Kovacevic: Reporter's decathlon II, dunk day
LONDON —The reporter's decathlon, that Herculean test of strength, will, perseverance and at least a semi-decent wireless signal, continues into its second day unabated and undeterred. (And possibly unread.)
It's been tough. Not going to lie. Down to two Starbucks visits per day from three. Ran out of ink once. Changed a battery.
The one saving grace of this grueling endeavor has been that I don't need a ticket to enter any of the 10 events I'm covering over these two days. That's because of the Olympic E pass that offers access to pretty much every corner of the Games shy of 10 Downing Street.
If I did have to get a ticket, suffice it to say, I'd be out of luck. Ticket windows here aren't just closed. Some are boarded up. No tickets are sold on-site at any venue, only online, and only a handful of singles remain. Even for the synchronized swimming.
It's so bad that the scalpers have turned to the ugly last resort of — sit down for this — being polite.
An Iranian gentleman hawking tickets outside the weightlifting arena held up this sign: “NEED ONE TICKET. PLEASE.”
Mind the gap. Off we go …
WATER POLO• Water Polo Arena
Talk about familiar faces.
In addition to walking into a building with thousands of seriously passionate, screaming Serbs — are there any other kind? — in rooting against the Aussies, I find Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire in the media tribune doing prep work for NBC.
Ah, my people. Fellow Serbs, fellow puckheads.
I'm born and raised in Pittsburgh, but one never fully separates from the ancestral homeland. I'm reminded of this when I see not only the crowd — by far the loudest of its size at the Olympics — but also the match itself, in which the Serbs predictably prevail, 11-8.
McGuire, somehow offering me analysis without going “between the benches,” describes the Serbs as “the terrors of this tournament.” He means their style of play, but I tell him he might as well be citing centuries of history. We are not to be trifled with.
McGuire points out that the job of the two referees who walk poolside is exceedingly difficult because so much clutching, pulling, dunking and other evil takes place underwater, where the officials have an excuse to miss a lot.
Unlike those he usually covers.
The previous day, a female player showed McGuire deep fingernail marks into her torso.
“Vicious, vicious sport,” he said. “It's unbelievable what goes on out there.”
Emrick, the world's biggest Pirates fan when he isn't the world's best play-by-play man, flashed a Zoltan symbol for his beloved team.
Either that, or it was for Hungary goalkeeper Zoltan Szecsi.
BMX CYCLING• Olympic Park BMX Track
If that isn't the first thought of everyone who climbs the steps of this temporary stadium to see a wild collection of hills and humps for tiny, acrobatic bikes to navigate, it should be.
From the daring of the racers to their excessively cool attire — one rider warmed up in jeans — this sport has become the halfpipe of the Summer Games since a popular introduction in Beijing. And it's very much at home here, having blossomed in London parks in the early 1980s.
You can feel it, too.
Britain's Liam Phillips is atop the 50-foot black ramp to start, and the packed crowd is hanging on his every pedal once he rolls. For this athlete more than any. Phillips shattered his collarbone in a run just three weeks ago and still has trouble picking up a shopping bag. But he's a demon on this track, bursting, bouncing and soaring through the 400 meters of winding tar to arrive in 38.719 seconds. That ends up 12th, but it's tremendous under the circumstance.
“I'm a BMX rider,” Phillips says. “I'm not going to look for pity from anybody else.”
It's enough to make you think those kids down your block, who do this all day in the grocery's parking lot, actually have a little raison d'etre.
SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING• Aquatics Centre
Sorry, I love the Olympics, and I respect even the sports and disciplines I don't find all that entertaining. But man, this pushes that to the limit.
Russia's Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina are the Mario and Wayne, the Magic and Bird, of this sport. And the ladies will take gold on this day, too, their second in a row. All that's very impressive.
But these two came walking into the pool area made up like puppets, moving like their strings were being pulled and …
You know what?
These are six paragraphs neither you nor I will have back.
BOXING• ExCel South Arena 2
The good thing about the abject lack of any American presence in the sweet science our nation once owned is that the Nevada Athletic Commission isn't involved.
How about already being guaranteed no medals in any of the 10 weight classes?
How about just one man, welterweight Errol Spence, making it as far as the quarterfinals?
There are Indians and Irish and boxers from all over the world not named Ivan Drago but not a single American left standing. It's hard to even find a U.S. referee or judge.
Maybe the pay-per-view take wasn't attractive enough?
In the convention center housing this venue, the feel of a movie theater drapes the ring as Zou Shiming, China's breakthrough world champion, takes on Kazakhstan's Birzhan Zhakypov in men's flyweight. They climb through the ropes to the thump of the Rolling Stones' “Start Me Up,” and Shiming shows off a little swagger you don't see from the Chinese in any other event.
The Shiming Showboat coolly proceeds to take a 13-10 decision.
The referee from Turkey raises the victor's arm.
All five judges are from Asia.
Boxing in America is a TKO.
BASKETBALL• O2 Arena
I'll confess I've seen about as much water polo as I have the NBA over the past four years, so this might prove as instructive as any experience here.
It's not basketball I don't like. I love basketball, especially rules actually getting enforced as they do in this international brand. No palming, no traveling, no five-step slams for ESPN.
This matchup between the U.S. and Victim No. 5, also known as Australia's “Boomers,” is a quarterfinal elimination, which adds all the urgency and intensity of … practice, man.
The Aussies come out fouling, the Americans flying. I could offer play-by-play, or I could just share that LeBron James set up for a 3, looked one way and passed blindly under the hoop to Carmelo Anthony, who took a foul and still put it away.
Men 119, Boys 86.
The atmosphere is a bit odd, with Americans raving over LeBron, Kobe and the rest and the Brits looking at those fans quizzically. I'll bet it's little different when the NFL holds games on this side of the water.
A few more dunks — all legit — and it's time to head back to the train. The Olympics can be exasperating in that there's so much to see, so many stories to share, but it's impossible to come close.
On Saturday, though, as many as five athletes with regional ties can win gold medals: Swin Cash (basketball), Christa Harmotto (volleyball), Jake Herbert and Coleman Scott (wrestling) and Lauryn Williams (4x100 relay).
Maybe we'll do this again.