Friday, May 16, 2008

What it's like to cover the Olympics, and low expectations for basketball

The Olympics are still three months away but they're very much at the front of everyone's minds. I can barely imagine what it's going to be like and, frankly, shudder to think how best to take everything in.

Luckily, there's someone out there in this great vast expanse called the Internet to shed insight:

The Kansas City Star's Joe Posnanski 1:

So, this was at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. I mentioned here earlier that the Olympics are like nothing else in sports journalism. You become entirely and inexplicably consumed by the Games, especially at the Summer Olympics where there are always about twenty different things going on at once. It really is hard to explain the absurd enormity being in the middle of it all. From home, I always thought, the Olympics seemed pretty big. But when you are there, diving is like the World Series, water polo is like the Super Bowl, rhythmic gymnastics is like the Masters. Yes, from afar these are still diving, water polo and rhythmic gymnastics … but there, at the heart of it, you are blinded to perspective. You are bumping shoulders with reporters and fans from pretty much every country in the world. You are surrounded by sellout crowds, including many people who may have actually paid a scalper a lot of money to see that day’s beach volleyball match. You are talking only to athletes who have DEDICATED THEIR ENTIRE LIVES to be their for that one moment. You are also pretty much shut off from pennant races and NFL training camps and golf majors and presidential news and anything else that might be distracting. You are living, breathing, drinking, sleeping Olympics. It is everything.

Joe Posnanski 2:

*This sort of inane sportswriter tunnel-vision is best appreciated at the Olympics. There really is nothing quite like covering an Olympics. Two days before they begin, if the eight best 100-meter butterfliers in the world were competing in your BATHTUB, as a sportswriter you would be be like, “Hey, listen, I’m going downstairs to watch the third round of the Chrysler Classic, but can you guys clean up in there after you finish? You guys always leave such a huge mess. Water everywhere.”

But then the Olympics begin, and without any warning the 100-meter butterfly is your whole life. I’m serious. Your whole life. You know all about all the swimmers. You know that this guy is a side breather like Melvin Stewart (my old pal) and this guy started swimming obsessively when he was 7 because his father got sick, and this guy is dedicating his swimming victories to the rebel forces in whatever country he happens to be from, and this guy learned to swim fast by practicing in crocodile-infested waters. You know the history. You know who has won the 100 meter butterfly each of the last 12 Olympics, and you know who has a chance to break the World Record, and you know if the American is supposed to win or not. But, no, it’s more than that because, see, it isn’t just like you can go and cover the 100-meter butterfly, no, no, no, you need a special TICKET to go to the event, something beyond the regular Olympic credential you have, because every sportswriter from every country in the world wants to cover this 100-meter butterfly, and the Olympic Committees are only giving out a limited number of these tickets — what I’m saying is that these tickets to see the 100-meter butterfly, tickets that a few days before would not be worth the cardboard, are now GOLD, man, they now have a sportswriter street value of roughly 3.9 billion dollars, you are willing to bribe Olympics officials to get these tickets, you are willing to call in political favors to get these tickets, you are willing to hire people to open up Wonka Bars to get these tickets, because you HAVE to cover the 100-meter butterly, I mean, you came across giant seas, to get here and you’re staying in a dorm room that is closing in around you like the garbage compactor in “Star Wars,” and your shower sprays scalding water in all directions, and you’re sleeping three hours a night on a bed roughly the size of a ham sandwich with the crusts cut off, and you’re never precisely sure what time it is at home, and you’re never precisely sure what you’re eating, and you’re constantly surrounded and bumped by swarms of desperate sportswriters who haven’t bathed in weeks because their showers also spew scalding water — and you know that the reason you’re doing all this is because THIS 100 METER BUTTERFLY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FREAKING SPORTING EVENT THAT HAS EVER TAKEN PLACE IN THE WHOLE LONG HISTORY OF THIS PLANET.

And while we're at it, I recommend this humorous post from Poz.

Switching gears slightly: this was a poll in a China Daily insert today, The Olympian:

Yao Ming will face Kobe Bryant in the opening match of the Olympic basketball competition on August 10. By what margin (number of points) will the new US 'Dream Team' win its opening game against China?
  • 30 points, or more
  • 20 points
  • 10 points

And the result: 42.62% for 30 points or more, 29.51% for 20 points, 27.87% for 10 points.

Way to dream, China.

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