Sunday, August 24, 2008

Games of the XXIX Olympiad: The ULTIMATE OLYMPIC RECAP

What the city of Beijing, as well as the athletes that have come to compete here, has done is nothing short of spectacular. In fact, the Games of the XXIX Olympiad will probably be known as the most ridiculously awesome Olympic Games ever staged in history.

There were winners, losers, gold medal moments, and off-the-podium disappointments. Best of all, these historic moments were held beneath a setting unlike any other in a country that the world had never imagined would host the greatest sporting event in the world 20 years ago.

In the following blog posts, to be written over a period of 2-3 days, NOW Sports looks back at what can arguably be the "Greatest Olympic Games Ever." From the athletic performances, to NBC's coverage and our blog coverage, NOW Sports reviews every aspect of this unforgettable fortnight of sports and looks ahead to the future of the Olympic movement and the world of sports.

Overall Impression
What will be obvious when we look back at these games is how smoothly the Chinese had executed and coordinated this grand festival of sport. From the grand venues that were visually stimulating and became benchmarks in the history sports architecture to the feelings of openness and welcome conveyed by Chinese volunteers during the games and the performers during both the opening and closing ceremonies, it was obvious that China cared deeply about hosting these Olympic Games.

Never before have sports fans been delighted by scenes from venues like the Water Cube or the Bird's Nest which were architectural wonders from the time that architects had conceived the ambitious idea. The Opening Ceremony itself showed how dedicated China was to being grand Olympic hosts, through their precise and perfect performances to the majestic way that the Olympic cauldron was lit. Reports of kind and helpful volunteers, from translators to greeters, that kept the Games running smoothly added to the success of these Games.

Even more significant is the performance of the Chinese athletes. Though there were questions regarding the age of the Chinese gymnasts, though Yao Ming couldn't secure a spot in the medal round for Chinese basketball, and though Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang had to quit because of an injury, China had the most gold medal moments of any country during these games. With 51 gold medals, China was ahead of the United States and Russia in amount of golds. The United States, however, appeared on the podium the most times and came away with 110 total medals.

But China heard their national anthem more times during these Games, with notable performances in gymnastics, diving, table tennis and badminton. China was also able to pull off several upsets several sports, including swimming, fencing and field hockey.

China wasn't the only one to accomplish goals at these Olympics. Nations like Togo and Afghanistan were able to win their first Olympic medals. India won its first gold medal in shooting while Bahrain won their first gold medal in the men's 1500 meters in track and field.

The IOC has a lot to be happy about as well. IOC President Jacque Rogge predicted 30-40 postive doping tests, but as of Sunday, only 6 tests had turned positive. According to the Los Angeles Times, only two of those positive tests involved medalists, and neither was a gold medalist, a sign that it is tougher to cheat in sports these days. And worries about pollution disappeared with the rains that came in Beijing, producing several days of clear blue skies during the fortnight.

While the Games seemed perfect, there were still several problems that China (and the IOC) wishes would just go away. Protesters were still silenced from voicing their opinion, preventing anyone from doing so despite the protest zones that were set up during the games. There were obvious problems with the scoring in gymnastics and issues involving human rights and Tibet were ignored.

But these Games turned out to be the way that the world expected, and in ways, they turned out even better, especially when it came to the competition, or lack thereof...

Phelps and Bolt Emerge As The Headliners of Olympics Full of Winners
When looking at these Games as a whole, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt will most likely be the two athletes that will be most remembered as they dominated (in some cases, barely) their respective competitions. 

I doubt no one will ever forget Michael Phelps's performance at the Water Cube, where he dominated in some races and barely won in others. From his first gold medal, to the amazing comeback by teammate Jason Lezak in the 4x100 free relay, to the magic touch by Phelps to beat Cavic in the 100 butterfly, Phelps's amazing run to win eight took so many twists and turns that his legacy will last for generations. His impact on the games, the Olympic movement and sports in general is one that can never be repeated. 

Usain Bolt may not have won eight gold medals, but his dominance at the Bird's Nest during the second week of the Olympics was one that had a similar impact that Phelps had on sports. Sprint races are incredibly hard to win for any athlete as it requires a lot of hard training, conditioning and of course quick speed. 

So it was surprising that in races packed with so much talent that Usain Bolt can win all three of his races--the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay--by huge margins. 

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