I knew these Olympics were going to be weird as soon as I saw the opening ceremonies. Right there in the stadium, in front of Greece, God and everybody, a woman wearing a fake plastic pregnant belly walked out into the fake ocean, and then the plastic belly lit upfrom the inside, like E.T.'s finger. Then came the psychedelic light show, with the spinny hologram of fake DNA hanging in the middle of the stadium.
A week ago, I read that England's drinking water is polluted with Prozac. Right now, I'm thinking the Greek water's got something. Peyote. Risperdal. Adrenochrome. Laughing gas bubbles. Maybe all that and more.
Before I go any further, let me go ahead and explain that I know that all Olympic sports, even canoeing, require athletes to work at the very edge of physical and mental breakdown, and there's nothing easy about what they do. I know that a regular citizen like me operates under less than 1 percent of the stress that afflicts an elite athlete. Heck, I'd need a stepstool just to climb up on the pommel horse, and I'd probably fall off without anybody touching me.
That said, I want somebody to tell me: how can U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm actually fall down at the end of his vault and still win a gold medal? In case you didn't see it, Hamm ran up to the newfangled vaulting contraptionwhich looks like an old PrimeStar satellite dishthen flipped and twisted in midair. So far, so good. But when he landed, he took a hard right, staggered like he'd just been tasered, then crashed into the judges' table. The judges closed their eyes and stuck out their arms, trying to keep Hamm and the table off them. Hamm came to rest with his butt on the floor and his feet in the air, as if a bully had just pushed him backwards out of a swing.
I know, I know. The other male gymnasts did even worse. I didn't see their routines, but I'm assuming the silver- and bronze-winning South Koreans ended up missing some body parts, or at least knocked themselves unconscious.
Sure, Hamm came back strong, performing brilliantly after his crash. But I say you ought not to get a medal for careening into the judges' table. And you surely ought not get a medal for making the table-crashing guy look good by comparison. If I were in charge, all the male gymnasts would have to settle for Moon Pieschocolate, strawberry and lemon.
The synchronized divers made Hamm's vault look even better. Early on, the Chinese team was kicking everybody's ass, twirling in midair like the opening-ceremonies DNA. Then the Chinese guy on the left went into the water head-first, like he was supposed to, and his buddy on the right went in back-first, reverse-belly flop style. The judges gave them zeroes, which made perfect sense to me. A 90-degree offset is as far off as you can get without starting to line up again. I can't dive a lick, but in these Olympics, I could have whipped the top-notch Chinese synchronized diving team using a plow horse for a partner.
All this in an Olympics that doesn't even include a U.S. baseball team. Our guys didn't even qualify. Mexico whipped us. Not the Dominican Republic. Mexico.
At the other end of the performance scale, the U.S. women's softball team is stomping the guts out of everybody who shows up at the ballpark. Right now, the team has played seven games, and they've won all of them. The U.S. team is hitting .438 (better than Ted Williams); the competition is hitting .080 (worse than me). Nobody has scored against the U.S. softball team, unless you count that bad call in the Canada game, in which a Canadian base runner slid behind U.S. catcher Stacy Nuveman and clearly touched the plate with her left hand. Despite the perfect slide, and despite the fact that there was space enough for a stumbling Paul Hamm to streak between Nuveman's outstretched mitt and the sliding Canadian, the umpire called the Canadian out. Must've been the adrenochrome.
In this Olympics, it's the American women who are impressing me. Sixteen-year-old gymnast Carly Patterson, who at 4-foot-9 is small enough for softball pitcher Jennie Finch to hurl into the mitt of Nuveman, won her all-around competition, edging out 25-year-old Playboy centerfold Svetlana Khorkina. I found that competition fun to watch.
I was pulling for swimmer Michael Phelps, until I saw the interview where his parents disclosed that each gold medal earns young Michael the gift of a new car. Just then, NBC showed a little film of Phelps turning the spinner rims on his new Escalade. Back at the interview, Phelps' parents continued the Mike-gets-a-car speech and told all of America their swimming son was getting a Seville next. You Phelpses, listen to me: sure, the kid's worked hard and deserves a reward. But the Escalade with spinners is enough for now. Give the Seville money to the Salvation Army. And I want y'all to know: because of you, I'm now pulling for the Australian swim team.