I love the Olympics. I'm not a big fan of the sob stories, or the tape delayed TV coverage, but I love the idea of the best athletes getting together every four years and trying to prove they are the best. It's just great sport.
To me, there are only two true Olympic sports: swimming and track. Swimming in the first week, and then track in the second. Everything else is a sideshow. Sure, a lot of it is really cool, especially those sports we barely know and will forget about for four years (modern pentathlon, anyone?), but the core of the Olympics is first in the pool, and then the track.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love the other stuff, too. PArt of the wonder of the Olympics is the sheer overwhelming assault on your senses. There is too much going on to keep track of, but that doesn't mean we don't try. Hell, China made itself into an athletic power by taking advantage of the fact there are sports the Americans ignore. The race of the medal count will largely be a proxy war, as China racks up medals in sports like badminton and table tennis.
That's not a complaint, mind you. That's what I love about the Olympics. That you could be in a different country and be watching, effectively, an entire different Games than we are here. Really, who else cares about basketball like we do? Sure, fans like to show up and see the NBA stars, but outside of Spain and a few other nations, no one really cares who wins. It's just an excuse to see NBA players, which Americans can do anytime anyway, so why do we care?
So here is my daily Olympics project: to write about one of the other sports every day plus review the two sports that matter, swimming and track. Feel free to use these as Off Topic Olympic threads. Hopefully, we can figure out the rules to judo before these Games end.
Today's Featured Sport: Road CyclingIt's the morning session, and I don't plan on cranking out two of these things a day, but I at least wanted to give y'all a taste of what I'm trying to do. Also, we can work out the kinks and do a short entry after that long-ass introduction. Sorry.
Road cycling is a pretty easy sport to figure out, and I'm a pretty decent cycling fan. I love the Tour as well as those one day classics, which this event is far more similar to. What's interesting here is not the "what is going on?" factor, but watching guys I'm sort of familiar with riding for their nation instead of their pro team. But this is an easy sport to ease our way into the Olympics: guys ride a bike on a road as fast as they can, and the winner is the gold medalist. No heats, no quirky rules, no BS. Just who is the fastest guy on his bicycle.
The Medal Favorite: England
The course was practically designed for Mark Cavendish, one of the world's top sprinters. Sure, there were some climbs, but nothing too taxing, and then a good 25 mile flat stretch back into London, which would give the British team plenty of time to reel in any breakaways. This is one of the perks of hosting the Olympics, you try and stack the deck to help out your own medal favorites. Great Britain comes into these Games as both one of the world's most notorious athletic underachievers and also a favorite to be near the top of the medal table. This was their first chance to show that this would not be a Loser Games for the host nation.
The Winner: Kazakhstan
(INSERT BORAT JOKE HERE)
Alexander Vinokourov found himself in a two man break with a few miles left in the race, and then used some crafty tactics down the final stretch to beat his rival, 15 years his junior. Vinokourov has a dodgy history with doping, which I'm sure thrills the Olympic organizers, but it was cool to see a near 40 year old man beat the young guys by being tougher and smarter.
Britain did the heavy lifting in the peloton all day long, only to run out of gas in the final 10 km. The peloton just lost all organization, allowing the break to succeed. This race was set up perfectly for Cavendish, and went according to plan for the first five hours, only to fall apart in the last twenty minutes. Already, we have our first upset of these Olympics. Or, if we're feeling less charitable, we have our first British choke job.
There was a pretty big crash by Cancellera in the final km, but the Americans just missed out on a medal when Phinney finished fourth. He finished second in the bunch sprint, but that two man break cost the US a medal. But we weren't really expected to win a medal anyway.
Swimming and track update:
Still the morning. Phelps only finished eighth in his qualifying for the 400 IM finals, which is being hyped as a big story, but I don't much care. He won his heat, but it was a slow heat. I have a hunch he was just racing to his competition and slowed the pace a little too much.
Dana Vollmer set an American record in the preliminary heats of the 100m butterfly. She still has to race in the semis as well as the finals. I like her enthusiasm, but um... might want to keep something in the tank.