The following day, I got to see the modern-day ‘Dream Team,’ play a game against Lithuania. Walking to the Basketball Arena, it is the longest walk to a venue in Olympic Park, almost a half hour of trying to veer past slow-moving foreigners (you could always notice an American by how fast they walked, compared to the tortoise-like pace Europeans preferred). The venue itself is nothing special or unique, rather a simple basketball arena (one interesting thing about the stadium, though, is that it, along with most other Olympic venues, would be torn down after the Games; they were built to be that way).
Watching Team USA warm up showcased both their supreme-talent and their confidence, as they put on a show for the fans that showed up early, launching long three pointers and dunking the ball with a meaningless ferocity. The actual game, though, was a good one, which wasn’t what I was looking for. Kobe and Co. (Kobe will always be the Alpha dog) only won by five points to a Lithuania team whose best player was the overweight Linas Kleiza, who is not even considered a role player on the Toronto Raptors. The U.S. struggled to make three’s (10-33) and was porous at the free-throw line (19-31). Credit Lithuania, who hit shots and played solid defense throughout the entire game, but the U.S. should have destroyed them, as they should do to every team they face.
Though the game was ultimately entertaining, and seeing the likes of Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James all on the court at the same time is a blessing, there were four obnoxious Lithuania fans that sat right behind us and were screaming the entire game. What was even worse, or rather insightful, was how the two men (they were there with their girlfriends, who, although the loudest people I’d ever heard at a basketball game, coupled with constantly trying to get on the JumboTron, were quite attractive) would react when something went awry for Team USA. Rather than cheer for their home country when they stole the ball or blocked a shot, they would let out this eerie, cynical laugh that only an Eastern European could pull off. What best demonstrated this was when Deron Williams, trying to cross over the Lithuania defender in front of him, tripped and fell to the ground. The two morons actually stood up and started laughing at Williams, who was clearly fouled on the play but no call was made. If there was one thing I learned while watching the game, it was how sadistic in nature Lithuanians are (only kidding). In the end, the U.S. pulled away, and when James cocked back and slammed the ball home, all of us (our whole section was American, and had been putting up with the annoyingness spraying behind us) stood up and just started yelling, only to shove it in those Lithuanians’ faces. The Olympics definitely brings out patriotic pride.
Sunday came and went, as did our tour of the Tower of London (very cool, I must add), and Monday was to be our last full day in London. Though I had been having a blast, the effects of sleeping on a poorly manufactured pull-out bed were debilitating my energy levels, as well as the strength of my back. On Monday, we were set to see our last event, weightlifting. Going in to weightlifting, I had no idea what the sport consisted of, only that it involved ridiculously ripped (or yoked, as I’ve heard in America, presumably used by those infatuated with working out and staring at themselves in the mirror) people raise an inhuman amount of weight above their heads. Though this was true, weightlifting involves more strategy than one would think.
The basic concept that I came to understand after watching the semifinals of the men’s 105 kg group was that weightlifting is sort of like an auction; competition begins with an initial weight, or bid, that a player announces. Usually, it is the weakest competitor making the first bid. A lifter gets three attempts in each segment; there are two separate weightlifting qualifiers, the ‘snatch,’ where the lifter picks up the bar and raises the weights up over his head, holding until the judges have confirmed that he held it correctly, without stumbling. The other lift is the ‘clean and jerk,’ where the lifter picks up the bar and raises it to his chest; from there, he extends his left leg in front of his right, bends down, and thrusts the bar up over his head.
As I was watching the first segment play out (the ‘snatch’), I was confused to as why some lifters hadn’t gone yet, whereas some were already done lifting. What I came to realize was that the stronger lifters waited until the end, when the weaker lifters were finished, to announce the weight that they would lift. One lifter from Ecuador didn’t lift until there was five lifts total left.
The crowd immediately got into the action. Once the lifter would announce his weight, the crowd would begin cheering until he positioned himself to lift. The crowd would go silent, then, as the lifter picked up the weight, some clutter would begin to form, and as the lifter began to lift the weight, the crowd would go wild, erupting in cheers as the lifter successfully lifted the weight. The lifter then would throw down the weight and flex, his bulging muscles apparent to me from my seats, some fifty rows back. The climax of the event was the second to last lift of the event, when Ukraine’s Oleksiy Torokkhtiy upped the ante to 227 kg (500 lbs.) on the clean and jerk. The previous lifter had tried but failed to lift 214 kg, so the crowd, predictably, went into an immediate shock at the dramatic increase in weight, only to be pulled out of it as they waited in anticipation to see if he could do it. Torokkhity lifted the bar to his chest slowly but surely, and then proceeded to raise the bar up above his head. Though his balance wavered initially, he stood still. The judges agreed that he’d legally lifted the weight, and the crowd sprang into applause. Though he failed to lift 228 kg on his next attempt, it was no matter; the crowd still cheered him in his effort. The Olympics have love for everybody.
Weightlifting was the last event of my coverage of the 2012 Olympics, and the next day I was set to depart back to Chicago. That night, my family and I hit St. James one last time, toasting to a once-in-a-life-time experience, though I hope that someday I’ll make it back. Strolling the streets of downtown London one last time, I tried to soak it all in, coming to a realization that it could be decades, if ever, that I would make it back to London.
And then it was over. Trying to think of something to compare the Olympics to, I can’t settle on any one thing. It truly is an experience in and of itself, incomparable, something that has to be experienced in person and not on a television. The people, the patriotism, the athletes, the host city, the Games; all meshed into one, create the Olympics for what they are. Heading to the airport, we drove past the famous World War II slogan incorporated by the British one more time: Keep Calm and Carry On. To that, London 2012, I say so long; I hope I’ll see you again.