Fitting Finish to ’08 Games

I wrote last week about a certain Olympic addiction. Well, with the games closing yesterday, I’m going through a rough time having to quit cold turkey. What am I going to watch with no handball at 4:30 am on MSNBC? Where will I go for my badminton fix? HOW CAN I POSSIBLY GO ON WITHOUT COMPETITIVE TRAMPOLINE?

I’m not sure of the answer to any of those questions, but I’m sure I’ll make it somehow. I have filled up my DVR with the likes of Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson and, of course, Alicia Sacramone so there’s always that. Plus the NFL starts in 10 days and baseball is hitting the stretch run with my Mets in the thick of a pennant race. But before I kiss the Summer Olympics goodbye for another four years, here are my winners, losers and other awards that no one really cares about but me.

MVP: Michael Phelps, Swimming – You’d be hard pressed to show me a bigger star in these Olympic games then Michael Phelps, except maybe his mom, who got as much face time as her seemingly dorsal-finned son. But it was Phelps that captured the heart and soul of these games from the get go. Is there any doubt he’s the best athlete this generation has seen? It’s also Phelps who sent NBC’s ratings through the roof for the first week only to watch them plummet once he secured medal No. 8. Here’s an idea IOC, spread out the swimming! The Olympics are 16 days long, why was the water cube empty for the last 8?

As an aside, I’ve come up with a new term. Phelps’ed, and it has two definitions. No. 1 is to sweep, as the Olympic icon did in all 8 gold medal races he competed in. No. 2 is to beat by one one-hundredth of a second as Phelps did Milorad Cavic to win his seventh gold medal. It’s fun! Use it with your friends!

LVP: Katie Hoff, Swimming — Dubbed the female Michael Phelps and referred to as Phelps’ little sister, Hoff was a supreme letdown. Fortunately, her second Olympic experience wasn’t nearly as awful as her first when, as a 15-year-old, she failed to medal and subsequently threw up when she got out of the water.

This year, Hoff competed in five events and was a considered a strong contender in each, but she captured a silver and two bronze, and failed to qualify in one of her better events, the 800m free. Though Hoff did disappoint, she’s still just 19 and I have a feeling this story will have a happier ending in London come 2012.

Dynamic Duo: Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, Beach Volleyball — Since I only grew to appreciate volleyball in 2005, this was my first Olympic games actually following the sport. Walsh and May-Treanor were dominant in rolling through the field and easily coming up golden once again. They’ve now won 107 consecutive matches. That kind of dominance is unmatched in any sport. I know these two both want to start families, but I hope we’ll get to see more of them in the future.

Surprise Performer: Usain Bolt, Track and Field — Coming into the games, I’d read just a little on Bolt and his speed, but to watch him run is a whole other story. His run in the 100m dash was nothing short of magnificence, and to watch him high-step Deion Sanders-style for the final 40m makes it obvious he’s in a class all his own. Some people may say he’s too cocky and doesn’t show respect for the event but I loved the showboating. Bolt is charismatic, he’s entertaining and he’s by far the world’s fastest man.

Surprise Performance: USA Softball — Not much to say about this one, the silver is about as disappointing as it gets for this team that seemed so dominant early on. It’s certainly not the way the United States wanted the sport to leave the Olympics, but hopefully they can work hard to get it back in 2016 so USA Softball can put together it’s own Redeem Team.

Biggest disappointment: USA Track and Field — With China leading in the gold medal count at the conclusion of the swimming/gymnastics portion of the games, I commented to a friend, “Don’t worry, we’ll get it all back in Track and Field.” Boy was I wrong. USA Track and Field has a lot of work to do to catch up, literally, to Jamaica. And it starts with conditioning. Several athletes succumbed to hamstring injuries, which is a relative death sentence to a track athlete, and that has to change. The U.S. did pull out golds in their final two events, both 4×400 relays, but dropping the baton in both 4×100’s will be difficult to forget, and for Tyson Gay, once dubbed world’s fastest man, so will going home without a medal.

Ooo and Ahhh award: Nastia Liukin, Gymnastics — Talk about grace and class, Liukin personified it. She is what makes Gymnastics great to watch, it truly is an art form and Liukin was the premiere artist in Beijing. It’s a shame she didn’t get more gold because of…

Biggest Controversy: Chinese girls’ gymnastics — The good news is, there were barely more than whispers at the 2008 games about doping and steroids. The bad news is, the controversy in Beijing was much easier to detect and prevent.

While watching the closing ceremonies I saw some members of the IOC advisory board walk out with very young Chinese girls, to which I commented, “oh look it’s the Chinese gymnastics team.” I was only half kidding. I went on at length in my last blog about this, so for most of my take, go there, but the newest development is a further “investigation,” if you can call it that. The IOC doesn’t have the cajones to take medals away from the host Chinese. And don’t even get me started on the Chinese-flavored judging, which brings me to my next award…

Biggest robbery: Alicia Sacramone, Gymnastics vault — Now I’ll admit, I may be a tad biased on the subject, but Sacramone absolutely deserved bronze on the vault. Saddled with the unenviable task of starting the competition, she nailed both of her vaults. With a low start value, it was pretty much a given she wouldn’t get a gold, but silver and bronze didn’t seem out of the question. Then up stepped Chinese gymnast Cheng Fei (notice a pattern here, China!). Fei, had a very high start value for her vault but on her second attempt, she could not stick the landing and actually ended up falling to her knees! Yet she still defeated Sacramone, who had only small steps on both her landings, by three tenths of a point. Conspire much China?

Best team: USA Basketball — Other than swimming and gymnastics, I followed this group most closely, after all, I am writing for

With my shameless plug out of the way, I must elaborate on my reason for giving this award. In the past, Team USA has looked like purely a collection of million-dollar parts, but this year, there was something different. This team was hungry and they showed it, to the point where I stayed up until almost 6 a.m. Sunday morning to watch them get their golds. What a game and what a turnaround for USA Basketball.

I-wish-she-were-my-little-sister award: Shawn Johnson, Gymnastics — Is there anyone in Beijing who seemed to deserve the gold they won more than Shawn Johnson? She seemed to always have a smile on her face no matter what was breaking down around her. She was such a picture of joy and innocence and acted in a manner that all kids her age should act. I’m just proud she represents the USA and hope she comes back for more in 2012.

Final award…

Heartwarming story: USA Men’s Volleyball team — It’s a classic story, starts in tragedy, ends in triumph. It seemed like the script was straight out of Hollywood. Team’s coach has family member brutally murdered in a random act of violence on opening night in Beijing. Team uses tragedy as motivation, overcomes vicious odds and wins gold on the final day of the games. Congrats to Hugh McCutcheon and USA Volleyball for a job well done and my heart goes out to his family.

That about wraps up Beijing 2008 from where I sit. It was a memorable two weeks to say the least and certainly put London on notice for 2012. Make it good.

I’ll be back next week with an NFL Season Preview. In the meantime, does anyone have any free space on their DVR they want to give me?

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