Archive for the 'Sport' Category

Matt Mitcham update post

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Because my favorite Olympic athlete is getting almost no media attention in the US, I decided to beef up my coverage of Matthew Mitcham in hopes of raising his profile, if just a little bit. So maybe the only people who will read this were already searching for info on him. At least I contributed to the coverage.

First up, I saw an interview with Mitcham form Australian TV (which I can’t find anymore!) where he said that the pretty Chinese woman guiding the winners from poolside understood him when he asked if he could hug his mom, after which he ran up to hug his mom and his partner. I apologize about my wrong assumption: I should have known that China would be smart enough to make sure their most visible workers knew English.

Then there’s the fact that nearly every article and every post on him mentions his sexuality almost immediately, either in the title or the first sentence. Part of me is still annoyed that Americans are still so hung up on sex that we can’t talk about what is clearly a newsworthy upset (a lone Australian who struggled just to get to the Olympics wins a gold medal and denies China from sweeping the gold in diving) without bringing up what for almost every person* on the planet what’s nothing more than a trait, like handedness or hair color. Is it because the mere suggestion of sex gets people’s attention almost immediately? There’s a Monty Python sketch** where some hapless sap is going door-to-door giving presentations on insects or something stupid, and this couple watch a minute of it before getting bored and telling him to go. That’s when he makes up all this stuff about the insects being sexual deviants and going into detail of the bug’s mating process as the couple listen with great attention, making sure to make comments about how ‘disgusting’ these insects are. Is it really like that? This guy just did something that very few people can accomplish, a little respect please.

But then I think that Mitcham could be a hero for gays struggling with their identity. Picture four years from now: he’s been practicing since the Beijing Olympics and is even better – that at the London games he doesn’t just win a single gold medal, he becomes the star athlete in diving. Now this happy guy with a quick grin and four more years of experience can say something like, “Sure, there are people out there who have a problem with the fact that I’m gay. But who cares?” The potential is there, and he could use it to inspire some unhappy people out there dealing with the problem of being something they can’t help, that’s not entirely accepted by society. We’ll see.

The pressure’s on now for Mitcham to deliver in four years.

I’m not going to get into the whole “NBC ignored Mitcham!” hullabaloo. The games are done and over with, NBC has a policy not to mention an athlete’s sexuality, and the real reason is that NBC has pretty mediocre Olympics coverage anyway like spending too much time with inane segments on American athletes. I mean, if they can’t figure out that simulcasting the most popular events online with TV coverage would actually increase the number of viewers, they’ll underreport important developments in the games. Besides, the only people who seem to be getting bent out of shape with this are gay media outlets which are fairly shrill anyways*** (except Towleroad, who’s currently reporting on the Democratic National Convention).

Alright, I’m done with this. Normally I couldn’t give a care about sports, but this has more to do with a good story than talking about boring athletes and stupid rules to a game I’m not interested in learning. Like basketball. God I can’t stand basketball.

* Except Perez Hilton.
** I’m sure I got this wrong, but if you’re going to correct me, know this: I’ve seen this sketch dozens of times, and I don’t care if I didn’t retell it correctly. Pick on someone else.
*** Like Perez Hilton.

My favorite Olympic athlete: Matthew Mitcham

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Thanks to NBC’s extensive online coverage of the Olympics, I watched sports I’ve never watched before. And I mentioned in an earlier post that I didn’t think diving was a sport. Well, I take that back – I was wrong.

Anyway, I watched the diving competitions along with all the other sports I sampled, primarily because it consisted of attractive men and women in skimpy clothing flexing their muscles to do things humans weren’t built for (like making a dive from a handstand look graceful). You know, the who point the Greeks started the whole thing. Diving competitions were getting a little boring though with the Chinese always winning. Sure, their athletes were better, but it didn’t make for interesting games…

Until the Men’s 10 final, one of the last competitions to be performed. While the Americans were performing terribly, and the Chinese were in top form again, Matt Mitcham from Australia was getting very good scores while providing the best after-dive reactions – big aw-shucks grin, waving, and mouthing “Hi mum” as if he wasn’t at the Olympics but having fun at a local pool where there just happened to be cameras around.

And yet, he did so well, even better than the almost unbeatable Chinese divers, that he won the gold. Suddenly that silly boy was a puddle of tears. If you were at your final event at something you worked really hard for but didn’t think you’d place – and then you won everything, wouldn’t you be a little uncomposed? The best part about watching the Olympics is watching people struggle to perform their very best and validate years and hears of hard, painful work…and then watching them win. Roger Ebert blogged about a similar response*: I don’t usually cry when things are sad, but I get teary someone does something outstanding and good in a way that only humans can do.

If you saw the thing on TV in the US, and didn’t know anything about him, you missed a lot since NBC didn’t air the medal ceremony and glossed over key pieces of his backstory. Before the Olympics, Mitcham came out, applied for and got funding so his mother and partner could come to the Olympics, and didn’t even qualify for some earlier events.  Even before that, he went through the the throws of growing up before buckling down and concentrate on being a diver.

Back to the competition: when he finally settled down, he was back to all grins and having fun (being respectful to the other athletes, mind you) during the medal ceremony.

When Michael Phelps won his historic eigth gold medal, he famously climbed into the bleachers to hug his mom. Well… Mitcham did the same thing, but it was even more endearing: after some pictures, he asked the Chinese woman escorting him to the press area if he could go hug his mom. She nodded yes, but I doubt she understood what he said. Next thing you know, he’s scrambling up the almost empty bleachers as the photographers jump over themselves to get some pics as he climbs onto the railing to hug his mom and kiss his partner Lachlan.

When I found out that NBC didn’t air this on TV I was pissed – sure, he’s not an American – and openly gay (shock! horror!) – but Mitcham was just as interesting to watch as Phelps. This was an athlete who had more presence than most athletes I saw, including the two American divers in the same competition, Thomas Finchum and David Boudia.

Oh yeah, after the competition, Mitcham also managed to give the best quote from any athlete at the Olympics:

I was a little bit jealous of people who finished earlier, who could’ve relaxed a bit; and I’m a little bit disappointed that now I don’t have time to go around and take photos of the big blown-up mascots in the village, or holding the Olympic torch outside the food hall, and going to the souvenir shop and buying souvenirs and stuff like that…but, who cares?

(full interview here.)

The Olympics are about being human, in praise of what makes humans special. For me, Mitcham embodied that struggle and triumph.

*Alright, so Ebert’s response is a little more noble, but it’s roughly the same kind of thing that gets me emotional.

The Beijing Olympics

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

I have to hand it to NBC: they’ve figured out how to get me to watch the Olympics. Their Olympics site is excellent, and offers a massive amount of video and content to keep info hounds like myself interested. I’ve been watching feeds for sports I’ve never paid attention to before: fencing, judo, badmitton, diving, gymnastics – it’s quite an accomplishment: I normally avoid sports games unless there’s a social element to it.

What have I learned so far? Let’s see:

  • The athletes in judo and fencing appear insane. The fencers scream at every point, regardless if it’s theirs. And the judo athletes come onto the mat like bulls let out of a pen.
  • Gymnastics is surprisingly fascinating: these competitions are all about athleticism and the skill of the individual. It’s the Olympic ideal at its purest. However it’s all about USA vs. China – and at least with the team events, USA was beaten both times by China. In the men’s China clearly had the better team (also, based on the off-mat banter I’ve heard, all the guys on the American team give the impression of being dicks in real life); but in the women’s it came down to USA being beaten by a bunch of pre-pubescent Chinese girls. But I don’t know much about the situation, so my gut says the Chinese had the better team.
  • Diving isn’t a sport. I don’t care that it takes training to make the right maneuvers - it’s just not that competitive. Take the men’s synchronized diving that I watched. There was no difference between what the Chinese, Germans, and Americans did when they dived, yet the American guys didn’t win anything and the Chinese got the gold. I mean what’s the point? Make some turns and a small splash? I get swimming; maybe if diving also included some moves once in the water it would make more sense.
  • All the sailing events I watched were boring. I bet it’s much more fun to participate.
  • Badminton is much more interesting than the crappy sport I was forced to play in gym class.
  • The Americans in the audiences cheer much, much more than any other people. Even the Chinese. It’s a little embarrassing.

And then there’s the opening ceremony. It was so good, Roger Ebert even talked about it on his blog. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe the whole thing. With the masses of synchronized tai chi masters, the drummers, the massive LCD scroll - even the dramatic raising of the Chinese flag (I love how the one soldier threw the flag up in the air – so dramatic!). I was thinking – along with a lot of other people, it appears – that the Beijing Olympics is a lot like the expositions in Chicago and St. Louis at the turn of the 20th Century. This is China’s chance to show that they’re ready to ascend to the world stage. It will take a lot of work (and a lot of suffering, I’m guessing) for China to match the US as a world power (or rather the post-war US world power).

Back to the opening ceremony. I watched it because I figured that if it cost $300 to produce, it’s going to be entertaining whether it worked or not – and boy what a show! People seem to be getting worked up lately that the 29 foot steps made of fireworks (brilliant!) that was on the video feed was from an earlier recording, or that the flying girl was lip-syncing – but if you think of them as editing tricks (like having someone else sing Natalie Wood’s scenes in West Side Story), it much more forgivable. But there are better ways of having a prettier girl lip-synch to a plainer girl’s more beautiful voice than hiding the latter and making the former a star.

It needs to be mentioned that NBC almost ruined their broadcast of the ceremony with those goddamn talking heads talking over everything. Sure, I want to know all that trivia, but couldn’t you put it in text at the bottom of the screen instead of forcing us to endure all of that chatter? It’s just as bad as someone talking on their cell phone at a movie theater. </rant>.

Although the Olympics aren’t over yet, the Chinese should be proud of this moment on the world stage. They just have to live up to the spectacle from now on.