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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