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August 09, 2012 9:36 am

The Amend Corner: Olympic fever

Written by Don Amend

It’s Olympics time, if you haven’t already noticed.

I noticed, although not having television makes it a little harder to do that. This year, though, NBC has offered a handy little App (which is lazy talk for application) for that trendy gadget, the iPad, and since I purchased one of those magic little devices a few months ago, I am able to look in on the Olympics.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I can do is look in on them. Watching anything in its entirety, like say, a basketball game, is mostly available only if I have a cable provider, and having a cable provider wouldn’t make much sense, given that absence of a television at my residence.

There were a few exceptions. NBC loosened up a bit on the weekend, and I was able to watch an entire volleyball match, along with a couple of heats in the rather esoteric event of bicycle pursuit, in which three women from one team chase each other around a track, while another team does the same from the opposite side of the track.

Otherwise, though, I was only able to watch a ton of highlights, which, in many cases, is fortunate. When you’re watching people you never heard of compete in sports you don’t understand, the contests are best seen by having somebody sort out the four or five interesting moments of an hour-long match and showing them to you in three or four minutes.  That’s especially true in the archery and shooting competition, where there’s not much action, unless you count the jumping around the winner does after his last shot nails down first. And there might not even be that much excitement. The South Korean who won one of the archery events barely cracked a smile.

Even a sport you like to watch might best be watched taking in the highlights. For instance, what fun was it to watch the US beat Nigeria 156-73 in basketball? A couple of dunks and a 3-pointer tell the story of that game. Similarly, the best part of the women’s tennis gold medal match was the little jig Serena Williams danced beside the court after winning her tennis gold medal, and I got a kick out of the almost hysterical celebration of the American women’s fencing team when they won theirs.

One thing bugs me a little (actually, quite a lot) about coverage of the Olympics in the U.S. media — the incessant preoccupation with the “medal count” of the U.S. against every other country in the world. We are a big country with a lot of money to spend on sports, so why wouldn’t we win a lot of medals compared to, say, Luxemburg or Somalia, but what does it prove about our country’s merit? After all, the U.S.S.R. and East Germany used to grab more medals than we did, and look what happened to those two powers.

Actually, nationality sometimes seems a bit irrelevant, anyway. The men’s 10,000 meter gold medal went to a guy from Somalia, now a citizen of Great Britain, who trained in the U.S. under a coach who was born in Cuba. Now that seems to fit right into the Olympic spirit, if you ask me.

I also enjoyed a couple of table tennis matches, in part because it’s the only sport in which I ever won a trophy as ping-pong champion at church camp in 1961. If that doesn’t impress you, I did it by defeating a pretty good athlete in the finals, although his expertise was more along the lines of running over linebackers as a fullback than in whacking little white balls over a net.

Table tennis also provided me with one of the first lessons I learned in college. While acquainting myself with the amenities of the dormitory the evening of my arrival in Laramie, I stopped to watch some guys playing table tennis. I visited with one of them while the other two played, and learned they were from Hong Kong. He eventually invited me to play a game or two. I hesitated, because I noticed the two guys who were playing were pretty good, but I figured my standing as church camp champ would keep me from embarrassing myself.

Boy, was I wrong. I think I scored a total of six points in the two games I played, all of which came on the only exchanges when I actually saw the ball. I don’t like to stereotype, but since that night, I’ve taken Asian guys very seriously when it comes to table tennis, i.e. I avoid challenging them.

The wisdom of that decision was reinforced during an Olympic match I watched last weekend. It was a women’s match between an American and a player from Luxemburg, and both of the players were of Asian descent. As for medals, the last I looked, the list of medalists was an Asian geography lesson, although one German sneaked in for a bronze.

Despite my trophy (which I think was discarded long ago) I wouldn’t have a chance against any of the Olympians, even back in my prime — like I was ever in my prime, athletically. But then, that’s what watching the Olympics is all about, watching people who are the best in the world and cheering when they win, regardless of the flag they compete under.

That’s why I like the Olympics.

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