Saturday, August 23, 2008

Olympic Track

So after a wonderful week of Olympic swimming, we had a very fun week of Olympic track! The star of the week was, of course, Usain "Lightning" Bolt of Jamaica---3 gold medals with 3 world records. How do you start celebrating with 15 meters to go in the 100 meters and yet break the world? And how do you break Michael Johnson's seemingly unbreakable 200 meter world record while running into a stiff 0.9 m/s headwind? And how do you do all this while clowning around before every race? A completely remarkable young man!

There were lots of other great events. One of my favorites was the the mens 10000 meter. Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele was the star coming into the event. Two Eritreans and two Kenyans wanted to take Bekele out of the race, and so they tried to break away from the pack at various points in the race. But Bekele just hung in there right behind the leaders, usually in third place, sometimes falling back to fourth place. And then, with one lap to go, Bekele decided that he'd had enough---he went into overdrive with his famous finishing kick and left the field in the dust. He ran the final lap in something like 54 or 56 seconds---and that's at the end of 10k race! Quite a remarkable effort.

The high hurdles were exciting in both the mens and the womens events. Dayron Robles of Cuba won the mens 110 meter hurdles in convincing style, with exquisitely beautiful hurdling! (On a side note, it was a little confusing to see some who looked so nerdy hurdle so beautifully...:-) In the women's 100 meters Lolo Jones, the favorite, took control of the race and was all set to win in style, when tragedy struck---she hit the 9th hurdle causing her to slow down and helplessly watch as most of the rest of the field swept by her. Her loss was reminiscent of Gail Devers's fall at the end of the 100 meter hurdles in Barcelona.

Another favorite to lose was Sanya Richards in the women's 400 meters. She entered the home straight leading comfortably, looking like she had the race all sewn up. But suddenly things started going wrong and she couldn't find the extra gear necessary to finish, and so had to watch helplessly as Britain's Christine Ohuruogu and Jamaica's Shericka Williams powered past her.

And another highlight (or, more appropriately, a lowlight) was the butterfingers displayed by both the US mens and womens 4x100 meter relay teams. In the semi-finals, both teams were leading as they entered the final exchange, only to drop the baton in truly tragic style. It's unclear whether either team would have challenged the powerful Jamaican teams in the finals, but now we'll never know. (The Jamaican women had their own butterfingers in the finals.)

Finally, Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia turned in a typically dominating performance in the women's pole vault to win gold and break the world record. This is the 15th time she's broken the world record, reminiscent of her countryman Sergey Bubka who broke the pole vault record 17 times!

All in all, a very fun week of track (though I think I enjoyed the week of swimming more).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Swimming

That was an incredibly fun week of Olympics competition! For us it was mostly about the exciting swimming events (and a little about gymnastics). Naturally, the biggest news in swimming (and of the Olympics thus far) was Michael Phelps's eight gold medals. But the most dramatic and exciting moment of the week belonged to Jason Lezak in the anchor leg of the 4x100 meter freestyle relay: how do you spot the world champion (France's Alain Bernard) almost a body length lead and then find some hidden strength to close the gap in the last 25 meters and out-touch Bernard by eight one-hundredth of a second?! Of course, Phelps's victory in the 100 fly was even closer---by powering to the finish with a half stroke he out-touched Serbia's Cavic (who was gliding to the finish) by the smallest possible margin (one one-hundredth of a second)!

There were plenty of other exciting races. In the womens 400 meter individual medley Katie Hoff, the reigning world record holder, led much of way and appeared to have a stranglehold on the race. But Stephanie Rice of Australia tracked her down and passed her toward the end to win gold. In the 200 meter breast stroke, Rebecca Soni caught up with and passed Australia's powerful Liesel Jones. Soni looked strong and smooth at the finish, while Jones had started faltering on the final 50. And, best of all, Dara Torres won a silver for all us middle-aged geezers! Unfortunately, she wasn't as lucky as Phelps---she lost the gold by one one-hundredth of a second.

All in all, a great week of swimming!
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