Sunday, August 24, 2008

With Wings As Eagles

Now the Olympics are over. As one jaded sports analyst said, Michael Phelps broke records, he didn’t drop gas prices.

But to me the Olympics are everything that COULD be right about sports. Do they succeed? For moments at a time, absolutely. Other times, no.

Some of my memories of the Olympics growing up contained Mary Lou Retton’s perfect 10. Greg Louganis winning, then next Olympics bashing his head on the board and still winning on the very last dive of his career. Carl Lewis. The Ice Hockey Team in 1980 (If I did not see it when it happened, it was talked about enough I feel I did). Men’s Volleyball. Bad boxing decisions. Bad figure skating decisions. Eddie The Eagle. I could keep going.

My family always loved the Olympics. And I still do, mostly. Phelps going for 8 golds was remarkable. It took 4 times looking at the end of that one race before I thought he actually won. And the greatest relay finish ever as we beat the arrogant French team. What gets American Patriotism flowing more than that?

And yet I watch the much ballyhooed American Men’s Basketball team with a feeling of loss. Loss for what the Olympics no longer are in certain ways.
It all changed when we let pros play in what was once an amateur competition. I know I know. Michael Phelps and many others aren’t really amateurs. Not with his Speedo and other endorsements before these Olympics. But with swimmers and others who we only see every 4 years, they still have that amateur feel.

I can watch Kobe and Lebron and the rest, a great part of the year. No way are they amateurs. No matter how much the rest of the world has caught up, the USA basketball team was an extraordinary collection of talent. No way should we lose. We could not. Which makes the gold medal more a sigh of relief than a feeling of true joy.

There will never be another “Miracle On Ice” because we are the same as the “professional” Soviets were. A bunch of college kids beating a pro team is a story for the ages. We have not won that gold medal since. And if we did, watching pro NHL All-stars play against one another, we would not care even close to as much.

I watched Chariots Of Fire the night before the Beijing Olympics started. The controversy back in 1924 Britain, was the fact that sprinter Harold Abrahams hired a coach. An amateur athlete hiring a coach was not illegal but looked down upon. What a truly long time ago.
Now the problems I have with track and field are I just do not completely believe my eyes. For the clean athletes, this is not fair at all.
But I have a hard time believing certain times and certain gymnasts ages. Years ago, we seemed like the moral and right exception to the amateur’s only rule. Now it sometimes feels like pro that cheats the best versus pro that cheats not as well. I long for the days when having a coach was the biggest no no.

Eddie The Eagle, Britain’s first (and only) Olympic Ski jumper, was not allowed to be in the Olympics anymore. He was just not good enough, no matter if he was the only guy in his country willing to give it a try. He was too amateur. Eddie the Eagle is the kind of Olympic moment I miss. It is the kind of great moment we now have less and less often.

There will be no film made about the American Basketball Team beating the outmanned team from Spain. There is one planned about Eddie The Eagle.
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