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The 15: Things To Watch During The Summer Olympics

July 15, 2016
Some people are just really into the Olympics.

Take, for example, PressBox editor-in-chief Kaitlyn Wilson. She's so into the Olympics that she's threatened death to any of us who may spoil results of events during the afternoon prior to when she intends to watch with Bob Costas that night. (Maybe she didn't say "death," but the intensity with which she said it made me think it was "death.")

For those of you who aren't like her, this month's version of "The 15" takes a look at things worth watching during the Olympics.

1. Let's get it out of the way -- Michael Phelps and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmers deserve your attention.

Maybe you lost a poker hand to the Towson High School alum one night at the casino. Maybe you got a little tired of seeing Phelps get golf tips from Hank Haney while you have to listen to advice from your brother-in-law. Whatever the reason is, there are some folks in the area who just seem to want to hate Michael Phelps. That said, the guy is still very much one of us -- he just happens to be the greatest Olympic athlete of all time, too. Maybe it's time to get over yourself and tip your cap a bit. The rest of us are really going to enjoy our final opportunity to watch one of Baltimore's greatest athletes compete. There will be plenty of other NBAC connections swimming for medals in Rio de Janeiro as well, including Harford County's own Chase Kalisz.

2. Phelps might have the most hype, but the aqua-letes are hardly the only ones representing Maryland in Rio.

The pool isn't the only place to find a local athlete in Brazil. Baltimore basketball stars Carmelo Anthony and Angel McCoughtry will likely win more golds; Carroll County wrestler Kyle Snyder could end up winning his first medal and fellow Carroll County native Katie Zaferes competes in triathlon -- just to name a few.

3. Look, stay with me on this one, but archery is actually kind of awesome to watch.

I have a responsibility to journalism, so I don't want to oversell my interest in archery. I couldn't name a single athlete. I haven't seen any of "The Hunger Games" movies or read any of the books. I've barely read any books at all. But I do know what makes great television. When you watch archery in the Olympics, there's tremendous drama. Silent, anxious moments in which the camera shows only the archer's nervous face as they set up their shot. Then, after the tension builds for what feels like an eternity, a "WHACK," followed by immediate result. If you've ever watched darts on TV (which is massive in England), it's a similar phenomenon, just with slightly less alcohol consumption from the competitors.

4. If you enjoyed Wimbledon, good news! The Olympic tennis tournament is basically just South American Wimbledon with more colorful costumes and fewer strawberries.

It's another event on the calendar for both the ATP and WTA Tours. In 2012, Roger Federer beat Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final, and then a couple of weeks later, Murray topped Federer for the gold medal at the Olympics. In fact, in Federer's incredible career, the only accomplishment missing is an Olympic singles gold (he actually won doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008, but I'm sure you already knew that).

5. On the flip side, so many golfers have dropped out of this year's Olympics, there's half a chance the gold medal winner might actually be the club pro at Clifton Park.

At least Dustin Johnson is going, so we'll know the name of one of the participants. Jason Day and Rory McIlroy aren't playing. Neither am I, for the record.

6. Johnny Weir: king of the bro-dogs.

I have no idea why former figure skaters Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski are going back to cover another Summer Olympics for NBC. What I do know is the moment Matt Lauer teases "coming up, we'll check in with Johnny and Tara," I think to myself, "I'm going to have to see what this dude is wearing before I change the channel." Then I'm hooked. The appeal of Weir and Lipinski makes no sense. They're lifestyle and fashion correspondents, which would make you think their involvement in the broadcast is merely for the pop culture fanatics who are watching the Games. But the truth is, their reach goes far beyond that. Somehow, Weir comes off as a guy you'd want to have a beer with, even if he would find any bar you'd possibly want to visit unthinkably tacky. He's seriously the best part of Olympic coverage.

7. Getting back to sports you didn't know you'd love watching, I give you handball.

When my middle school gym teacher Mr. Bradshaw told us we were going to play handball for a month, I was pretty certain he just invented some weird sport because it was too cold to go outside and Activity Room 2 was being remodeled. Turns out it was an actual thing. Who knew? Handball is incredible. It's like basketball impregnated soccer. I don't understand the rules at all. There's dribbling, but you don't appear to have to dribble. There's a 3-point arc, but I don't think there's a 3-point goal. It's called handball, but you use your hands just like you would in football. What a world.

8. There is no Olympic tradition more ripe for mockery than the concept of the sport of walking.

No, seriously. Walking is an Olympic sport. No American has won better than bronze in the event, perhaps because they had the decency to figure out that if you're walking particularly fast, you're probably doing something called "running." Could you even imagine the walking team's coach? "Let's go faster! No, that's too fast! Go sort of fast! Just fast enough to not get kicked out of the race!"

9. Did you take a gander at this year's ESPN The Magazine "Body Issue?" I have a feeling you might enjoy the beach volleyball event.

I mean, the volleyball is really good. But also, the men and women competing would all likely respond if you yelled out "Hey Adonis!" when you reached the beach. The women's uniforms are ... fashionable. Let's go with that.

10. You can impress your friends by slipping the word "velodrome" into conversation at the bar while you watch.

You could try something like "Hey, does anyone know if there's a velodrome in the area? I'm thinking about getting a bike," or you could say "Did you know that construction of the Rio velodrome was such a disaster that the building was only completed days before the Olympics began?" Either work, but only the second is true.

11. Someone is going to make a joke about Costas "bringing his own pillow this year." I'll bet it's Lauer. It'll be worth at least a half a chuckle.

Maybe a full chuckle, depending on the delivery. If Costas has a sense of humor, he has the NBC makeup team work in a little more red on night six just to make people nervous.

12. Great drinking game. During the Opening Ceremony, try to guess which country would be announced next in alphabetical order. Loudly ask "where the hell is Myanmar?" to everyone in the room.

Spoiler: Greece always goes first.
Second spoiler: They're introducing them in alphabetical order in Portuguese. Good luck.

13. Remember how much you enjoyed the Women's World Cup last year? They're pretty much going to do that again.

The U.S. team is actually a little bit different. Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday and Shannon Boxx all retired. Megan Rapinoe is hurt. Sydney Leroux is pregnant and unavailable. Otherwise, it's basically the same team that wrecked shop last summer. Time to do it again.

14. One more underappreciated sport on TV: table tennis.
The table tennis athletes in the Olympics are so good they look like aliens. They play 10 feet away from the table. If you played against one of them, you'd lose 21-0 in 90 seconds. It's incredible.

15. Mary Carillo is going to do a 20-minute feature on a Brazilian coal mining town with absolutely no connection whatsoever to the Olympics. You're going to be captivated anyway.

You're thinking to yourself, "You're supposed to be showing me some sort of sports right now," but you're not changing the channel.  

Issue 223: July 2016