swimming competitions far, far more (also, this).

Michael Phelps has accomplished far more than Bolt ever will, and while Phelps wasn’t above a bit of bravado, it never reached the point where Costas actually mocked him during a broadcast (see right above 11:00 p.m. comments).

2) USA men’s beach volleyball: The indoor women’s team may have disappointed slightly by losing their final to Brazil, but the men’s beach teams just flat-out sucked. Defending gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers lost in the Round of 16, as did Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal. Our guys looked old, slow and disinterested. Time for some new blood, a la women’s beach silver medalists Jen Kessy and April Ross.

1) USA Basketball: Both U.S. basketball teams could only meet expectations (winning every game and gold), or they could fail (anything less). With no ability to excel, where’s the fun?

Also, I hated the “debates” over whether the 2012 Olympic team was better than the 1992 Dream Team. Who cares?

When the American sports media has no real information to report, they tend to manufacture bullshit like this to hide how little they have to do. This is an unanswerable, irrelevant and stupid issue – I would’ve much preferred they just talked about something else.

The Good

5) Kirani James: When he won his 400m semi-final, Kirani James traded name tags with double-amputee Oscar Pistorius without a moment’s hesitation.When he won Grenada’s first medal with a gold, he immediately slapped hands with each of his competitors, and it looked like genuine congratulations, not bragging.

Maybe it’s just my secret love for all things Allan Sherman, but I really like James’ attitude.

4) USA women’s water polo: I watched a lot of curling during the 2010 Winter Olympics, finding myself oddly entertained by that most bizarre of sports (clearly the invention of drunken Canadian janitors). This time around, I found water polo – in particular awesome American Maggie Steffens – far more watchable than I’d ever previously realized.

I guess water polo is the new curling. I wonder how many times that sentence has ever been written?

3) Michael Phelps: Maybe it’s just my fascination with truly sublime athletes, but I really like and rooted for Michael Phelps. His personality, his work ethic, his drug use (gasp! he smoked pot!) – all that just made Phelps cooler in my book.

I was happy when he tied the Olympic medals record, happier when he broke it, and happiest when he added two individual golds to his London haul. Some other Olympians (Jesse Owens) may have been more culturally significant, but Phelps, quite simply, is the greatest.

Plus, sweet Dr. Seuss quote as a Facebook status.

2) U.S. women’s gymnastics: I usually don’t get to into this event, mostly because doing so makes me feel like a pervert. But from their first event, I knew this women’s team was something special. This was clearly our strongest, most skilled team ever, and between a team gold, an all-around gold and three event medals, this was also simply our best team.

That one gymnast was a Jew from Needham whose floor routine used “Hava Nagila” (our unofficial national anthem) only made them all the more fun to watch.

1) Canada-USA women’s soccer semi-final: Leads gained and lost, penalty shots and extra time, and it all came down to a header with 30 seconds left. The only game that had me jumping out of my seat and screaming at television, and definitely the best soccer match I’ve ever seen.

This game also featured one of the best displays of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. During extra time, one of the Americans went down with an injury (a real one, not a soccer one), and the Canadians soon gained possession.

Now with the ball, Canada kicked it out of bounds, allowing the U.S. to sub the player out. So what does America do after their throw in? They give the ball back to Canada with an easy loft.

These teams are playing for a spot in the Olympic gold-medal match, and they both chose honorable play over competitive advantage. How cool is that?

That, my friends, is the true Olympic spirit.

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