Michael Phelps

“We heard the Frenchies talking some stuff…”

“The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.”

From conversations I had over the weekend with friends, I can see I’m definitely in the minority regarding my disdain of the Opening Ceremonies and parades in general.

I was even told yesterday that this means I am against “all fun things.”

Perhaps. Stay tuned for my next rant against balloons, ice cream and kittens.

But I still say forget the Opening Ceremonies; the Olympics officially started last night during the 4×100 meters freestyle relay final, thanks to a little trash talk from France’s best freestyler, Alain Bernard (who we can credit with that now-infamous “smash them” quote at the top of this post).

Before the race I was pretty surprised to hear that the French team was so sure they’d take gold. I’m taking a crash course in swimming with the rest of the United States this week, but from what I do know, Michael Phelps is pretty fast. However, Bernard and the French team were slight favorites in last night’s final, and they took almost a full length lead into the final turn of Bernard’s anchor leg.

But Bernard tightened up over the last 25 meters, and American Jason Lezak swam the fastest leg in relay history — 46.06 seconds. While it’s tempting to say Bernard choked due to some form of athletic karma, another cocky quote from Bernard shined more light on how the French team got smashed themselves:

“I’ll start my Games in the 4×100 meters freestyle relay final, confident that my pals will have qualified easily.

“If the relay goes according to plans, than we’ll be on a roll.”

Again, I’m hardly a swimming expert and this is pure hindsight, but maybe Bernard should have warmed up? Or at least shut up?

After the race the American foursome showed how much Bernard’s comments had irked them. They screamed just a little louder after the amazing comeback by Lezak, flexing, gesturing and going as close to possible to turning towards the French team and yelling, “In your face!” In the post-swim interview with Andrea Kremer, Phelps avoided any controversial remarks, but Garret Weber-Gale (who swam the second leg) couldn’t help himself at the end of the interview, saying, “We heard the Frenchies talking some stuff.”

Frenchies! I haven’t heard that word used in such a humorous context since I backpacked through Europe with two friends when I was 19. We were in a McDonald’s in Nice, France (really exploring the culture, obviously), and my friend, who shall remain nameless, had to wait an inordinate time for his combo meal. By the time he finally reached his seat with his food, my other friend and I were finishing our meals. This led to an outstanding tantrum from the friend whose McChicken and fries were delayed, where he took one of the buns and smashed it into the window next to him and tossed all his fries (this was in 1997, so they weren’t “Freedom Fries” yet) out of the carton against the same window and onto the floor. Then at least two or three times he loudly said, “F*&king wack-ass Frenchies!”

To be fair to my friend, we were all pretty exhausted and hungry at the time, having traveled for about three weeks, and his mood improved considerably following a post-McDonald’s nap and the realization that women go topless at the beaches in Nice.

I know I’ve kind of digressed here, but the point is for some reason nothing irritates Americans more than French people. I don’t know if it’s their, um, checkered war history, the reputation of Paris as a city full of rude people who hate Americans (completely overblown, by the way … in my short time in Paris I experienced no attitude whatsoever) or their tendency to question the foreign policy decisions of the United States. But if you asked most Americans whether they’d rather watch U.S. Olympians defeat Russia, China or France, most would probably prefer to see a “Frenchy” go down.

And since I’ve already gone off on a bit of a tangent, here’s a semi-related swimming question: how are all these World Records not just getting beaten, but absolutely destroyed? The U.S. team beat the previous 4×100 World Record by four seconds, the first of five teams in last night’s final to beat the previous WR. And it’s not like the 4×100 is a new event. Is it the swimsuits? Has coaching, training and nutrition gotten that much better? Are there special drainage systems set up in the Beijing pool designed to create faster times in order to give the 2008 Olympics more historical prominence? Is water different in China? Are there new undetectable drugs on the scene that entire teams are taking?

As a competitive swimming novice I don’t know the answer, but I do know this: watching an arrogant Frenchman get upset last night was better than any Opening Ceremonies or parade I could ever imagine. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to find the nearest kid (a difficult task in The City, where children were eradicated in 1987) and pop his balloon. Then I’ll steal his ice cream cone and drop it on the nearest kitten.

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