Five-Ring Circus
A Blog About the Olympic Games

Aug. 20 2016 2:44 PM

Former NBC Analyst Dwight Stones Says NBC’s Track-and-Field Coverage Is a “Disgrace"

Dwight Stones spent decades covering the Olympics for NBC. A two-time Olympic high jump medalist, Stones’ specialty was the field events, and he brought his knowledge to bear in describing all manner of throwing-and-jumping-related disciplines. In an episode of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen, Stones told Josh Levin about his constant frustration with his NBC bosses, who did not listen to his pleas to give more airtime to the field events. He said, “Field is 50 percent of the name and 43 percent of the events. And for it to be ignored and belittled the way it has been at the network of the Olympics for the United States through 2032, is a disgrace and a disservice.”

Aug. 20 2016 1:43 PM

What’s the Worst Olympic Sport, Marathon Swimming or Water Polo?

The best Olympic sport is weightlifting. Everyone knows this.


The worst Olympic sport is … well, that’s a tougher question.


Over the course of the Rio Games, I’ve watched most of the sports on the Olympic program—sorry, taekwondo, I’ll get to you in 2020—so I am as qualified as anyone to resolve this conundrum. After much consideration and soul-searching, I’ve identified two events that bring up the rear of the Olympic parade. These sports are rough on both athletes and spectators. They are boring to watch and tedious to compete in. Which is the worst? Let’s weigh their relative demerits.

Aug. 20 2016 12:48 PM

Two U.S. Swimmers Say Rio Gas Station Fracas Was All Ryan Lochte’s Fault

Two U.S. swimmers have released statements that blame Ryan Lochte for instigating the fracas at a Rio de Janeiro gas station on Sunday morning, turning a verbal altercation into a potentially dangerous encounter. Gunnar Bentz gave his first public account of last week’s incident in a statement released Friday night in which he confirmed four swimmers were in a taxi back to the Olympic Village when they pulled over at around 6 a.m. to use the bathroom. “There was no restroom inside, so we foolishly relieved ourselves on the backside of the building behind some bushes,” Bentz said.

Aug. 19 2016 6:16 PM

Best Jobs at the Olympics: Horse

Nominee: Horse.

Where to find him: Olympic Equestrian Centre.

Job description: Jump over obstacles, be compliant, eat your weight in oats.

Why this might be the best job at the Olympics: You have a very important role. As a horse, you are the linchpin of the Olympic equestrian events. These events are entirely contingent upon your participation. Without you, a horse, Olympic equestrianism would consist of little humans in funny costumes scrambling across grass and dirt and jumping over small fences while an extremely odd version of “Smooth” plays in the background. Nobody would watch that. Actually, lots of people would watch that. But equestrianism would make even less sense than it does now, and it makes very little sense even with you, the horse, doing all the horse things you do so well.

Aug. 19 2016 4:55 PM

Fiji and North Korea Are Beating the U.S. at the Olympics (When You Adjust for GDP)

Ryan Lochte’s ongoing exercise in oafishness may have bruised our national reputation, but by most metrics American athletes are cleaning up at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. They dominate highly visible sports like swimming and gymnastics, and are leading the pack in both the total and gold medal count. Which makes sense: Richer, more gender-inclusive countries that better institutionalize Olympic sports through financial support and high-quality coaching tend to outperform their peers at the games. The Rio Games are no exception.

But raw numbers aren’t everything. The deck is far less stacked when medal count is measured against a country’s population and economic clout as measured by gross domestic product. By those measures at least, the U.S. isn’t the medal-vacuuming hegemon we thought it was. Inspired by a project titled “Medals Per Capita,” here’s what Slate found.

Aug. 19 2016 4:32 PM

Usain Bolt Wins Because He Decelerates More Slowly Than Other Sprinters? That’s Bunk.

There’s long been a maxim in sprinting that the best runners aren’t actually hitting the highest speeds, they’re just slowing down slower than the other runners. Every Olympics, major publications tell this story. For the most part, it isn’t true.

I’ve plotted velocity curves for many of Usain Bolt’s biggest races using data from the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body for track and field, and I’ve plotted his competitors as well. It is true that sprinters hit top speeds somewhere between 60 and 80 meters in the 100-meter dash and then start slowing down. But that has nothing to do with why Bolt wins.

Aug. 19 2016 2:39 PM

Which Olympic Athletes Are the Best Huggers?

If we have learned anything over the course of the Rio Games, it is that Olympians like to hug. They will hug each other on the occasion of a good performance or a bad one, when there is a break in the action and when they are on the “Hug Cam.” Hugging and overexertion—those are the seemingly opposite forces that come together to form the Olympic spirit. (At least, that’s what I wrote in my dissertation. I did not pass.)

If medals were awarded in hugging, which sport’s athletes would get the gold? Here is my best attempt to give that question a healthy squeeze. I’ve taken a selection of Olympic sports and ranked them from worst to first on Slate’s proprietary hugging scale, with special credit given to sports where athletes embrace their opponents, because cross-cultural hugging is what the games are all about.

Aug. 19 2016 12:51 PM

Ryan Lochte: From Sex Symbol to Oaf in One Olympiad Flat

If any member of Team USA was going to cause an international incident, it was always going to be Ryan Lochte. Stupid, stupid-hot Ryan Lochte.

Believe it or not, there was a time not so long ago when Lochte wasn’t a national laughingstock. In the lead-up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, a spoiled nation had grown tired of Michael Phelps’ historic medal grabs, and so Lochte stepped in to inherit his mantel. He appeared on the cover of Vogue that May, and in June, the New York Times anointed our new sea king with a fawning profile: “With his twinkling blue eyes, aquiline nose and dimpled smile, Mr. Lochte, 27, is being groomed to be a breakout Olympic superstar, with millions in corporate sponsorships to match his athletic accomplishments.”

Only four years later, we at Slate marked Lochte’s first appearance at the Rio de Janeiro games with the headline, “There He Is, Famed Olympics Oaf Ryan Lochte.” And this was before Lochte and his swimming buddies vandalized a gas station, then concocted a self-serving story about their taxi getting robbed at gunpoint. That’s quite the fall from grace—sex symbol to oaf (albeit oaf with superior ab definition) in just one Olympiad. What changed in the interim? All it took was getting to know Ryan Lochte.

The 2012 games weren’t Lochte’s first, by the way; he was already several medals in and a veteran of Beijing and Athens by the time London rolled around. At the time, his then–new, shorter haircut had refined his image, making him look a little more clean-cut, a little less aqua-stoner. He was ready for his close-up, or at least his sponsors were. In the aforementioned Times profile, one marketing exec is quoted as saying, “He has potential for winning golds, and then just the fact that he’s so damn good-looking. If he can’t beat Michael Phelps in anything else, he can beat him in that category.”

Yes, by all accounts, Lochte looked like he was poised to become our next national hero/crush. But then—well, then he opened his mouth, and out came an assortment of notable quotables, not to mention a $25,000 diamond-studded “grill.” The grill, the catchphrase (“Jeah!”), the sneaker collection, the affinity for rap music—he was that white guy who was obsessed with the flashy trappings of hip-hop while remaining blissfully ignorant of any of the attendant politics. He maintained an inane Twitter account, the perfect social media reflection of his total inability to respond to interview questions intelligently. The then-27-year-old still lived in his college town of Gainesville, Florida, and the media loved to ask him about his dating life, which, by his own mother’s admission, was littered with “one-night stands”—all the more grist for his overgrown frat-boy persona. But not the president of the frat or even an average member: the very, very simple-minded fellow who you thought only existed for the purpose of comic relief in movies. And yet we loved him still, didn’t we?

What made us sour on him? It had something to do with his determination to stay in the public eye after the Olympics had ended. He talked about wanting to release a fashion line and attended a few Fashion Week shows, but his career as a style mogul stops at having appeared in a Ralph Lauren ad (though this quote, about his ambitions in the children’s fashion space, is edifying: "I always see babies and the clothes that they wear and it's horrendous. … It's gonna be something that they see, they're like, 'Damn. My son would look cute in that! He's gonna be a straight-up pimp!' ").

Here’s how Lochte really lost us: that dang reality show. What Would Ryan Lochte Do? aired on E! and was canceled quickly, but the fallout remains. Kardashians and other reality stars are criticized all the time for having no talent. Lochte had a talent, swimming, and we’d seen him do it, but he failed the American public in an even worse way: He produced boring content. On the show, he mostly hung out with his family and partied with his boys. There isn’t too much in the way of clips available on YouTube, but if this one of him decorating cupcakes with his family is any indication (“When the Lochtes get together, it’s chaos,” he promises, as footage of him starting a fairly tame food fight with frosting plays), there was very little there there. “I tell you what, if I had kids, they’s be a lot better dressed than this,” he says to his family in the clip. What is it with this guy and trash-talking kids’ clothes in completely nonspecific ways?

For all the vapidity and fakeness of most reality television, at least these shows bring the drama. How dare this guy we’re obsessed with for two weeks every four years dare try to extend his fame beyond the pool, right? But mostly, how dare he make for such a banal reality-TV subject.

Maybe it’s that we only have enough room in our hearts for one swim heartthrob at a time. Just like our national infatuation with Gabby Douglas seemed to swiftly switch over to Simone Biles, Phelps’ redemption story seemed far more compelling than Lochte’s I'm-still-here-I-guess narrative at the Rio Olympics. Everyone’s disposable, and if you haven’t won more golds than any Olympian, like Phelps has, then what have you done for me lately? Then there was the new ‘do he debuted in Rio: The appearance of his platinum dye job atop his dome mimicked the light bulb going off above all ours: Oh, this idiot.

Ryan Lochte used to be known for being pretty but dumb, and while that wasn’t great, it's better than "entitled asshole." That’s all changed. You can say this for Lochte: He’s finally done something interesting. Now we know exactly what the former star of What Would Ryan Lochte Do? would do. And we don’t like it one bit.

Aug. 19 2016 11:56 AM

Ryan Lochte Apologizes Without Really Saying What He Did Wrong

Ryan Lochte apologized on Friday “for not being more careful and candid” in describing what he called a robbery and police have called a drunken confrontation with gas station security guards.

Here is that apology:

"We accept and appreciate his apology," said Mario Andrada, spokesman for the local organizers of the Rio Games.

Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, does not address how much and what elements of his story—that he and three fellow U.S. swimmers were robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro in the early hours of Sunday—he wasn't fully "candid" about. That story was picked apart by local police, who said on Thursday that there was a possibility that someone from the group could be prosecuted for false communication of a crime. Here is the entire ridiculous chain of events that led to the apology.

Essentially, Lochte and his friends got into a drunken incident at a Rio gas station, allegedly did some property damage, and security guards reportedly pointed weapons at them to keep them from leaving the scene before police arrived. The group then paid money to the gas station employees for the damage, according to the police. Lochte had said he had had a gun pointed to his forehead while he and his compatriots were robbed and had their wallets stolen.

Lochte’s lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, has said his client was telling the truth about the incident and it’s notable that Lochte does not confess to having misstated anything, which it’s now clear that he did.

“There was a uniformed person with a gun who forced them to hand over their money,” Ostrow told the New York Times, saying “primary elements” of Lochte’s story were corroborated by surveillance video at the gas station. The person or persons with the guns were security guards who civil police chief Fernando Veloso said did not use excessive force and would have been justified in showing the weapons because Lochte and his fellow swimmers "were conducting themselves in a violent way."

Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, two of the teammates involved in the incident, were allowed to leave Rio on Thursday night after having been removed from an airplane earlier in the week in order to be questioned by police. Lochte had already left Rio earlier in the week.

A lawyer for the fourth member of the group, James Feigen, said that the swimmer would be making a 35,000 Brazilian reals ($10,800) donation to an unnamed institution in order to avoid prosecution and to be allowed to leave the country, ESPN reported on Friday. That lawyer, Breno Melaragno, said that under Brazilian law a donation could be made to avoid criminal prosecution for minor offenses.

There’s no word if Lochte would be making any such donation, or what precise "valuable lessons" he has taken away from the experience.

Aug. 18 2016 11:23 PM

Usain Bolt Just Won Another Gold, but His Best Race in Rio Was a Semifinal

On Thursday night, the world’s fastest man slowed down. Usain Bolt won the 200-meter dash in Rio de Janeiro, as expected, sprinting far ahead of the field and winning his eighth Olympic gold medal. Objectively, it was a great performance. By the time Bolt got to the straightaway, he was so far ahead of everybody else that there could be no doubt about the eventual outcome. The only question was whether he could challenge the world record of 19.19 seconds he’d set in Berlin in 2009. Bolt strained down the backstretch, his face fixed into a grimace. He dipped at the line. When the time came on the scoreboard, it was … not that great. He didn’t break a world record. In fact, he didn’t come close.