The new digital broadcast channels on TV are turning out to be pretty cool. It seems the networks have more programming space than they know what to do with, and so they’re getting liberal with their programming. So NBC is using one of their new sub-channels as an all-sports channel, but it may not just be mainstream sports. In fact, it seems that NBC actually might use it to broadcast sports that don’t go by the names “Football”, “Baseball”, “Basketball”, or even “Golf” (Sorry, I don’t think Hockey counts as a sport unless you’re from Canada or Boston.)
They're calling it Universal Sports, and it’s being beamed out on Channel 5.3 (at least, that’s what it is here in Chicago). They’re kicking things off with a replay of all their Olympic coverage, including the U.S. Olympic Trials.
I tuned in earlier this evening and saw some of the stuff from the track trials in Eugene, Oregon back in June. I saw an early heat of the Men’s 1500 with Alan Webb and Bernard Legat both still in it and looking strong. They played the Men’s 800 final, won by the three Oregonian guys, electrifying the home crowd. I saw the Women’s 3000 Steeple Case, which I never saw the first time around. And also the Women’s 1500 Final, when Shannon Rowbury looked so very strong and 16-year-old Jordan Hassay made her surprise appearance in the final round, her long blond hair bouncing around down half the length of her diminutive frame.
It was a little odd to think back to June, when so many people (me included, of course) were so very jazzed up about the potential for the American runners in Beijing. Not that the team did poorly, and the sprinters did well enough, as usual. But it really seemed as though the distance runners on both the men’s and women’s sides were really poised to make some break-throughs at the games. The Men’s and Women’s Marathon, the Men’s 800, the Men’s and Women’s 1500, the Men’s and Women’s 5000, and the Women’s 10,000 all had Americans competing who had a totally legit shot, maybe not a winning, but at easily being on the podium. The U.S. has been a sprinting force for nearly a full century now, but distance medals have been precious and few the last 40 years. Team USA performed rather well at the World Championships in 2007, and 2008 seemed set for them to make up even more ground.
In the end though, how many medals came home? One. Yep, one. Shalane Flanagan turned in a truly astonishing performance in the Women’s 10K, set a new American record (breaking her own previous mark from earlier this year) and won the Bronze Medal. It was only, I think, the 3rd or 4th time she’d ever run the event, having focused mainly on the 5K in previous years. She managed this performance in the final in spite of the fact that she’d suffered from a severe case of food poisoning in the days before the race. Her medal was only the 2nd medal the U.S. has ever won in the event. And her accomplishment went largely ignored by the media, because it occurred a couple of days before the swimming events were complete and she was drowned out by the (well-deserved) fervor of Phelps Mania.
But after Shalane? Nothing. Deena Kastor had to drop out of the Marathon with a foot injury at 3 miles. Bernard Lagat, the reigning world champion, failed even to make the final in the 1500, and had no life or kick in the 5000 to finish out of the medals. Kara Goucher, the 5K bronze medalist at last year’s World’s, didn’t pick the right tactics and got schooled in both the 5K and the 10K. She left Beijing wondering aloud if maybe she has been pursuing the wrong event and talked about moving up to the marathon. Shannon Rowbury ran well in the 1500 final, but couldn’t quite keep up with the finishing kick of her European and East African competitors, and later gently lamented her lack of experience in international competition. (She’s still young, plans to run in Europe a lot over the next year, and will still be a force at the world’s in ’09.) And finally, in the Men’s Marathon, on a scorching hot day, in heavy humidity, five East Africans astonished the field, and everyone else watching, by going out in the first 10K at world record pace, and then nearly managed to hang onto that for the entire 26.2 miles. The 3 Americans, forced to choose between going with the suicidal pace or being more rational in the hopes that the leaders would fade and come back to them, all chose the saner approach, only to find that no one came back. Dathan Ritzenhein and Ryan Hall finished 9th and 10th, respectively. It’s the first time in decades that two Americans were in the top 10 at the Olympics, so there’s that.
So, It was all a little anti-climatic after the build up and the progress in ’07, but hey, maybe it was an off year. I know I’ve had one; interrupted often by little illnesses or injuries. I’ll be looking to bounce back a little next year, rethinking some of my training and strategies. So will Team USA.