The late International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch used to close every Olympic games by declaring that they were the “best ever”. Current IOC leader Jacques Rogge doesn't do that (and he shouldn't), but the Games of the Thirtieth Olympiad in London, England were pretty darn good. Thanks to my TiVo, I watched every hour of NBC's primetime and late night coverage, and on Saturday and Sunday, I watched as many of the team sport finals as I could. 17 nights, so a long list of thoughts and observations...
Best Moment: Several, but I'll take Kirani James exchanging bibs with double amputee Oscar Pistorius of South Africa after the semifinals of the 400 meters. James, who is 19, showed sportsmanship and maturity beyond his years. The next night, James won the final, and became the first medalist for his native Grenada—an island with a population of about 100,000.
Other Top Moments: Michael Phelps' swan song, Usain Bolt becoming the first to repeat in the 100 and 200 meters, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings going out as three-time beach volleyball champs, Britain's “Super Saturday” with Mo Farah winning the 10000m, and how about diver David Boudia taking gold after being the last qualifier out of the prelims?
Most Heartbreaking Moment: Sure it was sad that gymnast Jordyn Wieber didn't make the all-around, or that McKayla Moroney fell on her last vault, but they both ended up with medals. There were many moments that we didn't see (NBC didn't show them or maybe they aired during daytime), including South Korean fencer Lam Shin breaking into tears after an incorrectly set clock cost her the semifinal match. But I'll take Canadian gymnast Elsabeth Black. She injured her left ankle on her first vault, and ended up hitting the mat face first. Out of the medals race, and in tears, she started down the runway for her second vault, and then had to abandon the effort.
Funniest Moment: An inquiry in the men's gymnastics team competition. Japan protested a score after a pommel horse routine, and the camera had a shot of a Japanese official filling out the paperwork, with cash in hand. Analyst Tim Daggett was explaining the procedure to lead announcer Al Trautwig, followed by a bewildered Trautwig exclaiming, “What?”. Probably not good PR to see cash, judges, and gymnastics all at the same time.
Darling of the Games: There always seems to be one, and my pick would be Missy Franklin. The teenage swimmer and admitted Justin Bieber fan won five medals—four of them gold. Gymnasts Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, and maybe even Maggie Steffens from water polo could be there, too, but I think Franklin will be on the Wheaties Box, all the talk shows, and in lots of commercials before she starts her senior year of high school in Colorado.
Commentary on the Commentary: I didn't see Al Michaels or Dan Patrick, but Bob Costas did his usual fine job in the anchor chair, and there was one thing he did, that even though it made sense, was hard to get used to. We all know the events aren't shown live, and Costas would refer to them in the past tense (Tonight in the pool, Michael Phelps swam for Olympic history. Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines had the call). I expected him to pretend it was live, and tease it more (Now, Michael Phelps tries to make Olympic history. Let's go to Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines poolside with the call). I liked the approach though. It was refreshing.
Mary Carillo does a great job of anchoring the late night show, but where she really shines is in her features. Her funniest was when she donned a kilt, and got a lesson in bagpipes. There's even a rock and roll bagpipe group called the "Red Hot Chili Pipers". Carillo also did stories on the Tower of London, the birthplace of Shakespeare, why Greenwich is where the Prime Meridian is located, and Bog Snorkeling in Wales. Her most serious piece was on female South African runner Caster Surenya, who had to undergo gender testing at the age of 18. You can look at Surenya and know why some thought gender testing was needed, but according to Surenya's story, she was lied to about the tests, and told the test was for drugs. Wow.
Also there to do features was John McEnroe. He and Carillo covered tennis, but Johnny Mac also took to the rest of the games. He was at beach volleyball and other venues, and McEnroe and winter Olympian Shaun White took fencing lessons, which was pretty entertaining. McEnroe, who seems to enjoy poking fun at his younger more obnoxious days, even did a feature on manners. He had brunch with Downton Abbey historical advisor Alastair Bruce. It was way over the top with McEnroe's feet on the table and such, but still hilarious. McEnroe even taught Bruce what “chugging” meant, but couldn't get the proper Brit to down his entire glass of wine. Good stuff.
Track cycling announcer Todd Harris is as solid as they come, but didn't his broadcast partner Paul Sherwin sound just like actor Michael Caine? Not only the accent, but even the voice. A little deeper than Caine's but very close.
Down two sets to none, and having faced two Gold Medal points against them in the third, Russian men's volleyball coach Vladimir Alenko changed his lineup. He moved 7-foot-2 Dimitriy Muserskiy to a different position. Commentator (and former Lakers broadcaster) Paul Sunderland then said, “It's an option, but it's not an answer.” The Russians came back and beat Brazil three sets to two to win the gold.
Another "oops award" goes to gymnastics analyst Tim Daggett. Normally pretty good, Daggett proclaimed to America and the world that McKayla Moroney was the gold medalist after her first vault. Moroney fell on her second, and finished out of the medals.
I actually got up at 7am Saturday and watched the men's soccer Gold Medal game between Mexico and Brazil, but couldn't decide whether to watch in Spanish or English. I watched the player introductions in English, but when Mexico scored 29 seconds into the game, I quickly switched to Telemundo so I could hear Andres Cantor say, “Gooooooooooooooooool!” Mexico won the game 2-1, and it's impossible to believe that Brazil, which is one of the best soccer teams in the world all-time, has never won Olympic gold.
In the women's soccer final (I watched, but didn't get up at 7am), the USA beat Japan 2-1. Whenever a player had the ball stolen from them, English-language commentator Arlo White (who is British) would say that player was “dispossessed”. I like that.
If any of you reading this are under 30, could you please explain to me the relevance of social media and sportscasting? I am on Facebook, and I have even taken to Twitter, but that doesn't mean I have to constantly know what Samuel L. Jackson tweeted about the American women's soccer team or that Tom Hanks sent a congratulatory post to Gabby Douglas. Really? At least Ryan Seacrest (during primetime) and Tamron Hall of NBC News (late night) didn't do their Facebook/Twitter feature every night.
Closing Ceremonies: In broadcasting, no one has gotten more with less talent than Seacrest (a rant for another day), but after 16˝ days of wondering why he was part of the NBC broadcast in the first place (they still could have gotten somebody else), it finally became apparent. He was there to introduce the music at the closing ceremonies (because certainly Bob Costas and Al Michaels are far too old).
As advertised, the music had something for all ages. I've never heard of One Direction, Jessie J. or Tinie Tempah, and didn't know Taio Cruz was British (I only know his song Dynamite from the video with Giants closer Brian Wilson in it), but they were good. I didn't care about the Spice Girls reunion, either, but it was still a good moment. George Michael was eh, the video with John Lennon was weird, the video with Freddie Mercury was awesome, and Queen guitarist Brian May has more white hair than Santa Claus. He can still rock, too, at age 65. Madness and Annie Lennox performed, the event producers got a Pink Floyd song in, as well as a Bee Gees tune (I always think of them as Australian, but the Gibbs were born in England, and moved back after starting their singing careers). For some reason, we had to wait until a running of a sitcom and local news to hear a 10-minute medley from The Who, which was okay, but not as good as their Super Bowl performance in 2010.
How about comedian Russell Brand as Willy Wonka? Didn't see that coming. He rode in on a Wonkamobile to the music of Pure Imagination. He then sang the Beatles' I am the Walrus.
By far the best part was shortly after the playing of Mr. Blue Sky by ELO. During the song, a giant cannon is being brought on stage. At the end of the song, the cannon fires, and nothing happens. After what seemed like several seconds, a guy falls out of the cannon. Before we can see who it is, Seacrest gives it away by telling us it's Eric Idle from Monty Python. Idle then leads in a rousing rendition of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (cut to Prince Harry whistling along). I was disappointed that there was no Python in the opening ceremonies. I feel much better now.
Assorted Random Observations (lots of them, sorry): I take back part of what I wrote two weeks ago about Michael Phelps. He never came out and said it, but I think his motivation for these games was to become the top medal winner in Olympic history. He didn't win every race like he did four years ago, but his total of 22 medals (18 gold) is beyond impressive.
How did Spain miss Marc Gasol being called for his third foul in the second quarter of the Gold Medal basketball game? It's the assistant coach's job to keep track of fouls, but NBC also didn't point it out. Gasol would be whistled for his fourth foul before halftime, and had to sit almost the entire second half so he wouldn't pick up his fifth and be disqualified. The United States beat Spain 107-100 and won its 14th gold in the 18 Olympics since basketball has been included, but Gasol not in there was a key factor.
It's a shame that while watching gymnastics, we lose focus of what amazing flips, jumps, spins, contortions, and other moves those amazing athletes are doing in the air, and only look to see if they stick the landing. It's the nature of the sport I guess.
Even though the marathon route went through lots of scenic and historical places, how come the men's race didn't end in the stadium as part of the closing ceremony? Never seen that before.
Watching those table tennis (don't call it ping pong) players is amazing, but an Olympic sport? Why not add Beer Pong, or Toss Across? It takes some athletic skill to turn those O's to X's ya' know.
Four years ago, you really stood out if you were running with those neon yellow shoes. This time, you really stood out if you were running without them.
Where'd that Dutch dude come from? NBC was showing the usual suspects in its edited coverage of the high bar in men's gymnastics, and then at the end, they showed Epke Zonderland from the Netherlands and his remarkable routine. We had never heard of this guy (because NBC didn't show him), and he won.
In a sport dominated by tall people, Japan's women's volleyball team has a player who is five-foot-three. I didn't see her make any kills, but she had a few digs (love those terms). The team was pretty good, too. They won the bronze medal.
I don't understand the triple jump. I can envision the derivation of some field events, like throwing a javelin to spear a lion, or pole vaulting to scale a high wall and invade a castle, but who hops and skips before they jump? Weird.
Despite Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt not inheriting a modesty gene, he is still hard to dislike. He actually did show a little humility when asked if he should be compared to guys like Jesse Owens and Mohammed Ali. Bolt proved the doubters wrong, though, and has certainly become a legend. If you aren't sure, just ask him.
I got my once-every-four-years team handball fix, and watched a men's semifinal game. Team handball is a lot like basketball, except the goal isn't ten feet high. It's also got hockey elements like a goalie and power plays. I think the best way to describe it, though, is water polo without the water.
Rhythmic Gymnastics is underrated. It's been made fun of and perceived as women just dancing around with ribbons, but what they can also do with balls, hoops, and jacks is just astounding.
It seemed like some combination of Bill (Prince William), Harry, or Kate was at every event, but no sign of Her Majesty, even at the closing ceremonies. I'm worried about her. I hope there wasn't some kind of mishap after the Queen's James Bond-like “entrance”.
I'm happy to see the medal ceremonies back at the venues, and not at a “Medals Plaza” downtown. I know Salt Lake City did that in 2002, but I think it started in Sydney in 2000. Fans who paid to watch the events get to see the winners get their medals, the athletes don't have to wait forever, and we don't have to stay up for the late night show to see them.
I just checked. ESPN is still there. Didn't even miss it all that much. What? There's football on tonight?