One man’s quest to immerse himself in the Olympic spirit. Today’s sport: Cycling
The velodrome is one of the single most bizarre creations of the human race. It’s like a track in which half of the track is essentially worthless, or just a complicated dare to the competitors. The high banks of the velodrome are just one of the things about cycling that portend doom.
The other, of course, it’s a bunch of people on two-wheeled machines going as fast as they can in an extremely tight space. It’s a wonder they don’t crash on every race in which more than two bicycles are allowed anywhere near each other.
The amazing ability of cyclists to find even the smallest amount of space to dart into and then accelerate past their opponents truly boggles my mind. I mean, I know how to ride a bike. I understand the mechanics of the sport, but when watching it all in practice I realize they I really have no idea how to truly ride a bike. Velodrome cycling scares the ever living crap out of me.
And then Mark Cavendish has a massive brain fart and seems to steer his bike directly into Park Sang-hoon. Parts fly everywhere, and the wreckage takes out two other riders, but notably, not Mark Cavendish. Italian Elia Viviani stands on the side of the track and screams out what I can only imagine are the greatest curse words in human existence.
Officials took Sang-hoon out of the arena on a stretcher, but the whole disaster just seemed to enrage in Viviani, who made it his personal mission to beat Cavendish’s brain in.
Now, yesterday’s cycling event was the combination of six different events, none of which made any real sense, as most velodrome cycling seems to devolve into slow riding for a bunch of laps and then a mad sprint to the finish on the final one or two laps. OK, occasionally there’s a time trial, but it seems the only difference in the events were the levels of danger by cramming more bikes in a tight space.
Viviani would lose the points race to Cavendish, but it wouldn’t matter, as he had banked enough points to win the overall title and the gold medal. Italy has quietly had a terrific Olympics, but their 8th gold medal lags far behind Great Britain’s 16 (which ranks first in golds among Nations Which Are Not America).
Field Hockey. All that hype, and it ends so quickly. The US women, who stormed through pool play to earn a top two seed in the elimination rounds, lost to Germany 2-1 in the quarterfinals. All of those big wins were for naught, but it should be pointed out that Great Britain was the only team from Pool B to win its quarterfinal game, so maybe the US had an easier draw than we thought. Still, a great run for the US team, even if it won’t end up in a medal. Sports are great, sports suck.
Allyson Felix lost out on her bid to win back to back golds in the women’s 400m because Shaunae Miller literally outdove her to the finish line. On the one hand, I admire her determination. We want to see athletes give every ounce of energy to win Olympic gold. That’s how much it matters. On the other, it did feel sort of cheap. Felix rallied from behind to reel Miller in and was going to beat her to the line. Felix ran faster over 400 meters, but Miller leapt to the line while Felix didn’t even lean, instead concentrating on her near perfect pacing. I chalk this up to a runner taking advantage of the safer track surfaces we now have, which is a good thing, but it does feel like exploiting a loophole. But that’s what athletes do. They play up to and over the line in order to win. Until the IAAF passes a no-diving rule, good on Miller for taking advantage of the playing field.
But it really sucks for Felix. She was the better runner, and has to “settle” for silver.
The USA’s bronze medal in the men’s 800m was a little more celebratory, mainly because Clayton Murphy likely had no illusions he was going to win the race, and the bronze feels like a win. David Rushida of Kenya is sort of good at this. A wet track took a second or two off his time, but Rushida easily defended his 800m gold from London. Is it me, or do we have a crazy number of athletes going for double golds in this Olympics? Phelps and Bolt, of course. But now Farah and Rushida are hammering the field at their specialty events as well.
And while field events are never the glamor events of the Olympics, pole vaulting closed out the night due to weather delays, and they put on a show. Renaud Lavillenie seemed to be running away with the gold medal, as he didn’t have a single failed jump up until clearing the 5.98 mark. Thiago Braz de Silva pumped up the hometown Brazilian crowd by skipping the 5.98 jump and going straight for 6.03m. He cleared the bar on his final attempt, and then a rattled Lavillenie failed on his final attempt. The crowd went nuts for a Brazilian gold and a distraught Lavillenie didn’t participate in the customary celebratory lap. I feel him. He seemed like the best vaulter, but sports, as we learned to day, can be oh so cruel.