Things I learned while watching all 3,000 hours of Olympic coverage:
• Even if they added competitive yawning, wedgie pulling and speed reading, race walking would still be the worst Olympic event ever! First of all, thanks to the technological advance that is super-slow-mo, we now know that every single one of those people cheats. (The rules state that at least part of one foot must be on the ground at all times. That's as unnatural as sitting through a three-hour Catholic Mass.)
So, as they all go skipping along, breaking the rules, their butt muscles tying up into ungodly cramps, we at home realize that we're watching people walking! What's next? Competitive door opening and closing? How about seeing who can stand up and sit down the most times in 19 minutes?
Yes, they've eliminated softball and baseball, but they're keeping walking.
• Speaking of softball ... is that unbelievable? The old cliché is, "That's why they play the games," but it's really true. The United States team had spent more than a year working, drilling and pounding all comers in a seemingly endless exhibition schedule, all in preparation for winning what could very well be the last gold medals ever awarded in the sport. And then they didn't.
They lost, 3-1, to a Japanese team they had beaten just the day before. It's an odd format in softball that allows losers a second chance, but one the Americans benefited from in Sydney in 2000, when they lost three games and still came away with the gold.
It's all very surreal, knowing that this unbeatable team--which had outscored its opponents by a 20-to-1 ratio in the games leading up to the championship--got beaten. And they actually got outplayed in that final game. That's part of why sports never get old.
• The United States men's basketball team returned to prominence after having been slapped around in the past few Olympics and world championships. U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski somehow convinced the NBA players that not only is it legal to play defense, but doing so can help win games. Pretty impressive.
Kobe Bryant played for the U.S. team and was also seen at other sports venues around Beijing. There wasn't one report of sexual assault. He's really matured.
• On what passes for sports-talk radio these days, the suits in charge have tightened the formats down so much that it's amazing that they don't spit out industrial diamonds.
One day last week, ESPN was asking listeners to weigh in on the topic of which team was better--the 1992 Dream Team of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Charles Barkley and company, or this year's "Redeem Team." Not one caller thought that this year's squad would come within 20 points of the '92 team.
Right before that '92 team took the floor in its opening game against Angola, someone asked Charles Barkley what he knew about Angola. He said, "I don't know anything about Angola, but I know they're in trouble."
• One of the members of the gold-medal-winning U.S. men's beach volleyball team, Phil Dalhausser, looks just like James Carville. He and his partner won the championship in part because their Brazilian opponents in the final game played like Ann Coulter.
• Having grown up playing pickup playground basketball with its colorful language, it was odd hearing the Spanish team yelling at each other in Cath-tilian.
The entire Spanish team had also posed for an advertisement before leaving for Beijing. In the picture, the team members were pulling on the sides of their eyes to duplicate the epicanthic-fold, Asian look. When it hit the Internet, people were outraged, screaming racism and demanding an apology.
The Spaniards issued an official team apology, but then a funny thing happened: People on the street in Beijing, Chinese Olympic officials and the Chinese government itself all said that there was no need for an apology, because that wasn't offensive to them.
Hmmm. Isn't that amazing how some people feel the need to take it upon themselves to be offended in the name of others who, as it turns out, might not be offended?
• There will be a special section in hell for people who judge gymnastics.
• NBC has four years to find announcers who don't mangle the language. Exactly how hard it is to say, "She should've gone," instead of, "She shoulda went?" The past tense of "drink" is "drank," not "drunk." And "hopefully" means full of hope, not maybe.
The worst was a guy announcing the women's triathlon. He used the phrase, "If she can just hold it together," more times than Bill Withers says, "I know," in "Ain't No Sunshine."
• Finally, in about eight years or so, we'll find out the winning Chinese gymnast was far too young to compete in the games. By then, she will have gone through puberty, and everybody in the world (except the members of the International Olympic Committee) will say, "I knew it!"
Meanwhile, the Chinese will try to enter fetuses in the 2012 games, figuring, "Just imagine how limber they'll be!" The athletes' passport photos will look like the final scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey.