Game Changer: Sarah Palin

Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin

I was at home sick yesterday and watched in astonishment as John McCain picked first-term Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate. I listened to her speech and I was impressed. I found Sarah Palin refreshing in the political world for her brashness, for her blue-collar roots, and for what she has accomplished in her short political career. As I was watching her speak, my mouth dropped repeatedly and I quickly came to the conclusion that Barack Obama would soon rue the day he did not pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate.

I am a lifelong Democrat and I am a Hillary Clinton supporter. But I was never as excited about Hillary's campaign as I am by what Sarah Palin represents. But I was quickly dismayed as the predictable talking heads and surrogates lined up to either denounce Sarah Palin or to extol her virtues depending on the network editorial philosophy or what side of the aisle the surrogate represented.

You see, I have been disgusted with our two-party system for some time. In the HBO mini-series John Adams, our nation's second President warned of the dangers of our new country dividing itself across a line of ideology created by a two-party system. Never has the United States been more divided. We're either residents of a red state or a blue state. We're either a liberal or right-wing zealot. We're either an atheist or a bastion of orthodoxy spouting fire and brimstone. We're either pro-life or against it. We're either a war monger or a pacifist.

Well it's not that f*cking black and white. It is possible to be a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. It's possible to be a fiscal liberal, a social liberal, and to be an isolationist. It's possilbe to be pro-Israel, pro-military, pro-choice, and pro-environment. And it's possible to change or evolve where we stand on the liberal-conservative continuum as we grow older and the balance of power in the world and the economy changes over time.

Our nation's polarization does not have to be this way. The truth of the matter is that life is complicated, and world issues continually force us to reexamine our choices and make decisions based on the context of the day. It is so easy for Barack Obama to say that he never supported the Iraq War. Well you know what? I never supported the Iraq War either, but as much as I have always disliked President Bush, in the days following 9/11 I was out for blood, I wanted retribution, and I was standing together with all my fellow Americans as one. Yes, we were a mob and yes, perhaps we acted too quickly without finding out all the information we could. Fine. But after New York and Pennsylvania and the Pentagon were punched in the face by that bully down the street, the rest of the American family wasn't going to stand for it and we were going to march over to that bully's house and kick his ass. That's what brothers and sisters do. That's what any member of the family will do when another family member is attacked. That we were lied to and manipulated by our President and his senior advisers is not our fault. It's his. And yes, we beat up the wrong bully. We have to live with that and ask for forgiveness and try to learn from our mistake. But it's really disingenuous on the part of Barack Obama to say he never voted for the Iraq War when he was not in the Senate and not in a position to vote for or against the war. Because if he were in the Senate on 9/11 and he didn't vote for the war, his electorate would have voted him out of office.

I believe that John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin is a "Hail Mary" pass. I believe that John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin is an attempt to reach out to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters. But I also believe that John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin is a daring and inspired choice made by someone who truly wants change and an end to business as usual in Washington.

Let's face it, John McCain, if elected, is a one-term President. There's a strong possibility that this two-time cancer survivor may become incapacitated while in office. Whoever John McCain picked as his running mate would have to be ready to take over the job as President of the United States with potentially little warning. John McCain knows this. So what does John McCain want for this country?

John McCain is a war hero. We all know that. No one can question his love for the United States, or his heroism--which I will admit is being used way too much by his campaign. Being a war hero does not qualify you for the highest office in the land. But what does he want for this country that he loves? Could it be that what John McCain wants is to end the lip service of bipartisanship by picking a running mate that broke down party lines in her own state, who fought corruption, who cleaned house so that government could stop wasting time and start taking care of the issues important to the people and to the nation?

There are many issues that Sarah Palin supports that scare me. I'll be the first to admit it. But there is so much more in this woman to admire that I'm excited about the chance to shake up our government and start dealing with issues rather than dealing with the same old result of politicians being politicians and securing their own reelections.

Here's what I know about Sarah Palin:
1. She took on and fought the good ole boy network in Alaska. She took down an incumbent governor of the same party in the primary, she got a corrupt attorney general fired. She got a corrupt US Senator out of office.

2. She reaches across both aisles and puts democrats and independents in high positions in her government.

3. She understands Energy Policy like no other in Washington as Alaska is an Energy State even bigger than Texas.

4. She does not cave to the oil interests in Alaska and taxed them at a greater rate so she could return $1200 in gas taxes per person to the people of Alaska.

5. Russia borders Alaska across the very narrow Bering Strait--it's only 53 miles wide. How ignorant of foreign policy can she be? In addition, her oldest son has enlisted in the army and will be deployed to Iraq.

6. She comes from a blue-collar family, the daughter of teachers, the wife of a fisherman and union member.

Some of the criticisms that have been thrown at her include:
1. She's not experienced, she was mayor of a town of 9,000 people, less than 1/20th the size of Obama's State Senate District. So? She's run a city, she's run a State for two years. She has more executive experience than Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and John McCain combined.

2. Alaska is inconsequential with less than a million inhabitants. So? Alaska makes up a land area 1/5 as large as the entire Lower 48. Governor Palin is responsible for all that takes place within that huge landmass's borders--earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, roads subject to huge extremes in temperature and upheaval due to the annual freezing and thawing of the permafrost layer, and cities and towns so inaccessible that they can only be reached by air. Not to mention a world-renowned tourism industry, and the governance of more National Parks Land than in all of the rest of the United States combined.

3. Sarah Palin is a staunch right-to-lifer, she would abolish Roe vs. Wade and ban abortion even in the case of rape and incest. Well, the Supreme Court would probably have something to say about that. Roe v. Wade is a landmark decision. Congress would not pass such a law, although certain legislators might try. BUT, knowing that her youngest child would have Down's syndrome, she and her husband brought that child into the world anyway. This is a woman with convictions she believes in and who will not sacrifice them to take the easy way out--if that is not the definition of leadership, I don't know what is.

What I want out of my elected leaders in Washington is simply to lead this nation. To address the issues of the day instead of hiding their heads in the sand. I want my leaders to be honorable men and women with strong morals, values--even if they differ from my own, and integrity. I want my elected leaders to listen, to care, to anticipate, and to be responsive. And I want them to be honest.

I think Sarah Palin has the potential to be the leader we have been craving for, and that's what has me so excited. I believe Sarah Palin, if elected to the office of Vice President, would be in a strong position to help end the partisan gridlock and corruption and ineffectiveness in Washington. I really believe that's what John McCain wants. He's been saying it for over a decade. Why wouldn't it be true? His selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate just reinforces that idea.

I don't know yet who I'm going to vote for. But I'm not going to vote against someone because of:
1) What the talking heads on television tell me to think.
2) Because my choice of candidate didn't win the nomination.
3) There are issues the candidate supports that I don't agree with.

First and foremost, I want change in Washington. I want an end to partisan bickering. I want an end to gridlock. I want our government focused on what it needs to do to take care of the issues mentioned in the preamble of our constitution:
We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.
And that's for all Americans--the poor, the middle class, and the rich. Because at the end of the day, we are all in this nation together. For those of us who are still striving to make our version of the American Dream a reality we want a government that will support us and help us. And for those of us who have made our version of the American Dream a reality, we don't want our government involved in taking any part of it away.

John McCain and Sarah Palin might very well be the no-nonsense ticket we've all been waiting for to shake up Washington at last.

Thanks for reading.

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The Current Within Us

Now that the Olympics are over, I find my thoughts and focus meandering back to river journeys and tales of adventure, especially now that "Gauley Season" is about to begin. While I have no doubt that the U.S. Presidential Election will be front and center for most of the fall, at least until the end of October the river will be foremost on my mind. The following is a Guest Post from my good friend and fellow blogger Ken Armstrong of Ken Armstrong Writing Stuff.


I approached Ken about two weeks ago asking if he would be willing to write a guest post for my blog. What Ken has written has blown me away with not only his kindness and his unique and clever turns of phrase, but also by his uncanny ability to read my mind and think similar things at the same time.

There have been multiple occasions when Ken and I have been thinking the same things at the same time, and once we were even reading each other's blog posts and commenting on each other's posts at the very same instant about the joint posts we had just written on our own blogs.

I consider Ken to be a kindred spirit, and if you enjoy my writing, I know you will enjoy this post from Ken. Without any further ado, here is Ken's post:

The Current Within Us by Ken Armstrong
I like Matt’s Blog a lot.

(This is Matt’s Blog, in case you’re disorientated)

I asked myself, “Why is That? Why do I like Matt’s Blog?”

I answered myself, “Because Matt and I have quite a few things in common.”

My wife replied, “Are you gonna be in there all night? There’s people out here waiting you know.”

So here’s three things Matt and I may have in common. Two of them are moderately interesting, one is just wrong and one is meant to be a bit deep and insightful.

You can judge.

1) We are both positive people
Check this Blog, it’s full to the banks with enthusiasm, fun, lust for life, discussion and general positivity. Matt does ‘+’, really well. I like to think of myself as being generally pretty positive too. In that age-old debate, I frequently find the glass to be three-quarters full. This doesn’t mean that Matt won’t disagree, argue or persuasively put forth his point of view when the need arises. It also doesn’t mean he won’t stand up for wrong doing and injustice when he sees it.

(Note to self: You’re making him sound like bloody Batman now, calm down, eh?).

So, we’re positive, yeah.

(How do you do that reverse ‘B’ anyway? I’ve just lost five minutes of my life on that.)
(Note: Like this Ken.)

Matt and I have ABBA in common.

See, this is just ‘wrong’. Matt adores ABBA, that’s a given. But I don’t. Nah-hah. I think they’re good. They’ve been around in my life since that Eurovision thing. I have ABBA Gold on CD. I’ve seen ‘Chess’. But I don’t love them in any way, shape, or form like Matt does.

Yet ABBA is part of the glue which binds us together… is it just me or does that sound a bit off?

It all started many moons ago when I boasted on my own blog that I was good at recalling lyrics (I am… just deal with it). Matt tested me with some obscure ABBA lyrics and I delivered the goods. ‘Trouble is, as a result of that exchange, Matt seems to have mistaken me for a like-minded ABBA devotee. I'm not, I love Tom Waits like Matt loves ABBA.

So why is ABBA the second thing we have in common? Just because it is. It’s wacky but it’s true and I like that, I really do.

3) The River
I could be wrong about this but I think Matt and I have ‘The River’ in common.

‘The River’ has always been an important part of my life and, from reading Matt’s blog, I think it’s clear that it’s an important part of his too.

I grew up beside the river. It wasn’t a wild untamed river like Matt’s, in fact it was wide and slow. The river defined our lives in a very real sense. We marked the passing of the seasons as the salmon came and went, as the eels ran, as the mayfly spawned, as the swans reared their young. I would take a boat after school and paddle up into the river and sit in among the rushes, pulling out lively little Perch, stalking legendary monstrous Pike. I saw lives taken by the river, lives given to the river.

And then I left it behind.

So, finally then, here’s one little difference between us.

Matt has settled by the river which is so important to him, the river which runs like a metaphor for his very life-blood. He keeps his river close to him and he embraces it.

Whereas I left my own river behind me a long time ago. It may still run in my veins but I will never get back to it. I may never really see it again...

Thanks for letting me Blog over here Dude. It’s been wet but I reckon that I’ll dry out in time, I usually do.

A music video Ken has included with this post that he encourages you to watch and listen to.


No, thank you Ken!

If you're still reading, you've probably learned something about me and something about Ken. Not only is Ken an awesome writer, he's a really great guy. And he's got an awesome sense of humor as well, somewhat dark and sarcastic like my own, even though we are both pretty positive individuals. It's for these reasons, but mostly for reasons that are evident in Ken's writing, that Ken is the latest recipient of the rare "MTMD Blog Award of Excellence."


Congratulations Mate! I can't think of anyone more deserving.

Ken Armstrong in shock that he has received yet another award.

If you haven't visited and read Ken's Blog yet, what are you waiting for?

Thanks for reading.

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Vote For Me

Thanks for reading and thanks for your support!

Almost Wordless Wednesday: A Look Back at the Beijing Olympics

The Olympic Torch is Lit by Li Ning

Sasha Artemov Securing the Team Bronze Medal in Gymnastics for the U.S.

Chinese Diving Perfection

The Men's 400 IM Relay. Eric Lezak Turned in the Fastest 100M Freestyle Split in History to Edge France for the Gold Medal.

Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson Make History by Going 1-2 in the Women's All Around Competition.

At the Age of 41, the Incomparable Dara Torres Wins Silver in the 50M Freestyle, Just 1/100 of a Second Behind the Gold Medal Winner.

Earning More Gold Medals Than All But the Countries at the Very Top of the Medal Leader Board, Michael Phelps Was a One Man Media Circus.

Awesome Underwater Photography at the Water Cube.

The Chinese Gymnast Age Scandal that We Will Be Hearing About for Years.

Rogers and Dalhauser Come Back from their First Match Loss to Latvia to Win Gold in Beach Volleyball.

U.S. Men Win Gold in 4x100 Meter Relay in Track and Field.

U.S. Women Win Gold in 4x100 Meter Relay in Track and Field.

Synchronized Swimming or Some New Hollywood Alien Creation?

Men's Marathoners in the Mist

Women's Soccer Gold Medalist Hope Solo at the Closing Ceremonies

Next Up: Vancouver in February of 2010

And then on to London in 2012

Artist Rendition of the London Olympic Stadium Waiting for Construction to Begin

Farewell Beijing!

Thanks for reading.

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Congratulations to the MTMD Page Rank Olympics Medalists!


In the end, the contest to win the Gold Medal and the $100 Cash Prize that goes along with it was fierce between Blessings and Beyond and BiznHoney, but in the final days of the Page Rank Olympics, Blessings and Beyond pulled ahead and never looked back. The blog increased its technorati ranking +83 since the start of the games just 16 days ago. BiznHoney was a close second and earned the Silver Medal by increasing its technorati ranking +71. Winning bronze with the third highest technorati increase was Sherry Rambling with an increase of +6.

Blessings and Beyond is a Christian-themed Mommy blog, but the content is eclectic and ranges from inspirational verse and Readers Digest-styled stories to tutorials on web hosting and really cool scenic photography. This blog is not preachy by any means, and if you are need of a pick-me-up, I strongly recommend you visit this blog. It's appeal is universal, which undoubtedly contributed to it's strong Gold Medal Win!

BiznHoney adopted the credo of the Page Rank Olympics in a recent post, so it's no wonder that this blog gave Blessings and Beyond stiff competition in its run for the Gold. The site explains its name this way: Biz = Business; Biz-N-Honey (Bees and Honey) = Slang for MONEY. Biz-N-Honey will serve as your resources and guide in earning money. Here you will find all kinds of ways to make money, whether it is online or not. With Biz-N-Honey, you will be able to find ways to make money via affiliate marketing, ppc marketing, blogging, adsense, ebay, paid surveys, franchising and many more! If this blog's effectiveness in making money is anything like its effectiveness in increasing its Technorati Authority, I strongly recommend you consider checking out this blog for some practical advice. Along with the Silver Medal, BiznHoney wins a $50 cash prize.

Winning the Bronze Medal and a $25 cash prize, and just edging out two other outstanding bloggers is Sherry Rambling. Sherry Rambling is a personal blog in which the blogger shares her thoughts, ramblings and things that interests her. The content is completely random, but usually revolves around some aspect of blogging and you can find some helpful tidbits to improve your own blog here from time to time.


Complete Results of the MTMD Page Rank Olympics Follow Below:

1) Blessings and Beyond:
Beginning PR 0, TA 252; Ending PR O, TA 335; Net Increase +83

2) BiznHoney:
Beginning PR 0, TA 0; Ending PR O, TA 71; Net Increase +71

3) Sherry Rambling:
Beginning PR 2, TA 218; Ending PR 2, TA 224; Net Increase +6

4) Cindi @ Moomettesgram's Musings:
Beginning PR 3, TA 80; Ending PR 3, TA 84; Net Increase +4

4) Prodinterios:
Beginning PR 0, TA 15; Ending PR O, TA 19; Net Increase +4

6) Mommy and Me Boutique:
Beginning PR 3, TA 116; Ending PR 3, TA 119; Net Increase +3

6) Scotty's Princess:
Beginning PR 0, TA 259; Ending PR O, TA 262; Net Increase +3

8) Lucky Girl:
Beginning PR 3, TA 194; Ending PR 3, TA 196; Net Increase +2

9) The Clamor of Kalinga:
Beginning PR 2, TA 42; Ending PR 4, TA 43; Net Increase +1

10) Tasha's Take:
Beginning PR 0, TA 17; Ending PR O, TA 17; Net Increase 0

10) The Way I See This:
Beginning PR 0, TA 26; Ending PR O, TA N/A; Net Increase 0

10) The Weblog Learner:
Beginning PR 0, TA 46; Ending PR O, TA 46; Net Increase 0

10) Travelista:
Beginning PR 0, TA N/A; Ending PR O, TA N/A; Net Increase 0

Olympic Lessons

The Olympic Rings Lighting Up the Sky--Can They Be a Beacon of Hope?

Sixteen days ago I, much as the rest of the world, was blown away by the spectacle of the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. I was so impressed I wrote a post entitled Olympic Hope believing that the pageantry and the slogan of One World, One Dream really meant that China was ready to move into the future as a leading world citizen. However, one man's dream may very well be another man's nightmare.

President Bush, interviewed by Bob Costas during the Olympic Games made the statement that the United States still has differences with China and that part of the reason he was in China was to show the Chinese respect. President Bush warned that all future U.S. Presidents needed to understand that we need to work with China and not to make demands on them. At the same time, President Bush indicated that there was nothing wrong in the United States at the present time, with our economy or otherwise.

I'm very concerned by these statements and I find them shocking. It is very clear that China is flexing the muscle of 1/5 of the world's population and of an economic giant. While I find myself agreeing with President Bush that all nations of the world must respect China as they must respect any nation, and that there are a great many areas that the U.S. is in agreement with China and that there are a great many areas in which we continue to disagree and that it's important to maintain relations so that we can work on the areas in which we disagree; what worries me is the apparent weakness and deference that President Bush is showing to China. The United States is a world leader. Our country is not subservient to any other. While the United States is no better than any other nation and in a lot of ways we are far worse as we trample on other sovereign nation's rights and engineer coups, the U.S. must not allow itself to become subservient to China. All nations should respect each other and deal with each other honestly and openly as equals in the world. All nations are proud and have unique cultures and history that deserve to be treated with respect and treated honestly and openly and fairly. But because the United States respects China and wants to negotiate with them in areas in which the two countries disagree, the United States must remain firm in upholding basic principles in which all nations agree--most importantly, that of honesty, and fairness and in human rights.

Beijing Closing Ceremony Fireworks

What has become clear during the 16 days of the Beijing Olympiad is this:

1) China will suppress all speech and apparent freedoms that do not agree with the official government position. During these Olympic games, while China had set up official areas far removed from the action of the Olympic Games for planned protests, all protesters had to apply by submitting a form for a permit in advance. Not a single permit for a protest was approved. Further, Joey Cheek's visa to attend the games was denied because he was involved in protesting China's role in Darfur. Further, they even went out of their way to suppress Chinese bloggers who wanted to report on the games. I strongly recommend you visit Globally Rational to read about this incident and to be just a little bit inspired over what the real potential of the blogosphere really is.

2) China will endorse cheating to manipulate Olympic results. The Age Scandal of the Chinese Olympic Gymnastic Team will be Sports News for the next decade. A former member of the Chinese Olympic Team admitted she was only fourteen when she competed in the 2000 Games in Sydney. And the implications of this are frightening. If China will manipulate birth certificates and passports just to make an athlete eligible for competition, what else will the government lie about intentionally? And how will any nation, let alone the United States, be able to trust China and work out issues of major world importance knowing that we are probably being lied to?

3) Most inspiring and frightening of all, China is capable of doing anything it sets its mind to. The Beijing Olympics were a beautiful event. The Chinese Government did everything in its power to ensure this. They dictated English would be taught. They stopped industrial operations to clear the polluted air. They built amazingly beautiful and functional venues for these games that have been hailed as landmarks in architecture. They convinced their population that it was their duty to present a positive face to the world, and they pulled off the greatest live human spectacle in history in the form of the opening ceremonies. What else can China achieve if they set their collective mind to it? A lunar landing? No doubt. Great science and environmentalism? If they want to. Control of all Asia both economically and militarily? It seems as if such a thing is within China's grasp.

See You In London in 2012, and Vancouver in 2010

I still believe that the Beijing Olympic Games represents hope for China's participation in world politics in an adult and civilized manner and I welcome that participation. The Olympic Movement is precious in that every Olympiad when all the nations of the world come together, all the issues of the world can be examined and discussed in productive ways while we gather in the celebration of sport. There are so many important issues that face us for the short term and long term survival of our world civilization and our survival as a species. China has a stake in this just like all nations and all humans have a stake in our collective existence and coexistence. But coming together as "One World, with One Dream" will not be a completely smooth or simple process. Again, I actually agree with President Bush that we must respect China and work with them--celebrating what we agree, while making progress in the areas that we disagree. And I think it's incumbent on us to stand firm on these positions. If we do not, we will lose not only our hope for a better world which China has given us a glimpse of with these spectacular Olympic Games, but we will lose hope in our own leaders to preserve the values of our own nation with which we hold most dear.

Thanks for reading.

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The Greatest Olympian of All Time?

Eight Gold Medals, Michael Phelps on the Cover of SI the second week in a row. The greatest swimmer/athlete of all time?

Throughout the Beijing Olympic Games, which I have watched as if they were a physical addiction, I have been struck by the superlatives being thrown around by the news and broadcasting media to describe virtually every Olympic moment.

Like most viewers, I was aware of Michael Phelps' quest to become the most award-winning Olympian of all time by breaking Mark Spitz's 36 year record of winning seven gold medals in a single Olympiad. Like most viewers, I watched every swimming event pretty much awestruck as Michael Phelps'--individually or as part of a team--set new World and/or Olympic Records in every event as he won eight gold medals. By any standard, what Michael Phelps has done is an amazing feat. By any standard, Micheal Phelps is an amazing athlete. By any standard, Michael Phelps said all the right things during and after his Olympic performances.

But as Michael Phelps has been "proclaimed" the greatest Olympian and athlete of all time, I can't say that I have really bought into such a superlative. I don't believe the feat of winning eight gold medals in a single Olympiad will be equalled again in my lifetime. But I'm not so quick to bestow superlatives while caught up in the emotions and afterglow of an incredible triumph. Especially since the superlatives being tossed out to Michael Phelps like darts to a dart board are not the only ones being tossed around in Beijing.

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh--The greatest beach volleyball team of all time?

The other night, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh became the "greatest beach volleyball team of all time." They are the first and only beach volleyball team to repeat as Olympic Gold Medalists. Not even the great Karch Karalyi accomplished back to back golds in beach volleyball. There is no question that May and Walsh have dominated beach volleyball for the last six years. But beach volleyball has a very short history when compared with swimming. So when throwing out labels, how do you evaluate one historic accomplishment in terms of another historic accomplishment in two or more radically different sports? With different rules and judging schemes or mechanisms?

Nastia Liukin: The Greatest Gymnast of All Time?

Nastia Liukin, the winner of the All Around Gold Medal in Women's Gymnastics has been just as dominant in gymnastics as Michael Phelps has been in swimming over the last four years or so. Granted, competitive lifetimes in gymnastics are far shorter than they are in swimming, but gymnastics is also far more punishing on the body. Nastia won five medals in these Olympic Games. Like Phelps, individually and as part of a team. She competes in four different events: Floor Exercises, Balance Beam, Uneven Parallel Bars and Vault. Phelps has to master four strokes: Freestyle, Butterfly, Breast Stroke and Back Stroke. And that bronze medal and two of those silvers around Nastia's neck in the photo may be upgraded to silver and gold respectively depending on how a new Olympic controversy is resolved.

Notwithstanding the controversy under review as this post is being written, Nastia is at the top of her sport the way Michael is at the top of his. Nastia Liukin is the All Around Champion. She won five medals, edging out her team mate Shawn Johnson who won four. But that's really the most medals a female gymnast can win in an Olympic Games. Nastia Liukin can't choose to compete in a relay or some other gymnastic event that does not exist. Only in swimming can an athlete--male or female--have an opportunity to compete in seven or eight or more events.

And unlike swimming, the rules of gymnastics are much more complex. Michael Phelps has it easy. All he needs to do is jump in the pool and reach the finish line first. Not so for Nastia Liukin. In addition to doing the most difficult gymnastic skills on the books, she has to do them perfectly, without breaking form, with amplitude, with toes pointed, with grace and beauty--all of which are subjective criteria decided upon almost subjectively by a panel of judges. If Nastia Liukin fails to point her toes, she could lose a placement, and a gold medal, by the slim margin of only five/thousandths of a point. If Michael Phelps gets sloppy in his strokes he does not receive a time penalty by the swimming officials. His technique can be perfect or poor, just so long as he reaches the touchpad at the end of his race first. So how do you compare accomplishments in swimming versus those in gymnastics? Especially if what should be a level playing field is manipulated?

The Greatest Olympic Controversy of All Time

The rules for Olympic Gymnastic Competition are quite clear. All competitors have to be at least sixteen years old the year of the Olympic Games. For a long time now, the Chinese women have been scrutinized by the media, and finally the International Olympic Committee has launched an inquiry into the age of several of the Chinese Gymnasts who competed and won Gold at the Beijing Olympic Games. Just looking at the girls who have competed for China raises an eyebrow or two. It's readily apparent that some of the girls competing for China look fourteen or younger, and documents that are surfacing now seem to raise this as an issue.

The reason why this is a controversy in women's gymnastics is because younger gymnasts are smaller and it's easier for them to fly through the air and to do tricks than an older gymnast whose body has gone through puberty and changed. Having a 14 year-old gymnast compete with a 16 year-old gymnast alters the playing field and favors the 14 year-old in terms of the difficulty of the routines that can be accomplished. An age scandal in an Olympic event is just as serious as a judging scandal and this inquiry threatens to cast a pall over the Beijing Games the same way the French Judge Scandal cast a pall over the Salt Lake City Games in Figure Skating.

But when you get past the issues of rule enforcement and judging scandals and biases, how do you compare a gymnastic performance with its art and beauty and difficulty versus a performance in swimming which really involves just reaching the finish line first? I don't think it's possible. If there's ever been a case of apples versus oranges, this is it. And what about those athletes who compete in multiple disciplines?

Sheila Taormina--The Greatest Olympian You've Never Heard of?

Yes, Michael Phelps has had to master four swimming strokes to perform at the level that he has reached. But for the first time, there is an Olympian that is competing in the Olympics in three different events. Sheila Taormina is the very first Olympic Athlete to compete in three different events in three different Olympiads. In Beijing she is competing in the Modern Pentathalon--which itself is five different disciplines, and in previous Olympic Games she has won Gold in the 4x200 relay in Track and Field in Athens and she competed in the Triathlon in Sydney. How do you compare someone who excels in so many disciplines and events to Michael Phelps? No, Sheila Taormina hasn't won gold in all the events she's participated in, but they are all so different. It's amazing that she has become so good at so many of them that she can represent the United States in different events in the three Olympic Games she has sought to make the team.

Brian Clay: The Greatest Olympian and Athlete of All Time?

And then you have the Decathlon--long considered the premier event of the Summer Games, where Olympians compete not only in ten very different events, not only against the best decathletes in the world, but also against oneself. Yes, Michael Phelps competes against himself every time he tries to race faster and to achieve a new record. But the way scoring works in the Decathlon is that points are awarded for each of the ten events partly based on how much a competitor's results exceed or fail to meet the competitor's previous personal best. Because of this, a decathlete can rapidly improve and achieve success early in his career; but the longer he competes in this event, the harder it becomes to continually improve and to remain on top of the sport. That is why Bruce Jenner's Gold Medal in the 1976 Olympic Games and Brian Clay's Gold Medal today remain so awesome. Next year, Michael Phelps might get a new swimsuit and break another world record. But the margins by which he can exceed his previous results will certainly diminish over time.

Natalie du Toit: The Greatest Olympic Feat of All Time?

Finally, how can you compare one unprecedented and inspiring Olympic feat with another? Exhibit A, Natalie du Toit of South Africa. An open water swimmer making her Olympic debut, with an amputated leg. Natalie was involved in a car accident several years ago and her lower leg was crushed. It had to be amputated at the knee. But Natalie never gave up. She went through rehabilitation. She was fitted with a prosthesis. She learned to walk again. And she kept her Olympic dream alive. While she did not medal in Beijing, she competed alongside those with two fully functional legs with feet that could kick and propel them through the water. Natalie finished just outside the Top Ten. Of all the stories at these Olympic Games, Natalie's is one of the most compelling, and true to the Olympic Ideal of Competing for the Glory of Sport.

When we look at amazing athletic feats, we're always going to want to measure them in terms of other athletic feats. But how can you compare a Michael Phelps against a Roger Federer against a Tiger Woods against a Michael Jordan against a Nastia Liukin or a Michelle Kwan? And how can you compare a test of skill and precision--such as diving or shooting--against a test of speed--such as a swim race--against a test of acrobatics and beauty--such as gymnastics or figure skating--against a team sport--such as beach volleyball or basketball or water polo or hockey or football or soccer where every athlete has a role to play and works for a team result instead of an individual one? And how can you compare a modern athlete with better facilities and training knowledge and technology and equipment than an athlete of yesteryear? The current issue of Sports Illustrated with Michael Phelps on the cover points out that double Gold Medalist Jesse Owens, were he competing today, would not even make the Olympic Games with the times he turned in to win his gold medals.

The thing is, you really can't, and it's just a thought exercise that can only result in argument should you try. What gets lost in our over-the-top worship of our sports heroes and quest for superlatives to justify massive product endorsement deals is that at the end of day, all of these amazing feats are examples of greatness that every human being has the potential to achieve. Not just in sport, but also in the arts, in science, in the humanities. I only wish that our most brilliant high school and college scholars, our best bands and cheerleader squads, our best debaters and thespians had a level playing field with our sports heroes the next time Wheaties has to choose who to place on the front of its cereal box.

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Almost Wordless Wednesday: Beijing Olympics Week Two

Child Playing in Fountain Outside the Bird's Nest

Jonathan Horton Competing in the High Bar Event Final. Were it not for a step on the landing costing him 1/10 of a point, Horton would have had Gold.

It's Okay to Capsize AFTER You Win Your Sailing Medal

Olympic Tattoo: I've got spirit yes I do, I've got spirit how 'bout you?

Phelps' Wingspan In Action. Is this the Butterfly or the Albatross?

Shelly Ann Fraser of Jamaica Exults after Winning Gold in the 100 Meter Sprint

Nastia Liukin of the U.S. wonders what might have been as she wins Silver in the Uneven Bars. Many of the Chinese gymnasts are widely acknowledged to be well under the 16-year old age which is a gymnastics eligibility requirement. And yet, China has "doctored" the passports of these gymnasts according to widespread reports of Chinese journalists speaking only off the record to western reporters. Take away the under-age gymnasts participating in these Olympic Games for China and the U.S. women win the team gold, Shawn Johnson wins gold instead of silver on the Floor Exercise and Nastia wins gold instead of Silver on the Uneven Bars, and Alicia Sacramone wins Bronze on Vault. The Olympics are about the glory of sport and fair competition. If China can flagrantly violate international age restrictions in women's gymnastics, what's to stop other countries from doing the same in an attempt to level the playing field?

A track and field starting gun with the Olympic Flame in the background.

No, this is not an Olympic Clown. This is a competitor in a fierce game of Table Tennis about to hit the ping-pong ball.

Wipe Out.

The U.S. Women Take Gold in the 2000M Rowing Eights.

France Beats U.S. in Fencing for Gold. Okay, I'll give France that. The country has little else to cheer about of late.

Kolecki of Poland winning Gold in Weightlifting, and perhaps he's more excited about his medal than Michael Phelps is about any of his?

View from Under the Water in the Water Cube.

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