Hey, is this the Olympics or 'As the World Turns'?

ROGER SIMON

August 05, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

I turn on the Olympics. NBC is doing one of its "moments."

A single trumpet plays dolorous notes in a minor key.

The voice of the announcer is somber and monotone.

"Fate is sometimes cruel," he says.

U.S. boxer Oscar de la Hoya trains in the ring. But this TV moment has little or nothing to do with boxing.

It has to do with the relentless theme of this year's Olympics: victory through tragedy.

The image of Oscar de la Hoya fades to slow-motion pictures of his mother.

I know by now that when NBC goes to slow motion, the person is usually dead.

"The road to Barcelona is partly a grieving process," the announcer says.

Oscar de la Hoya's mother has died and now Oscar fights for her.

Close-up of Oscar. The trumpet gives way to violins. The music swells.

Oscar speaks, his voice thick with emotion.

"When I win the gold," he says, blinking back tears, "I will say to my mother: 'Here it is. Here is your gold medal, the one I promised you.' "

Fade to black.

I know I should get all misty at this. And you know what? I do.

I am a sucker for this kind of stuff. When Oscar chokes back tears, I choke back tears.

But at the same time, I think something else:

Gimme a break already! Is this the Olympics or "As the World Turns"?

It is not enough merely to win anymore. It is not enough to train like a maniac, to strive and to struggle.

No, now you must also win in order to communicate with the dead.

That's right. The Olympic games have become a gigantic, fantastic fax machine with a direct line to the hereafter.

Pedro Morales sits in the stands watching his son, Pablo, swim in the 100-meter butterfly trials.

Pedro holds a framed photograph of his late wife and as their son swims his laps, Pedro aims the photo toward him.

Pablo swims. Pedro aims. The mother watches.

Pablo Morales must win the gold medal at the Olympics. He must win it for his mother.

He must.

And, thank God, he does.

But what happens when the soap opera does not follow the script?

Ron Karnaugh's story was shaping up as a perfect made-for-TV

movie.

Ron, 26, his father, mother and two sisters fly from Maplewood, N.J., to Barcelona for the Olympic Games.

At the opening ceremonies, Ron, a swimmer, marches into the stadium behind the American flag.

His father, Peter, 60, sitting in the stands, sees him, waves and then falls dead from a heart attack.

The family members are grief stricken. But they all decide that Ron will go on and compete in the 200-meter individual medley and try to win the gold medal.

For whom? (Stop me if you've heard this one before.)

For his father.

Six days later, Ron walks out to the pool wearing the straw hat that his father was wearing when he died.

Close up of Ron. Close up of Ron's mother and sisters in the stands.

Ron on the starting block. The gun going off. Ron hitting the water. Ron surging to an early lead.

And then fading. And finishing sixth.

So forget that made-for-TV movie.

"I can't figure it out," Ron says after the race. "I really don't know why I didn't swim up to my capabilities."

Let me hazard a guess: Maybe because it's hard enough to swim against Olympic competition under ideal circumstances, but carrying your dead father on your shoulders is just a little too much extra weight.

Am I being callous? Hard? Cruel?

I do not mean to be. Having lost both my mother and father in the past few years, I know the feeling that I never did enough or said enough or achieved enough for them while they were alive.

But as the years go by something happens: You begin to realize that your parents did not love you for what you did for them; they loved you for what you were to them.

And as far as I can tell, our Olympians were good children and are fine people.

It is enough.

It is more than enough.

It's as good as gold.

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