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Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

Aug 10, 2021

Torches & Twisties: My Top 10 Takeaways from Tokyo 2020*

*Note: Tokyo 2020 took place in 2021.

With Tokyo 2020’s very Japanese transformer cauldron extinguished once more, it’s time for a quick look back at the games. Like past years, I was pretty thoroughly engrossed in the proceedings for the two week span with plenty of excitement to go around. It’s perhaps slightly melancholic to notice one of my top takeaways from Pyeongchang 2018 was the athletes’ smiles, something we were robbed of this go around due to safety precautions. And while those masks and empty stands will always serve as a time capsule from these games, I’ll do my best to move past them and talk about a few of the other things we’ll remember in years to come. So in no particular order, here are my top ten takeaways from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

10. Surfing is the Best

Ask me now what I’ll remember most about Tokyo 2020 and I’d have to guess it would be staying up late and watching the totally awesome surfing competitions. I doubted this would work but the head to head format of knockout rounds with 30+ minutes of watching these guys and gals try to catch the right wave, throw the biggest trick, and then block their rivals was somehow both peaceful and exhilarating.

9.Mixing It Up Works

There was a trend this games towards mixed gender competitions and generally I was a big fan. This was particularly the case in the Mixed Relay Triathlon which had two men and two women, each competing in a 300m swim, 6.8km bike, and 2k run. Mixed swimming, table tennis, and archery events were also successful. When the Olympics try new things, they tend to lead to more entertainment, so I say, mix it up even more. This doesn’t apply to just gender. Tweaking the rules of sports to make them slightly different in the Olympics can lead to very fun results as we saw in the track cycling events. I called for it after Rio but the Golf tournament should be altered a bit to make it stand out (match play, stableford, something just a bit different). And there are other events ripe for the mix up as well.

8. Sport Climbing is a Great Spectator Sport

New on the menu at this Olympics was rock, aka “sport” climbing. For its inaugural bow, the main three disciplines were put together into a “combined competition.” Speed had the climbers racing up a pre-set course in 7 or 8 second bursts. Bouldering had them trying to solve difficult but low to the ground climbing puzzles. Lead found them trying to get as far up a course as possible, setting their rope as they went. The scoring system for the final was an awesome ranking system where the climber’s place was multiplied across the three disciplines and the lowest score won. So if a climber finished 2nd in speed and 5th in bouldering, they would be on 10 and their final place would be up in the air until all the climbers had finished the lead, meaning there was all kinds of drama throughout that final. Unfortunately Paris is going to split speed off into its own medal event and bouldering and lead will be combined, which is too bad as it’s fun to have specialists competing in events they aren’t the best at. What will (hopefully) be much better about Paris is the fans. It turns out sport climbing competitions are big parties with a DJ spinning music while the climbers do their things, making for a what looks to be a super fun spectator sport.

7. Not a Good Year for Soccer

Both the Mens and Womens soccer tournaments were pretty uninspiring. It could have been scorching hot humid weather or the empty stands, but it just seemed like very few of the matches ever got out of first gear. That was certainly the case for the USWNT who turned their Rio quarterfinal exit into a Tokyo bronze, but looked downright awful in three of their six matches. As for the men, I don’t think anyone, even the Brazilians, think that this gold medal-winning Brazil wouldn’t get blown off the pitch by the 2016 gold medal-winning Brazil. Blah.

6. A Few Sports are Actually Better in Prepackaged Segments

I know that sounds controversial. Almost all of the events are better when you can watch them as intended and let the drama naturally unfold. This is particularly true with surfing and sport climbing and the cycling events. But it isn’t the case with all Olympic sports and I actually found that NBC did a good job of packaging the swimming and track events for general consumption. Unlike almost every other event, I don’t think I would have gotten more had I just watched the full version of those on the app.

5. Gymnastics = Still Great

Gymnastics is starting to feel like the NFL. You know you aren’t supposed to enjoy it because of the damage it does to the athletes, but it’s just so freaking awesome to watch. Obviously this games’ storyline was dominated by Simone Biles and her twisties, but c’mon how amazing is it that Suni Lee still won Gold? And then MyKala Skinner, who wasn’t even supposed to get a chance at a medal, won the Silver on Vault? And then Suni got another medal?! And then Jade Carey got a freakin Gold on floor?!? and then Simone came back and got a Bronze on beam after all that?!?!?! If that isn’t what the Olympics are all about… man.

4. Athletes as Spectators: a Missed Opportunity

One thing that’s always fun about the Olympics is seeing the big stars at other sports’ events (remember Bubba Watson at Beach Volleyball at Rio?). So it seems like a big opportunity missed that the already in-bubble athletes were only allowed to attend their own sports’ events. Seeing Megan Rapinoe at fiance Sue Bird’s gold medal match, or Shaun White inexplicably at the skateboarding events (assumedly as part of NBC’s team) really pointed that out. Had more athletes been able to attend events more widely, those 98% empty stands could have been just 70% empty which could have made a pretty big difference to both the competitors, and the audience watching at home.

3. The X Games are Now Olympics

The X Games were a major highlight of my summers back in my late teens and early 20s. Thinking about it, I guess it was kind of like how I watch the Olympics now. While I know they’re still happening, I really haven’t paid much attention for the last decade and a half. But it doesn’t matter because the competitions have now just become part of the Olympics. This Olympics saw the first medals handed out for Skate Park, BMX Park, and Skate Street, all mainstays of the old X Games. And there were even a few names from those old days. Take a bow Rune Glifberg and Daniel Dhers. I know the response to Skate Street was a bit tepid, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The big question now is if we are going to see the vert pipe or big air arrive sometime soon. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’m okay with leaving the moto events at home.

2. We Should Indeed Talk More About Mental Health

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say here, but it makes sense to me that if you put a ridiculous amount of pressure on yourself to be the best in the world at something, there will be some pretty nasty side effects. And when the collective pressure of a nation and commercial television and media infrastructure get into the mix, it gets worse. It’s complicated, but we can do a better job.

1. Big Wins by the Women Sealed It

The USA trailed the Chinese in the gold medal count for most of the games — but huge wins by the USA Women’s Basketball, Water Polo, Beach Volleyball, and most notably Volleyball (their first) — as well as a surprise win by Jennifer Valente in the track cycling Omnium event pushed the USA past the Chinese by one single gold. The Olympics are not singularly about getting more gold medals than the Chinese… but that was a pretty awesome comeback.

Posted by enderzero at 3:49pm on Aug. 10, 2021    
Feb 26, 2018

Top 10 Takeaways from the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics

Another Olympics has come and gone and is my tradition (see 2016, 2014, 2010) here are some collected thoughts on the games. I’m not going to use one of my ten below to talk about NBC but suffice to say the coverage was generally pretty good and the 2018 iteration of the app is the best yet. But even though Mike Tirico is a generally affable dude, he is no Bob Costas and his light-hearted quips didn’t quite carry the gravity of the man, the myth, the legend. On to the sports!

10. Americans Are Really Good at Snowboarding

Six Freestyle Snowboarding events and Team USA took home 7 medals, winning gold in 4. Red Gerard got things started in the men’s Slopestyle which was followed up by Jamie Anderson in the women’s event. And then things really got crazy with Chloe Kim and Shaun White winning the half pipe events in dramatic fashion. Both were a ton of fun to watch for different reasons. The field has caught up to the now 31 Shaun White but he made it happen when it counted and won one of the most dramatic medals I can remember. Chloe Kim, on the other hand, is just as dominant in the sport as Shaun was when he was her tender age of 17. She really had no competition. It will be awesome to see if that holds true for the next quad.

9. The Russians are Still Russians

Perhaps the lasting effect of the IOC’s toothless punishment of the Russian’s systematic doping program from Sochi by requiring Russians to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” is that now when we see the Olympic flag, we all think “Russians.” Prepare yourself for that joke to live on. But the façade had pretty much been dropped by games end with the OARs being referred to as Russians in the hockey final as if they had a flag on their uniform. It’s a sign of just what a sham it was. And the fact the only doping controversy at the games is surrounding the Bronze-winning Russian curler is all the more poetic. While my idea of having a Russian athlete draft never really picked up steam (wouldn’t it be great to see Alina Zagitova competing for the Costa Ricans?), the IOC needs to figure something out because you gotta be worried about the fact the next Winter games are back in China.

8. Pyeongchang was All Smiles

Was it just me or did it seem like the athletes competing in Pyeongchang had particularly vivacious grins? Perhaps it was the amazing South Korean spectators who seemed to cheer for each and every athlete. Regardless, I’ll remember those pearly whites whenever I think back on the 2018 games.

7. Closing Ceremony Tops the Pair

The Opening Ceremony ran a little long in the tooth, was a bit too filled with pre-taped materials, and featured some head-slapping international insensitivities. So perhaps surprisingly, the Closing Ceremony did not at all disappoint. The projection system on that floor was spectacular in all its psychedelic glory and the music was pretty cool for the most part. A perfect example of what the Closing did better than the Opening is the Intel drone display which was cool but felt so pre-taped (it was) in the Opening. The live movement in the Closing was astounding. This was all the more highlighted by the Beijing Games committee’s awful pre-taped hand off segment which was the Closing’s lowlight.

6. Sliding Sports are Tough

It’s interesting to see the idiosyncrasies of the scoring systems for different sports. Half Pipe is the best single score of three runs, while Big Air is the best two runs out of the three. Well the sliding sports (that’s Luge, Bobsled, Skeleton, etc.) have got to be the most ruthless in their scoring. Four runs over two days, with the total time all counting. Have one bad run out of four and your medal hopes are gone. So it’s all the more impressive that Chris Mazdzer won the USA men’s first ever Luge medal (a silver) and all the crazier that there were ties for gold in 2-man Bobsled and silver in 4-man. A quick word of praise for the Team Relay Luge where men, women, and doubles have to go one after another hitting a trigger at the bottom to launch the luger at the top. The more weird ways we can think of to combine events, the better in my book.

5. Nice That Figure Skating has a Consolation Prize

The Figure Skating Team event is not yet as prestigious as it’s summer counterpart, Gymnastics Team. But it sure is great they have it now as it gave all of the American figure skaters something to brag about after winning the bronze and then going on to stink up the joint in the individual events (save the Shibutani siblings who won an individual bronze as well). I know, I know, figure skating is hard. But it’s so clear that Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva are a class above Mirai, Karen, and Bradie. And no matter how media savvy Adam Rippon is, he could never compete with Yuzuru Hanyu on the ice. Perhaps Nathan Chen could, but the pressure definitely got to him on the Pyeongchang ice. The USA needs to step up our game to get back to winning ways in individual Figure Skating.

4. Tough Break for America’s Most Successful* Olympic Alpine Skier

There was a gondola load of pressure on Mikaela Shiffrin to win any or all of the five Alpine events she was planning to compete in at Pyeongchang. She was right alongside Chloe Kim, Shaun White, and Nathan Chen in just about all of NBC’s marketing. But it’s really hard to win multiple ski races and the pressure she was under due to her domination on the World Cup circuit was probably a bit too much. We saw it in her performance at the last few World Cup events leading up to the games where she look tired and wasn’t on her A-game. The fact that the weather caused delays and rescheduled events certainly did not work to her favor. All of this is to say that her gold and silver in GS and Combined respectively should be seen as a big win for Mikaela. Go out and keep dominating and she’ll have more medals in her future no doubt.

*I did the math on this so hear me out. I think it’s important to point out that no American skier has ever won more than two gold medals in Olympic Alpine events. Bode Miller has the most medals total with six, but only one of those is gold. Julia Mancuso has four medals and Lindsay Vonn has three, but only one gold each. There are three US skiers with two gold medals: Mikaela, Andrea Mead-Lawrence (1952) and Ted Ligety. But both Ligety and Mead-Lawrence won no other medals aside from their two golds. Therefore, since Mikaela has a silver to go with her two golds, I think it is only fair to call her America’s most successful Olympic Alpine skier.

3. Excellent Hockey Capped with USA Win

Pyeongchang hosted two very entertaining hockey tournaments. There was a lot of noise made about the lack of NHL players for the men’s side, a fact that surely hurt the USA and Canada more than other countries. But it was still a lot of fun to see the youngsters out there with some veterans and it led to great matches. The USA just barely lost to Slovenia and then had a couple awesome wins over Slovakia. We should have been better against the Czechs but the day less rest took its toll. Clearly the Russians were the class of the men’s tourney but it was so cool to see that crazy charge by the Germans that inspired one of the best Olympics tweets ever. On the women’s side, it might have been destined from the get go that USA would play Canada for the gold. The fact they beat us in group play made that Gold Medal shootout win even sweeter. This is certainly one of the Olympics’ best rivalries.

2. USA Women Win First Ever Cross-Country Medal – and it’s GOLD

On day one or two of the Olympics, Katie Couric did an interview with the USA women’s Cross-Country team. Right away it was clear that Jessie Diggins, Kikkan Randall, and the other ladies of XC had something special. But Cross-Country Skiing is completely dominated by Europeans so it was a big win when Diggins finished 5th in the 10KM Freestyle event, the best ever result for US women. For Diggins and Randall to fight on to win the Team Sprint event a week later was absolutely mind blowing. And to do it in such dramatic fashion. Wow. It’s hard to overstate the feelings of pride for those women.

1. Shuster Magic!

Speaking of pride, that was a quality that was sorely lacking for USA skip John Shuster after his 2-win 9th place finish (of 10) at Sochi and his 2-win last place performance at Vanouver. After those Vancouver games, I called him a “choke artist” and his performance “despicable.” So I was suitably worried when I saw Shuster and his new merry band of outcast curlers win the USA trials last Fall. And the fact he got off to a 2 and 4 start made it seem like those worries were justified. What happened next is the stuff of Olympic storybooks. John Shuster, Tyler George, John Standsteiner, and Matt Hamilton (plus alternate Joe Polo, I guess) went on to win 3 must-win matches against power houses Canada, Switzerland, and Great Britain to make the semi-finals. Another win against Canada meant we were guaranteed a medal. And the hard-fought final against Sweden topped off with the FIVE POINT 8th end meant the USA were Olympic gold medalists. These men are God-damned American heroes. God bless you, John Shuster.

Posted by enderzero at 4:36pm on Feb. 26, 2018    
Aug 21, 2016

Top 10 Takeaways from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games


The flame has been extinguished (and what a cool flame holder it was) on the XXXI Olympiad and man is my sofa worn out. There were plenty of memorable moments, and some that we’d rather all forget. If watching the Olympics was an Olympic sport, I’d be in the hunt for Gold (see photo at bottom). Let’s just say I watched or fast forwarded through almost every moment of broadcast on NBC, NBCSN, USA, MSNBC, and CNBC over the last two weeks. To put a nice bow on it, I’ve collected my thoughts in these Top 10 Takeaways from these Olympic Games.


10. Goodbye Hope Solo

The US Women’s National Team’s quarterfinal defeat at the hands of eventual Silver-winning Sweden was one of the lowest moments of the games (and biggest upsets as well). That the already controversial goalkeeper Hope Solo immediately called the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” and complained that the best team didn’t win is the worst part of the whole debacle. As if allegedly beating up your family members and picking fights with former USWNT stars wasn’t enough, Solo was booed every single time she touched the ball after posting a photo of herself kitted out in anti-Zika gear before the games. This had to be a distraction for the team. The “Zi-ka!” chant was so popular the Brazilian fans started doing it to other teams and even other sports like beach volleyball.

This is a rebuilding period for the USWNT after many of their stars retired post-World Cup victory last summer. That said, this is still the best team in the game and the new talent coming up is even more exciting than the women who left. One of those new talents must be good at tending goal because it’s time that Hope Solo steps aside as well.


9. Modern Pentathlon is the perfect sport (…for 19th century aristocrats)

So pretend you’re a 19th century sportsman for a moment. Here is your path to victory. This two-day competition starts with 35 fencing matches. The eventual winner, Russia’s Aleksander Lesun went 28 and 7 (an Olympic Record) that netted him 268 points. The worst fencers (there were three) went 9 and 26 and only scored 154 points for it. You then take to the pool for 4 lengths (200m). Britain’s James Cooke won this event with an Olympic Record time of 1:55.60 – good for 354 points. Lesun was in 22nd at 2:05:58. Cuba’s Jose Ricardo Figueroa was slowest at 2:15.39 which still got him 294 points. By contrast, the men’s 200m Free was won in Rio by China’s Sun Yang with a time of 1:44.65. There were only two swimmers that swam their heat times slower than Cooke. The slowest 200m Free swimmer Ahmed Gebrel of Palestine’s 1:59:71 would have put him in 4th in the Modern Pentathlon.

Day two begins with the bonus round of fencing (not sure how this works). Then they move on to horse jumping. Now I’m not usually a big fan of the Olympic equestrian events but here it’s awesome. What good 19th century sportsman can’t jump a horse? Well some of these guys. The best part is when a horse refuses to jump and it derails an entire pentathlon. Four of the 36 riders recorded a zero score because they fell off their horses or the horses just refused to jump. Our pal Figueroa from Cuba made it in under the time limit but scored a measly 233. Six riders scored a perfect 300. Lesun scored 279. Oh and the other great part about the equestrian event is that all the riders wear the traditional uniforms of their home countries. Hungary’s is particularly WWI-esque.

Finally, we end the second day with the main event: combined running and shooting. The points are added up from the previous events and you get a head start based on your time. You start with shooting (it’s a laser pistol, not particularly 19th century, I know). You run a kilometer. Shoot again, run, shoot, and run. 3KM and 3 times at the range. Lesun started first and carried the lead all the way through, proving that he is indeed, the best 19th century sportsman alive in 2016.


8. Neymar is now a God, but it doesn’t erase 7-1

The Men’s Soccer final was undoubtedly the highlight for Brazilian fans. Tied 1-1 through both regular and added time, the match went to a penalty shootout. It came down to the final kick after Germany’s fifth kick was saved by Brazil. It just happens young star and captain Neymar had insisted to go last (not the smartest move but certainly the most dramatic) and he stepped up and buried the shot to win gold. This is great for Brazil but it’s important to remember this was a U23 tournament and while it points to better things in the future for the flailing Brazilian National Team, it doesn’t erase the problems in the senior team best exemplified by two summers ago’s 7-1 World Cup semifinal defeat at the hands of the Germans in Brazil and the two subsequent early exits from the Copa America. Neymar’s great (he scored the goal in the final as well) and the fact they didn’t give up a single goal in the tourney until the final are both good things for Brazil, but it also might be that Brazil was just taking this tournament on home soil way more seriously than everyone else.


7. Boys will be boys

Taken in isolation, everything that dumbass Ryan Lochte did in his drunken vandalism/cover-up was kinda understandable. I mean, idiotic, but understandable. Who hasn’t taken a whiz outside when the bathroom door was locked or done some dumb drunken action they aren’t proud of the next day. Even the initial lie that set this in motion wasn’t that crazy. He did have a gun pulled on him. They did take his money. This whole thing was of course avoidable, but he’s a knucklehead. It just happens he’s a super famous knucklehead and this got so crazy blown out of proportion. Let’s all move on, please.


6. Golf was a hit, even if 4 of the top 5 golfers were bozos for not coming

The Zika excuse was quickly pointed to when Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy all decided to sit out Golf’s reentry into the Olympics after 100+ years. As it was widely reported, no one even saw mosquitos in Rio! So that flimsy excuse didn’t hold up. What’s much more likely is that they just didn’t want to travel all the way to Brazil for a tournament without a real purse. Too bad because it was quickly evident that the guys who showed up came to play. This was one of the most exciting tournaments of the year with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson battling it out even rivaling Henrik and Phil Mickelson a few weeks ago at Troon. Regardless, it was super cool to have this game in the Olympics and I think it will be taken much more seriously in Tokyo in 2020. My only advice would be to come up with some sort of matchplay-esque scoring system. It doesn’t have to be a Ryder Cup, but it would be cool if there were some rule changes that made the scoring slightly different than a regular tournament to make it a bit more based on country strength and not just individual skill. Anyway, we have 4 years to figure that out.


5. Interviews with athletes are the worst

Mike Tirico is sitting down with the bronze medalist form the steeple chase? Fast forward! It’s always the same with these athletes. They’re taking it one day/game/year at a time. They are still in shock. They are super thankful that Jesus made this happen to them. At least the “Final Five” gymnasts were entertaining because, Gawd is that how teenage girls talk LOL? But man, by the second week of coverage I really couldn’t stand to watch another random athlete blabber.


4. Equestrian, Synchronized Swimming and Rhythmic Gymnastics needs to go.

The Summer games are way too packed and they just keep adding more sports, so something has got to give. I could probably give the axe to about eight events (see below) but these three are certainly ripest for the pickin. The face that NBC chose to highlight so much Synchronized Swimming and Rhythmic Gymnastics on their network broadcasting is mind boggling. Did anyone watch these?


3. Badminton, Boxing, Flat Water Rowing/Canoeing, Taekwondo and Table Tennis are pretty boring without someone to root for

These were the events I just couldn’t get into unless there was an American in medal position (and that didn’t happen often). However, this is in pretty stark contrast to Archery, Judo, Shooting, Weight Lifting, and the White Water events, all of which are very entertaining regardless of who is competing.


2. Track Cycling is far better than expected

As most people know, I am a huge road cycling fan (listen to episode 38 of the PeloTonOfFun to hear my reaction to the action-packed road events). But I had little experience with the track events. They are great! Keirin involves cyclists following a motorbike and then sprinting for the win. Team Pursuit pits two teams of cyclists against each other on the same track, which is awesome (especially when they catch each other). But the Omnium is where it’s really at.

Think of Omnium as the Modern Pentathlon of cycling. Six events over two days with 18 riders, all from different countries. It starts with a 15km all out race (called the Scratch Race). Next is a 4km Individual Pursuit (like the Team Pursuit but one on one). Then the amazing Elimination Race where every two laps the last place rider is eliminated until it’s down to a winner.

Day two starts with two Time Trial sprint events of a 1km and 250m (with a flying start). It ends with the Points Race which is a 40km race with all of the racers sprinting for 1st (5 points), 2nd (3 points), 3rd (2 points), and 4th (1 point). If you lap the field you get 20 points(!) meaning someone who was way behind from the previous five events still had a chance if they were aggressive in the Points Race.

Though he only took 1st in one event (the Elimination Race), Italy’s (and Team Sky’s) Elia Viviani won Omnium by 13 points over GB’s Mark Cavendish. In turn Cav was only 2 points ahead of London 2012’s winner Lasse Norman Hansen of Denmark who took the Bronze. This was so much fun to watch and I’m sure I’ll be tuning more than just once every four years (especially as more sprinters from the peloton start to jump in).


1. Rugby Sevens is the best

Without a doubt my favorite new sport of the Summer Games is Rugby! I’ve watched a bit here and there but never a full Sevens match. And don’t blink because the games are super short, taking only about 20 minutes for a full match. What other big sport is that quick? It’s action packed and full speed, plus the athletes are big time characters. Not to mention it is ridiculously popular in parts of the world. The entire country of Fiji stopped to watch their men’s team win the country’s first ever medal (had Rugby been in past Olympics, I have a feeling this wouldn’t have been their first). I watched every second of both men’s and women’s Rugby Sevens tourneys and was left just wanting more. The fact that the English Premiership is going to be on NBCSN this year is awesome but these tourneys are the way to go. What’s that you say? The Sevens World Series starts in Dubai this December? Sign. Me. Up.


What’d y’all think? There’s a comments section right down there. Lemme hear ya!

Posted by enderzero at 11:49pm on Aug. 21, 2016    
Feb 23, 2014

Top 10 Highs & Lows from Sochi 2014


The last two weeks have absolutely flown by (hmm, that might be an exaggeration) but the Sochi 2014 flame has been extinguished and all eyes now turn to Rio 2016 and the next Summer Games. Before we get ahead of ourselves, here is a look back at my Top 10 moments of the Sochi Winter Games — both the hits and the misses.

See the list

Posted by enderzero at 5:58pm on Feb. 23, 2014    
Feb 7, 2014

Sochi 2014 Olympics – Ryland’s TV & Streaming Highlights


It’s Winter Olympics time again and anyone who was around four years ago will remember just how damned excited I get for the Games. USA won the total medal count last games with 37 with host country Canada winning the most Golds (14 to USA’s 9). Russia finished way back in the pack with only 3 gold medals and 15 medals total. That was good enough for sixth place (behind Austria). You can bet the Ruskies are going to be looking for some redemption.

UPDATE: I’ve created a Public Google Calendar with all of the event discussed in this post. See the Calendar below.

Click here for all the fun

Posted by enderzero at 7:03pm on Feb. 7, 2014    
Jul 27, 2012

XXX Olympics Men’s Soccer Tournament Power Rankings

With one round of games in the book before the Opening Ceremonies even air (tape delayed in the USA, of course), the XXX Olympic Games have officially begun. We all know who the favorites are in the Women’s Tournament (USA have never missed a final and won 3 of 4), but I’m going to spend a bit of time talking about what to look forward to in the Men’s Tournament.

The Beijing Olympics four years ago were, along with that summer’s Euro Cup Tournament, a big part of the soccer bug that bit me (we’ll call them the thorax) and turned me into the raving soccer maniac I am today. Having watched all 16 teams play their first games, one thing is plainly evident: these 23 years and younger (plus 3 exceptions) teams are definitely not the senior teams that I’ve become accustomed to watching duke it out on the world stage. That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of familiar names and faces, but the quality (mostly) on display yesterday was much closer to MLS than EPL. I’ve broken the 16 teams into an unscientific and quite biased ranking with a few words about the performance and chances of each squad.

1. Brazil – There is really no doubt that a Brazil team that contains Neymar, Marcelo, Pato, Thiago Silva, Rafael, Sandro, Hulk, and Oscar are the runaway favorites to go all the way. Add to that a hunger based on the fact and they’ve never won an Olympic Gold and it seems a done deal. And that’s exactly how Brazil looked in the first half of their match versus Egypt going up 3-0 in the first 30 minutes. However, that wasn’t the story in the second half when a resurgent Egypt buried two past shaky looking 19 year-old goalkeeper Neto who was supposed to be their backup. A frustrated looking Brazil was able to regroup and maintain enough possession for the win, but it shows this dream team may have some vulnerabilities.

2. Uruguay – They’ve been the sweethearts of South America since their semifinal run in South Africa and haven’t shown a lot to give fans doubt until UAE slotted a goal against them in the 23rd minute of their first Olympic match since 1928. But the uber-talented team was able to regroup behind their no less histrionical captain Luis Suarez and come back to win 2-1. They certainly have the skill and if they keep showing this kind of fortitude, La Celeste should top a very tough Group A.

3. Japan – Looking to put the business class controversy behind them (along with the women’s team), a vibrant, talented, and disciplined looking Japanese team came storming out of the gates in their first match and took control of Group D with a victory over group faves Spain. Some may wonder if this upset was more Spain’s poor play but Japan had opportunity after opportunity and the 1-0 score line belies a commanding performance that could have ended 4-0 to the Japanese. Of course, it always helps to be up a man for 49 minutes of play. We’ll see if they are the real deal in Sunday’s match against Morocco that could see the team put a thumping on the speedy North African youngsters.

4. Great Britain – Coming in as such favorites, a sorta-united Great Britain team (Scotland and Northern Ireland banned their players from joining due to FIFA fears of losing their autonomous status) was bound to stumble out of the gates. Playing a stupidly zealous Senegal, the Brits couldn’t find a second goal to seal things up and let the Senegalese draw level with minutes to play. There is a ton of talent on this team, even having left so many big names watching from home, but you can’t help but wonder if the pressure is just too much for this choke-happy home nation.

5. Spain – Yes they lost their first match but let’s all remember the eventual World Cup champions lost their first match in South Africa to Switzerland as well. Still, this obviously-not-senior Spanish squad is really going to have to get organized behind 24 year-old Juan Mata if they are going to fulfill the expectations set forward by their big brothers.

6. South Korea – While South Korea failed to find the back of the net, they also kept a clean sheet against a usually rampant scoring Mexico. This might be more Mexico’s fault but South Korea certainly looked fast and very fit. With Group B being weakest group, look for South Korea to definitely advance (but that could be about it).

7. Honduras – Yes I’m sore that the Hondurans are in London and not the Americans but the CONCACAF runners up looked pretty solid in their 2-2 draw with Morocco, which was undoubtedly the most entertaining of the first day of play. They’ve got a very tough game coming up against Spain on Sunday. But if the Spanish can’t get their shit together, look for Honduras to make a knockout stage run.

8. Egypt – It has been a rough going for Egyptian soccer (really Egyptian society) with live sports being banned after recent riots. But the squad played their hearts out versus Brazil and managed to score two goals against the obvious faves. There were only four other teams with at least two goals out of the 16 and none of them didn’t walk away with at least one point. Tough luck for Egypt but it bodes well for them in a Group C in which they have a very good chance of nabbing the runner up spot.

9. Belarus – One of only four teams to manage all three points in their first game, Belarus should be congratulated for their performance but it isn’t worth getting too worked up about. In their first major tournament since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, any run will be good for the nation, but it would be a huge surprise if they managed points off of either Brazil or Egypt in the next two matches.

10. Mexico – It warms my heart to report that this is quite possibly the weakest Mexican team I’ve ever watched compete in a major tournament. They have plenty of talent but looked completely disorganized against South Korea Thursday and were barely able to hold on for the 0-0 draw. Usually an extremely offensive team, Mexico managed only two shots on goal. Things could pick up for El Tri if/when Giovani Dos Santo starts in Sunday’s match versus group minnows Gabon. Plus, let’s not get too excited and forget Mexico has a huge advantage as the most experienced team in a very weak group.

11. Morocco – The Moroccans looked like a young, hungry, and most importantly, energetic team in their 2-2 draw with Honduras. This team is packed with speed and showed they can score goals, but have a tough challenge ahead of them if they are to advance from the very difficult Group D.

12. United Arab Emirates – The UAE squad showed they have a good amount of young talent to jump ahead to a 1-0 lead versus Uruguay. But their lack of experience proved their downfall as they eventually lost their lead and then gave up all three points to the much tougher side. In an easier group, they may have a chance to advance, but things don’t look so rosy with no points and Great Britain still to play.

13. Senegal – A rambunctious team, to say the least, Senegal probably would have finished with only eight or nine men on the field had their match referee not been so ridiculously lenient. Their play versus Great Britain was downright dangerous but they do have plenty of speed and they did find the net to earn the late point. Don’t count them completely out, but do be sure to get out of the way when you see them charging in.

14. Switzerland – The weird thing about power rankings is that while the Switzerland that took the field Thursday would likely lose to my 11th – 13th ranked teams, they have a better chance to advance than any of them due to their fortunate placement in Group B. Though they’ve shown very good results for their youth squads in recent memory, Switzerland looked flat footed against an even less impressive Gabon in their first match. We’ll see if they can turn it on versus a more robust South Korea on Sunday.

15. New Zealand – The All Whites had nothing going for them in their first match versus Belarus managing just four shots on goal. The good news is that goalkeeper Michael O’Keefe had a decent game with seven saves and just the one losing goal allowed.

16. Gabon – In the first 15 minutes of their match against Switzerland, Gabon looked like they had no idea what sport they were playing. It’s rare you see a team so out of sorts but leave it to Switzerland to blow their 1-0 5th minute penalty lead by allowing Gabon back into the game. It wasn’t pretty, but who knows what’s in store for this tiny nation who did make it to the Quarterfinals in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations last winter.

Posted by enderzero at 6:29pm on Jul. 27, 2012    
Mar 1, 2010

Top Moments from the Vancouver Olympics

The torch may have been extinguished, but before the post-Olympic hangover really kicks in, I’d like to share a few of my favorite memories from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. You won’t find anything on this list about NBC’s atrocious coverage (though NPR has a great article). Al Michaels’s daytime drinking might have been a fun diversion, but Costas’s constant head movement and witticisms grew old very quickly. You also won’t find anything here about choke artist John Shuster and his despicable performance for USA Curling. And I certainly have nothing good to say about Ice Dancing. No activity that involves twizzles should be an Olympic sport. While there might have been those few lows, overall the games were incredibly enjoyable – and successful for Team USA. Here are the moments I will remember most:

Hannah Kearney Gets Team USA Going
The first gold medal for the USA came in the Women’s Freestyle Moguls on the first full day of competition. Canada’s Jennifer Heil had laid down a killer run and everyone was thinking Canada might break their home gold drought on day one. But along came Hannah Kearney who threw down an absolutely perfect run and took the gold away with ease. Canada only had to wait one day for Alex Bioldeau to win the men’s turn down the bumps. They went on to win 14 golds on their home soil, topping the gold chart with 4 more than their closest competitor.

Sven “Drama” Kramer
Say it so it rhymes. I was truly touched when Dutch speed skating star Sven Kramer jumped into the crowd after winning the 5000m and hugged his family. Then a few days later, Kramer made headlines again when he asked NBC’s Andrea Kremer if she was stupid for not knowing who he was (video here). But the icing on the cake was in the 10,000m (Kramer’s best event). While setting a time that would assure him the gold, Kramer made an illegal lane change on the insistence of his coach and was DQ’ed! The worst part is that Kramer knew it was wrong but made the move anyway. Kramer came back and won a Bronze with Holland in the Team Pursuit a few days later.

The Glory of Curling
Anyone who has watched much of the games with me knows how bitten by the curling bug I have become (especially when it comes to Brit-Skip Eve Muirhead). I had heard it was a great game but really had no idea just how complex and exciting it is. It is often dubbed “chess on ice” because of all the strategy that goes into planning your shots out many throws in advance. But the huge element necessary in curling but not in chess is execution. After you figure out what you want to do, you still gotta be able to do it. I had a whole lot of fun watching and am hoping it starts to get some more non-Olympic TV coverage… especially the women’s UK team.

Canada Has Trouble Making Ice
One of the funniest moments came a few days in when speed skating was delayed because of problems with the surface of the ice. Three ice surfacing machines (notably not name brand Zambonis) malfunctioned at the Richmond Oval and it took “chief ice maker” Mark Messer over an hour to get it right. And here I thought it was Canada that invented ice.

Shaun White Simply Dominates
Love him or hate him, the guy is truly amazing. The first run White threw down was good enough to win him the gold (hell his prelim run was probably good enough) – but he still came back and laid down the sickest half pipe run ever seen in competition. There really isn’t anyone who can even get close to what he is doing.

Cross Country Wipeout Medalist
During a prelim run in the women’s Individual Sprint race, Slovenian cross-country skier Petra Majdic took a really nasty tumble into a gully. During the coverage, the NBC team showed the crash over and over again, deriding the fact that she was given a delayed start time. She went on to complete all three 1.4km heats and win the bronze medal. After the race, it was revealed she had broken four ribs and suffered a collapsed lung. Just imagine breaking four ribs and suffering a collapsed lung and then running 3 miles at medal pace!

Big Face and Funny Hat
Sticking with cross country, a quick word has to be said for NBC’s wonderful Nordic commentary team of Big Face and his pal Funny Hat (aka Al Trautwig and Chad Samelka). Al has an incredible voice which you can hear in the video above (you also might remember him as NBC’s gymnastics announcer) and Chad is surely quite knowledgeable – but more importantly… look at those guys! Al’s face in enormous! Just compare him to Chad. And those mitts! He looks like he is going to strangle that poor microphone. And come on Chad… just what is the deal with that hat?

Kim Yu-Na!
Incredible. While her free skate was glorious, it was Kim Yu-Na’s short program that won her both the gold medal and the hearts of millions around the world. Women’s figure skating is always one of the main things to be remembered from the winter games and Kim Yu-Na’s performance was simply one of the best ever.

USA’s Hockey Run
The only undefeated team coming into the final, Team USA hadn’t even trailed by a point in the tournament. As we all know, that ended 12 minutes into the final versus Canada (after defeating them in prelims). But for USA fans, it is hard to say there was any moment in the Olympics more exciting than when Zach Parise buried a goal with 24 seconds remaining in regulation to even the score at 2-2 and force Canada to a sudden death overtime. It may have ended up being Canada’s night, but really who can complain about that performance? It is almost worth it to lose and not have to feel bad about how devastated Canada would have been. Almost.

What an Olympics! The USA jumped out to an early lead in the medal count on day one and never relinquished that lead. That is an incredible achievement and the first time since 1932 we have won the overall count. We also set a record for most medals ever won by anyone! Congratulations Team USA. What a fantastic showing!

Posted by enderzero at 1:57am on Mar. 1, 2010