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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | Inside the Olympics
: The Day in Sydney

You've Got Your Gold, Now Yankees Go Home

October 01, 2000|MIKE PENNER

SYDNEY, Australia — Kids will be kids, wherever you take them, be it a kindergarten class in Irvine or the medal podium at Sydney's Olympic Stadium. Give them a toy, a prop, a piece of old cloth and they will amuse themselves for hours.

Or so it seemed as the U.S. gold-medal 400-meter relay team of Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams, Brian Lewis and Maurice Greene began researching their new think-and-do project, "101 Things You Can Do With The American Flag."

"Look at me! Now I'm Batman. Now I'm Count Dracula. Now I'm Lawrence of Arabia. Now I'm Aladdin. Now I'm a beautiful Mayan princess."

"Hey! No way! I want to be a beautiful Mayan princess too!"

You could just picture millions of Australians in front of their televisions shaking their heads, looking at their watches, looking at the calendar on the wall and muttering between grinding teeth, "Enough's enough. Just take your bloody medals and go home already."

Finally, Team USA is about to do that. After laying siege to such proud Australian pastimes as swimming and doubles tennis and laying waste to such Australian customs as humility and good sportsmanship, the unseemly Americans are heading back to the States with their international reputation firmly intact.

Hunters of gold medals, gatherers of worldwide resentment.

The United States will leave Australia with 39 gold medals, down from 44 in Atlanta, but the most the Americans have collected on foreign soil since their 45-medal haul in Mexico City 32 years ago.

That's the record for American gold medals won in a foreign-based Olympics, equaled by the 1924 U.S. team in Paris.

It's also seven more golds than any other country won in Sydney. Russia and China were next with 32 and 28 golds, respectively, and the home team, despite 16 days of Done-Us-Proud tabloid propaganda, finished a distant fourth with 16.

Overall, the Aussies won 58 medals, falling just shy of the Australian Olympic Committee's target of 60--and comically short of the Daily Telegraph's outrageous prediction of 99. Every day, the Telegraph printed its Aussie medal thermometer, so readers could track Our Blokes and Our Girls as they inched the mercury toward magic number 99.

Team Australia started quickly--thanks, Thorpey--but somewhere around Day 4, the with-a-bullet ascent hit pine tar. The thermometer stalled, and the Telegraph sport staff was starting to look a little red-faced. People began to joke: Will the Telegraph now start counting every relay medal won in swimming as four?

Bottom line--which, as all Americans have known from birth, is all that matters--Team USA did the job. They came, they saw, they topped the charts, they embarrassed . . . well, by Day 16, mostly everyone here, including themselves.

The U.S. Olympic Committee devoted much of its traditional closing-day wrap-up news conference to the shenanigans of the men's 400-meter relay team. Antonio Pettigrew, a member of the men's older and wiser 1,600-meter relay squad, showed up and took the 400-meter youngsters to task.

"We have some young athletes and it was their first time there," said the 32-year-old Pettigrew. "There's a time and a place for everything, but that place wasn't the time.

"You celebrate because you're happy. Our [1,600-meter] relay team was happy, but that's not our style. We respect the people who we run against and we respect our country."

Greene was also in attendance, a spokesman representing the 400-meter mischief-makers, this time carrying a mea culpa instead of a relay baton.

"We're truly sorry if we offended anyone," Greene said. "It was the first time [winning a medal] for some of us. It might have been the last time for some of us.

"As athletes we hold so much emotion inside. We weren't thinking. We were acting and not thinking.

"When the situation was brought to my attention during a press conference after the race, I really didn't understand what people were talking about. But after I saw some of the things that went on, I could see why some people were offended."

Rulon Gardner, who tumbled and rumbled his way into history after upsetting Russia's Alexander Karelin for the Greco-Roman super-heavyweight title, tried to cut Gang Greene some slack.

"I think we should show class, but we're all individuals," Gardner said. "I did a cartwheel after my match. That was my way of expressing myself."

New bottom line: The young Americans came to a strange new land, mingled with a different culture for a few weeks and discovered, of all things, that winning isn't necessarily everything.

How about that?

Learn something new every quadrennium.

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