Thursday was a pretty good day to be an American sports fan, if you don't mind watching the home country win.
Strange as that sounds, a lot of us apparently do mind seeing the American teams and athletes on the podium. An ESPN.com poll this week -- unscientific but still telling -- found that a majority of respondents were hoping to see the U.S. men's basketball team lose, and three out of four said they'd at least "kind of" like to see the USA hoopsters take a tumble.
There's been a surprising groundswell of support in this country for the idea of gymnast Paul Hamm giving back the gold medal he'd won in the men's all-around after South Korea protested a judging mistake.
In the liberal circles of my in box, various message boards I frequent and certain corners of the media, the sentiment -- widespread if not prevailing -- seems to be that the United States should keep its head down, not wave the flag, not celebrate victory or even root for it.
In the three short years since the mass embracing of the red, white and blue that followed Sept. 11, we're back to the idea that America is evil, that we deserve to lose, that if we win we should sort of apologize for it, that any hatred of us that comes from any corner is justified and right on.
I understand. The United States has been acting atrociously on the world stage in the last three years. You needn't be a frothing extremist to call the arrogant, bullying, oil-before-people, cronies-before-policy regime of George W. Bush evil.
But the sprinters who swept the 200 meters Thursday night didn't invade Iraq with no real plan. Shawn Crawford, Bernard Williams and Justin Gatlin, who won gold, silver and bronze, didn't bamboozle anyone about weapons of mass destruction.
The American women's soccer team, which won the gold medal Thursday by beating a better Brazilian side with heart, guile, luck and the liberal use of its own goalposts, hasn't denied anyone's rights at Guantánamo Bay.
Dwight Phillips and John Moffitt, the Yanks who went gold-silver in the long jump, didn't abuse any prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The Americans won that 200-meter race after enduring a 10-minute delay as the crowd at Olympic Stadium booed and whistled. The Greek fans were mad because they'd been expecting to spend the night watching national hero Kostas Kenteris, the defending Olympic 200-meter champion. But Kenteris missed a drug test just before the Olympics, then was involved in a highly convenient motorcycle accident and withdrew.
But it was clear the fans were booing the Americans. They hooted when each of the trio was introduced, and whenever they appeared on the giant video screen -- and they kept appearing on the giant video screen. Somebody at Olympic Stadium either liked the booing or has the brains of plankton.
But this kind of thing is, as International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge put it Thursday in regard to a different issue, "the burden of being the strongest and the biggest." The Greeks knew an American was probably going to win the race they figured a Greek should have won. And there's a general Greek sentiment that America is behind Kenteris' downfall.
The Americans should have said, "Hey, whattaya booing us for? We're on your side. It wasn't so long ago our country was a world leader in letting drug cheats skip!"
The men's basketball team won on Thursday too, beating Spain while playing their best game. They play Argentina in a semifinal game Friday. Multiple Ph.D. dissertations can be written on why Americans are so down on this team, but how about Argentina just barely escaping a badly outmanned Greece in the quarters? This was obviously a reflection of a lack of character, morals and good ol' Argentine values on the part of Manu Ginobili and company.
Anyway, it was a pretty good day for the Americans, winning so many marquee events so spectacularly. It's too bad so many Americans refuse to enjoy a day like that.
I think we should lighten up a little. These are games. Olympic Games, and a very serious thing, but also just games and not serious at all. People are going to boo the United States at this stage in history, and we don't always deserve it. But you know what? We didn't deserve all that love after 9/11 either. We didn't all become virtuous and lovable because insane terrorists killed a couple thousand of us.
The world is complicated. You can't explain to the millions of people abroad who hate us, " "I am not George W. Bush. I'm not Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. They are not us. If you could come to our country and eat our barbecue and watch our drag races and visit our museums, you'd probably like us. We're open and blunt and, believe it or not, we have a soft spot for the underdog. We also have a habit of electing scoundrels, but -- hey! Did we mention the barbecue?"
Go ahead, Americans. Root for the red, white and blue. Those are your colors too.
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More announcer follies [PERMALINK]
Several readers pointed out that I missed an obvious one Thursday when I named some of the best announcers I'd heard on NBC and the hench-networks during the Olympics and I didn't mention Karch Kiraly doing beach volleyball. There's a good reason I didn't mention Kiraly.
He was very good, explaining strategy and technique while also imparting some of the unique lore and culture of the relatively new sport, and I really did mean to mention him but fumbled.
And even members of the We Hate Al Trautwig Marching and Chowder Society wrote in to say that the whipping boy wasn't responsible for the dumbest comment from the triathlon. I have to agree that that honor goes to his partner, Siri Lindley, who coaches and/or trains with some of the competitors, which, to her credit, I suppose, she didn't try to hide.
Kate Allen of Austria ran down Lindley training partner Loretta Harrop from miles behind and blew past her at the wire for the gold medal. It was a magnificent performance by Allen, but Harrop had nothing left to fend her off at the end. Assuming Allen's come-from-behind victory wasn't drug-enhanced -- which is unfortunately a big assumption these days any time an athlete does something unexpected -- Harrop's performance put her right up there with the 1964 Phillies and the 2002 Democrats in snatching defeat from the jaws of apparent victory.
Lindley, who has the kind of loud, monotone voice comedians use to portray obnoxious relatives, said, "Al, I am still in total disbelief. Kate Allen may be going home with the gold medal, Loretta Harrop with the silver, but in my eyes, Loretta Harrop's performance was a gold medal performance."
And Siri, in your eyes, what color is the sky?
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That was just weird and bad.
Previous column: Best and worst at the microphone
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