Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Olympic Cheatsheet, or Have You Hugged a Brit Today?

[For anyone who likes sports and geography and the tears of triumph/tragedy and NBC puff pieces and Britishy things generally speaking, we now present a disorganized list of things about the upcoming London Olympics.]

* I love how the Olympics creates a bubble where we can all can set aside the bigger problems of the world for a couple of weeks and just play games together. I want to gobble all of it.

* Beginning on a serious note, there are always a few countries in transition - civil war, border dispute, nations not recognized for one reason or another. But this doesn't stop the athletes from participating, bringing a bit of exposure and glory to their homelands. They wear plain uniforms, carry the five-ring Olympic flag, and if they win they hear the Olympic hymn in place of a national anthem. What a brave and lonely thing to do.

* The USA is sending more women athletes than men. While we're praising our own girls, let's also notice that every country participating in the games is sending women to compete this year. And it'll be a female fencing champion carrying the Stars and Stripes in the opening ceremony Friday night.

* Thanks in part to the popularity of THE HUNGER GAMES and Pixar's BRAVE, expect the archery competition to receive unprecedented attention. It'll be hotter than curling.

* Did you know the London Olympics is Michael Phelps FOURTH Olympics?!? He debuted as an infant in Sydney (2000), won medals in Athens (2004), destroyed everyone in Beijing (2008), and now in London he's poised to become the most decorated athlete in modern Olympic history (and maybe all Olympic history, I didn't find the records for the ancient victors). Who holds the 'winningest' record currently? This gymnast. This is starting to feel a bit like a 'girl power' games. *pumps fist victoriously*

* I've taken a poll of several Great Brits, asking what events they would most like to win. All of them (repeat: all of them) responded with some amount of despair about how they won't win anything (except maybe "queuing up on time"). I did eventually coax some confessions of hope in the areas of sailing, rowing, and cycling (note that it was a Brit who just won the Tour de France last week). I was surprised at the lack of enthusiasm for tennis, given Andy Murray's second place finish at Wimbledon a few weeks ago. I'm convinced it's all a psychological trick, since everyone knows the host nation always brings its A+ game. Let's all take a moment and hug a Brit today. I feel like they could use it.

* I think the Spanish are sneaky good at many more things than we give them credit for. Their basketball team gave us a heart attack during the gold medal game in Beijing. And then there's the the phenomenal success of their soccer and tennis players. Watch this space - at least in terms of developing athletes, the Spanish are doing something right. (Note: Sad to hear Rafael Nadal pulled out of the tennis competition, but this makes me ENTHUSED about cheering for Andy Murray. ANDY MURRAY!!)

* While we're on the subject of basketball, I predict here in the States we'll generally re-warm to LeBron a bit over the next couple of weeks - especially since Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be out of sight and out of mind (or, more accurately, Stateside nursing injuries along with 37 other players who should have been on our All Star team). One last basketball note: I loved this story on Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls and his relationship with team Britain.

* Equestrian sports (aka LOOK AT THE PRETTY HORSIES!) are co-ed, as well as co-species. One of Britain's best known riders is a member of the royal family: Queen Elizabeth' granddaughter Zara. One of the USA's best known horses is partially owned by presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife.

* Olympic mascots are creepy. They will always be creepy. That's the end of it.

* The Olympic soccer tournament is for kids under age 23 (though they allow a handful of older veterans on the team as well). The USA men did not qualify, but even if they did, I'm not sure it would have mattered. For Brazil, the Olympic soccer gold is something of a White Whale, forever taunting and eluding them. While many European countries seem to approach the Olympic tournament as little more than a novel training ground for their teams of the future, Brazil is likely to take it very seriously (and don't forget, Brazil is next up to host the Olympics in 2016... not that I'm still bitter about Chicago losing out or anything). I'll be rooting for team Great Britain and their funny uniforms, but if that starts to go south, it might be fun to see Spain continue it's tiki-taka reign of global domination.

* But don't forget, the USA Women's soccer team DID qualify (and won their opener on Wednesday 4-2 over France). After finishing second in the World Cup last year, they'll be crushed if they don't win their 3rd straight gold. Also, I predict every guy will crush hard on Alex Morgan (aka, the one with the pink headband). Also also, the British ladies won their opening game, getting that first pesky win out of the way for the host nation in the very first event. Watch 'em roll, world. *hugs Britain* *sings the 'Soft Kitty' song from BIG BANG THEORY*

* You think the USA Men's Basketball team has high expectations? Consider the women's team: "The Americans have not lost an Olympic game since 1992. Over the past 16 years the U.S. women have rolled up a 72-1 record in international competition, including four consecutive Olympic gold medals (1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008) and three World Championships (1998, 2002 and 2010). They went 8-0 in Beijing, where they outscored opponents by an average margin of 35.8 points." Yikes.

* The opening ceremonies are Friday starting at 7:30pm EST on NBC (tape delayed, due to the time zone difference). The theme is "Isles of Wonder", inspired by Shakespeare's play THE TEMPEST and promises to have everything you've come to love about Britain up to and including a sing-along with Paul McCartney and a cameo from Lord Voldemort. I've given the matter a lot of thought and I've decided I'd like to see Manchester United Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson as the torch lighter. It would be hilarious, and he could double as Lord Voldemort if the program starts to run long. Either way, be warned: If David Tennant isn't somehow involved, I'll be crushed and start questioning everything I've ever labelled as FACT.

* There are approximately 30,000 more games I haven't had time to appropriately research. For example, I think everyone should probably know about our track and field team including LoLo (hear that Black Eyed Peas? Her name is LOLO. With all due respect to FloJo, LoLo is more in your demographic). Also there is the ever popular gymnastics (both women's and men's). And swimming and diving and volleyball and handball and in 2016 they're adding GOLF.

* Click HERE for the full schedule. Or HERE. Or HERE if you prefer.

* Click HERE to stream things.

Now stock up on those delicious new Starbucks Refreshers and prepare to watch things happening in Greenwich Mean Time. GO WORLD!