Thursday, August 14, 2008

For the Love of Phelps Sake!

Every four years, I find myself spending way too much time in front of the television for two weeks, watching it for hours way past my bedtime and wrecking my sleep schedule. It's the Olympics!! As an athlete, I find watching the best in the world in all out competition for the same olive wreaths that made the Persian Empire quake in their leather sandals at The Battle of Thermopylae. [Xerxes was curious as to what the Greeks were trying to do (presumably because there were so few numbers) and had some Arcadian deserters interrogated in his presence. The answer was that all the other men were participating in the Olympic Games. When Xerxes asked what the prize for the winner was, "an olive-wreath" was the answer. Upon hearing this, Tigranes, a Persian general, said: "Good heavens, what kind of men are these that you have pitted against us? It is not for money that they contend but for glory of achievement!" ].

Of course now in today's world, there is a significant amount of monetary value associated with earning a medal in the Olympics in terms reaping advertisement deals, as we will all be subjected to endless commercials involving various medal winners for the upcoming months. I could not wait to for those commercials involving that snowboarding "Carrot Top" doppelganger to get over with from the Winter Games.

The buzz of the games this year is Michael Phelps. As always, the Summer Games are dominated by two sports, Swimming and Gymnastics. Everything else gets second billing, and unfortunately for me, the sport I really love doing, cycling and triathlon, gets no billing. Michael Phelps is the top dog in the top viewed sport. It's hard not to know who Michael Phelps is, as he has broken the "household name" boundary like Lance Armstrong did for cycling and Tiger Woods for golf. Michael Phelps is truly a phenomenal athlete and is the dominating sports star of our generation for swimming.

I'm pretty sure Phelps, is down to earth, friendly, team playing, or whatever adjective that can be applied positively. My complaint is going to be about the media. In the earlier years of the Olympics, the most annoying thing about it was the "personal stories of overcoming great odds" stories that every athlete had. It seemed at one point, based on the impression I got from the media, that you could not qualify for the Olympics unless you had a parent who miraculously overcame a terminal disease, a sibling that got paralyzed from the neck up in a drinking game accident, and a family pet that died - all within the past year. Thankfully, they got the hint that people really hated those stories and they just wanted to see action. No one really cares that Scruffy bit it the week before.

So came in more sports, and way cool mobile cameras that tracked the entire event, giving you a way better view than you would have gotten if you were actually there. The coverage had gotten way better, offering more sports like beach volleyball, where girls jump up and down in bikini's (it took them this long for the media to figure out that this might be a good sport to televise?) .

For me, the scourge of the Olympic coverage this year has been Michael Phelps. Again, I'm not knocking the guy and you bet I'm rooting for him to dust the French every time he jumps into the water, but the media is way too much into him. It's like sugar. Sugar tastes good, it makes bad things taste better, and you can easily eat alot of it. But if I were to plop down a 5lb bag of sugar in front of you and tell you to eat nothing but sugar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, that wouldn't work. I like watching Michael Phelps, but I don't want to hear and watch 2 weeks of nothing but Michael Phelps. I don't want to know that he eats 12,000 calories a day worth of pizza, wears size 14 shoes, or whatever useless tidbit of information that the media plasters everywhere like it's a revelation. I'm sure even his team mates are getting sick of "Everything Phelps".

I thought the media had hit it's pinnacle of tackiness when they started putting "Phelps in 5 minutes" bullets on the top of the screen during the gymnastics coverage and every news discussion involved Phelps, until yesterday, when it sunk to a new level. Jason Lezak, they guy who did a phenomenal job of anchoring the 4x100 relay to beat the French, was up for his individual 100m finals. A reporter goes up to Lezak for an interview and asks the stupidest Phelps related questing/comment to date. "So, did the prospect of you helping Michael Phelps on his path to 8 Olympic gold medals motivate you to produce a record breaking effort to beat the French in the 4x100 relay?" Lezak was pretty dumbfounded by the question. Seriously, Lezak is a professional competitor that smelled French blood in the water. These athletes aspire and are driven to win. Lezak's response was pretty much like "Phelps is a great competitor, team mate, and all, but I saw Bernard slowing down and I felt strong. I wanted to win and I did it for myself. Phelps was not in my mind at the time." Even the other announcers knew how stupid that question was.

There's still 10 more days of Olympics left. I may have to create a "Michael Phelps Free-Zone" if I'm going to survive.


Andrea said...

I noticed that the "Phelps Phenomena" is carrying over to the local pool too.

Just as the influence of Lance Armstrong's TdF wins increased visibility, boosted Trek bike sales, and got more people to ride...there are way more people at the pool these days!!

I have never seen my gym's pool with more than 2 people to a lane but now we're piling up - and this isn't even masters!

While positive visibility for the sport is good, it sure makes my workouts a little more inconvienent. But like the overcrowding of the gym in January, when everyone is trying to stick with their New Years resolutions, the phenomna should die down as soon as the novelty(or media coverage, in this case) wears off.

E.L.F. said...

My guess is that everyone is hopping to the pool to swim so they can go eat 10000 calories of pizza and pasta afterwards. It works for Phelps, right!??!?

Flatman said...

Pizza and pasta abs FTW!

Poor Scruffy...

Cat said...


Amber Rydholm said...

I've noticed that noone in the media has highlighted Phelps' underage DUI received shortly after the last Olympics. Nor did they pan to Debbie Phelps last night after Phelps's close friend Lochte won the Gold medal and set another world record in the 200 m backstroke. I mean, really, why show the swimmer's own Dad when the viewing public could once again see joy spreading across Debbie's face (never mind that I know the first name of Phelps's mom but not those of most of the rest of the US swimmers who are competing.....).

I love Phelps. I love watching him swim. But I completely agree with you on the media's overactive interest in everything he does.

Good luck this weekend at Timberman.

BreeWee said...

Nice post Chris. I LOVE Phelps, for real, but I got so sad when Lochte won his 200 back and had about 2 seconds of "good job" then he was/is forgotten. Poor guy is always in the shadow, 2nd this and 2nd that and then he scores a gold... but nothing special because it wasn't 8 of them.

have fun at Timberman, are you ready to get chicked by your chick!? She is ready for this, I got my $$$ on her ya know! AND that new suit of hers is not going to help you...ha ha! Go get em'!

Marni said...

Great post! I'm just into the ups and downs and everything that has to do with competitive sports. Show me the action!