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28th Olympics

Feelin' the Olympic Spirit

Few athletic events give me goose bumps, but watching the Olympics manages to do it every time. I'm a sucker for the pomp and the circumstance, for the melodramatic personal stories told through soft-focus camerawork and quick-edits, for the media-driven rivalries, and for cold-war politics and international intrigue recreated through sport. This year the Olympics returns to its birthplace in Greece, making it all the more special and venerable.

After construction delays, workers' strikes and funding crises, it was a small miracle the ceremonies even started on time; perhaps the gods were appeased through bribes and corporate sponsorship? The Opening Ceremony was one of the classiest I've scene to date starting off with a dramatization of the history of the Greek Civilization that seemed to rely heavily on the art of mime and about a ton of body paint. Here are some highlights and thoughts:

1. Björk sang and wore some weird dress.

2. Nation with the greatest number of good-looking athletes: Italy.

3. Greek guys are hairy.

4. Nation that received the least amount of coverage and was over-all dissed by the networks: Guam.

5. The torch looks like a giant lit cigarette. I smell some major tobacco company funding…

Kicking off the games were the women's and men's team gymnastics competition. As we all know, there is something in the drinking water in Romania that helps develop amazingly good gymnasts (who all also look pale and sickly). For the women's competition, the Romanians were sure and steady. They might not have had the most illustrious, daring routines but the ones they did have were performed with near perfection. The United States team wanted payback after their loss in Sydney but they simply, no pun intended, fell short. Team captain Mohini Bharwaj (being half-Indian, half-Russian she serves as the first South Asian to ever compete in gymnastics for the U.S. and perhaps any other team -- but don't quote me on that) held the team together through all the slips and tumbles.

After a freak incident during the finals in which team member Courtney Kupets came down with a sudden and mysterious 'injury' right before the dreaded balance beam, the second to last event of the evening and arguably most difficult, Bharwaj stepped up to the proverbial plate and performed in her teammate's stead despite not even have had warmed-up; it was a heroic act indeed. But that simply was not enough to ward off the Romanians who rightly won the Gold-medal.

The Russians, whose team looked like it was scrapped together from the corners of the remaining Soviet Union, seem content to simply win a medal, any medal. I remember a day when they would have ripped you to shreds on parallel bars to win a gold medal, but those times have gone. This competition served as the final performance for the lithe and lovely diva Svetlana Khorkina who, while only 5' 5", seems to tower over the other gymnasts like a supermodel. Being the unofficial queen of the parallel bars, she turned out a practically flawless routine and was simply beautiful to behold, but the miserly judges robbed her and gave her an undeservedly low score. When Khorkina finished up the last event of the night and nearly the final of her career on the floor, the kiss she blew into the audience was a bittersweet moment in gymnastics; nonetheless, Russia came away with a bronze. As for the Chinese team, they were wonderfully fluid in performing their routines but consistently made mistakes. These mistakes, however, didn't seem to affect their spirits as they were giving big smiles and waves to the cameras; after falling flat on her face after a jumbled landing off the parallel bars, one of the Chinese gymnasts still managed to smile cheerily into the cameras as if nothing had happened at all.

On the men's side, the U.S. team brought home a silver medal, the first one they received since 1984, which doesn't really count because they were boycotted and, like, 3 people were there, and their first real win since the 1932 Olympics. The men were solid, they did everything they could to win gold save sleeping with the judges but the Japanese men were simply better. At the last rotation of the night, on the high bar, as they performed feats defying gravity with difficulty levels well beyond that of the other athletes topped with perfect finishes, you saw exactly why the Japanese deserved to win gold; it was said that even the U.S. athletes were cheering them on at the very end. The Romanians came in a close third to win the bronze. This was the first win for the Japanese since their dynasty-creating winning streak ended in 1976.

All around the gymnastic competitions were exciting to watch. Perhaps at the next Olympics the U.S. teams can win gold. What the U.S. women's team really needs is not more practice but a new stylist; what decade are these girls living in? Who does their hair? Are they practicing so much that they have no time to look in the mirror, that they have no time to turn on MTV in order to see the latest styles and trends? And one of the greatest questions: will the women grow boobs once they stop practicing and get their periods again? Questions worthy of the Oracle of Delphi…

On Wednesday the men competed in the All-Around competition and, out of completely unbelievable odds -- after literally falling on his ass in front of the judges after a horrible vault and falling down to twelfth place -- the current World Champion in the all-around Paul Hamm became the first American man to ever win a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics competition at the Olympics. His comeback came as a stunning and defeating surprise to the two Korean athletes who held the first and second positions up until Hamm competed on the high bar and garnered a 9.837 to steal the win.

Special commendation goes to the Iraqi soccer team who have one of those great Olympics stories that give you goose bumps. Not only did the team have no actual field on which to practice (it's been taken over by American military forces) but they had to be airlifted out of the country in order to compete in Athens. They supposedly had no chance against Costa Rica but somehow they won the match 2-0. Skeptics thought it was a fluke and that surely they wouldn't be able to win against Portugal, who actually played in the European finals. But they did. They won the game 4-2. On Wednesday the team played Morocco, lost 2-1, but still advanced to the quarterfinals. It wasn't just luck that got them where they are, it was hard work and determination.