' ' Cinema Romantico: A (Long) Digression: A Journal Of Watching An Olympic Journey

Friday, August 15, 2008

A (Long) Digression: A Journal Of Watching An Olympic Journey

This evening is the Women's Gymnastics All Around Final from the Beijing Olympics, meaning the aforementioned Shawn Johnson of the WDM will be attempting to join the rarefied air of women such as Nadia and that American with two first names (I believe she was on a Wheaties box). It is being shown live stateside which is definitely cool but also means the competition won't start until 10:15 PM CST. I tried to take a nap but no dice. Needless to say, I'm wired.

I constantly teeter on an emotional tightrope and, goodness, do gymnastics make the rope just a bit more wobbly. Anyone who knows me is aware of my precarious mental state when my beloved Nebraska Football team plays but at least in that sport there's a margin for error. You can throw an interception or get a false start penalty or even go down by several scores and still emerge victorious. But in gymnastics if your toes curl the wrong way, that's it. You're done. "Hit the bricks, pal, and beat it." Four years of waiting and training just went whooshing down the drain.

If you didn't see it, the US Female Gymnastics team began its Beijing Olympics in the preliminary round on Sunday on the floor exercise event and proceeded to have its first gymnast step out of bounds, its second gymnast step out of bounds, its third gymnast almost step out of bounds, and then Shawn took the floor and......NBC cut away to commercial. By the time they came back I was sprawled on my floor in need of someone to - as George Costanza once screamed with authority - "electroshock me back into coherency!"

Thus, in order to steady my nerves on this night I have determined to log (not blog, as I'm doing this in my trusty notebook stationed on my coffee table) my way through the lead-up to the competition and the competition itself. It's the only way I can calm myself down. So strap yourself in! It's gonna' be a long night!

7:03 PM: Did you happen to catch the women's team gymnastics final? That was some hard s---, man. I'm all about my fellow Iowan but you've gotta' feel for the American team captain Alicia Sacramone who tragically fell off the balance beam just when it appeared they might be able to overtake the Chinese. Later, she fell on the floor exercise. The look on her face at the end of the competition was the single most heartbreaking thing I've seen since the end of "Atonement". And after the competition the asinine American reporter is shoving the microphone in her face asking her "what happened?" Alicia looked like she was about to simultaneously have a nervous breakdown and punch the reporter in the face (the latter would have been preferable). These sideline reporters are out of control. They have to be stopped.

Still, though, they came away with a silver medal and while many American news outlets deemed it "settling" for silver (or something of that sort) I hope they took a page from the American men and realized they won the silver. They didn't settle for it. (By the way, this is a piece that merely re-affirms why Shawn is still all that.)

7:45 PM: Shawn is in NBC's official Gold Medal Spotlight, complete with a profile of her as a - in her words - "typical girl from Des Moines". Represent, sister.

Now they're showing the Butter Shawn alongside the Butter Cow. Ah yes, I can remember attending a Styx/REO Speedwagon show at the Iowa State Fair several years back, imbibing one too many warm beers and then spilling out from the grandstand while loutishly yelling about how we needed to see the Butter Cow. Those were the days.

They just played Devotchka during the profile! I listended to Devotchka on my Ipod coming home today on the train! I like it. A good omen.

7:49 PM: Maybe this will sound horribly anti-American but so be it - I am sick of Michael Phelps. Enough already! No more blathering about how much this guy eats. They keep showing shots of his mom in the stands when he wins and by now even she looks bored. I mean, do we have to see every gold medal ceremony for this guy? I'm sure there are other Americans partaking in medal ceremonies. Can we see those? Case in point is the bubbly Californian Natalie Coughlin who won the backstroke, I think, and it's probably the only one she'll win but we we didn't get to see her on the podium so we could watch Phelps pick up his 134th Gold Medal.

There's a lull in live coverage so NBC inevitably drags out a replay of a Phelps race. Seriously? A replay? You can't find anything else to show us? How about this? Phelps is great. I know. His achievement would be immense and he appears to be a good guy. But there are other Americans competing and, besides, until he wins one when he's not the favorite and has gray hair - a la Carl Lewis in Atlanta - put a kibosh on the Greatest Olympian Ever talk, okay?

7:54 PM: They just showed a preview for "The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" about the Syracuse running back who was the first African American to win a Heisman Trophy. Being a college football fanatic I'm excited to see it. It looks pretty good, though Dennis Quaid appears to be playing the head coach and also appears to have scene where he gives the Motivational Speech In The Locker Room.

7:55 PM: Thinking about it, this whole gymnastics showdown tonight is like a movie. Really, it is. Shawn Johnson is the lead. The whole-hearted Iowan whose gym fell victim to the Iowa floods with the coach who hails from Beijing, therefore giving us the mentor-returns-to-hometown-with-protege angle.

Nastia Luikin, the other stellar American who also has a definite shot at gold, is the supporting character (i.e. The Best Friend role) since, after all, she and Shawn are roommates at the Olympics. It's true. Of course, we'll need Nastia to give Shawn a poignant speech at a key moment when Shawn appears on the verge of defeat.

The two Chinese girls, naturally, are the Villains, what with them lying about their age (and you know they're lying about their age). They're Dolph Lundgren and Shawn is Rocky Balboa coming onto their turf to show 'em what's-what. (Does this make Nastia Luikin Carl Weathers?)

8:05 PM: Beach volleyball with the American team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. These two are awesome. They won the gold medal in Athens and have won - this is not a misprint - 104 straight matches, as in they haven't lost for over a year. They're to beach volleyball what Nebraska was to college football in the 90's. I guess that makes Misty Tommie Frazier (calm, cool, raises her play the higher the stakes get) and Kerri Ahman Green (all business, same emotion whether they're up by 40 or down by 10). Yeah, they wear bikinis when they play. So what? You don't think they're athletes? Is that what you said? I'm sorry, I couldn't quite hear you with that piece of frozen pizza wedged in your mouth.

8:14 PM: Well, even Tommie Frazier lost once to Iowa State. I mention it because suddenly May/Walsh are down 17-14 in the first set to two Belgians no one's ever heard of. On top of that, NBC is telling us Belgium wasn't originally even going to send this team to the Olympics. That's got made-for-tv-storyline all over it.

8:20 PM: Belgium had three set points in a row and the Americans, on the strength of Misty digging the ball outta' the sand like a mad-woman, fought 'em all off. See? Just like Tommie Frazier! The bigger the stakes, the bigger the game!

8:22 PM: May/Walsh fought off two more set points and then turned the tables and won the match. High, high drama. This is not what my already precarious heart rate needs right now.

8:31 PM: Now the Americans are laying down some serious smack. They ain't takin' no more Belgian s---. Close the barn doors. This one's over.

9:05 PM: Back to swimming but no Michael Phelps for the moment. Hallelujah. Instead it's Australia's feared "Lethal" Leisel Jones versus underdog American Rebecca Soni in the 200 meter breaststroke. NBC color commentator Rowdy Gaines doesn't seem to think Soni has a chance.

9:13 PM: Oh, doesn't she? Soni just laid down some smack of her own. She looked like a dolphin all jacked up on Red Bull. She put the hurt on "Lethal" Leisel. It wasn't even close. And now the Beijing Water Cube is echoing with chants of "USA!" I like it. This is good mojo. Everything's coming up red, white, and blue.

God, I hope they show us this medal ceremony.

9:36 PM: NBC is breaking down the gymnastics final apparatus by apparatus. Shawn got a check on the vault but Nastia got a check plus on the uneven bars. It's a wash on the beam and Shawn gets the check on floor exercise. They're picking Shawn. That scares me.

9:38 PM: NBC gymnastics announcer Al Trautwig, who never met a colossal proclamation he wouldn't make, has this to say: "The Chinese are sending two gymnasts to try and ruin this American dream." See? They are making China out to be the villain.

9:40 PM: We're about 40 minutes away now. I told myself I wouldn't have a glass of Chardonnay (because, really, what else do you drink during womens gymnastics?) until the event actually started but....my nerves need settling. Sue me.

9:45 PM: They're breaking down why Michael Phelps is "the perfect swimmer". Aaargh, make it stop.

9:59 PM: They actually showed Rebecca Soni's medal ceremony! Thank you, NBC! She was beaming. Gotta' be happy for her.

10:12 PM: It's on, baby. Showtime. Shawn's going for gold (Nastia, too). Right here, right now. Al Trautwig, the melodramatic master of ceremonies, is ringside with his color commenating duo of Tim Dagget and Elfie Schlagel - The Magistrates of the Mistake. Rest assured, any error, however miniscule, these two will see it and harp on it relentlessly. They could find fault with Kylie Minogue's backside.

To wit, as we prepare for Shawn's warmup vault Tim and Elfie are criticizing the "crossover step" she's been making on said vault so far during the Oympics. It should be a "step forward", apparently, not a "crossover".

-Shawn's practice vault is, in the words of Dagget, "the best (vault) she's ever done." That should relax me, right? Why does it just freak me out more?

-Nastia vaults and sticks her landing. Oh, boy.

-But Nastia gets a lower score than what she seemed to have earned. One event and the controversy begins anew. Ah, the Olympics.

-Shawn vaults and takes a "critical" step. Dagget's telling us the step could "decide a lot". She has a higher "start value" than Nastia and is supposed to take a huge early lead, though this may not be the case now.

-The judges are taking forever to post Shawn's score. They're communicating with one another on phones which, apparently, is not a good thing. Dagget is saying the score may not be as high because Shawn's "start value" may go down since she didn't fully turn her shoulder. Or something. I don't know. I'm out of wine. I should have known one glass couldn't prevent anxiety. This isn't good. Keep it together, keep it togther....

-Shawn got the full "start value". Whew....someone get me a defibrellator.

-One of the two villains (i.e. The Chinese) falls on the vault. It takes half-a-second for Al Trautwig to thunder, "She has now has no shot at the gold."

-A Romanian girl is 1st, Shawn's in 2nd, and Nastia's 10th. But we're being advised that Nastia has the advantage since the uneven bars, up next, are her best event.

-Now we're going back to swimming for a Phelps semi-final. Not a final, but a semi-final. It never, ever ends.

-Back to gymnastics: Bela Karolyi, the former coach of the aforementioned Nadia and the American with two first names on the Wheaties box, is in the NBC studio with Bob Costas and saying both Nastia and Shawn got robbed on their vault scores. The blaming of the judges has officially commenced!!!

-Uneven Bars: we're being told Nastia will get a "huge, huge score". And she does. Man, she's good. I don't know the intricacies of this sport, truth be told, but her routine is really, really cool.

-Shawn's turn. This isn't her best event and so she's just gotta' stay within striking distance.

-Boo-yah! She stuck the landing, bitches! (I just hit my head on the ceiling. To be fair, my "garden" apartment has an extremely low ceiling, but I really did hit my head on it.) How do you like her now?!

-Except Shawn got another low score. Dagget is informing us this was because "her elbows were locked". Her elbows were locked? I'm dying here, man. How do parents of gymnasts stand this stuff?

-Nastia's in a frickin' cave when they show her on camera. That is focus.

-It's after 11:00 now and we're still waiting to move on to the next event. I may have to bust out the scotch. Although, I must say, this whole logging the event thing is quite cathartic. Perhaps the next time I go on a date I should bring my notebook and log my way through it?

-Oh, guess what? A Michael Phelps interview! I wonder what he's having for lunch today? If only they'd ask!!!

-Back to gymnastics: Shawn is eight-tenths of a point out of first. EIGHT TENTHS!!! Nastia's in second. And The Villain (Yang Li Win from China) is the one holding down that top spot.

-Back in the NBC studio spotlight-seeking Bela Karolyi is "not satisfied with the scoring". He called Shawn's deduction on the uneven bars "brutal", though he states he doesn't see any "major biases". I guess that's good. The judges aren't cheating, they're just idiots.

-Shawn's on the balance beam. She had a "balance check" but everything else looks rock solid. Tim & Elfie are wondering where judges find deductions in Shawn's beam routine and Tim informs us he thinks international judges "don't like the look of Shawn Johnson." Yeah, well Iowans don't need anyone to like the look of us. We don't want your approval, ya' dig? Piss off, Europeans.

-Another low score for Shawn. Apparently, her "chest landed low". HER CHEST LANDED LOW?! SHE'S ON A BEAM SMALLER THAN THE WIDTH OF THE PIECE OF PAPER I'M WRITING THIS ON! That's it. I'm pouring a scotch.

-Now The Villain got a higher score than what she appears to have deserved. Elfie's telling us it was "way too high". Tim says "I don't know what's going on." Maybe Shawn should just challenge everyone to balance beam in the parking lot.

-It's not looking good for Shawn. I'll admit it. And you know what, I hope she just says the hell with it and lets it all ride on the floor exercise. Like DeJuan Groce's punt return in the '02 Rose Bowl when Nebraska was down 34-7 to Miami in the 4th quarter. He didn't care what the score was. He took the punt and said, "Screw you and everything else, I'm scoring." And he did. It didn't matter in the supposed grand scheme except that it did. I was so proud. Still am.

-Nastia stuck her landing. She's in control of her own destiny. Perhaps she's the lead and Shawn's the supporting character?

-Okay, we're headed to the floor exercise - the last event. Nastia has the lead. Shawn's in third, but barely. Let's go USA. I'm gonna' go bash my head against a wall until the commercial break is over.

-Floor exercise warmups. We're being told Shawn has a "twist" in her routine she hasn't been doing thus far in the Olympics but that now she needs to put it back in. Go for broke. That's what I'm talkin' about. She goes last so she'll know what she needs.

-Al Trautwig tells us that "now the game begins". The Russian who's fourth behind Shawn is up. She nails her routine and takes first.

-Now the Top 3 go: The Villain, Nastia, and Shawn. I'm hiding behind my couch as I write this.

-The Villain nails it, too. "How about wow?" Al Trautwig says in his typical understated way. The Villain leads.

-But Nastia, in the theme of the night, lays down the smack. "Oh, baby," declares Trautwig. "That's a routine we could be watching for generations." Now it's all about the Des Moinesean.

-Shawn Johnson on floor: as good as DeJuan Groce's punt return in the Rose Bowl. Better, even. She stuck every landing and I hit my head on the ceiling again. She bounds off the floor with a magnificent smile and looks so wound up I think she could run the length of the Great Wall. Good for her.

-Nastia gets gold and Shawn gets silver, and if anyone says she "settled" for it I'll spit in their face.

12:03 AM: The medal ceremony is about to get under way and, god damn right, I'm staying up to see my fellow Iowan get that medal put around her neck. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

12:15 AM, Final Thoughts: So it turned out that, in fact, Nastia was the lead and Shawn the supporting character. That's fine. It was Roger Ebert who once wrote of Woody Allen that his whole career was "based on making secondary characters heroic." So we'll just get Woody to write & direct this film.


Rory Larry said...

I recall that drunken night and the butter cow. I always read it not as nostalgic but rather as contempt. What with the whole trying to convince "cool guys" to fight you.

Nick Prigge said...

I'm pretty sure it was contempt. But, you know, years pass, lines blur, and what was contempt becomes nostalgia.

Anonymous said...

Woody Allen would be the perfect writer and director for this film, he does like his ladies young.