As we head into the last weekend of the games, here are a few of my own highlights, lowlights, and other scattered thoughts from the unique vantage point of my couch:
Most inspiring Olympian to watch compete who's an act of brutality to see or hear interviewed: Michael Phelps. The guy's got paddles for hands and feet and makes powering through the water look easy. Yet even after years of being in the spotlight he's so uncomfortable on camera that when I see him I start blurting out awkward things as well, such as when I responded to a call for dinner by declaring, "I'll just let my swimming do the talking."
Most inspiring Olympian to watch compete who's even better being interviewed: Who else? Two-time 100 and 200 meter gold medalist Usain Bolt. He may have a beef with Carl Lewis, but what a great character. Four years ago, after watching a replay of his gold-medal performance in the 100, he observed, "That guy's fast." Earlier this week Bolt was asked how much effort he'd expended in coasting to an easy win in his heat of the 200 semifinals. "About 60 percent," he estimated. He stopped another interview out of respect for our national anthem. After winning the event yesterday, he dropped down and did some push-ups. What else does he have to prove? "Nothing really," he said. "Right now I'm just going to enjoy myself."
The most illuminating work of ethical reflection to come out of the 2012 games: It's not exactly "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," but along with the rest of the world, I read every word of Erin Gloria Ryan's "10 Reasons Why Ryan Lochte Is America's Sexiest Douchebag."
Olympians who moved me to cheer against the underdogs: Usually I take the side of the little guys—that is, my teams stink. And when I jump on a winning bandwagon, the wheels fall off. But not even my support was enough to stop the juggernaut of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. I couldn't buy into the whole "comeback" narrative for a couple of women who've gotten rich playing beach volleyball, but they're so freaking good, and play as such a unit, that no one was rooting harder than me when they took their third straight gold.
The best Olympic event for identifying potential members of the Prussian army: The modern pentathalon, which consists of a fencing competition, a 200 meter swim, a "show jumping course on an unfamiliar horse," and a 3,000 meter run with target shooting along the way. It's scheduled for this weekend. Napoleon types, beware.
Olympic feat I am least likely to replicate: Any of them. Among other things, I'll never do a flip off a ten-meter platform or win a game of ping-pong. But at the moment I'm astounded that Manteo Mitchell could pound out a 46-second 400 split on a broken fibula. For that matter, Oscar Pistorius is amazing. At first, when I'd only read about him, I sided with those who said his prosthetic legs might offer an unfair advantage on the track. Then I saw him run. Most humans are unable to run more than a block or two. To be able to do it with carbon-fiber devices affixed to your legs is miraculous. To be able to make the Olympic semifinals of the 400 is an act of inner strength.
Most notable Olympic wardrobe malfunction: Let me start by saying I love water polo. It's like soccer or hockey in the water—it demands stamina, skill, and a touch of insanity, since all sorts of rough stuff goes on under the surface. I played a little in college—not well, but I did play—and I'll never forget our coach's warning before a game against a team of tough veterans: "Watch out, boys—these guys are ball grabbers." Needless to say, the sport isn't any gentler when women are playing, as evidenced by a game between the U.S. and Spain last week, when underwater wrestling resulted in a brief, live-broadcast boob flash.
Greatest Olympic fan at Simon's Tavern on Tuesday night: I'm voting for the guy with the beard of a Civil War general who was a few stools down from me cursing out the Russians. Despite his effort, Andrey Zamkovoy ended up beating American Errol Spence in the boxing ring.