Sunday, August 12, 2012

Aquatic Patriotism - Celebrating the Olympics

Our country's celebration of Independence Day has passed by with millions of dollars in hot dogs and fireworks consumed across this great nation and I burst with pride like the fiery explosions in the air when thinking of this amazing country.

Before I knew it the Olympic trials were underway and my month long obsession with the most respected athletic competition in the world began anew.  I love both seasons, but let's face it - the Summer Olympics has more WATER!! Snow is technically water, yes; but the direct interaction and diversity of water based sports is embodied by warmer climate activities.

Didn't watch all of it? Don't have the awesome replay abilities that my cable company offers at no charge? Well, my friends, I did not use the word "obsession" lightly.  Whatever was missed has been recapped all the way back into the trials themselves.  On this last day, with the closing ceremony holding its breath in the corridor (praying for a less disastrous display as it's opening partner - sorry, London, that ceremony was for you and absolutely no one else) and waiting for these moments of greatness to be considered history forever hence, I shall attempt to give you the flash bang of water-based Summer Olympic sports.  That means there is no mention of gymnastics or track.  Look for the "Onshore Landoholics" type sites for those stats.

Brief History:  The first modern Olympics dates back to 1896, but the concept of Nike (Greek Goddess of many things, including Victory) was introduced in 1928 and is still used today.  This is London's 3rd time hosting the event (1908, 1948, 2012) which includes 36 sports and 302 events - not including preliminaries and qualifiers. 204 countries.  Over 10,000 athletes (well over).  The US of A is bringing home 104 total medals, nearly half of which are gold.
In case you still aren't certain, that funky design is "2012" with a wave representing the Thames running through it.
Here, ladies and gentlemen, are the results you really wanted to know about!

Beach Volleyball:  The US women swept 1st/2nd with Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings winning gold for the 3rd time.  Yeah, that is just nuts!! These ladies have been through surgeries and child birth in the past 4 years... and STILL lost only game. That is one game when each match is 2 out of 3. HO-LY COW.  Their seriously tough competition came in the form of comrades April Ross and Jennifer Kessy. Impressive, but I think if Kerri teams up with Nicole Brahagn those girls will still be fighting for the top spot. Misty announced her retirement after the big win.

Yes, Ladies, that totally just happened - AGAIN
Canoe Slalom:  Okay, you probably don't know a lot about this sport unless you actually play this sport because the US didn't medal at all in any category.  There are 4 races in this sport included Olympic competition: Women's Kayak (single), Men's Kayak (single), Men's Canoe single, and Men's Canoe double.  Um... we didn't even make it to a final round, so perhaps whitewater should call a little more loudly? I am positive there are some amazing athletes up in the mountains of West Virginia taking on Gauley season everyday, but perhaps they are too far outside of the US Olympic committee's view to be drafted just yet.
For those of you now inspired to break the mold and into this sport, here is how the officials describe the sport:
The Canoe Slalom competition will call for speed, control and precision on the daunting white water rapids at the new Lee Valley White Water Centre.  Modelled on slalom skiing, the first Canoe Slalom competition was held in Switzerland in 1932. The sport was staged on flat water during its early days, but was later switched to white-water rapids.  Since becoming a permanent part of the Olympic programme 20 years ago in Barcelona, the sport has thrilled spectators at the Games with spectacular, non-stop action on the powerful, unforgiving water.  
 Canoe Sprint: Insert long annoying buzzer sound HERE.  I shall admit my own laziness here; with 12 events (4 women's, 8 men's) and digging through half of them to find to US qualifiers, I gave up and realized this is just not our sport... yet.

Italy's gold medal winner Daniele Molmenti in the kayak final of the canoe slalom.  Talk about white water!
Diving: The United States came away with 4 medals - 1 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze.  Understand this not currently as US dominant sport, and China is serious about their divers. The Chinese Olympians typically start diving at 4 or 5 years old. Considering my toddler is 3 and currently in Swim School, I honestly cannot imagine having him begin training for Olympic competition starting next year!

David Boudia took gold with an amazing final dive in the 10m platform competition.  In Men's Synchronized 10m platform and 3m springboard, US took bronze.  The Women's Synchronized 3m springboard team fought hard for an impressive silver medal.
Kelci Bryant and Abigail Johnson - synchronized in flight
Modern Pentathlon:  Well, it includes water for awhile at least.  Here ya go:
At the London 2012 Games Modern Pentathlon celebrates 100 years as part of the Olympic Games.  Modern Pentathlon was championed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, and has its origins in a 19th-century legend. The story goes that a young French cavalry officer was sent on horseback to deliver a message. To complete his mission, he had to ride, fence, shoot, swim and run – the five challenges that face competitors in Modern Pentathlon today.
Well, we stank at this too.  Moving on...

Rowing: US medals came in the form of gold in the Women's Eight (8 rowers and a "cox"or "coxswain" yelling out orders from the stern of the boat), a bronze in the Women's Quadruple Sculls, and a bronze medal in the Men's Four.  This is the ultimate of team competition as athletes must row in perfect harmony. Think it looks easy? Spend 15 minutes non-stop on a row machine and take notes on how much your body hurts. Then, compare it to how much MORE your body hurts when you wake up the next day. The term "sculling" is often heard in the same circles as rowing, so here is a clear definition: in sculling, each rower has 2 oars.
Sweet and simple and now don't you feel smarter?!
Gold winning Women's Eight team
New Zealand's impressive gold medal team / Synchronized exhaustion after a race
Sailing: 6 different sailing competitions is still not enough to help the United States garner a medal. But this a growing pastime among more Americans than only those that inhabit the Hamptons on holiday.  It remains something I have never done myself, I am sad to admit - but that is why "bucket lists" exist, right?  I think the next step is to allow sailors to dress as pirates and get into full character; then we might really have a crowd gathering for that sport in local waters!  Or at least allow cannons during races...

 Swimming:  This is by far my favorite to watch from Olympic Trials to Relay Finals.  This is one of the United States' strengths and of course, the sport of choice for the great Michael Phelps, the newly found Missy Franklin, studs like Ryan Lochte and record breakers like Dana Vollmer.  I chose not to include a million photos you have already seen or go on about the stories that by now you already know.  This is simply a list of Olympic Swimming AWESOMENESS in 2012:

16 Gold: Michael Phelps (100m Butterfly, 200m Individual Medley), Missy Franklin (100m Backstroke, 200m Backstroke), Ryan Lochte (400m Individual Medley), Allison Schmitt (200m Freestyle), Adrian Nathan (100m Freestyle), Tyler Clary (200m Backstroke), Matthew Grevers (100m Backstroke), 15-yr old Katie Ledecky (800m Freestyle), Dana Vollmer (100m Butterfly), Rebecca Soni (200m Breaststroke), Women's 4X200m Freestyle Relay, Women's 4X100m Medley Relay, Men's 4 X 200m Freestyle Relay, Men's 4 X 100 Medley Relay

9 Silver: Cullen Jones (50M Freestyle), Michael Phelps (200m Butterfly), Ryan Lochte (200m Individual Medley), Nick Thoman (100m Backstroke), Allison Schmitt (400m Freestyle), Rebecca Soni (100m Breaststroke), Elizabeth Beisel (400m Individual Medley), Haley Anderson (10km Marathon), Men's 4 X 100m Freestyle Relay

6 Bronze: Peter VanDerKaay (400m Freestyle), Brendan Hansen (100m Backstroke), Ryan Lochte (200m Backstroke), Elizabeth Beisel (200m Backstroke), Caitlin Leverenz (200m Individual Medley), Women's 4 X 100m Freestyle Relay

That is 31 medals, folks.

Synchronized Swimming: While I understand the extreme discipline and hard work that must go into these performances... um, it's not really my gig. I tried, I really did.  But since the US didn't have any chance at a medal I chose instead to watch other non-water related competitions.

Triathlon: One of the fastest growing sports in the world (since SUP has not become an Olympic Sport yet) is the triathlon, which by definition includes swimming, cycling, and running - in that order.  So yeah, I watched the beginning and then waited for highlights later.  The United States did not win any medals this season.

Water Polo:  A single, shining gold medal for the US Women's polo team for the first time in history. While these female athletes are quite pretty (can't say that for all the female Olympians), I still decided NOT to portray ESPN the Magazine's version of them.
Nice work, Ladies!
This was an amazing Olympics for the United States, and particularly the women in many more than just water sports.  I was also impressed to learn every country this year had at least one woman participating- again, pretty darn cool.

I am indeed proud of my country, and passionate about being an American citizen.  I feel our own athletes and their competitors carried themselves with pride and great character.  Sure, some of them are cocky and probably say pretty intense things during competition - but these are, in fact, the greatest athletes in the world and have earned that position out right. Anyone who has competed physically in any sport also knows how driven and wired up one can be, often has to be, in order to win.  I try to stay away from tabloids and reality shows and just look at them as athletes representing their country; and I believe they shined and made their country proud.  At least they made me proud.

I hope you enjoyed the games as much as I did!  Try not to forget how inspirational it has been while you wait four more years to see them again.
-Callie Sharkey

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