Friday, August 26, 2016

Music Video Of the Week - August 26, 2016

"The Girl From Ipanema" by Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hiatus Time!

I'm worn out from my Olympic commentary, as always, though I didn't go all out like I did during the 2012  London Games.  Except for a new Music Video Of the Week this coming Friday, I won't post here again until August 31 at the earliest.  Besides, I have yet another project to finish to bring this blog up to speed.
Here's the thing.  While I said I was not going to add labels to all the posts that I never did label, I had to go back to the posts I did label between February 2009, when I first started using labels, and April 2012, when I stopped.  I stopped because, in April 2012,  Blogger.com redesigned its site, and as a result it could no longer support Internet Explorer 8, my preferred Internet browser at the time. So I had to download Google Chrome, a browser that, non-coincidentally, Google-owned Blogger.com could support.  Part of the redesign of Blogger.com included a requirement to separate labels with commas rather than separate them with quotation marks, as I'd been doing.  But in using commas, I found that the labels were being automatically posted in alphabetical order, which isn't always necessarily the order I placed them in or wanted them in.  As I thus had no control over the order of my labels, I decided not to post labels any more.  But my friend Clarisel said I should, in order to draw more eyes to my blog.  So I resumed using labels this month.
But here's the problem; the labels I had separated with quotation marks between February 2009 and April 2012 were not automatically separated by commas after Blogger.com made the change from separation by quotation marks.  So, a blog post with, say, ten labels before that change suddenly had one long, run-on label instead.  Does that mean I have to separate the old labels with commas myself?  You got it, pal!
So that's what I'll be doing between now and when I get back, and maybe some time after.  I hope to have this all done before Labor Day.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Flying Out of Rio

Well, another summer Olympiad has come and gone, and now it's time to bid adeus, goodbye, and all that other stuff, as we put Rio de Janeiro behind us.  And, as is my custom, I'd like to acknowledge everyone who got me interested enough in the Games to comment about it here.
I'd like to thank Allyson Felix, Clayton Murphy, Emma Coburn, and Jenny Simpson for their achievements in track and field, Simone Manuel for her breakthrough in the pool, Simone Biles for her gymnastic achievements, and Simone de Beauvoir for writing feminist literature that had to have inspired Title IX.
Special thanks also go to Nathan Adrian and Ryan Murphy for their feats in swimming, as well as to Maya Dirado and Lilly King for theirs, and all the U.S. swim relay teams, as well as thanks to all the other victorious athletes that I don't know from Adam or Eve who made these Games enjoyable.
No thanks to Ryan Lochte for his inexplicable and dubious achievement outside the pool.
(Oh, yeah, regarding my ladyfriend who was hot for Ryan Lochte . . . yeah, she got over him . . . before the bathroom incident. )
Gymnastics coach Martha Karloyi is following her husband Bela into retirement after having built the women's gymnastics program in These States from nothing into much more than something.  Thanks for the memories, guys, and thank you especially, Bela, for your unbridled enthusiasm for women's sports.  Shane Tusup can't hold a candle to you.
And thanks to Shane Tusup, Katinka Hosszú's husband, for his own wild enthusiasm.  I haven't seen anything like that in the Olympic bleachers since Michelle Kwan's dad! :-D And thank you, Katinka Hosszú, for being totally responsible for your swimming medals.
Special thanks to the Danish men's handball team for enlivening - and unexpectedly winning - the men's team-handball gold-medal game against France. You guys rock!
Thanks also to the commentators who covered these Olympics, especially Rebecca Lowe for that cool, British accent.  No thanks to Dan Hicks for demonstrating to me why media critics don't like him very much.
As always, I thank Mary Carillo and Tom Brokaw for their reports about Brazilian culture, especially Mary Carillo's report on the woman who inspired "The Girl From Ipanema." I also give credit, however begrudgingly, to figure skaters Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir for their own Brazilian travelogue segments.  Lipinski has never been a favorite athlete of mine, because she's so full of herself, but she did a good job.  So did Johnny Weir - but please, Johnny, please get yourself a fashion consultant!
Thanks also to models Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio for being a part of these Games, be it in the opening ceremony or through paling around with Ryan Seacrest, but how come no one invited those two other Brazilian beauties from the modeling world, Gisele Zelauy and my favorite Brazilian model, Dalma Collado, to join in? It's not because they're over forty, is it?
Paulo Pimenta is a Facebook friend of mine from Brazil, and I connected with him through the models I have befriended on social media.  He's been enjoying the Rio Games up close and personal. Thanks to my social-media connections, I have also connected on Facebook with . . . Gisele Zelauy. I dedicate my commentary on the Rio Games to them. :-)
There weren't that many memorable television commercials related to the Olympics, but there was one good one - a Reese's peanut butter cup ad showing winter Olympian Lindsey Vonn (a skier) trying her hand at non-winter sports with great difficulty. I'd like thank her for making such an entertaining commercial.  Lindsey, you are so adorable in that ad - and you totally got this! :-D
And thanks to the late Maya Angelou for reading her poetry in commercials for iPhone and the University of Phoenix.  Yes, that was sarcasm.  Whose stupid idea was it to play the recorded voice of a dead woman reading her own poetry in commercials, anyway, especially for an online diploma mill?  Not cool.
And a special thank you to Usain Bolt - I'm gonna miss you, man! - as well as very special thanks to Michael Phelps . . . 
 . . . for going out on top like no athlete ever has gone out or ever will.
And most of all, thanks to Katie Ledecky for her monumental accomplishments in the pool.  
 
This is Katie Ledecky with the great Janet Evans, who more or less passed her distance swimming crown to Katie.
Isn't she cute?
I don't mean Katie Ledecky. :-D
And speaking of Janet Evans . . . well, I saved my most important gratitude for last.  Although Evans has not competed in the Olympics since 1996, I found it impossible to comment on this summer Olympiad, or the previous one, without mentioning her at least once.  Which leads me to draw the obvious conclusion:  When it comes to writing about the Summer Olympics, she is, for better or for worse, my muse.  How could she not be?  Evans, as Hannah Storm told her in 1996, set the standard for what it means to be an Olympian in and out of competition, and her standard remains.  Why else would Evans appear on a Wheaties box only now, in 2016?  So, in addition to wishing her a happy birthday in advance (she turns 45 next Sunday), I'd like to thank her for the inspiration to blog about the Olympics, now and for all time.
Although she may find some of my comments a little too cynical . . .
And so we look with 2020 vision to the next Summer Olympics.  Gee, Mom, I want to go . . . straight back to Tokyo . . . :-D

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Triple Trouble?

Jamaican Usain Bolt accomplished a major feat by winning the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter race, and the 4x100-meter relay in the Rio Games.  See, these were the third consecutive times he won each of those races in the Olympics, which is why the press is calling this feat the triple-triple. But that symmetrical record may be in jeopardy; it suddenly turns out that a fellow Jamaican on the gold-medal-winning 4x100 tram in Beijing in 2008 may have been on steroids at the time.  If it turns out to be true, Bolt, who was not on steroids and never has been, could lose that relay medal from 2008?
And this is only coming out now?  Sure took long enough . . . and the timing couldn't be more suspect.  I certainly hope it isn't true.
Incidentally, something similar happened to Michael Johnson in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics.  The esteemed American sprinter ran on the U.S. men's 4x400-meter relay team and helped the team win the gold medal. Then it came out that there was doping involved.  As far as I can make out, Johnson was the only one on that team who wasn't on steroids.  Needless to say, the team was disqualified, and Johnson had to suffer the indignity of being embarrassed because of the cheating of others.
And speaking of the 4x400, both the American men's and women's teams  - the women's team featuring Allyson Felix - won.  Felix now has six Olympic gold medals, more than any American woman in track and field history.  Congratulations also to Matthew Centrowitz for winning the men's 1500-meter race.

Go East, Young Athlete

With the 2016 Rio Olympics coming to a close soon, attention shifts east . . . far east.

The next three Olympiads, winter and summer, take place in eastern Asia, and in all three countries Americans once commonly referred to as the Orient - Korea, Japan and China, in that chronological order.   The 2018 Winter Olympics take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which is too small to be seen on this map but is about 110 miles east of Seoul.  It's already a ski resort town, so that makes sense.  The 2020 Olympics are to be held in Tokyo, which last hosted the Olympics in 1964.  I guess Tokyo is overdue for a repeat, but there's still the problem of the Fukushima nuclear power plant site being just up the coast. But given that the alternatives were Madrid and Istanbul - Spain has been mired in a big recession, and there was the proximity of Istanbul to Syria at a time when it was becoming apparent that the Syrian civil war wasn't going to end any time soon - it still made sense.
But Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics so soon after it hosted the 2008 Summer Games?  
You know, the Chinese have a lot of damn gall wanting to host another Olympiad in the same city only fourteen years after hosting the first one.  They couldn't wait awhile and give someone else a chance?  I know, I know, Innsbruck, Austria hosted the Winter Games twice within twelve years - 1964 and 1976 - but it hosted the 1976 Winter Games in an emergency after the residents of the original city of choice - Denver - said no to the bonds necessary to make the Winter Olympics happen.  And, of course, the Americans hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta a mere twelve years after Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Summer Games. That shouldn't have happened either, something then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch acknowledged with great subtlety once the Atlanta Games ended, refusing to call them the greatest Games ever at the closing ceremony, as had been his custom at previous Summer Games closing ceremonies.  (Atlanta is Los Angeles with more cars and fewer health nuts.)  So why go back to Beijing so soon?
Oh yeah, another thing.  Winter Olympic cities tend to be smaller places, since the Winter Games have fewer countries and fewer athletes. Winter Olympiads tend to be, in comparison to the regular ones, cozy and intimate, like a comfortable ski lodge. Beijing, home to 21.7 million people, is not a cozy or intimate city. Unlike Pyeongchang, it's not hard to find on a map.
As it turns out, the logistics and the cost of staging even the Winter Games have gotten so out of hand that, when it was time to decide on a site for the 2022 Winter Olympics, there was only one other bid - from Almaty, Kazakhstan, a city whose biggest claim to fame is being the place Stalin banished Trotsky to before Trotsky made his way to Mexico.  So why not Almaty?  It would have been the first city in a former Soviet republic other than Russia to host an Olympiad, winter or summer, and it would have continued the streak of Olympiads in Asia - central Asia, yes, but still Asia.  Why not Almaty (population, 1.7 million people, twenty million fewer than Beijing), indeed?
Was it because of Borat
Aside from Beijing, though, I have no problem with the next Olympiads being held in three consecutive Asian cities.  After all, back in the 1920s, five consecutive winter and summer Olympiads were held in European cities, and no one had a problem with that.
Except maybe the Chinese and the Japanese . . .

Keeping (and Losing) Track

As exciting as it was to see Ashton Eaton win the decathlon at the Olympics for the second time in a row, Usain Bolt's follow-up victories in the men's 200-meter race and the 4x100-meter relay, winning three gold medals in the Rio Olympics and nine overall, were amazing.  The man from D'yer Mak'er is now one of the most successful Olympic track  stars of all time.  He's retiring after this.  Pity.
Meanwhile, in the women's 4x100-meter relay, the U.S. team won a stunning gold-medal victory in the outer lane after having to do a do-over to qualify when a Brazilian runner interfered with Allyson Felix (the U.S. women had to run by themselves against the clock in the do-over).  The team - Felix, Tianna Bartoletta (who, before she got married, was Tianna Madison, the name you might remember her by), English Gardner (speaking of names, the most memorable name since Krystal Ball), and  Tori Bowie - poured it on in the final and won in stunning fashion.
Their male counterparts, incidentally, lost just as stunningly.  They were never going to win over a Jamaican (a D'yer Mak'in?) team anchored by Usian Bolt, but they were able to do well enough to settle for bronze.  Then the roof caved in; it turned out that leadoff runner Mike Rodgers handed the baton off to Justin Gatlin outside the space allotted on the track, causing them to be disqualified.  This is the second consecutive Olympiad in which the American men's 4x100-meter relay team has been disqualified from the event final and the ninth time overall it's had a disqualification or baton screw-up in World Championships or Olympic competition since 1995. (The team didn't make the final at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing because they dropped the baton in . . . a qualifier.)
Girls rule, boys drool?  In the 4x100-meter track relay race, the boys don't just drool, they slobber like St. Bernards.  Last night on the PBS Newshour, Christine Brennan, noting that the American women win a sizable majority of gold medals - 61 percent - for Team USA, said that, because of Title IX (you know what that is, I won't repeat it), we should get used to that.  But that 61-39 ratio is not just the result of more American women wining.  It's also the result of more American men . . . losing.  Because American men aren't losing to women in the Olympics, of course.  Indeed, some of these guys are defeating themselves.  
While I'm here, I need to drool a bit about my typos from my previous post about Allyson Felix and other track competitors.  I referred to 40-meter and 300-meter races;  they were, respectively, 400-meter and 3000-meter races, the 90 percent reductions the results of missing zeroes.  The original errors were corrected. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lots and Lots of Olympic News!

We're getting very near the end of the Rio Olympics, so let me see how much news I can mention here:
The U.S. women's water polo team defended their 2012 Olympic championship and won the first back-to-back gold medals in history.  They beat Italy, who had better luck in men's volleyball (see below).
Helen Maroulis became the first woman to win a gold medal in wrestling, defeating a favorite, Japan's Saori Yoshida.
The U.S. men's volleyball team was on the verge of being eliminated from playing for the gold medal game by the Italians, then came back to . . . almost win the match.  They came back against the Italians and held them back for as long as they could, though, in the end, the Italians won the match.  but they didn't win easily.  Italy - whose men's volleyball team has a Russian ethnic on it - will p[lay Russia or Brazil for the gold medal.  The Americans still have a chance of wining the bronze.  At least I don't have to root for Bulgaria this time.
Oh, and here's something I just found out about Katie Ledecky: she's the first American woman to win the 200-meter, 400-meter, and 800-meter freestyle swimming races in the Olympics since Debbie Meyer in 1968. Meyer is a native Marylander too.
Back in a flash with more splash and dash.

Lochte Mess

Ryan Lochte apologized for his statements about the non-robbery - actually an altercation over vandalism that he and other swimmers caused at a gas station - that took place Sunday, but he never admitted to lying, which only seemed to leave him in a deeper hole. It's also an embarrassment for us Americans, as we are trying to to put the "ugly American tourist" stereotype behind us.
This is worse than the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, where members of the U.S. men's hockey team - a team entirely staffed with professionals - trashed their rooms at the Olympic village after losing a key game in the Olympic tournament and ending up in sixth place, because the hockey team never attempted to blame anyone else for their behavior (though they downplayed the damage they did), and the United States Olympic Committee was more swift and effective in handling the situation than it could have been with Lochte, given the initially murky circumstances in his case. 
(Aside:  The 1998 Winter Olympics were the first winter Olympiad to feature women's ice hockey; the U.S. won the gold medal that event.  Before 1998 it was believed that men play ice hockey and women don't; as it turned out then, in the U.S., at least, the opposite was true.) 
All right, let's move on.  There are still some surprises left in track and field in Rio, and as I write this, the U.S. and Italy  are in an intense men's volleyball semifinal match.  These Games are going to end with a bang.        

Music Video Of the Week - August 19, 2016

"Do It Again" by the Kinks (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Swimmers Behaving Badly

Okay, let me see if I have this fast-changing story straight . . .
Ryan Lochte and three other swimmers - Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz - were riding in a taxi and were allegedly robbed at gunpoint by thieves pretending to be police officers, forcing them out of the car and demanding their wallets.  Lochte said he dared one of them to use his gun and then got down on the ground.
Then Lochte changed details in his story while his teammates said that he never pulled a Dirty Harry-type moment, and he doubled down on his insistence that they were robbed . . . when in fact they were stopping at a service station after having gotten drunk and vandalized a bathroom.  The fake police officer was actually a real security officer who gave them a hard time because they were . . . giving him a hard time. 
Then ol' Ryan bailed on his teammates and went home, leaving Feigen, Conger and Bentz to take the rap and tell authorities . . . the truth. Which was caught on a security camera.
I think the dye in Lochte's hair seeped into his brain.
Lochte's behavior - inexcusable for a man of his age and position - is going to go down as one of the most brazen display of immaturity by an American swimmer that I can remember.
Which brings me back to the subject of Janet Evans.  I sort of remember, twenty years ago in Atlanta, that Evans was dismissed for her immaturity.  She was ridiculed for what she did after she was eliminated from the final in he 400-meter freestyle by a fraction of a second.  She . . . cried.
What?  You mean an athlete on the verge of becoming the first American woman to win a fifth individual Olympic gold medal in swimming got unexpectedly eliminated from the final of the only one of two races she was competing in at Atlanta in which she was a favorite - and she actually got upset because she was eliminated by a microscopic margin?  After all the training she went through to make history, she was, upon failing to do so, actually . . .  tearful?  Oh, I'm shocked! 
And when that bomb in Centennial Olympic Park went off before her eyes, she was reportedly criticized for her reaction.  She . . . cursed.  No kidding!  Like, what was she supposed to do, say something like, "It is terribly unfortunate that a bomb went off and could have killed me if it had been any closer?" 
Evans wasn't being immature, she was being human.  Michael Phelps, incidentally, may have been immature when  he drank and did drugs, but he showed his humanity when he came clean and got clean.  Lochte was not only being immature, he was being . . . dumb.     

Yet More 2016 Miscellaneous Olympic Musings

You take your victories where you find them . . ..
Much has been made of the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2016 Olympics, and deservedly so, but their male counterparts haven't been doing as well.  But while teh girls ruled, the boys didn't exactly drool; the men's team's Danell Leyva, known for his lucky towel, had luck on the bars.  He won silver medals in both the horizontal and parallel bars.  Glad to see he didn't throw in the towel. :-)
Also, track runner Jenny Simpson won a bronze in the 1500-meter race - the first medal for an American woman in the so-called metric mile.  (Evan Jager won the silver in the men's 3000-meter steeplechase - and the two athletes raced with an elastic hair band they shared between them. Apparently it brought the two of them good luck.
Okay, now that the American women dominate in regular gymnastics, they have to work on rhythmic gymnastics - floor exercises with balls and streamers.  The Russians own that sport!  (But the Russians don't own track and field anymore; as noted here, sixty-seven Russian track and field atheltes - 67 was the final count - were banned from competing in Rio due to doping. How many Russian track and field athletes were able to compete?  Only one - long jumper Darya Klishina.)
And if American women can run the metric mile in the Olympics, certainly American women can swim the metric mile in the Olympics.  They've set records in the 1500-meter freestyle swim elsewhere.  Come on, IOC, show some gumption! Add the women's 1500-meter freestyle swim already!
Get rid of synchronized swimming to fit in, if you have to.  (Okay, I couldn't resist . . .)
And would you believe that Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross got knocked out of gold medal contention in beach volleyball?  It actually shouldn't have surprised anyone; the Brazilian pair who beat them were more favored due to their standings.  Well, you can't win 'em all . . . but the dynamic American duo did win the bronze against another Brazilian pair! :-D

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sync Or Swim

You  may have noticed that at no point up to now in my commentary on the 2016 Olympics have I tried to make fun of synchronized swimming.  Nothing about the silly balletic moves, no cracks about the competitors' gelled hair or sparkling outfits, no more than a passing mention of their smiling.  I could try to convince you that this is because I have learned to respect anyone who participates in athletic endeavors that I could never excel in or even attempt, but after all the comments I made about the U.S. men's soccer team, I don't think you'll buy that.  I decided not to make any jokes about synchronized swimming this time because I've already ridiculed it enough in commentary during Olympiads past.
However, I do want to say this to any young woman who is contemplating the possibility of participating in this female-only sport:  If you do, you'll be subject to ridicule from cynics more cruel than I am, you'll risk freezing your face with all that smiling, and your lungs will burn up while trying to hold your breath under water.
Also, you'll never appear on a Wheaties box.
Unlike one female swimmer I could mention. ;-)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Taking a Dive

Allyson Felix, already the most decorated female American Olympic athlete in track and field, was a moment away from a fifth career gold medal in the women's 400-meter race.  She lost it when Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas suddenly leaped out over the finish line and crossed it first by landing on it.
Miller apparently forgot that she was a track runner and not a diver.  
This was so unfair. Felix was in gold medal position; she should have won.  Miller made a last-minute move that was so underhanded, I stopped working on an freelance article for a moment just to go on Facebook and complain about it.  Even more people, I understand, complained about it on Twitter.
There's just one thing; what Miller did was legal.
Yes!  Apparently, Olympic track runners can hurl themselves over the line, provided they don't impede their competitors. And yes, Americans have done this too; David Neville won the bronze medal in the men's 400-meter race at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.  Well, that wasn't fair, either, so don't accuse me of Yankee imperialism by making the case for Felix.  I heard she was tearful over the result - oh, great, now the press will call her a sore loser - and I, quite frankly, don't blame her for being upset.    
But at least she won the silver medal.
Some more good news: American Clayton Murphy won the bronze in the men's 800-meter race, while American Emma Coburn won the bronze in the women's 3000-meter (three-kilometer) steeplechase, the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in a steeplechase event. 

Okay, Let's Track It!

And now to Olympic track and field. 
We start with . . . the man! 
Okay, I'm not Jamaican, I don't know anyone of Jamaican origin, and I've never been to Jamaica, but I was rooting for Mr. Usain Bolt of D'yer Mak'er in the men's 100-meter dash to pick up his third straight gold medal in that event.  A single hectometer (a hundred meters; I love using that measurement, you understand) transformed Mr. Bolt from a great athlete to the most monumental track star of our time.  And he still has the 200-meter trace and the 4x100-meter relay ahead of him.  Alas, this will likely be his last Olympiad.
Meanwhile, Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa (below) set a new world record Sunday night in the men's 400 meters at the 2016 Olympics.  The previous world record was held by the great Michael Johnson, which Johnson set at the 1999 World Championships in Seville.  Some context: Van Niekerk set a record at 43.03 seconds, beating Johnson's record of 43.18, a huge difference.
Of course, van Niekerk's new world record is also the Olympic record, and Johnson had been the previous Olympic record holder in the 400-meter race as well, setting it at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta with a time of 43.49.  Van Niekerk is 24 years old.
Oh yes, the heptathlon. Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium (above) won it, beating out Jessica Ennis - who has since gotten married and his now Jessica Ennis-Hill - by a score of 6810 to 6775.  Ennis-Hill took silver, of course, with Canada's Brianne Theisen-Eaton won the bronze with 6653 points.
Yes, Theisen-Eaton is married to American decathlon champion Ashton Eaton.  Yes, he was rooting for her.  Yes, some Americans were upset about him rooting for a foreigner (sort of like how I was rooting for Usain Bolt the other night), even though the foreigner in question was his wife.  So they wanted him to root against her and for a fellow American?  Well, an American Olympic heptathlon champion this year was a long shot; the highest ranking American, Barbara Nwaba, finished in twelfth place.  But still, Eaton rooted for his better half, so that makes him a traitor.  Yeah, he should be put in front of a firing squad.
You know, I'm getting sick and tired of dealing with stupid people . . ..     

Monday, August 15, 2016

No, You DON'T Have To Live Like a Refugee!

I've been cracking jokes about the sillier side of the Olympics, both here and on Facebook, and of course I love to do that, but even I have to acknowledge any effort by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to live up to the ideal of peace through sport.  Reacting to the refugee crisis caused by interminable wars in the Middle East and Africa, IOC President Thomas Bach orchestrated the creation of a Refugee Olympic Team, comprised of ten refugee athletes, to compete in Rio under the Olympic flag in order to call more attention to the global refugee crisis and also recognize refugees' worth.
The most visible face of the refugee team is swimmer Yusra Mardini (below), a Syrian Christian who fled the civil war in her homeland. Her story is quite inspiring; she and was able to arrange to be smuggled with her sister Sarah, also a swimmer, on an overcrowded boat from Turkey to Greece.  Out in the Aegean Sea, the boat's motor died; Yusra and her sister pushed the boat with two other people through the water for three hours until they reached the Greek island of Lesbos.  From there the Mardini sisters made it to Germany (where their parents also settled), and Yusra pursued her Olympic dream by training in Berlin.   
She made  the Refugee Olympic team, and at Rio she swam the butterfly and freestyle races, both one hundred meters, and though she never had a chance of advancing out of the qualifiers, well . . . I know it sounds corny, but by competing, she'd already won.  :-)  
Yusra Mardini, eighteen years of age at this writing, says she plans to continue her swimming career.  I hope she gets a medal one day, be it for Syria, Germany, or even another refugee team.    

Sunday, August 14, 2016

One Last Time (And Two First Times)

The 2012 Olympics were supposed to be the last Olympiad not just for Michael Phelps but also for cyclist Kristin Armstrong, who came back to compete in Rio at the same time she turned 43.  Although she didn't finish the women's road race, she struck time-trial gold in that event, her third straight Olympic gold medal in the time trials.
And the Phelpster?  He won his twenty-third Olympic gold medal and his twenty-eighth Olympic medal overall as part of the U.S. team in the men's 4x100 relay swimming medley . . . right after the American women (including Simone Manuel) won the same race on their side.
I just have one thing to say to both of them . . ..  You sure you both want to retire now? :-D  
And here are some interesting firsts for swimming: Pernille Blume of Denmark won her country's first swimming gold medal in the 50-meter women's freestyle and Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy won the gold in the 1500-meter "metric mile" freestyle - which was Italy's first gold medal in that event. His fellow countryman Gabriele Detti took the bronze, while American Connor Jaeger took the silver and set a new U.S. record in the event.
Who won the women's metric mile freestyle? Uh, there is no such race in the Olympics.  Gee, maybe if there were - it is included in championships - maybe Italy would have won a gold in the 1500 free already.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

More Miscellaneous 2016 Olympics Musings

The U.S. women's soccer team lost to Sweden at the Olympics and so was from medal contention.  The gave up the game to the Swedes in penalty kicks to break a tie.  Oh, well, you can't win 'em all.  And the men can't win at all.
This would be no big deal if not for post-game comments from American goalkeeper Hope Solo, who stalled for time before Swedish player Lisa Dahlkvist scored the winning goal and thus fired the shot heard 'round the world, hadn't offered this sour quote after the game:  "We lost to a bunch of cowards. The better team did not win."  Asked to expand on that, she said, "Sweden dropped off. They didn't want to open play. They didn't want to pass the ball. They didn't want to play great soccer."
And with that, Solo wins the Nancy Kerrigan Award for Bad Sportsmanship.  Bu then, at least Nancy Kerrigan could argue that she should have won the women's figure skating gold medal in 1994 because figure skating is a subjective sport.  Soccer is very objective - the team with the most goals wins the game.  The Swedish ladies didn't have to play great; they just had to win.  And they did.
Meanwhile . . . how about Maya Dirado?  She upset Hungary's Katinka Hosszú by six one-hundredths of a second in the women's 200-meter backstroke race.  I turned away from the telly thinking Hosszú was going to win, then I looked back barely in time to see Dirado touch the wall first!  Even when I saw the replay, I couldn't believe it. I'm sure Dirado couldn't believe it either.
And now that Hosszú has to settle for silver, is her husband responsible for her loss of the gold?  Well, he should be held responsible.
Also, Michael Phelps went into the water with the hope of winning the 100-meter butterfly. He ended up losing to Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling - whom Phelps once met when Schooling was a kid back in 2008 - and sharing the silver with South Africa's Chad LeClos and Lazslo Cseh of the Czech Republic. Yes, three-way ties happen.  Did fifth-place finisher Li Zhuhao of China get a bronze medal? No, but he should have. Why waste a bronze medal by not handing it out?
Oh, yeah, Schooling set a new Olympic record in the 100 fly.
Also, congrats to American swimmers Anthony Ervin and Nathan Adrian for winning gold and bronze, respectively, in the men's "splash and dash" 50-meter freestyle.  Although, I would have preferred to see Ervin show more modesty, in the style of Tom Dolan, when he won.
And while you weren't paying attention, brothers Gary and Paul O'Donovan of Ireland won the silver medal for in the lightweight men's doubles rowing competition - Ireland's first medal in these Games and its first Olympic rowing medal in history.  Ethnic pride here!
Whoever said "You don't win silver, you lose gold" obviously never won a silver . . . and obviously wasn't Irish. :-)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Katie!

Allow me to play Inspector Clouseau for a moment or two to make the case for Katie Ledecky as the greatest female distance swimmer of her time.
Fact: Katie Ledecky just won the Olympic gold medal for the women's 800-meter freestyle race and set a new world record in the event.
Fact: The record she broke was her own, set in January 2016.
Fact: After she set the Olympic record for the "800 free" at the London Games in 2012, she set the world record in August 2013.  What just happened in Rio marks the fourth time she's broken her own world record.
Fact: She's only the third woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the 800-meter Olympic women's freestyle race.  The first two were Janet Evans (maybe you've heard of her!) in 1988 and 1992 and Brooke Bennett (who I used to dislike, but not anymore, and I explained all that here)  in 1996 and 2000.  
Fact: In the final fifty meters, Ledecky was so far ahead that, at one point, it looked like all of the other swimmers were still going in the other direction.      
Fact: Katie Ledecky just swam eight hectometers to glory. 
Fact: Eight hectometers are the equivalent of eight hundred meters. :-D

Two Women Named Simone

Well, how about this?
On the left is American gymnast Simone Biles.  On the right, American swimmer Simone Manuel.  They just won big time in their respective sports at the Olympics!  
After winning a gold medal as part of the women's gymnastic team in the team competition, Biles won the individual all-around gold medal last night.  Then, Manuel upset, well, just about everyone in the women's 100-meter freestyle swim race, including the Campbell sisters from Australia, and became the first black American woman to win a gold medal in an Olympic individual swimming event by tying with Canada's Penny Oleksiak and sharing the gold with her.  Ms, Biles, Ms. Manuel: You gals rock! 
I first saw Simone Manuel swim her way on to the team at the Olympic trials on TV in July.  I remember that moment vividly . . . because when she was talking to the press afterwards, the cable service went out. 
*#!!@ severe thunderstorm! 

Music Video Of the Week - August 12, 2016

"Summer Day" by Sheryl Crow (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Olympic TV Musings

The New Jersey Star-Ledger reported today that the ratings for NBC's Olympic coverage this time around has been underwhelming.  That mystifies me, as most of the events have been televised live, although women's gymnastics has been shown in tape-delay form (and by the way, for those who don't mind spoilers, Simone Biles won the gold medal in the women's all-around - nice work, Ms. Biles!).  NBC has been able to show a lot live events, especially in prime time, since Rio de Janeiro is only an hour ahead of New York (yes, Rio is two time zones away from New York, but we're on daylight savings time and the Brazilians aren't, as it's winter down there), so there are plenty of opportunities to see the action as it happens.  
Olympics ratings have always been hit or miss for NBC, ever since it began covering the so-called Summer Olympics beginning with Seoul in 1988 (it added the Winter Games starting with Salt Lake City in 2002).  At Seoul, long before it had sister cable channels and Internet streaming, NBC broadcast so many hours of competition that the lackluster ratings made it look like what humorist Paul Slansky called "overkill of the highest order."  Its ratings for Barcelona in 1992 were better, then they went through the roof in Atlanta in 1996 - no surprise, given the fact that those Games were in the United States (the only such occurrence since NBC took over the Summer Games from ABC)  and in the Eastern time zone.  Paradoxically, some of the biggest American names to emerge with smashing victories in Seoul were past their peak when they competed in Atlanta.  Therefore, according to the Nielsen numbers more Americans saw Jackie Joyner-Kersee, for example, withdraw from the Olympic heptathlon in 1996 than saw her win it in 1988 and 1992.  
That sucks.  
So what's causing the ratings to drop in 2016?  The lack of athlete sob stories?  Not enough travelogue features?  Ryan Lochte's hair?  Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines not knowing when to shut up, as when, during the 800-meter swimming heat earlier today, they were going on and on about Lochte and Michael Phelps while the heat was in progress, even though neither one of them was in it?  Well, of course they weren't - it was a women's heat! 
Please come back to NBC, Hannah Storm.  Your husband needs you to save him from himself.
I don't hold out much hope for the ratings during track and field . . ..        

Sex and Sexism the Olympics

Who'd have thought the biggest delicacy discovered at the Olympics in Rio would be a Pita covered in oil? :-D
Ha ha! I am referring to Pita Taufatofua, of course.  He's the Olympic athlete who was the flag bearer at the 2016 Olympics' opening ceremony for Tonga, a Pacific island country heretofore known for issuing postage stamps in silly shapes.  The judo competitor appeared at the ceremony shirtless, his torso covered in oil.  (No doubt he upstaged the U.S. of A.'s flag bearer, Michael Phelps.)  And women loved it; they ogled Taufatofua's well-oiled physique so much that their husbands must have been . . . scared shirtless! :-D
I wrote back in 2012 during the London Games that I have no trouble with women checking out the men at the Olympics, because after all, men check out the women too.  (Beach volleyball's Kerri Walsh-Jennings is still hot, by the way.)  But I have yet to hear any women make derogatory or dismissive comments about male athletes at these Games, while men have been making so many comments like that about female athletes that to list such sexist remarks in their entirety on this blog would take too long. So I'll focus on just two of the many misogynistic swipes - the number of which is rapidly approaching triple digits - in the coverage of these Games.  
One comment was a product of what Brad Paisley might call "accidental sexism."  When Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú won a gold medal, NBC commentator Dan Hicks called her coach/husband Shane Tusup as "the man responsible" for her victory . . . as if Hosszú herself had nothing to do with it.  Hicks apologized, explaining that he meant that Tusup's coaching was a notable factor in her victory and regretting that his attempt to convey credit for Tusup for his role as a coach didn't come out right.  Gee, ya think, Dan?  Okay, had Hosszú's coach been a woman, Hicks might very well have called her coach "the woman responsible" for Hosszú's win, and a coach's contributions to the performance of any athlete of either sex are key to an athlete's successes.  But what if Hosszú had been kept off the medal podium by her competitors, and what if her husband were still her coach?  Would her husband have been called the man responsible for her loss?  I doubt it. I'm sure Hannah Storm - Dan Hicks is her husband, you will remember - would agree with me.  
For the record,  I may have said that Tusup was an asset for Hosszú, but I never said he deserves all the credit for her wins.  In fact, I have since been led to understand that his coaching style is so unorthodox and punishing, she may be winning despite his coaching methods.      
The other comment that caught my eye was when Tim Bannon of the Chicago Tribune reported that Corey Cogdell won the bronze medal in women's trap shooting and primarily identified her as the wife of Chicago Bears lineman Mitch Unrein.  That's all she is - a football player's wife?  What?  What's up with this Bannon guy, anyway?  Did he consider Cogdell's victory insignificant because it was only a bronze medal? Or because he thinks trap shooting isn't a real sport like football?  Is he upset that Chicago didn't get the 2016 Olympics?  Or is he peeved that American football isn't taken very seriously outside These States?  I could go on and on making such conjectures (and I would if I had nothing better to do today), but diminishing Cogdell to a mere spousal status is flat-out degrading.  Was Florence Griffith Joyner ever called Al Joyner's wife?  No, because she was a greater track athlete than he was.  (Jackie Joyner-Kersee was also a better track athlete than her brother Al as well, and no one ever called her Al Joyner's sister.)      
Oh yeah, I ought to tell you also about a sexist swipe People magazine had in its special 2016 Olympics issue, which hit the newsstands before the Games began, in one of its items about Olympians past.  American track star Michael Johnson was referred to as the first person to win the 200-meter and 400-meter track races in the same Olympiad. Actually, that was American Valerie Brisco-Hooks, who did it in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics; Johnson won both races in the 1996 Games.  Johnson was the first man to win both races in the same Olympiad, and the second woman to achieve that feat, France's Marie-Jose Perec, did so in 1996, the same year as Johnson's accomplishment.  Hey, I love Michael Johnson, he's a cool customer . . . but let's set the record straight here - and not diminish Brisco-Hooks's achievement! 
Alas, this sort of thing is likely to continue.  And if you think all this obsession with Pita Taufatofua is trivial nonsense but, at the same time, you have no problem with comments from guys like Hicks or Bannon (at least Hicks apologized) because you don't see the problem, well, you have a problem yourself.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Give Me Silver, Blue and Gold . . .

. . . the colors of the sky, I'm told.  And, the colors that comprise the color of Ryan Lochte's hair!
I think the only time I've seen that color before was when I bought a pack of winter-ice chewing gum.
Even my ladyfriend who likes to check out Ryan Lochte is appalled.  But at least he's not wearing that grill brace over his teeth! 
You know, I could point out that the most radical thing Janet Evans ever did to her hair was let it grow, and that she had a short cut in her early twenties but now sports longer locks, and that she looks good with either short or long hair, and that she's never looked ridiculous . . . like this, but I won't.  Oh - did I just do that? ;-) :-D    

International Olympic Corruption

A friend of mine from my writers' group alerted me to a report on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that appeared on "Real Sports," the HBO Sports show hosted by Bryant Gumbel.  The report depicted how the IOC has an unsavory interrelationship between itself and countries that bid for the Olympics.  See, the countries (cities, not countries, are supposed to vie for the Games, but we all know that's a lie) bend over backwards to satisfy IOC members and their greed.  They don't so much bribe members of the committee as they are blackmailed by them.
The problem turns out to have be much worse than the nasty wheeling and dealing that brought the Summer Games to Atlanta in 1996 (how else could the Olympics have been been held in a city more defined by the 285 beltway than by anything resembling a downtown?) and the Winter Olympics to Nagano, Japan in 1998 (no skiing facilities, no sledding amenities, just craggy mountains that even the local monkeys wouldn't roam across).  IOC potentates are expected to be wined and dined at considerable expense and receive all sorts of favors, causing bidders to spend a lot of time, money and energy on the Games.  This was supposed to be cleaned up after all of the bribery that plagued the organizing committee for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics (and was rectified by Mitt Romney when he took it over), but no, it still goes on.  The money spent on the facilities for the Games comes out of public amenities for the poor and the middle class.  That's why Sochi was still a mess after the 2014 Winter Olympics and why Rio de Janeiro has become even more uninhabitable for the locals.  
Maybe Bill Kristol was right back in 2009 when he said Chicago didn't need the 2016 Olympics.  Lord knows Chicago needs a whole lot of other things.  Like a mayor who's not in the pocket of big business.    
And who makes most of the money for the Games themselves?  I'll give you a hint; it's not the host cities.  The host cities, in fact, are left holding the bag for maintenance costs for those same facilities.  The IOC gets walks away with most of the profits.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (below), who was a gold-medal fencer for West Germany at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, was supposed to do something about all this, and given that he is a former athlete himself, the athletes were expected, so I have been led to understand, to benefit from his presidency.

Yeah, well, without the athletes, there's no Olympic movement.  It's supposed to be all about the athletes, because it's the athletes who compete, it's the athletes who break world records and all that, and it's the athletes we all revere, not the IOC members . . . and it's the athletes we all develop silly celebrity crushes on; I wonder if you all know who I'm talking about? ;-)  Ha ha, I have a ladyfriend who loves to check out Ryan Lochte, and not necessarily when he's swimming.
So I hope Bach gets all that and pursues some real reform in the IOC.  Because it is indeed all about the athletes.  After all, despite the fact that Bach was an Olympian himself, no one tuned into the opening ceremony at Rio to check out Bach's sexy bod. :-p       
And if Los Angeles does lose its bid for the 2024 Games, that will mean that Angelenos didn't compromise their integrity - or, at least they didn't compromise it as much as the residents of the city with the winning bid.

Maryland Rocks!

Michael Phelps.  Katie Ledecky. Those are the only names you really need to know right now.
Phelps just won his twentieth and twenty-first Olympic swimming gold medals (he has 25 overall now!), taking first in the 200-meter men's butterfly and the s 4x200-meter freestyle relay with teammates Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte. And Katie Ledecky just won the 200-meter women's freestyle, a personal tradition of hers, I'm led to understand.
It's official: In competitive swimming, Maryland is the new California.  That's going to get some knickers tied up out in Orange County.
Ryan Lochte's hair?  Oh, I'll get to that! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

King Of the Pool

Lilly King is America's new swimming heroine.
She not only won the gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she beat that Russian doper Yulia Efimova to the top of the podium.  And she was very self-righteous about it, as she should be, dissing Efimova for merely being in the race.  I'm glad King beat Efimova and left her with silver, but I'm still offended that Efimova gets a medal of any sort.  
This is not like the doping controversy in women's swimming in the 1996 Olympics, where there were and still are a lot of ambiguities (and I won't bring it up again beyond that, as I promised you all I wouldn't).  This case is far more clear-cut.  Anyone who's followed the story of Russian state-sponsored athlete-doping (have you been paying attention, Donald Trump?) should figure that out. 
Congratulations to American Cody Miller for getting the bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke on the men's side.  (Adam Peaty won the gold, natch.)  And also congratulations to Ryan Murphy for striking gold in the men's 100-meter backstroke. 

Sucking At Soccer

I'd like to ask this simple question about the United States national men's soccer team . . .
Why do we have one?  
The American men's soccer team failed to qualify for the Olympics for the second time in a row.  This also comes after a so-so performance at the World Cup, a lackluster showing at the Copa America earlier this year, and the resignation of yet another head coach.  The only way any of them will see Rio is if they're dating any of the players on our women's soccer team.  And if they are, maybe their girlfriends will let them walk on the turf at the stadium and kick a ball or two . . . just to know how it feels.  As much as I detest the infantine doggerel "girls rule, boys drool," I have to concede that, in the case of soccer in America, it's dead accurate. 
Is it time to admit we Americans just can't cultivate male soccer players at the same caliber as our women?  Probably.  The men's team keeps re-calibrating itself and its players are convinced they're finally on the way up, only to stumble again.  It's like Lucy Van Pelt holding the football.  Perhaps they should be glad that soccer balls don't have to be held in place to be kicked.   
Some soccer fans are already saying that an Olympic berth doesn't matter.  Olympic soccer, these folks say, isn't as prestigious as the World Cup or even the regional championships and tournaments.  But some veteran soccer players, like Brian McBride and Stuart Holden, are having none of that.  The lack of opportunities for play in tournaments like the Olympic Games, they say, denies players the necessary experience to grow as athletes.
A few observers have wondered if the right fellows in These States are getting involved in the game.  In the U.S., these observers explain, soccer is mostly seen as a middle-class sport, and our soccer heritage is pretty much one that sees the game as a quaint diversion for suburban families . . . and thus we get middle-class male players that aren't motivated enough.  In other countries, meanwhile, soccer is a scrappier, more proletarian pursuit that produces hungrier players with more of an edge.  Maybe, these wags say, we should recruit more male soccer players from the inner cities and the working-class industrial towns.  This theory, of course, doesn't explain how the girls are better here if they come from the same experience of being driven to games in minivans and playing on the same lush green suburban fields as the boys.
Whatever.  All I know is that our gals have been underpaid, and our guys have been playing at minimum-wage caliber.  If we downsized men's soccer, we'd be able to pay the women fabulous bonuses. And they deserve them.  Our women's team won the gold medal in the first Olympic women's soccer tournament in 1996 and has won every Olympic championship from 2004 on, and they're likely to be on top of the world when they leave Rio de Janeiro, just like they were when they left Atlanta, Athens, Beijing, and London.  The men's team, meanwhile, look like they just entered Nazareth.
They look about half past dead.           

Ryan Seacrest?

Does anyone remember when Hannah Storm - Dan Hicks's wife, by the way - hosted Olympic late-night shows on NBC, long before she went over to ESPN?  Ah, those were the days.
Now NBC has the dubious Ryan Seacrest hosting their Olympic late-night coverage.  He's already shown a penchant for doing goofy things, like wearing on the air a swimming cap bearing his name (a gift from American swimmer Dana Vollmer).   And while I'm sure a lot of guys envied him a bit for restaurant hopping in Rio with Brazilian models Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio, I found it hard to imagine why these lovely lasses would have hung out with him if he weren't a famous TV host.
Though, I do have to admit, Seacrest has his virtues, the main one being that he's not John Tesh. :-p 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Katinka!

Meet Katinka Hosszú of Hungary, the world's newest Olympic swimming star!
She just set a new world's record in the women's 400-meter individual medley, and she won her race by a wide margin.
In addition to being naturally talented, she has an asset in the form of her husband Shane Tusup, who is both her coach and her cheerleader.  And if you've been watching the Olympics, you can tell that Shane takes both of his jobs . . . very seriously. :-D
Anyone who competes against her in any of her upcoming events has her work cut out for her.  

So I Sing a Song of Contempt For Yulia

Are you kidding me?
Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova just qualified for the final of the women's 100-meter breaststroke despite having what I would call a very serious history of steroid use.  She tested positive for a banned substance in 2014 and got stripped of her many medals and records by FINA, the international governing body of swimming.  Another ban followed when she tested positive in March 2016 for a drug developed in Soviet-era Latvia to treat irregular blood flow.  Apparently it's used as a performance enhancer (there's that phrase again!) in international competition.
Yet, somehow, the ban got overturned, and Efimova is now a finalist in Rio, a status that Olympic swimming champion and NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines has a problem with it. And I have a problem with it too.  She's been caught cheating twice, and yet she's being allowed to swim?  Gee, I guess that would explain the booing she's gotten at the Olympic aquatic center.  When she won her qualifiers, she declared herself to be number one with her finger. (Which finger?)  
The final will pit Efimova against Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania and Lilly King of the United States, among others.  I would be happy with either one of them winning over this cheater.
In the men's 100-meter breaststroke, meanwhile, Adam Peaty of Great Britain set a new world record to get the gold after having set the previous world record in the qualifiers.  Yes, he's that good.  U.S. bronze medalist Cody Miller set a new American record in that event.    
And, oh yes, Katie Ledecky just broke her own world record in the women's 400-meter freestyle swim, going fast like a Porsche 356.  Her time was . . . 3.56.  Give or take a hundredth of a second.
History!  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

23 Skiddoo!

The U.S. just won the men's 4X100 freestyle swimming relay.
And Michael Phelps was in it! 
He just won his twenty-third career Olympic medal, which, oh yes, is his nineteenth gold. 
Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude! :-D
Special mention goes to Nathan Adrian for bringing it home. :-) 

Miscellaneous Olympics Musings 2016

Congratulations to Chase Kalisz for winning the silver medal in the men's 400-meter individual swimming medley.  This kid is on his way to bigger and better things.
Katie Ledecky is a strong favorite for the women's 400-meter crawlstroke - er, freestyle - later today, and Michael Phelps swims in the men's 200-meter butterfly qualifiers tomorrow.  Like Phelps and Ledecky, Kalisz is from Maryland. That state is becoming a bigger powerhouse in swimming than it ever will be in presidential politics.
As for annoying commercials . . . the United Airlines ad is kind of silly, especially with the synchronized swimmers and their smiles, but it's hard not to smile yourself when Missy Franklin shows up in it.  Another swimming star in the making, she.  
Also, and this is embarrassing, I have to correct something I wrote last year about Boston's canceled bid for the 2024 Olympics.  I said that opposition to holding the Olympics in Boston "has been wildly unpopular there." When you think faster than you type, the risk of internal contradictions goes way up and you end up saying the opposite of what you mean.  I meant to say that opposition to the holding the Olympics in Boston "has been wildly rampant there."  The original error, well, you know the drill . . . it has been corrected.
I need a full-time editor.

Brokaw Beached

The new American beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross are hitting the sand running at the 2016 Olympics, dominating the court and putting away their first rivals, a duo from Australia.  (Australia, meanwhile, scored a gold medal in the women's 4x100 freestyle swimming relay, with the Americans taking silver, though Dana Vollmer and anchor Katie Ledecky put up a good fight against the Aussies.)  Walsh-Jennings may be without Misty May-Treanor, but she hasn't lost a step in her new partnership with Ross. 
So far, the person who's gotten tripped up the most in beach volleyball is NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw (below).  Right after a live women's beach volleyball match between duos from Switzerland and China ended with the Chinese pair winning, a report from Brokaw about the Amazon River (you knew it was going to happen) started to run. It then was pre-empted when a challenge to the Chinese was accepted and the two pairs had to play again for a match point.  (The Chinese still won.)  Brokaw's report then aired in its entirety, and Bob Costas had to apologize for it.  Because you don't just pre-empt Tom Brokaw.
Speaking of Costas, he reported for those that didn't hear it that Virginia Thrasher won America's first gold medal in air rifle, with two Chinese competitors taking "silver and gold."  Something missing there, isn't there?  A medal of another color, perhaps?  And two gold medals were awarded in the ten-meter air rifle competition?  No, there was no tie or anything like that; it was one gold.  Costas did not correct himself.  Bob, you're slipping.   

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Olympics: Here We Go Again

You know, I promised myself and you that I wouldn't bring up the same Olympic stories and topics I've brought up in the past, but the U.S. men's water polo team laves me no choice.  Back in 2012 I joked how American men, the water polo team especially, were so pathetic they were losing to Croatia.  Well, today, the men's water polo team lost 7-5 to . . . Croatia.  Well, there you have it, boys and girls, it's only the first day of Olympic competition in Rio, and our men's teams are already sucking.
Okay, it's early yet, but this is hardly what I call a good start . . .  
Again, we Yanks have to rely on the women to save us from embarrassment.  In the 10-meter air rifle competition, Virginia Thrasher thrashed two Chinese competitors for the gold medal.  I'm not going to take the obvious cheap shot here . . ..
Meanwhile, in cycling. specifically, the five-man road race . . ..  One of the race courses is paved partly in cobblestone and is doing a number on so many bicycles.  It turned out to be an endurance test, and a lot of cyclists weren't able to handle the uneven pavement.  Gee, whatever happened to simply getting across the finish line first?  (For the record, Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium did just that.)
Meanwhile, in swimming . . . First-time Olympian Adam Peaty of Great Britain set a new world's record in the 100-meter men's breaststroke . . . in a qualifier.
Wait until the medal round! :-O   

Rio 2016: The Opening Ceremony

Oh my gosh, the Brazilians are just getting started with their trouble-plagued Olympics with the opening ceremony, and there are already opportunities for satire!
The ceremony was supposed to be more modest and less about the host country, but, despite the small budget, the Rio organizers still managed to put on a spectacle worthy of the hilarities of opening ceremonies past.  It began with dancers apparently holding up giant tin-foil squares, as if they were setting up a solar panel farm.  Then came a sequence paying tribute to Brazil's ecology and the importance of the environment.
These jokes write themselves, folks!
After some more pointless choreography about Brazil's history - a crash course for people who slept through World History 101 in college - performers began building what looked like a wall from the old Pink Floyd shows.  It was actually a construction of a life-size model biplane, representing the powered flight in a heavier-than-air craft operated by Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont in Europe, which was certified by the French being the first such flight there, in 1906.  The inference was that this was really the first such flight, not the Wright Brothers' flight in 1903, because no one was at the Outer Banks of North Carolina to witness it.  What's up with that, Brazil, you're trying to take credit for Orville and Wilbur's achievement?  Well, you can't have it!
The show went on to have a lot of hip-hop.  Okay, guys, you can have credit for that! :-p
But I was happy to hear some samba, as well as "The Girl From Ipanema," one of my all-time favorite tunes, and it was inevitable anyway, right? And as an added bonus, Gisele Bündchen took what she says will be her last catwalk ever to the cool bossa nova sound of that classic song.
But this time, unlike at Super Bowl XLVI, she wisely kept her mouth shut.
The ceremony then moved to a presentation of the effects of climate change - again, this is in a country where half the rain forest has been burned down to lift Brazil up to a living standard associated with "Western civilization."
It hasn't worked out.  Western civilization, I mean.
Oh, yeah, each athlete was given a seed representing one of Brazil's native trees to plant in a park to "leave their mark" at Rio.  I suspect that the inevitable doping will leave more of one.
After all that - and the parade of nations, followed by a little more samba - the torch was finally lit, but not by soccer star Pele, despite speculation that he might.  In fact, he hasn't been well lately.  The cauldron was actually lit by marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima.
I would have loved to see Pele light it, though . . . I'll bet he would have kicked the torch into the cauldron.  That would have shown those torch-lighting archers in Barcelona a trick or two!  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Ready For Rio

My schedule for next week is tight, so I probably won't be able to blog so much about the 2016 Olympics, at least not where swimming is concerned.  But I hope to catch swimmer Katie Ledecky; she's a huge favorite! :-)
Oh yeah, something else . . . I've just been going over Olympic-related posts from previous Games, and I can't believe how often I repeated myself about the same stories and topics.  Gee, I must have bored a lot of folks out there.  Well, I'm happy to report that I am going to refrain from remembrances of all Olympiads past this time, because I'd rather stay in the present.  
So why did I repeat myself so much in earlier times?  Because after not talking about the Olympics that much for four years, it's easy to forget that you covered Story A or Memory B in the previous quadrennium.  I'm going to be much more mindful of that now.
It's not my job to revisit the same Olympic stories over and over. It's actually Bob Costas's job. :-D

Music Videos Of the Week - August 5, 2016

"Yellow Submarine" and "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

They Call It Speedo . . .

. . . but its real name is Tropical Storm Earl. 
The fifth named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season is indeed a fast mover, and it also strengthened from tropical storm status to a hurricane with considerable speed.  It formed not too far from where hurricane Sandy formed in October 2012, though it's taking a different path, striking Belize as a hurricane and now over northern Guatemala and heading  for Mexico as a tropical storm once again.
Sorry to be a downer, but this could be a taste of what's to come for the U.S. East Coast.  I suspect that the eastern seaboard will be under a greater threat as we move into peak season in late August and early September, and, as Sandy proved, even late October is conducive to a massive storm forming and affecting the coast.  Also, even as Florida has gotten a break, the Northeast has seen these storms threaten us more regularly.  Two of them  - Irene and the aforementioned Sandy - hit New Jersey and New York, while a third - Joaquin - came close.  (Alas, it spawned a nor'easter that did hit land.)  All from climate change, no doubt.
Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. :-O 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Campaign 2016: The Greening of America

This just got interesting.
The two major presidential candidates for 2016 have done nothing but undistinguish themselves in conduct unbecoming a President, and while Donald Trump is clearly the top Katzenjammer Kid, Hillary Clinton should be called out too.  But first, the Donald.  He actually had the nerve to discredit a Muslim Gold Star couple, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, for their speech at the Democratic convention against Trump's stand on Muslims in light of the sacrifice they made with the 2004 death of their son, Captain Humayun Khan, in the Iraq War.  Mr. Khan called on Trump to stop demonizing Islam and, also, respect the contributions of American Muslims to the country and respect the Constitution's protection of religious freedom.  He added that Trump has sacrificed nothing and no one during the fight against terrorism.  Trump, whose statements on Muslims demonstrated that he doesn't know anything about Islam or the Constitution, insisted that he has sacrificed to create jobs (he had to fly commercial first class instead of in his own jet?), demonstrating a tin ear to the sacrifices of Gold Star parents of any creed, color or faith.
As for Hillary, she got herself in hot water again over her State Department correspondence, insisting this past Sunday that she neither sent classified e-mails on her e-mail account  nor used more than one server. Both claims are untrue. Although FBI director James Comey saw no reason to prosecute anyone, his statements contradicting Hillary's claims suggests that she misremembers the recent past, just as her erroneous recollections of being under sniper fire on an airport tarmac when she visited Bosnia in 1996 as First Lady suggest that she misremembers the distant past.
Meanwhile, the Green Party rolls merrily along.  Presumptive Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein is now expected to be on the ballot in six more states, including - drum roll, please! - New Jersey! And Pennsylvania!  (The other four states are Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Vermont.)  Mind you, the petitions in these states still have to be certified, but get this - in these states, the number of signatures submitted surpassed, and in some cases doubled, the minimum amount required.  In New Jersey, petitions bearing two thousand signatures - more than the eight hundred needed, and two and a half times the minimum - were submitted.  It looks like I won't have to write her in after all.  
Meanwhile, meet Dr. Stein's vice presidential running mate! :-D

His name is Ajamu Baraka, and he is a renowned human rights activist.  (As far as I can make out, he is not related to the Baraka family of Newark, New Jersey, where Ras Baraka is the mayor.)  A native Chicagoan like Dr. Stein, Ajamu Baraka is a founding member and a former executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, which has sought to improve basic human rights in These States, and he has also been on the boards of Amnesty International and the National Center for Human Rights Education.  His credentials in fighting for basic humanity and dignity are impeccable, and he is a staunch advocate for the dispossessed.
"Ajamu Baraka," says Dr. Stein in a statement, "is a powerful, eloquent spokesperson for the transformative, radical agenda whose time has come - an agenda of economic, social, racial, gender, climate, indigenous and immigrant justice."
Just like the woman at the top of the ticket.
The Stein/Baraka ticket has its work cut own for itself, and the media are already trying to scare people from voting for any minor-party presidential ticket by saying that Trump could have the advantage in a three-way or four-way race. The insufferable Chuck Todd of MSNBC has already said that.  Perhaps it's time to scare both parties by getting behind the Green ticket.  Even if Dr. Stein is unlikely to be the next President, a respectable showing would send a strong signal that the days of the nation's current two-party system, in place since 1856, are numbered.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Olympic Zika Fallout

I have been hearing reports that a lot of golfers are refusing to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro because of fears of catching the Zika virus.  I thought, "Wow, that's astonishing!  
"Golf is in the Olympics now?"
Yes, and rugby too!  (Golf was last in the Olympics in 1904, and rugby was last in the Olympics in 1924.)
But a lot of athletes - and not just golfers (I don't know about the rugby players) are staying away from Rio due to fears of catching Zika.  Brazilian officials are downplaying the risk to athletes and spectators in Rio, pointing out the the Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the area should be dormant owing to the fact that it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere right now, as if the pollution and the overall dubiousness of cleanliness of the place weren't bad enough to warrant concerns.  
To think that if the United States Olympic Committee had gotten its act together much sooner than it did, the 2016 Olympics could have been in Chicago, and we could have all avoided this.  Then again, Michael Phelps may not have competed; his mother never said, "I want him to compete in 2016; I want to go to Chicago!"  Be that as it may, anyone who does go to Rio for this carnival of sport had better make sure their immunizations up to date and plenty of insect repellent for the trip.
And I offer the same advice to Debbie Phelps that I offered to Janet Evans last week: Don't drink the water.
Oh yeah, the first transmission of Zika in the U.S. that is not related to foreign travel occurred in southern Florida. Has anyone checked if Rick Scott vetoed any bills giving state assistance to Florida municipalities for moquito control lately? :p

Monday, August 1, 2016

Changes To This Blog (And More Clarifications)

I have just finished a major overhaul of this blog, though you wouldn't notice it unless you checked the archives.  You see, my blog posts written before December 2009 did not have titles, and the margins in my posts were not justified in their alignment.  So I spent all of the past month titling them and justifying their margins.  I just finished it up this past weekend.
Why did I do all that?  First,  I wanted to make my entire blog consistent.  Secondly, I wanted to make it easy for myself and anyone else who cared to access individual posts published before December 2009; you can't click on a single blog post and read it in isolation unless it has a title.  I also reverted them all to drafts and republished them to match the URL of each post to the title - something I found out I could do while undertaking this massive effort.  Thirdly, I wanted to clean up the posts themselves; I fixed numerous typos, inconsistencies in punctuation styles, and the like.  If there was a post with a link to a page that has since been removed (one such link has since been connected to a virus - yes, I escaped infection!), or if the post had content that was rendered obsolete or redundant later on, well, I deleted it.
The result is a blog that is now consistent and much more well-edited, as I strive to push what the Japanese call kaizen - continuous improvement.  And I know that I haven't improved it to perfection; it's an ongoing process.  This is, not counting deleted blog posts, the 4,267th post on this blog; even after another 4,268 posts, I'll still be working to try to make it better.  
One reason I keep changing this blog is because Blogger.com keeps changing.  When I started this blog in September 2002, there was not, as I recall, a feature that allowed bloggers to title posts; there were also different templates, and coding for fonts, and print types (boldface, italics, et. al.) were different.  I've found old posts in which I complained about Blogger.com's changes, but I'm happy to say that I've gotten accustomed to them.
Also, when I started, I couldn't put a YouTube video on a separate page.  Blogger.com didn't have extra pages for a single blog, and as it was 2002, YouTube didn't exist.  Ironically, both Blogger.com and YouTube have since become part of the Google network.  
Another thing is that I'm bringing back tags (or "labels," as Blogger.com calls them), starting now.  I dropped them in April 2012 when I had problems with Google Chrome as I transferred to that from Internet Explorer, but my friend Clarisel suggested I should bring them back to make my blog posts easier to find (she was also the one who suggested using titles, for the same reason).  I'm much more comfortable with Google Chrome now than I could ever be with a Microsoft browser, so I'm ready to return to using tags.
So why didn't I add tags to all the posts that didn't have them before? Look, I mabe crazy, but I'm not that crazy! :-D
I guess that's it. But, before I conclude, I'd like to add two clarifications to earlier posts.  In my post about the twentieth anniversary of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, I did not mention that the hostage crisis at the 1972 Munich Olympics was perpetrated by Palestinian commandos.  Also, in my June 2 post about the atomic bomb, I wrote that the idea of war crimes "may sound oxymoronic any man who had the misfortune of serving in combat."  "Oxymoronic?"  That was plain moronic; the word I meant to use was "redundant."  These errors, which I so obviously regret, have been corrected in the original posts.
All right, I'm done for now.  Back soon with more musings.  I hope to write a lot about the Olympics - and not so much about the election. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Billy Joel - The Nylon Curtain (1982)

At his commercial and creative peak, Billy Joel produced a number of solid albums, most of which emulated the Beatles' Abbey Road, an album Joel worships (no argument here), and they made the case for him as a strong pop-rock singer/songwriter in the tradition established by Neil Sedaka and Carole King.  But Joel wanted to be more than that; he wanted to be a serious artiste.  Hence The Nylon Curtain, his 1982 release.
In the early 1980s, Joel no longer seemed to want to make an album like Abbey Road; suddenly, he seemed to be trying to make Abbey Road itself.  The Nylon Curtain was meant to be a theme album about the diminished dreams and expectations of the Baby Boom generation. Its title is an obvious play on the Iron Curtain, suggesting an invisible wall separating Baby Boomers like himself from the rest of society.   That's right, Joel didn't just want to make grand music; he wanted to make a grand statement.  Sonically, he did a good job; there are some wonderful arrangements and a good deal of energetic musicianship here as Billy steps back a bit and lets his band shine with some crisp guitar riffs and punchy drums.  Many of the songs, however, are actually quite thin. Some of them are actually embarrassing. Joel is a lot of things, but he's not a pop troubadour like John Lennon or Bob Dylan.
Joel's social commentary is somewhat weak.  "Surprises," a cynical tune about the effects of  expectations that are way too optimistic, is a critique of overreaching that Joel's ambitions on this album contradict.   "Pressure" is a song that has some sharp observations about the weight of responsibility, but some of Joel's other words here seem as petulant as his vocal.  And then there's "Goodnight Saigon," a Vietnam War ballad that sounds like Joel only wrote it because a song about Vietnam was de rigeur for an album aimed at Baby Boomers.  To write it, Joel actually researched what everyday life was like for the soldiers and Marines who fought in that war, as if he were preparing for a term paper.  He got the details right, but there's no feeling of what it was actually like to be there.  A good song about a war should reflect the experience of combat; this song only gives the facts of it, like, well, a term paper.  Moreover, "Goodnight Saigon" doesn't offer Joel's own opinion on the rationale for the war, a war that divided a country and haunted a generation - his.  Except for the title and a few of the lyrics, "Goodnight Saigon" (the title isn't in the lyrics) could have easily been about World War II or Korea, and it wouldn't make a difference.  
This is all a shame, because The Nylon Curtain does have a few good moments, like the vivid honesty of "Allentown," about chronic unemployment, with its melding of guitar and piano with industrial-machinery sound effects. Even "Pressure" and "Goodnight Saigon" have effective sounds, specifically the synthesizer lines on "Pressure" that feel as claustrophobic as the song itself and the subtle helicopter rotors in "Goodnight Saigon."  But no matter how much Beatlesque production Joel relies on, his songs have to stand up to it, and they mostly don't - I can't even explain the relationship songs on this album, like "Laura" and "A Room Of Our Own." Joel redeems himself with the closing cut, "Where's The Orchestra?", a tale of regret and disillusionment.  It's a poignant piano ballad that embodies Joel's personal style better than much of the other material on this LP.  Dave Marsh said that although The Nylon Curtain "was Joel begging to be taken seriously, there simply isn't any way to deal with him except as a lightweight."  Ironically, we took Joel more seriously when he lightened up.  To understand the Baby Boomers' mindset in the early eighties, stick with Donald Fagen's The Nightfly instead.  (I'll review that later.)
(This is my last record review for awhile; I'm going to concentrate instead in the coming weeks on commentary on the 2016 Olympics.)