Olympics viewers saw it all, the good and the bad in Beijing

Aug 26, 2008 6:58 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | Is it really over?

Can I come out from behind the refrigerator now, without all that splashing in the pool, jumping after volleyballs, running like mad, guys trying to drown other guys in water polo, dropping batons in relays, the lovely bikini gals sprawling in the sand chasing hard hits in beach volleyball, and having hardened pros beating up on amateurs in basketball, in the true Olympic spirit?

The press, of course, could not believe some guy 6 feet 5 from Jamaica could beat all those stars from the U.S. at 100 and 200 meters, so they implied Usain Bolt was on drugs. The grizzled skeptics who covered track and field for years couldn’t believe he could run that fast. One of them said he felt guilty for doubting, but still wrote a few thousand words in a story headlined, "As Records Fall, Suspicions of Doping Linger."

There was never a murmur about Michael Phelps and his eight golds, and there shouldn’t have been, nor of Bolt either. Both were equally brilliant in their dominating performances.

Wave that flag, boys.

Things got so bad during the week that the New York Times printed a story telling the boys and girls how to beat urine tests.

Then, in a gold medal display of ignorance and disgusting lack of sportsmanship, a clod from Cuba, misnamed Angel Calodia Matos, upset with a referee’s decision in the manly art of tae kwon do, kicked the Swedish referee in the face. For emphasis, the goon spit on the mat.

The World Taekwondo Federation, embarrassed, quickly announced that both Matos and his coach would be banned from all future sanctioned events, and his bronze medal would be nullified. Send him to Afghanistan. Or, with women’s softball now gone from the Olympic lineup, how about substituting the Roman Coliseum lions, and putting Angel in the first round?

There were, of course, high points.

Lisa Leslie was superb, as always, the best woman basketball player on the planet. She is retiring from Olympic competition at 36, a long road from her first Olympic appearance as a junior in high school. She has four gold medals to show for those years, and others cried with her when she stood proudly to accept the fourth in Beijing.

I watched with pride, as did millions of others, when Leslie and her professional counterparts on the men’s team showed the world that basketball still is America’s sport, and I watched in disbelief at what the world’s best gymnasts, men and women, can do as they defy injury on every round. The balance beam is awesome and scary, and how anyone can coach girls, whether starting as tots or not, to perform on it without dread and fear is beyond comprehension.

Most fascinating performances of the Olympics, for me, were the rhythmic gymnasts, and as I watched incredibly graceful young ladies from Siberia twirl 20-foot ribbons intricate patterns with amazing grace and precision, I could not help but think of the cold and lonely gyms and the long hours of practice they endured before winning medals on this world stage.

And then there was Bryan Clay. Unknown and unheralded to sports fans in the United States, he stands today as the world’s greatest athlete.

The decathlon still is the Olympics’ defining event, closest to what the original more than a century ago was designed to emulate from the events of antiquity.

To excel in one sport as the best in the world is a huge accomplishment.

To endure the rigors of excelling in 10 is beyond belief, and watching Clay struggle to the finish of the 1,500 meters and collapse on the track, king of the universe, could best be appreciated by those who have participated in any sport. He should be an American hero, but too few in this country will understand the depth of his accomplishment.

Covering this monumental array of sports was a gargantuan task, and NBC deserves high praise for the way it did it. Melding and blending the multitude of events, many held simultaneously and in widely separated areas, required planning as intricate as the Chinese opening ceremonies.

It is true, as has been written, that China used the Olympics, from start to finish, to let the world know it is a new nation, a superpower and modern colossus. NBC showed it all, smoothly and professionally, with skill and brilliantly executed planning.

I was not behind the refrigerator. I was watching it with pride, along with you, and with excitement and admiration for a huge job done almost flawlessly from a spectator’s view. I’m sure they were glitches galore, but they were not seen from this side of the tube. Congratulations to all concerned.