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Closing Ceremony: The Blog’s Goodbye

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LONDON — The closing band at the Closing Ceremony was The Who, and the last song was My Generation, but for the blog, the last sport — the last real part of these Olympics — was handball. Team handball, France beating Sweden for gold in a temporary bubble called the “Basketball Arena,” while five miles south in a much bigger venue, the U.S. was beating Spain in an arena the Londoners named something else. I was watching the hoops stream on my laptop while the French handballers celebrated on the sport-court below, and the joy/agony dichotomy after the handball final was far more extreme than what happened after the basketball buzzer.

Handball

The basketball players are millionaires for whom the Olympics is a diversion from the NBA. The handballers are minor club pros for whom the Olympics are everything. France’s Thierry Omeyer, who dominated the tournament, is the greatest handball goalkeeper of all time, but by the time I make it back to New York tomorrow, he will have returned to total anonymity … and I will be back covering basketball.

In London, I avoided seeing a second of Olympic basketball in person, and have no regrets about that. The goal for the blog’s first Summer Olympics was to see everything else. After the Opening Ceremony, it was off to badminton, then beach volleyball, gymnastics, beach volleyball again (the scene was just too good), time-trial cycling, table tennis, archery, triathlon, tennis, wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, fencing, more women’s boxing (for Magnificent Mery Kom), three sessions of track and field, BMX, handball, race-walking and handball again. Sixteen sports in 16 days. Seventeen if you count pin-trading.

I figured we’d be treated to Pink Floyd at the Closing — it turned out to be Ed Sheeran covering Wish You Were Here — but did not come to the Olympics expecting to interview the illustrator who did the famous cover of Dark Side of The Moon … and somehow weave that into a post about Usain Bolt. Nor did I think that a Q&A with an Indian graphic novelist about his Gallery of Olympic Losers would lead me to the women’s boxing debut of against-the-odds story Mery Kom. Or that going to beach volleyball to see a party would lead to me to write about the sport’s first-ever Muslim female referee, presiding over that scene in a hijab. You can try to plan your Olympics, but the best stuff is what you stumble upon once you’re there.

StrawberriesI went to the souvenir store outside the Athletes’ Village yesterday to get a shirt for my mom, because my initial idea to freeze-dry strawberries and cream from Wimbledon, or as she says it, Wimble-ton, was deemed unfeasible. (Don’t worry, mom: Your shirt isn’t a Bosco.) The most photogenic part of the Athletes’ Village, or at least the part of the Village the media was allowed to see, was the giant, world-map pin-board in the store’s lobby, where athletes and officials posted notes of encouragement for anyone they felt like encouraging. The notes ranged from the lipstick-good-luck variety (is this considered racy in Oman?) …

… to this plea for Michael Phelps to win seven golds, set seven new world records and enjoy the comfy chairs in some other athlete’s village dorm room:

Phelps Notes

That note-writer didn’t get what she wanted (in the pool, at least; it’s unknown if Phelps tried the chairs). It’s advisable to arrive at the Olympics without any demands, and collect experiences as they come. I did not expect to show up at the 50k race walk and meet the son of Great Britain’s gold medalist from 1936, with the medal in tow; or to show up at Wimbledon and see Serena Williams do the Crip Walk; or to find myself in a third-row press seat for David Rudisha’s 800-meter world record, which all the track gurus claim was the race of the Olympics. Nor did I think Usain Bolt would stop moving long enough to let me get this on Instagram after his 200:

Bolt 200

I didn’t expect to get quoted anonymously in the The New York Times, either, after helping a few of their confused reporters find the press seats at Horse Guards Parade (for beach volleyball) on day three. From their subsequent article on the scene:

Oddly enough, a fair number of spectators said that when it came right down to it, they wished they were somewhere else. …

“I don’t cover this normally,” said a reporter for Sports Illustrated, scurrying into the stadium.

The quote is accurate, but not the context. I don’t cover beach volleyball or the Olympics normally — does anyone? — but wasn’t exactly itching to be elsewhere. Working in the sun at a makeshift beach next to 10 Downing Street? Seeing 16 sports in 16 days, including world records by Bolt and Rudisha? Paul McCartney closing the Opening, The Who closing the Closing? What a miserable assignment, what a miserable experience.


  • Published On Aug 12, 2012
  • New York, This Is What You Missed

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    Williamsburg

    LONDON — In 30 hours I’ll be back in my Brooklyn apartment, from which, the blog’s guest-posting Olympic architect has been fond of reminding me, I could’ve walked to the Aquatics Center and beach volleyball venue had NYC2012 been a reality. Alas, the Williamsburg/Greenpoint Olympic waterfront project shown above never happened, and Scott Schiamberg, my former Central Park baseball teammate and senior architect on New York’s bid, can only show images of what might have been.

    Schiamberg, who also consulted for the London Games, has already weighed in on his favorite new Olympic venues, best creative uses of London and “what-if” venues at sites such as the Tate Modern. For his final post, I asked him to dig into his archives from 2005 and present New Yorkers with a sampling of what their city would have looked like over the past two weeks. The following images are courtesy of NYC2012, and the words are all Schiamberg’s.

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  • Published On Aug 12, 2012
  • Your (Final) Sunday British Newsstand

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    Sunday’s selection of British newsprint, straight from the Sainsbury’s on Tottenham Court Road to your screen …

    Get ready for a deluge of Mo Farah Faces! The Telegraph — which wins best cover of the day — ran two Mo Faces, in similar states of shock:

    Telegraph

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  • Published On Aug 12, 2012
  • Bosco Strikes Again!

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    Mannequins

    LONDON — When it comes to brand-name apparel at these Olympics, there is much to love. Puma’s greensleeves-and-skinny ties ensemble for the Jamaicans at the Opening Ceremony. Adidas’ Union Jack-on-the-track unis for Team Great Britain’s runners (and cyclists). Nike’s two-piece suits for the U.S. women sprinters.

    And then there is Bosco. The Russian “lifestyle brand” operates on an entirely different stylistic planet. One on which grown men — leaders of athletes, even — are seen at the Olympics wearing this paisley hybrid:

    Bosco In Action

    (That’s a Russian race-walking coach on the left, and a Ukrainian gymnastics coach on the right.)

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  • Published On Aug 11, 2012
  • Race-Walking Back To Hitler’s Olympics

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    Race Walk

    Russia’s Sergey Kirdyapkin takes the lead in the Olympics’ 50k race walk. (Robert Beck/SI)

    LONDON — If just one athlete at the 2012 Olympics was going to draw the wrath of notorious hacking group Anonymous, what were the odds that it would be a race-walker? A thousand-to-one? Even higher? And yet that’s what happened on Aug. 8, after Italian Alex Schwazer, the defending Olympic 50k race-walk gold medalist, was banned from London because of a positive test for the performance-enhancing blood booster EPO. His official Web site was defaced with Anonymous’ signature Guy Fawkes mask and a message in Italian that included the line, “Doping kills sport, doping kills life.”

    Doping has not killed race-walking — yet — but it’s pervasive in a sport that’s already defined by an accepted degree of cheating: While competitors are required to always have at least part of one foot on the ground, the best ones sneak in as much air as possible. (As one team manager told me, a racer’s biggest goal “is to not get spotted by the judges,” who stand on the course and hand out time penalties or full disqualifications for running.) In 2008, two Russian walkers, Valery Borchin and former world-record holder Vladimir Kanaikin, tested positive for EPO while under the training of coach Victor Chegin, who continues to head the Russian team.

    After winning bronze in Beijing behind another one of Chegin’s pupils, Australian Jared Tallent teed off on Chegin, saying he was “like Trevor Graham,” the track coach (of Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, among others) who received a lifetime doping ban for his role in the BALCO scandal. “[Chegin] had three athletes go positive and they all train together in the same squad, so it makes you think,” Talent said in 2008. “It is just suspicious.”

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  • Published On Aug 11, 2012
  • Your Saturday British Newsstand

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    Saturday’s selection of British fishwrappers, straight from my Tottenham Court Station news vendor to your screen …

    This will go down as the day the tabloids stopped caring about the Olympics, but the Guardian at least saw fit to do a “feelgood” story and put Mo Farah on its cover:

    Guardian

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  • Published On Aug 11, 2012
  • Team USA’s (40-Year) Style Evolution

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    LONDON — Old Olympic editions of Sports Illustrated are a style archivist’s goldmine. Forty years ago in our coverage of Team USA — the sports stories that were were written before Munich’s Games turned tragic — one could find images of a freestyle wrestler the size of a sumo, an 800-meter runner in a golf hat, an archer with star-patterned sleeves and a race-walker who may have inspired the cross-country jogging look of Forrest Gump. Below are the shots I pulled from SI’s files of ’72′s style stars, matched up with their 2012 counterparts, who tend to be slimmer, sleeker and less hirsute. That doesn’t necessarily mean they look better.

    800-meter run: Dave Wottle > Nick Symmonds

    Men's 800
    (Then: Neil Leifer/SI – Now: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

    The YouTube of Wottle’s 800 is epic: He overtakes the entire field in the last quarter of the race; announcer Jim McKay is yelling, “He’s got one Kenyan … he’s got the other Kenyan,” as Wottle makes his passes; and Wottle does it all while wearing a hat with crisscrossing golf clubs on it. He was so stunned by winning gold that he forgot to take the hat off on the medal stand. Symmonds, who finished well out of the medals in London, is far too slick for a hat. His signature is the piece of tape on his left shoulder, worn in protest of the IAAF’s ban on athletes branding themselves. (He has previously sold temporary tattoo space there as a way to fund his training.)

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  • Published On Aug 10, 2012
  • Latvia’s BMX Secret? A DIY Replica

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    Air BMX

    Maris Strombergs of Latvia (center) won his second straight gold in men’s BMX. (Robert Beck/SI)

    LONDON — Before repeating as Olympic champion in men’s BMX, Maris Strombergs left his home in California to spend two and a half months training near his birthplace of Valmiera, Latvia. The reason was that for the better part of two years, his coach, former BMX Olympian Ivo Lakucs, and an associate had been clandestinely working on their Valmiera Project: a DIY replica of the London Olympics BMX track. They paid for it out of pocket, without government assistance, and moved and shaped the dirt themselves. Lakucs would not reveal how much it cost. All he said was, “We spent all of [Maris'] money.”

    He seemed to be kidding. But even if it did serious damage to Stromberg’s bank account, it was worth it. The rider known as “The Machine” deftly navigated the hellacious (and crash-happy) London course on Friday, pedaling strong out of the gate and having little trouble with the early S-turn that had once been his weakness. (“That’s why I built that track,” Lakucs said, “so he can feel better on the S-turn.”) Strombergs had no challengers in the final straightaway, winning by 0.353 seconds ahead of the pre-Olympic favorite, Australia’s Sam Willoughby.

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  • Published On Aug 10, 2012


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