Monday, April 23, 2018

Gary Shelton at the Games: So many sports, venues to see outside your TV


The important thing to keep in mind about the Olympics is this: They always seem as if they're going on somewhere else.

If you are here, you want to be there. If you are there, it takes a slow, plodding bus to get you way over there. Tennis? Oh, mate, that's a journey. Fencing? Have you talked to the transport office?

So many sports and so many athletes and so many venues, and they seem to be spread to the far corners of the British Empire. And here's the cool thing: Somewhere, in this corner of the world or that one, someone is absolutely bonkers about the result. It doesn't matter if it's a combat sport or a picnic sport or a what-are-the-rules-to-this sport. It's the Olympics.

And wouldn't you love to attend most of the events?

Well, come along, won't you?

Warning: It's going to take 12 buses, one car, one bullet train, two subway stops and miles of walking. Oh, and stairs. England is very big on stairs.

First rule: We're going to skip the sports TV is jamming down your throat. You know plenty about basketball and swimming. We're going to find cool competitions with terrific venues.


(8 a.m., one bus, arrives at 8:17 a.m.)

I know, I know. All you know, and all you care to know, about archery is the dream team of Robin Hood, William Tell and Katniss Everdeen. Still, any sport where the archers shoot to Moves Like Jagger can't be all bad.

The lure of the London competition, however, is that it's being played on Lord's Cricket Ground, a hallowed shrine in English sports. Think of Augusta National or Fenway Park or Wimbledon.

For instance, there is the Long Room, where rich and famous people come to watch cricket. Trophy presentations are held there.

"As an Englishman," said Peter Perryman, a volunteer, "to stand outside this room is an honor."

And why not? These are the grounds where the famous W.G. Grace played. Who is Grace? Think of Babe Ruth with a ZZ Top beard. He's so famous that even his old snuff box is in the museum.

The competition is interesting, too. The arrows don't fly as straight as they do in the movies. They seem to arc into the target, which was even more impressive when Taiwan's Chen Yu-Cheng beat Italy's Mauro Nespoli.

Random observation: The "clapometer" seems out of place at the grounds. Just saying.


(Two busses, 45 minutes travel time, arrives at 10:55 a.m.)

The tennis is being played at Wimbledon. Maybe you've heard of the place.

If the point was to see as many sports as possible, you would never take the time commitment to go to Wimbledon. But, hey, it's Wimbledon.

It has been a few years since I covered a Wimbledon, but sure enough, it's still raining. Isn't it always? On the other hand, they still sell the "traditional" meat pie and the strawberries and cream. Also, my old press seat, No. 24, is still there.

I tried to watch John Isner, who lives in Tampa, in his practice, but the rain chased him off. Instead, I went to Centre Court, the first time I had been there since they put a dome on it, and watched Serena Williams overpower Vera Zvonareva for four games.

As an event, Wimbledon has the best press seats anywhere. Yeah, it's still a cool place.

Random observation: Even during the Olympics, shouldn't Wimbledon be allowed to sell souvenirs from, say, Wimbledon?


(Two busses, short stop at media center, 2:15 travel time, arrives at 2:39 p.m.)

The Excel Center may be the ugliest building in the Olympics. Heck, it may be the ugliest building in London.

It is, however, huge. Inside, as many as five events are going on at a time. In another part of the building, I think they are manufacturing Fiats.

I started with fencing, largely because two-time gold medalist Mariel Zagunis was scheduled. She won easily, 15-6, though she lost later in the evening.

Say this for fencing. It's loud. The contestants stand apart, then charge each other, and lights go off in the helmets of both competitors. At that point, both fencers scream in triumph, as if there can be no doubt they both won the point.

Random observation: Given the location of these Olympics, shouldn't the competition be on a castle wall?


(One shuttle bus, eight minutes travel time, arrives at 3:43 p.m.)

You can count on boxing, all right. Walk into the arena and already there is controversy with the United States. This time it involves something as complex as coaching and something as simple as counting.

That's why U.S. coach Basheer Abdullah was in the crowd shouting instructions as American Dominic Breazeale lost.

Abdullah is not allowed to work the corner because he worked the corner for a pro boxer, which is against the rules, in December. A coach has to sit out six months after he does that, but Abdullah worked the women's world championships in May, and his ban was extended.

"He did the math wrong," U.S. spokeswoman Julie Goldstick.


Random observation: Really?

Table Tennis

(Another shuttle bus, 11 minutes travel time, arrives at 4:38 p.m.)

Are any Chinese flags left in China? Judging from the way they waved when Li Xiaoxia beat countryman Ding Ning in the singles final, maybe not.

One of the most fascinating things to me about the Olympics is the way China adores table tennis. After all, a lot of the tables in our country are still folded in the garage. In China, a table tennis player might as well be a quarterback.

Random observation: During the ceremony, former star Yang Yang handed the silver medal to Ding Ning.

Team Handball

(Finally, no bus, 20-minute walk to the Copper Box.)

For the life of me, I can't figure out why this isn't one of the world's top half-dozen sports. It's fun, it's fast, and it comes with lacerations.

To sum it up, it's kind of like playing basketball with a hockey net and your toddler's toy soccer ball. The object, it seems, is to hang behind a perimeter line until one of the competitors goes crashing toward the net while the defense assaults her. It is great fun for the offense, the defense and the nearest hospital.

Between you and me, someone should be forming a professional league at this exact moment.

Random observation: Tim Tebow would be very, very good at team handball.

Beach Volleyball

(Walk to the bullet train. Transfer at St. Pancras, transfer to Victoria line, transfer at Warren Street to the Northern line, get off at Charing Cross. Walk 20 minutes while grumbling about your back. Arrive at 9:15 p.m.)

You can't call it bikini ball any longer. Beach volleyball has become a late-night event, and because of it, the women are wearing actual clothing.

And it's still a cool sport.

Cool venue, too. The venue is roughly 100 yards from 10 Downing Street, home of the prime minister. Wednesday night, the PA announcer spoke with glee as he talked about how Prime Minister David Cameron wanted a peaceful night's sleep … so he checked into a hotel. That way, he missed the conga line of fans dancing around the stadium.

Once you cut away all the silliness, however, you are left with Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who have been dominant so long, you might think they invented "beach." They won again Wednesday night. Of course they did.

One more bus to go. That one to get back home. Tomorrow, we can go see field hockey.

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