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August 28, 2008
Now that the Beijing’s Olympic’s massively overdone closing ceremonies are behind us (the opening ceremonies were massively overdone, too) and the whole world knows that the Chinese really know how to set off fireworks, an assessment of some of the pluses and minuses of the XXIX Olympiad would seem to be in order.
First and foremost, I believe American swimmer Michael Phelps’ eight-gold-medal performance and his mother’s adoration of her son, (her face must be the most televised maternal image in history) received too much idolatrous attention. One egregious example:
Phelps, with all eight medals hung around his neck, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and described as “the all-time Olympian.”
There have been, in my opinion, a number of greater athletes in Olympic history—at least one of them performing in Beijing. I refer to U.S. “decathlete” Bryan Clay, who won a single gold medal but did it by performing to the top of his ability in 10 separate events.
Phelps owes two of his eight medals directly to the gutty efforts of a little-mentioned swimming teammate named Jason Lezak. First, Lezak, swimming anchor, outswam a favored French star, Alan Bernard, in the 400-meter freestyle relay.
Then, in the 400 meter medley relay, Lezak again came through on the freestyle anchor leg, holding off a challenge down the stretch.
Without unexpectedly strong, gutsy performances by barely-mentioned freestyler Jason Lezak, Michael Phelps goes home with six gold medals.
Why, by the way, are so many gold medal opportunities available for an Olympic swimmer? It’s simple: There is no other Olympic sport in which an athlete has so many opportunities to collect gold. There are four individual Olympic-recognized strokes in swimming. In each of the strokes there is individual competition at different distances. Then there are a variety of relays.
Contrast that with the single medal opportunity—with no help from teammates—in which the athlete must do his best in 10 individual sports. To me, the real U. S. heroes of the Beijing Olympics include decathlon champion Bryan Clay of the United States, still standing proud after the final event, the 1,500 meters, which left four decathletes prone on the track, utterly exhausted.
Another of my Olympic heroes: Sanya Richards, who ran the anchor leg for the U.S. in the 4 x 400-meter relay team. She took the baton 10 meters or more behind the Russian anchor leg runner, Anastasia Kapachinskaya, but edged past the Russian runner in the final few meters after running flat-out for 400 meters.
And most certainly one of my favorite televised demonstrations celebrating a gold medal victory was that of members of the U.S. men’s basketball team after a surprisingly tough gold medal victory over Spain. As one NBC commentator described it, you had millionaire professional basketball players celebrating with the same enthusiasm as other gold medal winners—hugging each other, then finally winding up in a sort of celebratory team huddle.
There have been frequent comments on the fact that superstars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James changed their high-scoring tactics in order to help on defense and spread shooting opportunities more widely. This team’s America-first spirit was most movingly demonstrated when an NBC commentator asked another team member about his personal feelings after the gold medal victory.
Dwyane Wade replied: “It’s not about my feelings. It’s about those three letters.” Those three letters were, of course, the “USA” prominently displayed in red on Wade’s blue jersey as he responded to the interviewers question.
* * *
When Russia invaded neighboring Georgia, a CNN commentator’s reaction:
“Russia’s tough talk is raising concern about a return of the cold war.”
The truth of the matter, of course, is that since Russia acquired nuclear weapons, and consolidated its seizure of control of the Baltic states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and eastern Germany, with the acquiescence of Great Britain and the United States, the so-called Cold War has never ended.
There was a period when, under Ronald Reagan’s leadership, the United States built up of such military superiority that Russian leadership was forced to free most of the countries which had been unwillingly put under Russian domination.
But the basic desire of Russian leaders like the current dictator, Vladimir Putin, never really changed despite an interim period during which the more realistic and reasonable Mikhail Gorbachev was in power.
Western and Central European countries continue to believe in democratic governments and continue to fear that the Russian dictatorship will continue to try to push Russian influence if not actual possession into areas once under Russian control. Russia’s invasion of Georgia is a step in that direction.
So the Cold War heats up and is likely to do so until Russian leadership becomes convinced that the West is not going to allow the Soviet dictatorship to extend its armed influence into democratic neighbors as it has done with at least temporary success in the case of Georgia.
* * *
Telephone call from Marian:
“If you see an 80-year-old driving around on this pleasant day with her convertible top down, it’s me. It’s such a beautiful day.”
To which I replied: “I know this means you have an appointment with your hairdresser tomorrow.”To which Marian cheerily replied: “That’s right. Bye, bye.”
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