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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Olympic junkie gets higher

But also slower and weaker as he takes root on couch in front of TV

Posted: 08/4/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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It's been a week of watching the Olympics and we must confess it can be exhausting work trying to get the dent out of the couch where yours truly has camped out for hours since the fun started in London.

Yes, you know you're an Olympics junkie when...

-- You find yourself in a discussion about the efforts of weightlifter Zulfiya Chinshanlo of Kazakhstan, who set a world record last Sunday...

-- You know that Mongolia's two medals, a silver and bronze, came in judo courtesy Naidan Tuvshinbayar and Saingargal Nyam-Ochir...

-- And thanks to a rabid curiosity and the parade of athletes in the opening ceremonies, you can now point out Kiribati on a map and know that the two main languages spoken on the island nation are English and Gilbertese...

So, with that backdrop we'd like to present what has jumped out for one set of bleary eyes after more than week of Olympic action:

Phenomenal Phelps

One of the great debates emerging from London is whether American swimmer Michael Phelps has earned the title as the greatest Olympian of all time.

It would seem by medal count alone that this would be a slam dunk. Phelps now has 21 overall medals, including 17 gold -- the most of all time in both categories. To put that haul in perspective, consider this: Canada, sending hundreds of athletes to the Games every four years, has 19 gold medals in the last six Olympics combined dating back to 1992 in Barcelona.

Even with all that, some still don't want to anoint Phelps with the "greatest Olympian" honour.

"My personal view is I'm not sure he's the greatest," Sebastian Coe, the great British runner, told reporters in London this week. "But he's certainly the most successful."

And it's here where the anti side of the Phelps-as-the-greatest argument gains some legs. As a swimmer, Phelps participates in a sport that gives him numerous opportunities to succeed and allow him to win multiple events in a single Games whereas, for example, some of the great decathletes in history -- Daley Thompson, Bob Mathias, etc. -- earn just one medal for their efforts.

Our take? The medal haul alone puts Phelps at the front of the discussion, but there is no clear-cut answer. It's like debating Howe vs. Orr vs. Gretzky vs. Lemieux.

The talking heads

For an Olympic diehard, part of the beauty of the Games is how it introduces or reconnects us with many sports that aren't often in the spotlight. And the key to that, we believe, is the call of the play-by-play announcer and analysts.

Our favourites through Week 1:

-- Russ Anber rules in boxing, working with partner Eric Smith. Knows his stuff and calls it as he sees it, including questioning the competency of fighters, referees and officials. The best of the best.

-- Barney Williams in rowing. Working with Rob Faulds, Williams' enthusiasm is infectious and he shouldn't try to hide his Canadian pride.

-- The understated skill of TSN's Rod Smith at the pool. So smooth, so good, it's a wonder the network doesn't get him out of the studio more.

-- Doug Collins, NBC, basketball. Always liked the call of the basketball hall of famer and it's good to see him back after dumping the headset to become the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Most of all, though, with track and field having started on Friday it's hard not to miss the late, great Don Wittman. No slight at all to Gord Miller, who will do an excellent job for TSN, but nobody called track like Witt and Geoff Gowan.

Citius, altius, fortius... and one big, fat disgrace

The Olympic motto -- Faster, Higher, Stronger -- took a few shots this week, but none was more damaging than the four women's doubles badminton teams that were disqualified for purposely losing to land a better spot in the next round.

A Chinese team, two from South Korea and one from Indonesia were punted from the competition in what was the first mass disqualification in Olympic history.

As the athletes mis-hit their serves and fans in the Wembley Arena chanted 'Off! Off! Off!, BBC's David Mercer said on air:

"They're serving fault and fault! They are just hitting the ball into the net! They are both trying to lose, and that is unforgivable. This is the Olympic Games."

Well said, Mr. Mercer.

The South Koreans and Indonesians then followed with the same tactics.

Yu Yang of China later appeared on state TV in China to apologize and has apparently retired, saying "Farewell my dear badminton."

Let's hope the incident also marks a farewell to this kind of sportsmanship.

And finally...

So British cyclist Bradley Wiggins win's England's first gold medal and, afterward, takes to Twitter to update his legions of fans:

'Well what a day, blind drunk at the minute and overwhelmed with all the messages, Thank You everyone it's been emotional X.' -- Bradley Wiggins (@bradwiggins)

Whether old-time journalists like it or not -- and, for the record you can find me at @WFPEdTait -- Twitter is everywhere and athletes are reaching out to their faithful through this medium.

All this doesn't mean, however, that athletes have yet to figure out how to use Twitter properly. Case in point: two participants -- Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella and Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou -- were banned from the Olympics for racist Tweets.

One word to describe spending hours/days/months/years of your life training for the Olympics only to have it come to an end in 140 characters or less:

#dumbass

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 C5

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