Stop Hating NBC and Learn to Love the Olympics

Also: Is Michael Phelps sick of swimming yet?

I’m standing. Hopping up and down, even. I’m excited. I’m screaming at the TV.

I’m watching field hockey.

I can’t remember watching field hockey much in previous Olympics. I’ve seen it quite a bit before—female friends in high school played it, and I was a sports editor at my college newspaper–but somewhere in the last decade or so I completely forget about the penalty corner. So far, the penalty corner (shown above) is my favorite part of the 2012 Olympics.

The rule dates to 1908, according to this interestingly written Wikipedia page (“the offending teams keenly seek after these penalty corners since they offer great scoring opportunities”). Penalty corners usually happen when a team fouls inside its own circle in front of the goal; they’re essentially a chance for the attacking team to get a free shot setup without any defenders up close. What’s great is five players literally have to stay inside the goal before the opposing team passes it. The instant the ball is passed it’s a mad rush out of the inside of the net. These players on a mad rush even have a cool name: flyers. It’s maybe my favorite restart in any sport.

If you let yourself get lost in the noise, you can spend the whole Olympics caring about broadcasting gaffes, athlete tweets, Team USA disappointments, suspended Twitter accounts, tape-delayed coverage, a noted hacker/pundit/talent contest judge complaining about people yelling at him on Twitter and a rowing fan injured when other fans did the wave. (Okay, that last one’s sad, and serious. Ban the wave now.)

It’s not even the marquee events that really excite me during the first week of the Olympics. It’s just the little things I rediscover about sports I haven’t seen in four years. The penalty corners. How entertaining it was to watch Vincent Hancock and Kim Rhode dominate skeet shooting. Water polo shots that go right off the goalie’s face. How absolutely freaking dangerous equestrian is. It’s all just so much fun.

Of course, then I see the Today show crew attempting to race walk, and I’m back to complaining. But, hey, the spectacle of sport is fun sometimes.

  • When the most interesting thing you’ve done is take a hit from a bong, people are going to call you pretty boring. People say there isn’t much interesting about Michael Phelps, now the most-decorated Olympian of all time. But I do think there is a fun storyline to this Olympics, mainly how much must Michael Phelps hate swimming now? According to this Deadspin piece, competitive swimming training is the most boring, horrible thing one can do. One announcer this year even said it was good Phelps has finally learned to enjoy himself. Imagine if he’s hated swimming the whole time! If the world’s greatest Olympian actually hates the Olympics, Phelps would actually be one of the most interesting athletes.
  • Pfft. Winning the team gymnastics competition by the biggest margin in 52 years? We demand more drama! I only care about gymnastics team gold medals when they come with dramatic vaults on one leg to win. (In all seriousness, this is probably much more impressive.)
  • We had an epic finish to the men’s beach volleyball match yesterday. I was screaming at the TV again, rooting on defending gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers against a pair from Spain, Adrián Gavira and Pablo Herrera. It was pretty exciting, Late in the game, the ump missed a call in Team USA’s favor. What was a generally pro-American crowd suddenly shifted, cheering for Spain. Suddenly the Americans were the heels. (In wrestling parlance, this is known as the rare double turn.) It’s more fun to root for the bad guy, so Team USA’s win a minute later was even sweeter.
  • The weird thing about watching the U.S. men’s basketball team is how tense the first minutes of the game are. They’re supposed to win. Even if it was invented by a Canadian in Western Massachusetts, basketball is America’s sport! Ever since the professional U.S. players started losing at the 2002 World Championships, watching a Team USA basketball game has included at least five minutes of frantic “are they going to blow it” moments at the start of every game. Yesterday against Tunisia, Team USA was down early on! Losing! American basketball fans were terrified. Were they going to blow it? They won by 47.
  • Oh, yeah. There’s also this NBC Philadelphia promo. I’m going to head to City Ave., march to the NBC 10 offices and demand free predictions of the future (so I can gamble on it) and free water ice.