SportsProf

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Reflections on the Olympics

The Olympics received significant bad publicity prior to the opening of the games. There were concerns about how well-prepared the Greeks were, whether there would be terrorist attacks, and about how many athletes would be disqualified because of blood-doping problems. There is also some general disillusionment about how commercial the games have become and how professional the athletes are. With all that in the background, I admit it was hard to get enthusiastic for the Olympics.

1. Opening Ceremonies. And it got worse before it got better, because I watched the taped Opening Ceremonies on NBC, which co-anchors Katie Couric and Bob Costas butchered. First, there was bad chemistry. Two divas don't combine for a good duet in a non-music setting. Second, there was the emphasis, the emotion, the presentation. Okay, Katie and Bob, you could have at least tried to fake it, but you were somewhat subdued. What, you couldn't give us your A game because you knew what you were saying wasn't being fed live to millions of households? Third, Bob Costas didn't really need a co-pilot in this particular cockpit. News people doing sports are worse than sports people doing news, because the sports people are used to calling events all the time. America may love Katie, but she was out of her element. Costas gave a low Class A ball performance.

2. Ugly Americans. Check out all of the posts on the U.S. men's basketball team. They didn't play well yesterday, that's for sure, but trying to cast stones as to who was at fault is like trying to figure out who's responsible for an underachieving baseball team -- the owner, the GM, the manager or the players (see, for example, the Philadelphia Phillies). Still, the Yanks are laying a big egg in the sport they invented. On a positive note, the hoopsters shouldn't feel so badly. At least USA Basketball qualified for these Olympic Games. After all, the USA Baseball team did not. But let's not paint all American performances with a broad brush -- the women are faring very well.

3. Ugly Iranians. Arash Miresmaeili is an Iranian Olympian, or, at least was an Iranian Olympian. He carried the flag for the Iranian delegation in the opening ceremonies, only to bow out because his first round opponent was to be an Israeli, Ehud Vaks. Dan Wetzel, Yahoo's columnist, posted a good column on this subject. It's ironic that these games, in which hostilities are supposed to take a back seat, at least for a while, have provided one of the most brutal and closed societies with a forum for hatred and abject anti-Semitism. That type of behavior is inexcusable, and the IOC, if it has any guts, should take the Iranians to task for it. And did Miresmaeili bow out because of his protest against Israeli, or for the shame he might have felt at home had he lost to an Israeli, a Jew? I suppose we'll never now, but in this book he's a loser no matter how you spin it.

It's ironic, too, because as much as the Iranians excoriate the West, the U.S., and Israel and Jews in particular, they have permitted two very tall hoopsters, Jaber Rouzabahani and Hamid Hadaddi, to emigrate to the U.S. to try to achieve their dreams of playing in the NBA (click here and here for those posts). Hey, Iranian athletic officials, I got some news for you: the Commissioner of the Great Satan's NBA, David Stern, is Jewish. Gonna let 'em play now?

4. Cheesecake. I've posted on this before (regarding women athletes such as Amy Acuff doing all sorts of things to get attention), but women's volleyball has taken the word exposure to a much different level. Check out this post on TigerHawk to look at the slide show that Reuters has provided. I suppose that the Iranian delegation wouldn't be too happy about these events either. But the Iranian judoist who now must not be named didn't use his pullout as a protest of Western decadence, did he?

5. Cool Cat. I just love it when overlooked players rise to the occasion and put up awesome performances. Quick, name one U.S. women's softball player besides Jenny Finch? Can you do it? Okay, so if you're an Olympics savant, perhaps you know the name of the other star pitcher, Lisa Fernandez. That's pretty good. But can you name the third pitcher, a sleek Texan who's been on the international softball team since she was 17 and who was brilliant in a 3-0 extra-innings shutout of a tough Japanese team today? Remember the name, Cat Osterman. Awesome performance.

6. Silly Sports. Bad enough that synchronized diving is a sport, but did NBC have to lead off with it on Monday night? Pretty bad stuff. I'm generally against "judged" sports, even after the fall of the Iron Curtain and all of the hijinks that went on with diving, gymnastics and boxing. (If you're of a certain age, you used to joke when someone fell awkwardly in gym class or playing on the playground, "And the East German judge gave it a 4." Or something like that). It's not that these events aren't sports, but it's much better when performers can beat the other team or win a race without having to worry about what some judge thinks. Sorry, but I just don't trust those events the way I do, say, the 100-meter dash.

Early conclusion. Despite the suffocating news stories, the pre-Olympics hype, the endless commercials, even bad broadcasting, there is something about the games that is alluring and compelling. The Olympics, for all its warts (including President for Life Juan Antonio Samaranch, who insisted upon being called His Excellency during his tenure), brings together athletes from all over the world in a unique forum. And, in an ever-crazy world where different societies value human life most differently, getting all nations together, even for the relatively unimportant world of sport, is a good thing. I've enjoyed watching the games with my children, who are young but who have enjoyed watching China-Spain in basketball, the 200 meter freestyle featuring Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps, even the synchronized diving with the young and talented Chinese divers, the women's softball and just about everything else. That's the one thing about the Olympics -- there's always something -- and someone -- to cheer for.

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