Cheer­ing on our ath­letes

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

Those who may be ques­tion­ing Amer­ica’s great­ness dur­ing this elec­tion cy­cle needed only to flip their tele­vi­sions to the Rio Olympics for a wakeup call. The United States dom­i­nated the medal count in the 31st Olympiad, serv­ing as a re­minder that we re­main the world leader.

Read­ing all the neg­a­tive sto­ries about Rio’s pre­pared­ness for the Olympics, one would be ex­cused for ex­pect­ing to see a sta­dium sec­tion col­lapse mid-race. What we watched in­stead was an Olympiad that at least ap­peared to move smoothly. Still, there was the green wa­ter in the div­ing well, a Bel­gian sailor who got sick from the pol­luted Gua­n­abara Bay and long lines for ath­letes at the Olympic Vil­lage McDon­ald’s. Then again, there were re­ports of in­di­vid­ual Olympians or­der­ing 50 items at a time from the fast-food res­tau­rant that was free for ath­letes.

The fi­nal medal count at the Olympics, which closed Sun­day, was 121 for the United States: 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze. U.S. ath­letes broke three world records and eight Olympic records. Maybe you saw one of those, like dis­tance swim­mer Katie Ledecky’s 800-me­ter freestyle race. We sat stunned in front of the tele­vi­sion watch­ing her leave the other swim­mers far be­hind as she smashed the pre­vi­ous Olympic record held by Great Bri­tain’s Rebecca Adling­ton by about 10 sec­onds and her own world record by two sec­onds.

The United States took home the most medals in swim­ming and track and field, with those ath­letes rac­ing their way to the podium 65 times.

We watched Michael Phelps be­come the most dec­o­rated Olympian of all time — best­ing a man named Leonidas of Rhodes from an­cient Greece. Sorry Leonidas, records are made to be bro­ken. In this case, it took 2,168 years to do it.

Ash­ton Ea­ton com­pleted a fan­tas­tic de­cathlon, set­ting an Olympic record for points earned.

Per­haps one of the most emo­tional fin­ishes we caught on TV was that of the women’s triathlon. Watch­ing Amer­i­can Gwen Jor­gen­son raise the fin­ish line ban­ner above her head in tri­umph — af­ter a brief tus­sle dur­ing the run­ning por­tion with reign­ing gold medal­ist Ni­cola Spirig of Switzer­land — was a truly mem­o­rable mo­ment.

The two Si­mones, Biles in gymnastics and Manuel in swim­ming, be­came stars in Rio for their phe­nom­e­nal per­for­mances.

In the 100-me­ter hur­dles, all three medals went to Amer­i­cans: Bri­anna Rollins, gold; Nia Ali, silver; and Ash­ley Spencer, bronze.

Skeet shooter Kim Rhode be­came the first woman to medal in six con­sec­u­tive Olympiads.

If we seem to be high­light­ing more fe­male ath­letes than males, well, the U.S. women took home more gold medals, 29-19 by our count.

And Mary­land ath­letes dom­i­nated the field. Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, Olympians with ties to Mary­land took home 14 gold medals, three sil­vers and a bronze. “Only five coun­tries fin­ished with more than 14 gold medals in Rio. Mary­land’s 18 to­tal Olympic medals would place the state 14th in the over­all medal count,” The Post’s Ke­lyn Soong wrote. The Bal­ti­more Sun had the Mary­land medal count at 18 golds, four sil­vers and a bronze.

As is the case with ev­ery Olympics, we watched any num­ber of sto­ries about ath­letes over­com­ing ad­ver­sity. “Ap­par­ently each ath­lete was aban­doned as a child and raised by wolves and had their toes eaten off by fire ants. Through per­se­ver­ance and pluck they vowed to one day rep­re­sent their coun­try in the Olympics,” as colum­nist Rock Kollinger put it.

We also watched the bizarre Ryan Lochte in­ci­dent un­fold. It gave new mean­ing to that oft-mut­tered phrase by ath­letes: “I was robbed.” Lochte “over-ex­ag­ger­ated” a story about him and three other mem­bers of the U.S. men’s swim team be­ing robbed in Rio. It turns out, they al­legedly van­dal­ized a gas sta­tion bath­room and se­cu­rity guards de­manded pay­ment for the dam­ages. De­spite the po­ten­tial for caus­ing an in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dent, it did save us a few hours of air­time from the usual sac­cha­rin­sweet com­ing of age sto­ries about our ath­letes.

We al­most for­got to men­tion Usain Bolt, not an Amer­i­can mind you, but a truly amaz­ing ath­lete. The Ja­maican sprinter com­pleted his triple-triple — golds in the men’s 100-me­ter, 200-me­ter and four-man 100-me­ter re­lay in three con­sec­u­tive Olympics, main­tain­ing his ti­tle as the world’s fastest man. You all saw the photo right? The one of him smil­ing as he sprints ahead of the field in the 100-me­ter race.

Next up are the 2018 Win­ter Olympics in South Korea. In the mean­time, the NFL sea­son is warm­ing up, the World Se­ries is a cou­ple months off and there is plenty of NACSAR and golf and pre­sum­ably some tennis to watch. But it will prob­a­bly be an­other four years be­fore we see any­one on tele­vi­sion run around a track again.

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