Best, Worst of Olympics First Week Includes Phelps, Gymnastics, Golf, Hope Solo and Over-Patriotism
by Julian Spivey
I’ve spent most of my free time over the last nine days watching the 2016 Summer Olympics from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and can honestly say it’s the most fun I’ve ever had watching the Olympics. While television statistics show fewer people are watching the Olympics these days I find myself enjoying and appreciating the athletic feats I see more and more, probably because many of these sports and events you only get to see once every four years. The games, which many in the press felt would be a disaster, have been mostly fine at the halfway point of the games except for some minor issues like the diving and water polo pools mysteriously turning green and Ryan Lochte and other fellow USA swimmers being held up by gunpoint late Saturday night. What’s happened on the playing courts, pools, courses and fields thus far has been riveting and I’d like to take the time to talk about some of the highlights and a few lowlights of the games thus far.
Swimming has seemingly surpassed gymnastics and track and field as the favorite Olympic sport among the masses in America and a lot of that has to do with the legendary feats of Michael Phelps, who certainly added to his historic resume this past week. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Phelps had disappointed at Rio giving it’s his fifth games at age 31, older than most of his fellow competitors by as much as over a decade, and with all that’s happened to him since the 2012 games in London. But, Phelps seemed as good as ever medaling in all six of his events, including five gold medals to extend his Olympic record to 23 golds. He also surpassed the Olympic individual medal record with 16 total. Phelps simply solidified his position as the greatest Olympian in the history of the games.
While Phelps solidified his legendary status in Rio another USA legend was born with the efforts of 19-year old swimmer Katie Ledecky, who took home four golds – almost all of them in incredibly dominating fashion. There was a lot made about sexism in the media’s coverage throughout the first week of the games – some of it warranted and some of it much ado about nothing – but one of the great announcing moments came when NBC swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines mentioned that many people had claimed Ledecky swam like a man, but in fact she just swims like Katie Ledecky.
I have never been the slightest bit interested in gymnastics. But, that all turned around this week while watching the Team USA women compete. There was just something about the dominance and effortlessness of the team of Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian that couldn’t help but to put a smile on my face.
I will say that those already claiming Biles to be the greatest gymnast of all-time are being a little bit premature (this was written before the individual performances on Sunday night). She’s certainly the greatest active gymnast and I don’t believe that can be argued against, but this is her first Olympic appearance and I’d like to see what she’s capable of in 2020 in Tokyo first before giving her that prestigious honor. I’m glad a legend of the sport like Nadia Comaneci, the only competitor in Olympic history to have a perfect score in an event, came out to the press and said basically the same thing.
I’m a huge golf fan and can’t believe the sport, which last appeared in the Olympics in 1906 in St. Louis, went 110 years without being an Olympic sport. Golf is played virtually everywhere around the world and should’ve been a no-brainer all along for the Olympics. The games finally righted one of its biggest wrongs this year and couldn’t have been rewarded any better. On Sunday going to the final hole at the Olympic Golf Course Great Britain’s Justin Rose and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, both major golf winners, were tied. Rose would come out of the 18th hole as the victor to take gold, Stenson would settle for silver and American Matt Kuchar, tying the Olympic record with a 63 in the final round, jumped up to the bronze medal.
The on course golf was spectacular, but I’ve got two complaints anyway.
The first was the golfers who decided to skip this event and those include some of the biggest names in the world and the top four in the World Golf Rankings: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. These four golfers along with a few others decided not to go to Rio for fears of security issues or getting the Zika virus. Those golfers frankly look like fools now after the event went off without a hitch, players who did participate gleefully cheered the event and NBC golf announcers like Johnny Miller claimed to have not seen a single mosquito during the entire event. At one point during the final round on Sunday one of the announcers claimed, “we’re not even missing those who chose not to come.” And while that statement was partially true in that it didn’t impact the on-course action or the excitement of the event going down to the wire it wasn’t completely true because you’d like to see the best field possible in an event that means this much and those four big name golfers chickening out did hurt it at least somewhat.
The other complaint from the first Olympic golf event in 110 years is something that certainly wouldn’t have been a problem for golfers a century ago and that’s the use of phones and cameras in the gallery distracting the golfers. I’m not kidding when I say “please put away the cameras/phones” must’ve been uttered more than a thousand times over the course of the four-day event by golfers and caddies. It got to the point where it somewhat took away from the viewing pleasure by the sheer annoyance of the repeated phrase. While many within the game – athletes and announcers – are chiding fans new to the sport on their lack of etiquette I’ve got to say that the golfers and announcers need to lighten up, a lot. It wasn’t so much an issue because people didn’t realize the etiquette, but rather because they don’t really care and golf shouldn’t either. Any sport needs new generations of fans to survive and today’s younger generations are attached to their iPhones as if it were an actual body part attached to their hands and one day through evolution it probably will be. Sure, those within the game could keep whining about these minor distractions and events may even consider banning phones altogether, but if the sport wants to attract young fans it’s going to have to learn to adapt. Imagine if a baseball player or basketball player refused to continue with their actions on the playing field because fans were snapping photos? Golfers need to learn to better focus on the game with these distractions or their sport will suffer.
While swimming was the biggest success during week one for the USA the biggest disappointment was, without a doubt, the women’s soccer team that was favored to win the gold medal coming in and ended up being eliminated by Sweden in the first round of eliminations. The poor play wasn’t really so much the biggest disappointment though for Team USA as it was the constant poor behavior by goalie Hope Solo, who became the villain of the Olympics with her disrespectful social media posts about Zika preparation, which led to the crowds constantly deriding her with cheers of “Zika! Zika!” The all-around disrespectful Solo showed her true colors yet again after losing to Sweden when she referred to the winning team as “cowards.” This shocking lack of sportsmanship is unbecoming of a member of the USA squad and based on her actions in Rio and previous actions including a domestic assault arrest which went unpunished by Team USA it’s probably time for the team to show Solo the door.
One of the greatest things about any Olympic games is cheering on the athletes from your country. But, sometimes this patriotism can go too far into the realm of jingoism and it seems to happen more with American sports fans than those of other countries or maybe that’s just because living here makes us more aware. Two moments of over-patriotism stood out from the first week of the games. The first came when the USA women won gold in gymnastics and Gabby Douglas in a Flag Code faux paus didn’t place her hand over her heart, which is a completely honest mistake. Douglas was bullied for this ruthlessly by people on Twitter many declaring that she should move to another country if she hates the USA so much.
The other moment of over-patriotism that led to an abundance of stupidity was when Ashton Eaton, American gold medalist in the Decathlon at London in 2012 and competitor later in these games, wore a Canada hat in the stands while watching his Canadian wife Brianne Theisen-Eaton perform in the Heptathlon, where she would win bronze. Eaton was also ruthlessly attacked on social media for wearing a hat representing another country, when he was merely doing so to show support for his wife.
Sometimes rooting for one’s country can bring out the worst in a person. It’s important to remember that these are just games and nothing more. Argentinian basketball player Luis Scola knows this and had one of the best statements of the game when he told the crowd before the Argentina/Brazil (heated rivals) basketball game that it’s just a game, not war. It’s great to root for those representing your country to win honors, but it’s stepping over the line when you attack these athletes because you don’t believe they are representing you the way you want them to do.
GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS:
One of the greatest moments of the first week of the Olympics was when American swimmer Lilly King called out Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova for her past use of performance enhancing drugs and said PED users should receive a lifetime ban from competing in the Olympics. King then backed up her statement by beating Efimova in the pool for the gold medal. The talk of the Russians frequent use of performance enhancing drugs has been one of the biggest talking points of the first week of the Olympics and it should be. Use of these drugs is cheating – there’s no way around that – and I agree with King in that any athlete caught using should be banned for life. Americans rallied around King’s statement and her rivalry with Efimova became something of a swimming Cold War in that it was the good Americans against the bad Russians. Here’s the only issue with that … As we move into week two of the Olympics some of the American favorites for the track and field events include sprinters like Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, athletes who have been punished in the past for using performance enhancing drugs. If you’re like King and believe these athletes should receive lifetime bans, as well, then good for you. I know that’s what I believe. But, if you’re going to bash the Russian dopers and then turn around and root for Americans who’ve done the same thing that makes you a hypocrite and probably is another sign of over-patriotism. Don’t be that person.
by Julian Spivey
Note: Today is Alex Rodriguez’s final day as a player in Major League Baseball. Good riddance. He retires tonight after the New York Yankees play the Tampa Bay Rays and while many are tributizing this clown who helped destroy great records in the world’s greatest game; I can’t abide by that. I thought of writing something new about this moment, but realized I’ve already given Rodriguez more thought and time than I ever should have. So instead I’m taking this time to republish this piece I wrote back in 2013.
I remember a lot of things about August 14, 2010 … few of them good.
I wanted to see a couple of baseball legends play before the end of their careers and I also wanted to check another baseball stadium off of my list. So the plans were made and the tickets were purchased and I was going to see the New York Yankees visit the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
I wanted to see Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera play. Alex Rodriguez was going to be there too, but I couldn’t have cared less. By the late summer of 2010 the whole world already knew that Alex Rodriguez was a cheater. We may have bought the inflated numbers and inflated body size before, but just a year earlier Rodriguez had admitted to using steroids while playing with the Texas Rangers in the early part of the ‘00s. Barry Bonds had retired a few years before, so Rodriguez was my most hated player in the game.
Insomnia has always been a bitch for me and during the summer months when I was a college student it was at its worst. The day before we (my girlfriend, my family and me) were set to drive up to Kansas City from Northern Arkansas for the afternoon game I had failed to get any sleep whatsoever. You’d think a six hour drive to the ballpark the morning of the game would be the perfect opportunity to catch up on some Z’s, but that didn’t happen either. By first pitch I was going to be awake for more than 24 hours without sleep.
We know heat and humidity in Arkansas, but I swear that August afternoon in Kansas City was one of the single hottest days I’ve ever experienced in my life. Walking around a new ballpark that you’ve never been to can be one of the best aspects of attending a Major League Baseball game, but I didn’t want to do a whole lot of walking around in that summer heat. Kauffman Stadium is most known for its giant ass water fountain in right field, but damn if they won’t let spectators play around in it. They could seriously charge admission to it on days like this. Our seats were in right field just in front of this fountain. So not only is it amazingly hot outside, but I’m being taunted by a 322 foot fountain, which happens to be the largest privately funded fountain in the entire damn world. The only real safety from the heat that day was the indoor, air conditioned Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, which I can’t remember how much it cost to enter, but it was definitely overpriced. The Royals franchise, at this point, was 41 years old and they had managed only one hall of fame player in that entire time – George Brett – so needless to say the team’s hall of fame wasn’t all that thrilling. Being out of the heat for a half an hour or so sure as hell was.
It was getting closer to game time so we made our way back to our seats where things just kept getting worse. I’ve got bad luck when attending sporting events, concerts, etc. and I always seem to find the seats that are surrounded be complete jackasses. This hot, tiresome August day in Kansas City we were seated in a row directly in front of four people that were the baseball fans from Hell – actually they might have not even been baseball fans, because they talked about everything in the world but baseball (and very loudly I might add) during the entire game. There is a special place in Hell, which is apparently Kansas City on a hot August afternoon, waiting for those two guys and their significant others … right alongside Alex Rodriguez, of course.
The lack of sleep, unbelievable heat and row of pricks behind us made for a somewhat miserable experience at Kauffman Stadium, but the game wasn’t really all that bad. It wasn’t all that bad, because I really didn’t have a rooting interest. I’m an Atlanta Braves fan at a Yankees-Royals game, so really what does it matter who wins? I rooted for the Royals, though, because who really roots for the Yankees?
Things got off to a slow start in the game as Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes and Royals starting pitcher Sean O’Sullivan had a 1-1 pitcher’s duel going through the first five innings.
The fireworks would start in the sixth.
In the sixth inning Alex Rodriguez blasted a ball 423 feet right over our heads to give the Yankees a lead.
O’Sullivan would be knocked from the game just minutes later after Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson connected on back-to-back homers. The Royals would score two runs in the sixth themselves to keep things close. It wouldn’t stay that way for long.
The next inning Rodriguez stepped back up to the plate, this time off of Royals reliever Kanekoa Texeira. The result would be the same as the previous inning, except longer. Rodriguez took Texeira 439 feet to right field, again right over our heads.
I still didn’t give a damn.
He wasn’t finished though. In the ninth inning Rodriguez put the finishing touches on an 8-3 Yankees win with his third dinger of the day – this one the longest at a whopping 449 feet off of Royals reliever Greg Holland. I believe the ball reached the giant fountain that I didn’t have the pleasure of bathing in earlier in the day.
It was a three homer day for Rodriguez with each homer being longer than the last. However, I remained unimpressed. Alex Rodriguez could’ve hit a Major League Baseball record-tying fourth or even record-breaking fifth home run that day and I still would’ve been unimpressed. Nothing this tainted slugger could’ve done would have impressed or even interested me.
I got to see Derek Jeter play the field and get what would end up being one of his 3000-plus career base hits. That was impressive to me. Because of Rodriguez’s bombs I didn’t get the pleasure of seeing the greatest closer to ever live Mariano Rivera pitch because it wasn’t a save situation, but oh well, those are the breaks of the game and I knew it would be a possibility going in.
I had never been to a sporting event previously where I was glad the game had ended, and I haven’t been to one where I felt that way since … but the final out came as a relief that day. I could fall asleep when I wanted, I could bask in indoor air conditioning and the row of pricks was gone and thankfully never to be heard from again.
Some would think that I’m making light of a terrific athletic performance – quite possibly the single greatest game I’ve ever witnessed in person and may ever witness in person. A three-homer game from a three-time Most Valuable Player and 14-time All Star should be amazing.
It wasn’t because I knew better. I knew, even three years ago, that Rodriguez’s achievements didn’t mean a damn thing because he had made a decision to cheat. I couldn’t cheer for that. I couldn’t respect that. I have no clue if Rodriguez was juicing at that time. He claimed to only do it in Texas from 2001-2003. He never failed a test after Major League Baseball instituted testing in 2006 and still hasn’t to this day. But, there’s a possibility that those homers were tainted, and even if they weren’t they still didn’t mean shit coming from a player who was.
It’s August again, but its three years later. Yesterday Major League Baseball suspended Alex Rodriguez for 211 games, the rest of the 2013 season and the entirety of the 2014 season because of violating baseball’s performance enhancing drugs policy and for actions detrimental to the game of baseball under the collective bargaining agreement for his part in the Biogenesis clinic scandal. The suspension uniquely came down on what was Rodriguez’s 2013 season debut after rehabbing from multiple injuries. Rodriguez, ever the joke, announced that he would appeal the suspension. He can play until the appeal is heard. Rodriguez seems to believe he’s honest now. Even though his name was alongside of 13 other players who accepted suspensions for the same thing and after he tried to cover-up his involvement in the Biogenesis clinic by purchasing documents from the clinic. It is this attempted cover-up that truly has gotten Rodriguez in deeper trouble than the rest of the players who have all only been suspended for the remainder of the season.
Everything he’s gotten is 100 percent deserved. If he never plays another game of baseball after his appeal is heard the game will be much better off.
If I have children one day I will be able to recount how I saw legends and surefire future hall of famers like Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols play the great game of baseball at an incredibly high level. I’ll get to show them the stats and video footage of these players and tell them just how special they were and just what kind of role models they were. If this day comes I hope my children look up to these guys in the same way that I do with legends I never got to see like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ted Williams.
I then will sit them down and tell them about the day I saw Alex Rodriguez hit three home runs and how that feat meant absolutely nothing to me because of all the harm Rodriguez and others of his ilk did to the game I love. They should and will learn that fantastic feats mean nothing when there isn’t honesty and morals behind them.
These future kids of mine are going to know the legacy of the Jeters, Joneses and Pujolses. They are just as importantly going to know the embarrassment of the A-Frauds. As much as I’d like to forget that clowns like Rodriguez exist it’s important to remember them and pass down their tainted tales this way the future lover’s of the greatest game ever played won’t mistake fake for fame when they look into the record book and see the bloated numbers of these bloated buffoons.