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After getting back from Japan, I got into the Olympics. Actually, watching the Games is always a struggle, first of all because of the time difference but also  because what gets shown and how is up to the whims and fancies of that channel, which is influenced by the local audience. So typically stuff in which the Hong Kong team is participating or at which China excels gets shown a lot – the latter means swimming, gymnastics, and diving which are my favourites but the latter means cycling, sailing, and lots of badminton and table tennis. Of course, the big ticket items like the important athletics races get shown.

However, there are commercial breaks, abysmal commentary and the odd switching of or choice of sports – for example wrestling or beach volleyball or even basketball, even when Hong Kong and China are not playing. On the one hand, part of the fun of the Olympics is delving into sports you wouldn’t otherwise watch (e.g. Nene insisted he wanted to watch the wrestling and I had to let him) but I prefer to catch up on these in highlights, ahem. And definitely not when important gymnastics events are going on.

To counter these deficiencies, I turned to a streaming site, where I search through streams and often found what I needed in Russian. Again, maybe the post-communist background means that there is an interest in the same sports as China (e.g. gymnastics).

While the swimming races were in the morning and were shown live on our local channel, the gymnastics happens at night. I tried and tried to find a replay, but couldn’t, and so I resorted to waking up in the dead of night for the finals. Unfortunately, one night I woke up and TVB switched without warning to cycling, and I couldn’t find a stream showing the event live. So basically, I had woken up for nothing. Ultimately, a tip on a mom’s group online led me to the TVB app which was on free trial and wonder of wonders I was able to watch replays of all the finals I missed as well as live broadcasts with better commentary than on the TV channel. Just wish I had known about it earlier, but I must say, I binge watched gymnastics to V’s frustration.

Below are some of the highlights of the Rio Olympics for me:

Swimming

  • Watching Michael Phelps in every event. Him going up to his mum, wife and baby. How emotional he was on the podium.
  • Joseph Schooling of Singapore winning the 200m butterfly. Schooling had the fastest time in the semis, which I also watched, and he had said that if he won silver or bronze, he would consider it a loss, which I considered not in the spirit of the games, but when he won it was an amazing moment. He beat three veterans, including Phelps. This article on his nanny who’s been with him from the start touched my heart.
  • Katie Ledecky winning the 800 m final in style, smashing her own record in the process.
  • Anthony Erwin’s 50m butterfly win. Like Schooling’s win, it was a morning of amazing races. On the one hand, Schooling showed you’re never too young or inexperienced. On the other, Erwin showed you’re never too old or jaded.
  • Dimitry Balandin winning Kazakhstan’s first Olympic gold in the 200 m breaststroke. He was in lane 8. Proving that being the outlier doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance. Never say never.
  • Simone Manuel becoming the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold in swimming, but also 16-year-old Penny Olenziak tying her for first place in that race. A nice article on Penny here. An important piece on the significance of Manuel’s win here.

Gymastics

  • The women’s individual gymnastics championship. Simone Biles is amazing, perfection always, but I was so impressed by Aly Raisman’s floor routine. Aliyah Mustafina took her loss like a pro, but I felt sad for the little Chinese girl who was so close to a bronze. An article on Shang Chungsong’s long and hard struggle here.
  • Biggest regret: Missing the women’s artistic gymnastics team final. I thought that surely I could find a replay the next day, but nada. I so regret not staying up at night to watch it, but the fact is I had just got back from Japan and couldn’t have.
  • Biggest frustration: Deciding there was no other way than to stay up and watch the gymnastics live and then still missing out the women’s uneven bars because bloody TVB didn’t show it and the Russian streaming channel wouldn’t load. WTF Russian streaming channel – your gal won! I think I have a girl crush on Aliyah Mustafina.
  • At least I got to watch the beam final, in particular, Dipa Kamarkar. She did well, and scored high because of the difficulty level of her vault. However, her ass touched the floor when we landed (the idiot TVB commentatory called it ‘posterior’) and so she got bumped into fourth. Wish she could have snuck in there for a bronze.
  • Samme Wevers beating out Simone Biles to win the women’s beam final. Biles had seemed invincible before the competition and was touted to sweep gold in all the individual events, but she wobbled on the beam in the favourite apparatus, and Wevers sneaked in from the outside. Never say never.
  • Thankfully, watched replays of the men’s gymnastics team event in Japan, because the Japan team won. I got quite invested in the Japanese team’s performance after that in all sports and V had to remind me I’m not Japanese now 😉
  • The Brazilian team performed very well. It was nice to see the non-favourites do well.

Athletics

  • Of course, Usain Bolt winning the 100m was a highlight but I would have been happy if Gaitlin won too (having won a 100m gold way back in 2004. That would have been one for the record books too – though Gaitlin has a doping record and he was actually booed when he came on.) In the end though, Bolt had to push himself and won. What surprised me was how nice he was after. He went around to all the Jamaican supporters and hugged them and took photos with them. He accepted a mascot that he clearly didn’t want and didn’t just dump it (my kids were more excited by the mascot than the great man himself).
  • Just before the 100m was the absolutely stunning 400m final which Wayde van Niekerk won in style breaking a world record. It was one of those races that gives you goosebumps. As a very very amateur athlete way back in the day, I can tell you that lane 8 is noone’s favourite and yet Niekerk beat his very talented opponents (3 other guys ran under 44 seconds) from out there.
  • The US women winning gold, silver and bronze in the 100m hurdles. I’m not a particular Team USA fan but it was nice to see the elation and camaraderie between the women.
  • The women’s 100m and 200m finals. I love watching the women athletes, they are so flamboyant. They come to the track in full make-up, gold chains, headbands and hair in bizarre colours. They’re awesome.
  • Braz da Silva winning the men’s pole vault. It was a bittersweet moment because the French vaulter who came second was very upset because he was booed by the crowd. While I’m sure it’s not nice to be booed, he made a rude comment about it in the press con later and got booed again on the podium, and then was crying during the flag hoisting. While I should probably feel sorry for him, I felt there was a certain sense of entitlement and ungraciousness in his behaviour – the booing of the crowd during the competition, while not exactly in the Olympic spirit, was not personal but because their own athlete had a chance for gold, and that countries like Brazil rarely get a medal chance, leave alone gold.
  • I was happy to watch a couple of Indian athletes including Duttee Chand in action. Chand especially ran very well in her heat.
  • Castor Semenya winning the women’s 800m gold. Again, there were frustrations raised about her hormone levels (hinting that she should not qualify for the women’s event because of high levels of testosterone, which I think is bullshit).
  • Team Japan winning silver in the men’s 100m relay. Of course, Jamaica had an amazing run, but I love to see underdogs rise, and that it was Japan made it sweeter.

I trailed off watching the main big athletics events, much to the relief of everyone in our household I think. This was the kids’ first Olympics and here are some of my observations about watching the events with them:

  • The kids learnt about different countries. I was surprised that Nene could identify the Jamaican flag. While the Olympics seem to be an occasion for a resurgence of nationalism, for us it became an exercise in diffusing loyalties. I tend to root for Indian or Hong Kong and to some extent Chinese athletes where present, but I also rooted for Japan, for example. The kids liked to pick winners before the race and they did so on their chance or winning – they quickly twigged that certain countries tended to win (like Jamaica in athletics or USA in swimming) or even certain races – and they would then ask me about the country their chosen athlete was from.
  • My kids do not have a lot of exposure to Africans or African Americans in Hong Kong, and their reactions to seeing black people is not exactly what I’d prefer. One of the side-effects of the Olympics is that they could see black people as powerful, talented and worth rooting for (obviously black people should not have to be super athletes for this, but it was a positive entry point for my kids).
  • The kids had a chance to watch women demonstrate strength, speed and athleticism.
  • Similarly, they were exposed to the idea that different body types can be powerful. My kids have picked up some fat shaming behaviour. I pointed out during the shot put contest that while  people might look (and possibly be) fat, they could also be extremely strong and skilled.

So that was the Olympics for me. What were the highlights for you?

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