Russakoff: The Letdown in London

by | July 30, 2012 at 8:02 PM | General, Olympics, Sports

By Lee Russakoff, Xfinity Sports Columnist

It was bound to happen. Lightning doesn’t strike the same spot twice.

In Beijing, everything broke right for Team USA. It started with Michael Phelps. Nastia Liukin and the women’s gymnastics team rode his wave and the rest of the Americans marched to an incredibly successful Olympics.

At least that was the narrative. That was the vibe you got watching.

This time, in London for the 2012 Games, it has started with a decidedly less groovy riff.

Ryan Lochte got his gold in the 400 IM, but let Team USA down in the 4×100 relay. He followed that up by missing the podium in the 200m free.

Phelps failed to even place in the 400 IM and has looked sluggish in many of his preliminary races.

Women’s gymnastics’ reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber was knocked out of the individual all-around competition by teammate Aly Raisman.

The men’s gymnastics team, after tantalizing us with a first-place finish in the qualifying rounds, fell off the horse (see what I did there?) in the team finals, tumbling (this stuff just flows, people) from first all the way to fifth.

Even U.S. team archery, after knocking off the best team in the world (South Korea) couldn’t catch a nock (OK, I’ll stop now. I promise.) in the gold medal match, losing to Italy on the final arrow.

Everything feels inches off here in London, and it’s only Day 3.

But then again … you look up at the medal standings and the U.S. sits at the top, tied with China. And track and field, a sport the U.S. typically dominates, doesn’t begin for another three days.

And while the gold medals aren’t raining down like they did in Beijing, there are success stories sprinkled in the first days of the thirtieth Olympiad.

For one, the “Missile” is living up to the hype. Missy Franklin needed her entire 6’1” frame, but she just did manage to out-touch Emily Seabohm (best Olympics name this side of Dong Dong) in the women’s 100m backstroke.

And all this just 14 minutes after qualifying for the 200m freestyle finals. Fourteen minutes. If I swam 200 meters – assuming I could make it 200 meters – you wouldn’t get me off my back for 14 minutes. Let alone get me on my feet, back on a starting block and into a sprint race.

Missy did it gloriously. Oh, and she broke an American record doing it, too.

And Missy isn’t the only U.S. athlete living up to the hype. Dana Vollmer set a world record to land her gold in the 100m butterfly, Kim Rhode struck gold by hitting 99 of 100 targets in skeet, Matt Grevers (perhaps fueled by his 4×100 exclusion) took first in the 100m back and U.S. diving has made waves (stop it already, Lee) by landing medals in both the men’s 10m and women’s 3m synchro.

So why does it feel like a letdown?

Because at some point the hype was going to become unattainable. And it feels like 2012 is that point. As the world struggles to dig out of the hole dug by Wall Street’s ever expanding forecasts, Team USA risks getting buried by its own media hype apparatus.

But the fundamentals of this team are strong. The future looks winnable. The medal podiums will continue.

And if they don’t … if we finally, after 20 years of medal count dominance, get caught by the Chinese … at least we can say we still make our own uniforms (starting in 2016).

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.