Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Late Results for Saturday, August 23

Athletics: Women's high jump: Two competitors had an identical score of 1.8 metres, in the same number of jumps; no DFL will be awarded in this event as a result. Two athletes had no mark; the gold medallist cleared 2.05 metres. Men's javelin: Menik Janoyan of Armenia, 23, with a best throw of 64.47 metres in group B. One athlete had no mark; the gold medallist's best was 90.57 metres. Men's 800 metre: Heat four saw the slowest time in the preliminaries: 1:57.48 by 21-year-old Derek Mandell of Guam. The gold medallist's final time was 1:44.65. There were three DNSes. Women's 1,500 metre: 27-year-old Domingas Togna of Guinea-Bissau was, at 5:05.76 in heat two, substantially slower than the rest of the field: the next-to-slowest time was 45 seconds faster. And the gold medallist's time in the final was faster still: 4:00.23. Men's 5,000 metre: In heat one, Min Thu Soe of Burma (Myanmar), 19 years old, was, at 15:50.56, much slower than the rest of the field -- by more than a minute. There was one DNS in the heats. The gold medallist finished in 12:57.82 in the final. Women's 4×400-metre relay: China had the slowest time in the preliminaries (heat two); compare their time of 3:30.77 to the gold medallists' final time of 3:18.54. Men's 4×400-metre relay: In heat two, the Dominican Republic had the slowest preliminary time: 3:04.31. Compare that to the gold medallists' final time of 2:55.39.

Diving: In the men's 10-metre platform, 20-year-old North Korean diver Kim Chon Man will incur the Dear Leader's wrath with a 30th-place finish; his score of 328.85 was about 90 points lower than he would have needed to qualify for the next round.

Baseball: Two teams finished the competition with 1–6 records; with some reluctance, I'm awarding the DFL to the team with the most runs against: China.

Basketball: Mali finished 12th in women's basketball with a record of 0–5.

Field Hockey: In the men's event, the team from South Africa lost its classification match and finished 12th.

Rhythmic Gymnastics: Wania Monteiro of Cape Verde repeats her 2004 DFL in the individual all-around event. Now 22, she finished 24th (again) in the qualifying round with a score of 49.050. The lowest qualifying score was 66.825.

Volleyball: Both Algeria and Venezuela are ranked 11th in women's volleyball, but using the win-loss ratio from the preliminary round to break the tie, I'll award the DFL to Algeria.

Standings to date: As the results for the team sports and events come in, two trends occur. First, the host country, which might not otherwise qualify for events but enters them anyway as the host, racks up a few DFLs, as China has with a total of four today. Its hold on first place is unassailable: Canada simply can't catch up. Second, you also see a few last-place finishes from African countries, who qualify on a continental basis (i.e., they're the best African team) but go on to get slaughtered at the Olympics. (Note that Egypt and South Africa are now both in the top 10.)

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Getting to the Games: A Reality Check

A common misconception -- a result, no doubt, of the countless stories about Eddie the Eagle and Eric the Eel -- is that it's not that hard to qualify for the Olympics, if you pick your sports and countries shrewdly. Consider, for example, Melody's naïve question on Ask Metafilter:
I'm 24. Let's say I wanted to have a shot at the Olympics, in any sport, at some point in the future. Are my chances over? Is there a sport I could start now, dedicate the next few years to, and become good enough to be a contender? What sport should that be? (I'm not picky.)

I was thinking about this. I don't have a sports preference. I like to rollerblade and hula-hoop. I can train a decent amount. I'd put in a heck of a lot of time. But are my Olympic dreams dashed, because I'm too late?
The short answer is, yes, it is too late, but let's not be too hard on Melody. Most of us, who tend to ignore the Olympic sports except when the Olympics are on, don't realize what goes into training for them. Adam van Koeverden, the Canadian who won silver in the men's 500-metre K1, was asked in a CBC interview whether he'd be back for 2012; his response -- that he'd be back for international competitions in 2009, 2010 and 2011, too -- was a good one. Olympic athletes don't go back into the freezer when they're done.

During the 2006 Winter Games, I embarked on a study of the qualifying rules -- how hard, I wanted to know, was it to qualify in each sport? As it turned out, very hard. Quotas on the total number of competitors per event. Minimum standards, including a certain number of points earned in international competition. And, even in the more open events, a basic requirement that you be a bona fide competitor with a record of participation. (I didn't have time to check the summer events this time around, but I imagine the situation would be similar; apart from the wild card lottery, which is very limited in scope, it's very very hard to get to the Olympics.)

Part of the problem is that it's hard to recognize something as hard when the athletes make it look effortless. A reality check is clearly in order. Here's a good one: Five Projects in Five Days decided to compare the results of "average Joes" with Olympic athletes in five events: 100-metre freestyle swimming, long jump, 100-metre dash, 110-metre hurdles, and gymnastic rings. The results are absolutely enlightening: they were twice as slow, jumped half the distance, and only one of them could even get up on the rings.

The other part of the problem is that the Olympics are like an iceberg: nine-tenths of it is invisible. What people don't see is the gruelling, lifelong training -- the hard slog just to qualify. So You Wanna Be an Olympian? by Kathryn Bertine is instructive. She's a former figure skater and triathlete. She spent two years trying to qualify in cycling (which ESPN followed), even taking out dual citizenship when she couldn't qualify for the U.S. team. In the end, she couldn't. You'll want to read this one.
I am not upset. I am not sad. I am not angry. I do not have the impulse to kick or throw anything. I did not make the Olympics ... and honestly, I think that's awesome.

No one, myself included, should be able to make an Olympic team with less than two years of experience. If that starts happening, we need a new Olympics. Maybe 20 years ago a few "fringe" sports had so few competitors it was "easier" to qualify for the Olympics. But not today. There is not one sport on the Olympic roster that is easy -- trust me, I've tried them all -- nor underpopulated. Even if there were, it still wouldn't matter. Sports, especially women's sports, have progressed on such a worldwide basis that making any national team no longer ensures an athlete a berth in the Olympics. A common misconception: Because I received dual citizenship from St. Kitts and Nevis, I would automatically go to the Olympics. But with 161 nations and more than 700 female riders registered with the Union Cycliste International, there is no way to get to the Games without experience, hard work, dedication, qualifying points and what Coach Gord perfectly summarized as "paying your dues."

At El Salvador's airport, I ask Marianne Vos, the 21-year-old world champion, when she started racing. "When I was 5," she says, "I have been doing this for 16 years." That is one year for every month of my experience. Those are some well-paid dues. Look for her on the podium in Beijing.
(Vos finished sixth in the road race, 14th in the time trial, and won the gold medal in the points race.)

That's what you're up against.

Via Kottke. (I've been saving this one.)


Early Results for Saturday, August 23

Canoe/Kayak (Flatwater Racing): Men's 500-metre K1: Koutoua Francis Abia, 43, Côte d'Ivoire, 9th in heat three with a time of 2:00.716. Men's 500-metre C1: Fortunato Luis Pacavira, 30, Angola, 8th in heat one with a time of 2:13.265. Women's 500-metre K1: Khathia Ba, 17, Senegal, 9th in heat one with a time of 2:17.74. Men's 500-metre K2: Shen Je, 21, and Huang Zhipeng, 24, China, eighth in heat one with a time of 1:34.432. Men's 500-metre C2: José Everardo Cristobal, 22, and Dimas Camilo, 18, Mexico, 9th in the semifinal with a time of 1:48.853. This is this team's second DFL of these Games. Women's 500-metre K2: Xu Linbei, 24, and Wang Feng, 22, China, eighth in heat two with a time of 1:47.645.

Cycling (Mountain Bike): On the women's side, Dellys Starr of Australia, 31, was lapped with two laps remaining; on the men's side, Antipass Kwari of Zimbabwe, 33, was lapped with six laps remaining. Four women and two men did not finish; a total of eight women and 20 men finished their races by being lapped; they were still ranked.

Football (Soccer): With an 0–3 record and five goals against, Honduras finished 16th in men's football.

Handball: With a record of 0–1–4 and one point, Angola finished 12th in women's handball.

Synchronized Swimming: Egypt sweeps this sport with a DFL in the team event; their nine swimmers finished with 80.833 points, 18.667 behind the gold medallists. And before these Games I bet you didn't even know Egypt had a synchronized swimming team.

Standings to date: African countries are making a strong showing so far today, thanks to canoe/kayak and team sports: four countries make their first appearance, and Egypt moves into the top 10 with its 4th last-place finish. China adds two DFLs to take the lead with 10 -- as the host country, this is very nearly expected. Australia adds a seventh to move into third place. Honduras and Mexico add their third each to move into 12th and 15th place, respectively.

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