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Mon. Aug. 23
Drugs! Drama! Drachmas!
It was nearby a mob scene as veteran gymnast Aleksei Nemov was obviously robbed of a medal by more oddball scoring. The crowd booed for ten minutes as controversy-laden gold medalist Paul Hamm waited to take to the high bar. Italy's Igor Cassina took gold, Hamm the silver, and Japan's Isao Yoneda bronze. Alexei and Igor hugged, showing true sportsmanship. But what was obvious to the least learned of gymnastics fans was the 12-time champion Nemov performed six high-flying releases with ease and skill. Even after the scores by the Canadian and Malaysian judges were changed to 9.75, it still did not do the king of men's gymnastics justice. Said Nemov to the NBC cameras, "Unbelievable."
It turned out to be an unlucky 13th attempt for Nemov.
Now, the USOC is considering giving South Korea a second gold medal over the last controversy. Well, you might as well give Nemov a second bronze, and give those judges the boot.
Vault was won by Spain's perfectly gorgeous Gervasio Defer. Although Romania's Marian Dragulescu executed a perfect 10 vault (which was only given a 9.90) before nearly falling in the landing of his second/last vault. He's still the most beautiful gymnast in the world, doncha think? I sure do.
Parallel bars: so many wonderful athletes at this event! Yann Cucherat (France), Ivan Ivankov (Bellarusse), so many completely similar scores for very different routines. Gold went to Valery Goncharov of the Ukraine, who fell in high bar, and had lost a member of his team in a car crash earlier this year.
Men's 400 meter: Jeremy Wariner won gold. Along with Derek Brew and Otis Harris, it made for a US medal sweep.
The US men's water polo team got pummeled by Serbia-Montenegro 9-4. Not that they didn't try hard. Another water polo stud is Gabriel Hernandez.
* * *
Balco-related drug scandals got a jolt of reality. Trevor Graham a former coach of Marion Jones, is the point man in the scandal. Associated Press says "track coach Trevor Graham has admitted he was the coach who anonymously sent a syringe of THG to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a key piece of evidence in the BALCO case that helped lead to suspensions and possible lifetime bans against several athletes."
Christos Tsekos had his office and warehouse searched by Greek officials for cartons of a food supplement with ephedrine, a banned substance. According to Yahoo News, "Last week, inspectors from Greece's National Organization of Medicines, or EOF, the Greek equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raided the offices and a warehouse and confiscated some of the products distributed by Tsekos' company."
Quite a far shot from grape leaves, these Athens Games may end up holding a record for the number of drug disqualifications.
* * *
Estimates of the cost of the Athens Games have risen to $12 billion. Officials have said that they may sell the hastily completed sports arenas to pay the bills.
Meanwhile, tickets sales are sometimes still leaving stadiums half filled. Greeks are either too poor or disinterested to pay to see events they can watch on TV, perhaps. Here's a look at the financial side of the Games. You'd think with all that money, they could afford gymnastics judges who know how to do their job.
Tues. Aug. 24
Iraq may have lost the gold medal battle, but they've won hearts with their tenacity and recovery amidst the war, and after the years of torture under Hussein's dictatorship. They face Italy, where, sorry to say, I'm going to be quite conflicted about who to root for, so I'll root for both teams.
Despatie and Sympathy
* * *
Women's beach volleyball finals gave the dominant US duo a gold. No surprise there. They never lost a match. Morbid note: Misty May not only had her deceased mother's initials tattooed on her shoulder, she brought a prescription bottle with some of her mother's ashes, which she sprinkled on the sand court. We get the sentiment (May's mom was also a volleyball player), but goodness. What if gymnasts started sprinkling peoples' ashes in the chalk bowl? Talk about spirit hands!
Ouch! Hurdles! Joanna Hayes not only won in olympic record time, but unfortunately at the expense of favored Perdita Felicien of Canada, who knocked over Russia's Irina Cherchenko as well, as she she tripped on the first hurdle.
So then, Hayes, the gold medalist, and the US bronze medalist both thanked Jesus and God - for what, making two other women fall down so they could win? I thought there might be such divine intervention from the Olympic gods, but I wasn't aware of the Christian god being a track trickster.
The old gods may smile on hubris sometimes, as they did for feisty decathlon champion, Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic, who jumped, mugged for cameras, and wore some very revealing white tights (that obviously made NBC's cameramen nervous enough to aim high). He also showed good sportsmanship with the US's gorgeous Brian Clay, who won silver. With 8893 points, Sebrle won an Olympic record.
He's not shy about his talents, nor should he be!
There's something so pure about Track & Field, despite the drug scandals. How fast, how high; it's all so obvious. Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj winning the 1500; Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva setting a world record in pole vault; who needs Law & Order when you've got this kind of drama?
* * *
* * *
Given the network and online coverage of wrestling, you'd think Rulon Gardner was the only male wrestler in Athens. It's nice that he's gotten all these accolades for what was essentially a fluke in Sydney, but while Rulon was doing the talk show circuit, getting lost in the woods and displaying a dopey kind of death wish, other wrestlers, like the astoundingly accomplished Cael Sanderson, have been, well, wrestling.
Could it be that the corporate media loves a hapless victor, and can't abide a muscled hunk who simply wins by working hard? Whatever the case, I'm betting that this is the face of the next upper-weight class men's wrestling gold medalist.
Wed. Aug. 25
What's it like to have 70,000 of your countrymen cheering you on as you win the women's 400-meter hurdles?
Ask Fani Halkia. Ecstatic over her victory, she knelt to the ground, then took off her shoes. Hopefully it simply meant she was finished for this Olympics, and not retiring, as others like wrestler Rulon Gardner and weightlifter Pyrros Dimas signalled, when they finished their careers.
Halkia said, "If you have a Greek soul, you can go to the top of the world."
* * *
More fumbles in the hurdles, this time the men: Anier Garcia, left, of Cuba, consoles Allen Johnson, of the U.S after Johnson fell in the 110 hurdles.
Greek fans also filled the stands at the men's indoor volleyball quarterfinals. A controversial finish, leading to a U.S. victory, quelled the chants, of "Hellas! Hellas!"
* * *
Many athletes having finished their competitions took to the numerous parties at nightclubs. the largest was the Sports Illustrated party, covered by the excruciatingly dopey Billy Bush on Extra, one of those cloying entertainment shows. Did Bush notice his interviewees like Aussies Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett visibly cringing at his inane questions? Probably not. Amusing note from that segment: U.S. female swimmers getting a bit of make-up to cover their "goggle tan."
Confronting even more media scrutiny, gymnast Paul Hamm appeared on David Letterman's show to complain some more. Not every athlete sticks around for the Closing Ceremonies. Nope. Some have to rush home to make the talk show circuit.
* * *
Greco-Roman wrestling got underway, finally! And while American cameras obsessed over super-heavyweight Rulon Gardner, others focused on the smaller yet swifter of wrestlers, Azerbaijan's Farid Mansurov (top) being just one example. He won gold in this under-66k match.
Turkey's Seref Eroglu (butt) grapples with Ukraines's Armen Vardanyan (face).
* * *
And while the media has made more than a lot about the women's volleyball player's skimpy outfits, the men take to hugging on occasion, too.
Now, when are they going to compete in bikinis?
* * *
In men's baseball, Cuba took the gold amid -you guessed it- more controversy, this time over language miscommunication on the field.
More stories at USA Today.
Thu. Aug. 26
Now THIS is what I'm talking about!
Getting a tad exhausted in my attempts to find new coverage online, I turned to my own city's paper/web site, SFGate.com to find some nice articles and info. 60 athletes from the Bay Area are competing in Athens, including highly praised boxer Andre Ward. A few years ago, I visited the Oakland gym where he trains, to interview boxer Gina Guidi (now retired). It's a great classic space, with posters, photos and clippings from decades of local boxing history.
* * *
Although it's great that the women's soccer final (US beat Brazil 2-1 in OT) was broadcast with few commercials, it was sad to see so many empty seats. You'd think the Greeks might give away some tickets after all this hype, perhaps to school kids, or, hey, anyone. But some events, without Greek competitors, seem to disinterest the locals.
Having several fave women retiring, like Mia Hamm, the stars of the gold medal soccer team have said they hope to leave a legacy for the next generation of girls who play sports. They spoke of dedication, teamwork, and, my goodness, love, love, love! Really. I've never heard the word "love" used more often than by those feisty soccer players, a group that, unlike most, actually sang the national anthem.
* * *
Sometimes, you just can't deny a US sweep, particularly in track. But with a stadium filled with Greeks who'd bought tickets months ago to see their own countryman win, a mass temper tantrum resulted in two false starts in the 200-meter race.
How was it the fault of the runners that Kostas Kenteris, who won the gold medal four years ago in Sydney, took one too many banned substances? Shawn Crawford won gold, Bernard Williams won silver, and 100-meter champion Justin Gatlin came in third.
Why cheer and whistle for a missing-in-action drug user? I don't know. Sometimes, it's all Greek to me.
* * *
So, enough about love. What about the sex? How many world-class jocks got laid in Athens? Well, some people want to know. SF Bay Guardian's Ask Andrea answers, sort of, citing a Sydney Morning Herald article in which javelin thrower Breaux Greer observed, "You get a lot of people who are in shape and, you know, testosterone's up and everybody's attracted to everybody."
While the New York Daily News hints about a "medal-winning US team" being "severely scolded by its coach for doing the nasty in public places" and that "their smooth-skinned sexcapades are the talk of the Olympic Village," a Scotsman.com article is more specifically saucy, gossiping about a US female athlete and four male German rowers fooling around on a rooftop. What, no coxwain?
While an article on www.smh.com.au mentions "discipline," a Taipei Times article reiterates the horny factor. The Aussies are deemed the biggest party type with the lowest inhibitions, while the Cubans seem to grab the most condoms.
In the Scotsman article, former Olympian Dick Roth recalled the sexual energy going as far back as his experience in Tokyo. "I know I have to be careful when I talk to a journalist, but I can say this: It wasn’t the f**k-fest it is now."
Hmmm. Reminds me of Sydney's Gay Games VI, where at least we usually knew who was aiming at whom.
Associated Press portrays a rather innocent dorm-like environment, with the likes of defeated tennis stud Andy Roddick enjoying food, email, movies and...Yahtzee?
Sure, they're bored. Right. Still, it's a good thing Durex donated 50 condoms per athlete! But we still want to know which sprinters hooked up with which water polo players, or if there's less tribal defection, and more jocks flirt within their own sports, and genders. I wanna know who gets the next date with Felix Sanchez.
* * *
If you think I'm being catty, check out columnist Tim Goodman's rant. He pokes fun at the worst of the Games, and even uses the word "helium" to diss Paul Hamm.
Fri. Aug. 27
Secretary of State Colin Powell has cancelled his trip to Athens, after protestors hung a banner at the Parthanon.
"We believe that we express the majority of the Greek people in opposition to Powell for crimes committed in Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere in the world," Antonis Skylakos, a Communist Party member of parliament, told The Associated Press.
* * *
Watching a synch team perform at IGLA 2003 with one very sexy man amid a group of women made for a great shift in themes. Too bad that rarely happens, and men have been shut out. Now, if only men's teams would compete. Imagine the power of water polo with the flash of Vegas. Sure would be a fun addition to those poolside circuit parties.
Speaking of drugs; is Marion Jones running a bit slower and jumping a bit lower without the "inspiration" of her husband and former coach, both of whom are/were involved in doping scandals? Just asking.
* * *
I love pole vaulters. And it's not just because of their poles. It's a very risky sport. One female Olympian broke her leg, and some college competitors have died. So, I'm glad to see guys like Toby Stevenson wearing a helmet. Even if he looks goofy, he'll have all his brains after the event's over.
Even more high-flying, er, falling, were the men's platform diving prelims. Many slim gorgeous men, and China looks to take the high honors, but you know where gay fans are gazing. Oh, Canada! Alexandre Despatie is our fave.
* * *
Of today's basketball game, one victorious Argentine player put it succinctly, when talking about his U.S. opponents: "They're great individual players, but it's five-on-five, not one-on-one. It's a team sport. It's not tennis."
Paul Hamm says he needs a rest. And you know what? We need a rest from Paul Hamm. But the corporate media likes to chew its sensational stories down to the marrow, and the officiating bigwigs are continuing the controversy. USOC President Peter Ubberoth accused the Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG) of "deflecting their own incompetence." The Russians are groaning. The Koreans complain. Expect more blather all through Hamm's tour in the Rock & Roll Gymnastics show he's set to star in. I guess they won't be visiting South Korea.
Meanwhile, Marion Dragulescu remains the handsomest gymnast in the world. And I don't want to hear a word of protest about that!
Sat. Aug. 28
On Tuesday, I predicted that he would win gold. Call me Cassandra. Call me Jimmy the Greek. But it didn't take a psychic to predict this victory. Undefeated in his college career, this four-time high school champion and four-time NCAA champion at Iowa State should get the spotlight over other media darlings.
This is the face of the toughest wrestler at 84kg. This is the face of honest victory.
Steven Abas, also of the US, won silver in the 55kg category. Happy to see you, too. Steven.
A Hungarian wrestler was stripped of his medal, as was a Puerto Rican grappler, both for steroids and positive drug tests.
See, if the Hungarians hadn't banned Gergo Szabó, they might have had a better chance.
* * *
Whoo hoo, Canoe! With all those impressive guns, they ought to call them battleships.
Germany's Tomasz Wylenzek celebrates after winning the Men's C2 1000 meter final
Spain's David Cal, Germany's Christian Gille and Tomasz Wylenzek, Canada's Adam Van Koeverden, Great Britain's Ian Wynne, Germany's Andreas Dittmer; just beautiful. And the women are pretty fabulous, too. It was an army of aquatic arms.
* * *
It's frustrating having to wait until the wee hours of the night for my preference, the more unusual sports, like Tae Kwan Do. But it's worth it to see the heartfelt victories, like that of gold medalist Steven Lopez. It may be unusual to an NBC audience fed on basketball and bikini beach babes in volleyball, but millions of people study this newest of martial arts.
Lopez's friendly gesture of giving a T-shirt to his Iraqi opponent didn't help the simmering anti-American sentiment from many in the audience.
Gestures toward the upset Russians, crushed over the news of two plane crashes said to be the result of terrorist suicide bombers, the embattled and wartorn countries, only further mix politics and strife into the idealistic goal of a peaceful Games.
Of course, I can't hop to Canada for the better coverage like Seattle Times writer Jayda Evans, who notes their better coverage. But for a different perspective online, one need only visit a different URL, Oui?
* * *
The men's basketball team finally got a medal, a lovely bronze, which is fine. Perhaps it's not their preferred color, but what can you say about a team that delayed the game's start by nearly an hour to change uniforms (wrong color!), then had its coaching staff show up on court even later. Something really strange is going on with this crew.
Meanwhile, the women's basketball team took gold. Take that, Title IX opponents.
Check out MSNBC for more.
I'm still sad that Alexandre Despatie got fourth in Platform Diving. Oh well. We still love Alex for so many reasons. Congrats to China and Australia. And we can't blame the judges, since the biased Chinese diver, who gave one of his countrymen's flops a 7.5 (while all others gave it 4's and 5's) had been replaced with a Venezuelan. Looks like Gymnastics could take a lesson from Diving.
Sun. Aug. 29
It seems God, or the Gods, are working overtime on Sunday.
Expect some celebrating in Oakland. Homeboy Andre Ward won gold in Boxing!
More strangeness at the men's Marathon. Some nutjob fundy attacked Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima, who was in the lead with only 4 kilometers to go. The idiot (a defrocked Irish priest) had a sign on his back that read "Israel: Prophecy Fulfilled" or some such religious crap. Why is it that bible-thumping nuts always have to use violence to get their insane messages across?
De Lima went on to win bronze, happily waving his arms like an airplane as he rounded the last bend at the stadium. What a trooper! "We Shall Overcome," indeed. Italy's Stefano Baldini won gold, with the US's Mebrahtom Keflezighi won silver.
Things might have been different if de Lima hadn't been attacked. A protest for an honorary gold was denied Brazil, but the IOC said it would give de Lima the Pierre de Coubertin medal in recognition of his "exceptional demonstration of fair play and Olympic values," to say nothing about being mugged by a Jesus freak.
* * *
Koji (rt.) will take that gold, Joz.
Good news for Koji Murofushi fans. He's been upgraded from silver to gold medal in hammer throw, after Hungary's Adrian Annus refused a post-event drug test. "I don't know why they treat me like a criminal," he said. Because ya are, Blanche. Ya are.
Annus is coached by Jozsef Vida, who also coached discus gold medalist Robert Fazekas. Fazekas was also stripped of his gold medal. Apparently, he wouldn't give them enough urine after the contest, citing "religious beliefs" as making him pee-shy. What. Ever.
I'll stick to idol worship and remain kookoo for Koji.
More about Japanese athletes, in Japanese, here.
* * *
The braggadocio of the US men's 4x100 relay may have inspired the derision, but winning a silver by a nose seems to be a "failure," according to US media. Shrill in particular, the bitter NBC guy who interviewed the four-man team of Maurice Green, Justin Gatlin, Shawn Williams (all previous medal winners), and the apparent fall guy, Coby Miller. After gathering the silver medalists, the NBC crank poked and prodded them for their "failure." When he finally got an admission of disappointment from the athletes, the sportscaster dropped his microphone and walked off-camera, leaving the four men to sheepishly smile.
Sometimes, critique is just, as some fumbles prove. Sometimes, critique is just ankle-biters with a press pass. Can sportscasters be stripped of their credentials? One can hope. Maybe the NBC crank has had it with US tracksters' boasts, or had a bit too much ouzo the night before. Perhaps he lost some sleep as late night riots marred Saturday night's festivities.
* * *
Fervent final in men's water polo, with Hungary defeating Serbia and Montenegro 8-7. Big wet muscular men; you can't beat that for must-see TV.
How more perfectly could the Greeks have brought together symbols of their culture, their mythos, their heritage, and under a perfectly timed harvest moon, as dancers reaped the wheat chaffes, and athletes poured out to embody the harvest of years of sweat?
I hope NBC enjoys its own harvest of commercialism, truncated coverage, and single-minded ethnocentric bias. Next time, I'm watching anyone else's coverage.
How must it have felt for the announcers to feign joy at seeing the daunting performances by Chinese performers as they celebrate the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Chinese opera and tumbling performers are beautiful to watch, but how welcoming is a regime that destroys Tibetan monasteries, imprisons dissent, and continues a veritable lockdown on outside information and culture? The passionate, humane, and generous Greeks, who created so much of what Western culture takes for granted, who demanded a clean competition, will be sorely missed in four years.
Anyway, kudos to Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, president of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee. She deftly dodged the controversies and kept up a proud face. Does that lady know how to work a runway, or what?
ΑΘΗΝΑ 2004 a ώorκ iη progrεss