The Olympics Sap-o-Meter
More tears, more moms, more dreams, and three new Sap-o-Meter records.
Updated Monday, Aug. 18, 2008, at 12:19 PM
It was all moms and tears over the weekend as Michael Phelps faced down history and NBC's Cris Collinsworth stared down a moist-eyed Alicia Sacramone. Remarkably, each night brought a new Sap-o-Meter record, cresting on Sunday with an unheard-of 64 Sap Points.
Phelps and his mother, Debbie, were front and center for much of Friday and Saturday night as the U.S. swimmer collected the last of his record eight gold medals. Aside from the usual standbys—dream and proud fared well, topped off by a pair of miracles—moms and mothers were mentioned 13 times Friday night. But the highlight of the night came when Mark Spitz—who until last weekend held the record for golds in an Olympics with seven—spoke with Phelps over a live feed from Detroit and described his own memories of Olympic glory: "It was the mystery, the magic, the wonder and innocence of never having done it before," Spitz said. "Those are the seeds of my creativity that developed in my story. Michael chose his own path, and I'm so happy I am here to see it." The final tally: a then-record 50 Sap Points.
But in these Olympics, records are made to be broken. Saturday saw a new hero emerge in hero, which tied its opening-day record with four appearances. Coverage of the women's marathon provided plenty of opportunity for schmaltz, peaking with commentator Ed Eyestone's tribute to Romanian champ Constantina Tomescu-Dita: "Think about the difference from 2004, Dita running in that incredibly hot race. … She had to start walking because of heat stroke. She showed the Olympic spirit and started running again and finished in 20th place. You can be sure that every workout since then, she's been thinking about this moment, and this sort of redemption." Saturday's count: 54 Sap Points.
On Sunday, it was back to moms, moms, and additional moms, with 18 mentions of motherhood on the day—more than enough to vault mom ahead of front-runner dream to become the sappiest word of the 2008 Olympics to date. Also of note: a record four mentions of tears, several relating to American gymnast Sacramone's waterworks. A bunch of heroes, hearts, and challenges pushed Sunday over the edge, setting a record of 64 Sap Points that will be hard to beat.
Sappiest Line of the Weekend: "Through the rear view mirror, sometimes it seems like a foregone conclusion. But when it's beginning, there's all the sacrifice and a single mom and driving to the practices and the meets and the sacrifices that are made."—NBC's Bob Costas, talking with Michael and Debbie Phelps. (Emphasis on sap words is ours.)
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at the Atlantic, where he oversees business coverage for TheAtlantic.com.
Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.
Illustration by Nina Frenkel. Interactive feature design by Matt Dodson.