Michael Vitez: Beyond the big doings at the Olympics

Posted: August 04, 2012

Yes, yes, Michael Phelps won the 200 individual medley for the third Olympics in a row, and Gabby Douglas won the women's all-around individual gymnast title, and one could argue these things are historic, but lots more important and interesting things happened in London on Thursday.

LeBron James tweeted a photo of himself at Pilates.

Gold medal swimmer Allison Schmitt posted a photo of her new sparkly pink fingernails.

And an NBC announcer during archery explained about bow strings: "Notice how they place the string on their nose," he told the viewing audience. "Shows you the individuality of the archer. Now look where that string is [on Chinese archer Cheng Ming] - way off to the side. Now look where [American Khatuna] Lorig's string is - right down the center of her nose!"

Sure, Phelps can win 20 medals, and Douglas can do incredible flips on a balance beam without hands and without falling - truly inconceivable. But Lorig can shoot an arrow 70 yards and hit a circle smaller than an apple. And she finished fourth. South Koreans own archery. Did you know that?

Honestly, lots of hardware was won on Thursday, but it was the lesser-known folks for whom I felt genuine joy. For instance, Abington's Susan Francia erupted the moment her American eight crossed the finish line, thrusting arms high, splashing water on herself, falling back into the arms of a teammate.

She later posted a photo of all eight women kissing their gold medals and hoisting the American flag, and tweeted: "This is called an American Dynasty, baby! I have no regrets and I couldn't be happier right now!"

No American had ever before won judo gold, and Kayla Harrison was a bear on the mat but a puddle after, so overwhelmed with joy.

Maybe the most impressive performance by any American Thursday was breaststroker Rebecca Soni, who broke the world record and was the first woman ever to swim faster than 2 minutes, 20 seconds for 200 meters.

And I don't know what this says about me, but I identify more with the dejected losers than winners. Is that why I usually lose at tennis and poker? Lack of a killer instinct (as opposed to a much more likely lack of talent)?

I was happy for Douglas, but moved by the tears of her Russian rival, who was flawless on floor exercise but settled for silver.

On to important matters.

My friend Ben Yagoda, a Delaware professor, started a Facebook debate, posting:

"Women's volleyball (US now about to beat China) is an amazing sport. This is real volleyball, not beach volleyball. Unbelievable athleticism from these gals."

Michael Sokolove, author and former colleague, posted: "I've been arguing this same point to various family members and others, the superiority of real volleyball! But apparently if you don't love beach volleyball you're not a real guy."

"I'm good with bikinis," Sokolove said, "but the beach version lacks the geometry of the real game. Does anyone even watch men's beach volleyball? Does it exist?"

Yagoda: "Yes. I think the Babe Ruth of the sport has a name like Klutch Kargo."

A Facebook friend then corrected him: "Karch Kiraly."

I include this exchange because in 33 years as a journalist I've never written Klutch Kargo. Here is my chance.

I watched both forms of volleyball Thursday and decided each has incredible athletes.

But I had other questions.

Such as: How is it that these sweaty women playing on a simulated beach can dive and not be covered with sand? Do they have a special spray?

Thursday was a warm bikini day. But often these women compete at night, and in London it gets cold. It got so cold the other night that American Jen Kessy had to take a medical timeout - allowed only once per Olympics - to massage her numb feet and soak them in hot water.

When one announcer asked why she wouldn't wear booties, a second explained that just as most NFL quarterbacks wouldn't wear gloves on their throwing hands in frigid weather, neither would Kessy wear anything on her feet.

So there you have it. No booties in beach volleyball. But plenty of bum-bums. (If so motivated, check out this link shared yesterday on Twitter: http://bit.ly/RfZ5Ek. And forgive me. Too many hours watching Olympics in the man cave.)

Back Sunday.


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

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