Let's just get over Down Under

September 14, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd

IF NOTHING else comes from the Summer Olympic Games, which begin in Sydney tomorrow night with the opening ceremonies, we may finally realize, once and for all, what an annoying country Australia really is.

Here the Games haven't even started and I'm already sick of all these bad Crocodile Dundee impersonations from the TV sports guys and all these corny "G'day, mates!" headlines and sappy "How to Speak Australian!" features in the newspapers.

Not to mention all these commercials that portray the Aussies as the toughest people on earth, the greatest beer drinkers, etc.

Believe me, by the time this is all over, we could have angry mobs with burning torches marching on Outback Steak Houses everywhere.

Even worse than all this overblown Aussie-mania is the undercurrent of cynicism that surrounds these Games, best expressed by a smarmy sports anchor on ESPN or CNN, I think it was, who looked in the camera and declared flatly: "Nobody cares about the Olympics anymore."

Oh yeah, pal?

Well, here's what I don't care about anymore: pro football and basketball players dealing drugs and throwing their wives down a flight of stairs and getting hauled off to the slammer, moody outfielders making $13 million a year who can't be bothered to sign autographs for little kids or act civilly toward fans, basketball coaches with red sweaters stretched over their big guts who build their careers by demeaning their players and making everyone around them miserable.(Is this last reference to that big ol' charmer, Bobby Knight, who was fired by Indiana University the other day? Oh, you betcha.(In a previous life as a sportswriter, I had the misfortune to be around Knight quite a few times. In 1984, I spent a week in Bloomington, Ind., covering the men's Olympic basketball try-outs, which was like covering the Politburo in the old Soviet Union. Knight, the USA head coach, was (as always) paranoid, dictatorial, rude to everyone around him and unbelievably cruel to those who worked for him.(But bullies always get theirs in the end. It is one of the verities of life that has always sustained me.)

Anyway, even if no one else is, I'm into the Olympics. I like everything about them, even the opening ceremonies, where the athletes march into the stadium and flags wave and fireworks go off and 2,000 security guys with earphones and automatic weapons hit the deck and bark into their wrist radios: "What the hell was that?!"

Of course, it goes without saying that we all hope the U.S. team does not commit a fashion faux-pas, as has happened in past opening ceremonies.

A few years ago, for instance, the American team at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, paraded into the stadium in full-length blue parkas, which was strange enough. But they compounded the problem by topping off the ensemble with navy cowboy hats, making the entrance look like the morning lineup at a dude ranch.

One thing I do get a little tired of, though, are these warm and fuzzy, up-close-and-personal packages of the athletes that the networks insist on feeding us.

Look, sometimes all I want to know about, say, a Hungarian shot-putter is that he's a Hungarian shot-putter.

I don't need to know the man's entire history, how he grew up in a little village near the Danube, attended university, dated Miss Budapest, and so on.

And every Olympic athlete always seems to be coming back from some unspeakable hardship.

This one's coming back from cancer, this one lost her father last month, this one narrowly survived a horrendous auto accident, this one was raised in an Iron Curtain orphanage.

Hey, instead of checking these athletes for steroids and performance enhancers, they ought to be lining up the poor things and giving them Prozac.

Anyway, one athlete I'm looking forward to seeing is this Russian gymnast, Svetlana Khorkina, who is the favorite to win the women's individual all-around medal and is said to be - forgive the technical jargon here - va-va-voom!

Unlike most of the women gymnasts, who look like they're 10 years old and have all the allure of the Keebler Elves, Khorkina is 21, blond, with pin-up good looks and a decidedly unwaif-like body.

In fact, she's so unwaif-like that she posed topless for Playboy magazine. Which leads me to believe that for the next two weeks, guys will suddenly be lunging for the remote each night, punching up NBC and shouting: "C'mon, c'mon, get this basketball junk outta here! Where's the women's gymnastics?"

Speaking of basketball, that's one thing I'm not looking forward to: the U.S. men's basketball team wiping up the floor with the rest of the world.

To me, rooting for this is like rooting for the hunters with the clubs against the baby seals.

Where is the joy in watching a stacked team of U.S. pros crush France 116-50?

Is there any drama in watching an NBA pro like Gary Payton or Jason Kidd lock up some skinny guy from Mongolia, who has nothing to look forward to after the Games other than returning home and tending his yaks?

Does this do anything for you? Huh?

Hey, mate, I'm talking to you.

Ah, rack off, then.

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