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Miracles Here Are Rarer Than a Softball Slugfest

September 27, 2000|MIKE PENNER

SYDNEY, Australia — Do you believe in miracles?

Yes, the U.S. softball team rallied from a 2-3 start in round-robin play to defeat Japan--and scored more than one run!--to reclaim the gold medal.

No, the U.S. men's soccer team had its own gold-medal dream explode in the semifinals like Spanish bombs in Andalusia.

I'm not sure, does a rain-free morning at the Sydney Summer Olympics qualify?

How about a Yevgeny Kafelnikov-Tommy Haas Olympic men's tennis final?

I don't think so.

A Yevgeny Kafelnikov-Tommy Haas Olympic men's tennis final is not a miracle. A Yevgeny Kafelnikov-Tommy Haas Olympic men's tennis final is a good reason to buy a ticket instead to taekwondo.

(P.S. to Pete Sampras: Having a narcoleptic time, wish you were here. And, no, all is most certainly not forgiven.)

The United States and Cuba have advanced to the gold-medal game of the Olympic baseball tournament, which also is no miracle. But if the rematch is anything like the first round--boxing analogy intended--the countries could be at war before the 400-meter relays.

The first baseball game here between the United States and Cuba left a black eye--boxing analogy intended--on the entire Sydney Olympics. Bench-clearing fisticuffs, roundhouse fastballs aimed at the head. U.S. heavyweight Michael Bennett should have been half so pugnacious in the ring with Cuba's Felix Savon.

Boxing analogy intended.

Ugly Americanism, running rampant now in the track and field competition, first reared its head in the U.S.-Cuba baseball opener. Which raises numerous immediate questions, including the first that comes to mind: Is there such a thing as ugly Cubanism?

(A colleague who's covering the Daydream Team here and knows Dallas NBA owner Mark Cuban assures me there is. It's called Mavericks basketball.)

Say this much for the U.S. Olympic softballers. They might have struggled a lot more than they should have, they might have made card-carrying members of the Softball Writers Assn. of America work a lot harder than they wanted, but at least they didn't embarrass the nation with any unseemly bench-clearing, hair-pulling incident against New Zealand.

Now, if they can just do something about the scoring system in Olympic softball. Like adopt one. There were so many nil-nil softball games headed for overtime in Blacktown that everybody stopped making soccer jokes.

Another colleague here believes that softball was created in order to make baseball seem less boring. Me, I'm not that cynical. I believe softball could be a great spectator sport if they'd simply invoke that automatic-runner-on-second-base rule, now reserved for extra innings, immediately after the national anthems.

And then automatically move that runner to third.

The Olympic women's tennis competition was a nice counterpoint to the softball competition, since you could have taken all of Venus Williams' victories en route to the gold medal and played them all in less time than it takes to finish a U.S.-Australia softball game.

Venus defeated Russian Elena Dementieva for the championship in, what, 17 minutes? Cathy Freeman and Marion Jones? Forget them, Williams is the fastest sprinter in Sydney. She's also young, and still a little impressionable, which might explain why Venus called winning an Olympic tennis gold medal bigger than Wimbledon, better than the U.S. Open, the grandest slam of them all.

Next time, the U.S. Olympic Committee has to do a better job of keeping Venus away from Tom Lasorda.

The unlikely run of the U.S. men's soccer team was a great story while it lasted, but ultimately the young Americans were provided a painful, if useful, geography lesson.

When it comes to international soccer, Spain is not on the same map with Kuwait.

Some final statistics from Sydney Football Stadium:

Goals scored: Spain 3, USA 1.

Over-age/over-23 players used: USA 3, Spain 0.

Rather than borrow any starters from its World Cup varsity, as the U.S. did, Spain sent the frosh-soph team to Sydney. Some good-looking underclassmen there at Iberian Peninsula State.

One of them, Jose Mari, is a 21-year-old striker who already plays for AC Milan. He spent the semifinals running circles around defenders who play for D.C. United. Jose Mari had a hand, including a handball, in all three Spanish goals and has so much potential, in two years soccer experts predict he will be earning more with AC Milan than the entire Major League Soccer payroll.

Meanwhile, it was revealed today that Britain's Jonathan Edwards celebrated his victory in the triple jump with a late-night meal of French fries and ice cream, making Edwards the first gold medalist here to test positive for junk food.

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