Roundtable: What storylines stand out at the halfway point of the Olympics?

By Bryan Fischer | Blogger

We saw Gabby Douglas win gold and Missy Franklin become a star overnight. The first week of the 2012 Games in London has given the world some great moments so far, what are some of the storylines that stood out as we reach the halfway point of the 2012 Olympics?

Matthew Grevers, Michael Phelps, Nathan Adrian and Brendan Hansen hold up a flag after the victory ceremony for the men's 4 x 100m medley relay final during the London 2012 Olympic Games. (Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Moore: I think that we saw the real highlight of modern athleticism. Even with Gabby, you saw the height she was able to get on the flour routine and on the parallel bars. We've seen Destinee Hooker dominate women's volleyball with her 42-inch-max-vertical (that's higher Tracy McGrady's when he was drafted, by the way). And we've seen the Men's Basketball team go undefeated on the backs of that athleticism, even when their shooting fails them as it did vs. Lithuania.

Volleyball player Destinee Hooker is a bit of a jumper. (US Presswire)

This is a new level of athlete, the product of all the training and conditioning that has come along. As much as Usain Bolt was considered a freak of nature in 2008, that kind of human performance is becoming the norm.

The other dominant trend has been controversy. From how the women's gymnastics all-around was scored, to the boxing judging nonsense, to the badminton tanking, we've seen a lot of ugly stories come out in these Olympics.

Plus, you know, Phelps vs. Lochte is just great drama.

Oh, and handball! That's taken the internet by storm, and it would be great if it were to take off in the United States. It's such a natural fit for what Americans like in their sports, with the speed, movement, and excitement, even if the scoring is excessive.

Jerry Hinnen: The first thing I'll remember about this opening week of the London Games is, ironically, what it taught us about the Beijing Games -- and specifically, what Michael Phelps accomplished there. No one thinks Phelps' eight golds weren't one of the greatest achievements in Olympic history, of course, but he's always had the occasional detractor pointing out -- usually in defense of another sport's "greatest Olympian ever" candidate -- that only swimmers would have the opportunity to hit such benchmarks in the first place.

That may be true, but that doesn't mean they're attainable for anyone other than Phelps and Phelps alone. That point was driven home by Ryan Lochte's attempt to swim an aggressive Phelps-like program in London: 400 and 200 individual medleys, 200 freestyle, 200 backstroke, plus the freestyle relays. It made sense on paper: Lochte was one of the most talented swimmers in the world. He trained like a madman. He entered with expectations of at least four golds. And in the end, it defeated him soundly: just two golds, one of them in a relay, with several deeply disappointing swims and a noticeable lack of a finishing kick. If even a powerhouse like Lochte couldn't come close to repeating Phelps's Beijing accomplishments, what hope does anyone else have? What hope will anyone ever have?

That Phelps was busy winning four more golds of his own and trumping Lochte head-to-head -- four years after the triumph of Beijing -- makes things even clearer: Phelps may or may not be the "greatest Olympian ever," a title it's flatly impossible to award. But after 2004, 2012, and especially 2008 he is unequivocally one of the greatest athletes of our lifetimes, one it has been a true privilege to watch perform.

Bryan Fischer: I think the middle ground of sport was left behind for these 2012 Games as we've seen both dominating and underwhelming performances but little that could be characterized as mediocre. You could say that's the case for every Olympics but it seems to have been highlighted with what's happened in London so far.

Mo Farrah made Olympic Stadium a mad house after winning the Men's 10,000 meters. (US Presswire)

There's Gabby and Missy, of course, and all of the other great stories that have surfaced. Great Britain, the hosts, had their best Olympic moment ever on Saturday at Olympic Stadium when the country won three golds in 40 minutes, punctuated by that terrific moment when Mo Farah hugged his daughter draped in the Union Jack after winning the 10,000 meters.

I know we write for a living but all I can say is that it is simply and unmistakably cool to see a performance like that. It was even more amazing when I consider I probably couldn't run half that in one day and I'm in decent shape.

Michael Phelps capped off his career with his 18th gold medal (22nd overall) following an impressive finishing kick on the medal stand following a silver earlier in his program. With more than twice the number of golds than anybody else in Olympic history, one can't help but sit back in amazement at the world's greatest swimmer and what he's accomplished. London was no Beijing, as Jerry points out, but it was also the send off he deserves: a little bit of everything that's impressive the second he steps off the podium.

There was Team USA, of course, obliterating Nigeria by 83-points. Then there was Serena Williams, who played as perfect a tournament as you possibly could have had. She made the World's No. 1 and No. 3 players look like they were playing in quicksand, dropping just four games during the medal rounds. There's dominating and there's perfection and Serena toed the line of the latter.

All-in-all I think this has been a terrific Olympics no matter what country you're rooting for as sports makes the storylines worth watching every single night.

When badminton is involved in a scandal, you know you're in for a few surprises at the Olympics. (US Presswire)

Matt Norlander: You know what comes to mind now that I think about it? How about all the tanking we've seen?

Badminton officials were forced to kick out multiple teams from the competition after they intentionally attempted to lose games to better improve their seed for the bracketed portion of the competition. If you'd have told me badminton would've qualified for one of the five biggest stories of the first week of the Olympics, well, I'd have believed you because it's the Olympics and these things happen -- but I still would've been surprised.

You had a soccer coach from Japan admitting he was coaching his women's team to a tie to move on out of pool play.

You had the British cyclist who admitted he intentionally crashed in an effort to start the race over. Apparently, inside the Velodrome: anything goes. Only not really, 'cause that dude was DQ'd.

As Americans, we really don't embrace this. It's different from deftly tanking for a draft pick, because at that point, hope for winning in a season is truly gone. It's mathematically pragmatic to play for worse -- without blatantly showing it, like the badminton teams did -- in order to get better players and become a better team down the road. But this admission to submission is now part of the Olympic culture, that reverent spirit, I guess. When losing or giving up gives on an advantage, I guess we're bound to see it happen, too.

The other thing that stands out so far from London is related to what Jerry wrote. I won't wax on Phelps, since we've done that plenty in this post, on the blog and even beyond on the site. But what about swimming as a whole? Track and field will take over the biggest headlines going forward to close out the Olympics, so now's as good a time and place to acknowledge just how great the U.S. was again in the pool. Thirty medals and 16 golds. We take our dominance for granted here. Understand: the world hates us for being this good at so many events in swimming.

Used to be the U.S. was good, but this good? No way. And now the future looks pretty terrific with all the women in their teens or early 20s. Phelps is on his way out, but Ryan Lochte should be back for Rio, and even still guys like Tyler Clary, Nathan Adrian, Cullen Jones, Nick Thoman and Matt Grevers all signal strength for the future. Americans love to see their track stars blaze to glory every four summers, but I'm not sure how the men and women on the track will ever get as across-the-board triumphant as their American amphibian counterparts.

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