The worst of the best is still far better than most of us

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So, by the time you read this, that weird flaming Olympic torch-blossom has surely been extinguished, and the athletes have headed home to their jobs at McDonald’s and Holiday Inn, or whatever the equivalent of those are where they live, and I’m probably feeling a bit sad and empty.

Yes, I admit it. I got hooked on the Olympics this year, and I’m not exactly the world’s biggest sports fan. All in all, I think sports is much ado about nothing, and I have far more interesting ways to expend all my ado than watching some testosterone-infused buffaloes chase a ball back and forth across a field. But the Olympics are different. Each athlete is the ultimate expression of human physical performance — balance, strength, speed, endurance. Olympic athletes truly are poetry in motion.

Beyond the joy of witnessing what the body can do at its peak, what really made this Olympics outstanding was one thing: my DVR. “Time delay” is my new best friend. It spared me the hours of NBC’s saccharine, heart-tugging mini-dramas, as well as seemingly endless commercials. So, so, so annoying. Every time I’d really get hooked into an event, there’d be a “feel good” feature, followed by five minutes of commercials.

Maybe NBC hasn’t heard that viewers are armed against this torture now. Zip zap, interruption over. Ditto for the folks who planned the opening ceremonies. That agri-industrial, children’s nightmare, lost lovers on a cell phone thingie that was clearly created by a committee with too many members, some of whom were really, really  high? Zapped. Right up until Sir Paul took the stage. I’m ever so glad I don’t have to lament that I can’t get those three hours of my life back. Thank you, DVR, thank you.

All in all, I saw more Olympics events this year than I have since childhood, when I used to park in front of the old black and white all day and watch every single event. You know — back in the days when you could watch all of the athletes from every country, not just the “edited for Team USA” version that’s better for selling lots of Nike shoes and Coca-Cola during the every-other-minute commercial breaks.

With all this newfound opportunity to see more events, I became a bit of a sports fan. (Oh, how it troubles me to see that in print!) I loved all the gymnasts, men and women, and of course rooting for the American women was a no-brainer, and Gabby Douglas is just the cutest darn thing ever to bounce across a padded flour mat. But it was the Russians who really captivated me.

Aliya Mustafina — what a fireball. Rumored to be temperamental, when she blew one of her routines and her coach attempted to comfort her with a pat on the shoulder, she smacked his hand away. Gotta love that. Besides all that attitude packed into one little body — that face. If facial expression was a competition, Mustafina would have gone triple gold.

Before her routines, Mustafina’s eyebrows would push up a bit in the middle, making her look like a terrified pixie. And then there was teeny, tiny Viktoria Komova, with those huge, sad, lost eyes, and well, the two together made the “Les Miserables” poster child look downright chipper.

I also became a fan of China’s Ruolin Chen in women’s platform diving and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt (was there ever a name more serendipitously wonderfully?), and also the American women’s volleyball team in general and Destinee Hooker specifically. Wowie, can she smack a ball. “Hitting like a girl” is now a compliment. I have to say, however, enough with the group hugs, ladies. Seriously, a hug after every point? Three sets with 25 points each. Add it up. Can you say “overkill?”

My other Olympic hero this year, Lolo Jones, didn’t even get a medal. I’d hoped she’d redeem her agonizing tumble in 2008, but Australia’s Sally Pearson blazed past her to a new world record. Even so, Lolo in fourth place was only 0.23 seconds behind her, and that was after recuperating from back surgery. Most folks would be doing well just to walk after back surgery, and Lolo pushed herself back to Olympic condition.

You gotta respect that. Don’t you? Well, at least one person didn’t. New York Times writer Jeré Longman wrote a mean-spirited slash piece, slamming Jones basically because she’s trying to supplement her income with her sexy image. So what? I rather suspect that running in 12-second bursts doesn’t pay the bills, and smiling into a camera for an hour probably pays better than McDonald’s. It’s not Jones who’s the jerk, it’s the rest of us for placing value on the wrong things. So she’s fast and pretty. Is that some sort of horrid character flaw?

Naturally, I had to google Jeré Longman to see who’d spew such bitterness, expecting some crackly, cranky old harpy who looks like a disturbed ostrich in mom jeans and thick glasses, but no, there’s no jealousy factor to explain that column. Jeré isn’t even a woman. He’s a fat old toad with bad teeth who couldn’t run 12 feet in as many seconds. In fact, his appearance is so unacceptable to me, I don’t think anyone should take him seriously as a columnist. What a hack.

How does it feel, Jeré?

You go, Lolo. Nevermind the croaking of that fat old toad. You’re a world champion and a sexy gal — be proud of all that, and then some. Hats off to you, and to every Olympic athlete, from Michael Phelps and his chest full of gold medals to Hamadou Djibo of Niger, who came in dead last, more than 100 seconds behind the winner in the single sculls competition. The worst of the best is still far, far better than most of us could dream of being. Just in being an Olympian, you’re all solid gold.

— Email Debra at; read more of her work at and

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