The best and the worst of the summer games

August 12, 2012 

Ten things I saw in person and won’t ever forget in London and at the Olympics:

Usain Bolt winning the fastest 100-meter dash in history and his post-race celebration.

The U.S. women’s soccer team playing a riveting final in a 2-1 victory over Japan before 80,203 fans at Wembley Stadium

Michael Phelps winning his 22nd overall medal – a record for any Olympian.

Cullen Jones, the former N.C. State star and current Charlotte resident, winning a silver medal in the men’s 50-meter freestyle.

Charlottean Ricky Berens winning the second Olympic gold medal of his career – and then unexpectedly retiring during our interview.

The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. No, not the language-learning software. The real thing.

Wrestler Dremiel Byers of Kings Mountain dealing with heartbreak a second time after losing in the quarterfinals for his second straight Olympics.

Andy Murray playing at Wimbledon, where the British crowd hangs on his every gesture.

Diver Nick McCrory of Duke winning a bronze medal in synchronized platform diving.

A red double-decker bus coming within inches of hitting me as I looked the wrong way while crossing the street.

10 MEMORABLE QUOTES FROM THE SUMMER GAMES

(Note: Some of these I heard myself. Others were transcribed by the Olympic News Service from athletes’ and coaches’ group interviews)

“He was kind of joking but he was basically like, ‘Would you like to come eat with me at the dining hall?’ And I said, ‘Um, I’m sorry, I have a curfew.’ So I turned that one down, yeah.” Swimmer Lauren Perdue, who grew up in Greenville, N.C., and now goes to Virginia, describing to me a conversation she had with LeBron James shortly after meeting him in the Olympic Village.

What’s the deal with Jeff Otah?” Tennis player John Isner, a huge Carolina Panthers fan, asked me this shortly after he lost a close match to Roger Federer.

“I’m now a legend. I’m also the greatest athlete to live.” – Usain Bolt, who is no shrinking violet, to reporters after he won the 100- and 200-meter races for the second Olympics in a row.

“We thought we won even before the actual match. I think some of our players should think about retiring from sport.” Russia women’s handball coach Evgeny Trefilov, not happy despite a close win over Angola.

“I am sure that I am the first monk to be an Olympic rider, but I am not so perfect a monk and not so perfect a rider. Every morning I close my eyes and think of getting better.” Japan’s Kenki Sato, reflecting on being both a Buddhist monk and a competitive rider.

“I felt pretty much bulletproof coming into these Olympics. It’s very humbling. It’s a pretty tough time to learn you’re human.” – Australian swimmer James Magnussen, who didn’t have nearly the Olympics he expected.

“Sometimes it’s just the beer and bikinis that get people to come and watch, but it’s the competition that’s keeping them there.” – Kerri Walsh Jennings on why people get hooked on beach volleyball. She and her partner Misty May-Treanor won their third straight Olympic title.

“Our sport involves two living beings, and horses have their bad hair days just as we do.” – Germany’s equestrian coach Otto Becker, explaining why his team had not made the team jumping final.

“The sport is very simple to understand. Ball over net. Don’t touch net. Three hits each side. Keep sand out of pants. That’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years and I still haven’t mastered it.” – Australian beach volleyball player Nat Cook.

“I’m finished.” – Charlotte’s Ricky Berens, waving away a U.S. swimming official who was trying to cut off our interview, saying Berens needed to go “warm down” in the pool as is customary for all swimmers. Since he was retiring at that very moment, he wasn’t about to get back in the pool.

THE LOCAL ANGLE

There were many athletes with Carolina connections who won at least one medal. This isn’t a complete list, just some of the more memorable ones:

Swimmers Ricky Berens, Cullen Jones and Nick Thoman all collected multiple medals (with at least one coming in a relay in each case).

Divers Nick McCrory and Abby Johnston (both from Duke) and volleyball player Megan Hodge (who went to high school at Durham Riverside) each will bring home a medal as well.

The U.S. women’s soccer team that featured two former UNC stars – Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly – won a gold medal. Coach Mike Krzyzewski and former Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul will try to lead the U.S. to a second straight gold medal Sunday in the basketball final against Spain.

And that wasn’t all. Swimmers Lauren Perdue (Greenville, N.C.), Charlie Houchin (Raleigh) and Davis Tarwater (Charlotte’s SwimMAC team) all won gold medals in relays. Rower Caroline Lind (Greensboro) won her second gold in women’s eight.

Former South Carolina track standouts Lashinda Demus and Jason Richardson both won silver medals in hurdling events. And Manteo Mitchell of Western Carolina and Shelby Crest won a silver medal, too, after having run the second half of his part of the 4x400 relay on a broken leg.

BESTS AND WORSTS

BEST BRITISH ATHLETE: Mo Farah. The distance runner swept both the 5K and 10K events, and the Olympic Stadium’s roar when Farah won the 5K Saturday night would have blown the roof off if the stadium had been enclosed.

BEST 90 MINUTES: On Wednesday, the U.S. basically guaranteed it was going to win the medal count with a great performance at track and field. In a 90-minute span, Team USA won three of four possible gold medals and seven of 12 medals awarded overall.

BEST BARGAIN: Paul McCartney’s salary for performing in the opening ceremony was one pound, or about $1.60.

WORST FAKING: The badminton players who purposely tried to lose a match to face an easier opponent in the next round were such bad actors that fans booed them roundly and their subsequent disqualification became the biggest competitive scandal of these Olympics.

BEST EXAGGERATION: Swimmer Missy Franklin, after her first individual gold medal, said it felt “a hundred billion times” better than she had imagined.

WORST BRITISH DELICACY: I was in London three weeks, and I never could get the hang of meat pies.

BEST RACE: The men’s 100-meter final was the fastest in history, with places 1-7 all recording the best time for that place in any Olympic Games. Usain Bolt won in 9.63, and the top seven all finished in under 10 seconds.

BEST PERFORMANCE AT THE RIGHT TIME: Gabby Douglas. As her disappointing results on the individual apparatus finals showed, Douglas is not like Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps – there is not a great distance separating her and the rest of the athletes in her competition.

But Douglas came up with a huge performance at exactly the right time to become one of the Olympic darlings when she won the women’s all-around gymnastics title.

WORST LOSS: The police in charge of keeping the Olympics safe admitted they had lost a set of keys to Wembley Stadium, one of the Games’ primary venues.

BEST RISE FROM OBSCURITY: Former Western Carolina runner Manteo Mitchell was an unknown relay runner before his lone appearance in the Games. But after Mitchell ran 200 meters with a broken bone in his leg, he became an international media star for a couple of days.

BEST TEAM TO WATCH: Lots of choices here, because the U.S. is good-to-great in a lot of team sports. But the U.S. women’s soccer team plays such captivating games, with its come-from-behind, 4-3 extra-time win over Canada being the highlight.

WORST TICKET DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM: I’ve been to five Olympics, and never have more people seemed angry about not being able to get in to see the events. Supply is always going to outweigh demand, but when there are whole swatches of empty seats visible on TV and all the events are officially sold out, then there’s a problem.

BEST BRITISH NEWSPAPER HEADLINE: This lengthy one was from London’s Daily Mail regarding Great Britain female boxer Nicola Adams and her gold medal. It read: “What a girl! But it doesn’t feel quite right watching women beat seven bells out of each other for a baying mob of boozy men.”

BEST HEART: Davidson whitewater kayaker Caroline Queen missed a gate and was basically out of the competition because of it. Most paddlers would have simply said “The heck with it” and gone on downstream.

But rather than coasting on to the finish, Queen struggled until she got her kayak turned around and headed upstream. As spectators cheered, she fought with the paddle until pushing herself up past the gate so she could come through it correctly.

“That was for my own mental purposes,” Queen said. “That’s the way you should finish. For me, sports are a lot about heart. That was a heart moment.”

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