Olympics only fun when U.S. wins it all

September 10, 2000|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Every four years, athletes from all over the world gather to compete in an event that truly epitomizes the purity and non-commercialism of amateur sports: The Coca-Cola IBM John Hancock Visa UPS McDonald's Kodak Panasonic Samsung Sports Illustrated / Time Xerox Olympic Games, brought to you by NBC.

I don't know about you, but I expect to be literally glued to my TV set from the start of the opening ceremonies until the dramatic moment, three weeks later, when the opening ceremonies finally end, and the first actual athletic event (the women's 300-kilometer balloon toss) gets under way. I don't want to miss a single second of the competition! Unless, of course, the competition is won by a foreigner.

I frankly wonder why foreigners are even allowed to compete in the Olympics. They're always messing up the drama for U.S. TV viewers. Like, NBC will broadcast a heartwarming, sentimental, in-depth profile of an American athlete, showing how, through grit and determination, he overcame a disadvantage that would have stymied a lesser person, such as being born without a head. So the American viewers are naturally expecting to see this person win a gold medal -- and then he gets beat by some athlete from some dirtball vowel-impaired nation with a name like "Gzkmnzksrygyztan" that doesn't even have a McDonald's!

I hate it when that happens, and so do the people at NBC. That's what led to that memorable moment during the 1996 Atlanta games, when the U.S. favorite in the men's 1500-meter hurdles was nearly defeated by a foreigner, who lost because he had to run the final 250 meters with Bob Costas clinging to his leg.

Yes, the competitive spirit is fierce in the Olympics. It has been this way since 776 B.C., when the ancient Greeks held the first Olympic games, sponsored by Ted's Discount House of Hemlock. In those days, the athletes competed naked, which as you can imagine meant that there was always a large audience, especially for the trampoline event.

In the modern Olympics, of course, the athletes wear clothes, except in table tennis, which is why this sport is never shown on television. Another difference between old and new is that the modern Olympics are strictly governed by the International Olympic Committee, whose members insure the integrity of the games by relentlessly accepting lavish hospitality and gifts. Unfortunately, in recent years the IOC has been tainted by allegations of bribery, especially after it voted to award the 2004 Olympics to a man identified only as "Big Tony."

But this is no time to think of scandal. This is the time to focus on the games now going on in Australia, which is popularly known, because of its location at the bottom of the globe, as "the Emerald Isle." This is an odd place to hold the summer Olympics, because Australia is, believe it or not, just getting out of winter! That's correct: Because Australia is located in the Southern Hemisphere, everything is backwards: When they sing "The Twelve Days of Christmas," they start with the part about 12 drummers drumming and when they tell jokes, the punch line is always "Knock knock," and skilled accordion players are worshiped by teen-agers as gods.

This exotic locale is the site of the 2000 Olympics, which officially began with the Lighting of the Eternal Olympic Flame. The flame traveled all the way from Atlanta via a torch relay: Runners took turns carrying it across the United States to California, where it was handed to a plucky young amateur swimmer named Timmy, who plunged into the surf and began his epic journey, making it nearly to the end of the Santa Monica pier before the sharks got him, only 7,500 miles short of his goal. So they had to light the Eternal Flame in Sydney with a Bic, the Official Disposable Butane Lighter of the Olympic Games.

Yes, overcoming adversity is what the Olympic spirit is all about. Let us not forget the words of the solemn prayer spoken by the ancient Greek athletes as they prepared to compete: "Pi epsilon zeta, tau omega, sigma chi" (literally, "I hope somebody invents some kind of supporter").

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