The Olympics
It's that time again. The time when we suddenly develop a deep, strangely sincere passion for a variety of sports that normally many of us couldn't care less about (except my colleague Rich, who's a real track and field freak). I don't know what was wrong with me. At one point this weekend I actually answered the phone by saying, "Why are you calling me during the fencing finals?!" I know, sad.

Now let's face it, there are tons of places you can get comprehensive Olympics results. But where else can you get a rundown of random comments and odd observations from the first two days of competition (plus the opening ceremony, which is at the bottom of the page)? With that out of the way, away we go:

A Few Noteworthy Moments:
  • Michael Phelps winning his first gold medal in the 400-meter individual medley, and later going head to head with Australia's man in black, Ian Thorpe, in the 200-meter freestyle.
  • The so-called Dream Team (sadly, their full official name for now) losing miserably to Puerto Rico, 92-73. Unbelievable. I watched the whole thing and it's still hard to believe. Losing's OK, but by almost 20 points?! Ugh. It was pathetic when the announcers actually got a little excited when the U.S. was trailing "only" by 10 late in the game. Sheesh. Thank God the women kicked butt in their game against New Zealand.
  • Back to swimming: Poor Ian Crocker. Bob Costas, in the wrap-up, just had to mention that he had the "slowest leg of the 32 swimmers" in the men's 4x100 freestyle relay, which netted the U.S. a bronze medal. Random Observations/Questions/Minutiae
  • When Phelps came in second in a qualifying round, an NBC correspondent said that his coach wanted him to "pace himself." How exactly do you do that when it comes down to fractions of a second?
  • After hearing how determined USA gymnast Mohini Bhardwaj is — barely making ends meet by delivering pizzas and selling raffle tickets, etc. — I really want her to win. (Those sentimental video pieces are killer, aren't they?)
  • Did you notice how the audio picked up Carly Patterson's USA gymnastics teammates yelling "Go, Carly!" right before her routine on the uneven bars?
  • Those fencing masks with the lights made me felt like I was watching a 1970s sci-fi movie that hypothesized what the sport would look like 100 years from now.
  • I must have been sick when they introduced synchronized diving. I had no idea. I can't wait for synchronized shot put in 2012.
  • During the USA vs. Australia men's beach volleyball match it was pointed out that the sand inside the lines was imported Dutch sand, but the surrounding sand was Greek. And the difference is...?
  • Of all the sports, I get the most tired watching water polo.
  • More beach volleyball: In between scoring, you could hear snippets of pop songs in the background being played for the audience. They included Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," "New Sensation" by INXS and that "Mambo No. 5" song from several years ago. Also, did you catch this profound observation from one of the announcers during a, uh, heated volleyball match? "The American team," he said, "is sweating profusely."

    The Commercials
    This was just like the Super Bowl. I can almost hear all those marketing vice presidents planning their "Olympic strategy." Here are the winners of the "I've already seen these spots about 50 times and I'm sick to death of them" awards. (This doesn't even begin to include the continuous NBC promos for their new shows. "...After the Olympics..." We get it! We get it!)
    Cadillac: A car breaks through a wall of glass to the sounds of Led Zeppelin. OK, now suddenly that's not an old man's car!
    Corvette: A kid around 11 years old is driving a sports car (in mid-air, two stories up) and thanks to legal paranoia we get this warning: "This is a dream. Do not drive without a license. Obey all traffic laws."
    Kodak: "What about the pictures?!" (Or something like that.)
    Visa: Frank Sinatra's classic "I've Got the World on a String" is used (and used and used...)
    TIAA-CREF financial services: Suddenly I feel so very warm and fuzzy about this company.

    Marvel Super Heroes' Guide to New York City
    I know my comics and I wanted more from this show. I was thinking it was going to be a detailed breakdown of the way artists and writers have translated the real New York into a plausible environment for comic-book characters. And while there was indeed a lot of that, it wasn't enough. A good portion of this hour seemed to be just a general Marvel Comics history lesson. However, one interesting thing I did learn was how legendary comics writer Stan Lee feels about his pen name. "I just cut my first name in half," said the former Stanley Lieber. "I'm really sorry I did it, because it's a dumb name."

    The Dead Zone
    So all those nutso animals were attacking people because of the vibrations from a dam that was close to bursting? (One of the victims was Reverend Purdy, so it wasn't all bad.) Well, I certainly didn't see that one coming.

    Da Ali G Show
    It seems that when Ali G began his interview with historian Gore Vidal, the faux talk-show host "mistakenly" thought he was talking to Vidal Sassoon. After Gore patiently explained that he was not the famous hairstylist, he added that he actually knows him and that he's a "very nice man." Really? He knows him? Huh. So does this mean that maybe Jack Nicholson hangs out with Jack Nicklaus?


    Olympics Opening Ceremony
    From all the coverage of how far behind Greece was in preparing for the games, I was half expecting to see a bunch of construction guys working in the background. But either they raced to finish in the last few months or those dudes were just on an extended coffee break. Let's see, I did highlight bullet points for Saturday and Sunday's coverage, so for this one I'm going to break this down chronologically by the hour:
    8 pm: James Earl Jones narrates a series of iconic Olympic and Greek images along with some gripping slow-motion sports footage.
    8:06 pm: A sweeping shot of the roughly $220 million arena followed by Bob Costas and Katie Couric introducing NBC's coverage. (Costas, looking the same age as always, officially becomes the next Dick Clark.)
    8:14 pm: The first NBC commercial trumpeting their new season. I'm not sure, but I have a feeling there may be a few more of these.
    8:21 pm: In the stadium's shallow pool, the Olympic rings appear in flames.
    8:24 pm: That cute little kid takes his solo boat ride across the water. No life jacket.
    8:33 pm: A giant head, five stories tall, appears. Costas notes that this is a classic image, but adds that "they lacked giant screen projection like this thousands of years ago."
    8:36 pm: A shirtless guy walks on a slowly spinning cube, representing man's search for knowledge. Lumberjacks everywhere come up with another event to complement their logrolling competitions.
    8:38 pm: A commercial for The Apprentice. Trump asks, "Did you miss me?" Uh, you won't after seeing this ad about 700 times in the next two weeks.
    8:41 pm: Two dancers frolic in the pool. As the couple really get into their performance, Katie says that "the Greeks created many gods to explain the world around them, representing... things like beauty, wisdom and, as we see here, love. Perhaps lust."
    8:41 pm: Eros "flies" above a parade of floats representing Greek history. Wow, that is some serious caked-on makeup.
    8:42 pm: Costas explains that the bull float signifies the ancient tradition of a boy becoming a man by subduing the animal in battle. Of course, now that rite of passage is symbolized by flipping through a nudie magazine.
    8:58 pm: The Greek flag is carried in by weightlifter Pyrros Dimas, who Katie says "has one-name status [in Greece] like Tiger, Michael, Madonna, Cher, Charo...." And then Costas wryly adds, "Katie, Matt...."
    8:59 pm: Since they're going according to the Greek alphabet, Saint Lucia starts the parade of countries.
    9:02 pm: Egypt marches in. One of their athletes is the first one we see using a video camera to record this moment for posterity.
    9:07 pm: NBA player Manu Ginobili comes in with his native country, Argentina. He's smiling and holding a video camera. I'm sensing a pattern here.
    9:11 pm: The team from Armenia is wearing plain, gray suits and maroon ties. They handily win the accountant lookalike honors.
    9:31 pm: Team USA arrives to cheers from the crowd.
    9:41 pm: A commercial for NBC's new airport-centered show, LAX. (Long lines, bomb scares, drunk pilots and Heather Locklear runs around the tarmac in high heels!)
    9:45 pm: NBA player and native Spainiard Pau Gasol is spotted with a video camera. Alright, alright, you get the idea now.
    9:47 pm: Italy's team has one of three women with blue hair tonight. The other two countries represented in this unique club are Mexico and Greece.
    10:11 pm: Commercial for NBC's new cop show, Hawaii.
    10:14 pm: When Botswana enters, Costas informs us that this is one of Tom Brokaw's favorite African nations to visit.
    10:14 pm: A Portuguese athlete appears with the only fanny pack of the night.
    10:39 pm: A commercial for NBC's new animated show, Father of the Pride.
    10:53 pm: Upon Finland's arrival, Katie notes that they held the Olympics in 1952. Old man Costas offers that that is the year of his birth.
    11:06 pm: Bjork sings "Oceania" while wearing a crazy, blue dress that is made out of 30,000 square feet of material. It is pulled over all of the athletes. And now, thousands of world-class athletes can say they've gone up Bjork's dress. (Yeah, I know, terrible.)
    11:38 pm: The flame enters the stadium. Former Greek basketball star Nikos Gallis is the first runner. The torch is passed to four others (and each time I think, "OK, now that's who's going to actually light the flame"), finally ending with gold-medal windsurfer Nikolaos Kaklamanakis. Katie mentions that "he is very popular in Greece for his [previous Olympics] victory and apparently his 'man about town' reputation."
    11:42 pm: The cauldron is lit! And the crowd goes wild! (And then, presumably, some practical fathers drag their kids out of the stadium immediately so they can beat traffic.)
    11:45 - 11:55 pm: Fireworks, more commercials for new NBC shows and a few short interviews with members of Team USA.
    11:56 pm: Costas ends the broadcast by thanking Katie and saying, "We'll leave the last word to Simon and Garfunkel." Their song "Citizen of the Planet" plays as the credits roll by....
    Saturday, around 2 pm: I talk to my friend Christina about the previous night's ceremony. She offers this succinct commentary: "Who the hell comes up with this crap? During that part with the giant head breaking apart they said it represented man's evolution, and I was like, 'Are you kiddin' me?'"