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Let the Games Be Renewed
jrh286@cornell.edu
| August 15, 2008
2comments
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It's the middle of August, which always means the baseball pennant races are heating up and one can almost taste the start of the football season. Every four years, however, mid-August also means the Olympics. A few weeks ago, not even Morgan Freeman on those NBC commercials could get me excited about the Olympics. The Games seemed old-fashioned, and after all, there is a reason that for 3 years and 50 weeks nobody cares about swimming or gymnastics, let alone badminton. The truth is, however, I've been excited about the Olympics ever since they started, and I'm not alone. NBC has averaged 30.41 million viewers per day over the first three days of the games, up 26.7% from four years ago. It's easy to see why interest in the Olympics has been renewed. First, there's Michael Phelps. Breaking the all-time record for gold medals and his ongoing quest to break the record for most golds in one Games is captivating, especially since Americans enjoy seeing Americans win. Since he only has eight races and needs eight gold medals to break the record for most golds in a single Olympiad, each race is a must win. Consequently, each race has become a must-watch for all of us, making the water king the king of water coolers across America. A co-worker of mine who doesn't follow sports told me, "I've been watching these swimming races every night 'cause of Phelps. Itís ridiculous. I've been screaming at the tv like a schoolgirl over swimming!î He could have meant screaming like a Chinese gymnast. Speaking of which, the other reason the Olympics have become so popular is China. All great sporting events need a bad guy. The Red Sox have the Evil Empire, the NFL has the Patriots, and for Americans watching the Olympics, they have China. And what a perfect enemy the Chinese are. We heard before the Games about human rights abuses and how the Chinese government would use success in the Games to legitimize themselves in the eyes of their people. Add to that the fact that some Americans have speculated that China has illegally entered girls under the age of 16 in the gymnastics competition and you have a bona fide arch rival. Outside of rooting for Phelps against history, the Games are about rooting for the American athletes against their Chinese counterparts in the medal count. At the end of the Womenís Gymnastics All-Around Final last night there was a great moment when the gold and silver medalist Americans Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson each embraced Chinaís bronze medalist Yang Yilin. However, though the Olympics may stand for unity, their popularity this year is in part due to Americans wanting to see their athletes defeat the Chinese. Most of us donít know the difference between a great gymnastics routine and a good one, let alone the rules to most Olympic sports. But whether we scream like schoolgirls or not, once again, for two weeks, the Olympics have surpassed the pennant races and football anticipation in the minds of most Americans.
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Jonah Hecht | August 19, 2008, 10:06pm
In defense of Phelps, one of the amazing things about his eight golds is that he beat the best in the world eight straight times. If any basketball player won the NBA Finals eight straight times, we would never hear the end of it. It is hard enough to win the same thing eight times in a row, let alone win eight different events in a row. In tennis, if a player won all four grand slams in a row on the different surfaces, it would rightly be called an incredible accomplishment. Phelps took such versatile winning to the next level, winning eight different events in a row. Besides, one of the thrills of sports is seeing athletes achieve feats that nobody who has ever accomplished before. In one week, Michael Phelps did just that.

Eugene Karlik from WVBR | August 16, 2008, 9:33pm
I don't know, man, to me the whole thing is slightly illegitimate... Let's just look at swimming for example: not taking anything away from the amazing Phelps (what a race yesterday!), but there shouldn't be 8 gold medals awarded in a single sport. Yeah, I know there are different strokes and all, but the point of competitive swimming is to go as fast as possible--so why have events where the technique intentionally slows you down. I'm sure Kobe Bryant could win 8 Olympic medals if he got to compete in all the following events: Standard half- court offense pro style basketball, princeton offense, mike d'antoni run n' gun, 3 on 3 streetball, 1 on 1, slam dunk contest, 3 point shootout, horse, 21. I'm sure Lio Messi could do the same if he got to compete in regular soccer, indoor soccer, penalty shootout, dribbling skills show-off, cone drill with ball, etc..,
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