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Athens 2004

Commentary & Perspective

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Friday, August 27

It was Black Friday for U.S.

ATHENS, Greece - Look at it this way: At least the U.S. basketball team won't be asked to give back its gold medal.

On a day that was Olympic in scope both for its shock value and its intrinsic weirdness, the American delegation had what can only be described as a really lousy 24 hours.

At 3 p.m, the United States Olympic Committee held a news conference to reveal that the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) sent a letter asking gymnast Paul Hamm to return his gold medal.

At 10 p.m., the U.S. basketball team was giving up its gold-medal chances more willingly. In 68 years of Olympic basketball, the Americans lost two games. In a week-and-a-half here, they lost three.

This doesn't even mention the fact that Marion Jones, once the toast of American athletics, was finishing fifth in the long jump before her relay team was falling to pieces.

So ... how was your day?

^Hamm handed

First things first.

The Hamm situation. Paul Hamm, not Mia.

The history of the Olympic Games is littered with outrageous missteps and wrong-headed declarations, but this one by the FIG ranks right up there.

They're asking Hamm, who has done nothing wrong, to clean up after their mess, to rectify mistakes made by their judges - Larry, Moe and Curly.

All the FIG has to do is award the South Korean Yang Tae-Young a duplicate gold, and everybody goes away happy. They've done it twice before, in 1992 and 2002, and neither time was the original gold-medal winner asked to send his medal back.

"If you would return your medal to the Korean if the FIG requested it, then such an action would be recognized as the ultimate demonstration of fair play by the whole world," the FIG letter reads.

You wouldn't think they could sink any lower after they changed Russian Aleksei Nemov's high bar score after the crowd went ballistic.

But they did.

The USOC's response was terse to the point of combative, and the organization properly withdrew its previous support for the notion of awarding a duplicate gold. Now it's a fight. If FIG wants Hamm's gold, they're going to have to send their thugs, all of them presumably wearing tights.

"The USOC finds this request to be improper, outrageous and so far beyond the bounds of what is acceptable that we refuse to transmit it to Mr. Hamm," the USOC wrote.

Does this mean the Russians have to return their basketball gold medal from 1972? How about the South Korean fighter who got the corrupted victory over American Roy Jones Jr. in 1988 in Seoul?

Maybe Hamm should have been more generous about the concept of sharing the gold.

Now, though, nobody would begrudge him if he becomes recalcitrant. Give it up? Are they insane?

If these people took a doping test, they would come up positive for being dopes.

^A bad dream

As for the American men's basketball team - emphasis on men's team - that story was more sad than outrageous.

If you didn't see this one coming, you were spending too much time watching synchronized swimming - in which case, you need clinical help.

It started badly and got worse. Most of the team Larry Brown put together for qualifying in Puerto Rico stayed home. Some guys had legitimate reasons, but the others? For shame. For shame.

No less a statesman than Allen Iverson, who did a lot of reputation repair in these games, put it best: "When you're asked to go represent your country, there shouldn't be a question in your mind."

It's a lock that when this opportunity rolls around again four years from now, NBA players will be begging for an Olympic spot.

Why?

They want to be the heroes who brought the gold back to the States.

"There will be a much greater thrill than when it was a joke," U.S. assistant coach Gregg Popovich said.

The guys who flopped here will take most of the heat. But at least they came here. At least they didn't say they couldn't play because they had to wax their Bentleys.

Ultimately, it was a poorly conceived team with too many young and ill-fitting parts, but after the opening-game loss to Puerto Rico, they played hard.

They just weren't good enough.

"I think a lot of you in America think it's still 1992 and you can come over here and beat every team by 40 points," Popovich said.

David Stern, the NBA commissioner, spoke with reporters at halftime and expressed dismay at all the "carping and whining" about the Americans' performance.

Thing is, most of the carping and whining was initiated by their coach, Larry Brown, who did not cover himself in glory during these games.

From day one, his post-game news conferences sounded like the first drafts of a concession speech.

After Friday night's loss, he got to read from the final draft, throwing in a few barbs about the officiating and the fact Tim Duncan was in foul trouble the whole tournament.

"For us to have any chance, we had to have an inside presence," Brown said. "I've watched Timmy play for years and I've never seen him foul out in 19 minutes in any game in our league, and he fouled out in four here."

It's acceptable to lose to a seasoned Argentina team. But Brown's explanations don't wash when you're getting blown out by Puerto Rico and giving away a game against Lithuania.

When our college kids lost in 1988, America created the Dream Team. Now, America's NBA stars are getting beaten in the Olympics, in the World Basketball Championships, everywhere.

It raises this question:

Can Paul Hamm play some point guard?

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COMMENTARY AND PERSPECTIVE

CHRISTINE BRENNAN | USA TODAY

Phelps' big win: Taking the challenge

BOB KRAVITZ | The Indianapolis Star

Americans have forgotten how to play as a team

DAN BICKLEY | The Arizona Republic

Bade guns for gold, but comes up short

IAN O'CONNOR | The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

Phelps, menís hoops team prove that defeat is relative

MIKE LOPRESTI | Gannett News Service

U.S. basketball supremacy is ancient history

GNS MULTIMEDIA

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