London Games filled with surprise
What is the most surprising thing to come out the first two days of Olympic competition?
Wieber elimination surprising, controversy not
By Kate Fagan
Jordyn Wieber not making the finals in the all-around is the most surprising. I'm sure other people will say the same thing, but the last few minutes of Sunday night's women's gymnastics broadcast were particularly brutal to watch. For most casual Olympic fans, the fact that the all-around competition is composed of the top two from each nation (and not just the top performers overall) was surprising -- and disheartening.
Also disheartening was watching not just one, but two, post-competition NBC broadcast interviews while Wieber waited in the background, visibly crushed by the night's results.
The girl finished fourth among all the gymnasts competing Sunday! She produced better results than 20 gymnasts who did advance to the all-around finals!
I understand the IOC wants to have performers from different countries, but why not have two wild-card slots? Take two from each country and the next top-two performers overall. It does the Olympics no good to not have the reigning world champion -- Wieber -- competing for the all-around gold medal.
Of course, what's an Olympics without a little bit of controversy?
Spanish men's soccer team's loss shocking
By Graham Hays
I'm surprised to learn I would happily watch 12 consecutive hours of archery if given the opportunity (and stunned they didn't hold that competition in Nottingham), but perhaps that's not quite the point here.
From an American perspective, it seems gymnast Jordyn Wieber missing out on the all-around competition is the source of the most surprise, followed closely by swimmer Michael Phelps missing the podium in the 400-meter individual medley. But speaking for myself, I was only surprised by those results in the sense I was told to expect something else. I have no idea what makes Wieber such a great gymnast every other day of her life, or why she wasn't good enough Sunday (all right, I get that stepping out of bounds on a floor routine is generally a bad thing). I hadn't watched Phelps swim since he got out of the pool in Beijing, and I am much better at differentiating a slider from a splitter than the butterfly from the breaststroke. But Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte? Sure, if you say so.
To see them fall short, well, let's just say ignorance is a great shield for surprise.
On the other hand, I have watched Spain and Spanish players play a lot of men's soccer in recent years, surely not with an expert's eye, but as an interested observer. Unlike the women's tournament, which is a major title on par with the Women's World Cup, the Olympic men's soccer tournament is a confused afterthought, a 23-and-under youth format muddled by three over-age roster exceptions. But for all of that, seeing Spain eliminated from contention in group play after back-to-back losses to Japan and Honduras surprised the heck out of me.
Spain brought serious talent to London with players such as Jordi Alba and Juan Mata, who were members of the team that just captured the European Championship and are standouts in the best professional leagues on the planet. Even without many of the other stars of that team, it was still the heavy favorite among oddsmakers to win gold.
Maybe this wasn't the Spain, but it was still Spain. Maybe they were a little unlucky against Japan. Maybe they were supremely unlucky against Honduras. But the generation that won three consecutive major tournaments at the senior level (and may yet have a fourth in it) made its own luck time and again in tight situations.
People and marketing told me what to expect from Wieber and Phelps. I thought I knew what to expect from Spain.
Radcliffe's withdrawal a heartbreaking surprise
By Sarah Spain
There have been a couple surprises early on in these Olympics, though I have to admit the surprises have been read on Twitter and not seen live (thanks, tape delay!). The reigning world champion in the gymnastics all-around, Jordyn Wieber, will not compete for Olympic gold in the event. For the first time in 12 years, the U.S. earned a medal in diving, courtesy of 3-meter synchronized divers Kelci Bryant and Abigail Johnston. The seemingly indefatigable Michael Phelps didn't even medal in the 400-meter IM, and the "can't-be-beat" Australian men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay team didn't make the podium, either.
Of all the surprises so far, the most heartbreaking has been British marathoner Paula Radcliffe being forced to withdraw from competition. The 38-year-old marathon world-record holder and former world champion has competed in the last four games but has never won an Olympic medal. She hoped this would be the year she'd make the podium -- and on her home turf, to boot. Unfortunately, she was unable to fight through osteoarthritis in her foot and had to make the tough choice to pull out of the Games. She'll still be remembered as one of the greatest ever, but many feel for her, having to miss out on one last Games, in her home country.
Coughlin's quiet exit a surprise
By Michelle Smith
The most surprising thing that happened in the first weekend was Natalie Coughlin's exclusion from the U.S. women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay team that ended up winning bronze Saturday night. Coughlin, still clearly a star in U.S. swimming and one of the sport's most recognizable names, swam the fastest split of the day in the preliminaries and yet was left off the team that swam for the medal later that night. And it was her former college coach at Cal, current U.S. women's coach Teri McKeever, who made the call.
Coughlin still got her medal after the U.S. team's bronze-medal winning performance and became the most decorated American Olympian ever with 12 medals (tying her with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres), but without swimming in the final, it was anticlimactic. Since she did not qualify to swim in an individual event, her career ends quietly, with McKeever delivering her medal to her in the Olympic Village. And that was surprising.
Wieber, fans robbed of special opportunity for strong U.S. team
By Amanda Rykoff
The biggest surprise from the opening weekend came in gymnastics, in which reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber didn't qualify for the all-around final. On a superb U.S. women's gymnastics team regarded as the gold-medal favorite, Wieber stood out as the pre-Games favorite of the favorites. Did she perform poorly? Nope. Though she did make a few mistakes, Wieber finished in the top four along with Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman. The top three U.S. competitors finished second, third and fourth. So, why aren't we seeing all three of them in the all-around finals Tuesday night? Because only two competitors from each country are allowed to advance. WHAT?
I obviously missed this change when the IOC reduced each country's all-around representatives from three to two for the 2004 games (some say it was a response to Romania's 2000 domination in Sydney). If the Olympics showcase the best athletic talent in the world, then we should be seeing the top competitors in the all-around finals, regardless of their country. I'm not saying this as a bitter, jingoistic American. If Russia or China had five of the top gymnasts, I'd be making the same argument. I want to see the best compete against the best on the biggest stage. Period. Wieber won't compete Tuesday night because the U.S. gymnastics team is too deep and too talented.
This isn't the MLB All-Star Game (MLB instituted the controversial home-field advantage rule after a tie game in 2002). This is the Olympics. Of course I'm looking forward to watching Raisman and Douglas on Tuesday night and seeing Wieber compete in the team finals. But I can't help but feel like fans, along with Wieber, have been robbed of a special opportunity as well.
Thanks to Twitter, no surprises here
By Adena Andrews
Thanks to the Internet, not much at the 2012 Games is a surprise. During the 2008 Games, Twitter wasn't the monster it is now, therefore we all watched the Olympics in a tape-delayed solitude. Then we gathered over the water cooler the next day to discuss the results. Thanks to Twitter, the water cooler is now in real time and in our living room.
During these Games, I can't sit down and watch a game without the aid of Twitter. Since it's impossible to watch every sport at one time, even with the help of apps, someone is bound to spoil the results for me. While I'm watching gymnastics, one of my friends is agonizing over Phelps placing fourth. Or when Team USA men's basketball is in the third quarter, someone has already told me the final score. While the Internet brings tons of information and entertainment, this is one time I wish it wasn't around. I think I will watch the rest of the Games in a non-Wi-Fi zone and actually enjoy an element of surprise.