THIS YEAR’S OLYMPICS BY THE NUMBERS
Zero – The number of times that Yining Zhang, the eventual gold medalist in women’s table tennis, visibly smiled during the first couple of minutes after she won her semi-final match and clinched a medal. Watching this was absolutely creepy – like the fulfillment of all those sci-fi movies in which man evolves into machine. In this case, it was woman evolving into machine, or perhaps it was just the inevitable consequence of an authoritarian nation that values Olympic gold and de-values humaneness.
One – The number of truly significant tournaments that have now been won by Russian tennis player Elena Dementieva. She’s always had a wonderful game, except for one little thing – she has a pitiful serve. So how in God’s name did she win the gold medal in woman’s tennis? Got me – NBC doesn’t show tennis. They’re too busy showing things like the friggen gymnastics gala (on top of anything else that goes by the name of “gymnastics”). Screw gymnastics. And congrats to Dementieva. Now, if she only can learn how to serve, she might actually add to her 15 minutes of fame.
Two – The number of American relay teams to drop the baton. And on the same day, too. I was reminded of Alan Iverson. (“Practice? You’re talkin’ about practice?”) Yeah, I’m talkin’ about practice – as in that the US Track and Field Team obviously doesn’t see much need for it. This is not exactly the first year we’ve dropped the baton. But it hurt a bit more this year, since we were shut out of the golds in the 100 and 200 meter races. Something tells me that in London in 2012, we’ll figure out a way to at least finish the relays without getting humiliated.
Three – The number of golds won by the Jamaican sprinter aptly named “Bolt.” He certainly gets the “character” award this Olympics – not that he necessarily possesses character, but that he is one. Who slows down intentionally in sprinting the 100 meters? Doesn’t he realize that this little act of stylin’ might prevent him from holding the world record two, three, four, five or ten years down the road? Frankly, he probably did realize that, and quite obviously, he couldn’t care less. He came to China to win three gold medals. And to show the world that it has one bad-ass sprinter. Methinks he succeeded.
Four – The number of medals collectively won by the countries that spawned the following religions: Judaism (Israel 1), Christianity (Israel), Islam (Saudi Arabia 0), Hinduism (India 3), and Buddhism (India). India alone has a billion people and yet won only three medals. Exactly what is going on here – are spirituality and sports completely antithetical?
Five – The number of gold medals in races of 800 meters or longer won by Kenya, topped off by the men’s marathon championship. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing more cool in sports than entering an Olympic stadium as the man who is about to win the Olympic Marathon. No athlete could possibly feel such a high as one who runs in an essentially solitary state for 26+ miles, then goes into a tunnel, and finally emerges in the presence of dozens of fans screaming for him and him alone on the last day of an Olympics. These men must have utilized virtually every ounce of their heart and soul on the first 26 miles of the race … or so they thought … but the adrenaline rush supplied by the fans in the stadium couldn’t help but make the last few hundred meters as spiritually uplifting as the first 26 miles was physically depleting. How I envy those gold medal marathon winners.
Six – The number of gold medals won by the Jamaicans in races of 400 meters or less. How is this even possible, given the small size of the country? Is it the coaching? Is it the shoes? Have they upgraded the ganja from when I went there decades back? Crazy, mon.
Seven – The number of diving gold medals won by China. I didn’t even realize there were seven diving events, did you? The Chinese were so superior to the rest of the world in that sport they might as well change the categories: “Non-Chinese Men’s Diving,” “Non-Chinese Women’s Diving,” “Chinese Men’s Diving,” and “Chinese Women’s Diving.” Then maybe we’d see some real excitement.
Eight – Duh. In an Olympics that started on 8/8/8, Michael Phelps dreamed the impossible Olympic dream of eight golds, and damned if the impossible didn’t happen. He scored in every way possible – in blowouts, in a come-from-behind contest with a margin of victory of 1/100th of a second, by standing at the side of the pool watching his teammate outdo a more accomplished rival, and last but certainly not least, by making out with a gorgeous ex-girlfriend of a rival swimmer. This guy had one amazing fortnight. Congrats to my fellow Marylander!
Nine – The number of gold medals won by Japan, which placed them eighth among all nations. The significance of this, of course, is that it tells you exactly where Michael Phelps placed as a nation. In the top nine!
Ten – USA’s winning margin of victory in the total medals count (110 medals to China’s 100).
Fifteen – China’s winning margin of victory in the total gold medals count.
Seriously, we need a single score to determine who “wins” an Olympics so that two nations can’t claim victory when one wins the most medals and another the most golds. Should we count golds as three, silvers two, and bronzes one? Or count golds as four? Or five? Any way you count them – if you’re being reasonable – China “won” their Olympics – at least on the field of play. They made fools of themselves off of the field of play in terms of how they oppressed innocent people for the glory of the tribe, however. It’s difficult to think about the one without the other.
Twenty two – The winning streak of the American softball team that was broken in the gold medal game. But don’t cry. Our loss might have saved the sport from extinction. Apparently, the geniuses of the IOC had planned to get rid of it, in part because the US has won too much for their tastes. Forgive me for sounding like a patriot, but how can they include team handball and not softball? Have you ever watched team handball? Have you ever watched paint dry?
Thirty five – The number of Chinese-born entrants in the woman’s table tennis competition. That’s nearly half of all the athletes in the field. I watched two Chinese-born players compete under the flags of the USA and Congo. Do you get the sense that the “Chinese national sport” isn’t taken seriously anywhere else? It was actually my best sport as a teenager … which tells you a lot about me as an athlete growing up in America.
Seventy two – The number of medals won by the Russians (38 fewer than the US). The funny thing is, when you add up all the other former members of the Soviet Union, Russia would have kicked our butts! Do you think Putin took note of that fact? Sorry for bringing that up.
One hundred and eight -- The number of consecutive matches won by repeat gold medal winners Misty May-Treaner and Kerri Walsh. That is a ridiculous winning streak in any sport. How does one explain it? Have the other competitors been ogling them just like the rest of us? I have no other explanation, so that must be it.