Monday, August 11, 2008

Primal Screaming is weird

The Olympics are a funny beast to fathom. Is it just me, or does it strike you as odd that Americans become totally affixed to watching sports that they don't normally watch at any other time during their life? Think about it, things like gymnastics, swimming, and diving are on television quite a bit, especially if you're looking out for them, yet no one watches them outside the Olympics. The only conclusion I can make is that the attention is warranted since the Olympics are the climax of athletic competition.

Whatever it may be, the first few days of these Beijing games have gotten my attention. Now I'm the first to admit that I have ulterior motives for watching this time around, specifically the fact that I've been writing about them for the Sun. And although it's just a weekend old, last night may have provided American Olympic faithful with their indelible image of these scandal-ridden games. Or, if you're like me, it could be the most horrible image ever witnessed. I think by now it's obvious I'm talking about Michael Phelps's ridiculously maniacal scream and celebration after his 4x100 freestyle relay team mounted what some are calling the greatest comeback in swimming history.

Courtesy of The New York Times

I watched the event in Manhattan last night, and although my friends and I were all screaming at the television as Jason Lezak out touched Alain Bernard, I didn't think it was going to set off a firestorm of "this is the greatest Olympic swim ever" columns. But of course, I was wrong. Here's what Pat Forde of ESPN had to say about it all:

What transpired during the final 50 meters was the stuff of Disney movies. It was the kind of thing that should land Lezak a co-starring role with Phelps on cereal boxes and network morning shows. And if Phelps does complete the great eight and pocket a $1 million Speedo bonus, he should cut a check for one-eighth of that total to the guy who kept the quest alive, Jason Lezak.

And let's not forget Jay Mariotti for the Chicago Sun-Times, who decides to take a climactic moment in American swimming history and turn it into a negative for Phelps:

If you didn't see it, find the tape and give it to all your family members and neighbors. In due time, it might be recalled as the seminal moment of the Beijing Games, non-politics division. For years, assuming Phelps breaks Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in a single Olympiad, we'll be rehashing this frenetic finish as a signature moment of his pursuit. As exhilaration goes, what happened in the final 50 meters of the 4-x-100 freestyle relay was heart-doctor madness. And the drama was required at the Water Cube in part because Phelps -- the dolphin, the magazine cover boy, the face of these Games -- wasn't at his best.

After I watched it all go down, I thought people would be more focused on Phelps oddly barbaric reaction. Usually with an athlete of his stature, you either see pure joy or utter relief after a victory like that relay. Look at that picture above, Phelps looks like someone straight out of Braveheart about to use a stake and drive it through the heart of some unsuspecting victim. Seriously, I've never seen someone celebrate like that.

Earlier in the day, I watched Padraig Harrington clinch the PGA Championship with a nifty par save on the 18th hole, and he definitely looked awkward celebrating. His celebration was at least a fist pump, albeit much less artful than the patented Tiger fist pump. See, the fist pump is one of those go-to celebration things that your body is just trained to do after years of watching other people celebrate. There's also the "We're No. 1" finger salute, the heterosexual man hug, and hell, even clicking your heels seems more natural than what Phelps did.

Seriously, look at that picture again. He appears as if he's about to be staked to a crucifix, it's that painful of a celebration. We'll see if Phelps celebrates tonight, when he goes for his third gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle. I've got a feeling this is the race that ruins his bid for eight golds. I'll gloat tomorrow if I'm on the money.

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