The Games hit their stride as first week draws to a close along with the swimming events
For some, the Olympics began with soccer matches outside of Athens on August 11; for others, at the splendid opening ceremonies two days later. For those with a nose for news, it started with the Kenteris-Thanou scandal that broke on the day between them and which finally resolved itself in a sort-of manner by Wednesday. For me, it’s taken nearly a week to soak in fully. It’s never too late, although I was cutting it close. The first days had been a blur of cavernous media center / press conference / boring bus rides to unlandscaped new venues, soldiering on in a haze of heat fatigue. It seemed too much like work. Some of the sports I’d seen were either too laid back (like archery) or mainstream (tennis) to somehow fully count. Even the swimming pool seemed to be hosting world championships rather than Olympics without cyclists simultaneously swirling around the next-door velodrome, crouching off to the left like a giant insect just landed from outer space. Each late afternoon, a 50-meter strip of water hosted the seemingly only sport in action this week in the area. Yet somewhere in the short hike from pool to gym on Thursday mid-evening, I realized that the Olympics were truly here and that I’d had a key to them right in my pocket, if only I’d known, like Dorothy and her secret knowledge of how to get back to Kansas. The chance to watch two towering talents like Michael Phelps and, not 15 minutes later, Svetlana Khorkina, perform almost side by side is to really know. The easy answer, the key to the riddle, is that with great sport unfolding everywhere at once, you have to let it come to you as much as you go to it. Pressing gets you nowhere except entry into a world of frustration, made worse because everybody else, in their rush, seems to know what they’re doing even if they don’t. Look at the possibilities, do what you can, take it in, and forget the rest. It’s good advice for the rest of the time, too. Pooling talent Michael Phelps may be an overgrown teen with a weakness for rap, and Carly Patterson an undergrown one with a weakness for TV, but both were in action late this week at the Olympic swimming and gymnastics arenas, busy making Olympics history. The pool was once again packed with partisans waving Dutch, German and Hungarian flags, though it was not quite the hot ticket it was earlier in the week; probably because Phelps’s avidly followed quest to become «the next Mark Spitz» by winning eight gold medals had fallen short at the second and third hurdles. The media herd had likewise been stopped in its tracks. Now they were stuck with merely following one of the greatest-ever individual Olympic performances in any sport. How tedious it must be. Still, this great talent, who reaped his sixth medal and fourth gold at these Games on Thursday by winning his signature event, the 200-meter individual medley, in Olympic record time, upgraded his Athens haul to seven overall medals – five of them gold – last evening by taking gold in the 100-meter butterfly. The result was identical to the semifinal heat the night before, marking the second straight night in which Phelps, the event’s former world recordholder had made yet another personal statement by beating the current world recordholder, his fresher rival Ian Crocker, to the wall. The bronze was taken by Andriy Serdinov of Ukraine, another former world recordholder, whose new Olympic record in Thursday’s semis lasted all of five minutes, falling to the the Phelps juggernaut. Phelps last night broke his own one-day-old Olympic record.