Sunday, August 12, 2012

London Calling

It all ends today in London.  The Summer Olympics wrap up with a crazy bunch of men competing in the Marathon.  I hope that the men put on as compelling a race as the women did last Sunday.  The three women who earned medals were all within an elbow's length of one another with 1000 meters to go.  Really remarkable to watch.  If the men's race is half as exciting at the women's race was, then both sexes will have given a great accounting of themselves in this event at these Games.

Perhaps it is just me but it seems as if the Olympics last for so long that Michael Phelps won his final race and earned his 22nd career medal about eight months ago and not eight days ago.  Kudos to Phelps for bouncing back from the less than auspicious start to which his Olympics got off when he finished out of the medals in his very first event.  Took the kid less than a week to make the journey back from washout to standout.  Of course it helped his cause considerably that he was never really the former and was always the latter. 

Shakespeare penned the question several centuries ago, "What's in a name?"  One wonders what the Bard might have thought had he ever made the acquaintance of the appropriately-named Usain Bolt.  He came to London and backed up the 100 meter AND 200 meter gold medal-winning performances he put up in Beijing in 2008 with encores.  I do not know if Bolt spends all of his time smiling.  I know simply that I cannot help but smile when I watch him on the track.  The memory of what he does on the track lasts far longer in one's mind's eye than the performance that created it.  I for one am glad that it does.   

The State of Concrete Gardens had a better than fine Summer Games.  Rebecca Soni set yet another world record on the way to defending her gold medal in the 200 meter breaststroke.  I have little doubt that as she touched the timing pad at the end of that swim, her smile in the pool was matched by those on the faces of a certain former teammate at the Scarlet Aquatic Club and that teammate's mother. 

The women's soccer team won their third consecutive Olympic gold medal.  In the stirring semi-final win over Canada, Alex Morgan's game-winning header was set up by a pinpoint, laser-like cross off of the foot of Jersey girl Heather O'Reilly.  Thursday's gold-medal win against Japan featured two goals off of the foot of Jersey girl Carli Lloyd.  Lloyd has a propensity for coming up big in the gold medal game at the Olympics.  Four years ago, she scored the Olympics-winning goal against Brazil.   All in all, the gold-medal team featured four of New Jersey's finest, including team captain Christine Rampone. 

And on the wrestling mat, the supremely confident Jordan Burroughs (and if you ever see him wrestle you will understand immediately the font from which the aforementioned confidence emanates) did what he went to London to do.  He captured the gold medal in the men's 74-kg freestyle wrestling.   Impossibly easy young man for whom to root.  Very happy to see that the result he worked for was realized. 

In the interest of full disclosure, up until about ninety days ago I had never heard of Lolo Jones.  Apparently I was watching something else when she clipped the second-to-last hurdle in Beijing during the final in the 110 meter hurdles and transformed an almost-certain gold medal performance into a seventh place finish.  She certainly appeared to be everywhere in the lead-up to the London games.  A fact that clearly did not go unnoticed by some D-bag at the New York Times named Jere Longman. On August 4th, which coincidentally was Jones' 30th birthday, a piece under Longman's by-line entitled, "For Lolo Jones, Everything is Image", appeared in the Old Gray Lady and on its website.  In the second paragraph of the piece Longman wrote, "Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses."  

The tone of the piece did not waver too much from Longman's opening salvo.  Apparently, the downturn in the newspaper business has impacted even as veritable an institution as the Times.  It has been forced to lay off its fact-checkers.  In the piece Longman includes a quote from the acting President of the Western Ontario Lolo Jones Fan Club, Janice Forsyth.  Kidding of course.  Ms. Forsyth is identified in the piece as the director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario.  Boy, talk about the clue to a Jeopardy question you otherwise had no chance at all of answering correctly.  Anyway, Ms. Forsyth's contribution to Longman's piece was this gem:  It [the hype surrounding Jones] reminds me of Anna Kournikova.

For those in the reading audience who might not have recognized the reference, Longman made it clear in the very next sentence, "This was a reference to the former Russian tennis player whose looks received far more attention than her relatively meager skills." 

Nothing makes me happier than a writer who chooses not to let a little thing such as the facts get in the way of making a point.  Kournikova - now retired at age 31 - was at one time the world's 8th ranked women's tennis player.  She won exactly ZERO titles on the WTA tour playing singles.  None.  Not one.  Not ever.  She was however quite a successful doubles player, winning two Australian Open titles while playing with Martina Hingis.   Whether it is fair for Longman to characterize Kournikova as having had "relatively meager skills" or to characterize Jones as currently possessing the same paucity of actual talent is a conversation for another day. 

In view of Jones' success - as an individual - in her chosen sport, the direct comparison of her to Kournikova was not merely obnoxious, it was factually inaccurate.  According to Jones' Olympic bio on the Sports Illustrated website, "Jones is a three-time USA indoor champion, a two-time world indoor champion and finished her collegiate career at LSU as a three-time national champion."  

To her credit, after finishing fourth in the 110 meter hurdle finals earlier this week in London, Jones conducted herself with grace.  She had, after all, run her best time of the season.  Her best simply was not good enough to earn a place on the medal stand.  Such is the inherent unfairness of sport as well as the reason that world-class competitors such as Jones are drawn to it. 

Perhaps Longman will have a long, prosperous career cranking out attack pieces on undeserving targets.  It will likely prove economically satisfying if not empirically so.  After all, just look at how much publicity the piece's author received simply by taking a bite out of Jones.  It turned out to be quite fortunate for Longman that Jones competed in London after all; did it not? 

-AK

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