One man’s quest to immerse himself in the Olympic spirit. Today’s sport: Fencing
Sorry for the delayed Olympic Poseur. We’re having some issues at Poseur HQ, what with one child expecting surgery in a week and now the other, not to be upstaged, deciding to get a high fever. It hasn’t cut into the Olympic watching, but it has made it difficult to get time to type out my thoughts.
Fencing is one of the oldest Olympic sports, and one of just six sports to find its way onto every Olympic program. You can think of it as an obscure sideshow, but fencing has just as much right as wrestling or gymnastics to call itself a core Olympic sport.
It's also a sport that the United States isn’t dominant in. It’s a stretch to say that we stink at fencing, as the US is sixth all-time in Olympic fencing medals, even if only 3 of those are gold. But this is a sport usually dominated by the Italians, French, and get this, the Hungarians.
There’s also three kinds of fencing, but I’m going to say that my favorite is the epee. Both foil and sabre have “right of ways” rules which seem, to the novice eye, to be completely arbitrary. We watched a LOT of fencing at Poseur HQ, and I still couldn’t guess who had right of way on a double touch any better than a coin flip. Even when they went to replay and the announcers tried to explain, I still had no earthly clue.
Now, it is possible that the rules make perfect sense and I’m just an idiot. But this idiot likes the valid double touch rules of the epee, which also keeps things moving right along. Sabre gets some points for allowing touches with any part of the blade, not just the tip, allowing for some fast moving action.
And, boy, does this sport move fast. Let’s be honest, the fencers movements are so fast that the best way to determine when there is a touch is just to look for when one side lights up. This also made it much easier to rope Lil Posette into watching and maintaining a rooting interest. She rooted for green, I rooted for red.
Now, it is entirely likely that she didn’t even notice there were two people literally sword fighting, she was just waiting for the green light to go off, so she could cheer some more. Which, if we’re being honest, was only slightly less advanced than my own technique for watching.
Still, sword fighting. This was great. The Americans rallied from a deep hole of 20-12, actually taking the lead 35-34 thanks to a brilliant round by Ibithaj Muhammad, before eventually falling to the eventual gold medalists of Russia, 45-42. The US rallied back to beat the Italians for the bronze and for once, we both rooted for the same color of light.
Soccer. A few day’s late because of the weekend, but the big story is one of the biggest upsets of these Games, Sweden taking down the US on a penalty kicks. Hope Solo did her best to play up her heel turn during these Games, but the short of the matter is that penalty kicks are arbitrary and unfair. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
All in all, though, the worst thing for a sport is one team to absolutely dominate. The US has made the finals of every Olympics which has hosted women’s soccer, so maybe this upset isn’t that terrible. It shows the rest of the world is catching up, and there are more than just two or three capable teams. Even the mighty Americans can lose in the quarters. This can only be a good thing for the competitiveness, and popularity, of the game. Why play if there’s no chance of winning? Sweden shows that even that non-powers have a shot, they just have to, you know, treat their women like people and then form a good team.
Volleyball. Brazil crushed Russia last night in a battle for first place in Pool A. With the 3-0 win, Brazil wins the group and secures a matchup with pre-tournament favorite China, who have disappointed throughout the week, and closed with a 3-1 loss to Pool B winner, USA. The US earns a fairly easy opponent in Japan in the quarters, but will then draw the Serbia-Russia winner in the semis, and both of those teams have played quite well.
The US men, on the other hand, found themselves in a massive logjam in second place in their group after their dismal start to the Olympics. Going in to today’s matches, there were four teams tied at 6 points in Pool A, but the US has already dispatched last-place Mexico to secure advancement. Brazil and France face each other, while fellow 6-point team Canada will play 1st place Italy. As the kids say, volleyball is lit.
Swimming closed it down and track opened it up this weekend. Madeline Dirado pulled off the huge upset of Katinka Hosszu in the 200m backstroke, handing her teammate, Katie Ledecky, the unofficial women’s individual title. Ledecky won 4 golds and 1 silver (3 golds individual) versus Hosszu’s 3 golds and 1 silver (all individual). Both destroyed the field at times, but the difference was that Ledecky won her close duel with Sjostrom while Hosszu lost hers to Dirado. Katie Ledecky celebrated with yet another world record in the 800m free.
Phelps ended his Olympic career with an Olympic record in the 4x100m medley, which seems fitting. He won five golds and a silver because he’s Michael Phelps. This just in, he’s great.
As if to answer the call of greatness, Usain Bolt destroyed all comers in the 100m in track. Justin Gatlin got the great start he needed and led the race for about 60 meters, before Bolt put it on lockdown. It wasn’t his fastest time ever, running so close to the semis probably had something to do with that, but it secures him as the first man to win the World’s Fastest Man in three consecutive Olympics.
It wasn’t even the best run of the night. Wayde van Niekirk of South Africa threatened to go under 43 seconds in the 400m, finishing at 43.03, smashing Michael Johnson’s SEVENTEEN year-old record. The 400m is my favorite race, as it’s the closest combination between pure speed and tactics. But there’s nothing better than someone breaking an unbreakable record, while also hinting at the next frontier: under 43.
Heck, and the best race might have been the ridiculously loaded field for the women’s 100m. Jamaica took gold and bronze, but Tori Bowie snuck her way onto the medal stand with a strong showing and the silver. Four runners off the medal stand were within a tenth of a second of bronze. It was that close.
Oh, and lost in all of the Greatest of All-Time arguments, we’re forgetting about Mo Farah, who is attempting to pull off a double-double gold that has only been accomplished once before, by Lasse Viren. Farah was tripped near the halfway point of the 10,000m, but he got up, came back to the front, and won the race going away. That race will be legendary in a generation among distance runners. Mo Farah is making an excellent case that he is the greatest distance runner of all time. Don’t forget about Mo.