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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Breakfast in Beijing

I am an Olympics junkee. For two weeks, every two years (I dig the winter ones too), I alter my schedule in order to view live the events I love. I avoid newspapers and television and I stay off the internet if there's an event that I'm interested in and have not seen. About a month ago we installed a digital recording device (Tivo in America) which has made viewing the events of the Olympics a piece of cake. I LOVE IT. Because Beijing is 6 hours ahead of Stockholm, and because Swedish broadcasting is not advertising and viewer obsessed, the coverage here is simply live coverage of most events. It starts at 4.00 a.m. with the swimming and is on pretty much all the live long day. IT'S AWESOME. There are about 15 minutes of commercials in a three hour broadcast. There are two channels here in Stockholm that are sending the Olympics so you actually have a choice of which channel to watch. Channel 1, the local Swedish coverage is OK. They are much too focused on the Swedish athletes for my taste but hey, you can't really blame them. It's the national Swedish TV station. The other channel is EuroSport and is broadcast throughout Europe in various languages. Their coverage has been pretty good, focusing on the main event of any time slot. So their coverage of the swimming and gymnastics has been excellent and I anticipate in the week ahead that the Track and Field coverage will follow suit. While the commentator is Swedish, the coverage is slightly more balanced than the Swedish channel commentators. Admittedly, I miss hearing commentary in English and the American perspective, but I love not fighting through commercials. I think if I could choose which language I'd like to have on the commentary, I'd pick the British English commentary. The British commentators say clever and outrageous things. One recent comment was that one of the shot putters traded thighs with a rhinoceros and after Britain had won a slew of rowing and cycling medals, the guy said, "Well, it looks like Britain is dominating the world in sports that can be done from one's backside!" Hilarious. But alas, Swedish it is. I do, afterall, live in Sweden.
Now, Swedes don't love, love, love the summer Olympics. They adore the winter games but the summer games are rather ho hum. It's not hard to figure out why. They don't do well in the summer games. Through the years they've had their share of decent swimmers and a few track and field stars along with an outstanding table tennis player thrown in for good measure. They do well in team sports like soccer and team handball and this year one of their wrestlers made a very bad name for himself and Sweden by misbehaving in a sour grapes sort of way during the medal ceremony. I don't care how mad you are or how unjustly you feel you were treated, you don't get on the medal stand only to receive the medal and then throw it on the ground and storm away. Sad. The other comment that has killed me as regards the Swedish perspective is what the Swedish swimmer said about Michael Phelps. He said that he hoped he DIDN'T win all 8 races as it would be "boring" if no one challenged. BOO, BOO, BOO. This guy finished last in his race and clearly, he doesn't understand that making history is NOT BORING. But enough about the Swedes. How about that Michael Phelps?!
So, while all of my American friends have been talking about staying up too late during the Olympics, I've been getting up too early. I have loved waking early, making coffee and getting set on the couch with my fancy digital recording device and just whipping through the coverage. It has been thrilling start to every day with Olympic action and I can't believe one week is over. I am a true fan and have been seen jumping up and down and screaming in my living room, even if I am alone. We are having some work done on the outside of our apartment right now and the scaffolding allows the guys to look into our dining and living room windows. I'm sure on more than one early morning throughout this past week, the thought, "crazy American" has run through their brain. WHO CARES? I am so happy to have grown up in an athletic environment, to have enjoyed the thrill of competing, to understand in a small way what it means to work hard at something and then have it pay off. So here is a sampling of my favorite Breakfast in Beijing moments.
1. The men's 4x100 meter freestyle relay. Heart-stopping awesomeness. This one had me screaming and yelling and jumping around like a fool. Phelps' destiny seemed to be unfolding in a magical way when Lezak pulled in and touched the wall, just barely before anyone else. Watching this race was a full-blown cardio work-out and I was winded when it was all over!
2. The Gold-Silver finish of our female gymnasts in the all-around. I loved watching these girls perform well in clutch situations. And I hope that Shawn Johnson gets as much acclaim as Nastia Liukin because the silver medal is not so very far below the gold. Sometimes America is far too obsessed with the number 1. Celebrate them both. They were both incredible and on any other given day, Johnson would emerge as the golden girl.
3. The spills of the men's all around final in gymnastics were chilling. Watching the Japanese man fall off the rings, then the debacle on the parallel bars was just breathtaking. Makes you realize how dangerous some of this stuff is. The High Bar is my favorite...around and around and around they go...then they fly into the air, do some amazing twisting somersault thing and hold on for the ride of their lives.
4. The British swimmer out touching Katie Hoff to win gold in the 400 meter freestyle. Now, it's not that I'm anti-American and I felt for Hoff, but when an unlikely character, like a British swimmer, wins a gold medal you have to feel good about the effort. Well done Rebecca Adlington.
5. Phelps' 100 meter fly. This was the event that I (and everyone else) felt that he was most vulnerable in. He cranked it out in a split second reach and what a thrill it was to see that. At that point he had 7 and his ultimate destiny remained in a team event.
6. The men's 100 meter final. I was definitely disappointed for Tyson Gay. How awful to miss the final in the race you've worked so hard for. But holy cow that Jamaican is fast! He had an amazing time while strolling to the finish. Very cool.
7. OK, here's a weird one. I love watching the female weightlifters! I am amazed at what they can do and I love watching the pure strength and determination of these compact women.
8. So, appropriately, my 8th point regarding Breakfast at Beijing is the men's 4x100 medley relay. About an hour ago, I watched the US medley relay team make history. The race was more exciting than I had thought it would be. You gotta love Jason Lezak making it all happen again with his anchor leg in the freestyle and generally speaking, you just had to love watching this historic moment unfold. I was teary. I was on my feet. I was cheering like a mad woman. I mean, c'mon. The last time anything like this happened in the pool, I was 11 years old!
So I am very content with the first week of competition. For those of you who know me well, strangely missing from my list is anything related to volleyball. I have watched some indoor coverage and will be interested in the final rounds. I still love to watch this level of play, but to be truthful, the game has changed so much since I was serious about it that I don't even fully understand the new rules. I'm mixed on speed scoring but I also know it's all the rage now. The libero is a new position since I played and I don't fully understand the rules surrounding its role. And sadly, here in the far north, beach volleyball isn't being shown much. I keep hearing about it from all of you living across the pond, so I'm hoping that at some point we'll get to see a bit. It's a bit surprising because believe it or not, Swedes love beach volleyball. Granted, their beach courts are mostly indoors or in Spain, but it has developed quite a following in recent years. Let's hope the week ahead gets us to the sand a bit more.
Breakfast in Beijing has been a most delightful way to start each day. Almost as good as that first cup of coffee, certainly as addicting.
Check back again for my latest update on the 2008 Olympic Games!