London Olympics Wrap in Style

Thank you, Kim Gavin, for an awesome Closing Ceremony. And thank you, London, for an awesome 2012 Summer Olympics! (Reuters: Dylan Martinez)

During his tenure as International Olympic Committee President, Juan Antonio Samaranch used to “grade” the Olympics in his Closing Ceremony speech. It was a somewhat meaningless grade, considering he called every Olympics except for Atlanta’s “the best Olympics ever,” and Jacques Rogge (who, while maybe an a-hole, at least isn’t an actual fascist) abandoned the practice when he took over as president.

Were he to appraise these Olympics, Rogge would have to call the Games of the XXX Olympiad the “best Olympics ever.” From an Opening Ceremony that managed both elegance and humor to a Closing Ceremony that rocked like none other (not even Sydney, despite Men at Work and Slim Dusty), these Olympics thrilled, satisfied and entertained like none before.

Watching Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, I kept observing over and over how much fun the athletes and spectators at Olympic Stadium seemed to be having. Screaming and clapping, dancing and singing, every athlete wore a smile that could rival Gabby Douglas or Missy Franklin.

And why shouldn’t they? Kim Gavin’s masterful musical line-up matched Danny Boyle’s, and the crowd seemed to go wilder for every new rock star that appeared on stage. I especially liked the appearance of One Direction – not because I like boy bands (though “What Makes You Beautiful” is pretty catchy), but because it shows a concerted effort to appeal to a younger crowd.

Many past Olympics drew exclusively from an older, classic-rock heavy cast of musicians. That may draw the dads (or grandads), but it turns off the tweens, teens and 20-somethings who just grew up with different music. Alienate too many young people, and they may lose interest in the Olympics as they have with other gala events (the Oscars, for example).

By bringing in One Direction and Artic Monkeys, by doing a section of his Opening Ceremony on young romance in a technological, smart-phone-saturated world, Gavin and Boyle helped include the younger generation – who make up the grand majority of Olympic athletes, remember – in the Olympic spirit. Another generation will grow up loving the Olympics, and Gavin and Boyle are two reasons why.

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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?”

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Beach Dynasty Ends in Gold

How could you not love Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, when this was their reaction to every beach volleyball victory? (www.instyle.com/Getty Images; Landov)

I remember the day so clearly. Aug. 15, 2004. I was visiting my grandparents in Wisconsin, setting the table at my maternal grandparents’ house for breakfast. The 2004 Summer Olympics played in the background, but morning broadcasts rarely mattered, so I didn’t pay much attention.

I glanced up at the TV at one point, and some Americans I’d never heard of were playing beach volleyball. Misty May and Kerry Walsh. Who were they?

I’d always liked volleyball, my college “career” having ended just a year prior when its demands conflicted too much with my Ultimate off-season training. So I started to watch.

Almost instantaneously, I became a fan.

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An Opportunity For a Beleaugered University

Given Penn State’s four consecutive national women’s volleyball titles from 2007 to 2010, plus former Nittany Lions Megan Hodge (left) and Christa Harmotto (middle) on the U.S. Olympic team, PSU could re-brand itself as the home of women’s volleyball.

So I’m watching my approximately fiftieth hour of Olympic volleyball, and a certain university keeps showing up in U.S. players’ bios.

This school has been in the news a lot recently, and not for good reasons. Scandals, sanctions — the school is kinda taking it in the teeth right now.

Can you guess which school I’m talking about? That’s right: the University of Hawai (their punter just got a DUI).

Just kidding, of course I’m talking about Pennsylvania State University, the former stomping grounds for Matt Anderson, Megan Hodge and Christa Harmotto. Three Nittany Lions on the U.S. volleyball roster make PSU the second-biggest Olympic feeder behind Long Beach State.

It’s no coincidence that PSU alumni make up essentially an eighth of U.S. Volleyball: the school has one of the best volleyball programs in the NCAA.

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I’m Just Not “Feeling” Andrea Kremer

“How are you feeling” is simultaneously the most generic and most difficult question a reporter can ask. Unfortunately, Andrea Kremer doesn’t seem to know how to ask Olympic swimmers anything else. (NBC)

I don’t often publicly bash another sports writer. I might critique a particular article, suggesting a way it could’ve been written better, but actually call someone a bad reporter? I try really hard to resist that urge.

These people are, after all, my colleagues, and 99.99 percent of the time, they’ve been in the game longer than I. That, if nothing else, makes them potential future contacts. Alienating them would be unwise, and bashing someone who’s job I secretly want would just be petty.

But I can’t remain silent on this anymore. The 2012 Summer Olympics have already given us the greatest Olympian ever, the best women’s gymnastics team in U.S. history, the resurgence of the U.S. diving program, and maybe the only time in recorded history that the words “badminton” and “lose on purpose” have appeared in the same sentence.

Nevertheless, a black cloud hangs over London. And that cloud’s name is Andrea Kremer.

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Five Thoughts from the Opening Ceremonies

The beautiful copper-leaves Olympic cauldron capped an awesome Opening Ceremony to the 2012 Summer Olympics. (Reuters: Dylan Martinez)

I love the Olympics – always have, always will. I will cover them as a journalist some day, and until then I’ll happily watch on TV.

The Olympics bring the entire planet together. No other sporting event accomplishes that, not even the World Cup (does Lesotho or Tuvalu really give a shit about the World Cup?), and maybe nothing outside of sports does that, either.

The Games of the XXX Olympiad (a.k.a the 2012 Summer Olympics) began Friday night with the Opening Ceremony. Here are my five thoughts on the event.

5) London’s Opening Ceremony: more art, less intimidation than Beijing’s. The 2008 Opening Ceremony was all about intimidation. Electronically unrolling video scrolls, 2008 drummers all in perfect unison, sideways-running aerial torch-lighters – all of that was China’s way of saying, “Look at how much better we are than all of you? Who else could do this?”

Artistic director Danny Boyle couldn’t match the technological achievements of 2008 (though I loved the aerial rings), but he also rejected its mentality. Instead, his 2012 Opening Ceremony depicted England as a driving force of the Industrial Revolution, a breeding ground for so many rock stars, a producer of some of the most iconic characters in children’s literature (from Peter Pan to Harry Potter). Really, only a TARDIS was missing, and I guess Boyle lumped all of Britain’s pop culture together into James Bond.

Everything about the 2008 Opening Ceremony seemed scary, off-putting, maybe even garish. The 2012 Opening Ceremony seemed welcoming, charming. At-times pastoral (or old-fashioned), but always inclusive. Boyle showed England’s place in the world, whereas Zhang Yimou showed China’s place above it.

And Boyle’s copper leaves forming the Olympic cauldron looked absolutely stunning.

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Nation, Media Appropriately Unconcerned with U.S. Soccer Failure

El Salvador's victory over the U.S. ended the team's Olympic hopes, and the media barely covered it. But who cares?

The past week certainly hasn’t lacked for sports stories: Tim Tebow’s move to the Jets, the rise of this year’s Final Four, the ongoing “investigation” of the murder of Trayvon Martin, even the return of Tiger’s wood (the golf club, pervert).

Adding the country’s inexorable march (in March, no less) back into baseball season, and it’s no wonder U.S. Soccer’s failure to qualify for the Olympics barely made a dent in the headlines.

And why would it? Who’d care? Not too many Americans watch soccer at all, and most of those who do save their patriotism for the World Cup.

Soccer is a four-year sport in this country, like volleyball, swimming or track: we care about it when an international competition comes around every four years, and that’s it. Volleyball and swimming, however, only have the Olympics. Soccer has two major-caliber international competitions, and they’re on offset four-year schedules.

Americans don’t care enough about to soccer to root for it every two years, so we make a choice: watch the World Cup, save the Olympics for more deserving sports.

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Ireland’s Contributions to the World of Sports

Because his gold medal in the hammer throw at the 1928 L.A. Olympics marked the first time Ireland's tricolour flag or national anthem appeared at the medal podium, Pat O'Callaghan tops my list of Irish athletes. (www.tipperarystar.ie)

None can say I don’t get into the spirit of a holiday. Awesome Halloween costumes and Passover seders, eager participation in Christmas tree or Easter egg decorating, throw-downs on New Year’s Eve or BBQs on July 4 – I put the “festive” in “festivities.”

So wanting to do something to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day that doesn’t involve an obscene amount of alcohol entering and/or exiting my body (possibly through the same hole), here’s my list of the ten best athletes to come out of Ireland.

10) John Treacy (6/4/1957, Villierstown, County Waterford): Treacy won the silver medal in the marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles – the only Irishman ever to medal in that event. Other accomplishments include golds in the long race at both the 1978 and 1979 World Cross-Country Championships, a silver in the team long race at the 1979 WCCC, and a win at the 1992 Los Angeles Marathon. He now serves as the chief executive of the Irish Sports Council, showing how much athletics must have meant to his Irish identity.

9) Sonia O’Sullivan (11/28/1969, Cobh, County Cork): O’Sullivan was a dominant long-distance runner from 1991 to 2002, earning 16 medals in major international competitions. She set national records in both the 5000m and 10,000m races at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, winning the silver medal and finishing sixth, respectively. She followed up the Sydney Games with victories both in the Grand Prix 5000m and the Dublin Marathon.

8) John Pius Boland (9/16/1870, Dublin): Boland won two gold medals at the first-ever modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. After easily winning the singles tennis tournament, Boland teamed up with German singles-opponent Friedrich Traun to win a second gold in the doubles tournament. Though Boland technically won gold for the United Kingdom, he was a prominent member of the Irish Nationalist party, and he convinced the flag-raisers at his doubles medal ceremony to raise Ireland’s green harp flag instead of the UK’s Union Flag. He died on St. Patrick’s day in London in 1958.

7) Dan O’Keeffe (6/2/1907, Fermoy, County Cork): Any list of great Irish athletes must include Gaelic football, an uber-popular Irish amateur sport that’s basically a fusion of soccer and handball. O’Keeffe was a goalkeeper for County Kerry from 1931-1948, leading them to 13 Munster titles (think a conference title in the NCAA tournament) and seven All-Ireland championships. Not only the greatest goalkeeper in Gaelic football history, O’Keeffe may have permanently changed the team’s mentality: in the 43 years before O’Keeffe, Kerry had only won nine championships. With and after O’Keeffe, they won 27.

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Top Ten Sports Moments from Six Years at 7 Priscilla

Watching the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series was the top highlight from six years' worth of sports memories while living at 7 Priscilla in Brighton. (Boston Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

Wednesday marked the final day of six years spent living at 7 Priscilla Rd. in Brighton. Through those six years, countless Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics games have been watched, with a healthy dose of Bruins games as well. There has even been the occasional Badgers or Packers game. So what moments will I remember best? Here are my top 10:

10) Red Sox 3, Angels 2 – ALDS Game 4, 10/6/08

This game wound up relatively insignificant since the Red Sox went on to lose to the Rays in seven games in the ALCS. Still, 2008 was the last year the Red Sox made the playoffs, and of all the exciting games during that postseason, this was the only one I watched at 7P. The Red Sox went up 2-0 in the fifth, then the Angels tied it in the eighth before blowing a suicide squeeze in the top of the ninth that would have given them the lead. The game was a preview of things to come: John Lackey started for the Angels that night (and complained about a muffed double play that led to the Red Sox’s first run), and Jed Lowrie hit a walk-off single to win the game and hand the Angels their fourth consecutive playoff loss to the Red Sox.

9) Celtics 88, Heat 80 – Celtics’ Season Opener, 10/26/10

The 2010 NBA off-season was all about the Heat’s acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to complement Dwyane Wade and form another “Big Three.” Boston’s reigning Big Three didn’t take too kindly to that, especially a year after a seven-game NBA Finals loss to the Lakers. Though Miami’s Big Three outscored Boston’s by three that night, 13 points off the bench from Glen Davis sealed the victory. After the game, Rajon Rondo was asked if the Heat were now the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Unabashedly, Rondo replied, “I think we are.”

8) Jon Lester’s No-Hitter – Red Sox 7, Royals 0, 5/19/08

Cross this one off the list of sports accomplishments I’d like to see before I die (even if on TV). Perhaps the coolest thing about this no-hitter was the bear hug Terry Francona gave Jon Lester after it was over. We might bash Francona for his folksiness, but his deep affection for his players is undeniable. In one year, Lester beat non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, won the clinching game of a World Series (see No. 1) and pitched a no-hitter. That’s gotta rank up there for “most awesome year ever,” right?

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The Games in Review

Congratulations, Vancouver. Despite some technical problems and less-than-ideal weather conditions for some of the skiing, you pulled off an incredibly entertaining Winter Olympics. I was thoroughly engrossed every night these past two weeks, and I think you represented your city and nation incredibly well. You even won for most gold medals, an accomplishment you should be incredibly proud of. The question remains: what did we learn about ourselves from these Olympics?

First off, a look back at some of my predictions for these Winter Games. In hockey, I thought the women would beat Canada for the gold. I was wrong, but they did win silver. The men will do at least as well, if not better. Two silvers or a silver and a gold are definitely praiseworthy. In skiing and snowboarding, I predicted several gold medals. Well, this was the most impressive Winter Games ever for the alpine US teams. Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn each won gold (among multiple other medals). Shaun White defended his gold with the coolest trick I’ve ever seen on a snowboard. And the US put up three silvers and a gold in Nordic Combined, an event in which they had never metaled before. I predicted better than what we got from the US speed skating team, but they did win one gold (Shani Davis) and several silvers and bronzes. Apolo Ohno did all right in his last Olympics, as did Chad Hedrick. In ice skating, Evan Lysacek won gold and a US ice dancing team won silver. I predicted better from the US women, but I’ll still take a gold and a silver in four events. Lastly, the US won a gold in 4-man bobsled, the first in 62 years.

Overall, I think I did a pretty good job predicting the results of the Olympics, but there is still room for improvement. The US failed to medal in either ski jumping or biathlon, despite a strong team in both fields. The US curling teams were a total disappointment. And our cross-country skiing needs a lot of work if we’re ever to compete with the European countries. All in all, the US must continue to develop its weaker programs if it ever wants to win both the most medals and the most gold. What these Olympics taught us is that we have the best overall athletic training programs in the world (at least for winter sports… China may be superior in all around summer events), but maybe not the best overall athletes. We consistently medal, but winning gold is harder for us than either Canada, who had home-court advantage, or Germany. We’re a great athletic nation, but we still have something to strive for in terms of turning out gold-medal winning athletes.

But this is not to say we shouldn’t be incredibly proud of our athletes. 37 medals is a Winter Olympics record. And it’s been over 75 years since the US won the medal count at a Winter Olympics, the last time being the 1932 Lake Placid games, and that was on home soil. This was far and away our most successful Winter Olympics ever. So while it’s easy to look at the games and analyze where the US must improve, we should take nothing less from these games than the knowledge that we train some of the greatest athletes in the world.