Thursday, July 26, 2012

Humor Me: The official 2012 Summer Olympics viewers guide

Actually, before I get into any trouble, I should point out that this column is not an official part of the Olympics in London. The privilege of being officially connected to the worldwide sports spectacle is reserved for those who make a truly valuable contribution to the Olympic movement.

Such as Nature Valley Cereal Bars.

In a news release from London’s Olympic committee, I learned that “Nature Valley has become the official cereal snack bar supplier to London 2012 in a tier three sponsorship deal.”

Tier three isn’t as big time as tier one or two, but I’m sure the bronze-medal sponsor position still cost Nature Valley a lot of granola. Tier three is still good enough to be an official sponsor, joining the ranks of companies such as Samsung, UPS, Visa and, of course, McDonald’s.

Mickey D’s is the longstanding king of Olympic sponsorship, with a partnership that dates back 40 years. This year it has four restaurants in London’s Olympic Park, including one that can seat 1,500 people. The super-sized McDonald’s is a necessity because of all the evidence that connects peak athletic performance with a McRib and fries.

The Olympics’ immense hype and melodramatic coverage make it easy to poke fun at, but I do look forward to the Games. NBC is planning more than 3,500 hours of coverage on various channels and online, so we’ll all miss a lot of it. But here are some golden and not-so-golden moments that I expect to see as an official viewer of the Olympics.

What, I can’t even say I’m an official viewer? What if I buy a whole box of Nature Valley cereal snack bars?

-- Opening ceremony --

Not-so-official overview: The opening ceremony, featuring the parade of nations, is a spectacular celebration that includes dancing, singing and discovering countries you didn’t know. One example: Nauru. That country is near Banaba Island in Kiribati. Hope that helps.
Expect to see: Some interesting outfits worn by the athletes. Spain will be one to keep an eye on. Spain’s bold, potentially retina-damaging team uniforms make their athletes look like they’re headed to work at the Olympic food court. (Check ’em out.)
Fun fact: Bob Costas is one of the most esteemed broadcasters in the business, and is therefore allowed, by Olympic rules, to describe the opening ceremony with terms such as “gallimaufry.”

-- Gymnastics --

Officially unofficial overview: One of the most popular spectator sports of the Olympics, gymnastics requires strength, flexibility, agility and top-of-the-line health insurance. Gymnasts might be the most amazing athletes in the Olympics – other than the Olympians who ride the equestrian horses. That looks exhausting.
Expect to see: Amazing flips, twists, spins and emotional stories on how athletes overcame adversity to make it to the Olympics. Also prepare for the unforgettable moment when, after years of hard work, sacrifice, ice packs and knee braces, a gymnast steps out of bounds on a tumbling run and misses a medal by one-tenth of a point.
Fun fact: During each Olympics, the famous video of the gymnast who crashes into the vault with his chest – you know this one, right? – gets sent around by e-mail. My chest hurts just watching it. That poor guy should’ve competed in equestrian.

-- Swimming --

Not-technically-official overview: Swimming is another powerhouse of the Olympic schedule, featuring superbly conditioned athletes who must spend hours pushing their bodies in the pool and shaving their bodies at home.
Expect to see: A lot of American superstar Michael Phelps. He won a total of 14 gold medals at the last two Olympics, could win seven more this year, and then will retire to a life of doing Subway commercials with Jared Fogle. There will also be at least one event decided by one-hundreth of a second, followed by a tight shot of a parent weeping with joy while waving a small flag.
Fun fact: Humans have been swimming for thousands of years, although more often with survival in mind than gold medals. There are cave paintings that date back to the end of the Stone Age that seem to show swimming – or perhaps a water aerobics class led by a group of bison.

-- Track and field --

Semi-official overview: Along with gymnastics and swimming, track and field is one of the truly classic Olympic sports, which means most people only care about it every four years. That’s sad, really, because track and field is an exciting sport that shows the great capacity for human athletic achievement. Speed, power, agility – it’s all on display when you watch any event other than race walking.
Expect to see: A lot of talk about whether the Americans can take the sprinting titles back from the Jamaicans, who dominated four years ago. Also, there will no doubt be several mentions of LaShawn Merritt, a double gold medalist in Beijing who is now cleared to compete after failing drug tests because of a banned substance in a sexual enhancement product. Good conversation starter with the kids.
Fun fact: If American Ashton Eaton wins a gold medal in the decathlon, he has the chance to become only the second American decathlete ever to win a gold medal, have an unfortunate plastic surgery outcome and appear in a reality show with the Kardashians.

-- Archery, fencing, judo, the form of gymnastics where they flip a ribbon around, etc. --

Admittedly-not-official overview: There are just too many sports in the Summer Olympics to preview them all. There are just too many sports in the Summer Olympics, period. That’s why NBC is planning more than 3,500 hours of coverage to make sure you don’t miss any of the qualifying rounds of trampoline or the controversial moment when someone in the 20-kilometer race walk breaks into a jog.
Expect to see: A lot of these events not making it to NBC’s prime-time coverage. Sorry, team handball and kayaking, you’re considered tier three in the coverage. You’re kind of the Nature Valley Cereal Snack Bars to the McDonald’s and Visas of the world.
Fun fact: The Olympic motto is “citius, altius, fortius,” which is Latin for “faster, higher, stronger and sponsorship opportunities are available.”

Of course, that’s not official.

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