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Tuesday, August 19, 2008
What the heck happened to Olympic boxing?

By Tim Keown
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It's hard to know where to start. It's a sad time for all of us, and nobody thought this day would come so soon. Not that long ago, we all were enjoying Olympic boxing, thinking it was pretty cool. And now, we all are standing around this wooden box, wondering how it can be over.

Yampier Hernandez  and Paulo Carvalho
The object is to hit somebody, dude!
It doesn't seem fair, does it? He was such a good friend to us all.

Some of us are old enough to remember when Olympic boxing mattered. When it wasn't on channel 108 from 2 to 4 a.m. In fact -- and you youngsters are going to laugh when I say this -- there was a time when Olympic boxing was one of the marquee events of the Games.

In prime time, baby.

Bigger than beach volleyball and synchronized swimming combined. Of course, there wasn't such a thing as beach volleyball, or synchronized swimming, but that's beside the point.

Sugar Ray Leonard. Howard Davis. Davey Armstrong. Meldrick Taylor.

Even Big John Tate.

Oh, I promised myself I wouldn't do this.

I'll just make this short.

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It seems like just yesterday that we were gathered around the tube, watching Michael and Leon Spinks win gold in Montreal.

And now we're left to wonder how it could deteriorate to the point where a boxer can win a gold medal by hitting his opponent on the arm a few times, then running around the ring for the rest of the match.

Or how a referee can repeatedly give standing eight counts to fighters even though the punches that caused the standing eight counts weren't even scoring blows.

Oh, this is so hard.

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Like most hitters, he's better when he's ahead in the count: Something I learned from television -- Astros pitcher Brian Moehler is 0-for-26 on the year, but only 0-for-7 with a 1-0 count.

Something to think about the next time some creepy gymnastic wannabe starts with that "Oh, a little bobble can be a big deduction" smack: Something I learned from the Olympics -- you can end a vault by landing on your knees and beat someone who lands on her feet.

One other thing: Did you know timeouts in table tennis are a relatively recent development?

He Kexin
Yeah, she's 16 years old. Sure!
In my house, on the matter of the age of the Chinese female gymnasts, we go by one rule: If you've got gaps in your smile because you're still losing your baby teeth, you're not 16.

Call me a hopeless cynic, but oh well, here goes: When a teenage gymnast says of her father, "My goals are his goals, and his goals are my goals," isn't there a part of you that wonders whether it'll end well?

And, every four years, as if something might change: Too many people expend too much energy complaining about subjective sports being subjective.

After watching all or parts of the riveting games that saw U.S. opponents roll up an .042 batting average: I won't be one of the people missing Olympic softball.

While he's at it: Why doesn't Chad Johnson challenge Usain Bolt?

As Larry King might write: If I'm swimming a relay, give me Jason Lezak on the final leg.

The expected fallout from hiring hundreds of announcers to broadcast hundreds of sports over hundreds of hours: Guys who say "verse" for "versus" and -- may your second-grade phonics book rest in peace -- "swang" for "swung."

This must be why each of the Olympic announcers is a registered psychotherapist: How can a guy who's broadcasting an event being held in China from a studio in New York say, "It sure looks to me like the Brazilian is tightening up"?

It's enough to make you yearn for the days of Triplecasts and "plausibly live": The greatest thing about the Beijing Games -- besides having the name of a city with three straight dotted letters -- is going out of your way to avoid seeing results all day and then falling asleep long before the event you avoided is shown on TV.

However, fear not: If beach volleyball is your gig -- and no, I haven't met anyone, either -- you can't believe your luck.

Baseball is leaving the Olympics, but if it wasn't, the U.S. team for the 2012 Games would have consisted of eight 15-year-olds and the Toms River Little League team: When top Indians prospect Matt LaPorta (traded for CC Sabathia) went down after being beaned by a Chinese pitcher Monday, every major league team re-thought the idea of sending its top minor leaguers to Beijing.

And by the way, Mr. Chinese catcher man: You've got to understand something about baseball -- if you're going to ask your pitcher to drill a guy, don't give the sign and then set up directly behind the hitter so we can't even see you from the center-field camera, because that makes it really tough for your pitcher to claim it just got away.

Just for the heck of it: Teofilo Stevenson.

It was one of the names the producers for "Rocky and Bullwinkle" considered before settling on Natasha Fatale: Nastia Liukin.

It's enough to make you long for the days when Mary Lou Retton waited at least a month to announce her tour: During the gymnastics individual-event finals, a commercial aired touting an "All Stars of Gymnastics" arena show starring Shawn Johnson and Liukin.

Things that bother me but shouldn't: Why did it take the Geico caveman so long to see all the Geico signs at the tennis stadium?

It seems almost un-American to question anything regarding the overall world dominance of Michael Phelps, but something weird runs through my mind every time someone tells me Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time: I'm thinking Carl Lewis would have won a few more gold medals if track and field included the sideways 100 and 200, the backward 100 and 200, and the 100 and 200 individual medley (forward, sideways, backward).

I don't remember the circumstances, or even the sport, but: Hearing a breathless announcer scream, "Saved by Fu!" seemed funny at the time.

And finally, it might hurt for a while, but the degree of difficulty is off the charts: As proof that journalists are asked to work too hard and write too much when they cover the Olympics, the following sentence appeared in a major American newspaper -- "Gymnastics is the ultimate heart-wrencher, and nobody here has had her left and right ventricles perform reverse twists quite like Alicia Sacramone."

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.