I love the Olympics. It’s one of the few sporting events not directly connected to Nebraska that I circle on my calendar. I hate the IOC. I detest the IOC. The bribes. The blatant money grabs. The patented voluntary ignorance of every important social issue that humanity encounters on a day to day basis. I could spend an entire article retreading all the amazing, extraordinary, disgusting, and morally questionable things the Olympics and the IOC have gifted the world. However, those topics have been well documented by people much more distinguished than I am or will be.
The topic is one that sometimes makes me uncomfortable because, despite all of the shady things that continually surround the Olympics, I know that I will follow the events religiously. I will watch streams. I will watch evening coverage. I will watch replays. I will follow events on Twitter. I will, for sixteen days, bore my coworkers and father to figurative death talking about the Olympics.
It’s the Olympics.
For better and worse, it’s the Olympics.
HuskerGeek Importance Score
A simple and completely subjective scoring system for how important this sport is to my Olympic experience, with slight adjustments based on how important those sections are for Team USA as well.
Wait, that’s in the Olympics?
I changed the channel when NBC was showing that 5 weeks ago. I remember.
Huh, we should be better at this sport.
NBC, why is this on my television instead of the basketball game?
We kind of need to do well in this sport.
USA! USA! USA!
Oh, come on ref! My grandma could have called that one and she’s dead!
We need to win here. We need to win here.
USA has to dominate here. China could get more medals if we don’t!
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 12
Any discussion of the Olympics has to begin with basketball for me. The Dream Team and the Redeem Team. The Year We Don’t Speak Of. The sport that makes or breaks my Olympic experience.
This year seems like a transition year for the Men’s National Team. Carmelo Anthony stands as the old man on the team, and his Olympics should be celebrated. This is his fourth Olympic team. Anthony has dedicated more time to USA Basketball than any other player in history. That has to mean something. Each year he’s been a key cog in the machine. He should not be a footnote this time around. He’s become the old man of the team and, quite frankly, it looks like he’s taken to the role just fine.
What makes me nervous this year? This time around, the two best players in the world, Lebron and Steph, stay home. Anytime the best player(s) in the world stay home, it makes me nervous. However, they leave a talented but young team behind to take the trip to Rio, a team that I suspect will toss up around 330 three pointers. They should cruise to the finals.
Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have brought USA Basketball back from the depths, and I believe they will succeed once again.
That brings us to the Women’s National Team. They’ll win the Gold Medal. It won’t be close.
Why am I so sure? Name the best 5 female basketball players.
Assuming that you could name five, I’m going to bet at least four were on the following list.
Elena Delle Donne
Ladies and gentlemen, the 2016 Team USA Women’s Olympic Basketball Team.
Sixteen countries qualify by accumulated points in the world golf rankings by their top six golfers.
Teams are seven players. Selected by the country in question by whatever means they choose.
Single elimination tournament.
3 Four ball matches for each day’s competition. No ties. Sudden death until the match is decided.
Win two of three and advance. Survive and advance.
That’s it. That fixes the format. Golf doesn’t need an individual tournament at the Olympics. Players (particularly the men) don’t need to play for themselves at the Olympics. They need to play for their country. For glory. The four day Olympic tournament is always going to be a weak field, even when the top players play. However, anything can happen in match play. Anyone can beat anyone. Don’t try to make Olympic golf the fifth major. Try to make it the Ryder Cup.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) – Indoor: 8.5
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) – Beach: 8
Another sport that I need to touch on. This time I won’t really focus on the Men’s team which is very good in its own right, but on the Women’s national team. Currently ranked #1 in the world, the women’s team features three former Huskers (You knew I was going to mention that.), and will need to tackle a team that just might be better and will be playing on its own home turf. Brazil’s own team is coming off of a World Grand Prix championship win over the United States in five sets. Momentum favors the home team, and overcoming the competition will be no small task for Team USA. China also looms large, having handily beaten the Americans not so long ago, even if the last two contests have gone the way of the USA.
Strategically, the USA is setup to play an extremely balanced game. Back row defense will be paramount to the team’s success because the offensive firepower might not be what it once was. Middles Foluke Akinradewo and Rachael Adams will need be the offensive powers we’ve seen in the WGP, and the Husker back row will need to play spectacular defensively for the USA to take the Gold Medal. It’s certainly possible, but the deck is stacked the other way.
The Beach is only lower in importance because the US Women have been so dominant in the event. Kerri Walsh Jennings returns with a new teammate in April Ross, but the expectations remain the same. Gold.
Among the USA’s best hopes are Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder, and Adeline Gray. Burroughs is the defending Olympic champion at 74 kg and has 3 additional World Championships to his name. Another former Husker, Burroughs might be the best freestyle wrestler in the world at any weight class. His quickness and athleticism are a must see.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 10
USA Swimming has been the premier national aquatic program for more than fifty years, and always has stars to burn. This year is no different and there will be several people who are a must see. One is obvious and has been a mainstay for more than fifteen years. We’ll save him for the end. Another is a newcomer and nearly swims in a different pool than the rest of the world. Those are only two of the stars in the spectacular night sky that is USA Swimming.
There are far too many medal hopefuls to mention, and I would only embarrass myself by trying. Crowd favorite Missy Franklin will be in attendance, as will a recently hobbled Ryan Lochte. A plethora of new and returning stars on both sides will make the trip to Rio, but I suspect all eyes will eventually turn toward two.
If you don’t know that name, you should. The best female distance swimmer in the world, and it isn’t close. Leah Smith knew she was having the race of her life in the women’s 400 Free at the Olympic trials. How did she know? “I’ve never been able to see her feet before,” Smith said. “That was exciting.” The “her” she was referring to was Katie Ledecky. Smith bettered her personal best by three seconds and still lost by two. Such is the world of Katie Ledecky. The 400 isn’t even her best race. That’s the 800 where she has broken the World Record. Four times. I should qualify that the 800 is Ledecky’s best race in the Olympics. The 1500 Free is inexplicably only a Men’s event at the Olympics. Ledecky has broken that World Record too. Five times. She broke it twice at the 2015 World Championships.
How do we quantify Phelps at this point? He’s the best all around swimmer of all time. Holds the most Olympic Medals, the most Gold Medals, the most Gold Medals in a single Olympics. The GOAT. How do we look at Phelps now? We will, of course, evaluate him in the context of Baseball movies.
Sydney Phelps: Ken Strout (For Love of the Game)
The wide-eyed rookie. Trying to play spoiler in someone else’s story. Not quite successful, but maybe it’s the start of something.
London Phelps: Shoeless Joe Jackson (Field Of Dreams)
The fallen legend. Not the unbeatable force he once was, but poke the bear and you’ll find out he still has it.
Rio Phelps: Billy Chapel (For Love of the Game)
The aging star trying to push the sun back into the sky for one last day of summer.
Phelps has done everything better than anyone else in his sport. Now he’ll try to show the world that greatness doesn’t just fade with age.
That Sport That Americans Only Pay Attention To Sometimes
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): See above. Actually it was a 5. It’s USA Soccer.
That other form of Football. Soccer.
The American women are a dynasty. Three time World Cup Champions. Four time Olympic Gold Medalists. They will set out with the Gold Medal in mind and any other result probably isn’t good enough.
The American men are different. As an American sports fan, I can’t describe the strangeness of how the Men’s National Soccer Team seems to be viewed by the rest of the international community. Judging by various Reddit threads in /r/soccer, they seem to be viewed as the plucky underdog. Always trying to finish the Cinderella season and always trying to play above their level. I can’t describe how bizarre that is. I’ve always viewed the USA as the Evil Empire of international athletics. Two thousand six hundred and eighty-one Olympic Medals. Six hundred more than the next two countries combined. Ten different athletes with 10 or more Olympic Medals. All of that and our biggest sport doesn’t even compete on an international stage. I’m sure there are those that delight in our men’s soccer team always coming up a little bit short and I don’t blame them at all, but there are so many others that I see rooting for one of our very few underdog teams and consoling us when we inevitably fall. And it all comes in a sport, that we care about so much less than everyone else. I would best describe the phenomenon as a group of classmates trying to console the captain of the football team after he gets a B+ in Home Economics.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) Artistic: 10
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) Rhythmic: 4
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) Trampoline: 2
The United States has yet to medal in either Rhythmic or Trampoline since they were introduced in the Olympics and most people probably forget that they exist unless NBC decides to show them live so they can tape delay the Men’s 100m Freestyle Finals. As such, I will pretend that they don’t exist. Moving on.
Artistic gymnastics is much more important for the United States. It is one of the key places the U. S. will need to score medals in order to maintain a lead over China. Both countries are extremely strong in these events and each medal for the one is a lost opportunity for the other.
Many of the United States hopes will be placed on the Women’s team which will undoubtedly enter Rio as a strong favorite. Team USA is led by Simone Biles who has been the best gymnast in the world for years. Biles has won 3 All-Around, 2 Team, and 5 Event World Titles. She will be a heavy favorite in All-Around, Beam, and Floor. Joining Biles are Fierce Five members Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, and newcomers Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez. Douglas returns as the defending Olympic All-Around Gold medalist. Raisman returns as the defending Olympic champion on Floor with continued medal hopes. Kocian joins the team as the current Co-World Champion on Bars. Hernandez rounds out the team having earned second place at the US Olympic Trials behind only Simone Biles, an impressive feat considering the competition.
The Men’s team will enter Rio with less fanfare and significantly lowered expectations. In most events as a team, they will probably be on the outside looking in. A good showing could push them onto the team podium and several of them will push for event medals.
Track and Field
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 9.5
While Usain Bolt is the star of the track, the United States will pick up medals across the board in both Men’s and Women’s events. Justin Gatlin will continue his chase for Bolt’s crown in the 100; LaShawn Merrit will join him in the 200. Ashton Eaton returns in the Decathlon with his eyes on the Gold Medal. Long Jump, Triple Jump, High Jump, Pole Vault, Hurdles, and on down the line. Track and Field has been a strength for the United States, and the 2016 Rio incarnation is no different.
The women’s team is just as good, and probably better. They will attempt to bring home multiple medals in a variety of events. From runner Allyson Felix to shot putter Michelle Carter, this team will pull dozens of medals off the awards table.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 3
Many of the best boxers in history have been American, but most previews I’ve seen don’t have a great number of Team USA members factoring into the medal stand. In truth, I don’t know enough about boxing to disagree and so I won’t.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 9
China will dominate in diving. They will. The importance of this discipline isn’t so much that the USA grabs a hand-full of medals, but more that they don’t fall too far behind.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 3
Handball isn’t important. It’s just … not. We have basketball and probably consequently, suck at handball. Still, why aren’t we better at this?
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 7
The Bryan brothers and the Williams sisters. Every medal counts, and this is a good place for the US to pick up a few on China. All three doubles events will have American teams that expect to be on top of the medal stand.
Canoeing, Cycling, Equestrian, Fencing, Field Hockey, Judo, Modern Pentathlon, Rowing, Rugby, Sailing, Shooting, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Triathlon, Water Polo, Weightlifting
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 1
Oh, who am I kidding?
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 10
USA! USA! USA!
This is the one time every four years where Americans get to flaunt our athletic dominance over the rest of the world. We are the Evil Empire and we like it. Recently; however, we have faced down opposition to our reign. The sleeping giant of the far east has dedicated years to toppling us off the throne. China approaches. Fueled by a population three times larger, and trained near from birth at Olympic training facilities, they have come.
Let them come.
I have often told those who would listen that I would watch competitive spitting if Nebraska was involved. For two weeks every four years, the Olympics is that for my inner ‘Murican. I get to watch sports that I care nothing about and cheer as if Nebraska was playing in the National Championship game. The Olympics are both the best and the worst in sport. For two weeks, I will forget the worst and immerse myself in the best.
The earliest memory I have of the Olympics is the iconic torch lighting in Barcelona. The flamed arrow (which probably(definitely) didn’t actually light the torch) shooting up into the Olympic Cauldron and signaling the beginning. From there, it has been a myriad of triumphs and close calls and moments we agree to never speak of again(2004 Men’s Basketball). I remember the Dream Team. I remember Basketball so perfect that it nearly defied description. I remember the anticipation of the Long Jump. I remember how my dad described Bob Beamon’s 29’ long jump in 1968. I remember 1996. I remember Muhammad Ali’s shaking body lighting the torch. I remember the Magnificent Seven. I remember Shannon Miller on Beam. I remember Kerri Strug on Vault. I remember Bela Karolyi carrying her up onto the podium. I remember Michael Johnson in the 200. I remember Dan O’Brien and the Decathlon. And on. And on.
The Olympics have given me, and I expect most people, some of the most indelible memories of sport that we have, moments so perfect that they defy description when we recount them later. How do we describe Usain Bolt winning a 100m sprint by a margin thought impossible? How do we describe Jason Lezak swimming a 100m relay anchor leg seconds faster than he had ever swum before? How do we describe Jordan Burroughs leaping into the stands after completing his journey to Gold? How do we describe any of it?
For two weeks every four years, I can put away my dislike of the politics and simply watch as history unfolds. I can’t remember half the Super Bowls I’ve watched. I can’t remember half of the NBA finals, or NCAA Tournaments, or World Series, or Masters, or US Opens. But I remember every Olympics. Maybe it’s a just a fading image of a two week event, but I remember every single one.