Skip to main content
Original Issue

The Descent From Mount Olympus

Hey, I'm back from the Olympics. London was brilliant, as the Brits like to say. I saw Prince Harry at beach volleyball, Paul McCartney at the velodrome, and William and Kate just about everywhere. I discovered that sprinter Usain Bolt is so fast that if you photograph him with a cheap camera when he's running in the green and yellow of Jamaica, you'll wind up with a blurry picture that looks like guacamole. I also found that if 20-year-old Chinese gymnast Deng Linlin, listed as 4'9" and 79 pounds, were any tinier, her coaches could bring her to the arena in a backpack.

One thing I knew before I even arrived was that every day of the Games would feature emotional, deeply moving competition, whether it resulted in joyful tears falling on gold medals or crushing losses that filled eyes with sadness. As touching as it all was, I'm sure there has been equally powerful stuff going on back in the States all this time, hasn't there? I'll give you Olympic tales and you can fill me in on American ones.

I'll go first. The opening ceremony featured 800-meter runner Sarah Attar and judoka Wojdan Shaherkani, the first women ever allowed to compete for Saudi Arabia. It represented an important step toward gender equality, and though neither woman came close to medal contention—Attar, 19, finished last in her heat, and Shaherkani, 16, lost her first match—they will be remembered as pioneers.

Your turn. While the two women were marching in under the Saudi flag, one of the big stories in American sports was what? I'm sorry, I must have misheard you. I thought you said the hot topic was Tim Tebow jogging shirtless after practice at Jets camp.

Let's move on. Weightlifter Wu Jingbiao, who had been favored to win gold in the 56 kg (123.5 pounds) weight class, instead had to settle for silver on Day 2 of the Games, which devastated him. In an interview with a Chinese television station, Wu broke down. "I feel terribly guilty for disappointing my country, the Chinese weightlifting team and all the people who supported me," he said, sobbing. "I really wanted to be the best, but I didn't make it. I am sorry." Then he buried his head in his hands and let out an anguished wail.

What sort of heartrending story was playing out in the U.S. at that time? The baseball trading deadline, you say? Millionaires changing addresses is not the kind of moving story I had in mind. Somehow Hunter Pence going from the Phillies to the Giants doesn't seem quite as gut-wrenching a tale as Wu's. I know that Pence went only 8 for 52 when he arrived in San Francisco. Not the same thing, Giants fans.

Let's try it again. On Day 8 the host country enjoyed what many observers called the greatest day in the history of British sports. In the space of little more than an hour, the Brits won three gold medals—by Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon, Greg Rutherford in the long jump and Mo Farah in the 10,000 meters. With each victory the home crowd in Olympic Stadium grew louder and prouder. As I watched, I tried to imagine a greater feeling for an athlete than winning Olympic gold in his home country. I couldn't.

You say that while that was going on, the Dwight Howard rumors were starting up again? I see they traded him to the Lakers. Finally. I'm trying to imagine a sillier saga than Howard's bizarre effort to get out of Orlando. I can't.

The last day of the Games featured the men's marathon, which included Guor Marial, a runner who was officially without a country. Marial was born in Sudan and into a civil war that claimed the lives of eight of his 10 siblings. He eventually escaped the country and moved to the U.S. in 2001 at age 16. He is now a citizen of South Sudan, which became an independent nation last year as part of the peace deal that ended the war but has yet to form a national Olympics organizing committee. Marial could have run as a citizen of Sudan but refused, so the IOC allowed him the rare opportunity to compete under its flag. He finished 47th, as if that matters.

You don't have to tell me what U.S. sports stories were unfolding last weekend when Marial was running. I checked. There was USC coach Lane Kiffin being caught in a lie about voting his own team No. 1 in the college football preseason poll. And LSU star Tyrann Mathieu being kicked off the team for a reported drug violation. Plus, allegations that Auburn running back Jovon Robinson's high school transcript was fake. While a South Sudanese runner was sticking to his principles, U.S. sports types were making you wonder if they had any.

I know the Olympics aren't pristine. I know they have problems with rampant commercialism and doping. But the nobility of the athletes can make some of the sports we follow more regularly seem frivolous and crass. Wouldn't it be great if more pro and college athletes played for something greater than money or personal glory? I'm grateful to the Games for cleansing my palate.

Now, bring on the chips and beer. Preseason football's on, and my fantasy draft is coming up.

Follow @SI_PhilTaylor