The Sap-o-Meter Dabs Its Eyes as It Says Goodbye to Michael Phelps

Scenes from the Olympics.
Aug. 6 2012 1:50 PM

The London Olympics Sap-o-Meter

NBC dabs its eyes as it says goodbye to Michael Phelps. Plus: Kerri Strug makes a dramatic, sappy return.

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Big rivulets of sap continued to streak NBC’s primetime Olympics coverage all weekend, as Michael Phelps wrapped up his golden career and bilateral amputee Oscar Pistorius made his London Games debut. On Friday, Phelps won his third straight gold in the men’s 100-meter butterfly, leading NBC’s Dan Hicks to note that the swimming superstar has “had the magic of the Olympic gods here.” Out of the pool, proud parents watched their sons and daughters compete—some, like Matt Centrowitz Sr. and diving’s Giorgio Cagnotto, reliving their own Olympic glory days. Plus, the adoptive mom of shot put bronze medalist Reese Hoffa (his “good luck charm,” according to NBC’s Tom Hammond) showed up to give the Sap-o-Meter a boost, pushing the first tally of the weekend to 56 Sap Points.

The Sappiest Line of the Day, however, came from that reliable purveyor of sap, gymnastics. During a special segment on the Magnificent Seven—the 1996 women’s team champions—exuberant gymnastics-coach-for-life Bela Karolyi effused about perhaps the sappiest moment in modern Olympics history: Kerri Strug’s dramatic gold-winning vault, which she carried out despite an injured ankle. “This,” gushed Karolyi, “is a proof to me that everything on earth is possible. This is the living proof that every child, no matter if they're hurt or a little baby or a little mouse, she can come up with the greatest, most courageous performance of the time.”

The Sap-o-Meter witnessed history on Saturday, but not from an excess of gooey-sweet rhetoric. Rather, NBC’s coverage focused on the end of the Michael Phelps era, as the great champion graced the screen during his final Olympic event. Led by Phelps’ omnipresent mom Debbie, moms and mothers took the candied cake with six and five mentions respectively. But without any gymnastics on the bill, the Sap-o-Meter still slumped to the lowest total since the opening ceremony, a not-so-sweet 42 Sap Points.

Over at Olympic Stadium, the track and field events were also dotted by mothers, as Jamaican runner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce narrated the story of her Jamaican upbringing: “My mother, she knew being a young girl where I was very difficult because young men, they didn't give the young girls a chance to actually grow up.” In the end, however, all eyes remained on Phelps as he brought his total medal count to an amazing 22. In the Sappiest Line of the Day, NBC’s Rowdy Gaines got misty when thinking about Phelps’ last meeting with his longtime coach Bob Bowman. “Can you imagine what was going through those guys’ minds?” Gaines wondered. “The 16 years, this incredible bond, this journey … that they've had. It's pretty special.”

NBC’s weekend coverage wrapped up on Sunday with more dream-making and dream-breaking track and field events and the women’s gymnastics vault final. While Usain Bolt’s win in the 100 meters was more about shock and awe than sap, Sanya Richards-Ross’ gold in the women’s 400 got the Sap-o-Meter cooking. With her immediate and extended family in London to cheer her on, Richards-Ross’ comeback win after Beijing disappointment generated nine sap points alone, helping the Sap-O-Meter soar to an uber-saccharine 62 Sap Points.

Sunday’s Sappiest Line of the Day also came on the track, after South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius—a double amputee running in his first Olympic Games—failed to advance out of his heat in the men’s 400-meter semifinals. “His Olympic dream was to compete against able-bodied runners and realizing that dream, he’s been an inspiration to all of us,” NBC’s Tom Hammond declared. “And I’ll repeat that memorable phrase that he told me: Being disabled doesn't have to be a disadvantage.”

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the London Olympics.

Krystal Bonner is a Slate intern.

Natasha Geiling is a Slate intern.

Katy Waldman is Slate’s words correspondent. 

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