Sunday, August 29
Olympics 2004 were games of education, enlightenment
ATHENS, Greece - Aristotle would have been proud. They pulled it off. The Greeks can take a rightful bow, and would probably appreciate an apology.
Nothing fell down or blew up. The buses ran on time, the lights stayed on, and by the end, most of the tickets were sold.
It was a fascinating mix of the old and the new. Never far away from any venue were ancient ruins, or a Coke machine.
None other than U.S. Olympic guru Peter Uebberroth gave the hosts a thumbs-up Sunday.
"I believe Athens," he said, "has reinstructed the Olympic movement in staging the Games."
We found out several things about the Greeks. One is that they truly could get away with waiting to the last minute. And two, they were serious when they said the sun would be shining on the Olympics.
Matter of fact, a still-unanswered question is how many days you'd need to spend in Athens in August to see rain.
No matter. The hosts should enjoy their achievement. At least until the bills start to come due.
The United States heard more boos as time went by, but nothing got ugly. And most of the locals were friendly enough. As one shopkeeper in the streets below the Acropolis mentioned, "A lot of Greeks say they hate America. But they eat American, drink American, dress American and talk American."
As for the games, they were enlightening, if occasionally messy. There was a steady line into the doping doghouse. A brawl Sunday at wrestling, and an unhinged spectator taking after a Brazilian marathoner. And clearly, the Olympics can't happen without two things - a flame and a judging debacle.
When the baklava hit the fan at gymnastics, it was astounding that the sport's officials seemed unsure and tentative at what to do. If there is any governing body in the world that should be experienced in handling controversy, it's gymnastics.
Unless it's figure skating. Or the BCS.
And if you ever wonder why judging decisions get confusing at the Olympics, this might help explain: It's the official announcement from FINA - the swimming federation - when it overturned American Aaron Peirsol's disqualification in the 200-meter backstroke.
"The DSQ of the swimmer in lane 4, Peirsol Aaron, was not accepted due to the detail of the reasons supplied by the official being inadequate and not in the working language of FINA."
Now, what could be clearer than that?
Michael Phelps won eight medals in the pool, which would put him 24th in the country standings by himself.
For industrial-strength emotion, there was Greece's Michael Jordan - three-time gold medalist weightlifter Pyrros Dimas - retiring in a frenzied arena with a bronze, and his three kids standing with him on the medal stands.
Israel won its first gold in history. Grown men cried at the ceremony, knowing a lot more about bloody history, than they do about windsurfing.
Seventy-five countries earned medals. Trinidad and Tobago, with a population of 1.3 million, won one. So did India, with a population of 1 billion.
The United States won 103 - 53 of them in swimming and track and field. The most ever at an unboycotted Olympics. Many of the biggest headlines went to American women, who put on a show from softball to soccer.
It wasn't surprising to find the Yanks at the top of the gold medal list with 35. But the runner-up was a revelation, and preview of coming attractions.
It's a medal juggernaut starting to happen, based on the proposition that with 1.3 billion people, you should be able to find someone good at anything.
The Chinese finished second in gold medals with 32. And now they are serious about more than table tennis and diving.
China even won the men's hurdles. That's like the United States winning the hammer throw.
"I think today, the Chinese people showed the world they can run as fast as anybody else," said Liu Xiang, after wasting the field in the 110-meter hurdles.
And there should be only more in 2008, from the inevitable hometown bump when Beijing hosts the Olympics.
"As we say in China," said basketball star Yao Ming, "the beans are out of the bottle.''
One other note from Greece. In a country where virtually every ancient city has extensive ruins - convenient to archeologists and tourists - the one exception is Sparta.
The Spartans just vanished. Virtually nothing is left of that warrior factory. That means - if it is longevity they wanted - Michigan State, San Jose State and a bundle of American high schools picked the wrong nickname.
The Michigan State Athenians?
These were, then, the games of education. No truly one defining moment, but rather a two-week course on the Olympics, past and present and future. The world had fun, and no disaster struck. And then the flame went out.
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COMMENTARY AND PERSPECTIVE
CHRISTINE BRENNAN | USA TODAY
BOB KRAVITZ | The Indianapolis Star
DAN BICKLEY | The Arizona Republic
IAN O'CONNOR | The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
MIKE LOPRESTI | Gannett News Service
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