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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Scars & Stripes

Track and field: Even member of women's team can't believe how U.S. men acted after winning gold in 400 relay.

October 01, 2000|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

SYDNEY, Australia — The U.S. men's 400-meter relay team won the race here Saturday night. Call it the bad-taste-in-the-mouth gold medal.

Some in the sellout crowd of 110,000 in Olympic Stadium squirmed and furrowed their brows a bit as Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams, Brian Lewis and Maurice Greene seemed to go over the line in their postrace celebration and their ensuing visit to the top rung of the victory stand.

It was bad enough that one of the members of the U.S. women's team that took a bronze medal in the 400 relay, Nanceen Perry, spoke out about it. Her message was: These guys acted like ugly Americans.

Drummond, Williams, Lewis and Greene made the traditional victory lap after their win, but it went beyond celebration into self-congratulatory excess that looked like an in-your-face shot at the other teams.

A couple of them took their running suit tops off, then paraded with American flags wrapped around themselves. They pranced, preened and posed and even used the flag as head wraps made into turbans. It went on and on, the foursome in various stages of dress and undress, stopping to pose for anybody in the crowd who had as much as a $10 Instamatic.

But what prompted Perry's criticism was not the victory lap but what happened on the victory stand, where about 45 minutes after their victory the foursome joked and joshed with one another and continued to clown around. Greene even stuck out his tongue at the cameras during the national anthem, though the group did settle down slightly when the song was played.

Perry, from Austin, Texas, who ran the third leg of the women's relay, said of the show on the victory stand: "It was the whole way they were going about it, making all sorts of comic faces. You can do a little bit of that, but not during the national anthem.

"Why would you expect anybody to respect our flag when we don't respect it ourselves? I think foreigners think we are rude, anyway, so it just confirms the whole image they have of us."

Perry said that the women's team watched the ceremony together and "We were thinking that we're kind of ashamed. For us, we tried to handle it [the victory stand] with dignity. What they did is not the image we want up there. But then, that is up to the IOC or the USOC."

Sandy Baldwin, U.S. Olympic Committee vice president, was aghast at the relay team's actions. "I held my breath," she said today. "I tell the athletes at every one of the briefings that American athletes are judged by different standards than the rest of the world, because we live in a blessed country. Any time we forget that for even a moment, we'll be criticized more than most people will."

The reality of the reaction came to Drummond, Williams, Lewis and Greene at their news conference. Perry's quotes were read to them and they were asked for their reaction. Most of it came from Drummond.

"How, how was what we did offensive?" he asked. "You've got to understand, Jon Drummond never won a gold medal before, so sorry."

Greene, also appearing stunned by the question, piped in.

"I don't think anyone was offended by our actions," he said. "Were you?"

Nods from the press corps brought more reaction from Drummond, who said, "You've got to understand something. We've got so much emotion bottled up in us, and we can't let anything out beforehand because we need to focus everything on what we are about to do. . . . Do you really expect me to stand up there and be somber?

"We just wanted to enjoy our moment. Can't we do that? You want to talk about being offended. How about walking off the track after we just won a gold medal and having the first question be about drugs?"

Shortly, after asking again for their behavior to be characterized and hearing that some thought they had acted like "clown princes," Drummond said, still rather mystified by it all, "In all sincerity, if anyone in the world was offended, I'm sorry."

Minutes later, Greene responded to a question about the competition by saying that the U.S. team respected the competition because it pushed them to do better.

"The best team won, but we need the others to have a race," Greene said.

Drummond, sensing that was yet another not quite politically correct answer, quickly added, "We are not a bunch of cocky Americans. We respect our opponents."

The grand irony of all was that, presenting the gold medals to Drummond, Williams, Lewis and Greene was the very symbol of diplomacy, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Medal Winners

Men's 5,000

Gold: Millon Wolde, Ethiopia

Silver: Ali Saidi-Sief, Algeria

Bronze: Brahim Lahlafi, Morocco

*

Men's 400 Relay

Gold: United States

Silver: Brazil

Bronze: Cuba

*

Men's 1,600 Relay

Gold: United States

Silver: Nigeria

Bronze: Jamaica

*

Women's 1,500

Gold: Nouria Benida Merah, Algeria

Silver: Violeta Szekely, Romania

Bronze: Gabriela Szabo, Romania

*

Women's 400 Relay

Gold: Bahamas

Silver: Jamaica

Bronze: United States

*

Women's 1,600 Relay

Gold: United States

Silver: Jamaica

Bronze: Russia

*

Women's High Jump

Gold: Yelena Yelesina, Russia

Silver: Hestrie Cloete, South Africa

Bronze: Oana Manuela Pantelimon, Romania

Bronze: Kajsa Bergqvist, Sweden

*

Women's Javelin

Gold: Trine Hattestad, Norway

Silver: Mirella Maniani-Tzelli, Greece

Bronze: Osleidys Menendez, Cuba

*

Women's 10,000

Gold: Deratu Tulu, Ethiopia

Silver: Gete Wami, Ethiopia

Bronze: Fernanda Ribeiro, Portugal

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