LONDON -- Fleeting thoughts crossing my mind while waiting for Usain Bolt to cross the finish line one more time ...
The US basketball guys are still huge worldwide, and to a man they've done a remarkable job of being accessible and part of the Olympic experience; I half expect the ubiquitous Kobe Bryant to be walking around Olympic Park in one of the purple-and-red volunteer shirts, helping a puzzled family from the Netherlands find its way to the field hockey venue. But let's put it this way: If Usain Bolt and LeBron James walked into a pub at the same time, LeBron could go sit in a corner booth, enjoying his fish and chips and beverage of choice undisturbed and barely noticed. It's Bolt's world, and everyone else is a bystander.
London is exactly as I imagined it (OK, minus the imagined random acts of hooliganism and sightings of a blinking, stammering Hugh Grant), and by that I mean it is awesome. Spectacular architecture, a fun pub on every corner, and the people have a generally charming and witty way about them. The accent is so killer, it makes me not even want to talk. The myth about bad food in London is just that, too, unless you happen to be stranded at the Main Press Center with nothing but pork, mayonnaise and feta subs to choose from.
You don't have to watch it for long to recognize that it's a grueling, serious sport, but I just don't get racewalking at all. Every time one competitor is gaining ground on another, I have to suppress the urge to yell, "Run! Run! She's closing the gap! Forget heel-to-toe! RUN!"
Have not met an Olympic athlete yet who didn't seem genuine, engaging, and impossibly down-to-earth, and that includes Michael Phelps. (I should note I did not meet the apparently monosyllabic Ryan Lochte, though he seems decent enough in his Spicolian way. Jeah! ) Ashton Eaton, the decathlon gold medalist who is roughly the size of a Division I football safety, couldn't be a nicer guy. There are no Josh Becketts here.
Being over here for the past 20 days, the depth of my knowledge regarding NBC's coverage boils down to what I read and hear from those back home. (Boo tape-delay, yay Michelle Beadle, more or less, which sounds about right to me.) I'll catch up with that on the DVR when I get home. But while I've been in London, I've been absorbing BBC's coverage, and it has been exceptional. No treacly melodrama, no teasers to features that run two commercial breaks later, no Seacrest, just smart, spirited coverage and analysis. And I'd wager that two of BBC's primary studio analysts -- Olympic legends Michael Johnson and Ian Thorpe -- are as insightful, articulate and in Thorpe's case, sharp-witted -- as anyone NBC is using in a similar role, save for perhaps Doc Rivers.
Joe Posnanski absolutely nails it here on what it's like to cover the Olympics. I found this passage particularly true:
I don’t think anyone cares — or should care — about the various inconveniences of being a sportswriter. It is a dream job, and when you are sitting in the stadium watching Usain Bolt run, or you are at the beach volleyball gold-medal match and can check the time by turning to Big Ben, or you are interviewing athletes after a team handball match and suddenly find yourself talking to the irrepressibly cool Ólafur Stefánsson, well, who really cares about any of that other stuff anyway?
So true. It's exhilarating and exhausting, often within the same hour, but you never let yourself forget the privilege of being here. But it's also true -- and this is something Joe elaborates on with his usual perfect aim -- that the thrills are sometimes surrounded by tedium, that as the days go on home feels farther and farther away, especially when you miss a meaningful moment or milestone. (Happy 6th birthday, bud. Hope you got the R2-D2 and "Three-Creepy-Oh" you wanted.) This is my second Olympics, but the inevitable juxtaposition is already familiar: In the final days of the Olympics, you can't wait to get home. And once you're home, the magnitude of what you got to do sinks in, and you wonder why it had to end so soon and hope you'll get another chance again.