I didn’t expect to say this, but I miss the Olympics.

Over the last few years, I’ve made a point to watch less television.

Of course, I still watch all my favorite sports teams and I never miss an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” but other than that, I don’t keep up with any new shows.

That all changed the last two weeks. Any spare moment I had, my TV was tuned into NBC or one of its affiliate channels, watching whatever the hell was on. Whether it was the standard track and field, gymnastics, swimming, soccer or volleyball, or the more obscure ping-pong, handball, water polo, shot put or fencing — it didn’t matter.

I loved watching the competition. I loved watching the athletes give it all they had for pride and love of their country.

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I appreciated that every single one of these athletes had worked relentlessly for decades and dedicated their lives to get to where they are. I felt their jubilation when they won, and I shared their heartbreak when they fell short of their ultimate goal.

Another thrill for me was to read the stories behind the athletes. Of the refugee, Yusra Mardini, who risked her life fleeing Syria and was now competing at the highest level under a flag with no country on it. Or when Michael Phelps, after his second DWI two years ago, texted his agent that he didn’t “want to be alive anymore.” And how Simone Biles was adopted by her grandparents in Belize after her own parents could no longer take care of her and her siblings.

It taught me that greatness certainly doesn’t come easy.

We also witnessed the end of two of the most prolific Olympic careers in history. No longer will Phelps and Usain Bolt of Jamaica represent their respective countries in the greatest level of international competition.Usain Bolt.jpg

In a two week span, we got to see the best swimmer of all time and the best runner of all time.

But alongside that came new stars. Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky, both 19, have 11 medals between them — 10 gold.

We saw an American swimmer make a statement about staying clean when Lily King of the U.S.  defeated Russian swimmer and convicted doper Yulia Efimova. We saw how longstanding regional conflict can bleed into international competition when an Egyptian refused to shake an Israeli’s hand.

But that blemish was overshadowed by a single act of sportsmanship that exemplified the best parts of humanity, when an American and New Zealander encouraged each other to finish a race after falling.

And of course, we were privileged to witness Ryan Lochte’s buffoonery —  once an innocent source of entertainment — get him into actual trouble.

Brazil, too, overcame most people’s meager expectations by stepping up to the challenge and putting on a successful show. The country still has its problems, no doubt, but these Games can at least give the nation and its people something to build on.

So consider this my thank you. To Rio, to the athletes, and to the world of international competition.

I will never win a gold medal.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be excited when others do.

It’s due time we address #LochteGate

In American sports lore, we have a tendency to label certain athletes as having spent their entire career living in another’s shadow.

As in, they were pretty damn good, but not as good this other dude.

For example, Patrick Ewing would have probably won a championship had he not played at the same time as Michael Jordan. Andy Roddick likely would have won more than just one grand slam if his career didn’t coincide with a guy named Roger Federer.

And Phil Mickelson still cringes every time he hears Tiger Woods’ name.

But one can certainly make the argument that no athlete has ever performed in a greater shadow than Ryan Lochte.

The four-time Olympian is one year older than Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of any sport in the history of our planet. And yet, Lochte still has 12 medals — six of them gold.

The Today Show Gallery of Olympians

But nobody has ever really cared. Because he’s not Michael Phelps.

Instead, Lochte is probably better known for his perception as a dim-witted athlete, fueled by a hilarious SNL impersonation by Seth MacFarlane four years ago; a must-watch, post-interview roast by two talk show hosts; and a short-lived reality TV show on E! that nobody ever asked for.

And this week, Lochte — whose silver blonde bleached hair I can only assume is in tribute to Eminem or Sisqo — pretty much cemented his legacy in that he will be better known for his shenanigans outside of the pool than in it.

You all have been following the story. Lochte, with fellow American swimmers Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, went partying all night at a club in Rio last weekend, and then told Olympic officials the following day they were robbed at gunpoint while traveling home early the next morning.

The episode was immediately painted as the most prolific in a series of criminal activity Swimmersthat took place in Rio during the Games, a city that is notorious for its habitual violence.

But then, the story started to change. Put it this way: I could have blogged about this every day this week, and each post would have contained a different narrative.

Brazilian police first couldn’t find evidence of Lochte and the other swimmers’ accounts. Then Lochte’s own retelling bore discrepancies. Then Bentz and Conger were pulled off a plane on Wednesday night. Then Brazilian police determined that the swimmers were flat-out lying.

It’s been a whirlwind turn of events. And just when public opinion was turning on the swimmers and their wild fabrications, TMZ releases a video that sort of corroborates Lochte’s story.

No, the swimmers were not robbed by men posing as police, like Lochte said, but they were held at gunpoint by a gas station security guard, who demanded compensation for the bathroom that they just severely damaged.

In the end, while the story was riveting to follow, it doesn’t look like there will be major consequences. If the worst offense these swimmers committed is lying to police, they will likely be subjected to a mere fine and possibly community service.

Brazilians, however, are outraged that Americans would further stain their country’s already poor reputation with lies, and are demanding harsher consequences — or at the very least, a public apology.

My opinion? Maybe we should give Ryan Lochte another TV show. The man is an endless source of entertainment.

In fact, give him a blog.

There’s room for two studs on the blogosphere.

Think about it, Ryan. It’s all I ask.

The Olympic moment we’ve all been waiting for

As much as we love the Olympic athletes who are so skilled that they dominate their respective sport — Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, the U.S. men’s basketball team  — we also crave something else during these Games that go beyond the competition.

We crave that Olympic moment.

Yes, the quadrennial games are meant to be a fierce competition. And yes, for some countrymen and women, there is a personal expectation for them to honorably and successfully represent their country. Case and point: an Egyptian was ejected from the Rio games after he refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent following a Judo match.

But underlying the competitiveness is a spirit of sportsmanship. Of unity and bonding. Of determination and personal spirit. Sure, we’re all from different countries, but this is an opportunity to show the world that we can all get along.

Sometimes, it takes sport to show that.

D'Agostino Hamblin2

There’s a reason why the story of Derek Redmond is emblazoned in our brains. During the 400-meter semifinal in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, he tore his hamstring and collapsed to one knee in pain.

Even while medics ran to attend to him, he leaped up and essentially skipped along the track on his one able leg to continue the race, even though all the other sprinters had already finished. If that wasn’t inspirational enough, his father emerged from out of no where to help his son, who at this point was bawling in tears, to finish the race.

Had Derek Redmond won that race in routine fashion, no one would remember him. But because of the unique circumstances of his last-place finish (in fact, he was disqualified because he received outside aid) he will never be forgotten.

Well, it wasn’t quite Redmondesque, but we had a similar moment on Tuesday during the women’s 500-meter race.

With two kilometers remaining (about 1.25 miles), Abbey D’Agostino of the United States and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand accidentally tripped one another up and fell hard to D'Agostino Hamblinthe ground.

At that point, their fate was sealed. Neither would win.

D’Agostino got back up first. Hamblin remained on the ground, distraught.

But the American urged her on. “Get up. We have to finish this,” she told her. Hamblin got to her feet, and the women ran together before D’Agostino collapsed. Hamblin tried to return the favor and help her up, but it was obvious that D’Agostino was seriously hurt.

Hamblin continued on, and somehow, D’Agostino also finished despite tearing her ACL. But who was waiting to give her a hug at the finish line? Hamblin.

The story has captured the hearts of people across the world. The two young women did not know each other before the race. But now their day-old friendship is the embodiment of the Olympic spirit.

The Olympics really couldn’t have come at a better time. For the last week and a half, I’ve barely uttered the name Dona —

You know what. I’m not going to do it.

Anyway, since the fall happened in the heats, the two women amazingly would have both been able to race in the event’s medal round on Friday despite their poor finish times. D’Agostino is obviously unable to.

Hamblin, however, will race for the both of them.

Here’s another video of what happened overlayed with uplifting piano music.

Because let’s face it, everything is more uplifting when it’s overlayed with piano music.

All hail Michael Phelps, our greatest athlete (also: Fiji)

Michael Phelps competed in his first Olympic Games in 2000 in Australia at the age of 15, but left without a medal.

When I was 15, I think the only swimming stroke I knew how to perform was the doggy paddle.

Four Olympic Games later, Phelps is now the owner of 21 gold medals — and counting. On Thursday night, he is the favorite to win the 200-meter individual medley, his main competition being his countryman, Ryan Lochte.

A career that spans five Olympics is just remarkable, I don’t care what sport is. It could be a ping pong player and I’d still be amazed.

But to do it in swimming, a sport that requires the utmost maintenance of one’s personal physique, is just that much more impressive. Watching the swimmers line up shirtless prior to a meet is probably one of the more deflating moments for the average American male. In those moments, I am suddenly very hyper-aware of my protruding beer belly.

And then I crack open another beer.

Michael Phelps

I also will never forget Michael Phelps’s incredible 7-7 run at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. It was right before I began my senior year of college, and I distinctly remember that following Halloween, when it was a popular costume for dudes to wear swimming trunks and wear seven pretend gold medals.

I’m pretty sure I dressed up that Halloween as Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Not kidding.

We glorify and even deify Michael Phelps during the two-week stretch of the Olympics, but we need to appreciate him more. Not only has he represented our country with honor and success, but he’s become one of the most decorated athletes in Olympic history for any country, and he’s also dominated a sport arguably as well as anybody ever has.

He’s also nearly singlehandedly launched swimming into an Olympic primetime event.

This is almost certainly his last Olympic Games. He has three races left. Enjoy them while you can.

All that being said, it’s almost natural for Americans to take our Olympic success for granted. We already assume we’re the best. And we prove it by winning the most medals.

But we forget that for some countries, winning a medal doesn’t come so easy.

Fiji Rugby

Fiji, a small island nation in the south Pacific of less than one million people, has never won a medal in its 60 years of participating in the Olympics. But they were filled with hope that their fortunes might change in 2016, thanks in large part to the introduction of rugby as an Olympic sport. It just so happens to be the county’s national sport.

Lo and behold, Fiji won its first medal on Thursday in rugby. A gold one.

I watched a clip of the Fijian athletes standing atop the dais, with the national anthem blaring, and couldn’t help but feel the intense pride and nationalism that was radiating from their faces as they sang along.

Winning for your country. Even if it took six decades to accomplish.

That, my friends, is what the Olympics is all about.

Simone Biles, the new greatest American

It’s nice to finally be able to talk about something besides Donald Trump the past few days. I mean, today he made a not-so-subtle suggestion that gun advocates should assassinate Hillary Clinton if she becomes president, but who’s keeping track anymore? It’s par for the course for Donald Trump.

Let’s turn back to Rio.

The Olympic Games tend to turn athletes into stars overnight, especially in America, where we are more consumed with whose throwing a football or hitting 3-pointers rather than who is excelling in the pool or on the mat.

Some stay stars and some don’t. Kerri Strug. Michael Phelps. McKayla Maroney. Michael Phelps. Gabby Douglas. Ryan Lochte. Michael Phelps.

This year’s star? Well, still Michael Phelps.

But besides him? Meet Simone Biles.

Simone Biles

Amazingly, at 19, she’s already considered the best gymnast in the world. Possibly ever. It’s hard to argue when she has a move named after her — a double layout with a half twist — because no gymnast had ever landed it in top level competition before she did.

Watch videos of her doing the move and you’ll start to understand why she’s so revered. When doing her move, “The Biles”, on the floor, she’s actually still rising upon completing her first flip. It defies gravity.

She won her first gold medal Tuesday afternoon in the women’s team all around, and she is poised to win four more before it’s all said and done. I predict that she will not only do it, but that she will be a household name by the time the Rio games are over.

But Simone Biles hasn’t been the only reason to watch the Olympics.

Typically, the Olympics are full of story lines that combine triumph and drama, but what happened during Monday night’s women’s 100-meter breaststroke was something that was made for primetime television.

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It was a showdown between American Lily King and Russian Yulia Efimova. Efimova has been caught twice for using performance enhancing drugs (not shockingly given her home country), and King has been quite outspoken about her distaste for it.

“You wave your finger No. 1 and you’ve been caught drug cheating? I’m not a fan.” she said during an NBC interview, following a back-and-forth when Efimova, after winning her semifinal race, made the hand signal to seemingly mock King, who had earlier given the No. 1 gesture.

The score was settled in the pool, and King emerged victorious. It also made for an awkward press conference afterwards, at which Efimova appeared very glum and apologetic.

I can completely understand why Olympians would take such pride in being among the best and doing it clean, but we also forget how young these athletes are. Efimova, for example, is just 24. She was also suspended for over a year for her actions.

As long as they pay the price, and make sure that they are clean when it really matters, then I am willing to give people a second chance.

Either way, Lily King sure made a heck of a statement on Tuesday night.

What I learned during the Rio Olympics opening ceremony

The way the media was covering the Olympics in the weeks leading up to last weekend’s opening ceremonies, you’d have thought the games were taking place in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell.

Or Cleveland.

Granted, Brazil’s criticism is probably warranted, between its highly documented recent political and economic turmoil, its contaminated water and its outbreak of the Zika virus.

But we get this with every Olympics. Remember in Sochi two years ago, when the news was so dry in the days leading up to it that reports began focusing on the color of the drinking water? Case and point.

Once the games begin, the world’s focus shifts to the athletes, and rightfully so.

Although, last Friday’s opening ceremonies did leave plenty to talk about.

First there was Gisele Bundchen catwalking so ferociously that I seriously thought she might pull a hamstring. Does she strut that defiantly when she walks from her living room to her kitchen, too?

Then there was the man every female cougar on the news inappropriately and creepily talked about all weekend — the flag bearer from Tonga. Dude leads his countrymen bare-chested and drenched in baby oil, and suddenly women everywhere are swooning.

Women, control yourselves! Is that all it takes? A well sculpted body and some lube? Show some restraint, for crying out loud.

I mean, it’s not like I rubbed lotion all over my body yesterday and stood in front of the mirror to see how my appearance would stack up next to Mr. Tonga Man, realized how unflattering my physique is, and spent the whole rest of the day crying.

That never happened. I swear. I also refuse to call him by his real name, Pita Toufatofua. Mainly because I have no idea how to pronounce it.

But besides the overt sex appeal, there was also some inspirational and touching moments during the opening ceremonies. For one, having read very little about the Games beforehand, I was astonished and pleasantly surprised to see that there was — for the first time ever — a team comprised solely of refugees.

Given the horrors that are taking place in Syria and many other parts of the globe, forcing people to upend their lives and complete miraculous journeys through land and sea, Yusra Mardinirisking their lives to cross borders at which they’re often unwelcome, it’s heartening to see that we are still giving them equal opportunity to perform on the world’s highest athletic stage, during an event that revolves around international inclusion.

I mean, North Korea has a team. So why not the refugees?

But the story that has resonated the most with me was learning about 18-year-old Yusra Mardini, who will swim in the 100-meter butterfly and the 100-meter freestyle under the refugee flag. The teenager fled war-torn Syria in 2015, and after multiple failed attempts to reach Europe, found herself in a capsized dinghy holding some 20 people three miles from the Greek island of Lesbos.

So what did she do? She hopped out, grabbed the boat, and swam it to safety, of course, with the help of her sister and two other refugees.

I mean, how could she feel any pressure swimming in the Olympics after that?

It’s just a shining example that these refugees, who we so quickly minimize and dismiss as human beings, are hell of a lot more courageous than most of us will ever be.

May the games begin.