Athletes we don’t see, cheer for or even mention for years at a time have burst to the top of the sports and societal world during the 2016 Olympics, enrapturing us with their physical accomplishments and varying personalities. However, certain athletes, events and moments have captured our interest more so than others….
Katie Ledecky, the human cheat code, has emphatically implanted herself as the world’s most dominant athlete relative to her competition in these Olympic games. Heck, she’s more than a cheat code. At this point with Ledecky, it’s as inserting the game into the console, pressing the power button and finding a message declaring you have already beat the game.
I’m not a swimming savant, but word is Ledecky’s stroke generates overwhelming and uncanny power with her brushing water aside as if it’s Styrofoam. She’s been racing against herself in the majority of her races with personal best times the only real adversary of possibly deterring her satisfaction. Even when Ledecky appeared most vulnerable in her worst event, she persevered with vomit stewing in her throat to dig deep and still capture the gold. She’s dazzled in the pool already, winning be meme-worthy margins, and she still has yet to race in the final of her strongest event, which she will do tonight in the 800m freestyle. With her swimming expertise and gushy persona when she’s not competing, Ledekcy has become America’s new sweetheart.
King projected an ebullient grin after her winning the semifinals of the 100-meter breaststroke. The same look of elated innocence appeared after she took the home the gold in the event with an Olympic record swim the next day. However, King’s vivacious vibes quickly rerouted into a violent verbal assault on Yulia Efimova of Russia for her cordial relationship with doping scandals. King’s fervent denouncement of doping and directed trash talk was a refreshing outcast from the typical respectful lingo and modesty of the Olympics. Bring on a second Cold War!
….But everyone needs to chill with the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag. We get it, it’s a terrific and fitting celebration. But that’s the point; it needs to be kept sacred so we remember its origins. At this point, we’re going to be seeing competitive eaters drop the finger wag when they defeat Joey Chestnut in Nathan’s. America needs Lilly King, but we don’t need finger wagging over hotdogs.
Yes, there is awesome stuff in the Olympics that doesn’t involve swimming or, dare I say, America. Granted, it’s a farce the U.S. doesn’t have a team handball squad; how hard is to find people who can move around outside a funky half-oval before launching a missile at a helpless goalie?
Nevertheless, this is the competitive athletic field of the “every man.” It’s the one sport I’ve watched in the Olympics during which I’ve thought, “Hey, I could actually do this.” Maybe not me specifically because my arms are spaghetti and my hang time has been cursed by family genes, but I could certainly envision a couple of my friends thriving.
And team handball is a melting pot of other sports. It most closely resembles lacrosse with players knifing through obstructive objects (in this case arms and bodies) to launch shots at a net after bandying the ball around to find a crevice. There are basketball elements with fast breaks, dribbling, zone defenses and even teammates setting screens to spring teammates. It even let’s people attend work in sweatpants! WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR COUNTRY?! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!
U.S. men’s basketball…off the court
By just edging out an Australia squad with Patty Mills, Delly and Andrew Bogut, Team USA officially forfeited any relevancy it could’ve attained on the court. They aren’t going to lose and thus become the next Team USA embarrassment like the ’04 Olympic team or the pitiful 02’ FIBA Worlds squad, but this team won’t be the utterly dominant group we envisioned when every other sad sap of a country experienced flashbacks of 1992.
However, luckily Team USA is making amends off the court by cheering like fanboys, snapping photos of greatness even when it requires a little extra effort, comparing themselves to their women counterparts and, of course, making being part of the school choir hip.
These guys are still the stars of the grandest international athletic competition there is.
U.S. women’s basketball…on the court
America’s women’s team, on the other hand, is abusing its opponents on the court combing vastly superior skill and athleticism with tactical mastery from Geno Auriemma. The burgeoning margins of victory aren’t simply an exploitation of relaxed hand-checking rules that pardon mauling perimeter defense which sees opponents burp up turnovers and fast breaks. They aren’t the product of fundamental pick-and-rolls involving Sue Bird probing a defense to its breaking point before hitting Tina Charles at the rim for a point-blank layup or Diana Taurasi crossing her way into a gather before burying a 3-pointer and snatching souls.
No, it’s been those moments of individual greatness wrapped in surgical half-court sets making use of split cut action around a high post feed, double stagger screen flowing into a motion offense capped off with a pick-and-roll in cleared out space, clever backdoor cuts out of horns action, floppy action and pindowns. It’s everything, and it’s scrumptious.
Maybe 11 hulking human beings are too just numerous for a 70-meter horizontal plane. Regular rugby with 11 players on each team is just too strangled for space without a serious threat of stretching the field vertically, but with just seven players per team, there are copious vacated areas of grass for dudes to juke, stutter step and sprint around the corner in attempts to elude tacklers.
The new 7v7 format diversifies the game as it derives more value from speed, spacing and also fundamental tackling. With more expansive defensive responsibilities assigned to each player, the effect of a missed or broken tackle could lead directly to a score, showcasing the canyons of worth stout, thumping tacklers still possess in the game. The physicality that makes rugby so endearing is still the game’s primary construct, but it mixes in other athletic feats as well.
The Aussies are quickly introducing themselves as the second best international team in the world after drubbing France in the opener, blowing past Croatia in the fourth quarter and pushing Team USA to sphincter-tightening levels. The Aussies don’t play fast with a Delly, Patty Mills backcourt, don’t space the floor and have ditched every narrative of basketball’s new small ball paradigm, pairing two plodding bigs together with Andrew Bogut and Aaron Baynes.
Delly is looking like a legit point guard, collecting assists outside the hallelujah mile high, alley oop tosses he made so effective with Tristan Thompson in Cleveland. Bogut, a star with the Aussies as opposed to a first aid worker warding off death like in Golden State, has received ample opportunity to carve teams up with his passing out of the high post, and his unapologetic body checking of Kyrie Irving is classic Bogues. Patty Mills plays like he’s rolling around the court on a battery-powered hover board. And Baynes, well, uh with that hair he reminds me of a munchkin on the Wizard of Oz, which has been tough to overlook when analyzing his game.
The bodies of male divers
I’m not uncomfortable commenting on the physical specimen of other men, but I would prefer not to. Thank God for Twitter!
Phelps was already and Olympic hero. He was already and Olympic legend. He was already the most revered and celebrated athlete to ever compete in the games. What else is there? Peerless in the Olympic realm, where does Phelps now rank among the greatest athletes ever in any sport? Who’s ahead of him still? Ali? Jordan? Maybe Serena? Tiger had a shot, but that evaporated with his swing and his marriage.
At age 31, practically eulogized and mummified by Olympic standards, Phelps has added four more golds giving him freaking 22 for his career and 26 medals overall. What the hell is that?! He’s still the main attraction of the Olympics with people scattering to find his scheduled race times and bombastically routing for him as if they didn’t forget about him over the past four years. And…more amazingly, he is still meeting our outsized expectations with triumphant moments, such as temporarily morphing into a submarine missile with gills on a crucial turn in the team 4X100 freestyle relay and punking dudes who dare publicly challenge him in his signature 200m butterfly event and fortifying his reigning sovereignty with a crushing performance in the 200m medley.
Only Michael Phelps can garner so much support, burden such high expectations, consistently deliver on those expectations and do it all at a point in his career when he should be a retired honoree at the events he is still dominating.
Not that women needed to validate themselves in the field of athletic competition, but the Olympics have served as the platform propelling them to the zenith of the sports world.
Lilly King has cemented herself thus far as the games’ most outspoken athlete. Ledekcy as the most dominant. Virginia Thrasher of West Virginia University captured the first gold medal of the Olympics with her victory in the rifle competition.
The women’s U.S. gymnastics team of Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kacian may have cobbled together the single greatest team performance in Olympic history, smashing the competition by a record margin in the team all-around final, while marveling its audience with perfect execution of previously unfathomable feats in terms of the human body’s physical capabilities. Biles and Raisman piled on the accolades in the individual all-around competition with Biles’ performance approaching perfection and offering a direct Segway into the background of her triumphant upbringing.
Simone Manuel, after tying for gold in the women’s 100m freestyle and making history as the first African-American woman to hang the sparkling first place medal around her neck in a women’s individual swimming event, utilized the platform to remind Americans of the issues facing the black community despite the feel-good vibes of the Olympics.
The USA women’s hoops squad has been pummeling teams more so than the men, and the women’s soccer, water polo and field hockey teams are among the favorites in terms of medal candidates. Kerri Walsh Jennings is on the verge of a personal dynasty now with new teammate April Ross, the type of long-term dominance the women’s U.S. rowing team has already established with 10 straight championships in international competition.
Yes, in the majority of sports, women competitors can’t match the men’s standards, but debating a woman’s hypothetical success or lack thereof in a male competition is a waste of energy and a travesty that disrespects what they have accomplished in these games. Women, collectively, have shown they have a place as iconic figures in the sports world. The type of figures who generate public appeal, prod fan adoration, and most importantly, inspire influence in both athletics and the social realm of society.