Fifty thoughts from London 2012
• London deserves top marks in just about every category for these Games. The one exception -- and it's as much the IOC's as LOCOG's fault -- was ticketing. From chaos to corruption to confusion to swaths of empty seats, it was a rolling shambles. Fortunately, Jacques Rogge promises a full review. --
• London's hangover will be a big one. The economy is at a standstill, and the underlying tensions that sparked the riots across the city a year ago remain. The buses to Olympic Park would pass the same hijacked billboard every day, and the message on it lingered long after you passed by. "Sorry!" it said. "The lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock." --
• Here was an eye-catching stat that stood out from the many releases blasted out by the USOC during the Olympics: The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team featured 100 athletes who speak one or more foreign languages. Was this a U.S. Olympic record? I have no idea, but the list went across sports (men's volleyball player Donald Suxho speaks Albanian), levels of fame (Kobe Bryant, Italian and Lolo Jones, Spanish) and age (16-year-old table tennis player Ariel Hsing speaks Chinese while 53-year-old equestrian Jan Ebeling speaks German). Kind of inspires a reporter to start studying Portuguese for Rio 2016. --
• Offering advice to Olympic rookie Missy Franklin about how to juggle multiple events at one Games, Michael Phelps, a four-time Olympian, told her, "The first one you learn a lot, the second one you slightly master it. The third one you really master it." --
• Kenyan 800-meter runner David Rudisha, who set the world record in the event at the Games, wasn't born, he was manufactured in an 800-meter-runner factory somewhere. He is more sublimely suited to his sport (and event) than any other athlete I've ever seen in any other sport. (Second place: Mike Tyson boxing at age 18). --
• Gymnasts are famously tiny, but China's Deng Linlin makes her competitors look like NBA players. Deng, 20, is listed -- generously, in my opinion -- at 4-foot-8 and 79 pounds. If she were any tinier, she'd have to take car rides in a child safety seat. --
• The best horse names at the Olympics: In the category of celebrity inspired, there was Coolio, D'Niro and Chill Z. There was a Pastor and a Parish; a Gangster and Desperados. There was a Sultan and two Royals (Royal Power and Royal Vinckenburg). For the lush, there was Donnperignon, Gin & Juice and Martini. Bullwinkle, but no Rocky. There was Hello Sailor and Hello Sanctos, both British horses, and Butts Abraxxas and Butts Leon, which hailed from different countries but are related, no doubt. The horse London (jumping for the Netherlands) won two silvers, but the Brits won the week with three golds. --
• Falling behind the relentlessly dramatic USA women's soccer team -- at least in terms of renown -- the U.S. women's basketball team is becoming almost too good for its own good. --
• The country that gave us hooligans also gives us the genteel heckler. Consider the man at the men's singles final at the All England Club who interrupted play when he yelled out: "We feel strongly about you, Andy!" He no doubt felt even stronger when Andy Murray upset Roger Federer to win another gold for Team GeeBee. --
• It would be remiss not to note the last man to finish the marathon. Lesotho's Tsepo Ramonene crossed the finish line 47 minutes, 53 seconds after Ugandan gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich. Ramonene was the slowest marathon finisher since 2000. --
• As the NBA pursues an age limit for the Olympics in order to promote the World Cup, an ultimate card may be played by James: If he were to not participate in protest over the ceiling on older (more expensive) players, then he could set off a boycott by many of the biggest stars because so many of them are close friends. --
• By winning a gold medal, U.S. forward Abby Wambach helped her cause in the race with Canada's Christine Sinclair to overtake Mia Hamm's all-time international goals record (158). Wambach and Sinclair are both at 143, but by winning the gold medal the U.S. earned a 10-game "Victory Tour" in the U.S. that includes six more games than the team would have had with a silver medal. The opponents won't exactly be a murderer's row, but Wambach's goals will still count all the same. Long story short: She has an outside chance of breaking Hamm's record this year. --
• After sealing a gold medal for Team USA, 18-year-old gymnast Aly Raisman excitedly texted me that both Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber had mentioned her in tweets. --
• You want a BBC sportscaster who would be a star in the States? Gabby Logan, who hosted one of the late-night Olympic wrapup shows would be the one. She deftly guided a wide array of guests, including John McEnroe, Michael Johnson, some of the newly minted medal winners from Great Britain and some former medalists who are now senior citizens, and seemed comfortable with them all. She knew her Olympic sports inside and out and showed a sly sense of humor. And yes, she's quite pleasing to look at. Very, very smooth. --
• BBC, the most respected electronic news gathering organization in the world, was utterly embarrassing in its coverage of the Games, revealing itself to be such blatant homers that late Boston Celtics announcer Johnny Most would have blushed. The Beeb play-by-play folks rooted openly for the home side -- the cycling and rowing coverage might have been the worst -- and post-race mixed-zone interviews with GB athletes were cloying. This worldly, dispassionate organization played it straight Podunk. --
• We got through the London Olympics without a terrorist attack, but not without an explosion: A gas cannister, used by the barbecue at Kiwi House caught fire and forced the evacuation and brief closure of the hospitality headquarters of the New Zealand Olympic team near St. Pancras Station. --
• If Usain Bolt keeps racing, it's for the money. And track and field needs him to keep racing. --
• Serena Williams is in her 30s now, a full dozen years removed from winning her first Major title. So you can hardly call her a breakout star of these Olympics. But her performance surely ranked among the most dominant in both tennis and Olympic history. In six singles matches, she lost only 17 games, her opponents -- including the three most recent No. 1 ranked players -- resisting her the way the grass underfoot resisted a lawnmower. And she teamed with her sister to take a gold in doubles. --
• Much of the talk at the pool was about the so-called Phelps effect, the impact Michael Phelps has had on young swimmers around the globe. But Missy Franklin has already started her own ripple effect. Sitting behind Franklin's parents, Dick and DA, on the first night of the meet was a British woman who introduced herself after she heard Dick yelling "Missy!" and told them Missy was who motivated her daughters, 12 and 14, to swim. --
• Alexey Shved, the 23-year-old point guard who will make his NBA debut with the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, overcame an up-and-down tournament to make big shots in Russia's victory over Argentina for the bronze medal. When Ricky Rubio comes back from knee surgery, 6-foot-6 Shved will have a tremendous opportunity to come off the bench as both a playmaker and scorer -- the perfect low-pressure role for an international rookie. --
• Yao Ming, former China basketball god, now a commentator for CCTV, on his nation's advantage over the rest of the world going forward: "China has so big a population: We must have a lot of talented athletes -- either still athletes or future athletes -- to compete in high-level. You cannot avoid that. You cannot avoid that 1.3 billion public right there; that's a huge resource."
And the positive impact of new faces like swim stars Ye Shiwen and Sun Yang? "Those players look very sunshine, very healthy," Yao said. "They're very strong, they're fast, they talk and they act very positive. And the people will follow those models. I always think people will follow the good side, and they provide that stuff -- and not only for the sports fan." --
• The question I was asked most often after my story about Kerri Walsh holding her kids while celebrating the beach volleyball gold medal was, Did she name her kid Sundance for the obvious reasons? The answer is yes.
• If the last two Olympic cycles are any indication, U.S. gymnast Kyla Ross could become a star very quickly. The 2005 and 2009 world championships were won by young women who did not compete in the preceding Olympic all-around. With Jordyn Wieber's future a bit unclear, Ross, who turns 16 in October, is the real potential riser from the Fierce Five. Also keep an eye on 15-year-olds Lexie Priessman and Katelyn Ohashi. Ohashi hails from the same gym as 2004 and '08 Olympic champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin. --
• The purple and red polyester brigade were everywhere. At tube spots. At stadium gates. Always grinning, always upbeat. An Olympics is often judged by the quality of its volunteers, and London's crew was the best of my six Olympics. On the final morning of the Games, I read
• "How," they asked -- cab drivers, waiters, the man in the cue at Pret -- "can we possibly compete with Beijing?"
That worry -- along with traffic and terrorism and tickets -- seemed to be the biggest concern of the Brits before the Games began. Beijing had been flashy, staged with an unlimited budget. How would they ever top it?
By being themselves, that's how. By being British and welcoming and funny. By keeping calm and carrying on. By loving sports with a rich, wild, self-amused fervor.
There was no Bird's Nest or Watercube here. The actual Olympic Park wasn't much to look at and will probably be dissembled like a five-year-old's Lego structure in a matter of months. However, the rest of the city, a place of towers and bridges and palaces and history around every corner -- certainly was something to look at. The beauty of the bike race and marathon, Big Ben peeking over the beach volleyball -- that topped anything they built in Beijing.
The Olympics isn't about fancy venues. Most of them become white elephants anyway. It's about tapping into the soul and passion of a country, about a love of sports and a welcome to the world.
And that's how London topped Beijing. --
• If Wambach, 32, follows through on her goal to play through the next Olympics, it'll be interesting to see if the U.S. moves to a three-forward lineup with Wambach and talented youngsters Alex Morgan (23) and Sydney Leroux (22). A lot will depend on who's the coach. If Pia Sundhage extends her contract, a 3-4-3 formation could be a real possibility moving forward. --
• I think the most incredible statistic coming out of these Games is the 65 medals won by the United Kingdom, 29 of them gold.
That's a medal per 958,000 citizens; one gold per 2.15M, compared to the USA's one medal per 3 million people (and one gold per 6.82 million). In Atlanta in '96, the Brits won a single gold. --
• I've never felt worse for an athlete than for 1,500-meter runner Morgan Uceny after her fall in the final on Friday night. Same thing happened in Daegu at last year's world championship. Slow race, lots of bodies. Stuff happens. But she was in position to medal. Watching her kneel with her forehead on the track, as if praying, was just brutal. --
• Who knew there was a penalty box in triathlon? It figured prominently in the men's event, held at Hyde Park. Britain's Johnny Brownlee got on his bicycle too quickly at the start of the cycling phase, incurring a 15-second stay in the sin bin. He won bronze, but finished 20 seconds out of silver. His older brother, Alistair, took gold. In the women's race, Nicola Spirig of Switzerland beat Lisa Norden of Sweden in a photo finish. (A two-hour race decided by a smaller margin than the men's 200-meter dash.) --
• Ethiopia needs to man up. The distance-running hotbed lived up to its reputation by winning the women's 5,000, 10,000 and marathon, but the men won just two track and field medals and no golds. The land of legends Abebe Bikila and Haile Gebrselassie had zero men's marathon finishers for the first time in its Olympic history. --
• Ryan Lochte's sister, Megan Torrini, was in Chicago orchestrating an awards presentation for painters the night Lochte won the 400 IM in London. Anxious about the outcome, she kept stealing glances at her cell phone while on stage. When the crucial text from her husband came through -- "He crushed him!" -- Torrini started shouting and jumping up and down. Said Torrini later, "People at the ceremony said, 'Wow, you must be really excited about this award!'" --
• This will be remembered as the greatest British sporting display since the English team won the World Cup at home in 1966. Britain's decades of enduring a roiling sporting inferiority complex will take a lot to get over. Witness this pre-Games assessment of it by a London schoolteacher named Glyn Bowen:
"It is fueled by the notion that Britain used to be the world's biggest overachiever: A small island, master of an empire on which the sun never set, who dominated the world culturally [rightly or wrongly, mostly wrongly]. Failing at sports and sporting events that we, at least, contributed to the invention of is just a symptom of lost greatness for this country. This is not a sob story and I don't think we want the world's sympathy. It's just that no one seems to be prepared to admit that we're quite good, but not the best, at sports and many other things that might evoke national pride. Some people believe that Britannia should still, intrinsically and automatically, rule the world. I know: Crazy, right?"
Midway through the Games, Bowen emailed this update on the national psyche:
"I don't think anyone in the country dared to believe it would be as successful as it has been -- not just from the perspective of the medal count for this country, but in the wider, and much more important phase of putting on a wonderful event. The Olympic Games are not the possession of the country in which they are staged. We are merely, both figuratively and literally, the keepers of the flame. It really has unified and captivated the nation. ..." --
• By winning gold in the 200-meter butterfly, Chad Le Clos of South Africa ensured that Michael Phelps's record-tying 18th Olympic medal would be a silver. More than that, though, this event gave us a glimpse into two quite wonderful and very Olympic things: The power of a champion to inspire, and Phelps' human side. Le Clos had grown up idolizing Phelps -- he and his coach had watched thousands of hours of tape of Phelps in competition and the South African had been motivated to win his gold at the 2010 Olympic Youth Games in Singapore as a result of Phelps' appearance there as an "athlete ambassador" -- and now, in the adjacent lane, Le Clos had a chance to match Phelps stroke for stroke. After he did -- and out-touched Phelps at the finish -- we got the payoff: a chance to see Phelps escort Le Clos through the medal-ceremony protocol, show him how to pose for the cameras, etc. We'd gotten so accustomed to seeing Phelps as a winner, it was good to see humility and grace when he fell just short. --
• On the second night of track and field competition, I walked from the stadium to the high-speed javelin train with British sportswriter Tom Fordyce of the BBC. It had been an amazing night: Three British gold medals in three events in 46 minutes. It was intoxicating for any track fan, but doubly so for British fans. Fordyce and I met up and walked about 20 steps astride, in silence before he said, "Well, that was quite something.'' And we both just started giggling like little kids. --
• Minor league baseball teams need mascots. The Olympics? Not so much. A straw poll indicates that the next person to find that Cyclops endearing will be the first. --
• My favorite IOC three-letter country codes: GUM (Guam); SLO (I feel bad for Slovenia's runners) and BAR (Barbados). But, of course, none are more aptly named than JAM for Jamaica. --
• I know BMX racing is supposed to be a hip, cool event, but playing a techno version of
• Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, is taking a year off from coaching. His plans include traveling abroad to Tuscany, Provence and Australia, taking a cooking class in New York City and watching the world championship in Barcelona next summer -- as a spectator. --
• So long as no age limit is in place, every American but Kobe Bryant will be expected to show interest in playing for the U.S. in 2016. In the meantime, many of their strongest rivals in this Olympic tournament -- especially Argentina -- are likely to go into decline. --
• The future of U.S. women's swimming is in the hands of gold medalists Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt and Katie Ledecky, but don't lose sight of Elizabeth Beisel, who at 19 has already competed in two Olympics. The problem for Beisel is exposure. She stars in two individual events where the world record holder is younger than her -- Ye Shiwen in the 400 individual medley and Franklin in the 200 backstroke -- and Beisel doesn't plan to switch to easier paths to gold. --
• I don't care if he turned it down, or if the London organizing committee simply blew it: To not have Roger Bannister, whose breaking of the four-minute mile barrier was the sporting equivalent of Armstrong's walk on the moon, light the torch at the opening ceremony was a massive mistake. --
• Time: after midnight, following the 2012 Dream Team's obliteration of Nigeria. Place: outside basketball venue. There was Yao Ming, in street clothes, waiting patiently for a double-decker shuttle bus, his face nearly even with the second level. File this under: "Improbable scenes usually reserved for dreams." --
• I think no one had a better Olympics -- check that, a better summer -- than David Brailsford, whose two hats include performance director of British Cycling (12 medals, eight golds) and general manager of Team Sky, whose Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome went 1-2 in the Tour de France that ended a week before the Olympics began. Brailsford also got off my favorite line of the Games, explaining to credulous French reporters that one of the reasons for Team GB's dominance in the velodrome was its "specially round wheels." (They bought it.) --
• In the ad nauseum debate over "greatest" Olympian, do not overlook the Canadian cyclist/speedskater Clara Hughes, the only athlete to win multiple medals in Summer and Winter Games. The dedicated humanitarian finished fifth in the time trial. --
• Australia is no longer the second-best swimming nation in the world. Those who saw the 2011 world championship had figured China had moved up to No. 2, but few could have predicted the Aussies' shallow performance at the pool: 10 medals, 1 gold, its worst since 1992. Australia now loses its female star, Stephanie Rice, to retirement. Its male star, the brash James Magnussen, must regroup from being humbled in the sprint freestyles. Ian Thorpe, 29, is training for the 2013 world championship in Barcelona. --
• We had the good fortune of watching a women's volleyball match with Doc Rivers, who knows the sport inside and out. (Callie Rivers, his daughter, played at the U. of Florida and now competes in Puerto Rico.) Like everyone else at Earl's Court, Rivers was impressed with Destinee Hooker, a former UT standout. --
• I loved Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean in the opening ceremony, sending up that secular hymn,
Encrusting themselves in tradition, they sometimes cling to a past that's more and more irrelevant in a changing world. But they also know how to laugh at themselves, and there's nothing more likely to kindle sympathy than that. --
• The people who know American flag bearer Mariel Zagunis well describe her as the picture of grace. Pity that after the two-time Olympic gold medalist furballed away a 12-5 lead in her sabre semifinal, she let her hubris show. Zagunis said that on the occasions that she does lose, it is always because she has beaten herself. The arrogance did not become herself or Team USA, especially given her prominent role in the opening ceremony. --
• Doping innuendo casts a shadow over track and field that's so long I'm not sure it will escape in my lifetime. --
• When Spandau Ballet made the innocuous, forgettable song