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Beijing Olympics: The Definitive Retrospective

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Dr Dreadful reports once again from China on the second week of the stupendous Games of the XXIXth Olympiad. (OK, not actually from China, but from a cosy table in a Chinese restaurant in rural California, which is the next best thing as the wait staff have all been watching the Olympics 24/7 on a crappy little portable TV in the corner. Oh, come on – you don't actually think I could've found a hotel room in Beijing right now. I mean, seriously.)

Day 8

Michael Phelps wraps up his final individual event in the pool, squeaking home in the 100m butterfly by 1/100th of a second ahead of Serbia's Milorad Cavic to clinch a Spitz-tying seventh gold medal. In a post-race interview, US swimming coach Eddie Reese reveals that Phelps's stupendous daily calorie intake enabled him to grow just enough extra fingernail at the last moment to reach the wall ahead of his rival.

Ruqaya al-Ghasara of Bahrain wins her women's 200m quarter-final wearing a full-cover body suit and headscarf, protecting her modesty as required by her Muslim faith. Noting that it didn't seem to slow her down any, the Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta – regarded by some as the world's smallest state – announces plans by several of his knights to enter the swimming events at the 2012 Games wearing full chain mail and body armor.

Several finals in the sailing competition are postponed due to a lack of wind. British yachting great Ben Ainslie questions the decision to hold the regatta at Qingdao, which is known for its calm conditions. He feels that it is only one of a series of unwise venue choices, among others being the selection of the Mahatma Gandhi Hall of Non-Violence for the boxing event and the siting of the clay pigeon shooting range underneath the final approach path at Beijing Airport.

Day 9

Jamaica's Usain Bolt obliterates the field to win the men's 100m in 9.69, shattering the world record by a spectacular 3/100ths of a second. Astounded TV pundits speculate as to what kind of time he might have clocked if he hadn't walked the entire race.

A publicity photograph of the Spanish men's basketball team making 'slitty-eyed' gestures causes a global furore. Bearing in mind that there are 40 million Spaniards and 1.3 billion Chinese (including Yao Ming), it is generally agreed that this was probably the worst idea since Julius Caesar thought it might be nice to stroll over to the Senate on this lovely March day to see how everyone was getting on. The photo does, however, win the approval of Britain's Prince Philip.

Day 10

And he's done it. Jason Lezak anchors the US 4x100m medley relay team home to ensure that Michael Phelps wins his unprecedented eighth gold in yet another world record time. Later, an elated Phelps reveals to NBC's Bob Costas that it seems silly to stop now and that he will be heading over to the Bird's Nest to try for a few more golds on the track. He relents when it is pointed out to him that he has just broken the world record for the most "you know"s in a single TV interview – 24 in one minute, two seconds.

Rebecca Romero continues Great Britain's domination in the velodrome with gold in the women's individual pursuit. Romero, who posed naked on her bike covered in gold paint for an ad campaign prior to the Games, says that her efforts to avoid the ensuing paparazzi attention made her even faster than she otherwise would have been. Suspicious cycling officials still insist on examining her closely before the medal ceremony to make sure that her tunic was not also painted on.

Day 11

Tragedy in the Bird's Nest. At the last moment, reigning Olympic champion Liu Xiang pulls out of the 110m hurdles after injuring himself during the warm-up. Despite the fact that they have won 648 of the 663 medals on offer so far, the Chinese nation is inconsolable and President Hu Jintao declares a national day of mourning.

A happier nation is Kenya, which continues its preeminence in distance running with gold and silver in the women's 800m, and gold and bronze in the men's 3000m steeplechase. In other news, the USA is good at basketball, China is a big country and McDonald's sells a lot of hamburgers.

Day 13

100m champ Usain "Lightning" Bolt spectacularly smashes another world record in his specialist event, the 200m. Afterwards, when a TV interviewer remarks as to the appropriateness of his name, Bolt advises that we should watch the upcoming Junior World Championships, in which his promising young compatriots Delbert Swift, Henry Greasedlightning and Devane Batouttahell will be sprint medal favorites.

Boxing is one of the few sports in which some of the smaller Olympic nations have a chance to shine, and in which the US has performed poorly. It therefore produces the curious spectacle of CNBC commentators Jim Gray and Bob Papa attempting to interview boxers from Ecuador, Tajikistan and Mongolia who don't speak a word of English. The results are predictably unedifying, but at least CNBC's viewers now know how to say "who is this idiot?" in 107 different languages.

Day 14

The USA is out of both the men's and women's sprint relays after dropping the baton. A devastated Lauryn Williams, who was to have anchored the women home, questions the wisdom of USA Track and Field in hiring Daunte Culpepper to help the teams work on their exchanges.

It is announced that heptathlon silver medallist Lyudmila Blonska of Ukraine has failed a drug test. Blonska, who has already served a two-year ban for doping, will be stripped of her medal and banned for life if the failed test is confirmed. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko expresses dismay, but observes that Blonska was spotted cutting in line at the gate when boarding her flight to Beijing, is known to steal food from the mouths of babes and, come to think of it, hasn't filed a tax return since 1998.

The uproar over the American track and field team's dismal (defined as: not winning every single medal on offer) performance in Beijing intensifies after the announcement that Team USA has not only lost the softball final but has also failed to qualify for the medal round in either men's or women's handball. The US Olympic Committee moves decisively to set up a postmortem inquiry, which is abruptly adjourned after someone points out that the country doesn't actually have a handball team.

Day 15

Three finals, three gold medals, three world records. Jamaica, led by Usain Bolt, storms to victory in the men's 4x100m relay. Debate rages as to whether Bolt or Michael Phelps is the biggest star of the Games. It is announced that both Bolt and Phelps will be reluctant guests at the inaugural USA vs. Jamaica "My Olympian Can Beat Up Your Olympian" event to be held later this year in neutral Trinidad.

Poorly-named Cuban taekwondo player Angel Matos is served a lifetime ban by his sport's governing body after he kicks a referee in the head. The unfortunate official awarded the match to his Kazakh opponent after Matos took more than the stipulated one minute to heal a broken toe. Angel's protest of injustice is somewhat weakened by press photographs which clearly show that it was his injured foot which delivered the fateful blow.

Day 16

Russia's Evgeniya Kanaeva wins gold in rhythmic gymnastics, with exemplary performances in all four disciplines – rope, hoop, clubs and ribbon. Asked about the secret of her success, Kanaeva reveals that she trains by lassoing wild bison in Siberia, tossing truck tires 30 feet into the air, directing planes to the gate at Omsk Airport, and flossing patients' teeth from across the room at her local dentist's office.

Matthew Mitcham stuns the Water Cube, and delights sports-mad Australia, by taking gold in the men's 10-metre platform and foiling the host nation's bid for a clean sweep in the dive pool. Mitcham, who only took up diving two years ago, isn't stopping there. He caught part of a boxing match on TV in the ready room before the final, got interested in the sport, and will fight for the world light-welterweight title on Tuesday.

Day 17

Another extravaganza of light, fire and mega-choreography brings the 2008 Olympic Games to a close. IOC President Jacques Rogge, following time-honored tradition, calls upon the youth of the world to assemble in London in 2012, and Beijing mayor Guo Jinlong passes the Olympic flag to his London counterpart Boris Johnson. Hold on a minute… Boris?!? Guo halts proceedings momentarily to verify that he's not handing the flag to the mayor of Sochi, venue of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, by mistake.

As part of the ceremony, a red London double-decker bus is driven into the stadium. Unexpectedly, its roof unfolds to reveal a model of the London skyline and various people, including pop star Leona Lewis and rock legend Jimmy Page, hidden inside. The crowd is delighted, but the Chinese government is reported to be furious that their secret invasion plans have been revealed.

And so we bid farewell to Beijing and look forward to London in four years' time. Dr Dreadful will be reporting from the authentically Cockney 'Dog & Duck' British pub in downtown Fresno, where there will be authentic Irish folk music and an authentic Happy Hour special on Bud Light and French fries.

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  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “The USA is out of both the men’s and women’s sprint relays after dropping the baton. A devastated Lauryn Williams, who was to have anchored the women home, questions the wisdom of USA Track and Field in hiring Daunte Culpepper to help the teams work on their exchanges.”

    Who taught the Brit how to execute American football jokes perfectly? +1, Doc. Plus fucking one.

    But no, seriously, Culpepper’s pissed at that joke. In fact, he called me and said he didn’t appreciate it, then quickly said that he had to hang up and get back to work busing tables.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    LOL. I’m glad my joke came off – thanks, Matt. But you surely don’t expect me to give away my secrets Wikipedia do you now?

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    I really did enjoy a lot of the Olympics. I think I hate NBC even more now than I did before the Olympics though…

    I mean, come on! Saturday night…most of prime time what did they give us to watch? The FREAKING marathon??? Holy christ! Might as well put up grass growing! All the events in the Olympics and this was the best they could do on a Saturday night? It was worse than attemtping to watch the DNC!!!

    Doc – just keep those football references away from my Superbowl Champion NY Giants!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Actually, Andy, I think the marathon was about the only thing that was going on at the time. The gold medal round of the Watching Paint Dry event had taken place the day before.

    Luckily for us, we’d DVRed it and were able to fast forward through most of the race. I must say I’ve never seen a marathon run so quickly.

    Yeah, NBC was particularly exasperating this time around. I mean a healthy dose of patriotism is understandable, but they just didn’t seem to care at all about any triumphs but the Americans’ (with the exception of Usain Bolt, and only then because his feats were impossible to ignore).

    I only remember seeing one medal ceremony for a non-American athlete – and that was only because the one for the men’s marathon was part of the closing ceremony.

  • duane

    Excellent coverage, Doctor. You didn’t (I think) comment on one of the Beijing 2008 staples, that is, Phelps’ mom, who got almost as much coverage as the actual ath-uh-letes. Good grief. She’s already doing a TV commercial for baby powder. Next up (I’m guessing), a reality show.

    I hate NBC also, Andy, but probably for different reasons. I love watching the marathons. I could do without the following however: beach volleyball (what next, beach Frisbee?), diving, synchronized anything, extreme closeups, mini-documentaries on the favorite darling competitors (the 41-year-old swimming mom, fer example), national anthems, most anything that involves a panel of judges and scoring, paparazzi-like cameramen following the darlings around, extreme closeups (did I mention that?), anyone named Karch or Rowdy, and other stuff too numerous to mention.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Phelps’ mom, who got almost as much coverage as the actual ath-uh-letes. Good grief. She’s already doing a TV commercial for baby powder. Next up (I’m guessing), a reality show.

    She may in fact be part of the new cast for Dancing with the Stars.

    Karch and Rowdy are peanuts compared to some of the names my clients give their kids. I’d divulge more but for those pesky confidentiality laws. But sheesh.

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    As I’ve written, I enjoyed the Olympics almost as much as reading your article, Doc. Good stuff!

    Actually, I don’t mind NBC all that much, except I wish they’d more or less shut up during the opening and closing ceremonies and just let us enjoy them. I assume, though, the only way to really get the full impact of those productions is to be there, in the stadium(s).

    I did see a few medal ceremonies with no Americans. I think they aired most of the Chinese divers’ awards. I’m just pissed that I missed virtually ALL of the team handball competition. And how about the 10000 meter walk!

    I think a group of old cowboys are trying to add a track and field event called “The 100 meter mosey.” Stay tuned.

    I kinda enjoyed the focus on Phelps’ mom. She is actually an intelligent, articulate woman who happened to be afforded the treat of watching her son make olympic history.

    Did anyone here happen to catch a news item some years ago concerning a family living out in the southwest part of the country – Arizona, NM or some such place with the last name Daub. They named a daughter Zipadeedo. The daughter, of course, should arrange at the first opportunity to have her parents killed.

    B

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    The girl in this story didn’t go quite that far, but did obtain what amounts to a restraining order against her own parents, who really should have been sterilized on the spot at the registrar’s office to prevent further suffering to any future progeny.

    What are these parents thinking? I mean, seriously.

  • alessandro

    I hear the ref called Angel’s mother a communist whore.

    Doc, Great Britain’s best Olympics in the modern era. Not bad after a couple of bad Olympics – heck, the Brits sank to Canadian levels at one point. And they have nice teeth too to boot.

    Canada. 344 athletes. 18 medals. 3 gold. Rationalize all you want: not good enough.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Team GB has actually had a pretty fantastic last three Olympics, but this one just exceeded all hopes. Our Olympic Committee had actually set a target of finishing fourth in the medals table at London 2012. Since we already did that this time around, they’ve now upped the ante and are aiming to finish third – which means beating Russia. Tall, tall order. I actually wonder if we might have peaked too early.

    The ‘Canadian levels’ Olympics you refer to was Atlanta ’96, at which we won one single solitary gold medal – Redgrave and Pinsent in the coxless pairs. The abysmal level of that performance was actually what shocked the powers that be in British sport into action and resulted in our superb medal hauls at the three Games since.

    Hopefully, the Canadian Olympics people will be similarly stung into action by what happened to your team in Beijing, and you’ll see a much stronger showing in four years’ time.

  • alessandro

    Though I don’t think ’88 and ’92 were that strong either? Germany and Italy took some dives this time around.

    I’m not holding my breath. Though they are aiming to win in Vancouver in 2010. I was actually impressed what they set such a high standard. Even if they don’t I will still be pleased because finally we took the step of setting some lofty objectives. It’s all I ask.

    Shit, WE SHOULD dominate the Winter games. It’s a no-brainer. But we’ve done fairly well recently and Torino was really strong despite some setbacks – notably the hockey team.

    Speaking of which, the cold hard truth is that hockey is all that truly matters here. The country is psycho sick for hockey. Even though we had our best Olympics in Italy the fact we didn’t win hockey left a bitter taste in people.

    Since 2006 people have been debating what team to send in Vancouver!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    We won five golds at Seoul in ’88 and Barcelona in ’92, the same number as we’d brought back from Los Angeles and Moscow, so those were respectable showings which met public expectations. We’d established a postwar benchmark of anywhere from three to six golds – our worst showing being at Helsinki in 1952, when only one of our 18 medals was gold.

    Our worst Olympic medal haul by far was at St Louis in 1904, when we took home two (count ’em) medals. However, since we only sent three competitors in total, I reckon that was a pretty damn good return!

    Canada should expect much in Vancouver/Whistler. Britain should not. We never do well, and any medal of any colour at all is considered fab and groovy. We have mild winters and no mountains over 4500 feet (although some of the ones we do have can get pretty vicious (take it from me, I’ve been on a few when they’re being pissy)). There are a few ski resorts in Scotland, but so mild is the climate that there are some years when they can’t open at all. Our Olympic skiing and bobsled teams have to go to France and Austria to train. As for the indoor sports, facilities are either few and far between or non-existent.

    Despite all that, Britain did produce, in my opinion, the two greatest Winter Olympians of all time – Torvill and Dean.

  • alessandro

    Doc,

    Paul Scholes.

    Yeesh.

    I think you know what I mean.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    ‘Fraid not, Sandro. Did I miss some news?

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