That moment

Togo's first medal! Even if it's not "what the Olympics are all about," it's one of those great things that help make the games.

Published August 12, 2008 9:00PM (EDT)

Benjamin Boukpeti won the first Olympic medal in history for Togo when he took the bronze in the whitewater kayak slalom. He celebrated by raising his paddle over his head, then slamming it down on the front of his boat, snapping the paddle in two.

"This really is what the Olympic Games are all about," said NBC announcer Craig Hummer, "an unknown paddler from a lesser-known country in a sport not many people know about."

I don't know about that. A pretty good argument can be made -- and is most emphatically being made by Hummer's employer -- that the Olympic Games are a lot more about Michael Phelps than they are about an unknown paddler from a lesser-known country in a sport not many people know about.

A whole bunch of us, I'm pretty sure, look forward to moments like Boukpeti's victory, which was summed up pretty well afterward by studio host Jim Lampley: "How many millions of us have just now experienced the first moment in our lives of rooting passionately for Togo?"

(This column raises its hand.)

But if there weren't the Phelpses and the gymnasts and the basketball players and the track stars, not many of us would be sitting around screaming at our TVs, "Show more judo, dammit!"

Still, stuff like the first-ever medal for Togo is the spice of the Olympics. Fabulous little moments. Someone you never heard of, doing something you don't care about, and all of a sudden, for just a few minutes, you're engrossed. Only in the Olympics.

Hummer and commentator Joe Jacobi mentioned that Boukpeti trained in France, but they made it sound like he was a Togolese athlete who'd been sort of taken in by the French kayaking community. He's actually a French native whose father is from Togo, and he represents Togo because he wasn't able to make the French team. He competed for Togo in 2004 and finished 18th.

Doesn't matter. I'm betting they're not making those fine distinctions in Togo right now. I'm not either. First-ever medal, and I saw it.

Can't wait to see some judo.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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