Michael Vitez: Which Olympic sport has the fittest athletes?

Natalie Dell, who won a bronze in quadruple sculls, greets her parents. NATACHA PISARENKO / Associated Press
Natalie Dell, who won a bronze in quadruple sculls, greets her parents. NATACHA PISARENKO / Associated Press
Posted: August 03, 2012

As I watched the many Olympic events Wednesday, in addition to feeling completely inadequate and out of shape, I kept asking myself which sport has the fittest athletes.

I watched the Ukrainian women in the quadruple sculls just sit in their sliver of a boat after winning the gold, silent and spent and sublime.

Same for the gold-medal Germans in the men's eight a few moments later, after a flat-out sprint for nearly six minutes pulling thousands of pounds of water. Who could be more fit?

And not only fit but so rhythmic and graceful. Watching their races from the aerial camera, seeing these boats slice through the water with such color and line and precision, I felt I was watching art in motion.

But then I watched the gymnasts on the rings, vault, and floor, and wondered who could be more fit than they? Certainly they have the most strength per pound, no?

And to see how far the water polo athletes can come out of the pool - like flipping dolphins. Or to watch the British cyclist Bradley Wiggins not only as he pedaled for gold, but as he cooled down on local streets. It was like he was born on that bike.

And the swimmers. Honestly, not one of them is ever breathing hard after a race. They finish a 200-meter butterfly and have more wind than I do after blowing out birthday candles.

I can't call the table tennis players the fittest athletes, but they are surely among the most skilled. I love how they study that ball so carefully in their cupped hand, then toss it high as if they were at Wimbledon before a slicing serve. The speed and power of their slams, their incredible reactions and returns, are dizzying. They can do three volleys in less than a second.

I was rooting for Ding Ning, the top seed, just because I loved her name. But it was hard not to love the passion and also the abbreviated name of her opponent, Li Xiaoxia, whose jersey simpy read "Li X. X." I did appreciate the headline on NBC's website after Li Xiaoxia won: "No bling for Ding Ning," though it wasn't entirely true. Ding Ning did get silver.

The names at the Olympics are almost as wonderful as the athletes themselves. American Missy Franklin's competition in the 100 freestyle Thursday will be the Netherlands' Ranomi Kromowidjojo (kro-mo-wi-jo-jo). How can I not root for a name like that?

On a more serious note, I applaud the Olympic judges for disqualifying the badminton players who tried to throw games in order to get better seeds in the following round. I'm sure it is heartbreaking for the athletes, but what they did violated the Olympic spirit.

Switching from sport to sport, I learn all kinds of random facts:

The American kayaker Eric Hurd once ate a stick of butter in summer camp, and his nickname for life became Butter. He is Eric "Butter" Hurd.

Ruta Meilutyte, the lovely Lithuanian who won a swimming gold the other night at age 15, had painted her finger nails before the race the five colors of the Olympic rings.

I also follow Twitter and learn so much.

For instance, Chris Paul, the American basketball star, went to LegoLand and posed for a picture beside a Lego sculpture of the Queen of England. He tweeted a link to the photo and said, "Me with the lovely Queen of England #LegoLand."

Another basketball star, Carmelo Anthony, linked to a photo of himself with the five American gold-medal women gymnasts. Not one of them reached his solar plexus.

The Huffington Post weighed in with an important report, promoted on Twitter: "Do Olympic swimmers pee in the pool?" (I didn't click through to find out. Sorry.)

President Obama was a busy guy. Gold-medal gymnast Jordyn Wieber tweeted, "Just talked to the President on the phone! Pretty much the coolest thing ever!! @BarackObama #proudamerican."

Swimmer Michael Phelps tweeted, "Just got a pretty cool phone call on the way to the pool from Mr. President @BarackObama !!! #USA"

Justin Bieber, singer and heartthrob, thrilled swimmer Missy Franklin on Monday with a congratulatory tweet then made Wieber swoon on Tuesday by following her. She called it "amazing."

I will leave you with a revelation: Jordyn Wieber should marry Justin Bieber. They could be Jordyn and Justin Wieber-Bieber.

In fact, I think I'll go tweet that right now . . .

Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @michaelvitez.


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