Michael Vitez: Bolt, Phelps, and the two most inspiring stories at the Olympics

Posted: August 08, 2012

With 10 days down at the London Olympics and six to go, here are some observations from my man cave:

I'm glad I watched live streaming on my computer Sunday afternoon, because the power went out later that evening after a storm. I would have missed all the fun, in particular Usain Bolt.

The aptly named Bolt smoked the fastest field of 100-meter runners in history. They weren't even in the same picture frame. I have always been partial to distance runners, being a cross-country runner myself back in high school, but who can't marvel at this man? Flash was a cartoon superhero, but Bolt is no fiction. He may not be the greatest Olympian in London, but in my opinion he is the greatest athlete.

Now a word about Michael Phelps. He is human, and I love him for it. I was not sad when he finished fourth in the 400 individual medley, nor when he was touched out in the 200 butterfly, just as he'd touched out the Serbian in the 100 butterfly four years before. I felt more affection for Phelps, because I thought these losses made him mortal, more like the rest of us.

And Phelps didn't whine about second and fourth. He didn't complain. He did what champions do. He dug down and won two more individual golds. I hope to see him swim in Rio in 2016, regardless of what he says. But I won't mind if his mother stays home.

The two most inspiring stories of the Games are the gold medal in judo by the American Kayla Harrison, who was abused by her judo coach at age 13, and, of course, the remarkable showing of 400 runner Oscar Pistorius of South Africa. The photo of him in the starting blocks, pushing off on artificial legs, to me says so much. This man can run 400 meters in less than 46 seconds!

I salute Andy Murray, my new favorite tennis player. (Hasta la vista, Rafa!) I love his honesty, his humility, his resilience. He was so devastated at Wimbledon just a few weeks ago but came back to beat the same opponent, Roger Federer, on the same court. His coach, Ivan Lendl, had told Murray after the loss at Wimbledon that he'd never again be under as much pressure, and Murray after Sunday's gold medal said it was true. He said his one big goal remains to win the U.S. Open. Maybe in a few weeks!

One can complain about the commercials and delayed broadcasts at the Olympics, but the camera work and angles have been sensational. In the shooting competitions, for instance, the close-ups of shell hitting target turn something so violent into a thing of beauty, the spinning orange disks exploding into pieces, pink smoke filling the frame.

I love the underwater cameras in not only swimming but synchronized swimming. I never realized the swimmers are synchronized below the surface as well as above it, but with the camera angles you see the swimmers' movements simultaneously in the water and out. (And how can you not love those painted faces and hairpieces!)

Cameras are mounted on the bows of sailboats, so we get close-ups along with shots from helicopters and motor boats. We even get great graphics that show wind direction and sailing tactics.

Those small-boat sailors, in the Lasers and 49ers, must have incredible stomach and leg muscles. How they hike out, rear-ends skimming the sea, arching as far as they can get on trapezes. I watched the 49er boats race Monday, two men per boat, and they were as synchronized as swimmers in the pool, in unison as they tacked or came about.

After watching the United States vs. Canada semifinal game in soccer Monday, a 4-3 U.S. win, I have to agree with this tweet:

Mitch Nagel- Zeller @mitchnz23

Worst ref ever in the Usa-Canada game! That ref was awful! @olympics needs to find better refs cause that ref cost canada a gold medal game!

I also loved the ending of the 400 hurdles, won by Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic. He carried a picture as he ran and fell to his knees and kissed it on the track after winning the gold medal. I've got to find out who was in the photo!

I found out - it was his grandmother, who raised him!

And one final note, to colleague Elizabeth Wellington, our fashion writer. What is it with the Russian uniforms and warm-ups, with those white squiggles on red background? To me they look like pre-Iron Curtain curtains. Just saying . . .


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

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