By Chris Le
Did you guys know the Olympics start tomorrow? If it weren’t for the whole Pro-Tibet protesting and controversy, I probably wouldn’t have known the Olympics were this year. I can’t remember the last time the Olympics really meant something greater than the individual events and athletes.
Berlin in 1936? Mexico City in 1968? Lake Placid in 1980?
Sure, there have been several inspirational, even immortal moments the past few decades, and Sydney and Atlanta were definitely two of the more entertaining and extravagant Games, but there wasn’t really much drama heading into those Olympics.
There’s a bit more spice this year. If a four-year pause for dramatic effect isn’t enough to get you hyped, here are five potential sports stories that could shape these Olympics. Let’s hope they—along with the political/social matters such as U.S. relations with the rising power that is China and the whole Free Tibet movement—can make Beijing a memorable one.
(In no particular order)
USA Basketball’s Quest for Gold
There really is no excuse for them to fail this time. There wasn’t even justification for bronze at the 2006 FIBA World Championships and 2004 Athens Olympics. I don’t care about team chemistry or the rest of the world catching up to America; they’re still in the process of catching up. Basketball is still our sport and no other nation comes close. USA has far beyond the most talent and overall, five of the top seven or so best players on the planet. In my eyes, for team USA Basketball, there’s gold, and then there’s failure.
Dara Torres Breaking the Age Barrier
Being a 41-year-old mom usually means a life full of dirty diapers, peewee soccer games and minivans. This still may be true for Dara Torres, but aside from her motherly duties, she’s also in an atypical circumstance: her fifth Olympics against kids half her age. Also sporting killer six-pack abs, she’s not only competing; she’s thriving, evidenced by her American-record of 24.25 in the 50 freestyle at the trials. And she’s doing all this amidst speculations of performance-enhancing drugs, which she ardently denies. This could turn into a story of inspiration or shame.
Michael Phelps Going After Spitz
Michael Phelps is, without a doubt, the athlete to watch in these games. Hell, at 23 and with six world records, he might already have a legitimate claim as the greatest U.S. swimmer in history. Two weeks from now, though, he might be the only name in that conversation. That’s what eight gold medals will do. Phelps will go after Mark Spitz’s record of seven in what can only be described as an epic test of endurance. If Phelps is to accomplish this, he’ll have to swim a combined 30 miles in 17 races in nine days. Just insane.
Swimwear as Technology
This story has kind of died as the Games approach, but since the introduction of Speedo’s LZR swimsuit in February, 38 world records haven’t just been eclipsed but shattered. The suit is designed to stabilize the swimmer in ideal form and the ultra-lightweight, powerful and water-repellent pulse fabric allows a 5-percent increase in stroke efficiency and oxygen intake. Some claim this is just a natural technological progression like improved golf clubs. But a full body suit isn’t inherent to the sport itself like clubs are to golf. Former swimmers would just don a swim cap and speedo. Nothing else was needed. I’m not saying it’s an unfair advantage since anyone could use the LZR, but I’d rather see world records reflect the swimmer more than the suit.
For me, the 100M has always been the marquee event of the summer Olympics—and the most exciting 10 seconds in sports. American hopeful and world 100M champion Tyson Gay looks to bounce back strong after pulling up lame in the 200M Olympic trials last month. He says his hamstring is fully healed and will be ready to go once he’s in Beijing. Gay will have to beat out a formidable Jamaican duo of Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt, both of whom held the world record at one point in time.
Overrated story of the games: Pollution.
Forget about the idiotic American cyclists who wore what might as well have been gas masks in the airport no less. They are just ignorant and borderline disrespectful. A similar concern with smog arose in the weeks leading up to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, only it was a complete non-issue once the Games commenced. Expect the same to happen in Beijing.