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2008 Olympics: Good Sports

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Most of the US population is tuning into these Olympics for the primetime coverage on NBC, and rightfully so – the swimming, gymnastics, track and field, and basketball competitions are during that time period because that is where the US is expected to be the most competitive and therefore where the most compelling television should be.

That has been true so far, perhaps none more so than last night.

  • Michael Phelps was after his seventh and record-tying gold medal of these Olympic games in the 100-meter butterfly. It was widely considered to be his most challenging individual event, since it was the only one where he was not the world record holder. The race was tight, with Phelps trailing by a small margin to Serbia's Milorad Cavic for most of the race, but as expected, Phelps turned on his end-of-race rocket pack and began closing the gap on Cavic.

It was neck and neck headed to the wall, and Phelps and Cavic both wound up less than a full stroke away from the wall. Cavic decided to cut his stroke short and reach for the wall, while Phelps instead chose to take the extra half stroke in order to reach the computer sensor at the end of the pool.

The results were incredible. Phelps had eked out the gold against Cavic by 0.01 seconds. Cavic's coach (who just so happens to be off to Michigan to coach the swim team of which Phelps is now a former member) filed an official protest, but the review board went to the cameras and agreed that the computer was correct, and that gold medal number seven belonged to Phelps.

Luck was not so nice to teammate Ian Crocker, who missed the bronze medal by the exact same 0.01 second margin. 

  • The non-primetime action has also had some of its own intrigue. As was widely reported, American James Blake pulled an absolutely stunning upset of soon-to-be-former world #1 Roger Federer to advance into the quarterfinals in tennis and face the 12th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile.

It was a genuinely entertaining match, with Blake notching the only service break to take the first set 6-4, and then Gonzalez successfully fending of Blake and getting a service break of his own to take the second set 7-5. Normally, in men's tournaments, the matches are best of five sets. Here in the Olympics, it is not only cut to a best of three, but that third set is a superset – instead of going into a tiebreaker at 6-6, play continues in regular games until someone wins by two.

Blake and Gonzalez kept the same pace going, trading long rallies one game and unforced errors in the next, continually inching forward until the set was tied at 9-9. Then the strangest thing happened.

During the first point of that 19th game, Gonzalez came to net against Blake, and Blake attempted to hit a forehand right into Gonzalez' body. At first glance, it looked like the ball just missed him and dropped out of bounds, though one had to wonder. Gonzalez said nothing, and since the shot landed out of bounds, the point was awarded to Gonzalez to take a 0-15 lead.

Upon a replay that was shown, it was blatantly obvious that the ball did come in contact with Gonzalez' racket. Tennis is considered, like golf, to be a gentleman's game. The presiding officials and judges can not see every single play clearly to make a call, so occasionally it is on the player to have the integrity to call a ball in or out if it was so. For Gonzalez to have the ball hit off his racket, and for him to not make the call/correction was a very poor decision on his part.

It isn't like this will be an isolated incident. That type of "gentleman's game" mentality is something that is adhered to across the sport of tennis, and Gonzalez' actions are something that will be noticed and remembered by all of his fellow competitors on the ATP Tour. He had better hope that, for at least the foreseeable future – especially in the US Open, which begins as soon as the Olympics end – that he doesn't have any close calls going the opposite way, because I assure you his opponents will give him absolutely zero slack.

  • In a sportsmanship moment from the other side of the coin, American Dara Torres had a very interesting evening/morning in the pool. She chose to skip the 100m freestyle in order to focus on the 50m race, which she felt she had a much better chance of medaling in. Last night featured the semifinals of the race, and in her race, one of her competitors came to the starting blocks with a tear in the back of her suit.

That may not seem like a huge deal, but in a race tht's determined by tenths or even hundredths of seconds, and where the women are swimming in suits with very specifically engineered aerodynamics, it very well could have been a big deal. On top of that, it doesn't always happen, but the judges, had they noticed, could have delayed the race in order to have her fix it.

In order to avoid any of that, Torres took it upon herself to tell Therese Alshammar of Sweden that her suit was torn and attempt to fix it. When that failed, she told Alshammar to go and change, went and told the judges what was going on, and then told all the other six swimmers about it, allowing time for Alshammar to get back out in a fully functional suit and let the race go on as planned, none of which she had to do.

Then, of course, Torres went out and swam the fastest time of anyone in the two semifinals. If she swims tonight like she did, there's a good chance of another swimming gold medal for the US.

  • Also, Margaret Hoelzer, much like the rest of the field, was no match for Zimbabwe's Kristy Coventry, but still brought home another silver medal in the 200m backstroke.
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