I have always been an Olympics fan -- as I wrote in a blog piece before the 2012 Summer Games in London began -- so I again reveled in Rio and Brazil these past two weeks.
Didn't spend as much time watching on TV as others did, but I watched enough. Could not turn away from track and field -- still love it after all these years -- and the best part was this was a wonderful diversion from the gawd-awful, never-ending political and social media discussions (and I use "discussions" loosely).
|Matt Centrowitz's golden 1,500-meter run finish|
(The Washington Post photo)
Before I go any further, here is my favorite story of these Olympics: Matthew Centrowitz Jr.'s gold-medal glory in the men's 1,500-meter run.
Oh, hallelujah. What a story. Son of an Olympic-runner father, son of a track/cross country coach. The first United States winner of this event in 108 years.
Jim Ryun, somewhere in Kansas, had to be overjoyed. Those of us who loved Jim Ryun -- our favorite runner in 1964 through 1972 -- had to love it.
This one was long, long overdue -- at least 48 years overdue. (More on this below.)
We were on Facetime last week and asked our 8-year-old granddaughter, Josie -- who has been taking gymnastics lessons for a few years -- if she was watching the Olympics.
"Yes, the gymnastics," she answered, "and that Bolt guy."
Yes, even our precocious children know of Mr. Bolt, the fastest runner in history, a forever legend, a charismatic (and kind of crazy) character.
I think Josie liked his lightning-bolt victory pose. We all got to see it nine times in nine races ... over three Summer Olympics. He is awesome.
But so were Michael Phelps (again and again -- dang, 28 Olympic medals, 23 gold), Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles, and so many others ... and the beautiful, joyful country of Brazil.
Despite all the pre-Olympics concerns, and some tacky Olympic stories (unfortunately, American-made), Rio did it right.
Those of us who love the pageantry and the traditions of the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies had to be satisfied. Maybe other cities/countries have spent many more dollars, but they did not put on any better, more colorful shows, than Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.
There is, for me, a lot of pride in seeing the United States athletes dominate the competition, especially in track/field and swimming and basketball. But, gosh, shouldn't we expect that -- as much money and time as we invest in pro, college and even at the high school/amateur levels?
It's good to be an American.
It is also good -- and I think you'll understand this -- to be a native Dutchman.
I still feel emotional when I see The Netherlands flag being carried in or -- better yet -- on the gold-medal flag pole. And in the closing ceremony Sunday night, it was great to see the athletes at one moment dressed in a sea of orange; no question what country that represented.
Had a friend send me a text early in the Olympics -- when the U.S. faced Holland in, I think, women's volleyball -- asking me who I rooted for in U.S.-Holland games.
My answer: It depends. If it's men's soccer, no question -- the Dutch team was/is my first love. If it's speed skating or bicycling, probably Holland, but not always. Anything else, let the best team win ... I'm rooting for both. (Think Louisiana Tech vs. LSU.)
But, honestly, I do think there is a bit too much nationality involved in the Olympics, too much flag-waving. Just my view. I enjoy seeing any superior performance by any athlete from any country.
Some of the great moments, for instance, were Mo Farah's double golds-- repeated from four years ago -- in the men's 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs, and the amazing 400-meter world record by the runner from South Africa.
It is also nice, U.S./Dutch partisanship aside, to see the host country take some significant gold medals. Brazil deserved that, just for its Olympic host efforts. So good for its men's volleyball team, and its men's beach volleyball pair ... and, yes, men's soccer.
For Brazil, that final men's soccer victory-- on the hallowed turf of Maracana Stadium -- was the one it wanted. Brazil thinks of itself as the king of soccer.
But, but, but ...
Look, it was all the drama you wanted -- a tie game with Germany, a penalty-kick shootout after extra time (have I told you lately how much I detest PK shootouts to settle world-level soccer games?), and superstar Neymar's final golden PK.
Let me remind you, these are basically under-23 national teams. These are not THE national teams.
Make what you want that this was an equalizer for what happened in the Brazil-Germany semifinal of the World Cup -- in Brazil -- two years ago. No, it wasn't. That 7-1 Germany victory, a Brazil embarrassment, was achieved by the best players in the world, not under-23 teams. So there.
Now about women's soccer. Those are the national teams, and so it was tough for the U.S. world champions to lose a PK shootout to Sweden after a 0-0 tie. It was tougher to hear U.S. goalie Hope Solo -- who made her team spokesman? -- carp about Sweden's team being "cowards."
Shut up, Hope, and tell you teammates to score and keep you from being the victim in the PK shootout.
Speaking of shutting up. Ryan Lochte, what the hell? This was the most overblown, overrated story of these Olympics. I guess NBC -- carrying the games on TV here -- felt that it had to be the news lead/interview subject, repeatedly. Too much, just a punked-out story.
And then there was the overblown public reaction to gymnast Gabby Douglas not showing what many felt was the lack of respect during the U.S. national anthem. C'mon, people, give her a break; she's represented this country well for two Olympics.
Now, Matt Centrowitz Jr. -- "like father, like son," as the tattoo on his chest says, and he proudly showed it off.
Like Dad, who ran in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, he also followed him to run at the University of Oregon. He wanted the Olympic medal Dad didn't get, and four years ago in London he missed out by a split second of a podium finish in the 1,500.
Watching Matt Jr., I could not help but think of Jim Ryun in the prelims and then the final Saturday night.
|Jim Ryun: 1972 Summer Olympics |
A year later, running for Kansas University (his hometown was Wichita), he set world records in the mile (3:51.3) and 880 yards (1:44.9). He was one of America's greatest athletes then.
We thought he'd win the 1,500-meter gold for sure in the 1968 Olympics. But running in the mile-high altitude of Mexico City, even though he ran a career-best 3:37.8, he finished almost three seconds behind Kip Keino of Kenya, who was accustomed to running at heights.
Ryun had beaten Keino several times on flat land, and I am convinced he would have done so if the Olympics had been on flat land.
But what we also didn't know then was that Keino was the first of what would become decades-long distance-running domination by Kenyans.
And that only the first of two Olympics heartbreaks for Ryun (and us). Even worse was four years later in Munich's Summer Games when Jim was tripped up and fell during a qualifying heat. He was out; the U.S. protest was denied by Olympic officials.
Ryun always remained one of our heroes. I wasn't a political fan (he was a very conservative 10-year House of Representatives member from Kansas), but some things can be forgiven.
Matt Centrowitz, on Saturday, led almost the entire race, and set a very slow pace, much to his liking. When it came time for the sprint -- and the field included the past two Olympic champions in the event -- he held them all off in a gutsy, determined, golden effort.
So what if it was the slowest men's 1,500-meter final (3:50) in 84 years? It was pure gold.
Made my Olympics. For Josie, it was "that Bolt guy."