You know it was a packed day at the Olympics on Tuesday if NBC didn’t even try to squeeze a Mary Carillo anthropological adventure into primetime. Let’s break the broadcast down. (Click on links for videos.)
WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS Perhaps now that the event finals are over, we’ll see Gabby Douglas smile again. We got a small grin at the end of her beam routine — which drew gasps when she fell off on a leap — because the stress was finally over. For her. Aly Raisman, on the other hand, found herself in the middle of a U.S. protest after her score placed her in fourth. Kathy Kelly, vice president of the U.S. women’s program, and Marta and Bela Karolyi, quickly pantomimed for her coach to file an inquiry. “For what?” Aly’s coach asked. They thought the judges hadn’t calculated the difficulty value of Aly’s routine correctly.
Turns out, they were right. The adjustment, which was poetically debated while Katy Perry’s “Firework” played in the arena (“Come on, show ’em what you’re worth”), meant Aly tied with Romania’s Catalina Ponor for third. Because Aly’s execution score was higher, she got the medal. You might recall that Aly lost the bronze in the all-around on a tiebreaker. It’s so unfair that high jump can have a three-way tie for a medal and gymnastics screws someone. China’s Deng Linlin and Sui Lu took gold and silver as we learned that at the end of their workouts, the Chinese gymnasts stand on their tippy toes on the balance beam for about five minutes (Survivor challenge!) and have the ability to simulate the lighting of televised events in their training center.
Unanswered: Do they also recreate the rows of photographers waiting to capture Russia’s Ksenia Afanasyeva hand movements (odd but I appreciate the effort to do poses we wouldn’t have thought up ourselves in elementary school ) and Viktoria Komova not fighting long enough to make the U.S. commentators happy?
On floor, Reisman won gold by sticking that final forward flip she’d removed from her routine after landing on her head during warmups earlier in the Games. Reisman’s parents were entertaining as ever. Her mother reminded me of Connie Britton as she sat nervously awaiting her daughter’s turn. Reisman’s father leapt to his feet when she was through with the best routine she’s done in London, and the man sitting behind him had the nerve to ask him to sit down.
Ponor, 24, got the silver doing a routine to an elevator music cover of “Fever” that would have felt a bit inappropriate if she’d been a teen. The crowd booed the score, but there was no protest from her coach. Our favorite Russian mean girl Aliya Mustafina actually smiled after her bronze-winning routine and gave Raisman a belated thumb’s up (the universal language of gymnasts) for her routine after an awkward hug. Jordyn Wieber stepped out-of-bounds and had some trouble with her “dance elements” and left the floor holding back tears. Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari received my lowest leotard fashion score for her distracting one sleeve number (was she hiding a tattoo that matched the one on her ankle?), but she got high marks for selecting the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack as her music.
MEN’S GYMNASTICS Men’s gymnastics got the shaft this Olympics. The still rings always seemed to get cut for time. This time, NBC felt fine putting the parallel bars final in late night because no American qualified. You can watch the gold, silver (one of the Germans who hopefully endorses a hair product), and bronze performances on NBCOlympics.com. NBC didn’t even show the full high bar final, which is probably the most exciting event in all of gymnastics. I named Epke Zonderland our Olympic Stud of the Day for his thrill ride, which earned the Netherlands its first-ever gymnastics medal — a gold. Watch it below and note Danell Leyva, who finished fifth, enjoying the hell out of it. Germany’s Fabian Hambuechen earned the silver for his high-flying routine, which finished with him encouraging the audience to cheer even louder for him. I was rooting for him to beat China’s Zou Kai, who took the bronze. The U.S.’s Jonathan Horton finished sixth.
NEXT: The joy and pain of track and field, beach volleyball battle
MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD The medal for worst luck has to go to China’s 2004 gold medalist Liu Xiang, who failed to clear a single hurdle in a second straight Olympics because of an achilles injury. NBC could have milked this more. Watch it all unfold on a clip from NBCSN. The man fell, left the track, then returned to hop on one leg to the final hurdle, which he kissed, before crossing the finish line with the help of his fellow competitors. Contrast that effort to Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, who won the 1500m Tuesday after being disqualified from the Olympics for failing to make an honest effort in the 800m the day before. He jogged 200 meters, then just seemingly decided to quit the rice. Algerian officials insisted he was injured and he was reinstated. I don’t think the NBC announcers bought it: “He’s obviously made a remarkable recovery.” The fun of that race: Watching the U.S.’s Leo Manzano come from sixth to nab the silver at the very end — the U.S.’s first medal in this event since 1968. Also enjoyable, learning that the New Zealand flagbearer, who was in this race, almost walked out for the Opening Ceremony with his fly down. And seeing the Olympic mascot take the starting position behind the runners. Ha!
My favorite track and field event of the night was the high jump. Russia’s Ivan Ukhov took gold, and somehow managed to lose his tank top between jumps at one point. The U.S.’s Erik Kynard, who talked to the bar after one successful jump and wore awesome American flag socks, got the silver. That aforementioned threeway tie for third was between Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim (such a sweet smile), Canada’s Derek Drouin (like a lighter-haired Jonathan Groff from Glee), and Great Britain’s Robert Grabarz (who looked the hottest in his hooded leisure wear). The two other Americans handled the agony of defeat very differently. Jamie Nieto, who yelled “Holla at your boy! Holla at your boy!” after clearing one height, did a back flip and bowed to the crowd when he was knocked out. And this was Jesse Williams, the reigning world champ, after he missed a height he normally clears for the third time.
WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD The marquee women’s final Tuesday night was the 100m hurdles. Lolo Jones realizes she’s known as the girl who screwed up at last Olympics and didn’t put any pressure on herself — she only said she was representing everyone who has a hope or a dream. She ultimately finished fourth behind Australia’s Sally Pearson, who’s got a good set of lungs behind those killer abs that helped earn the Aussies their first gold in track since 2000. She shrieked when the scoreboard finally showed that she’d edged out the U.S.’s defending Olympic champ Dawn Harper, who’d been calm enough pre-race to give the camera a wink and joke with fellow American Kellie Wells. Wells (pictured below) took bronze but celebrated like she’d won gold. If she wants to dance with the flag, let her. Last year she revealed she had been raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was 16, and her mother and that boyfriend were later killed in a car accident. Running became her sanctuary.
We also saw the semifinals of the 200m (the final is Wednesday). That’s an insane field with the U.S.’s Sanya Richards-Ross and her armwarmers, Allyson Felix, and Carmelita Jeter along with Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. I didn’t know who I’d root for until Felix was asked how difficult it was to wait around all day for an event that lasts less than 23 seconds. “Ohmygosh, it’s so hard. I’m sitting in my room. I’m watching Scandal. I’m just trying to hang out,” she said. I love Scandal!!! Unless someone makes a True Blood reference before today’s final, she’s my girl.
BEACH VOLLEYBALL It was the “Battle of the Blockers” (and of announcers attempting to pronounce “heiress”) when the U.S.’s golden girls Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor met China’s Xue Chen and Zhang Xi in a semifinal. Even if you’ve grown weary of beach volleyball, you had to get into this match, which the U.S. won in two close sets, 22-20 and 22-20. There were long rallies and awesome plays (like Kerri hitting a bump kill and limbo-sliding under the net), along with those commentators saying things like, “She jogs back to the net after this play, hungry for more,” and a crowd that was in it to win it. The Chinese had defeated the Americans before, so Kerri and Misty — the latter of whom high-fived even more people than usual on her victory lap — were especially excited to make it past them into today’s gold medal match (4 p.m. ET) against the other American team. April Ross and Jennifer Kessy upset the one-name-only Brazilian players Juliana and Larissa in the rain in the other semi-final.
Parting questions: Who can believe that German weightlifter Matthias Steiner, who dropped a bar carrying roughly 432 pounds on the back of his neck, was able to walk that off? Why do you think Gabby opted for the all white leotard when Ally and Jordyn went red, white, and blue? (To show off her six-pack?) Don’t you wish the U.S. gymnasts, who are amazing on the floor, would be equally awesome interviews? Check out Aly’s chat with Bob Costas. Aren’t beach volleyball players worried that using all that colorful physio tape clues their opponents into their weaknesses? And what are Michelle Kwan and Greg Louganis doing, besides, I assume, earning free Royal Caribbean cruises for life?