Friday, August 12, 2016

The Two Olympics

It was about 12 hours after TigerBlog had first watched the Olympics yesterday before he saw Bob Costas.

It made him think that the Olympics are really two separate entities in one.

First, there's the packaged, fluffy, "star"-driven primetime coverage, NBC as cheerleader. You know. It's Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps. More Michael Phelps.

And the other American swimmers. And the American gymnasts. Next week it'll be the American track and field athletes and Usain Bolt.

By the way, ask yourself what the coverage of Michael Phelps would be if he wasn't an American. What if he was Australian, or, egads, a Russian?

Anyway, TigerBlog is sort of fascinated by the dynamic. Those three sports - track and field, swimming and gymnastics - are wildly popular, the most popular of the Olympic sports. And then they disappear from the mainstream sports world for four years, until the resurface at the next Olympics to again dominate ratings.

It's not like these sports draw good ratings, or any ratings, for any other events. Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps? Did anyone see him compete in the last four years?

It would be like having LeBron James win the NBA title, disappear and then reappear in 2020, once again to earn massive ratings.

Tokyo, by the way, is the site of the next Olympics. It is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time there. You think this year's Olympics are over-packaged? Wait until primetime here corresponds to 8 am or so at the actual site.

So that's one version of the Olympics.

The other one is the one that TB spent much of his day following. It's all the other events, the ones that aren't commercialized. Watching them, TB almost felt as though this was a world away from the rest of the Games that are on NBC at night.

In these Olympics, there are not great ratings to be had. There are no Wheaties boxes awaiting. These are athletes who have trained so far from the spotlight for years and years to reach this moment, and they are competing in sports that the average viewer has never seen, doesn't understand and has no interest in watching.

And that's okay with these Olympians. You can see what it means to them when at the medal ceremonies, whether it's gold, silver or bronze.

TigerBlog loves these Olympics.

Part of it is seeing such a great variety of events. Aided by NBC's very wise commitment to streaming everything, TigerBlog was able to see pieces of all of the following sports yesterday alone: sailing, canoeing, fencing, water polo, rowing, men's field hockey, women's field hockey, judo, badminton, golf, tennis and probably some others, including swimming.

The other reason TB loves these Olympics is that there are so many Princetonians involved.

There were 10 of them who competed yesterday. TB saw all of them.

It started early, with the rowers. The ones who had the best morning were Lauren Wilkinson, who helped the Canadian women's 8s into the final, and Glenn Ochal, who did the same for the American men.

Kat Holmes helped the U.S. women's epee squad to a fifth-place finish, after a tough 24-23 loss to Romania in the quarterfinals. How tough was that for the Americans? Romania then beat Russia and China fairly easily to win the gold medal.

The day ended with a 3-0 win over India for the U.S. women's field hockey team, with the Reinprecht sisters and Kat Sharkey. The Americans are now 4-0, with only a game against Great Britain for the group championship tomorrow before the knockout round starts next week.

The U.S. finished last among 12 teams in 2012. This time, the team will be assured of no worse than second place in its group, which means either China or New Zealand in the quarters, as opposed to powers the Netherlands and Germany.

That left one other Princetonian, who played her second game in the late morning. That would be the incredible Ashleigh Johnson, the goalie for the U.S. women's water polo team, who defeated China 12-4.

The announcers for the game gushed over Johnson, and with good reason. She made eight saves in the game, making ridiculous plays look somewhat easy. And that doesn't even count how many shots went wide because Chinese shooters felt they needed to be perfect, or loose balls that Johnson corralled in front of her goal before they could turn into shots.

TigerBlog has said this before, but if you haven't seen Johnson play in person, make sure you get out to DeNunzio Pool this coming spring to see her with the Tigers. She is amazing.

Princeton has yet to win a medal in Rio, but those opportunities are coming.

Johnson and the U.S. team are pretty much a lock to get a medal and are favored for gold. The Canadian women's 8s will be tough to keep out of the top three. The American men have as good a shot as anyone. Those races are tomorrow, by the way.

Diana Matheson, who won a bronze medal four years ago, plays today in the quarterfinals for Canada against France in women's soccer. Gevvie Stone rows in women's singles this morning as well.

The first Princeton events of the new academic year are two weeks away, with a pair of women's soccer game, the first one against Fordham 14 days from now.

For now, though, the Olympics are in full swing. And not just the ones you see at night on NBC.

The other ones too.

The Princeton ones. 

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