As you tune in to the Summer Olympics – I’ll explain in a moment why I won’t – there are just two things you need to know:
1. China had the most gold medals in 2008 and probably will eclipse the U.S. this time around in total medals.
2. While our days of world dominance are over, there is one area in which America again might be the top dog – the decathlon!
Best I can tell, we are now behind China in everything: population, productivity, athletic prowess, cheap Chinese carry-outs and, of course, the flow of money.
China is America’s biggest creditor. We owe the Chinese $1.2 trillion, and that doesn’t even include the juice on Donald Trump’s latest real-estate scams.
So if you’re still a moth to the Olympic flame, be prepared to see a sporting demonstration of how China is surpassing America on the world stage. Actually, NBC’s coverage usually is wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, so maybe you won’t notice the decline of the American empire.
I won’t notice anything because my TV won’t be on.
(I’m done with the Olympics, my friends. They once seemed special as a quadrennial event; now, with the Summer and Winter Games rotating in even-numbered years, it seems as if another Olympics starts every eight months. The thrill is gone – it’s just a piece of pricey programming that NBC stretches out every evening as far as it can before giving you a winner.)
(Over 17 days, the Summer Olympics will be on NBC 272 ½ hours, on the NBC Sports Network 292 ½ hours, on Telemundo 173 hours, on MSNBC 155 ½ hours, on CNBC 73 hours and on Bravo 56 hours; there will be commercial interruptions. Overall, including live online streaming of all events, NBC will provide a total of 5,262 ½ hours of Olympic programming, give or take a five-minute Pat O’Brien sexually graphic voice-mail message. I take solace in the fact that if ESPN had the Olympic rights, all these numbers would be tripled.)
(So I will disappear in conjunction with the Olympic fortnight. I will go where there are no TVs, no Facebook or Twitter, no Internet, no Starbucks or Subway, no cell-phone charging stations, no Jay Leno or Jimmy Kimmel and, like Thoreau at Walden Pond, gaze at algae and reflect, with a can of PBR in one hand and the 1997 score sheet from my 242 game in bowling in the other hand.)
On the other hand, on the 100th anniversary of the modern decathlon’s inclusion in the Olympics, that event might lift U.S. spirits.
In a bygone era of simpler times – a “bygone era of simpler times” generally is defined as anything pre-ESPN and pre-Internet – America dominated the decathlon as it dominated the world.
Starting with Jim Thorpe in 1912, the U.S. won decathlon gold 10 of 14 times. Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey and Bruce Jenner became household names as the de facto “greatest athlete in the world.”
But after Jenner in 1976, the U.S. won only one decathlon gold medal – Dan O’Brien in 1996 – until Bryan Clay did it again in 2008.
And, now in London, the U.S. will have a one-two punch to totally restore decathlon dominance here: Ashton Eaton, who broke the world decathlon record last month at the U.S. Olympic trials, and defending world champion Trey Hardee.
It’s easy to cheer on Eaton, whose fiancé, University of Oregon senior Brianne Theisen, is a Canadian Olympic heptathlete.
Granted, decathletes and heptathletes – like lawyers and judges or medical examiners and morticians – should not date one another, but you have to credit the grit of any couple that first tackles the hardest Olympic event and then will tackle the hardest human feat (marriage).
Anyway, though I will not be watching, I’m rooting for Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee.
The decathlon once symbolized America’s ability to be the best across the board in multiple areas. Now we’re only good at one thing – reality TV, which, more or less, is what the Olympics have become.
Q. I was looking through the part-time want ads for a position as a Wizards amnesty player, but wanted to get your advice first: Does it matter how good my inside game is, or is it best to just be out of shape? I could really use $23 million over the next three years. (Mitchell Shapiro; Rockville, Md.)
A. This sounds like a trick question, but I’ll still answer, “Andray Blatche.”
Q. I know you don’t like to spend other people’s money, but certainly you would’ve advised the Knicks to keep Jeremy Lin, no? (Darren Salazar; Pittsburgh)
A. How could the Knicks not gamble on the upside of Lin? “Bye-bye, thanks for lighting up the New York skyline for a month.” Geez, that would be like “Happy Days” getting rid of Fonzie after half-a-season.
Q. Did Ralph Lauren use the outfits your groomsmen wore as the basis for the U.S. men’s Olympic uniforms? (Tom Simpson; Washington, D.C.)
A. No. My groomsmen wore T-shirts that said, “Leap of Faith.”
Q. Usually I mute him, but I swear Tim McCarver just interrupted himself. (Gene Sitterfeld; Glensboro, Ky.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.