PRICK OF THE WEEK
The women’s pole vaulting is an interesting world with the personable, media flirt Yelena Isinbayeva at its pinnacle. Living up to expectations, she took the gold and broke her own world record in the process. The American Jenn Stuczynski, a former college basketball player who only took up pole vaulting four years ago, scored the silver medal, a quite remarkable feat.
Her coach, an odious piece of work named Rick Suhr, wins the Prick of the Week award (above) for his behavior following her moment of pride. Speaking into a loud mic for all the world, quite literally, to hear, he lambasted her for not taking the gold!
I found the full text of his foul remarks on this website, but I’ll only burden you with a few choice sentences, spoken as he looked at his Blackberry or turned away from her, I’m sparing you the annoyance of a video clip of his mean-spirited, rejecting body language.
It’s the same old same old, you’re losing takeoff at the big heights. (shrug) Whaddaya gonna do? (shrug, looks away) …You weren’t on, your warmup didn’t go well…Whaddaya gonna do? (shrugs, looks away) Didn’t have the legs. Her legs are fresh. Hey, it’s a silver medal. Not bad for someone that’s been pole vaulting for four years. (looks down at his blackberry)
Stuczynski walked away with a dejected look of defeat – a silver medal for gawds sake. It was like witnessing a woman being abused by a bully. I take that back, it wasn’t “like” witnessing – it was the real thing. I assume the pole vaulting officials, whoever they might be, intend to kick his butt for his treatment of her and I hope that Stuczynski finds herself a new coach, this time of a human persuasion.
TRAMPOLINE / DIVING
After waiting impatiently for the women’s trampoline finals, I was given a paltry four routines, late at night, that didn’t even include the performance of the bronze medalist! This was followed by all eight male gymnastics finalists on the still rings. They were quite superhuman, but I wish I could have seen all the tramp-ers.
During a subsequent daytime broadcast I was able to see the eight male trampoline finalists. And I’ve watched all the diving – both synchronized and individual –I could find. I’m not reporting on the results of these competitions because I generally find results irrelevant – I just love this opportunity to see these world-class graceful athletes. And did I say courageous?
I’ve got a special place in my heart for softball, always the tomboy’s refuge. Although it’s played in 140 countries, the Americas utterly dominate the sport and this Olympics is no different. Apparently both baseball and softball are going to be dropped as Olympic sports after Beijing. Sports are always coming and going – to make room for newly qualified events like Trampoline, Tae Kwon Do (with entrants from many small countries as it requires very little equipment) and BMX, Bicycle Motocross Racing. Instead of trying to explain this treacherous, wild sport in words, here’s a 57 second video clip that gives you a sense of BMX. (If you're chicken-shit, just skip it and continue reading.)
Triathlon is the perfect television sport to unpack my moving boxes to. It goes on and on and is likely to be exciting whenever you dip your viewing focus into the procedures. I enjoyed both the women’s and the men’s events. These long sports are such a handsome show of endurance that one nearly forgets how crucial strategy is to their success.
Matthias Steiner, who lost his wife in a car accident last year, took the gold for Germany in the 105+kg (231 pounds) division of the weight-lifting competition with an astounding 258 kg (568 pound) clean and jerk lift. Sports like weight-lifting are a relief after the convoluted if not arbitrary judging of the gymnastics. You either lift the weight and hold it for 2 seconds or you don’t. Steiner showed that pure feeling of triumph and joy that one doesn’t get to see among the poised, posed gymnasts and divers, as he held up his wife’s photo during the medal ceremony.
The finals on individual apparatus are going on, a few events at a time late in the evenings. This great sport has been more or less ruined by the International Federation of Gymnastics (IFG) by the obtuse, arcane judging systems devised in reaction to previous lousy judging displays.
The system used to be transparent enough to give fans (and competitors) a sense that they knew what the hell was going on. Since Atlanta in 1996, they no longer allow for ties despite the fact that other Olympic sports allow them. They have different systems of breaking ties for different gymnastics events that work on the basis of “these are the rules and you know that before you competed, so there!” Worst of all, they’ve binned the characteristic “perfect 10.”
Bela Karolyi, long-time gymnastics coach (Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton), now retired, has been adding some welcome passion and excitement to augment Bob Costas’ tired commentary. Costas obviously isn’t nuts about Bela – he mentions in a denigrating tone that Bela “has opinions” – but it’s hard to argue with anything Karolyi has been saying.
The Americans can’t stop bringing up their suspicions that some of the Chinese gymnasts are under the required age minimum of 16. (Karolyi wonders why they have a minimum age anyway.) Passports were produced as proof and there’s nothing much anyone can do about it. But is youth always such an advantage? Oksana Chusovitina who I mentioned in a previous post, won the silver medal in the vault at 33 in her fifth Olympic games, representing her third national team. Plus she has a short haircut. Irresistible.
ARE YOU TIRED OF MY COMPLAINTS ABOUT NBC?
Apparently NBC Thinks the Chinese Are All Orphans
The end of just about every swim or vault or other performance by an American is followed by a camera cut to the parents in the stands, with their names in a text banner. Don’t the Chinese have parents? Why don’t we see them? We’re still hearing but not seeing the incredibly enthusiastic reaction of the Chinese to the amazing job their athletes are doing. I want to see the celebration. This is a global event. I want to see everyone’s joy, no matter how camera-unworthy NBC considers the event or the nationality.
And quit with the close-ups. There’s a whole giant stadium – let’s see the context, let’s see the event, not never-ending shots of American freckles.
Get Out of my Face
If we’re talking about MSNBC, let me raise another complaint – one echoed many times on its own message board. Their daily 5:00 “Olympic Update” is excruciatingly below par. I have a feeling they’re trying to target “young people,” – which is simply an insult to young people. While it is anchored by the enthusiastic and competent Tamryn Hall in NY, she turns to a couple of clowns in the Beijing studio, Tiki Barber and Jenna Wolf. Tiki can barely get a word in edgewise and he isn’t much of a presence. Wolf, however, is exceptionally supercilious, uninformed and insufferable. She brags about knowing nothing about sport and finds many events ridiculous. Her riffs are all about herself, when she isn’t insulting athletes out of her stupidity. Her refusal to understand the nuances of their events is arrogant. She so needs to go elsewhere. I watch Olympic broadcasts night and day, practically, but I don’t want this fool in my nice new living room.
The thing I like about Mary Carillo – who is doubling-up, doing late-night anchoring as well as features on Chinese life – is that she is obviously delighted by this chance to dig into the lives of Chinese people. I’ve always liked her deep voice and short brunette hair – not something you see much of on TV, well not among women – but this time I’m blown away by her respect for China.
Williams has been doing the national news from Beijing. I actually like Williams – like many people I admired his persistence in covering New Orleans long after Katrina. He knows how to pronounce “Bey-Jing” in contrast to Costas and others in his crew who affect a made-up “Bey-Zhing.”
TO SUM UP
I’m a very committed Olympics-watcher. I adore seeing the performers and performances from around the world. I’m not particularly interested in the medals, in who wins, in the national numbers. I’m devastated that, just as I anticipated, we are seeing only one sliver of the Olympic experience. We haven’t had a peek at the Village (at left), which apparently the competitors find luxurious. We haven’t heard from the Chinese fans or those from other countries. We’re not getting stories about athletes who have sacrificed everything to virtually train themselves in impossible conditions. Where are the tiny countries? The poor countries? The competitors who have never before been abroad?
The numbers game? It’s about business, profit, nationalism, competition, endorsements, xenophobia, elitism – a lot of crap. Training in a sport with your whole heart and body and brain is an experience I would wish on everyone. The element of competition is always dangerous and distorting – and the more intense and elite, the more destructive to the body. Winning is exhilarating, of course, but those day-to-day endorphins one gets from training bring a profound health. I hope the Olympics are inspiring people of all ages in all places to get down and dirty with their bodies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to call the senior center and request that they set up a trampoline course.