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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Golden Moments : Shining Memories Will Remain Long After Disappointments Fade

August 05, 1996|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — It would be easy to sit here and chronicle all that went wrong with these Olympic Games.

You know, it wasn't the heat, it was the stupidity.

That is not the intention. Yes, there was some trouble getting to venues, if you consider trouble a bus driver asking a writer from Kazakhstan for directions. Yes, the organizing committee came to be known as A-CLOG.

Yes, Harry Houdini would have had trouble escaping one of these flesh-packed MARTA trains.

Yet, from out on the Olympic fields, pools, landing pits, arenas, finish lines and pingpong tables of dreams, there came some terrific results, some of which are just now becoming available on Info '96, the IBM computer system that provided timely monthly updates.

The Games offered 17 days of glory, and one morning of horror. More than Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis and Karch Kiraly, though, these were the Olympics of the Woman. The U.S. women won team gold medals in gymnastics, soccer, softball and basketball, while the U.S. men, well, they didn't do so hot.

Amanda Beard clutched a teddy bear and Kerri Strug clutched her ankle, then a pen to sign with agent Leigh Steinberg. Michelle Smith flexed, Fu Mingxia flew, Mia Hamm was a marked woman, and Lisa Fernandez grunted.

But for all the griping, grousing and groping that went on here, some of it actually outside the media center, it would be tough to disagree that these were, in fact, the finest Olympics since Lillehammer.

"I think this is the best," freestyle wresting bronze medalist Bruce Baumgartner said. "Except for the tragedy in Centennial Park, I think these are going to be one of the great Games of all time. I know it's getting a lot of static by the media. But, for us, the food was good, the housing, it was small but nice, and the people were fantastic. I just think it's been a great Olympics."

10 GREATEST MOMENTS

1. Michael Johnson's double in the 400 and 200 meters. He came, he saw, he beat the pants off everybody. Those who were there won't forget Johnson streaking down the Olympic Stadium track in the 200 en route to his world-record time of 19.32. Track buffs say the time was as stunning as Bob Beamon's long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Consider: Italy's Pietro Mennea's world record in the 200 had stood for 17 years before Johnson broke it with a time of 19.66 at the Olympic trials.

2. Carl Lewis' ninth gold medal. Does this guy have a flair for the dramatic? He made the U.S. team by one inch at the Olympic trials, qualified for the long jump finals on his last jump, then won the event with a leap of 27-10 3/4. Lewis joined discus thrower Al Oerter as the only athletes to win the same event in four Olympics.

After Lewis' leap into history, Oerter commented: "Carl is making it very difficult for me. Now, I have to come back in 2000. I'll be 64 years old. I'm too old for this."

3. Kerri Strug's giant leap. Not since "Bambi" premiered have so many wept. Strug, a squeaky-voiced also-ran on the star-studded U.S. gymnastics squad, sprang to glory with a dramatic last vault despite two torn ligaments in her left ankle. With the United States trying to clinch its first team gymnastics gold, America needed her. "I could feel it slipping away," Strug said later. "I felt like I had to do it."

OK, America didn't need her. The U.S. team had clinched the gold before Strug's vault, but you can be sure NBC's John Tesh wasn't working the calculator to figure out the math.

Bottom line was Strug didn't know her vault didn't matter. The question that begged was whether she should have.

4. Naim "Pocket Hercules" Suleymanoglu of Turkey wins a third gold medal in weightlifting. To appreciate his feat, go to the kitchen and try lifting your refrigerator over your head. Suleymanoglu, who is 4 feet 11 and 141 pounds, won an unprecedented third gold with a lift of 413 1/4 pounds. After the competition, NBC's Bob "Pocket Vin Scully" Costas couldn't wait to interview him.

5. Australia defeats U.S. women, 2-1, in softball. Hardened baseball scribes left Golden Park in Columbus, Ga., calling it one of the best baseball games they'd ever see. The Aussies trailed 1-0, in the bottom of the 10th when Joanne Brown hit a two-out, two-run home run off Lisa Fernandez to hand the U.S. only its second loss in international competition in a decade. Fernandez had retired 29 batters in a row before giving up the homer on a pitch she called a "fattie."

It didn't help that the United States would have won the game in regulation except that Dani Tyler forgot to touch home plate after hitting a home run in the fifth inning.

6. Dan O'Brien wins the decathlon . . . finally. Until this summer, O'Brien had been the most hyped Olympian never to have made an Olympic team. Four years after the "Dan and Dave" marketing campaign that went bust after O'Brien no-heighted in pole vault at the Olympic trials and failed to make the team, O'Brien could at last be introduced at parties as "World's Greatest Athlete."

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