The Worst and the Best
We start our last day at Men’s Greco-Roman Wrestling. Bob was a wrestler, the 123 pound West Virginia Collegiate Champion, and coached wresting at Marshall for 7 years. Freestyle wrestling is almost our favorite sport, but we’ve never seen it at the Olympics. We saw women’s freestyle at Beijing and it was pretty good but not at the level of the men’s. Once again the men’s freestyle matches will not be held during our stay, so we bite the bullet and try Greco-Roman.
Greco-Roman wrestling is all upper body; the legs can’t be used. The matches are three periods of two minutes; the match is decided by the number of periods each wrestler wins rather than a cumulative score although if a wrestler scores 5 or more points on one move or has 10 more points more than his opponent, he may be declared a winner on technical superiority. Wrestlers score 1 point for a takedown, and 2, 3 or 5 points for exposing the opponent’s back to the mat. If there is no score after 1 minute 30 seconds, one wrestler takes the down position and the other tries to turn him to expose his back. If the down wrestler isn’t turned or escapes, he wins the period; if he is turned the up wrestler wins. Got that?
The arena is set up with three mats for the qualifying rounds to go into the quarter-finals for 55 k, 74 k and superheavyweightsabove 91k. For the quarter-finals, all the matches take place on the center mat. USA has Mango Spenser in the 55k. and Ben Provisor in 74K; both win their first matches but loose in the quarter-finals.
The matches consist of guys tying up for most of the time. We see a couple duck-unders but almost no throws. When there is no score and the wrestlers go into the mandatory lock position, the down wrestler flattens himself and uses his arms to claw himself toward the out of bounds. Occasionally we see an escape or a wrestler being turned. Even fencing had more action.
The Nigerian woman wrestler sitting beside me is incensed. “They are subverting the spirit go the sport,” she rants half way through the quarterfinals. “It is supposed to be all about lifting, but we are seeing none of that.” We agree and leave before the end of the matches.
Athletics (called Track and Field in America) might be the quintessential Olympic experience. The Olympic Flame burns above this event at every Olympics while the athletes below demonstrate all the Olympic ideals – Higher, Faster, Stronger.
We sit in the nose bleed section, just at the turn of the horseshoe – close to the high jump area, catty-cornered from the hammer-throw and across from the long-jumpers.
Like all track meets, there is a lot going on simultaneously. USA has two jumpers in the high jump; both clear the mandatory first jump and skip the next one. The high jumpers continue throughout the night; people seem to be missing constantly but jumpers keep jumping in numbers that make me wonder whether anyone has been eliminated. Nothing appears on the scoreboards and I never see the USA guys jump again but my attention may have been elsewhere. I have no idea of the outcome.
I love watching the hammer-throw from this angle even though USA is out after the first round. We can see each guy whirling around like a dervish until the hammer flies skyward to land at amazing distances away from the thrower. Cute little toy-sized robot cars take the hammers back. Who won? Who knows.
Three qualifying heats for the Women’s 400 meter hurdles go off. In the first, Turkey false starts and gets a red card. In the second heat, Syria competes in a headscarf. USA does well qualifying two, with Demus, in the third heat, leading the pack by the turn and drifting in the stretch to win at 54.60.
Soon the three qualifying heats for the Men’s 100 capture everyone’s attention. USA’s Justin Gatlin wins his heat easily with a 9.82. Bolt is relaxed and easily wins his heat with 9.87. In the third heat it’s Jamaica’s Blake at 9.85 and Tyson Gay at 9.90. The English guy next to me asks if I think the Americans can beat Bolt. “No. Bolt only ran as fast as he had to, not as fast as he can,” I reply. The Brit agrees, “Bolt slowed down at the end.”
There is the men’s steeple chase, the semis for the men’s 1500, qualifying heats for the men’s 400, and the women’s triple jump finals. I thought the most exciting race was the Women’s 400 meters; with a staggered start, it’s hard to tell who is really ahead until the racers make the turn just below us. Then USA’s Richards-Ross makes her move and leaves Great Britain’s Ohuruogo behind in the stretch to take the Gold.
The finals of the 100 prove that our expectations were right, Bolt has more speed than he showed in the qualifier, although he seemed to have to work harder to win than he did at Beijing. You probably saw it better on TV than most of the people in the stadium, but it was an iconic moment for all. With Bolt and Phelps, we’ve seen legends in the making that surely will inspire a generation.