Athens 2004

Commentary & Perspective

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Sunday, August 29

Biggest winner of 2004 Olympics: Greece

ATHENS, Greece - We owe them an apology, oh yes we do. The Greeks pulled off the Olympic Games after we said they did not have a prayer, and now there's but one way to make it right:

Give them another shot.

The Summer Games belong here, in the Olympic cradle, and just one pilgrimage to Ancient Olympia would tell you that. Zeus doesn't play Paris or Moscow, London or Times Square. This is the gods' homecourt. It shouldn't go abandoned for the next 108 years.

Sixteen days passed between opening ceremonies and closing, between Dawn Staley carrying in the American flag and Mia Hamm carrying it out, and the security held up, at least until a defrocked Irish priest confused the men's marathon with Australian Rules Football.

Nobody can secure every square foot of a 26-mile course. But the stadiums remained erect, the people remained helpful, and the trains ran on time.So what if the Greeks had more stray dogs on the streets than fans in the seats during the first week of competition. So what if the Greeks procrastinated so much they didn't pay homage to the aesthetic ideal. Who needs green grass and blossoming trees when you can have dust, lots and lots of dust swirling about the main Olympic complex as if Charlton Heston had just roared through in his chariot, leading with his whip?

In the end, it was hard to believe the IOC was three months away from taking the Games out of Athens and trading them back to Australia or who knows where. Atlanta had twenty times the glitches, not to mention a fatal terrorist bomb. Sydney had more spectators and more grass, but offered nothing in the way of ancient Olympic bonds.

Athens was worth all of the B.C. dust; in fact, it gave the Games a coat of character, a link to their distant past. Garden variety doping scandals popped up, just like they always do. But Greece looked and felt safe - that one-night uprising aside - and the images of the Acropolis and Parthenon beamed across the world should bring in some big tourist bucks in the coming years, enough to pay most of the bills.

That's why Greece, subjected to so many doomsday prophecies, emerged from these Games as the biggest winner of all, rising above the following procession of indelible champions and figures who would've been better off staying at home:

WINNER: U.S. women. Took basketball, softball and soccer gold while their male contemporaries either didn't make it here or, in basketball's case, showed up a little too late.

WINNER: Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. Once fired, the head of the Greek Organizing Committee punctuated the women's gender-bender triumph by saving the men from themselves and ensuring that Athens staged a worthy Games.

LOSER: Paul Hamm. Could've made himself a national hero in the States and in South Korea by immediately offering to share his gold medal with Yang Tae-young. Instead, by holding tight, Hamm clouded the achievement and surely cost himself a technical deduction on the scorecards of Madison Avenue judges.

WINNER: Michael Phelps. Handed off his relay spot to Ian Crocker, a teammate in dire need of redemption. Won six gold medals with a grace you wouldn't expect from a teenager set up to fail by adult marketeers who sold him as a likely candidate to win eight.

LOSER: Larry Brown. Got to enjoy his NBA title for 15 minutes before this legacy-busting event. Never adjusted his style to fit his roster, and blamed everyone but Hank Iba when it became clear his collection of max-out NBA contracts wouldn't yield max-out Olympic results.

WINNER: Allen Iverson. For using the semifinal loss to Argentina to deliver the best speech on American duty and patriotism since George C. Scott's opening in ``Patton.''

WINNER: David Stern. For popping Larry Brown in public the way so many USA Basketball and NBA officials were popping him in private.

LOSER: Paula Radcliffe. Great Britain's great long-distance hope, Radcliffe failed to finish either the marathon or the 10,000 meters. The British tabs wrote her up like they have so many glass-chin heavyweights from the past.

WINNER: Hicham El Guerrouj. For finally grabbing his John Elway moment in the 1,500 meters.

LOSER: Kostas Kenteris. Greek sprint champion and probably cauldron lighter embarrassed the host country by racing away from drug testers and out the Summer Games door.

LOSER: Arash Miresmaeili. Iranian judo competitor who refused to compete against Israeli Ehud Vaks, violating every tenet of Olympic competition and summoning the sad history of Israeli athletes at the Games.

WINNER: Gal Fridman. Windsurfer dedicated Israel's first gold medal to the 11 coaches and athletes from his country who were murdered in Munich, 11 coaches and athletes whose memory had never before been paid a fitting Olympic tribute.

LOSER: Marion Jones. Trying to run and jump away from a cloud of suspicion, Jones was done in by the indomitable forces of time.

LOSER: Amy Acuff. And every other Olympian who struck provocative poses and said provocative things for Playboy and FHM, hardening stereotypes of women at a time when Mia Hamm, Dawn Staley and Lisa Fernandez were trying to shred them.

WINNER: Iraqi soccer team. Made an inspiring run to the medal round. Had the decency to wear black armbands during its bronze-medal game with Italy, this after an Italian journalist was murdered by terrorist thugs in Iraq.



11:32 pm | August 29, 2004

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11:30 pm | August 29, 2004

NBC Universal's gamble on Olympics pays off

9:32 pm | August 29, 2004

Young Chinese team exerts its strength

7:39 pm | August 29, 2004

Boxer ends drought, earns gold for USA

7:22 pm | August 29, 2004

Security issues fade as Games roll smoothly to close

6:59 pm | August 29, 2004

USA surpasses its medals goal

6:43 pm | August 29, 2004

South Korean gymnast appeals to arbitrator

2:30 pm | August 29, 2004

Athens games heralded as success

1:39 pm | August 29, 2004

Deposed USOC chief feels pride from a distance

12:47 pm | August 29, 2004

Medal try slips away from wrestler Williams



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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