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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

History is made in America

Today it doesn't matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. What matters is that America finally nominated a person of color for President. This is the first time in the history of our nation that a white male isn't the only choice for President. I am so happy to be in the United States right now, to have watched the convention live, to see the process of nominating Barack Obama for President unfold before my eyes. And speaking of eyes, many were wet with the tears that come when dreams become reality, when past hurts are soothed with a bit of healing, when something you wanted but wondered if it would ever happen actually does happen...the tears are for joy and hope and I celebrate this moment.
Of course, the deep issues associated with race in America don't vanish with Obama's nomination, but at least we've taken the all important step of at least giving a minority a chance at the highest position of power in our land. Finally, I feel that the all important line in our constitution, that all men are created equal, has a chance to be credible. It is a great moment in American history. I am hoping for an even greater moment in American history in November, when we elect a person of color for President for the very first time.

Beijing: Week 2

The second week of the Olympics wasn’t nearly as exciting as the first. I attribute that mainly to the timing of the events I was most interested in. The events ran throughout the day and most of the track and field events took place in the afternoon. Thanks to the wonder of our digital recording device, we could arrive home from work and watch the events of the day at will.

So here are my top moments of the second week.

INDOOR VOLLEYBALL:
I was totally impressed that both the men and women’s volleyball team made the final. This hasn’t happened in a long time and it was pretty great that both teams were playing Brazil. I was sad that the women lost but thrilled for the men, especially since they had suffered such great trauma with the in-laws of the head coach being attacked and the father killed earlier in the first week. The women’s final was nostalgic for me as it reminded me of the 1984 gold medal match the US women played against China. My interest in the US volleyball scene was at fever pitch at that point and I knew who all of the players were. I had been following this team for ages and wanted them to do well especially since in 1980 the games had been boycotted and most of these women didn’t get a chance to win gold. Perhaps the names of Flo Hyman and Debbie Green ring a bell. Debbie Green was just the greatest setter on earth at the time and I idolized her abilities. I remember watching the final alone, in my living room, so intent on every point, living and dying with every set, every dig, every block, every kill. Sadly, the women lost and had to settle for silver. I cried. Even so, silver is a great accomplishment and I was very happy to see US volleyball on top again in these Olympic games. By the way, the men played Brazil in 1984 as well and won the gold medal then as well.
My only comment about the “new” game at this point is that I really, really, really don’t like speed scoring and the players miss their serve way too often. OK, ‘nuff said.

TRACK:
-I was totally thrilled that women’s steeplechase winner broke the 9 minute mark for the first time in history. What a thrill to watch people set new records!
-I loved the woman from Cameroon who long jumped in a skirt! And she won the gold medal as well!
-The women’s 100 meter race being dominated by, who else, the Jamaicans! Guess it’s time for another nation to dominate the sprints.
-I don’t really need to say more about Usain Bolt. It’s all been said. One does wonder however why ALL sprinters, regardless of nationality, are so cocky. Guess it just runs in the genes.
-Loved the US going Gold, Silver and Bronze in the men’s 400 meters and Men’s 400 meter hurdles. Awesome.
-The 4x400 meter relays: The women were amazing! That come from behind final leg was super exciting! The men lived up to the hype and looked great. Jeremy Wariner looked stronger in the relay than he had in the individual race. I'm glad he got his gold in the relay.
-The Russian female pole vaulter who broke the world record! She is a character.
-The Belgian woman beating the Croatian in high jump. That was utterly fantastic as the Croatian woman was practically viewed as positively unbeatable. Women’s high jump in Europe is a marquee event and we love following it. Until recently, the Swedes had a jumper who consistently scored in the top 3 spots in all meets. She’s retired now but a new young one is up and coming so Sweden should soon have a stake in women's high jumping again.
-The Cuban's 110 meter hurdle win. He looked perfect.

BIG TIME DISAPPOINTMENTS:
-The 4x100 meter relays. Could NOT believe that both teams could NOT figure out how to get to the finals. UGH.
-Sweden’s female hurdler. This young woman fell on the first hurdle of the semi-finals. This was a national disaster as she was one of the Swedes greatest hopes for a medal. Would’ve liked to have seen how she would’ve done. Speaking of hurdles…felt sad for Lola Jones as well. Hurdles are a heart-breaker. She was within 15 meters of the gold medal…and stepped on it as well. Both women gave awesome interviews and were so gracious. Very refreshing.
-In the end, I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t see any of the beach volleyball, especially with both US teams taking gold. I saw a brief interview with one of the men and he seemed like a great guy. Congrats. Sorry I missed it.

Sweden had the worst summer Olympics in history. There was a palpable sadness in the media. Too bad, but they’ll rebound at the winter Olympics I’m sure.

So to conclude, I’ll share my own Olympic medal moment. Oddly enough, the word for hurdle and the word for ass are the same words in Swedish! The context and sentence structure with which they are used determine which word is appropriate. So, after the hurdle disasters, I wanted to ask a couple of my male colleagues, “Did you see the women’s hurdles final?” and inevitably asked, “Did you watch the women’s asses yesterday?” We had a good laugh and in the end, the young men had to admit that the answer was yes to both questions!

See you in London in 2012.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Breakfast in Beijing

I am an Olympics junkee. For two weeks, every two years (I dig the winter ones too), I alter my schedule in order to view live the events I love. I avoid newspapers and television and I stay off the internet if there's an event that I'm interested in and have not seen. About a month ago we installed a digital recording device (Tivo in America) which has made viewing the events of the Olympics a piece of cake. I LOVE IT. Because Beijing is 6 hours ahead of Stockholm, and because Swedish broadcasting is not advertising and viewer obsessed, the coverage here is simply live coverage of most events. It starts at 4.00 a.m. with the swimming and is on pretty much all the live long day. IT'S AWESOME. There are about 15 minutes of commercials in a three hour broadcast. There are two channels here in Stockholm that are sending the Olympics so you actually have a choice of which channel to watch. Channel 1, the local Swedish coverage is OK. They are much too focused on the Swedish athletes for my taste but hey, you can't really blame them. It's the national Swedish TV station. The other channel is EuroSport and is broadcast throughout Europe in various languages. Their coverage has been pretty good, focusing on the main event of any time slot. So their coverage of the swimming and gymnastics has been excellent and I anticipate in the week ahead that the Track and Field coverage will follow suit. While the commentator is Swedish, the coverage is slightly more balanced than the Swedish channel commentators. Admittedly, I miss hearing commentary in English and the American perspective, but I love not fighting through commercials. I think if I could choose which language I'd like to have on the commentary, I'd pick the British English commentary. The British commentators say clever and outrageous things. One recent comment was that one of the shot putters traded thighs with a rhinoceros and after Britain had won a slew of rowing and cycling medals, the guy said, "Well, it looks like Britain is dominating the world in sports that can be done from one's backside!" Hilarious. But alas, Swedish it is. I do, afterall, live in Sweden.
Now, Swedes don't love, love, love the summer Olympics. They adore the winter games but the summer games are rather ho hum. It's not hard to figure out why. They don't do well in the summer games. Through the years they've had their share of decent swimmers and a few track and field stars along with an outstanding table tennis player thrown in for good measure. They do well in team sports like soccer and team handball and this year one of their wrestlers made a very bad name for himself and Sweden by misbehaving in a sour grapes sort of way during the medal ceremony. I don't care how mad you are or how unjustly you feel you were treated, you don't get on the medal stand only to receive the medal and then throw it on the ground and storm away. Sad. The other comment that has killed me as regards the Swedish perspective is what the Swedish swimmer said about Michael Phelps. He said that he hoped he DIDN'T win all 8 races as it would be "boring" if no one challenged. BOO, BOO, BOO. This guy finished last in his race and clearly, he doesn't understand that making history is NOT BORING. But enough about the Swedes. How about that Michael Phelps?!
So, while all of my American friends have been talking about staying up too late during the Olympics, I've been getting up too early. I have loved waking early, making coffee and getting set on the couch with my fancy digital recording device and just whipping through the coverage. It has been thrilling start to every day with Olympic action and I can't believe one week is over. I am a true fan and have been seen jumping up and down and screaming in my living room, even if I am alone. We are having some work done on the outside of our apartment right now and the scaffolding allows the guys to look into our dining and living room windows. I'm sure on more than one early morning throughout this past week, the thought, "crazy American" has run through their brain. WHO CARES? I am so happy to have grown up in an athletic environment, to have enjoyed the thrill of competing, to understand in a small way what it means to work hard at something and then have it pay off. So here is a sampling of my favorite Breakfast in Beijing moments.
1. The men's 4x100 meter freestyle relay. Heart-stopping awesomeness. This one had me screaming and yelling and jumping around like a fool. Phelps' destiny seemed to be unfolding in a magical way when Lezak pulled in and touched the wall, just barely before anyone else. Watching this race was a full-blown cardio work-out and I was winded when it was all over!
2. The Gold-Silver finish of our female gymnasts in the all-around. I loved watching these girls perform well in clutch situations. And I hope that Shawn Johnson gets as much acclaim as Nastia Liukin because the silver medal is not so very far below the gold. Sometimes America is far too obsessed with the number 1. Celebrate them both. They were both incredible and on any other given day, Johnson would emerge as the golden girl.
3. The spills of the men's all around final in gymnastics were chilling. Watching the Japanese man fall off the rings, then the debacle on the parallel bars was just breathtaking. Makes you realize how dangerous some of this stuff is. The High Bar is my favorite...around and around and around they go...then they fly into the air, do some amazing twisting somersault thing and hold on for the ride of their lives.
4. The British swimmer out touching Katie Hoff to win gold in the 400 meter freestyle. Now, it's not that I'm anti-American and I felt for Hoff, but when an unlikely character, like a British swimmer, wins a gold medal you have to feel good about the effort. Well done Rebecca Adlington.
5. Phelps' 100 meter fly. This was the event that I (and everyone else) felt that he was most vulnerable in. He cranked it out in a split second reach and what a thrill it was to see that. At that point he had 7 and his ultimate destiny remained in a team event.
6. The men's 100 meter final. I was definitely disappointed for Tyson Gay. How awful to miss the final in the race you've worked so hard for. But holy cow that Jamaican is fast! He had an amazing time while strolling to the finish. Very cool.
7. OK, here's a weird one. I love watching the female weightlifters! I am amazed at what they can do and I love watching the pure strength and determination of these compact women.
8. So, appropriately, my 8th point regarding Breakfast at Beijing is the men's 4x100 medley relay. About an hour ago, I watched the US medley relay team make history. The race was more exciting than I had thought it would be. You gotta love Jason Lezak making it all happen again with his anchor leg in the freestyle and generally speaking, you just had to love watching this historic moment unfold. I was teary. I was on my feet. I was cheering like a mad woman. I mean, c'mon. The last time anything like this happened in the pool, I was 11 years old!
So I am very content with the first week of competition. For those of you who know me well, strangely missing from my list is anything related to volleyball. I have watched some indoor coverage and will be interested in the final rounds. I still love to watch this level of play, but to be truthful, the game has changed so much since I was serious about it that I don't even fully understand the new rules. I'm mixed on speed scoring but I also know it's all the rage now. The libero is a new position since I played and I don't fully understand the rules surrounding its role. And sadly, here in the far north, beach volleyball isn't being shown much. I keep hearing about it from all of you living across the pond, so I'm hoping that at some point we'll get to see a bit. It's a bit surprising because believe it or not, Swedes love beach volleyball. Granted, their beach courts are mostly indoors or in Spain, but it has developed quite a following in recent years. Let's hope the week ahead gets us to the sand a bit more.
Breakfast in Beijing has been a most delightful way to start each day. Almost as good as that first cup of coffee, certainly as addicting.
Check back again for my latest update on the 2008 Olympic Games!