Olympics 2012: The Year of the Super-Athlete

By Sports Roundtable

From Michael Phelps's record-breaking medal haul to the U.S.'s conquering of the basketball tournament, these Olympics have featured lavish feats of dominance.

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Reuters

Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation,Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), andPatrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) discuss the best moments of this year's Olympics.


So, guys,

It's time to reflect. Sunday night, the London Olympics will end—no doubt with the Spice Girls dressed as the Sex Pistols reciting Shakespeare sonnets to a hologram of Winston Churchill. Then, sadly, we will have to wait four more years to have a summer filed with so much fun. By which I mean all the fun America had savaging NBC's Olympic coverage.

Yeesh. Lighten up, people. Yes, it's NBC. They mucked it up. Duh. But it isn't like their hosts are kicking puppies on the air. Calm yourselves. If the completely unremarkable fact that Bob Costas is often ponderous sends you spinning into fits of apocalyptic Tweet-rage, the solution isn't to find a pirated online stream of the BBC's Olympic broadcast. The solution is to chill out.

Just don't chill by smoking a joint.

Which brings us to the biggest winner of London 2012: WADA. The World Anti-Doping Agency wins, hands down. Charged with keeping the games free from performance-enhancing drug use, WADA's efforts in London have been brilliant.

Thus far, five athletes have been caught and disqualified for a banned substance. A Moroccan runner, Russian cyclist, Uzbek gymnast, and Albanian weightlifter were all sent home because they tested positive for substances designed to make their bodies stronger.

The fifth athlete sent home was American judo athlete Nick Delpopolo. He failed a drug test taken after a July 30 match. Monday, he became fifth Olympic athlete expelled for doping.

And he was actually using dope. That is, pot. Ganja. Delpopolo was kicked out of the Olympics because he tested positive for marijuana.

Thank goodness!

American wrestler Stephany Lee, who missed the Olympics entirely because she tested positive for cannabis, spoke out when she heard what happened to Delpopolo. She claimed that calling marijuana a performance-enhancer and putting pot in the same category as steroids or HGH is completely absurd.

Nice try, young lady. The most decorated athlete in Olympic history was photographed pulling huge bong hits. The world's fastest man said he smoked weed while growing up. Because it was Jamaica. Obviously the stuff is enhancing something.

–Hampton

What will I remember the most...

Much as it defies the "anything is possible" nature of the Olympics, I'll remember 2012 as a year that the (medal) rich got richer. Leading the favorites parade was Michael Phelps, who decided that winning eight gold medals in Beijing was not a fitting way to exit to sport. Phelps swam in only seven races in London and medaled in six of them: four golds and two silvers. Not only did he push his gold-medal record to a remarkable 18 and set a new overall medal record with 22, but he won gold for the third straight time in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly, the first time a swimmer has won the same individual event in three straight Games (and being Phelps, he did it twice). Teammate Ryan Lochte had a disappointing Olympics given his high expectations coming in, but he still managed to collect two golds, a silver, and two bronzes.

Then there's Usain Bolt, the cocksure, ebullient, undisputed World's Fastest Man. After he was dusted by Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake at the Olympic Trials, Bolt responded with a gold in the 100 meters, running it in a fast but not historic 9.63. Bolt then won the 200, becoming the first man to win two golds in the event.

The most impressive display of excellence, though, has to be the U.S. men's basketball team's epic rout of Nigeria in pool play. The Americans won by a cool 83 points, hitting 29 three-pointers on their way to a 156-73 rout that even impressed the original Dream Teamers. Carmelo Anthony had 37 points in 14 minutes, which translates to 127 points for a full NBA game. Wilt Chamberlain, eat your heart out.

There have been amazing Olympic moments throughout the fortnight, from Andy Murray's triumphant victory for the host country in men's tennis to the newest It girl, American gymnast Gabby Douglas. But these Games will be remembered for almost-legends becoming legends, and legends becoming immortal.

What will you tell your grandkids about this Olympics, Patrick?

–Jake

Jake,

As is the case with London's temporary, pop-up Olympic architecture—and really, life itself—so much of what has seemed towering and consequential over the last two weeks is actually anything but. Bolt's speed. Phelps' stamina. Boner Rower's, um, form-fitting shorts. All destined to fade with time, to be forgotten, surpassed or both. Remember the epic, once-in-a-lifetime Opening Ceremonies? Me neither. I think there may have been fireworks. Did you know that this guy was once considered the World's Greatest Athlete? If so, congratulations: You've lived to see 40. The graveyard of Olympic memories is full of indispensable moments, like the time Katie Couric got mad because those cute Canadian figure skaters were hosed by French judge Cruella Deville and then we refought the Cold War.

So, no: I can't tell you what I'll tell my grandkids about the London Games. I'm not sure they'd care, anyway. The Olympics are first and foremost a television show. The audience forever moves on to the next new thing. Does today's MTV viewer want to be regaled with tales of Idalis and Ed Lover? That said, I can tell you what I always find to be the most memorable moments of the Games, the same moments I imagine many of the athletes find memorable, too. The medal ceremonies. Winners on the podium, medals around their necks, national anthems playing. Moments that are more staged than any reality TV show, more hyperreal than anything cooked up by Danny Boyle, more fantastical than the apparent Gattica-meets-Gomorra that is the athlete's village. The medal stand is ground zero of Olympic contrivance, a totally arbitrary event, and the one gimmick that never fails to grab me.

Forget the naked patriotism. I'm perfectly happy to see American athletes win, but I don't delude myself into thinking their triumphs are somehow mine. (Not to sound like a conservative pundit here, but I didn't build Gabby Douglas; she did). What grabs me is the emotion, regardless of nationality. The tears. The grins. The wide-eyed, utterly honest looks on the faces of the athletes, all of them experiencing something the rest of us never well: a tidy, unambiguous moment in a mostly messy, ambiguous world. Real life is muddled and hard, less a matter of winning and losing than managing to make it to the next day. I'm sure Olympic winners can relate. But when the flags are raised, they also know what it feels like to be the best—or, at worst, the second or third-best—people in the world at what they do. And even if that's somehow disappointing, there's no confusion. No debate. Unlike, say, the speculation over Henrik Rummel's relative happiness to see bronze. I envy that sort of clarity.

–Patrick

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/08/olympics-2012-the-year-of-the-super-athlete/260932/