Each day at the Olympics, I will preview the day's events and help you formulate viewing and reading priorities. I also may rant a bit, so please forgive me in advance.
The men's marathon is a classic. It was contested at the Athens Games in 1896, the first modern Olympics. A Greek shepherd named Spiridon Loues won the 26-mile, 385-yard race. Loues then posed for pictures wearing his traditional Greek outfit. That won't happen this year. Probably. But the race does have a history of memorable and unexpected images. In 2004 on the streets of Athens, a male spectator wearing a skirt-like Foustanella jumped out of the crowd and pushed Brazilian runner Venderlei de Lima off the course. In 1972, just as winner Frank Shorter of America entered the stadium in Munich to run the final lap before the finish line, a local student wearing shorts and a running bib somehow ran into the stadium ahead of him and made it half a lap before being removed as an imposter.
SUNDAY'S OLYMPIC-RELATED PHRASE THAT YOU SHOULD SAY WITH A BRITISH ACCENT, JUST FOR FUN
I say, when the mountain bikers race today at Hadleigh Farm in Essex, must they also ride their bikes to the course from the Olympic Village? Wouldn't that be fair play?
THE FOREGONE CONCLUSION, CONCLUDED
The USA men's basketball team, featuring LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, has been so awesomely good here that it's spawned discussion about turning the Olympic tournament into an event strictly for players under 23 years old, same as in Olympic men's soccer. But you can probably forget that idea. In the first place, other nations (and especially Olympic host cities) love seeing the best NBA players on the floor during the Games. In the second place, when someone asked US Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst about the under-23 idea, he practically wrinkled his nose in annoyance before saying: "I like to see the best players in the world here, no matter how old they are." At the same session with the press, Probst (who is also the former CEO of EA Sports, the Redwood City video game company) had declared of American teams: "We like to come in first. There's nothing wrong with that . . . I like to hear the Star-Spangled Banner a lot." Probst should hear it today when the USA plays Spain at 7 a.m. West Coast Time. These are the same two teams that met for the gold medal in Beijing, when Spain and the Gasol brothers put up a good fight and made things nervous before losing, 118-107. Hard to believe it will be that close today because this USA team seems to have meshed better than the 2008 outfit. The game will still be worth watching, if only to see Bryant's last Olympic appearance.
THE FINAL OLYMPIC MASCOT GASPS
At the Closing Ceremony, we will at long last say goodbye to the fiendish Wenlock and the nefarious Mandeville. There will also be appearances by The Who, George Michael, Adele, the Spice Girls and others. You know, I've probably been tough on the two mascots over the past three weeks. Maybe because I didn't realize we'd actually have to hear George Michael sing before the Games were over. George Michael? Really?
THE ONE ATHLETE YOU NEED TO WATCH TODAY
Guor Marial, the marathon runner from Sudan who after being imprisoned unjustly there fled his war-ravaged nation 14 years ago for a new life in the United States, but is competing today as an independently-affiliated athlete. Marial's story has been well-chronicled. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of it is that he has not seen his family since 1993 and that they must walk 30 miles from their village, which has no electricity, to watch Marial compete today on television. Every time you want to make fun of the Olympics or criticize the Games for their corporate cowtowing, stories like Marial's make you pause and realize that some stuff here cannot be co-opted. It's genuine.