24 October 2011

Pan American Games 2011

Ballpark franks 
I remember passing many a childhood summer watching baseball with my father. Just the thought of Yankee Stadium still conjures up the smell of stadium hot dogs, a smell unlike any other hot dog smell in the world. I remember continuing to watch baseball on my own through the years, when Reggie "Mr. October" Jackson owned the game. I remember the dangerous excitement of being in Madison Square Garden in the '70s, back when the Knicks were the Knicks and counted Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Walt "Clyde" Frazier among their players. I remember the 1972 Olympics, when Mark "The Shark" Spitz picked up his gold medals. In that same Olympics I saw the amazing Olga "The Sparrow from Minsk" Korbut burst on the gymnastic scene, the first of the spectacular pre-teen gymnasts. And I couldn't help but wonder, Where do they come up with these nicknames?

It's no surprise to me that I now find myself sitting in front of the TV watching the Pan American Games being played in Guadalajara, Mexico. Many of my friends in the States probably don't even know the Pan Am Games are going on. Am I right? I'm thinking you're all caught up in your World Series baseball championship. Here, the Pan Am Games are the big sports news event of October. Right now Brazil is in second place behind the United States in total medals won, which is no surprise to anyone living here. The word "Brazil" is going to figure in any sentence that has the phrase "second only to the United States" in it. The list is long, so here are just a few: Brazil has the second largest number of airports and landing fields in the world, after the United States; Brazil is the world's second largest producer of ethanol fuel, after the United States; Brazil is the second largest consumer of cocaine in the world, after the United States; Brazil has the second largest fleet of business aircraft, after the United States; it's the second largest country on Twitter, after the United States; and it is the world's second largest swimming pool market after you know who. I read somewhere recently that Brazil is also the world's second largest market for Mont Blanc pens after the U.S., but I can't verify it. I don't doubt it, though.

One sporting event in which Brazil is definitely not "second only to the United States" is volleyball, a game I myself loved playing back in high school. I've been cheering on both the Brazilian girls' and the Brazilian boys' volleyball teams for nine years now, through all their national and international competitions. This past week at the Pan Am Games the girls' team passed, set, attacked, blocked and spiked their way to a spectacular gold medal victory against arch-rival Cuba (which got to the finals by beating the other team I root for, team USA). The Brazilians waltzed through the first set, 25 to 15. Then the Cubans woke up, remembered who they were, and the rest of the match was played point-by-point, until the Brazilians finally nailed it in a fifth set tiebreaker. I spent the weekend recovering my strength in time to cheer on the boys' team, which begins its preliminaries tonight. Here we go again!

Sheila slams another one
One more thing: I fervently hope US gymnast Shawn Johnson doesn't retire any time soon. I get such a kick out of listening to the Brazilian announcers try to pronounce her name. Comes out something like Zhawng Zhawnsawng.

Ah, the life of a sports fan!

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