A great country,or what

Nick Coleman

February 26, 1992|By Nick Coleman

THERE SHE WAS, a vision of beauty in a star-spangled costume, gliding across the ice in Albertville, France, to the beat of that old flag-waving anthem "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Her name was Yamaguchi, Kristi Yamaguchi. The gold-medal winner, a Valley Girl with a Japanese surname, dazzling the Olympic crowd at the final-night skating exhibition.

America Firsters like Pat Buchanan must have choked on their caviar.

Mr. Buchanan is the right-winger who is challenging George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. When he recites his list of supposedly good American names (Brown, Murphy, etc.) he doesn't include any Yamaguchis. But there she was, the women's figure-skating champion, wearing stars, throwing salutes and dancing to the words "born on the Fourth of July."

Yamaguchi -- as American as apple pie. As American as Buchanan.

The 1992 Winter Olympics gave us some wonderful moments. And I don't just mean those few-and-far-between moments when American athletes won medals. Counting medals is a waste of time for Americans, because when we Americans watch the Olympics, we get to cheer for everybody.

No other country enjoys the Olympics as much as we do because the truth -- much to the dislike of xenophobes like Pat Buchanan -- is that we are the world.

Mr. Buchanan, a tiptoeing racist out of the Father Coughlin mold, says it is mere pragmatism, not racism, that explains why he wants to keep America pure from foreign races. After all, he asks, who would we rather have come to Virginia: a million English or a million Zulus?

Mr. Buchanan says the answer is obvious, and I agree. I say give us the Zulus. The Zulus know how to work for a living, and they still have manners. A million pugnacious, skinheaded, welfare-dependent Brits would ruin Virginia. Just ask the Indians what happened the last time the English washed up on our shores.

The promise of America still lies in the multiplicity of its peoples. .. Our problems, including the remnant racism typified by Pat Buchanan, can't obscure the incredible richness and strength of our diversity. During the Olympics, you only had to follow the fortunes of the U.S. hockey team to see it at work.

When the U.S.A.'s team opened against the Italians, there were players named Donato, Donatelli and Sacco on the ice. Playing for our side.

When we played the French, the best French guy on the ice was named LeBlanc, and he was in goal for the United States. When we played the Germans, we had a Heinze. If the Irish had a hockey team, we could have thrown our Sweeney, our McEachern and our Sean (Sean Hill) against them.

Woody Guthrie would have had a songwriting field day.

When we played the Czechoslovaks, I couldn't find anyone with a Czechoslovak name on our club, but they had a player named Hrbek. "If I told you that Hrbek was negotiating with Detroit, you'd think it was bad news for the Twins," who employ first baseman Kent Hrbek, said a CBS radio announcer, who went on to explain that the hockey-playing Hrbek was talking to the Detroit Red Wings, not the Detroit Tigers.

What a country, as Yakoff Smirnoff, the Russian-born comedian, always says.

In the end, the U.S. hockey team didn't have enough sparkle. After strong-arming its way through the preliminary round, the U.S.A. finished out of the money. But if our hockey skills were somewhat thin, our gene pool was deep.

The most fun game to watch, especially for us lutefisk eaters in Minnesota, was when our boys took on the slick-skating Swedes. The Swedes didn't like us, and we didn't like them. And when the game ended in a 3-3 tie, our coach was so angry that he refused to shake hands with their coaches. Our guy's name? Yah, you betcha: Peterson.

It takes a Swede to know a Swede.

Yamaguchi, Peterson, Hrbek, Donato, Herschel Walker -- even Pat Buchanan.

What a country. You gotta love it.

Nick Coleman is a columnist for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press.

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