' ' Cinema Romantico: Honor Super Omnia

Monday, August 06, 2012

Honor Super Omnia

So I woke up at 8:30 on Sunday morning, put on a pot of coffee and settled in to watch the U.S. Basketball Dream Team. I saw a few baskets and got a chance to see LeBron’s 64 Foot Bounce Pass. (No. Really. A 64 Foot Bounce Pass. Say what you want about the man but ye gods.) But a funny thing happened on the way to the U.S. Walkover – namely, I became entranced by the women’s cycling road race on a different channel.

When I first came across it a group of four cyclists had broken away from the main group, or: the Peloton. (At first when the announcers mentioned the Peloton I thought they were referencing a piece of British architecture. That’s how little I know/knew.) This band of four included an American, Shelly Olds, but there were still many miles to go. I flipped back to the basketball. I watched for awhile. I thought: I can see Carmelo Anthony taking ill-advised jump shots eight months of the year. This is the Olympics! I returned to the road race. I never left.

Shelly Olds had dropped back to the Peleton, apparently on account of one of those traditional London downpours. In fact, it was still raining so hard the NBC cameraman continually had to wipe off his lens as he tracked the three leaders. They were: Marianne Vos of The Netherlands, Olga Zabelinskaya of Russia and Lizzie Armitstead of Great Britain. They had a 45 second advantage on everyone else but there still 6, 7 miles to go, and that left plenty of cement for the Peloton to catch up. And that’s when Armitstead looked at Vos and Zabelinskaya and made a circular motion with her right index finger.

The NBC announcer explained this is a visual cycling lingo – as in, we need to work together to maintain this lead. And that is precisely what they did. They rode in a tight line – 1, 2, 3. Then the rider in the lead would look over shoulder as signal to the rider behind her who would then assume the lead as the current leader reverted to third place. This allowed each of them to draft and conserve energy. It was stellar teamwork from three people who were not teammates and did not speak the same language. Occasionally NBC would show members of the Peloton (I love saying Peloton!) trying to break away and incite a chase but there was never a moment when the commanding trio felt in danger. They were too unified, even as they readied to splinter apart.

Vos was the pre-race favorite. Armistead, of course, was the home-country hero. Zabelinskaya, as it turned out, wasn’t even supposed to be in contention. I wasn't rooting for any one of them so much as I was rooting for all three of them. I was transfixed by them specifically as a TRIO. Eventually, though, they closed in on the finish line, Zabelinskaya took the lead, looked over her shoulder and Vos declined her invitation to pedal to the lead. Translation: it's on. They roared through the rain, gauging one another, waiting for someone to make the first move.

Even to a novice who hadn’t been on a bike in 10 months I could tell Zabelinskaya was doomed. Sure enough, Voss went for it, flying past her, and Armitstead went with her and Zabelinskaya tried to go for a pedal or two and then glanced over her shoulder to ensure she was alone and then sat back as if content to enjoy the show. Voss and Armitstead fought as the finish line closed in. It was so close that when it was all said and done the two women officially finished with the same time: 3 Hours 35 Minutes and 29 Seconds. That is awe-inspiring, riding for 140 kilometers and winding up at the end at precisely the same time. Although, of course, it wasn’t PRECISELY the same time. Because at the absolute end Armitstead realized Voss just had an extra dose of oomph and conceded, not so much in a defeated manner as in a respectful manner, as if to say “You were better, a tip of the cap.”

Each of the three women congratulated the other two with a hug. No one seemed angry. Everyone appeared happy. No controversy in sight. They worked together and then said every woman for herself and may the best woman win and she did. The Olympic Creed talks about taking part in the games “in the true spirit of sportsmanship.” How often is that true spirit honored? Who's to say? But it exists.

I know. I saw it.

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