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Athens 2004

Commentary & Perspective

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Sunday, August 29

Athens scores satisfying win

ATHENS, Greece - One of the great upsets in sports history came to pass Sunday night at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.

Simply put, Athens did it.

What was unthinkable even a few months ago is now complete, a story of triumph against all odds that likely will be told as long as the Olympic Games exist. For the first time in Olympic history, we have a city and a Games that can proclaim as their most prominent achievement that which did not happen.

Terrorists did not strike. Stadiums did not crumble. Athletes did not miss their qualifying heats because of traffic jams. Security did not keep anyone from missing anything.

If I had written those words a month ago, who among us, save for a few million optimistic Greeks, would have believed they could possibly come true?

``The citizens of Greece have proven the doomsayers wrong,'' U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth said Sunday afternoon. ``Once again, the Olympic family has learned a lesson from Greece.''

It's hardly possible to overstate the degree of satisfaction both Greece's organizers and the international sports community feel today. We might as well include the rest of the world in that as well because it's now a fact that 202 countries got together for 16 days of sports competition and not once did the bad guys who live nearby intrude. What a wonderful gift this is to a weary world with warm regards from the not-so-ancient Greeks.

When a controversy over the scoring in men's gymnastics is the biggest news coming out of these Games for the United States, you know Athens has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

That is not to minimize the sports headlines emanating from these Games. It's pretty clear that if you put the gymnasts from South Korea and the USA alone in a room with a set of parallel bars, an argument would ensue. The latest on the men's all-around competition is that the Koreans are finally going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to try to get the gold medal they believe Yang Tae-young deserves.

Paul Hamm is back in the States with the gold, about to kick off a gymnastics tour and certain to become a more sympathetic figure every time the preposterous Bruno Grandi opens his mouth with another wild-eyed scheme to settle a controversy the Americans consider to already be resolved.

Meanwhile, who knew we could have two pronunciations of the name Hamm - and that most Americans would know both of them and be able to keep the two straight? You know what's coming, don't you? There has to be a commercial featuring Mia and Paul:

``That's Hamm,'' she says. ``No, Haaam,'' he says. Something in the ``Tastes Great/Less Filling'' vein?

From a purely athletic point of view, these certainly will be remembered as the Games of Controversy. The harbinger was those two Greek sprinters and their massive free-fall from grace on the eve of what would have been the most visible night of their lives, involved as they would have been in the lighting of the cauldron. From that moment on, we were off and running with two dozen athletes disgraced by doping violations, a gymnastics venue that turned into a den of inequity, a U.S. men's basketball team that was the worst in American Olympic history and the miserable end to a terrible year for Marion Jones.

Controversy of this kind will accompany future Summer Olympics as well. The Games are too big, the media presence too great, the potential payoff for athletes too immense. This wasn't Athens' fault; it's simply the nature of the post-modern Games.

But then there was Michael Phelps, who appeared at a news conference Sunday sounding more appreciative of his Olympic experience now than he was a week ago, if that's possible. Rarely does an athlete rise to the occasion as memorably and completely as Phelps did here.

Phelps said the highlight of his Games, outside of the swimming venue, was attending the U.S. women's soccer team's gold medal victory last Thursday. The soccer team was joined by the U.S. women's basketball and softball teams in victory again at another Olympic Games.

These teams have a remarkable record of success in the Olympics, proving that the nation was on to something when it decided a few decades ago that it wanted its daughters to join its sons on the playing fields of America.

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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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