I don’t get geeked up for the Olympics the way I do for the big international soccer tournaments, but I always get sucked in by the action anyway once the Games start. So I’ll be posting notes from time to time during the festivities in London.
While everybody watching gymnastics is caught in the sad saga of world champion Jordyn Wieber failing to qualify for the women’s all-around competition (a victim of rule changes and the depth of talent on USA’s women’s team), I got caught up watching Iordan Iovtchev, the Bulgarian gymnast who qualified for the still rings final. He did this despite being a gray-haired 39-year-old with a day job as the president of the Bulgarian gymnastics federation. He’s basically keeping the sport alive singlehandedly in his country. The first time he competed in the Olympics was in 1992 in Barcelona, and when he competes for a medal later in the week, some of his opponents will literally be half his age.
Other great human stories include one-armed Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka and legally blind gold medal-winning South Korean archer Im Dong-hyun. Deadspin’s take on Im is pretty funny, but not as funny as the comments that (jokingly or not) mistake the Korean surname “Im” for the word “I’m.” Those Koreans are deadly serious about their archery, by the way. Later on in the archery competition you’ll see Khatuna Lorig, who taught Jennifer Lawrence to shoot for The Hunger Games.
Women’s soccer followers are talking about the Hope Solo-Brandi Chastain donnybrook, but there’s plenty of other things to talk about with USA’s women’s soccer team. For instance, Abby Wambach got cold-cocked in the game against Colombia by defender Lady Andrade. (She later tweeted a picture of her black eye.) The hit went unseen by the officials on the field, but you can bet a suspension will be coming down later. Wambach is scoring goals anyway, as is Alex Morgan. She’s starting games now, and proving that she’s more than just a super-sub who can burn tired defenses with her speed. If Morgan keeps scoring and USA takes gold, we’ve got our next women’s soccer superstar. Megan Rapinoe was also tearing it up in USA’s first two games. She came out of the closet shortly before the Olympics started. Hmmm, four years ago Natasha Kai accidentally/on purpose outed herself just before the Olympics and wound up leading USA to victory, including the winning goal in a quarterfinal against Canada. A good omen?
Interesting stuff happening on the men’s side of soccer as well, with Japan’s men’s soccer team flying to Europe in business class while the World Cup-winning women’s team was stuck in coach. That’s not right, but the Japanese men did go on to upset Spain and hit a late winner against Morocco, so it looks like the amenities might have paid off for them. The Spaniards lost their second game to Honduras as well, so the mighty, all-conquering soccer superpower (or their under-23 team, essentially) is eliminated from medal contention almost as soon as they got to London. Meanwhile, the Honduras found out the answer to the question, “What’s more fun than beating a much more talented opponent?” That answer is, “Beating a much more talented opponent and then watching them throw a gigantic hissyfit about it.” The Spaniards not only lost their second game but their composure as well, racking up six yellow cards in the loss to Honduras (in which the frame of the goal stopped as many Spanish shots as Honduras goalkeeper Jose Mendoza). Teenage winger Iker Muniain should have been sent off for chest-bumping the Venezuelan ref late in the game. So much for the hopes of a Brazil vs. Spain gold medal match, but this’ll make the Brazilians happy. They’ve never won the Olympic gold medal in soccer, amazing as that sounds, and they are hellbent on rectifying that this year.
One more soccer note: It’s nice to see Welsh players Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs finally get to play in an international tournament as part of Team Great Britain. (The Welsh soccer team has never been good enough to qualify for big tournaments on its own. The countries that make up Great Britain maintain separate soccer teams because they’d rather stand on their own, but they are banding together for the purposes of the Olympics, which make no distinction between England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.) Bellamy provided an assist on Giggs’ goal in GB’s win over United Arab Emirates. Bellamy’s the guy who once assaulted a teammate with a golf club for refusing to sing karaoke at a party, but he plays with all his heart. The latter also holds true for Giggs, who is the subject of a great joke on The Simpsons and is on the shortlist of great players to never appear in the World Cup.