Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, Usain Bolt and Empty Seats: Notes on the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

So what more can be said about Michael Phelps? He just went out and did what he had to do, which was to win eight gold medals in eight swimming events. Something that has never been done in one Olympics. He did it by smashing world records and running away with races – the final total was seven world records in eight races, and eight Olympic records in eight races. And he did it by coming from a sure silver medal to out touch his competitor by a hundredth of a second to win his seventh gold. He was thoughtful to his teammates; he said kind things about his competitors. He was graceful in the pool, and outside of the pool.

For those that didn’t see it on Friday, here’s the photo of the finish of Friday’s race for Phelps’ seventh gold – that is Phelps on the left winning by a fingertip.

Then there’s Dara Torres, who at 41-years-old barely missed out on two gold medals on Saturday night – she got two silvers instead, but I think she should best be remembered for making sure that a semifinal heat was held up because one of her fellow swimmers was having trouble with her swimsuit. I shouldn’t be surprised by good sportsmanship, yet somehow I always am.

And the amazing thing is that I didn’t hear either Torres or Phelps thank God for making it all possible. Unlike many other athletes – especially professional football and baseball players – who thank God for making their infield single or one yard run on third-and-six possible, Torres and Phelps spoke of their hard work and thanked their coaches and teammates.

Speaking of world record, how many of you watched the men’s 100-meters race on Saturday night? Yeah, I know it was tape delayed and the results were already known, but damn, unless you saw it, you have know idea of just how incredible Jamaica’s Usain Bolt’s 9.69 world record winning time really was. The guy essentially pulled up with about 20 meters left and jogged the rest of the way, and not only did he set the world record, but no one came close to catching him (note: U.S. record holder Tyson Gay did not qualify for the finals due to an injury that slowed his time in the semifinals considerably and kept him from qualifying).


You might have noticed that the Beijing games appear to be plagued by empty seats, which is funny considering that the events are supposedly sold out. And if you’re wondering why the seats are empty, it’s not because the people of Beijing don’t want to go. It’s because of a good old capitalist reason: the Chinese organizers gave most of the seats away to sponsors, and the sponsors just don’t appear to want to show up.

I guess it’s nice to know that the communists are learning our problems, as well. Sponsors tend to be pricks that take all of the good seats to events, but often really don’t care about going to the event unless it’s important. Meanwhile, people who really want to go to events and don’t care if the event is for a medal or not are shut out of the fun. But as we’ve all learned from the Astros, Rockets, and Texans, the fans who actually go the game are of a secondary concern to the sponsors in their box seats and their suites.

***************** I was rather hard on Mark Spitz last week, after he came off as upset and pissed that he wasn’t paid to go out to Beijing and watch Michael Phelps. But Bob Costas conducted an interview with Phelps and Spitz on Friday night, after Phelps earned his seventh gold to tie Spitz for the record, and Spitz was very gracious and complimentary of Phelps – like most of us, he had difficulty at time trying to describe Phelps’ efforts.

***************** For those of you watching tonight, there will be some live events as medals are awarded for individual gymnastics events, and of course, there will be live beach volleyball. There will also be medal events coming from the track-and-field stadium, but you should probably be able to find the results on the internets sometime today in case you don’t want to stay up too late and watch them on tape delay. – John Royal

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.