Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Smiling and Dancing in the Face of Pressure

The Main Blurb
The floor routine in gymnastics: It seems to be a bane for the men, but a joy for the women.

Think about it: When you watch the men do a floor routine, they look like a robot when they are not leaping in the air. When they land and move around the floor, their legs are as straight as tree trunks. “Dance” to male gymnasts is a four letter word that should never be uttered. There is no music in men’s gymnastics. The goal is to do as many tumbling passes as possible in the allotted time and get off that thing.

On the other hand, music is heard throughout the arena when the women are performing. It can almost be annoying when you’re trying to watch another apparatus because someone else is dancing their floor routine to some weird little piece of music. But they shimmy, they shake, they…smile! They almost seem to be enjoying themselves – for some of them, they actually are enjoying themselves!

Normally when I am watching someone’s floor routine, it is fun to watch them tumble around. I had made note that I rarely saw anyone royally mess up a floor routine. They know those tumbling passes like the back of their hand, because it’s all set to song.

Tonight had been no different. I watched many floor routines (since I watched the online feed which provided more routines than NBC’s evening coverage did), and they were all fun. British gymnast Beth Tweddle even danced her routine to Wing’s “Live and Let Die.”

As those fun routines were being performed, Russia and the United States were fiercely building up the points on the other three apparati. The lead for the US was slim going in to the final apparatus for the two of them: the floor routine.

I have seen the US do those same floor routines (with the same songs) many times. I watched the Visa Championships. I watched the Team Trials. And I watched on Sunday. There were a couple of flubs on Sunday, which surprised me. Sometimes the pressure can get in your head. On Sunday, it was in the US women’s head.

And today, it was in the Russian women’s head.

The Russian women went first, and I was absolutely shocked to see them make so many huge mistakes on the floor routine with so much on the line. They missed parts of their tumbling combination. They didn’t jump high enough and landed on their knees. And with each mistake, the opportunity for the US women to win gold got bigger and bigger. The tears flowed, and I sat in shock. Was their music off? Were they smiling? I had never seen such huge mistakes in the floor routine – and at the Olympics, no less!

So now it was time for the American women. And they didn’t disappoint. The three routines done by Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, and Aly Raisman were spot-on. They were exactly what they needed to secure the gold medal. And they didn’t let the pressure of Olympic gold get in their head. I actually clapped when Wieber finished her routine!

Congrats, ladies of the gymnastics squad. You took the pressure and dominated. And while everyone else will be putting Michael Phelps on their front pages, I am making you my Main Blurb.

Mini Blurbs
Speaking of women’s gymnastics, I rewound my DVR three times to watch McKayla Maroney’s vault. There is such a thing as a perfect vault, and I had just watched it. I hope she can do that in the individual event finals and get the gold.

Shannon Miller was the color analyst for the online coverage. She was a lot of fun to listen to!

The medals ceremony music is the theme from Chariots of Fire. I don’t think any Olympic athlete will like that song ever again. It’s been playing over and over and over and over and over and over…

He Kexin from China is a holdover from the 2008 gold medal gymnastics squad. But now she actually looks like she’s old enough to compete! (In 2008 she looked about 10 years old.)

Oh – Michael Phelps has 19 Olympic medals. If he were to wear all of them around his neck, I don’t think he’d be able to raise his head up! It was fun to see Happy Laughing Michael again. Even after he got outtouched by Chad le Clos in the 200 butterfly, he was talking to le Clos and telling him what to do on the podium and around the photo ops. Then both of them were swimming in the 4x200 relay about 40 minutes later!

Five small gymnasts had a hard time fitting on the medal podium in the arena. Four large male swimmers had room on either side of them on the medal podium in the pool arena. Maybe the podiums got switched by accident?

I heard the phrase “Sculling Sloth” today, which apparently is the name of Niger sculler Djibo Issaka Hamadou, who only took up the sport three months ago and somehow qualified. He finished 1 ½ minutes behind the rest of his heat.

Mad props to Allison Schmitt for winning gold in the 200 freestyle. With all the promotions going towards Missy Franklin, I’d forgotten she was the favorite in the event! She cruised; Missy missed a medal.

Do the rowers ever have the finals? It seems like all I’ve [been forced to] watch has been a heat for this, a heat for that, a heat for something else…

I added a new sport today: women’s field hockey. They play on what has been called “Smurf turf” (yes it’s blue) like Boise State’s football field! It’s pretty much floor hockey with shorter sticks and they’re forced to wear skorts. Really? It still looked like fun.

Tonights roundup: field hockey, whitewater canoe, gymnastics, men’s volleyball, men’s beach volleyball, rowing, swimming, men’s water polo, diving.

One more thing about the gymnasts (sorry, they made my morning): They were rooting for each other and supporting each other like no other. That was quality teamwork.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Strength and Disappointment

The Main Blurb
If anyone assumes that men’s gymnastics is exactly like women’s gymnastics, they can’t be more further from the truth. Although both sports require power, strength, and finesse, both emphasize different aspects.

The women’s area requires much more finesse. Ladies are usually very small (which is usually why most gymnasts are under the age of 20), and their tumbling and leaping skills are important for all four of their events.

Men, on the other hand, is all about power. There are six apparatus for the men, and most of them are about the upper body strength. Still rings, pommel horse, and parallel bars all demand holding up your body by your hands. You’ll rarely find a men’s gymnast with a small frame. Normally they are all upper body.

I actually enjoy watching men’s gymnastics more than women’s – but not just because I’m a woman. I can’t get over the raw strength and power that these men show!  Could you do a handstand as you’re suspended eight feet in the air and you’re just holding two rings?

Unfortunately, today my admiration for men’s gymnastics was tarnished by two different things: 1) The American men stunk up the joint, and 2) The streaming on my computer kept crashing when it started to air an ad. Which was a lot – because it’s NBC and all they think about is ad money. I was shocked to see how dismal their routines looked – they were hitting the pommel horse, they were stepping off to the sides (or sitting!) in their vaults, and their finesse routines didn’t have enough difficulty to get them back in it. They finished fifth.

I was saddened to hear about the appeal of the Japanese to reconsider the starting difficulty and have it be accepted. But I wasn’t sad for Great Britain – shape up Brits: they were still on the medal stand! I was sad for the Ukranian team! No one had talked about their potential for a medal, and they went out there and did everything they could. They had the bronze in their grasp, and it was taken away when the Japanese were placed second.

And what did I tell you on Saturday about the Chinese?! I’m just going to get a banner or something and hang it outside my window that says “I WAS RIGHT!” They rebounded from that atrocious performance on Saturday to win the gold. I knew that was going to happen. I didn’t want it to happen, but I knew it would.

Enough about gymnastics – it’s making me depressed.

Mini Blurbs
Matt Grevers and Missy Franklin got my memo from yesterday – both of them won golds in the 100-m backstroke. Bonus win: Nick Thoman won silver! Rebecca Soni couldn’t outtouch Ruta Meilutyte, so she had to settle for silver in her case. And Ryan Lochte? You better shape up or think of better excuses for your less than stellar performances the past two days.

I would have really enjoyed the mass scoring that took place in the women’s water polo match against Hungary, except for that ear-piercing whistle that kept blowing every ten seconds. That just hurt too much.

Women’s volleyball was fun to watch, though – they beat Brazil three games to one. I would much rather watch indoor volleyball than beach volleyball – for more reasons than the obvious.

I always thought the national teams were all supposed to have the same or incredibly similar uniforms. Rebecca Soni has been wearing a gray swimsuit while some men have worn all black and sometimes have a flag on the sides. And what’s with the gray podium warmups? Is it to distinguish ourselves from the British? And why wasn’t Kim Rhode (skeet shooter) wearing the gray warmup when she accepted her gold medal? Let’s act unified here, Team USA. Right now I’m not feeling it.

Something fun to watch has been rowing – not to watch the rowers, but to watch the bikers that are riding at the same speed as the rowers! How do they keep the pace and not run into anything? I’d love to be one of those bikers.

Got to watch a little kayak action today, which is pretty much the Summer’s answer to Winter’s slalom skiing. As I watched it, I wondered, “This is what is preempting live coverage of gymnastics?”

Speaking of preempting/delay/primetime coverage, I read an excellent article about why NBC is living in ancient times when it comes to airing Olympic events. In summary, we Americans expect to hear news immediately – whether it is by the Internet, phone, or television. Sports is news. So when we are forced to find alternative means to get our sports news immediately, or are forced to wait till the sun is going down, we aren’t happy. Unfortunately, most of us can’t scramble addresses online to get coverage from other countries’ feeds, so we have to wait till primetime. And because of that, NBC’s numbers have been huge the past couple of days. So no matter how much people complain, NBC is proving through ratings that keeping their marquee events till primetime (and prime ad dollars) is working. Will they show a bit of humanity in 2014? There’s about a 10-12 hour difference between us and Sochi, so probably not. Rio is a definite possibility.

Today’s roundup: gymnastics, kayak, rowing, women’s volleyball, beach volleyball, women’s water polo, swimming of all kinds, and diving.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

It Had To Be France.

The Internet streaming worked well this afternoon. I got to watch a bunch of swimming without very many issues. I just hope that it works well tomorrow morning, when I’m going to want to watch the men’s gymnastics team final. There’s no way I’m going to wait till tomorrow evening to find out who won.

The Main Blurb
All right, Team USA swimming. I have not been impressed. After all the uproar I’d heard about this team, I was expecting more golds. The women get bronze in the 4x100. Allison Schmitt gets silver in the 400 free. Michael Phelps doesn’t even medal in the 400IM. Elizabeth Beisel, very sharp in the preliminaries, loses out on gold and ends up with silver in the 400IM. And the men’s 4x100 relay, namely Ryan Lochte, surrenders the gold in the last 25 meters to – of all countries – France.

It had to be France.

Remember what I said yesterday about this relay in 2008? Well, pretty much the opposite happened. The first half of the US team – Nathan Adrian and Michael Phelps – had great swims. Phelps especially had a great swim. But Cullen Jones – once again in the relay that I wasn’t so sure he should be in – gave up some ground in the third leg. And Ryan Lochte was the one that allowed France to come back and outtouch him at the very end. He certainly didn’t look like “the god of the pool” as I read this afternoon.

I’d almost say “Why didn’t Jason Lezak swim the final leg?” if I hadn’t seen him swim the final leg in the preliminary relay and give up the lead to Australia. Oh well.

The only two male swimmers with which I was satisfied were Peter Vanderkaay and Brendan Hansen. Both of them got bronze in the 400 free and 100 breaststroke, respectively. Both Vanderkaay and Hansen were thought to be past their prime, but were able to secure another medal for their trophy cases. Hansen, to my delight, defeated his rival Kosuke Kitajima, who didn’t make the podium after winning gold in the event the past two Olympics. (Sound familiar?)

And then there’s Dana Vollmer, who seems to be the only swimmer living up to her expectations. She cruised in every part of that 100 butterfly – prelims, semis, and final. She is the first woman to swim the 100 butterfly under 56 seconds and she did it to win gold. At least one of you got the memo to dominate.

Tomorrow we’ve got the men’s 200 free final, the men’s and women’s 100 back finals, and the women’s 100 breaststroke final. To Ryan Lochte, Matt Grevers, Missy Franklin, and Rebecca Soni (or Breeja Larson): I demand gold. I demand dominance. No more making stupid lip-synching videos to “Call Me Maybe” and time to FOCUS.

Mini Blurbs
I have decided that the men’s breaststroke swimmers are the rock stars of swimming. Between Kitajima’s unearthly shrieks in the past couple of Olympics to today’s winner Cameron van der Burgh deciding to sit on the lane line for a 2-minute tanning session, I haven’t seen any other swimmers treat their victories so dramatically.

Two of the NBC team who usually covers the NHL for the network – Mike Emrick, and Pierre McGuire – are covering water polo, which shows you what NBC feels is the sport closest to water polo. And they’re not that far off. It’s a mix of hockey and basketball in the water. You can’t touch the ground, you play offense and defense, you’ve got a goalie, and you can sit in the penalty square (albeit for just 20 seconds) – but if you go in their three times, you foul out. I got to watch the men’s water polo match against Montenegro. They look pretty good!

I fast forwarded through the women’s cycling this morning, and noticed that the field was much smaller than the men’s road race yesterday. It didn’t help that the weather was awful for them in their 3 ½ hour ride.

I ended up having two swimming preliminaries on my screens this afternoon. I had the live men’s 200 free on my computer, and the delayed women’s 100 back on the television.

My sports list today? Weightlifting, gymnastics (both), women’s cycling, men’s volleyball, swimming of all kinds, men’s water polo, beach volleyball (both), men’s basketball, rowing (doubles and eights), and diving!

If anyone is assuming I have been a lazy bum all weekend, my classroom is being remodeled the next two weeks, so I have been bringing work home. It allows me to do work and watch the Olympics. You couldn’t ask for a better setup.

If you won a gold medal, would you sing the national anthem? I would try, but would probably forget the words. I’d try to hide it by crying instead.

Can you imagine what Jordyn Wieber must have been thinking at the start of the qualifying for women’s gymnastics? “I hope we all do our best!”
Can you imagine what Jordyn Wieber must have been thinking at the end of the qualifying for women’s gymnastics? “Aly – you weren’t supposed to do your absolute best!” Oops. The hype caught up with Jordyn. Go Aly!!

By the way, isn’t the Fab Five trademarked by the Michigan men’s basketball team? Or was that trademark eliminated with all the other wins of that era?

I wonder if the swimming commentators for NBC actually record their commentating in real time with the events, or if they record it afterwards. In the 100m breaststroke Rowdy Gaines said at the beginning of the race, “Don’t count out Brendan Hansen in lane 8.” Did he just have really good intuition? Or did he already know Hansen was going to get bronze? I’m not opening up a conspiracy here – I just would like to know.

Tomorrow is all about gymnastics and swimming. Here we go!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

We Park in Driveways and Drive in Parkways - We Record TV to Watch Live Streaming

Wimbledon has a bit of color on its courts, which fascinates me for some reason (they normally are required by the tennis club to wear white in its championship).

The Main Blurb
This was my first day of experiencing the Olympics on two different pieces of technology: my television (with DVR) and my computer (with live streaming). I made sure my computer was going to be able to broadcast the streaming video (as long as your cable subscription gets MSNBC and CNBC, it’s all good), and I was all set to go!

My day, as a result, was a giant blob of Olympics. I watched cycling, fencing, tennis, women’s basketball, women’s soccer, badminton, table tennis, swimming, volleyball, boxing, gymnastics, rowing, and beach volleyball! *phew!*

Unfortunately, my computer was purchased way back in 2009, so it’s a little older. It’s probably a little dirty on the inside with random viruses that Avast! cannot find or kill. So as I was watching the live streaming of the men’s 400 IM, right before the finish, my computer froze, meaning I didn’t get to see the finish. Fortunately the results were already clear by the time it froze up – Lochte was gonna win by a huge margin and Phelps was going to miss out on a medal – but it was still frustrating. My Adobe Flash player has also crashed, but that seems to be an easier fix.

I really enjoyed the commentators for the swimming portion, who I believe are Australian. It was a different kind of excitement than Rowdy Gaines provides on the NBC telecast. I thought that maybe we would have the normal commentators on the streamcast, but that is not to be.

I also wholeheartedly love the replay aspect of the online streaming, where you can queue up previously aired material, just in case something amazing happened that you missed.

It sounds like, according to NBC’s commercials, they will continue to promote their prime time coverage without telling you the results, even though technically a lot of people are likely to have watched the online streaming of the races. I know I made sure to tune in. You also can’t watch those events that they’re going to highlight in primetime until they’ve actually aired in primetime. I haven’t actually seen any gymnastics yet, since I decided to wait till the evening (it wasn’t a medal day – just qualification). But there will be plenty of time to watch on the computer.  I just hope my computer can take all the video streaming.

Strange – people are going to stream on their computers to watch things live, but DVR on their televisions to watch things later!

Mini Blurbs
The women’s basketball match I watched was USA vs. Croatia. When I tuned in, the US was only up by 3 points with six minutes to go in the third quarter! I watched the rest of the game, and they did pull away, but it was still a sloppy effort. Good thing their defense kept Croatia to four points in the first quarter and nine points in the fourth.

I am going to have to dedicate some time to looking up the rules for fencing. That sport is nuts. The athletes are strung up with lights a la Lily from “Modern Family” when she was the flower girl at that wedding. The foil touches a part of the armor and causes one of the athletes to light up. Then one (or both?) of the athletes screams with all their might. I’m surprised that fencers don’t have more vocal problems, what with all the screeching they do. I will do some research and let you know the rules later. By the way, props to the gold medalist today, an Italian, who sang her national anthem with all her might.

Swimmers are being introduced in a way that I’ve seen in past championships. Unlike the early, suit-era years, where all the swimmers came out together and the camera panned down the row when they were introduced, one swimmer is introduced at a time and emerges from the tunnel. In relays, the teams are introduced together. It gave me a chance to admire Italian Luca Marin’s mustache.

Brit tennis player Andy Murray has a brother! Jamie! And they play doubles together! But they lost today. Aw shucks. Better stick to singles, Andy.

Why do table tennis tables look so much smaller in the Olympics than they do in our basements? Is it because there’s about a 10 meter ring of empty space surrounding the Olympic tables, while in our basement it’s wedged between the Christmas tree and the playhouse?

DirecTV allows me to customize my “guide” button. The first one I made is channels I normally watch. But I made the second one strictly the Olympics coverage. So today I am on Olympics guide, and when I flip through the channels I am only seeing the channels in the guide. It’s pretty sweet. And a part was replaced on my receiver so I can watch TV in the afternoon and it doesn’t freeze up on me anymore. It helped that it was cloudy today.

Will Michael Phelps continue to be lethargic and lackadaisical? Or is his medal-less 400 IM performance just an indication of things to come? He only needs three more medals – not just gold, medals – to be the most decorated Olympian of all time. C’mon, Mike.

In a 400-m freestyle preliminary, South Korean (and reigning gold medalist) Park Tae-Hwan was disqualified for early entry into the pool. Then he was reinstated. Honestly, that was interesting. But what made it more interesting was NBC host Dan Patrick’s take on the whole situation. His summary: “Park Tae-Hwan is in the final, [Canadian] Ryan Cochrane is out, and Rowdy Gaines is very observant.”  I think Dan Patrick is awesome. Kinda wish he still did Sportscenter.

Cycling road races are nuts. I fast forwarded through most of it and it took me a while. Those cyclists are on a bike for six hours! I know the scenery was pretty, but six hours? How in the world do they do multi-day races like the Tour de France?

The worst thing that could have happened to men’s gymnastics was China having a bad qualifying competition today. Well, one of their top gymnasts pulled out with an injury, and they were creamed by Great Britain in their subdivision. Now they are probably going to get their act together and really be a force when the team medal competition starts up again on Monday. Never count out China.

Tomorrow we got men’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, and the men’s 4x100m relay in swimming. Remember when the French made that stupid remark and the Americans ended up winning the race? Yea, this is the race. Stay tuned.