For most Americans,
Olympic gold
only a dream

Feb 21, 2006 9:35 AM

There was a remarkable coincidence in news flowing from the Olympics last week, and no one in media, to my knowledge, picked up on it.

The story actually started in Greece, with the discovery in a field of a 6,500-year-old gold pendant, found by a woman who wanted no reward and no publicity when she handed it over to authorities.

What made it remarkable in the context of Olympic news was that the medallion found by the hiker was an almost exact duplicate, except for size, of those hanging around the necks of athletes fortunate enough, and good enough, to win gold this winter in Italy. It was a round, flat gold object, doughnut shaped, with a hole in the center.

Few Americans, of course, got to see the ones in Italy, except for the snowboarders who had the advantage of practically inventing their game.

Our all-fall-down skiers, bent on fun and frivolity and frothy statements about "it was just another run" and "screw the medals" and "at least it was worth the trip," were pathetic.

We read earlier how the current Olympic medals were designed, but do not believe it had anything to do with antiquity. To the American athletes, or most of them, the O must seem prophetic, as in zip, nada, nothing.

But seeing Russia’s gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko skating around waving his flag, with the gold doughnut flapping on his chest, and then seeing a picture of the gold doughnut from 4,500 B.C, was startling.

Karamitrou Mendesidi, who runs the Greek archaeological service in the northern region of Greece where the 6,000 year-old medallion was found, said it belongs to the Neolithic period, about which there is little knowledge of any substance. Ms. Mendesidi said we know almost nothing about the use of metals of any kind, let alone gold, during that period, but the existence of this medallion "indicates that these people were highly advanced, producing significant works of art."

The tiny Greek pendant — it is only an inch and a half in diameter, is not the first such artifact found. Three others have been found in the same region, near the ancient northern city of Thessaloniki, and others that are similar have been found in Turkey and Bulgaria.

All of this leads to the question of whether it might be 6,000 years before our Olympians get their heads out of the lofty Olympian heights (and bars and singles joints) and spend time on their homework.

It is interesting to note that someone takes this stuff seriously.

BOCOG, for example.

You may not have run across BOCOG, but it is the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Games for the XXIX Olympiad, which will be held in Beijing in 2008. The committee was formed on Dec. 13, 2001, five months after Beijing was awarded the games. It now is up to 22 departments, but is expanding, and by the time the games arrive it will have more than 30 departments and over 4,000 employees. That’s a big committee.

Among its concerns are designs for the medals for that event. They have solicited requests for proposals. As the host city, they will be responsible for minting the medals, and of course they will adhere to the gold-silver-bronze order that was first put in place in the 1904 games and has survived a century of change. Before that, the winners got silver medals, and it is ironic that the design — which stayed the same for years and was the work of the Italian artist Giuseppe Cassioli — changed this year with the winter games in Italy.

Since Bode Miller and his cohorts don’t seem to give a damn about the medals, we can let them in on a little secret.

The first place medals aren’t gold.

They are gold plated, hardly worth trying for when all those good-looking Italian girls are around.

There are only two major honors where solid gold medals are awarded: one is the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the other is the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bode and the boys are not likely to get any closer to those than they did to gold on the hills of Sestriere and its nearby mountains. And if they did, they probably would fall down while walking up to get them.