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Defining Moments

One Man's Quick Guide to What the Summer Olympics Are and (More Important) What They Are Not

September 10, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

The Summer Olympics are a two-week explosion of athleticism, courage and grace.

They are not a blast in the park.

They are tiny gymnasts overcoming gigantic injuries.

They are not tiny gymnasts handing out gigantic fake hugs.

They are small-town, little-known athletes shrugging off drug rumors to set world records.

They are not our learning later that, in fact, those same athletes were indeed walking 24-hour pharmacies.


The Summer Olympics are scarred young boxers from big cities embracing victory with quiet dignity.

They are not trainers in funny T-shirts dancing around the ring claiming they were robbed.

They are the simple, strong beauty of the shaved swimmer.

They are not TV cameras sneaking crotch shots.

They are the mighty swings of Dot Richardson.

They are not those ugly--why do they wear shorts, anyway?--softball uniforms.


The Summer Olympics are anybody with a nickname like Pocket Hercules.

They are not anything with a nickname that begins with "Dream."

They are India versus Pakistan in field hockey.

They are not some silk-suited politician being quoted afterward.

They are opening ceremony struts, and preens, and laughs.

They are not opening ceremony no-shows.


The Summer Olympics are shuttlecocks.

They are not birdies.

Or is it the other way around?

They are those who play in pain.

They are not Billy Payne.

They are the father who ran out of the stands to help his hobbling son in the final lap of the most important race of his life.

They are not those parents who starve their young wrestlers or isolate their young swimmers, as if making the Olympics is the most important thing in their lives.


The Summer Olympics are cheering for Ethiopia to win one medal.

They are not worrying that the United States won't top 40.

They are holding your breath underwater for about two days while dressed like a doll and twirling like a gymnast.

They are not those tired synchronized swimming jokes.

They are qualifying for the Games with a character-revealing, now-or-never performance.

They are not qualifying for the Games because some loudmouth coach says you have to.


The Summer Olympics are Dan.

They are not Dave.

They are Vince Carter.

They are not Luc Longley.

They are winning a medal at age 14.

They are not coming home and announcing you are now prepared to date Dennis Rodman.


The Summer Olympics are winning your sport's most prestigious race, breaking a bone in your neck, and still deciding to compete in Sydney a couple of months later.

They are not squirrelly soccer officials who save their best players for the World Cup.

They are Tom Lasorda if the baseball team wins.

They are not Tom Lasorda's comments--"What is my opinion of Cuba's performance?"--if they lose.

They are brilliant dives by brave men.

They are not running into the embrace of a little stuffed bear afterward.


The Summer Olympics are those in the United States who realize there is more than one country involved.

They are not NBC.

They are those who realize there are more then men participating.

They are not NBC.

They are those who understand that an athlete can be a good story without having overcome a deadly disease.

They are not NBC.

They are Bud Greenspan.

They are not--stick a 24-hour delay here--NBC.


The Summer Olympics are unfurling a flag down a track, or dancing with a flag across a mat, or holding a tiny flag in your boxing gloves.

They are not wearing it on your head.

They are Greco-Roman.

They are not, and we have no idea why, Roman-Greco.

They are the 88-year-old modern pentathlon.

They are not, and we have no idea why, the 900-year-old pentathlon.


The Summer Olympics are David Wallechinsky.

They are not those who have never heard of him.

They are new sports, such as women's water polo.

They are not, sadly, discontinued sports, such as tug of war.

They are Lorna Johnstone, 70, the oldest competitor.

They are not dressage, the event in which she competed, whatever that is.


The Summer Olympics are Peter Ueberroth.

They are not Juan Antonio Samaranch.

And nobody bribed us to write that, either.

They are body suits.

They are not boycotts.

They are the neighborhood kid on a track.

They are not royalty on a horse.


The Summer Olympics are a traffic-free Los Angeles.

They are not a bottle-necked Atlanta.

They are a friendly Seoul.

They are not a huckstering Atlanta.

They are a smooth Montreal.

They are not a confused Atlanta.

They are Barcelona at sunset.

They are not Atlanta, ever.


The Summer Olympics are men who lift five times their weight.

They are not men who spend 10 minutes covering themselves in white powder and 10 seconds trying to lift.

They are kid baseball players.

They are not Pat Borders.

They are a post-event hug from a family.

They are not the two-hour drug test required before that hug is possible.


The Summer Olympics are the real football.

They are not, thank goodness, the other kind.

They are bare-shouldered emotion.

They are not covered in a ski mask.

They are dominated by the heart.

They are not controlled by the salary cap.


The Summer Olympics are Friday, Sept. 15, 6 p.m. Sydney time.

They are not Saturday, July 27, 1996, 1:25 a.m. Atlanta time.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address:

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