The Gold of Barcelona

August 11, 1992

In the women's 10,000-meter race Friday night, Derartu Tulu was favored to be the first black African woman medalist in a running event. She is from Ethiopia, one of the most distressed places on earth. Elana Meyer, a white South African, was little known internationally. Her country had been non grata in international sport for 32 years. Together, they led, lap after lap. Ms. Tulu sprinted ahead in the last lap to win the gold, Ms. Meyer the silver. Then, each draped in her nation's flag, they ran a joint victory lap, holding hands.

This was the truest Olympiad, the most inclusive, the least politicized, in 32 years. Perhaps the Olympic Summer Games should be held once every four years, in a different city that spruces itself up and claims to symbolize national pride, after all. TC For years of terrorism, boycott and ostracism, it had not always seemed such a good idea.

The least politicized, but the most commercialized. Somebody has to pay for this spectacle. The athletes can't. A few stars aside, most of them sacrifice what earning power they possess to run, jump, tumble, hit or do whatever it is they do the fastest, farthest, quickest, neatest or something-most in the world. If the raging war for market share among running-shoe makers will subsidize their activities, at least it is one of the more benign wars going.

For the record, the Unified Team made a last display of Soviepower, collecting 112 medals, before breaking up for good, the athletes going to rival national teams or the West. The United States efforts to gear up to match the statist giants paid off with a second-place 108 medals. What if the U.S. emerged as the last statist power left? It isn't, yet. The all-German team collected 82, nearly as good as East Germany alone, though friction between East German athletes and West German officials was evident. China did itself proud the old-fashioned Communist way with 54 medals and little Cuba, back after three boycotts, with 31. Back in New Delhi, India went into political crisis for having been shut out, compared to those 54 medals for China and one for Pakistan.

So it's good that Atlanta will host the Olympics in 1996. Perhaps they will do for the South what the '92 Games did for Catalonia -- which was immense good. Atlanta has a lot going for it, though no Church of the Sagrada Familia on the skyline as magic backdrop for outdoor events. Oh, and for the record, Ms. Tulu's ** gold gave Ethiopia a total of three medals in all hues, equal to Brazil, Morocco, Latvia, Croatia, Belgium, Iran and the Independent Participants (truncated Yugoslavia). Ms. Meyer's silver gave South Africa a total of two, equal to Greece, Ireland, Algeria, Estonia, Lithuania, Austria, Namibia, Israel, Mongolia and Slovenia. That's a pretty good club to be in.

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