Friday, August 3, 2012

Olympics 2

Center court at Wimbledon is a pretty good place to watch your first high profile tennis match. On top of that, seeing Serena Williams, of the United States, depose Vera Zvonareva from Russia 6-1, 6-0 in 51 minutes made it even better. That’s how my day started on Wednesday.
Believe it or not, this was a rematch of the 2010 Wimbledon Final right there on that same Center Court. But, in this week’s match Williams won the final 10 games and racked up 12 aces in a dominating performance.
I was sitting in the ninth row and one thing that stood out to me was how effortlessly Williams was able to knock out the Soviet star. While Zvonareva was perspiring heavily on the humid morning, Williams never broke a sweat.
The other impressive thing about Williams is the strength of her lower body. Her legs are muscular and resemble that of an NFL running back while her upper body is relatively slight. She would playfully bat the ball back and forth with her racket before every serve, finally picking it up and routinely bounce it 5-7 times with her left hand before delivering her powerful serve.       
I had the privilege of seeing Novak Djokovic, from Serbia in the second match. The top ranked men’s player in the world was matched up against popular Australian Lleyton Hewitt, a 31-year warrior. Hewitt won the first set 6-4 and has hanging close in the second set when Djovovic was able to break serve and win 7-5. Youth and skill prevailed in the third set as the Serb wore down the Aussie and won 6-1.
Greg Norman, famous Australian, golfer was seated in the team box during the entire match. Norman was with his girlfriend and a group of Australian tennis officials. Late in the second set, Chris Evert, Norman’s former wife showed up in the box. It seemed like most at Center Court were more glued on the box than the court for the rest of the Djokovic-Hewitt match. Norman seemed a bit uncomfortable while Evert seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.
Wimbledon is an impressive complex. It is huge with several dozen courts. Center Court actually has a retractable roof. Even the Brits misfired on the weather. They opened the roof before the men’s match, which takes 20 minutes and soon after, it started raining heavily and the roof had to be closed. The result of the wrong read in the weather was a delay of over an hour, which gave me a chance to eat some of Wimbledon’s famous strawberries and cream.
Later that afternoon I headed to the Aquatics Center to watch swimming. It was a great night as the U.S. won three Gold Medals. Nathan Adrian set the tone by winning the Men’s 100 Free by .01 seconds. 17,500 people were packing the steamy venue and it was a raucous atmosphere all night. Most of the crowd was British and they were only able to see one of their swimmers win a medal on a night that the Americans completely dominated.
The highlight of the evening was when Rebecca Soni set the world record in the Women’s 200 Breaststroke semi-final. Soni had held the previous Olympic record in the same event and it was very exciting to be a few feet away when an American set the world record.
The third Gold Medal of the night for the U.S. came in the Women’s 4x200 Relay. The U.S. trailed the Australians heading into the final leg when Shannon Vreeland swam the team to victory, setting an Olympic record. Teenage phenom Missy Franklin swam the first leg of the relay for the U.S.
One of the most interesting events of the night was the Men’s 200 Medley semi-final heat featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Lochte held the Olympic record in the event and Phelps holds the World Record. Lochte bested Phelps by .98 seconds and is gradually taking over as the top U.S. men’s swimmer.
Several things stood out in the Aquatics Center. It was spine tingling when all of the national anthems were played. The jumbo monitors clearly showed the tears in every Gold Medalist’s eyes as their respective flags were raised and anthems played.
At best, uou could label me no more than a casual swimming fan. I did learn from my friends at NBC that the top two seeded swimmers are always in lanes 4 and 5. The next seeds are in the outside lanes and the lowest seeds are in lanes 3 and 6. The reason is that the wake caused by the fastest swimmers creates friction in the water and slows down the swimmers behind it. Consequently, the best seeds get the center lanes.
Another interesting thing was the underwater cameras installed by NBC. They are very visible and you would think they would distract swimmers, but obviously they don’t. Those cameras are set in lanes 4 and 5. NBC also built a tube for a camera to actually drop in during the platform diving so that they could catch the performers at every phase of their dive. That was designed by the legendary Tommy Roy. Who thinks of that stuff?
There was a lot of concern in London about security. The private company hired by the IOC had difficulties and at the last minute, military personnel from all over the world were called in to assist with the Olympics.
An image that I will never forget was the military personnel with machine guns at the entrance of Wimbledon. That seemed out of sorts, but it is the world we live in today. In spite of that, this was one of the greatest sports days of my life.      

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