Athens 2004

Commentary & Perspective

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Saturday, August 28

Some U.S. women's teams put on best show in Athens

ATHENS, Greece - There is a platinum medal to be awarded. There are three teams competing for the highest honor of the 2004 Olympics.

Here, subjective judging is beyond corruption.

Would it be the softball team, the one that hit like the 1927 Yankees, allowed one run in nine games and dominated so thoroughly that they may take the sport off the menu?

Would it be the soccer team, the one that sparked a revolution, influenced a generation of youngsters and refused to end an era in second place?

Or would it be this bunch here, the team parading around the gymnasium with the American flag, succeeding where that other basketball team failed?``Somebody in the U.S. should embrace (the fact) that we are good,'' team captain Dawn Staley said shortly after a gold medal victory over Australia.

If you've noticed the common thread here, these are all women's teams.

They're all from the United States. They all belong on Title IX's version of Mount Rushmore.

That is, if you can tear yourself away from beach volleyball for a moment.

An interesting paradox occurred at the Summer Games, in the land where ancient athletes once competed in the nude. If you just tuned in, you'd think little had changed in 2,700 years.

Beach volleyball drew huge television ratings mostly because of the uniforms.

Female competitors go along with this exploitation, donning skimpy bikinis that serve no purpose other than general titillation. The funniest line of the Olympics was when one of these girls honestly took offense to provocative routines of the on-site dance team that performed during timeouts, claiming that it cheapened a serious sporting endeavor.

``It's kind of disrespectful to the female players,'' Australia's Nicole Sanderson said. ``I'm sure the male spectators love it, but I find it a little bit offensive.''

Or maybe the funniest line was when a male colleague said the cameraman at this venue deserved to win an Emmy.

Then there's track star Amy Acuff, posing nude in Playboy. Or swimmer Amanda Beard, who clutched a teddy bear at the 1996 Olympics, pulling at her own bikini inside the pages of FHM, the one touted as the ``Sexy Olympic Special.''

Of course, these ladies are free to do whatever they want with their bodies, but along with the eye candy they lent the Summer Games, they must admit to the hypocrisy of their self-indulgence.

At the 1996 Games, the women's soccer, softball and basketball teams all won gold medals. They were the centerpieces of what became known as the Women's Olympics, which opened doors of opportunity and credibility to female athletes long yearning for athletic respect.

Yet here, a select group of female athletes has chosen to piggyback that triumph for their own gain, even if it meant bringing the focus right back to objectification, precisely what their pioneers tried so hard to escape.

So, if you were looking for sizzle, it wasn't hard to find. But neither were the role models for a new generation of young girls, and it's important not to forget the substance here.

The softball team departed with a 79-game winning streak.

The younger members of the soccer team felt so indebted to veterans such as Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy that they vowed to send them off on top, and their determination in two overtime victories to conclude the tournament was riveting.

After Saturday's game, Staley announced her retirement from Olympic basketball, and if anyone needs a break, it's her. She also coaches basketball at Temple University, plays in the WNBA, runs her own foundation for at-risk youth in Philadelphia and is currently writing children's books.

Lisa Leslie, who works with foster children in Los Angeles, and Sheryl Swoopes have likely played for their last gold medal, too.

Just like in women's soccer, this is the end of an era in women's basketball.

They haven't lost an Olympic game in 12 years. Inside their sport, they are viewed just as the men's Dream Team was perceived in 1992, which instilled reverence and ambition across the globe.

``It's the same thing,'' Australia's Trish Fallon said. ``We've learned a lot from them. We're catching up. Hopefully, one day we'll overtake them.''

So take your pick for the best show in Athens. You can't go wrong. That is, unless you have a daughter who's paying more attention to the magazine stand than the medal stand.



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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


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