Monday, December 31, 2012

Spirits of the Season

Today I met some friends for lunch at a local bar and grill.  While we waited for our orders, we sipped our drinks and caught each other up on what we had been doing since the holiday season started.  I laughed while some regaled tales of surviving family gatherings and drama at the dinner table.  Others entertained us with stories of their shopping frenzies and holiday hijinks.

When it was my turn tell them what I had done for Xmas, my friends expressed surprise that I actually went to church Xmas Eve.  A few marveled at how I wasn't vaporized upon entering holy ground--the bastards.  True, I haven't gone to church regularly since the last millennium.  But I do make an effort to attend a religious service at least four times a year--New Year's Eve, Good Friday, Easter, and Xmas Eve.

This year, I went out of town to join a friend for Christmas.  We attended a Catholic midnight mass.   I quite enjoy the Catholic rituals--so pretty and ornate; and I love the smell of the burning incense--cedar, basically like burning pencils, a sweet, pleasant scent.

It still surprises me to see girls serving as altar boys (altar girls? altar persons?).  I'm so used to it being a boy's job.  Well, things change--but not fast enough for my liking sometimes.  I do confess that I wasn't really paying attention to the sermon, because there are things that the church stands for that I disagree with.  No church should should dictate how you relate to your god--that's a personal matter between you and your god.  But like I said, that's just my issue, and it shouldn't take away from the beautiful pageantry and pomp of the religious ceremony.  But as much as I enjoy sharing in the experience, I always forget just how physically active Catholic services are--stand, sit, chant, kneel before God!, line up for the Eucharist, stand, sit, and kneel some more.  It sure does make the service pass by real quick with all that movement.

My favorite part of the midnight mass was the Christmas caroling performed by the choir.  Granted, they weren't the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who wore uniforms and had well rehearsed performances.  Come to think of it, I don't think these choir members rehearsed more than once, as evidenced by their somewhat unique and not quite harmonious singing.  But I do enjoy the joyous spirit they displayed as they sang for us and invited us to join them.  Listening to them sing kind of reminded me of my old church and the Christmas pageant and the stuff we did to put on a show on Christmas night (not to mention I also remember hating the hours I spent toiling in rehearsals for a month before the Xmas show).

My enjoyment of the choir caroling was somewhat marred by the piano player, who once gave us the wrong hymn page number, sang too hard, and quite often ad libbed her own words loudly on the microphone, confusing the rest of us following the hymn and drowning out the choir at times.  I couldn't help but wonder if she had helped herself to some sacramental wine before giving us this slightly jarring performance.  This is church, for god's sake, not a reject audition at American Idol!  Save the cabaret act for the karaoke bar, sister!

I was thinking of filing a complaint with the priest to have this piano playing volunteer fired for ruining my church going experience.  Dammit, I only go to church but four times a year, and I expect a great performance for those very rare times I do make the effort to show up to church!

For a few seconds, while I was sitting in the church pews with my ears assaulted by the guerrilla attack that was this woman's singing, I actually fantasized about converting to Islam, just so I could issue a fatwa and declare a jihad to ban this woman from ever performing in public again!  Her appearances would be restricted to those specific times when we need her shrilling skills to ululate the declaration of war upon the infidels and to signal our victory over the enemy! Alalalalalalalalalalalala!

But that would be wrong.  And it is not the spirit of the holidays. It is the season for giving.  And I forgive this woman for almost ruining my Xmas experience. 

Instead, I shall focus my energy into welcoming the new year and celebrating the event amongst friends.  Ordinarily, my New Year's Eve has always been about going out with friends, dancing, getting drunk, counting down the clock and watching fireworks and having a good time with friends (and strangers) til the sun comes up.  This year, however, we will be spending it indoors, watching the season three marathon of AMC's The Walking Dead.  The idea is to take a shot every time a zombie gets killed in a really cool and exciting fashion.  Which means we'll most likely be hammered before the marathon reaches the halfway point.  I just hope we're sober enough to countdown at midnight.  I'm pretty sure we'll be walking and sounding like zombies when we wake up tomorrow.

I have always held New Year's Eve to be one of my favorite holidays of the year.  It is the celebration of new beginnings.  Yes,  I enjoy the partying, the drinking, and the dancing and good times.  But more importantly, it is a celebration among friends, to come together and revel in each other's company and to remember our friends who are not longer with us in body but stay with us in spirit and in our hearts.  We raise a glass to them and celebrate them for the impact they've had on our lives, and we embrace the fullness of life and savor the joy of living and having time to enjoy the company of good friends and loved ones. 

Life is short.  And nothing like a zombie apocalypse marathon to remind us of how precious and fragile life is.  Time keeps moving on, as every New Year's Eve reminds us.  Hold close the ones you love; revel in the company of your friends; and live life to the fullest.  Each day is a chance to do the things that make you happy, to go after your dreams and make them happen, to seize the day and do something new, something fun, something exciting.

This New Year's Eve, I shall raise a glass of spirits to all you good friends and thank you for all your support and well wishes.  Cheers and thank you for everything.  Your presence and your words have given me so much joy and laughter and made life just a bit more wonderful.  I would be honored to have you by my side, fighting for survival against the hordes in the zombie apocalypse.  And here's to wishing you all a Fantastic New Year, full of good company, good fortune, and good times!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday Horde

Well, there might not have been a Mayan Apocalypse, but it sure felt like the end of the world at the stores and on the roads near the shopping malls.  Particularly on Christmas Eve, when so many people rushed to buy gifts at the last minute, swarming the aisles and grabbing whatever they could before the next person was able to get it.  Good for the stores; entertaining for me.
Give us scented bath gift baskets!
 People watching--it's a fascinating pastime for me.

And today, a whole other mass invasion of shoppers flooded the stores for exchanges and returns and to spend those gift cards.

The customer service line begins here.
Bless those hardworking customer service reps, trying to keep sane amongst the madness and onslaught of pissed off, aggressive, and rude customers.
No receipt means No refunds, No exchanges!

Ordinarily, I'm not a big shopping person.  But I couldn't resist going to see the stores this year, doing my part to keep the economy going.  Capitalism--it's in my American blood.  And I enjoy the thrill of finding great merchandise at steep discount post holiday prices.  Granted, not all the stuff I find are such high ticket, valuable items.  But dammit, why wouldn't I want to buy gaudy, sparkling Xmas ornaments at 50% off?  Better yet, they'll be 90% off the day after New Year.  I can't resist a good bargain sometimes.  Besides, I'm all ready starting to stock up on next year's Xmas gifts.  And also, I really do get a kick out of grabbing the last items on sale before someone else snatches them.

Earlier this year, during the day after New Year's Day sale, I was able to locate a Charlie Brown Xmas tree at a store.  I spotted it first when some old lady in a motorized shopping cart saw where I was heading, and she cut me off and tried to run me over to race down the aisle to grab the Charlie Brown Xmas tree!  The nerve!  Unfortunately for her, there was a display table blocking her oversized motorized shopping cart, allowing me to slip past her and grab the last Charlie Brown Xmas tree!  Ha! I win!  In your face, loser!

Competitiveness; it's also in my blood. 

Here's to hoping you find some fun (and good bargains) for the rest of the holiday season.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Mayan Apocalypse Holiday Season

Well, my friends, it's the Mayan Apocalypse today.  And before the world ends, I'd like to take this time to thank each and everyone of you wonderful, funny, intelligent, and kind, beautiful people for your friendship, and support, and well wishes.  In case the world ends, I'd like to wish each and everyone of you a wonderful holiday season, and I wish you all happiness, harmony, and peace for the coming year (or for however long we have left til the world ends).

Now, I know my friends over in New Zealand and Australia have all ready reported that it's December 22, 2012 for them, and the world has not ended.  But I've goggled what time it is in the Yucatan where the Mayans lived and found out that they share the same time zone as my part of the world, Central Standard Time Zone, or it's 9pm right now.  So, in three hours, the world might end.  And I plan to spend what might possibly be my last few hours on earth with some friends at an End of the World party, counting down the hours til the end. 

It's been over a decade since I attended an End of the World party, especially since that fascinating news journal, World Weekly went out of print.  There was a time when we could all count on the World Weekly to predict when the world would end, and we'd plan our End of the World parties accordingly.  Alas there has been quite a lack of doomsday prophecy/apocalypse dates and no coverage of Bat Boy since that fine news journal ceased publication.

And just in case it's an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse, I've got my bug out bag (loaded with survival gear) and some water and food in my car, and my sports tomahawk, ready to take on the hordes!  I ain't going down without a fight!  No one is eating my brains for dinner!

If the world is going to end, I am going to celebrate it with the people I love and have fun til it's all over.  And I want to take this time to say to all you amazing friends, thank you for everything!  And I'll be sure to toast you all and celebrate our friendship while counting down the Mayan Apocalypse.  I'm not sure if it's going to be angry Mayan gods on a rampage, or a devastating climate shift, or some extinction level cosmic event that destroys our world.  But whatever happens, it has been my honor and joy to have met each and everyone of you on the blogosphere.

And just in case we survive the Mayan Apocalypse, I want to wish you all every Wonderful and Happy Holiday Season, and May the New Year bring you all good health, good fortune, and good times!  Cheers!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympic day 16: Spectacular Closing Ceremonies

12 Aug 2012 Sunday

Day 16 of the London Olympics was the last day of competition, and it was also the finale of 16 wonderful, amazing days of competition.

And on this last day of competition, the athletes closed the last events in style and top form.

No surprise that the USA men's basketball team won gold. It kind of isn't a fair contest when the top players of the sport belong to one country. What was surprising was just how close the game was, given how Spain was on the US team's heels every step of the way. Spain gets silver and Russia takes bronze.

No surprise on the women's side, as the USA women's team take gold, remaining champions since Barcelona 1992. France takes silver; Australia, bronze.

But a big surprise over at men's volleyball, where Russia pulls of an incredible comeback, from a losing 2 sets in the beginning to winning 3 out 2 to claim an amazing victory over heavily favored, defending Beijing champions Brazil. Once again, Brazil was so cocky, thinking they were going to win, in the third set at 22-19, they brought in their retiring, injured captain off the bench to play what they thought would be the winning set. How arrogant! But the Russians dig deep, and fight back to stay alive in the third set, and then go on to win the next two sets, stunning Brazil and sending fans into a frenzy at the most amazing comeback! Brazil was unable to stop the Russian momentum and have to settle for silver and Italy, bronze. What an spectacular win for Russia.

And the wins keep coming for Russia, as the they take gold for the fourth Olympics in a row, since Sydney 2000, in Team Rhythmic Gymnastics. World champions Italy was my favorite performance--who doesn't love a team who dances to theme song from the Lone Ranger (aka the William Tell Overture)? But they lost the chances to gold, by dropping their ribbon baton, opening the way for Belarus to take silver, leaving Italy the bronze.

American Jacob Varner took gold in the men's 96kg freestyle final, leaving Ukraine's Valerii Andriitsev the silver. It is the second gold in wrestling America has won at these games. Georgia's Georgi Gogshelidze and Khetag Gazyumov of Azerbaijan took the bronze medals.

In the Men's 66kg freestyle wrestling, Japan's Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu won Japan's first men's wrestling gold since Seoul 1988. He beat out India's Sushil Kumar, left with silver. Cuban Livan Lopez and Kazakhstan's Akzhurek Tanatarov won the bronze medals.

A big upset for Kenya as Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich won the Olympic men's marathon, beating Kenya's Abel Kirui, silver, and Wilson Kipsang, bronze. It is Uganda's first and only medal at these games, and what a way to win it, on the last day of the games, beating out heavily favored Kenya. It is also Uganda's first gold medal since Munich 1976.

Over in men's flyweight (52kg) boxing, 18 year old Robeisy Carrazana Ramirez of Cuba takes gold, leaving Mongolia's Tugstsogt Nyambayar the silver. Michael Conlan of Ireland and Misha Aloian of Russia each took bronze.

Vasyl Lomachenko defeats Han Soon-chul in the lightweight final, taking gold. It is the second Olympic gold for Lomachenko, who is the Beijing 2008 champion in the featherweight division. South Korea's Soonchul Han takes silver. Cuba's Yasniel Toledo Lopez and Lithuania's Evaldas Petrauskas each take bronze.

And what an amazing last day for host nation Great Britain, who win 3 more medals to leap past Russia to claim 3rd in overall medal standings, making this the greatest Olympics ever for Great Britain. Great Britain's Anthony Joshua won gold in the super-heavy weight division, leaving Italy's Roberto Cammarelle-world champion and defending Beijing champion-the silver; Azerbaijan's Magomedrasul Medzhidov and Kazakhstan's Ivan Dychko take bronzes. Great Britain's Fred Evans settles for silver in the welterwight division, after Serik Sapiyev of Kazakhstan won gold; the bronzes went to Russia's Andrey Zamkovoy and Ukraine's Taras Shelestyuk. The final medal that elevated Great Britain in medal standings belongs to the silver won by Samantha Murray in the modern pentathlon; the gold went to Lithuania's Laura Asadauskaite, the bronze, Brazilian Yane Marques.

Reconition must be given to the drug testing and regulating officials in the London Olympics. All ready, several athletes have been disqualified for cheating, such as Belarusian women's shot put gold medallist Nadzeya Ostapchuk who has been stripped of her title after failing a doping test; which means New Zealand's Valerie Adams, defending Beijing champion, gets gold; Evgeniia Kolodko of Russia, silver; and Lijiao Gong of China steps up to the podium for bronze. Let's also not forget those cheating badminton players for those Asian countries who literally played bad matches as a way to get into easier draws to get into medal contention. I'm so glad they got kicked out of the game, and some have been dropped from the league all together. It is an insult and an embarrassment to come here to the world stage of the Olympics and try to cheat your way to win. It says a lot about your character, that you are a loser and a cheater, and you are a great embarrassment and disgrace to your country and to your sport. So a big congratulations and job well done to the officials for keeping the games clean and fair.

And it's all over. What an incredible, amazing sixteen days of competition has it been for these London Olympics.

What a fantastic closing ceremony! It was an incredible exhibition of British music, fashion, culture, and achievement. I quite enjoyed seeing Annie Lennox, George Michael, and so many other icons and stars of British music.

Shooting a man out of a canon, rollerskating nuns, laughs, lights, and loads of fun, it was a fun, frivolous, and fabulous way to end two weeks of glory. Thank you, London for doing an outstanding job, hosting the Olympic games and doing an astounding job of making it all happen. Thank you Great Britain, for welcoming us into your home. We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit and we've been thrilled with all we've seen. And thank you volunteers and soldiers, for keeping us safe, for creating an extraordinary extravaganza, for making the London Olympics one of the best Olympics ever!

The torch has been passed to Rio for 2016. But it's not over for London yet. In two weeks, we will witness some of the greatest athletes ever compete on the world stage. The Paralympics is coming home to London! And we will be cheering on these heroic, astonishing athletes as they begin their quest for gold and glory. And I can't think of a better stage to perform their feats of greatness than in London. Truly, Great Britain is a great nation of great people. Thank you for having us. You've done an amazing job!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympic day 15: Bring your A Game

11 Aug 2012 Saturday

Day 15 of the London Olympics was the scene of several impressive events, where the athletes had to bring their best or be blown out. Some athletes stepped up, dug deep, and gave it all they had, doing their very best in the fight for gold. Others, came less prepared and were knocked out in the last fight.

In one of the most stunning upsets of the day, what a huge and glorious win for Mexico, the underdog team going into the final, who gave it their all to beat out heavily favored Brazil and take the gold in Men's Soccer! Oh, what an upset! What a stunning display of teamwork, hard work, and skill from the Mexican players who fought hard to get that gold, winning 2-1. And what a disappointing performance from Brazil, who were scattered, fighting among themselves, and did not come with their A game. It was like Brazil came unprepared, arrogant, and expected an easy win, and as a result of shoddy play and poor defense, they got their asses kicked by the better organized, faster, more talented Mexican team. There was no doubt about this win. Mexico was the better team, so much better compared to Brazil. And what an amazing Olympic performance from Mexico, who wins their first ever gold medal in the soccer. Viva la Mexico!

In track, the US women win its fifth successive Olympic gold in the 4x400m relay. The American team of Deedee Trotter, Allyson Felix, Francena McCorory and Sanya Richards-Ross would takes off at a rocket pace, crossing finish line 3 seconds ahead of silver medallists Russia. Jamaica would barely beat off Ukraine for the bronze. It was another spectacular race by a strong US team.

Over in the men's 4x100m relay, the Jamaican team of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake, and Usain Bolt win the gold and set a new world record time of 36.84 seconds. The US takes silver, and heartbreak for team Canada, who original came in third place, but was then disqualified for stepping outside the line. This opened the door for Trinidad asnd Tobago to get bumped up to bronze.

In the 5000m race, Mo Farah wins gold, giving Britain its second long distance gold medal in their Olympics history-Farah having won the first in the 10000m race earlier in the games. Ethiopia's Dejen Gebremeskel catches silver, and Kenya's Thomas Longosiwa, the bronze.

Meanwhile in women's volleyball, Brazil comes back from a huge loss in the first set to successfully defend their Beijing title, winning gold. The currently ranked number one US settles for silver once more. And Japan gets bronze.

My other favorite sport of the Olympics is Rhythmic Gymnastics, which is the most beautiful and dazzling of all the gymnastics events. It is the sport of very flexible, bouncing gymnasts who compete by twirling batons and ribbons and dancing with hula hoops, balls, and clubs. Why is there not a professional league for rhythmic gymnasts? If there was a league, I'd watch every game!

In the individual all around event, world champion Evgeniya Kanaeva of Russia makes history, successfully defending her Beijing title and becoming the first woman to win gold in two back to back Olympics. She put in a graceful, accurate, sparkling performance and dances her way to gold. Daria Dmitrieva of Russia bounces her way to silver. And Liubou Charkashnya of Belarus twirls her way to bronze.

Finally, I have to give props the most amazing performances I've ever seen these Olympics from the extraordinary divers in the Men's 10m Platform Dive. Every diver in the final gave their best! This was the gold medal that China was denied in Beijing 2008, and they come in heavily favored to take the top spot with world champion Qiu Bo. Defending Beijing champion, Matthew Mitcham, plagued by injuries and still recovering, put in a good performance, given he wasn't in top condition. He did not make the final cut, but he put in a great effort. American diver David Boudia, world silver medalist from last year, and British diver Tom Daley, 2009 world champion, barely scraped through in yesterday's preliminaries. But they came into the finals in top form, putting pressure on the Chinese divers.

Qui Bo is the first diver to ever score above 600 points in competition in 2011. He was also leading points during the 2009 world championship, but the pressure got to him and he made mistakes, allowing Tom Daley of Britain to take first place and be world champion. Going into the final dives, Tom Daley and David Boudia worked together to put pressure on the Chinese divers, knowing that the Chinese often start to collapse under pressure. Tom Daley started the first round with a bad dive, due to flash photography interference from the overly excited crowd. He was allowed to re-dive, and he earned a great score.

By the time the last two rounds came about, the plan to pressure on the Chinese was working. Going into the last round, Tom Daley had pulled into first place, with David Boudia a close second, and the nearest Chinese diver, Qui Bo in third. Tom Daley had jumped first to win first place; but his lead was not guaranteed, because his difficulty score was lower than the Boudia's and Qui Bo's last dives. Boudia went next and executed a near perfect dive, earning him the lead. He was now guaranteed a medal. But with Qui Bo going last, the color of the medals weren't set yet. Qui Bo dives, and it was good, but not enough to take the lead. And for the first time since Laura Wilkinson won women's 10m platform in Sydney 2000, an American has won gold in diving!

David Boudia takes gold! The last time an American male won in the 10m platform was back in Seoul 1988 with Greg Louganis, 24 years ago; the last time an American male won gold in any Olympic diving event was 1992 Barcelona, when Mark Lenzi won the 3m springboard event, 20 years ago! Boudia has all ready won bronze earlier in the 10m synchronized event with his partner Nicholas McCrory. It is amazing achievement for Boudai, who dived the best ever in his career. Qui Bo would cry at getting silver, as once again, the Chinese fail to win gold in the event, just like Beijing 2008.

But it is host nation favorite, Tom Daley, who is the happiest with taking the bronze to the cheers of a home crowd. It was not easy to compete under such pressure. He made his debut at Beijing 2008 at 14 years old, the second youngest British athlete ever to compete at the Olympics. Ever since then, he had to live under enormous public scrutiny as the media and public hounded his every move, documenting his life.

He has endured the media pressure and vicious attacks from jealous and mean spirited idiots. As a young teenager, he faced threats and had objects thrown at him by jealous and hateful people who resented his growing fame and star status. He had to change schools for his safety and in order for him to continue his education and concentrate on improving his diving skills. Tom Daley overcome unbelievable challenges to get here in the finals. He lost his father to cancer last year. And when he and his partner missed the 10m synchronized platform dive podium, he was subjected to vicious Twitter attacks, where ignorant, idiotic trolls said that Daley had let his father down-a hateful attack meant to hurt Daley, as his father died just a year ago in May after a long battle with cancer. Luckily, the more enlightened members of the British public came to Tom's defense and the culprit who was sending these hate messages was caught and arrested.

Tom Daley came to these games determined win a medal, not just for Great Britain, but for his dad. And the look of pure joy on his face and the faces of his celebrating teammates showed that he achieved a great feat, getting Britain its only diving medal of the games. He dedicated his enormous and hard won bronze to his father, his family, and his supporters and the British public. To celebrate his bronze victory, the British diving team carried Tom Daley and they all jumped into the pool. Now that's the way to celebrate a win!

Congratulations Tom, on a job well done!!!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Olympic day 14: Shimmer and Shine

10 Aug 2012 Friday

Day 14 of the London Olympics was all about the athletes doing their best to show off their strengths and skills. Some would shine, others would shimmer, and some would fade away.

What a fantastic performance by the world champion American team in the women's 4x100m relay race! The United States team of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight, Carmelita Jeter not only won gold, but they set a new world record of 40.82 seconds, beating East Germany's record of 41.37, which had stood since 1985, 27 years ago!

And it's an even sweeter victory for the US, who last won an Olympic gold in the event in Atlanta 1996, 16 years ago! At Beijing 2008, the women didn't even qualify for the event due to dropping their baton. But with this world record win, they return the USA to the top of the track after a long absence from the top of the podium. The Americans' rival, Jamaica, finished far behind in second, taking silver; with Ukraine claiming bronze.

Big news in the men's 4x400m relay. In a stunning display of speed, Ramon Miller of the Bahamas chased down Angelo Taylor of the United States in the men's 4x400-meter final to win the gold! It is the first time the US has lost the event. The US has always won this event since the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics! The US had also won the event in Montreal 1976 but boycotted the Moscow 1980 Olympics. The American team was plagued with injuries coming into these games. World champions Lawshawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner both pulled out before the qualifying heats, where Manteo Mitchell broke his leg during the race. Angelo Taylor, a 400m hurdler was suddenly thrust into the lineup, where the 3 of the top members were out due to injuries.

From the very beginning of the race, the Bahamas team pulled ahead. But in the third leg of the race, American Tony McQuay kicked it into high gear, posting the fastest time out of all 32 runners (43.41s) to overtake Bahamian Michael Mathieu and hand Taylor the lead. Taylor tried to keep the lead, but it soon became obvious that he was falling behind as Miller overtook Taylor in the last 150m of the race, going on to win Bahamas' first ever gold medal in the race. It is also Bahamas' first medal of the London Olympics. Trinidad and Tobago claim the bronze.

In that same 4x400m relay race, another team also lost a valuable member to injury. South Africa was originally disqualified from the semifinals, when their runner, Ofentse Mogawane was involved in a crash, failing to pass on the baton to the next runner, Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee athlete who has inspired so many at these Olympics. The South Africans appealed and the officials ruled in their favor, because the Kenyan runner Vincent Kiilu did cause the collision with Mogawane. The result of the appeal meant that South Africa was awarded a place in the finals. But with their best runner, Mogawane, out of the race due to a shoulder injury as a result of the crash, the South African team never stood a chance to medal. And in the race of 9 countries in the final, South Africa would place 8th. Cuba did not even finish the race. Though South Africa did not win a medal, they did win the hearts and respect of so many spectators and athletes present, because the last runner, the anchor for the South African team, was Oscar Pistorius, who has all ready made history as the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics. In two weeks, Pistorius will go on to compete in the Paralympics, after leaving an unforgettable mark at the London Olympics.

Over at the Men's Pole Vault, Renaud Lavillenie of France broke the Olympic record by being the only athlete to clear 5.97m. Defending Beijing champion, Australian Steve Hooker, plagued by injuries, was unable to podium. It was a 2, 3 finish for Germany as Bjorn Otto won silver, with compatriot Raphael Holzdeppe claiming bronze after both cleared 5.91m.

Over in the Women's Hammer Throw, another Olympic record was set. Russia's Tatyana Lysenko struck gold with an Olympic record throw of 78.18m. Poland's Anita Wlodarczyk catches silver, and Germany's Betty Heidler takes bronze.

It's a golden day for the orange Netherlands, as they fend off world champions Argentina to win gold in Women's Hockey, 2-0, successfully defending their Beijing title. In addition to Beijing 2008 and Los Angeles 1984, the Duch now have won gold 3 times in the sport. Great Britain takes bronze after winning their match against New Zealand.

And what a stunning upset in the Women's 5000m run! Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba was favored to win and defend her Beijing title, had all ready won the 10000m run earlier in the games. She was poised to become the first woman to win the 5000m and 10000m races in back to back Olympics, when she lead the last four laps. But in the last turn til the finish line, Meseret Defar, a fellow Ethiopian, surged forward and claimed the gold! Dibaba would fade back to bronze, as Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot who was 3rd in the 10000m run, would pass Dibaba for silver. It is a surprising gold win for Defar, who won the Athens 2004 title, but since then had been considered second best to Dibaba. It is a magnificent win for Defar, to come from behind and overtake the heavily favored Dibaba and claim the gold. To watch someone unexpected come forward and win the race is what makes the Olympics so great.

Exciting news over at the open water 10km Marathon Swim! Tunisia's Oussama Mellouli became the first swimmer ever to win pool and open water medals at a single Olympics. Mellouli won gold in the 10km marathon swim, after winning bronze in the 1500m pool event. It was no competition in the last 300m of the marathon swim, when he pulled far ahead of his competitors who were left to fight for second and third. And it would be Germany's Thomas Lurz who swims to silver, with Canada's Richard Weinberger catching bronze.

Meanwhile, there has been a controversial development in the Women's Triathlon, which was contested on 4 Aug 2012. It is the first ever Olympic triathlon to be decided by a foto finish. Switzerland's Nicola Spirig was ruled to have won gold, but Sweden launched an appeal using the foto finish to argue that it was Lisa Norden of Sweden who actually crossed first with her head. Now the Court of Arbitration for Sport has to make a decision by Saturday to determine the winner and how the podium shake up will look.

Over in Men's 75kg Wrestling, Jordan Boroughs becomes the first American at the London Olympics to win a wrestling gold by beating Iran's Sadegh Goudarzi. Uzbekistan's Soslan Tigiev and Russian Denis Tsargush each claim one of the weight division's two bronze medals.

South Korea's Hwang Kyung-Seon defended her Beijing title, taking gold by beating out European champion Nur Tartar of Turkey in Women's 67kg Taekwondo. Hwang, having won the bronze in Athens 2004 and gold in Beijing 2008, now becomes the first woman to medal in taekwondo in three back to back Olympics. USA's Paige McPherson and Germany's Helena Fromm each won one of the two bronze medals.

And South Korea continues to rake in medals in a fast and furious game with Japan, taking the bronze medal in Men's soccer. It was a rough game from the start, with plenty of fouls given to both sides as the game went on and the players got physical. South Korea was very aggressive and took many chances to attack the Japanese defenders, scoring 2 goals to none. The Japanese try to bounce back with a goal, but it was disallowed because of a foul on Korea's goalkeeper during the play. Japan was never able to match South Korean momentum. South Korea now becomes only the second Asian nation to medal at the Olympics; the first, being Japan who won bronze at Mexico City 1968.

And finally, we come to the most beautiful and enchanting of all the Olympic sports: The sparkling, scintillating, sensational sport of Synchronized Swimming!

No other sport comes close to combining the challenging athleticism and unique artistry of the most beautiful sport in the Olympics. I'd like to see if Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte can swim in the pool upside down, holding their breaths underwater and kicking and scissoring those legs in intricate, synchronized patterns. I'd like to see Usain Bolt try to make expressive faces while he dances and bobs his way across the pool.

It's no surprise that for the fifth Olympics in a row, Russia has won gold, both in the duet and team event. And there's a reason why they are the world champions and Olympic champions. No comes close to being original and creative and exacting and the Russians when they give their performances. No one kicks higher or throws team members farther or more often than the Russians. They set the standard. All the other teams are fighting for silver and bronze.

China takes silver in the team event, and Spain follows close behind with the bronze.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Olympic day 13: Here comes the fighter!

9 Aug 2012 Thursday

Day 13 of the London Olympics was overflowing with so many great contests as athletes battled it out for glory. And the difference between the victor and the vanquished would come down not just to skill, but to the heart of the fighter.

In case you didn't know, this is the year of the woman at the Olympics. Not only is this the first time that every country participating sent women athletes, but many of the women here have overcome unbelievable odds and fought their way to the top.

Speaking of fighters, this is the first time ever that women's boxing is a part of the Olympics. There were 3 weight classes, and the women who medalled in them make history as the first in the Olympic debut of the sport. In the Flyweight (51kg) division, Great Britain's Nicola Adams became the first female boxer to win an Olympic gold medal. And she did it by finally beating out her rival, China's Ren Cancan, who became the 2012 and 2011 world champion by defeating Adams. Cancan gets silver, and one bronze goes to American Marlen Esparza, and the other to India's Mary Kom.

In the Lightweight (60kg) division, Katie Taylor wins Ireland's first gold medal of the London Olympics, by beating Sofya Ochigava of Russia who settles for silver. Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan takes one bronze, giving her country their first medal of the London Olympics; the other bronze went to Brazil's Adriana Araujo.

17 year old Claressa Shields of US has won the inaugural women's 75kg middleweight division. She becomes the second youngest boxer in history to win an Olympic title. The youngest would be fellow American John Fields when he won the featherweight title in Paris 1924, at 16 years old! Russia's Nadezda Torlopova takes silver. Jinzi Li of China claims one bronze; the other bronze went to Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan, adding another medal to the country's impressive medal haul.

History is made once again, as Japan's Saori Yoshida won a third successive Olympic gold in the women's 55kg freestyle wrestling. She accomplished this feat by beating Canadian Tonya Lynn Verbeek, which is the same thing that happened back in the Athens 2004 Olympics! Verbeek settles for silver once more. Colombia's Jackeline Renteria Castillo took one bronze, while Azerbaijan's Yuliya Ratkevich claimed the other.

Over at women's water polo, for the first time, the US wins the gold medal in the event, beating Spain and leaving them the silver. Australia takes bronze in a very close match with Hungary that had to go into extra time.

In diving, China's Chen Ruolin successfully defended her women's Beijing Olympics 10m platform diving title, taking the gold. Roulin has all ready won another gold in the synchronized diving event earlier in the games. Australian Brittany Broben takes silver, and Pandelela Rinong picked up bronze to secure Malaysia's first ever Olympic diving medal.

Over at track and field, Usain Bolt becomes the first man ever to win back to back Olympic sprint titles, after taking gold in the 200m race. He had all ready won the 100m earlier in the games. It was a clean Jamaican sweep, as his training partners Yohan Blake takes the silver and Warren Weir, the bronze. Bolt successfully defends his title as the fastest man in the world once more. Meanwhile, 23 year old David Rudisha of Kenya sets a new world record and wins gold in the 800m race in a time of 1:40.91. Botswana's 18 year old Nijel Amos claims silver, and 17 year old Timothy Kitum of Kenya takes bronze.

At the Decathlon, American Ashton Eaton takes the title of "World's Greatest Athlete" by winning gold. The title of World's Greatest Athlete came about in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, when American Jim Thorpe won the event, and King Gustav V of Sweden told Thorpe, "You, sir, are the world's greatest athlete." The decathlon takes place over 2 days, where the athletes compete in the following ten events: 100m race, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m race, 110m hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and the 1500m race. The winner is determined by a point system based on performance in the ten events.

It's a grueling sport, and athletes are known to withdraw during competition due to injuries. In fact, decathletes usually compete, even when they have injuries that they are still recovering from. Of all the sports in the Olympics, the decathlon is the most gentlemanly and courteous one, because the competitors themselves cheer each other on. They each know just how hard it is to train for the event, and they urge each other to do their best. I think that's the way games should be played. Eaton's friend and training partner, American Trey Hardee takes silver; and Cuba's Leonel Suarez claims bronze.

The track athlete with the most heart has to be American Manteo Mitchell, who broke his left leg during 4x400m relay qualifications. He was the first man in a team of 4 to start the 1600m race, and when he was at 200m, halfway to pass on the baton to his teammate, he heard a "POP" and knew that something was wrong, and then he felt increasing pain in his left leg. But he powered through the pain to pass the baton, and US team qualified for the final with the 2nd fastest time. After he had passed on the baton, Mitchell limped off field. Mitchell's sacrifice, his willingness to work through excruciating pain, ensured that the US team earned a spot in the finals. The US team are the defending Beijing champions, and they've always won the 4x400m relay every time they've competed in the event. Manteo Mitchell's courage and incredible will power to work through the pain showed what a big heart he has, putting the success of his teammates (and his country) first. If the Americans win the race once more, it will be because Mitchell made it possible. Manteo Mitchell is the greatest athlete of the day.

Perhaps the most exciting demonstrations of heart came in the beach volleyball matches. In the gold match, number one ranked Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego lose the first set to number four ranked Germans Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann 21-16; the Brazilians bounce back in the second set 21-16. It would go to set three to decide the gold medal winner. I admit, I did not like the Brazilian team, because they came off as snobby and I did not like how they cheated, and got a point! They were in a double contact violation, but they didn't fess up to it. I don't like cheaters. And so I was greatly pleased to see the underrated and hardworking Germans bounce back in the third set and beat Brazil 16-14! It was an exciting match to watch.

But my favorite beach volleyball match was the one where Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins of Latvia go up against Reinder Nummerdor and Rich Schuil of Netherlands for the bronze. I have been a fan of Latvian Martins Plavins since Beijing 2008, when he and his partner at the time, Aleksandrs Samoilovs, beat number one ranked US pair Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser in the pool phase at the Beijing Games in 2008. Though Rogers and Daulhausser recover and go on to win gold, that loss to the lowest ranked, unknown Latvian team remains ones of the biggest upsets in beach volleyball history. I love watching underdogs come out and win!

That stunning upset by Plavins and Samoilovs at Beijing made beach volleyball surge in popularity in the Baltic nation of Latvia. Though they stopped being partners after Beijing, Plavins and Samoilovs come back to these London Olympics with new partners and surprise the world by showing that Latvia is an emerging force in beach volleyball. Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins once again defeat the Americans. This time, it's Sean Rosenthal and Jake Gibb who were favorites to win a medal! The other American team of Rogers and Daulhausser were knocked out earlier. I could not help but cheer for these underdog Latvians to win, because they showed so much heart, giving it their all, being fearless when facing tougher, higher ranked teams. They are truly passionate about the sport and just fight with everything they've got.

And it was a thrilling game as they played the much older, more experienced Dutch team of Richard Schuil and Reinder Nummerdor. The Dutch took the first set 19-21. But the Latvians fought back 21-19. And they would continue to fight hard for every single point, until they won the third set 15-11, and winning the bronze medal! That bronze medal is Latvia's first ever beach volleyball medal. It is also Latvia's first medal at these London Olympics. Latvian President Andris Berzins even called to congratulate the pair on a hard fought win. I was happy to see these Latvians win, because they worked so hard for it, and they showed a lot of heart in all their matches. I hope to see them go on to bigger and better things and maybe see them in Rio 2016.

Finally, what a glorious return to the top for the US soccer team. After a World Cup loss to Japan last year, based on penalty kicks, they come back and overcome tough challenges, spectacularly Canada, to make the final and win a record, 4th Olympic gold for the US-Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012-plus a silver in Sydney 2000. It is a rewarding redemption for the Americans, who win this rematch of soccer titans. Speaking of titans, Canada won a hard fought match against France to take the bronze.

Hats off to Japan, who came back from a 2-0 US lead and cut it down to a close 2-1. The Japanese team showed excellent technique and possession forcing the US to catch up and change game plans. But the Japanese team just couldn't overcome the stronger, bigger American team in the end, especially after that early goal and strong defenders and some missed opportunities. Still, they put up an amazing effort, making the Americans work hard for that gold. There was some controversy last month, when the public discovered that on the way to London, the Japanese men's soccer team was flown business class, while the women were flown coach! The reason? Japanese soccer officials say that the men are professionals while the women are just semi-pro! What the hell does that mean?

These Japanese women are the World Cup champions! They fought hard to win that title in July 2011, giving hope and lifting the spirits of the Japanese people who had suffered that devastating tsunami in March 2011, the one that destroyed cities, leaving thousands homeless, and killed almost 16,000 people, with nearly 3,000 still reported missing. Families were torn apart, children were orphaned, and many more died waiting for relief in the aftermath of the deadliest disaster to ever hit Japan. Winning the World Cup against a much bigger, heavily favored US team gave the Japanese people hope and something to celebrate amid the horrifying destruction that they were still struggling to comprehend and recover from. The Japanese women donated all their bonuses to help with the tsunami recovery effort.

To hear the Japanese soccer officials treat these heroes as second class compared to the men's team, who've never won a World Cup title and were knocked out of medal contention, is an insult and a disgrace. When questioned by the by media why they treated the World Champion women's team like second class citizens, the Japanese soccer officials replied that they had put the women in premium economy class. What the hell is premium economy? It's still coach! Do they get an extra bag of peanuts? Perhaps a second blanket? What kind of bull crap is that? And you know what the sad part is? Even now, the Japanese Football Association still hasn't decided to give these heroic, silver medal winning, World Cup champions any business class seats for the return flight to Japan! The reason being that there might not be enough business class seats after they accommodate the men!

What a load of crap! Those shortsighted idiots need to recognize and respect the great, amazing accomplishments these women have made for their country. These humble, unknown women gave hope to their country in its darkest hours. They gave the devasted people something to celebrate, a reason to go on living and keep hope, a light in darkness that had ravaged their world. These women are more than champions. They are heroes. And they need to be treated right with the respect and recognition they deserve. Maybe it's a cultural thing, and maybe I'm out of line here, but my advice to the Japanese Football Association is to get your act together and do the right thing. Treat these ladies like the champions they are. And if they still can't find enough business class seats for these amazing women, then let me give some advice to the men's team: If you can't be a champion, you can at least be a gentleman and give up your damn seat to these lovely, wonderful ladies.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Olympic day 12: Indomitable

Aug 2012 Wednesday

History was made on day 12 of the London Olympics, as several athletes in the battle for gold, prove themselves to be titans among mortals.

It is a three-peat for Americans Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings who win their 3rd consecutive Olympic beach volleyball gold. When they won in Athens in 2004, they weren't really aware of what they had accomplished; they were young, having fun, and just excited to be a part of the Olympics. In Beijing 2008, older and wiser, they overcame a much tougher field to successfully defend their title. They retired after Beijing to start their families, having children and settling down. But a few years later, with the kids just a little bit older, they decided, over lunch, to put the team back together and try one more time. They come back from injuries and play catch up to the higher ranked teams and arrive in London in top form. They performed beautifully and won every match against the other strong teams. And by winning this 3rd Olympics gold, they become legends.

No other team has shown the same trust, respect, and communication that Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings have. And no other team has shown as much passion and joy in what they do the same way this iconic team has. They have elevated the sport of beach volleyball and made it globally popular. They leave the London Olympics as the greatest beach volleyball team ever! They leave as legends.

Fellow Americans Jennifer Kessy and April Ross deserve recognition, not just for winning silver, but for overcoming tough opponents, including top ranked Brazilians Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva, to reach the final match. The Brazilians claim the bronze.

The news in Men's Indoor Volleyball is not so good for the US. The defending Beijing American team was knocked out of medal contention by a stronger Italian team in sweep of 3 straight sets. The majority of this American team is made up of new, young, inexperienced players with a few veterans from the champion team left. But it's a good learning experience. And Italy will go to the semifinals to face Beijing silver medalists Brazil. Russia sweeps Poland and will advance to the semifinals to face Bulgaria.

Over in Women's 63kg Freestyle Wrestling, Japan's Kaori Icho becomes the first woman (and second person ever) to win 3 consecutive Olympic gold medals! The first person to win 3 consecutive Olympics golds is Alexander Karelin of Russia, considered the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler ever, who did it in Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, and Atlanta 1996. China's Jing Ruixue takes silver. The two bronzes are divided among Mongolia's Battsetseg Soronzonbold and Russia's Lyubov Volosova.

In the Women's 48kg Freestyle event, Hitomi Obara of Japan won the gold medal, rallying to beat Mariya Stadnyk of Azerbaijan to get her first Olympic medal. Stadnyk will settles for silver. Canada's Carol Huynh will take one of the bronzes, and Clarissa Chun takes the other bronze, giving the US its first wrestling medal of the games. It would be a redeeming bronze medal match for Chun, who fought off Ukrainian Irina Merleni, who beat Chun for bronze back in Beijing 2008. This time, Chun prevails.

Over at the track, American Allyson Felix finally wins a gold medal in the 200m race, after coming in silver in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. The three time world champion had been bested in two Olympics by her Jamaican rival, Veronica Campbell-Brown. This time, Felix easily beat out a field of the fastest women in the world to takes first place. Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won the 100m race earlier in the week, takes silver. Another American, Carmelita Jeter takes bronze. Veronica Campbell-Brown ends up in 4th, and London 2012's 400m champion, USA's Sanya Richards-Ross finished fifth.

In the 110m hurdles, American Aries Merritt surges to gold, while fellow teammate Jason Richardson takes silver. Jamaica's Hansle Parchment took bronze.

Meanwhile in the Women's 400m Hurdles, Russia's Natalya Antyukh beat current world champion Lashinda Demus of the USA to win Olympic gold. It was an thrilling race as Demus took the lead. But Antyukh caught up in the middle of the race, then took the lead towards the end. Demus settles for silver, while Zuzana Hejnova claimed bronze for the Czech Republic.

In the Women's Long Jump, American Brittney Reese takes the gold. Russia's Elena Sokolova won silver, while bronze went to American Janay Deloach. And it was a really close bronze win for Deloach, who held on to the podium by just 1cm! Deloach jumped a 6.89m and Latvia's Ineta Radevica would follow with a 6.88m!

It's been a great day for competition, and tomorrow promises more excitement!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympics day 11: Clash and Splash

7 Aug 2012 Tuesday

It was a thrilling Day 11 of the London Olympics as many top athletes battled it out for supremacy in the race for gold and a place on the podium

What a fantastic finish for the Brownlee brothers, who deliver a decisive 1, 3 punch in the Men's Triathlon, winning Great Britain gold and bronze. Spain's Javier Gomez put in a valiant effort to keep up with the brothers, to win silver. It was an aggressive race from the beginning as the Brownlee brothers took the lead right after swimming, attacking several times during the the cycling portion, repeatedly trying to break from the pack, forcing the other riders to try harder to keep up. And by the time they got to the running portion of event, older brother Alistair set a brutal pace that weeded down the pack to just the Browlee brothers and Javier Gomez. Younger brother Jonathan was the first to fall back towards the end. He also had to spend 15 seconds in the penalty box for getting on the bike too early during the transition from swimming to cycling. I don't get that. Isn't the whole idea of a race to do everything fast and get out as quickly as you can?

In the end, Gomez fall off the brutal pace, leaving Alistair the clear winner for gold. He was so far ahead in the race that by the time he reached the finish line, he grabbed a Union Jack flag on the way, stopped right before the finish line and turned around to see how far behind his next competitor was, then just walked across the finish line and collapsed, waiting for Gomez and younger brother Jonny to catch up. Gomez crosses next and also collapses next to Alistair, then crawls over to congratulate the winner. Jonny Brownlee crosses the line for bronze, hugs his brother, then collapses and required medical attention and a wheelchair! Truly, he had given it his all and won a place on the podium next to his superstar brother, Alistair, who had recovered from a serious Achilles injury at the beginning of the year and comes here to claim top prize for his country.

Over in Men's 66kg Greco-Roman wrestling, South Korea's Kim Hyeon-woo pulls off an upset and wins a surprise gold! The 24 year old has only been competing professionally for two years, and earned his spot by beating out the other heavy medal favorites. Beaten, bloodied, but not broken, he fought hard in his matches and overcame heavy odds to take the gold. Tamas Lorincz of Hungary gets silver. The defending Beijing 2008 champion, France's Steeve Guenot, was beaten by Kim in the quarter-finals, and ends up with one of the bronze medals. Manuchar Tskhadaia of Georgia gets the other bronze.

It's a golden day for the land Down Under. Sally Pearson of Australia upgrades a Beijing silver to a London gold! It was a dramatic race from the beginning in field loaded with the best, and it needed a foto finish to determine who had won. Pearson narrowly beats defending Beijing champion, American Dawn Harper, in the Women's 100m hurdles. Harper takes silver, and another American, Kellie Wells takes the bronze.

Australia's Anna Meares gets the Aussies another gold in Women's Track Cycling, beating out her long time rival, Britain's Victoria Pendleton. Meares was the stronger competitor who outraced Pendleton to the finish. Guo Shuang of China took bronze.

Exciting and controversial results in the Women's gymnastics balance beam and floor exercise event. First off, in the balance beam, China's Deng Linlin wins gold by beating fellow teammate and balance beam world champion Sui Lu, who gets the silver. But a controversy occurred in the fight for bronze. Romanian Catalina Ponor was at first, assured the bronze, until the American team asked for an inquiry, where it was determined that Raisman would get an increase in the difficulty element of her score. That meant Raisman now matched Ponor in points! And it would be a tie breaker rule, the same one that knocked Raisman out of a 3rd place tie in the all around event, would now knock Ponor out of the bronze! Aly Raisman of the US gets her bronze!

But the controversy continued on the floor exercise, where Catalina Ponor, the 2004 Athens floor champion who came out of retirement to compete, once again faces off against Aly Raisman, this time, for the top spot! Russian teenager Aliya Mustafina takes bronze. Aly Raisman went first and delivered an outstanding performance with a high difficulty element. And Catalina Ponor would follow with an equally stunning routine. And in the end, the judges gave Ponor deductions that the crowd disagreed with. Ponor would settle for silver. And though Raisman did execute an excellent routine, I can't help but wonder if Ponor was scored lower, because her routine was a bit more suggestive and flirty compared to the other gymnasts. The judges can be quite stuffy and well, judgmental at times.

To be honest, I thought Ponor should have scored higher. I'm surprised her team didn't file an inquiry. But Ponor leaves these games as a champion. She all ready won team gold in Athens 2004 and was the floor and beam gold medalist in those events, making her only the second woman in history-the first being fellow Romanian Daniela Silivas-to have won 3 gymnastics golds in one Olympics. She came out of retirement to help her Romanian team, and she has overcome injuries and heart surgery in 2011 to come here as one of the oldest gymnasts at 24 and be fearless and skilled in going against the much younger teen girls. She is the perfect example of why Romanian women have always won a medal at the Olympics. They are powerful and talented and fearless. Ponor is a champion and leaves these games with respect and admiration.

Over on the men's side, it was an amazing display of skill and power in the Men's High Bar event. It was the best night of gymnastics at these games ever! Every competitor brought their A game and gave the performance of a lifetime, dazzling the crowds as they soared to dangerous heights. Defending Beijing champion, China's Zou Kai, fresh from his winning gold in the floor event, is the first to set the high bar even higher! He executed a routine that put him way above the rest.

And he was followed by high bar rock star, Germany's Fabian Hambuchen who soared even higher with an amazing, difficult routine! Fabian was all but guaranteed the gold.

Until Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands rocketed to the heavens with 3 back to back releases and delivered the most difficult and extraordinary routine that placed him the pantheon of gymnastics gods!
Everyone knew that it was a gold medal performance and his rivals embraced and congratulated him, elated and stunned by Zonderland's epic performance. And with this gold medal win, Zonderland becomes the first Dutchman to win an Olympic gymnastics medal. It becomes Netherlands first Olympic medal since 1928, 84 years ago!

And the men continue to deliver amazing performances in the parallel bars event. Feng Zhe of China successfully defends his Beijing title, claiming the gold. It was a solid performance from the 2010 world champion in the event.

And Germany's newest and brightest star, Marcel Nguyen, fresh from his silver win in the all around competition, delivers another great performance that gets Germany another silver at these games.

But it was France's Hamilton Sabot who has the best win of the event, claiming bronze. Sabot qualified last in the event, with the lowest score compared to the rest. But he executed a strong performance that earned him an unexpected spot on the podium!

Over at the Men's 3m Springboard Dive, Russia's Ilya Zakharov demolished Chinese hopes for a sweep of the 8 diving events. It is devastating news for the Chinese who usually takes the top spots in this event; Qin Kai, a Beijing bronze medalist in the event, cried when he realized that the gold was now out of reach. 21 year old Ilya Zakharov's gold is the first for Russia in diving since 2000. His last two spectacular dives were the most difficult, earning him enough points to take lead and leave Qin Kai of China the silver. Defending Beijing champion He Chong fell to bronze; he held his head in disbelief when Zakharov executed his gold medal winning dive. Ilya Zakharov has all ready won silver in the 3m synchronized diving, behind the team of Qin Kai and He Chong.

The most exciting and fiercely fought events of the day all took place in women's volleyball, indoors and beach. It was a great day for volleyball.

First off, it is going to be an All American final in Women's Beach Volleyball. April Ross and Jennifer Kessy claimed a surprise win over number 1 ranked and reigning world champions Juliana Silva and Larissa Frana of Brazil. The Brazilians won the first set 15-21. But the Americans rallied back to win the second set 21-19. The Brazilians started falling apart, and they started yelling each other, creating tension and distraction that the Americans capitalized on. And when the rain started falling, the Americans used that to their advantage, having much more experience dealing with such weather. Ross and Kessy used their momentum to win the 3rd set 15-12 and earn a surprise spot to play for gold.

Meanwhile, defending two-time Olympic champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings beat China's Xue Chen and Zhang Xi. The Americans would come from behind in both sets to beat the Chinese 22-20 22-20.

The best and most closely contested matches took place indoors, where Brazil barely snatched victory when they went toe to toe with Russia in 5 exciting sets, 24-26, 25-22, 19-25, 25-22, 21-19. It was an even closer, thrilling match that saw Japan finally beat China after 5 Olympics in five sets 28-26 23-25 25-23 23-25 18-16. And it is South Korea who pulls off a stunning upset, beating out a heavily favored Italy, knocking the last European nation out of the semifinals. Korea's Yeon-Koung Kim is definitely the best volleyball player in these games, leading the underrated Korean team to a decisive victory.

And finally, we come to my favorite event of the games, the crown jewel of the Olympics, as far as I'm concerned, the only reason to have an Olympics: the most fabulous, most dazzling, and most scintillating sport of synchronized swimming!

In the battle of fierce facial gestures and dramatic body movement, Huang Xuechen and Liu Ou of China take bronze in the Women's Synchronized Swimming Duet. Spain's Ona Carbonell Ballestero and Andrea Fuentes Fache tango their way to silver. And once again, Russia's Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina, outshine the competition and take the top spot for a gold win. The team event takes place Thursday, and I can't wait to see all those wonderful facial expressions and all those legs scissoring in the air!