Thanks to the magic of the live-streaming iPad app and my dad letting me use his cable login, I’ve managed to catch all the US women’s volleyball matches so far, and it’s been the most purely enjoyable part of this year’s Olympics for me. I watched the first match against South Korea on TV on Sunday, and the matches against Brazil and China in silence on my iPad at work (even if I’d turned up the volume, it would just have been the room noise; the majority of the streaming coverage is blessedly free of commentary.
Indoor volleyball, by the way, not beach volleyball. I don’t care about beach volleyball as much — not just because of the sniggering masculine narrative that tells me I’m supposed to lust over any woman showing a certain amount of tanned, toned skin, but also because I enjoy the coordination between multiple moving parts and the long, exciting rallies that the larger teams allow.
I’ve also liked these games because I like games where the outcome is in doubt. While the US has ultimately won every match so far, they’ve lost individual games, and I found myself rooting for both sides just to keep the pleasure of the game going for longer. The sheer dominance of Korea’s lead spiker Kim Yeon-Koung, the Brazilian team’s badass hard-femme attitude (thinking particularly of Fernanda Garay and Thaísa Menezes), and the Chinese team’s tenacity, driving the score into the thirties before the U.S. finally gained the two-point lead necessary to close their third game, were my favorite things about each game I watched; while I’ll get into what I’m loving about the US team later, I wanted to point out that I’m not enjoying the games primarily because of them, but because of the virtuosity of both sides; games where one team mops the floor with the other are unpleasant regardless of who I’m supposed to be rooting for.
I’m a poor sports fan in general — I enjoy watching games, but I don’t read up on players or follow leagues; I don’t even (usually) pay attention to how “my” teams are doing if I’m not actively watching their games. The immediacy of the sport as it’s being played is its own specific pleasure, and I don’t get that pleasure from box scores, recaps, highlights clips or even DVRed games. (I didn’t even watch the women’s gymnastics last night because the New York Times app had spoiled the results for me; that, and I can’t stand NBC’s loathesome primetime coverage.)
But I’m also a poor nationalist; blame an adolescence spent abroad, but I have little desire to root for any US athletes simply because they’re US athletes. I need more, which television producers and commentators are often very good at providing — underdog narratives, adversity risen above, humanizing touches, broken records, a great look*, the sort of prowess that can blow away even a casual viewer — or I will root for the team that has it. At this point, anyone going up against the US in women’s volleyball is an underdog (Brazil and China were closest-ranked going in), so I’m going in hoping for surprise challenges and upsets; close games are good games, and seeing a sport well-played is generally my only criteria for watching one.
Anyway. The U.S. team. Right now the emerging star of the games is opposite attacker Destinee Hooker of San Antonio, who’s been playing professionally for two years and whose first Olympics this is. She’s tall, of course (most Olympic-level players are over 6 foot), but she gets so much height in her jump, and is so precise with her hits, that her spikes are often devastating. She’s also gorgeous, which doesn’t hurt her media profile, but I’m more interested in how pleasurable it is to watch her move on the net: gracefulness may not be a necessary quality for an Olympic athlete, but it’s a nice bonus for the viewer.
The other main spiker for the team is middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo, of Florida (though she holds Canadian and Nigerian as well as U.S. citizenship), also at the Olympics for the first time, who jumps even higher and seems to spike just as often. (Hooker leads the team in spikes; but Kim Yeon-Koung leads the field.) Notable for the protective goggles she wears as the result of a traumatic eye injury, she’s probably my favorite player right now, if only because the TV cameras tend to ignore her in favor of (slightly) Hooker and (much more) her white teammates.
And yeah, NBC’s coverage is totally bullshit racist. These points have been made elsewhere, primarily about NBC ignoring Gabby Douglas in favor of the less accomplished (in these Games) Jordyn Wieber, but the cameras lingering on Logan Tom, Christa Harmotto, or Jordan Larson as Hooker and Akinradewo are providing the vast majority of the offensive scoring is disgusting. This isn’t to say that Tom, Harmotto, and Larson aren’t great athletes, as are team captain Lindsey Berg and hard-digging libero Nicole Davis, not to mention the rest of the bench; it’s an outstanding team, and my stanning for Hooker and Akiradewo may lead me to undervalue the rest of the team.
That was all, really. Just wanted to get out all the stuff I’ve been thinking about. I’ll probably be talking more about the Olympics in general later on. Forewarned is forearmed.
*The fabulousness of Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988 was undeniable, even to a sheltered evangelical kid.