My favorite sports are beach volleyball – the kind with only two players on each team; gymnastics – in particular the floor and parallel bars; and long distance running – except shorter distances are fun when Usain Bolt is leading, and smiling at the space his closest competitor would occupy if he was close enough.
I could never be a judge for volleyball or gymnastics (foot racing is all computer timed, so there is nothing to do but hand out the awards). Watching Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross, who has almost taken Misty May Treanor’s place) is seeing a nearly perfect definition of synergism. And Simone Biles makes one want to go back and discuss the concept of gravity with one’s high school physics teacher. She does twists and somersaults while hovering at the height of a basketball hoop that would make a hooked catfish jealous. My eyes become tangled watching her win gold medals.
I’ve always said that just being chosen to share such exciting company is a tribute even to the non-winners. They are far from losers; in Big Kid sports, everyone does not get a medal. But to be one of the five swimmers separated from Katie Ledecky by barely more than one-tenth of a second is to be traveling with a very fast crowd, indeed.
To get there is to have sacrificed a lot of what many people consider part of growing up. Long hours is what is required to capitalize on the talent and physical attributes that define this year’s winners. Michael Phelps’ streamlined body and over-long wings – and a quarter century of doing almost nothing but work at swimming really fast – still propelled him through the water faster than the rest of the competition – though the young folks pushed the 31-year-old really hard.
Phelps and Usain Bolt, the Jamaican runner with the extra long legs, need a class of their own in which to compete. Bolt comes off the starting block like a drag racer when the light turns green – lots of strain and power until his body and legs match speed somewhere in front of whoever was in First Place. His stride is at least two inches longer than anyone else’s on the track; the longer the race, the more steps they have to take to keep up. So far, they have not been able to do it.
NBC also deserves a Gold Medal for making the venue look so beautiful. I didn’t notice a bit of the solid waste that early reports said was in the water, though I was disappointed with the green tinted diving pool that took several days for officials to admit should not have been that color, and would not have been had not someone put in too much of the wrong chemical. But otherwise, the city’s beachfront was perfectly safe for growing Zika-bearing mosquitoes.
Brazil has been suffering from drought, poverty, corruption and crime – including murder of environmentalists working to preserve the Amazon rain forest – but little of that was in evidence once the games began.
Still, in four years I should be rested up and ready for another two weeks of hard couching and cheering. Michael swears he is retiring from competition, but maybe Kerri, April and Simone will be back. I’m only nearing 70. I should be ready by then to put in the hard hours in front of my television, cheering them on.