Derek Gentile: Olympic food for thought


PITTSFIELD — A few Olympic observations.

The American men and women basketball teams are traditionally accepted as the most dominating sides in the summer Olympics. This year that is not the case.

The United States women's gymnastic team is one of the most overpowering squads I've ever had the honor of watching. (That, by the way, is also the consensus of our crack sports department.)

Anyway, if you've been keeping track, they easily won the team gold. By eight points, which NBC commentator Tim Daggett compared to a 120-0 football victory. In fact, NBC was criticized for not showing a gymnast from the second-place Russian team who fell on the balance beam because it drained the event of drama.

All five of the U.S. athletes are superb, but I believe Simone Biles, their 19-year-old leader, to be the greatest gymnast in history. She is so athletic and explosive in all of her routines, it's difficult not to compare her favorably with previous champions.

She is the first female gymnast in the world, not just the U.S., to win three consecutive world all-around championships, as well as the three-time world floor champion and the two-time world balance beam champion. She has been as dominant in her sport as any athlete alive over a three-year span.

I have a soft spot for guys who fly under the U.S. radar but are successful in the Olympics. Such a guy is Darryl Homer from the Virgin Islands, who won a silver in fencing on Wednesday. In fencing, it's the first athlete to score 15 points, and no winning by two. Homer won his medal with a 15-14 score. I found out that Homer at one point was 9-1 in these one-point matches. Nice.

I agree with U.S. swimmer Lilly King's comments about doping. If you test positive, you can't be in the Olympics. She's been criticized in some corners for bad sportsmanship, but in swimming, athletes sometimes win by hundredths of a second. You can't blink your eye fast enough to match that. King is, as far as we know, clean. If I had been beaten by a tenth of a tenth of a second by someone who had tested positive — twice — for drugs? I'd be real ticked off.

A few months ago, a friend mentioned a book, "The Boys in the Boat" as worth reading. I sort of nodded and didn't think much of it. It didn't seem terribly interesting: The U.S. victory in rowing in the 1936 Olympics.

Then, the other night, I was tuning in to PBS and the documentary of the same name was on. It was pretty riveting. In particular, the story of one of the rowers, a guy named Joe Rantz was intense.

Rantz was literally abandoned by his family for his senior year of high school (he was walking home with his book bag when a car with his family and their belongings was pulling out of his driveway for parts unknown. That, my friends, is cold.) He finished high school, and eventually matriculated to the University of Washington and, of course, the Olympics.

But the whole story pulled me in. And I'm gonna get the book.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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