After one of the most amazing Olympics in recent memory, it's time for sports fans to turn their attention to other stories, such as the MLB pennant race, college football, and whether Michael Strahan will pull a Brett Favre.
But first, here are a few thoughts about the 2008 Beijing Games. Part I will focus on dominating (and less-than-dominating) performances that defined the Games.
First it was Michael Phelps in the pool. Then it was Usain Bolt on the track. The 2008 Games showcased transcendent athletic talent from start to finish. And it was not limited to Bolt and Phelps, although the two arguably achieved the most. Other incredible performances included:
- Highlight: U.S. Women's Beach Volleyball - Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh dominating the field for a record repeat of their win in Athens. Although there were a few close calls, they didn't lose a single set.
- Lowlight: U.S. Women's Softball - As the U.S. Men's Basketball team has shown in the past, you can't win every game. Still it must have been especially disappointing to lose in the last year of an event.
- Highlight: U.S. Men's and Women's Basketball - No Redeem Team needed: The U.S. Women annihilated the competition, winning the gold medal game by 27. Closest win? Fifteen against Russia in the Semis. The 1992 Men's team would be proud.
Meanwhile, the men's team, despite the close win over Spain, dominated just as thoroughly. The Spain win was still a large win by NBA standards, and the U.S. had already crushed Spain by 37 in Group play. The U.S. team also beat up Argentina, another team composed of mostly NBA players. And just as important, the team was a good representative of both the U.S. and basketball as a sport.
- Lowlight: U.S. Men's Boxing - Only one medal (heavyweight Deontay Wilder's bronze) is testament to how far U.S. Olympic boxing has fallen.
- Highlight: Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia - Bekele (Men's) and Dibaba (Women's) swept the 5000 and 10000 meter races for their country. For distance runners, this is very prestigious, somewhat like what Usain Bolt did in the 100 and 200 (minus the scintillating world records).
- Lowlights: Bernard Lagat - After winning the 5000 and 1500 meters in the 2007 World Championships, naturalized U.S. citizen Lagat failed to win a medal in either event. Bernard did not reach the finals in the 1500, and finished ninth in the 5000 final, despite winning his semifinal heat.
- Highlight: Samuel Wansiru (Kenya, Men's Marathon) - Wansiru won the first Kenyan gold in the Men's marathon in style, winning the race in Olympic record time. Impressively, the second-place finisher, Joauad Gharib of Morocco also ran faster than the previous Olympic record, yet finished more than 44 seconds behind. In fact, the commentators said throughout the race that the pace was too quick from the start, and that neither of the top two would be able sustain their lead for the whole race without cracking. (Twenty runners did not finish, and several were taken away or treated by ambulance).
- Lowlights: U.S. relay teams - Yes, both the American men and women ran great races to win the 4x400, but dropped batons caused disqualifications meant disaster in both 4x100 races.
- Highlight: Brian Clay (Decathalon) - Although NBC barely bothered to cover what used to be one of the most prestigious events in track and field; Clay dominated to such an extent that he could have jogged the 1500 meters and still won the overall title. The newest "greatest athlete in the world" won the 100 meters, long jump, 110 meter hurdles, and discus. He also took second in the pole vault and shot put, and third in javelin and 400 meters.
- Lowlights: Liu Xiang, China (Men's 110 Meter hurdles) and Tyson Gay, US (100 and 200m) - Liu, his country's best hope for a track medal and defending Olympic champion, was in visible pain from an injury, yet tried to compete anyway. But after a false start, Liu abandoned the race. A stunned and emotional partisan crowd watched Liu limp off the track, barely able to walk.
Gay hoped to win both the 100m and 200m, but an injury hampered him as he failed to qualify for the 100 final (he did not make the US team in the 200m after an injury during the race in the team trials). He also dropped the baton after a bad pass in the 4x100 relay. This was not Tyson's fault but it epitomized the Games he had.
- Highlight: Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson (Women's Gymnastics) - After the Chinese won the team all-around, Liukin and Johnson showed that they are the top two women's gymnasts in the world, regardless of age.
- Lowlight: Alicia Sacramone (Women's Gymnastics) - Sacramone cost the U.S. team with mistakes in several events of the all-around competition.
There were so many great events in these Olympics that the above list is probably not completely inclusive. What other events should have been included?
Part II will focus on the most (and least) inspiring moments of the Games.