The Glass Eye: Olympics and Pirates
-After a slow start, Michael Phelps reaffirmed his status as the greatest swimmer of all time last week at the London Olympics. With 22 medals in his career, 18 of them gold, he has proven his championship mettle beyond any doubt. Sure, he wasn’t nearly as dominant this time around, but he was disappointing only compared to his own standards, not compared to anyone else in the pool last week. I doubt we will see that record broken in the next 40 years.
-Speaking of swimming, with Phelps and Lochte almost certainly not returning for the Rio Games in 2016, the US men’s swimming team will have to find some strong young swimmers to remain the best team in the world. However, with the likes of Katie Ledecky (age 16), Rebecca Soni (25), Dana Vollmer (24), Allison Schmitt (22), and especially Missy Franklin (17), the women’s team should be exceptionally strong for the next four years. Ledecky winning the grueling 800-meter freestyle event at age 16 was one of the biggest US surprises of the Olympics so far.
-Kudos to the IOC for banning the badminton players involved in match-throwing last week – with the high price paid by spectators and TV networks, intentionally losing an Olympic event cannot be tolerated under any circumstances and such actions had to be dealt with firmly and swiftly, lest it spread to other sports.
Having said that…the IOC must take a large share of the blame for that debacle as well – any system which rewards losing a match with a BETTER second-round matchup is inherently flawed. This is the OLYMPICS – instead of round-robin qualifiers, make it a double or even a single-elimination tournament…but NEVER reward losing on such a big stage! I hope the IOC learned their lesson in this case.
-Last thought on intentionally losing – I don’t really know how the NFL can stop it, but what happened in badminton was eerily reminiscent of about 50% of all Week 17 NFL games the last few years. I genuinely feel bad for season-ticket holders in the NFL – they are forced to buy two preseason games along with the eight regular-season games, and a large percentage of the time the last home game becomes a glorified exhibition. I don’t blame coaches for resting starters before the playoffs, nor do I expect teams to individually police themselves – but much like the NBA and NHL took steps to curb intentionally losing to get a better draft slot (the lottery was a direct response to such actions), so too should the NFL try to find ways to encourage teams to try to win every game.
-One of the best things about the Olympics for me is getting to watch sports I rarely, if ever, watch – and finding that some of them are far more entertaining than one would expect! Water polo, for example, is a fascinating mix of swimming, wrestling, and hockey – and has been quite interesting to watch in both men’s and women’s events. Badminton, while not as exciting, fascinated me because of the unbelievable speed of the game – the reflexes of top-level badminton players are unbelievable! The perfect synchronization of a crew team (particularly 8-person crew); the combination of strength, technique, and courage of competitive whitewater rafters; and the intense focus and raw athleticism of the gymnasts all are exceptional. I wouldn’t want to watch these events all the time, but every four years events like those make for a nice change of pace, and I encourage you to check them out.
-I am not a HUGE tennis fan, but I watch enough to really feel good for Andy Murray – in other eras, this gentleman would likely already have a Grand Slam title or two to his name, but he’s consistently been a notch below Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. Murray finally got to take his turn at the top, and what a time to do it – beating Federer on the grounds of Wimbledon to win Olympic gold, and doing so in straight sets.
-Last Olympic note: it’s hard to tell a lot about this on TV, but based on what I’ve seen and read I’d give London high marks as Olympic hosts – it seems like the atmosphere is festive, security has been tight but not oppressive, and even the famously finicky English weather has been more good than bad.
-Finally, I’d like to take a look at the Pirates’ chances from here on out. They stand at 62-46 after Monday night’s action , 1/2 game behind Atlanta for one of the two wildcard slots and ahead of the Cards and Dodgers by three and five games in the loss column, respectively. If they go only 28-26 the rest of the way, the Cards would have to go 30-23 and the Dodgers 31-22 to catch them. They play five teams with winning records – including four against the Dodgers and six against the Cards…but most importantly, they also play the Padres, Brewers, Cubs, and Astros 28 more times, and at the very worst should be able to go 17-11 in those games. They also have 31 home games left and they have been the best team in the majors at home. They need to continue doing what they have been doing – win at home, beat the bad teams, and avoid sweeps at the hands of good teams – and they will get one of those two wild-card slots. ESPN’s playoff odds calculator gives the Bucs a 74% chance of making the postseason, and I agree – they should make it.
Even if they somehow collapse and don’t make the playoffs, they are now exactly 20 wins from their first winning season in 20 years – they would have to go 19-36 from here on out to finish 81-81, so I’m going to go ahead and say that they WILL finish above .500.
The Eye is off next week but will return with NFL previews the rest of August.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.