World finds joy in defeats suffered by Americans

Laura Vecsey

World finds joy in American defeats

August 28, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

ATHENS - The sound you hear is the sound of the world gloating. It was a very bad day for los Americanos.

The sound you hear is the sound of Italians crying for joy. It's Argentines woofing with pride.

It is these two countries whose very good basketball teams will play for the Olympic gold medal today, not los Americanos.

The Argentines and Italians aren't alone in their sense of satisfaction. After the basketball semifinals yesterday, I saw a few Spaniards in the stands. They pumped their fists, ecstatic the United States was beaten.

"Now we get retribution," one said.

It could be the Spaniards were just plain sick about the way U.S. coach Larry Brown called an unsportsmanlike timeout with less than 30 seconds left in the Americans' quarterfinal win over Spain.

The Spanish coach was miffed, to say the least. He called Brown an embarrassment to his North Carolina lineage, said Dean Smith would never do such a thing to dishonor an opponent or the game.

Spain is mad at Larry Brown - and maybe a few others. It has reasons.

In an Olympics suffused with anti-American sentiment, who's to say the horrific events in that deadly Madrid train station bombing and Spain's subsequent withdrawal of troops from Iraq aren't fueling a more serious will to beat the Americans. And laugh about it.

This is an Olympics that commenced with the Greeks convinced it was the United States that demanded quid pro quo in banned or discredited athletes.

Conspiracy theorists refused to accept that two Greek runners were sent packing from the Olympic Games over their own misguided attempts to sidestep drug tests.

It had to be the Americans, seeking some form of retribution and level playing field after our nasty, little BALCO mess.

This is also the Olympics in which the Iraqi team was airlifted out of Baghdad by the Australian Air Force.

Iraqi athletes came to Athens and said they don't hate Americans, just what America has done to their country. Liberation from Saddam Hussein is good, but at what cost, and when do they get water and electricity back?

And then they caught wind of the U.S. president's use of their athletic success as part of George W. Bush's re-election campaign ads. So despicable, players were willing to be quoted about their disgust.

The former coach of the Iraqi soccer team told me the players have hatred for the United States, because they have seen women and children die, brothers killed, homes destroyed.

No wonder, then, that last night anti-American demonstrations broke out in downtown Athens in advance of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's arrival.

This has been the underlying mood that simmered the past two weeks. It is now finally bubbling closer to the surface, just as these Games head to their conclusion.

Finally, after winning a slew of medals, the nadir that seemed destined to hit the American delegation arrived. Yesterday, it was clear: It was a very bad day for los Americanos.

The men's basketball team?

Gone - at least from gold-medal contention. Brown's semi-psycho sideshow was run out of the gym by Argentina in last night's semifinal.

If anyone is surprised by this "development," it's time to emerge from that cave you've been living in.

The U.S. men played hard. Don't blame Allen Iverson or Stephon Marbury.

Just take it for granted that the United States will never be a lock for an Olympic men's basketball gold medal again unless some changes are made by USA Basketball to the selection process and training schedule, and unless more fixed commitments are extracted from the NBA's elite.

When Athens freezes over is about when we expect that might happen.

Marion Jones?

Gone - without an Olympic medal of any sort from these Summer Games.

After all her trials, tribulations and grand jury appearances, the woman who was once picked to join Ali, Pele, Jordan and Tiger in the pantheon of athletic gods is a long jumper who finished fifth and part of a relay team that did not finish.

All that fuss for this?

At least U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm got to take his gold medal home with him. How long Hamm gets to keep it is another matter entirely.

The status of Hamm's gold medal is a topic of not only hot discussion but also obscene political dragooning by the freeloaders and perk-seekers in blue blazers.

This is sickening, and this is said in the true Olympic spirit, because where else except within the Olympic movement can impropriety and politicking among sports federations, national Olympic committees and the International Olympic Committee lead to the utter disenfranchisement of one whiny American gymnast?

At least the politics in the Hamm fiasco are the usual Olympic politics, although goodness knows Olympic officials aren't above using age-old grudges to further drive wedges between disputing parties.

Pitting the South Koreans against the United States is twisted. Failure on the part of the IOC and the International Gymnastics Federation to take care of their mistake is gutless.

Hanging Hamm out to dry by calling on him to do the right thing is an act of irresponsibility and slander that should prompt Hamm and/or the U.S. Olympic Committee to think about getting a lawyer.

The mistake in scoring that has caused the gold-medal dispute is not Hamm's problem, but that reality is something the Olympic kingpins are choosing to ignore.

This disgraceful bit of Olympic malfeasance is not over.

The same can't be said for the Anti-Dream Team or Marion Jones.

And, so, all throughout the Olympic venues, Spaniards, Greeks, Jamaicans, Argentines, South Koreans and assorted others pumped their fists in victory and triumph.

They'll take their retribution in whatever form it comes, wherever they can get it.

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