Surprisingly enjoyable Olympic events
What event have you been surprised you enjoyed during the Olympics?
Men's 10,000-meter was high drama
By Kate Fagan
I would say the men's 10,000-meter run was the event I enjoyed the most. I'm not necessarily surprised I enjoyed it, but I'm surprised how much I enjoyed it and how much emotion it packed.
Watching NBC's prerace package on training partners Mo Farah and Galen Rupp helped set the stage and frame the story, but really, the strategy throughout the 25 laps was also mesmerizing. You'd think such repetitive circular movement would make for boring TV, but the constant switch of leaders and ebb and flow of the front pack (and the likable personality of Farah, the hope of Great Britain) made it 27 minutes of must-watch TV.
And when the whole race, all 6.2 miles, came down to the final lap, it was impossible not to root -- and root hard -- for training partners Farah and Rupp, who practice in Portland, Ore.
There was something remarkably Olympic about seeing two exhausted athletes, and friends, crank out a 52-second final lap and then absorb the adulation of the crowd after Farah edged Rupp for the gold.
For me, so far, the 10,000-meter has been the coolest event of these Games.
Equestrian an entrancing dance
By Melissa Jacobs
There is one Olympic sport that always winds up hooking me in unexpectedly. Its status as a "sport" may even be questionable on the surface, as it requires less athleticism than most events, only a portion of which actually comes from the athletes vying to land on the medal stand. But it is among the more distinctive Olympic sports, a sharp departure from all the marquee events. I'm talking about the equestrian competition, and Sunday's jumping in particular.
The best part of watching equestrian events is that my brain goes into full gear. There are the elegance and grace of the horses, which can make the sport seem more like a trance-inducing horse ballet. Then there's the animal-rights activist in me, who can't stop thinking about how the pressure on their backs has to be so damaging. (No, I've never taken a romantic stroll through Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage.) But what really intrigues me about equestrian is that I cannot relate to it in any way. I have no idea what the riders eat or do to keep in shape. I have no idea of the skill it takes to persuade a horse to jump over an object. And I really have no idea how a horse's back is affected by a round of jumping.
This curiosity occurs approximately every four years, so Olympic equestrian, combined with an occasional airing of the "Charlotte comes face-to-face with her childhood horse, Taddy" episode of "Sex and the City," is the perfect amount of equestrian for me.
A long-distance romance with handball
By Graham Hays
Whether it's a simple summer fling or the beginning of a meaningful relationship, men's and women's team handball unexpectedly swept me off my feet from the other side of the Atlantic. And I'm pretty sure that's allowed as long as those feet were outside the goal area when it happened. Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson and Ann Grete Norgaard get that joke.
These are the seventh Olympics for me as anything close to a cognizant viewer. Like any recurring reality show, whether it's the one staged by the IOC every four years or "Top Chef," there's a sort of familiar routine after that many repetitions. Soccer and basketball are appointment viewing, even if the appointment comes at 4 a.m. to watch France play Canada. Swimming and track are staples, heavy-handed narratives and all. Like probably 90 percent of the viewing audience, I enjoy diving even while simultaneously judging success solely by splash. And I still don't understand how points are scored in fencing or judo or much of anything that involves a horse.
Handball, for me, was something new, glimpsed before but studied for the first time.
Part of the attraction was purely personal, handball being one of the rare team sports in which Denmark, my birthplace, is internationally relevant on both sides of the gender line. But on the strength of an exciting opening win for the Danish women against Sweden (and there is nothing sweeter for a Danish team in any sport than beating Sweden), I fired up the laptop for more games -- France against Norway in women's pool play, Iceland against Sweden in men's pool play and on and on. It wasn't quite World Cup fever, but it likely tripled my lifetime viewing of the sport. The games move quickly, there is room for both physical play and feats of remarkable individual athleticism, and there seems to be ample strategy to savor, if only I understood even a fraction of it.
The Danish women failed to reach the knockout phase of the tournament, while the men suffered a disappointing 32-21 loss at the hands of Croatia that casts doubt on their medal aspirations (I also and unjustly feel sufficiently qualified in my fandom to be so pessimistic after a week of study). But Danes or no Danes, I'll have an eye on the medal round. Not as much as with soccer or basketball, and not enough to make up for softball's omission, but enough to make me think four years will be too long to wait for my next fix. I just hope the sport doesn't think I'm clingy.
Synchronized diving invites close viewing
By Michelle Smith
Synchronized diving has held surprising intrigue for me because of its pace and its grace. I loved watching the unison in real time and then breaking down the replays to see whether the duos were keeping it together through their dives. The Chinese are so spectacularly gifted in this event, and it was nice to see the success of the U.S. teams.
Seldom-seens become must-watch TV
By Adena Andrews
The biggest surprise during the Games was sitting in a bar while America's favorite sport, football, was on, but everyone was watching Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings get busy on the sand volleyball courts. With all the hype over the first football game in months, I thought the bar attendees would certainly be watching Drew Brees' every move. Instead, they cheered for every dive and return the dynamic volleyball duo made.
I understand it was just the preseason, but it was still football, and folks had been salivating while waiting for it the past four months. However, the thirst for the gridiron wasn't enough to take attention from a Canadian gymnast face-planting on the vault or even the semifinals of the men's 100-meter.
Moments like the one in the bar are what the Olympics are about. Once every four years, we change our way of thinking and acknowledge a group of seldom-celebrated but extremely hard-working athletes.
Gymnastics rekindles treasured memories
By Jane McManus
When I was a kid, I loved watching women's -- OK, let's be real here -- girls' gymnastics. The competitors were practically my age or just a few years older. They were able to flip their tiny bodies effortlessly across a mat. I was barely capable of a decent round-off, but for some reason I completely identified with Mary Lou Retton and her sisters.
Fast-forward to now. I am not into glitter or hair ribbons. I find gymnastics and the demands it makes on those girls' bodies to be concerning. And let's face it, a lot of gymnasts have later described training conditions that are almost cruel.
But when Gabby Douglas performed her floor exercise last week, I was just as riveted as I'd been as a kid. And I got choked up when she won the overall gold, just like I used to when my mom and I would watch. They want it so badly, it takes so much discipline and they get one shot in their lifetime, given the short career of gymnasts. You can't look away.
Maybe the Summer Olympics should be every two years, just so we could see them compete again.
Into tennis in a major way
By Amanda Rykoff
I was most surprised at how much I enjoyed the tennis competition. Since most of the players are well-established pros, tennis lacked the "out of nowhere" storylines that often characterize the Olympics. We just watched Wimbledon in June, and the U.S. Open is less than a month away. Yet the tennis captivated me every day of the first week. With so many top players representing their countries, it was like having a fifth Grand Slam tournament this year (minus Rafael Nadal). The players competed at an extremely high level and the raucous, atypical tennis crowd added to the drama. Plus, the players got to wear bright colors at the All England Club. This will never happen again.
When Andy Murray capped off the tournament with a win over Roger Federer, the competition sealed itself as one of the highlights of this year's Games. It might not have been a Wimbledon championship, but winning a gold medal for his home country on his "home court" against the Greatest of All Time? Yeah, that's pretty damn cool.