Best of Week 1 from London
We've already had the queen parachuting from a helicopter with James Bond, a Beatle leading the city in song (Paul McCartney), a man with no legs running on the Olympic track (South Africa's Oscar Pistorius), a teenager defying gravity (Gabby Douglas) and two gold medalists adding to résumés already so impressive they would be able to get jobs even in this economy (Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt).
In other words, the London Olympics have been so magical that they really ought to have included Hogwarts as a venue.
The top highlights from the first full week of Olympic competition:
1. Thanks for the Memories, Michael -- All of Them: Michael Phelps began his final Olympics in disappointing fashion when he barely reached the finals in the 400-meter individual medley before finishing fourth. Phelps not winning a medal in an Olympic race? What, was the swimming telecast on tape delay from 1996? Phelps recovered and went on to win six medals, including four gold, to retire as the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals.
To appreciate the ripples sent around the world of swimming during his career, consider the reaction of South African swimmer Chad le Clos, who out-touched Phelps in the 200 butterfly Wednesday night. Phelps hadn't lost that event in international competition since 2000, and le Clos was so excited to beat his idol that he nearly leaped out of the water like an orca.
"It means Michael has done what he wanted to do, affect the sport of swimming," Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, said of the loss.
Two nights later, Phelps beat le Clos in the 100 fly for his final individual Olympic gold.
"Michael got to pay him back for the other night, which was nice," Bowman said. "This is a tough game. You've gotta learn. The kids have to learn, right?"
2. The World's Fastest Men: The 100-meter dash is always the marquee event of the Olympics, and Sunday's edition might have been the greatest in the history of the Games. We had the fastest man in the world running. And the second fastest. And the world champion. And the 2004 gold medalist. They all finished in the top four with -- who else? -- Usain Bolt winning in 9.63 seconds.
How good was this race? Seven of the eight runners finished under 10 seconds, and unlike Beijing, Bolt had to run all the way to the finish line. He joins Carl Lewis as the only men to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal in the 100. That's illustrious company, but Bolt says he won't consider himself a legend until he wins the 200 again later this week.
And get this: Bolt says he and his coach will talk about training to run the 400 in the future as well.
Meanwhile, Tyson Gay -- the second-fastest man in history -- still does not have an Olympic medal after finishing fourth by one one-hundredth of a second. He was crying while talking to reporters later. We occasionally see female athletes crying tears of joy after a race, but to see a powerfully muscled man sobbing with disappointment could have been the new clip for the "Wide World of Sports" agony of defeat.
3. Submit Your Suggested Nicknames Here: As someone else wrote, we have to come up with a better nickname for Gabby Douglas. Flying Squirrel is fun, but it doesn't begin to describe how high the 16-year-old soared this week. She flew so high on the bars that she almost needed one of the queen's parachutes. And she did it while carrying so much weight on her shoulders. First, Douglas led her teammates to America's first gymnastics team title since 1996. Then she won gold in the individual all-around, the third consecutive American to do so.
"To be the first African-American to win an all-around title, that's something special," said her mother, Natalie Hawkins. "I think she brings a lot to the sport of gymnastics, and she has truly loved it from the first day. She's never had anything but an intense feeling for this sport. If you had to pick someone to represent the sport, I would pick Gabby."
Flying Squirrel? Nah. Flying Eagle is more like it.
4. London Calling: The world's largest McDonald's is considered such a noteworthy highlight in the uber-bland Olympic Park in East London that a reporter asked Bolt in his postrace news conference what he thought of it. But the venues outside the park are simply spectacular.
Naturally, Wimbledon, Wembley, Old Trafford and the Lord's Cricket Ground are special, but it's the other venues that have captured the flavor of the London Games. The marathon route circled every major tourist sight in the city, beach volleyball is within sight of Big Ben and across the street from No. 10 Downing Street, and the road cycling time trial ended at Hampton Court Palace, where the medalists sat in velvet-lined thrones.
"When Judith Arndt sat down on the throne next to me, she said, 'This feels pretty good,'" said time trial gold medalist Kristin Armstrong. "I'm like, 'There's not many days you get to be queen.'"
5. Pool Equity: Much of the swimming focus was on Phelps and rival Ryan Lochte, but the American women made a tsunami of a splash as well, winning eight gold medals and 13 overall. Missy Franklin led the way with four gold, Allison Schmitt won three gold (five total), and Rebecca Soni and Dana Vollmer shattered world records.
Most of the success is due to the swimmers, but also give credit to Teri McKeever, the first woman to coach the U.S. women's team, for inspiring great team chemistry.
"I hope what I'm doing as a female coach is allowing them to be women," McKeever said. "You can be a female, you can be competitive, you can care about your teammate, you can make silly videos, you can be dancing, and then there's a time to get down to business. And they're doing that. And it's awesome."
Whew. It was a hell of an opening week. Who knows what the final seven days will bring? Maybe Ringo Starr at beach volleyball? (If so, cross fingers he'll be fully clothed.)
Ten events to watch
1. Basketball gold: Barring a major upset, the American men and women will play for the gold medals in basketball later this week. The women, who haven't lost an Olympic game since 1992, would play for gold Saturday and the men Sunday.
2. Men's and women's 200: Bolt says he will try to secure his legendary status Thursday by adding a second gold medal in the 200 to his two golds in the 100. If he wins there, he'll go for a third gold medal, making it six for his career, in the men's 4x100 Saturday night. Sanya Richards-Ross, Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter look to run in the women's 200 Wednesday night.
3. Soccer: The American women will try to make up for last year's World Cup loss by winning the Olympic gold medal. If they reach it, the championship game is Thursday at Wembley Stadium, which would be a fitting venue after all the team has accomplished over the years.
4. Decathlon: This used to be a big deal. World-record holder Ashton Eaton and world champ Trey Hardee will try to make it so again.
5. 4x400: Oscar Pistorius inspired fans worldwide without even reaching the finals of the individual 400 -- his semifinal time was 23rd overall but good enough for world champion Kirani James of Grenada to ask for his bib number -- but he has a chance to medal in Friday's 4x400 relay. South Africa won the silver at last year's world championships.
6. Beach volleyball: Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are on track to play for their third consecutive gold medal Wednesday. If things break right in the semifinals, they may have to face fellow Americans Jen Kessy and April Ross.
7. Water polo: The veteran American team is trying to win its first-ever real gold in this exciting sport, which deserves far more attention than it gets. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.
8. Volleyball: The indoor kind. Without bikinis. Or dance teams. The women's gold-medal match is Saturday, the men's Sunday.
9. Marathon: You have one more chance for a London tour when the men run the marathon Sunday morning, with Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall leading the American hopes.
10. Closing ceremonies: What will be the highlight of the closing ceremonies Sunday night? My bet is on the queen and Elton John riding their Nimbus 2012 brooms and fighting for the golden snitch in a quidditch match for the ages.
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