Olympics Best/Worst
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Best & Worst of the Olympics

By Denise Martin, Special to the Times, Todd Martens and Sheigh Crabtree, Los Angeles Times staff writers

With the Olympics having given us two weeks of nonstop sports, it was hard not to get caught up in some of the drama, even for the less-athletically inclined. Michael Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals was a week’s worth of tension, and the American female gymnasts took part in a near epic battle with Team China.

And new questions arose just as the Olympics began. For instance, could the president of the United States escape Beijing without slapping the bare back of a volleyball player?

OK, so the last one probably wasn’t on anyone’s mind before the Olympics started, nor did anyone anticipate the role Morgan Freeman would play in this year’s Games.

Morgan Freeman? That’s right. Here are the best and worst of the Games, from a more pop-culturally inclined perspective (read: nothing that’s going to irritate our sports bloggers too much). (US Presswire)
WORST: London

To ease any Olympic withdrawal, the game’s closing ceremony comes built with a nod to the next host city, in this case, London in 2012.

And London rocketed in the excitement by cruising into Beijing via a double-decker bus.

Whoo! Honk! Honk! (AFP/Getty Images)
WORST: The musical pairing the world was not waiting for

China may have its adorable lip-syncing children, but the West has “The X-Factor” and classic rock. So call it a draw?

And whereas China opened the Olympic Games with a show-stopping futuristic display of rhythm and light, London looked to 2012 by turning to 1969, tapping Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to perform “Whole Lotta Love” with pop singer Leona Lewis. And it was a tamer, friendlier version of the song at that, according to multiple press reports, as the lyrics Lewis sang were slightly altered from the original.

But maybe we can see if Simon Cowell is available to offer a different assessment? (AFP/Getty Images)
BEST/WORST: Gymnastics

Every Olympics we fall for you, gymnastics.

Your fancy spins, your awe-inspiring midair twirls and your ballet-like maneuvers across a balance beam. But all you do is add a bunch of undue stress into our lives, gymnastics. And this year was no different. You maddeningly deny Alicia Sacramone a medal (see next slide), and then you relegate our agile idol Nastia Liukin to a silver medal, even though our Texas dynamo, pictured at left, was tied (TIED!) with He Kexin.

You know what happens when you’re tied? Sudden death. Another inning. An extra match. Or -- imagine this -- just a plain ol’ tie-breaker. But no, gymnastics, you give us some convoluted computer-based system, one we’re still struggling to understand, and one NBC commentator Bob Costas said felt like it was “pulled out of a hat.”

But you know what gymnastics? You just reminded us why we only pay attention to you every four years. So long. We’re done with you, gymnastics. Don’t bother trying to win us back with your light-speed moves on a pommel horse. We’re on to you.

Leave us alone ... until 2012 in London. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
WORST: Alicia Sacramone not winning

OK, we tried to fully grasp all the rules of gymnastics scoring, with its start values and deductions. And we understand that its subjectivity is the root of its frustration (see previous slide). But we also saw Chinese gymnast Cheng Fei stumble on a landing, which Sacramone did not do.

So to recap: Standing? Sacramone. Stumbling? Fei. Medal? Fei. No medal? Sacramone. (U.S. Presswire; Getty Images)
WORST: And tonight on NBC … another Michael Phelps interview

Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals: awesome. But that was Saturday. Come Sunday, there was artistic diving to be had. And a bunch of other events that rarely get prime-time coverage. But instead of sports, NBC gave us detailed play-by-play of each and every one of Phelps’ races, complete with an extended interview with Phelps and his mother, Deborah. Enough. There’s plenty of time to recap Phelps’ run when the Olympics are over. For now, there’s badminton to be had. (Wu Hong / EPA)
BEST: NBC justifying its late-night coverage

Perhaps feeling a little guilt at pushing anticipated events past the 11 p.m. mark, at least here on the West Coast, where everything is tape-delayed, NBC aired a piece Monday night about how to combat sleep deprivation. Stay hydrated and call in to work sick were among the tips. Interviews with viewers were a nice touch, but no one offered the network the most obvious piece of advice: no more emotional fluff pieces – just show the events. That would free up three hours right there. (AFP / Getty Images)
WORST: Mary Carillo getting acupuncture

If viewers must suffer through human interest pieces, surely there’s more to discover about Chinese culture than acupuncture. But what was most infuriating about Carillo’s Sunday night massage piece is that it served as a reminder that the fine tennis commentator has not gotten to do what she does best, at least not in any of NBC’s prime-time slots: comment on tennis. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)
BEST: Airline reading material for the Olympics

Thanks to the official Web page for United States gymnastics team, we’ve gleaned a bit of insight into the pop-culture choices of our competitors. One prime question put to our silver medal-winning women’s team was the choice of reading material for the flight to China. No one’s going to fault Shawn Johnson, balancing the inspirational ( Lance Armstrong’s “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life”) with the lighthearted (Marian Keyes” “Anybody Out There?”), but Nastia Luikin takes the gold here. She went completely nonsports with the first two books in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire series “Twilight.” It’s escapist fare, sure, but one of the more culturally relevant options.

Any hey, Nastia, in case the Olympics don’t leave you with any time to finish the series, check out our handy “Twilight” primer. (AFP / Getty Images)
BEST: Most entertaining sportswear debate

Chinese sporting firms Erke and Li Ning opted to boldly go where others refused. The companies sponsored and outfitted Olympians from North Korea and Sudan. The move outraged human rights groups, who accused the Chinese firms of using the pretext of competition to engage sponsorship deals. Execs from the firms told the Wall Street Journal that they are not endorsing genocidal and oppressive regimes who commit crimes against humanity but supporting China’s efforts to host a successful Olympics. (AFP / Getty Images)
WORST: Display of poor sportsmanship

When Team U.S.A. decided to play hardball against Team China in baseball, it became apparent that no matter what language they speak, boys will be boys, or, in this case, extremely bad boys armed with dangerous bats and balls.

The Olympic match appeared to go sour when China’s catcher Wang Wei was knocked out of his cleats by American Matt LaPorta. In the next next inning, a backup Chinese catcher was floored in a similar fashion. This is when Team China took the opportunity to bean LaPorta in the head, causing a concussion.

We were going to suggest that both teams be banned from the 2012 games for dangerous antics, but the Olympics committee already removed the sport from the games. (AFP / Getty Images)
BEST: Olympics souvenirs

Sure, we would have liked a modest crown of leaves as a souvenir from the Olympic games in Greece. But what better country to load up on inexpensive Olympics souvenirs than China?

The Beijing government licensed a few hundred shops across the city to carry China’s Olympic mascots, known as Fuwa, or the five “Friendlies.” The best seller is the red Huanhuan, with a head shaped like an Olympic torch, according to various reports. Of course, for those who couldn’t make it to the games, eBay has a range of Olympics goods that would put a Chinese outdoor market to shame.  (AFP / Getty Images)
BEST: Our rock ‘n’ roll gymnasts

Michael Phelps? You may have a stunning number of gold medals. Ryan Lochte and Rebecca Soni? You both swam into our hearts with your thrilling races. But what about the rock ‘n’ roll?

That’s where our gymnast heroes Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson have everyone beat, with decked-out Websites full of audio clips and updated playlists. Johnson, for instance, tells us her favorite group is Rascal Flatts, but she’s more than just a little bit country, fleshing out her iPod with some Kid Rock and Rihanna()
BEST: Tape becomes fashionable

On an initial, quick glance, we thought Kerri Walsh arrived at these Olympic games with a brand new tattoo on her shoulders. But it’s actually Kinesio tape, which athletes wear to help with muscle and joint function. And Walsh is starting a trend, as we’ve spotted the tape on basketball and water polo players as well. But who knew it came in multiple colors? Check out Kerri with some baby blue Kinesio at left. Smashing. It’s flexible, bold and easy to use, and we can’t wait to try it off the court. (AFP / Getty Images)
WORST: China’s Retro-heavy American soundtrack

Between points in various Olympic Games, we’ve heard Kylie Minogue’s “The Loco-Motion,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life,” Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” and a bunch of other songs that could be found on out-of-date jukeboxes. Hats off to Misty May-Treanor for simply being able to concentrate with some vintage Bon Jovi blaring between shots. (AFP/Getty Images)
BEST: A butter-sculpted Shawn Johnson

Prior to showing the gymnastics finals on Thursday evening, NBC aired a brief profile of 16-year-old Shawn Johnson, in which we got to see the celebrity-like status with which she is treated in her home state of Iowa. A life-size butter sculpture of the U.S. silver medalist was downright adorable, and a trip to the local supermarket was even better. Spotting herself on a box of ice cream treats, Johnson said to her mom, “Since when am I on that?” We didn’t get to see mom’s reply. (AFP/Getty Images)
BEST: Bela Karolyi. More Bela Karolyi.

NBC didn’t have famed gymnastic coach Bela Karolyi doing play-by-play, but we sure wish he was. Sitting in the interview room with Bob Costas, Karolyi was a live wire, barely able to stay seated as he described someone’s routine, or lashed out at the judges. When he got really animated, his heavy accent could have used subtitles, but there was no mistaking the excitement Karolyi displayed for the games. Prior to Thursday night’s Nastia Liukin vs. Shawn Johnson showdown, Karolyi jumped as he described it as a battle of “beauty versus power,” and his brass sternness made us believe that the balance of the entire world was at stake. (Justin Maxon / Associated Press)
WORST: NBC’s post-competition interview with Alicia Sacramone

Talking to Sacramone after she made a pair of crucial mistakes in the gymnastics team finals, NBC’s Andrea Joyce seemed intent on making the poor girl – and the entire viewing nation – break down in tears. Twice Sacaramone was forced to answer what she was thinking as she fell, and once she was subjected to answer whether or not she believed her mistakes resulted in the entire team losing concentration.

But Sacramone still handled the questions like a champ. “Nobody else really made mistakes,” she said, “so it’s kind of my fault.” The U.S. team won the silver medal. (AFP/Getty Images)
WORST: The Spanish basketball controversy

Britain’s Guardian caught on to this advertisement from the Spanish basketball team, in which its members are seen making slit-eye gestures. The centerpiece of a publicity campaign, the ad was only supposed to been inside Spain. But anyone who’s ever had an e-mail address should know such restraints would be near-impossible in 2008, and now the world has seen a photograph in which basketball players, including Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol, are seen making an offensive gesture. A lip-syncing tyke suddenly seems rather sweet. (Associated Press)
BEST: NBC’s Olympics coverage

NBC’s Olympics coverage is scoring record ratings, and it’s deserved. Spread amongst its multiple networks, with live coverage and archives online, NBC has done a fine job highlighting the scope of the games. Additionally, the network has been giving prime-time showcases to a bevy of sports, and late-night coverage of indoor volleyball has us hooked. Sure, there’s the occasional sappy or tabloid interview – and we’re here to poke fun at those -- but we’re eager to keep tuning in. (NBC)
WORST: Panda porn

Call it Tuesday-night delight. Smack between all the volleyball, swimming and gymnastics was the package “Panda Babymaking,” which chronicled the breeding efforts of a Panda research facility. Yes sir, there was one panda, described as the center’s “super stud,” getting special confidence training and leg exercises to increase his “lovemaking ability.” And if those didn’t work, he was treated to some good old-fashioned VHS panda-on-panda action. (Other countries have also adopted the practice.)

We know, they’re just pandas, but a heads-up would have been nice. (Michael Renolds / EPA)
WORST: NBC’s interview with Michael Phelps’ mom

This sappy Tuesday night piece was admittedly somewhat cute, but it added nothing to the evening’s coverage, nor did it provide any insight into Pehlps’ life outside the sport. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth sat with Debbie Phelps in the stands as her soon raced and discovered what everyone already knows: Moms cheer for their sons, even when they already have a gaggle of gold medals to the their name. (AFP/Getty Images)
BEST: Fake footprints

So some of the opening fireworks were faked, including giant footprints, for the viewing pleasure of the TV audience. And? The sight was amazing and happened just as the folks in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest National Stadium were enjoying the real deal. If the the rest of us needed some technological help to get the picture, fine. Better than not getting to experience the pyrotechnic steps at all. (Getty Images)
BEST: Chellsie Memmel’s comeback

Limited only to the uneven bars at this year’s Olympics due to a broken ankle, Memmel landed in Beijing with a ready-for-prime-time back story. Memmel missed the 2007 world championships due to an injury and would now have only one event in which she could help the U.S. win a medal. At the trials, she floundered, slipping from the bars. But in the finals, she was on point, and her bars performance played as one of the more wonderfully tense moments of the evening. (U.S. Presswire)
BEST: The Olympic micro-drama when Volleyball superwoman Kerri Walsh lost gold while going for the gold medal.

It isn’t often that instant playback is used to hunt valuable treasures, but that’s just what happened when Walsh’s wedding band flew off over the net into 17,000 tons of sand during a Sunday match against Japan’s Mika Saiki and Chiaki Kusuhara. It took a crew of Chinese volunteers about 20 minutes to find the band inscribed with Walsh’s nickname: Six feet of sunshine. Now she wears her band safely covered under flesh-colored tape (see right). (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)
WORST: Misty May Treanor and George W. Bush

For one, the president of the United States does not need beach volleyball lessons from Misty May-Treanor. But during one such session, the Associated Press reported that “May-Treanor turned her back to the president, offering her bikinied rear for one of the traditional slaps that volleyball players frequently give each other.” Apparently, according to the AP, she then said, “Mr. President, want to?”

And instead of laughing at the sheer grotesque silliness of the situation, we have this picture of the president. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
BEST: Ralph Lauren’s Olympic style / WORST: Kazakhstan’s lack of it

Team USA can thank Ralph for its spiffy navy-blazer-over-white pants Olympic ensemble. (Even 6-foot-6 Kobe Bryant pulls off the beret well.) Sure, it looks as if the athletes are more vacation bound for the Hamptons than ready for two weeks of grueling sports competition. But it could be worse. Ralph could love orange as much as the designer of Team Kazakhstan’s outfits. (What’s up with the orange anyway? Kazakhstan’s flag is aqua and yellow.) (Jeff Gross / Getty Images; Gero Breloer / EPA)
WORST: Too much skin on the U.S. swim team.

First, there was a little pre-competition drama thanks to Amanda Beard and an ad for animal activist group PETA. But once the games started, we looked forward to a host of U.S. medals and some tasteful, patriotic swimwear. We haven’t been disappointed.

But while celebrating the swim’s team win over France the other night, we couldn’t help but notice freestyle relay superhero Michael Phelps and his slippery suit. Out of the water, Phelps was one of the few American swimmers to go for the bare-chested look. And while the suit is looking a little low on the hips in this shot, just imagine the view from the photographer behind him. (EPA)
WORST: NBC‘s unapologetic tabloid angle in a profile of French swimmer Laure Manaudou was a new low.

Even as NBC acknowledged that Manaudou was unlikely to rank in the 400 IM, the network still proceeded to detail the swimmer’s romantic life, mentioning leaked nude photos and videos that her Italian Olympic team ex-boyfriend posted on the Internet after breaking up with Manaudou.

As if that wasn’t humiliating enough for an Olympian bound to lose the race in question, NBC played up the fact that Manudou was competing against her ex-boyfriend’s current girlfriend, Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, who later went on to break a world record. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)
WORST: Politicizing the Olympics

Yes, the Olympics have a rich history of protests and boycotts in the name of politics, and this year has been no different, with protesters hoping to bring attention to alleged human rights violations on the part of China.

But enough with the McCain and Obama political attack ads. The election is coming, we know. But can we save the attacks for the Republican and Democratic conventions? Right now, we’re just trying to enjoy some gymnastics. And swimming. And fencing. Fencing! This is the only time in four years we pay attention to fencing. Let us have this moment. (JohnMcCain.com)
WORST: No spoiler alerts

What gives, American media?

Report the news. Cover the Games. But give us a warning before ruining the evening’s entertainment.

Websites and newspapers handled “ American Idol” eliminations with extreme delicacy, so why no tact when it comes to covering a race in a swimming pool? (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
BEST: The screams heard ‘round Beijing

Is there anyone who didn’t hear Mariel Zagunis wrest the gold from U.S. teammate Sada Jacobson on Saturday? In reality, Zagunis swiftly defeated her fellow American, 15-8, during the individual sabre matchup. It’s been awhile since we watched “Jurassic Park,” but we’re fairly certain that the 23-year-old fencing dynamo’s battle cry -- a high-pitched screech following each point won -- is one and the same as that of the velociraptor. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
BEST: Not-yet-over-the-hill Olympians

Forty-one-year-old Dara Torres led the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay to a silver medal finish. She’s the oldest woman ever to make the U.S. Olympic swim team. “The water doesn’t know what age you are when you jump in,” Torres told NBC’s Matt Lauer last month. “So why not?” For the record, 56-year-old competitive shooter Elizabeth “Libby” Callahan might be the oldest U.S. Olympian at this year’s Games, but she’s also the country’s top-ranked in her events. (Julian Abram Wainwright / EPA)
BEST: Morgan Freeman, bringing the world together

If there’s anyone who can stop us from channel-surfing during commercial breaks during the Olympics, it’s Morgan Freeman. (He sold us on a loom of fate in " Wanted” -- there’s little he can’t do.) So even if he’s hawking Visa, we still sit up and pay attention when that magnanimous voice tells us: “There are 6 billion of us. We all come from unique places with unique ways of looking at the world. We don’t always agree. But for a few shining weeks we set it all aside. We come together to stand and cheer and celebrate as one. We forget all the things that make us different and remember all the things that make us the same.” (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images)
BEST: The new Lara Croft

We’re not taking any digs at the U.S. gymnastics team. We were happy when they made it through the qualification rounds, finishing second behind China. Early on, the U.S. was good, but also looked vulnerable, with Alicia Sacramone and Shawn Johnson flying out of bounds, and a shocking slip from Chellsie Memmel on the uneven bars.

So instead we’re giving props to Alison Carroll, a 23-year-old Brit who will play the role of Lara Croft to hype the new “Tomb Raider” game.

And why is she in this gallery? Former gymnast. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)
WORST: The Chinese gymnastics team

They sparkle!

Tip: In the midst of an age controversy – at least one prominent commentator has opined that some members of the Chinese team are not old enough to compete – glitter makes you look younger. (Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)