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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | INSIDE THE OLYMPICS
: The Day in Sydney

U.S. Shouldn't Be Hasty in Splintering Old Gang

September 29, 2000|MIKE PENNER

SYDNEY, Australia — Should Heinrichs have gone with the veteran instead of the rookie? Would Scurry have stopped the shots Mullinix couldn't? Shouldn't Fawcett have done more with those aerial balls in the area? Wouldn't Serlenga have been a better choice in the middle than Fair?

A nation of armchair central midfielders, that's what we are.

We all know second-guessing the football coach is the God-given right of every American.

And, Lord knows, we know it all when it comes to soccer. We spent a month with the Women's World Cup last summer, didn't we? We know Briana Scurry left her line too early and that's a bad thing. We know Brandi Chastain is The Woman when it comes to penalty kicks. We know the U.S. women's soccer team is the best women's soccer team on the planet, that our Girls of Summer will find a way to win every must-win match they play.

So when they didn't in the Olympic gold medal match, when they thoroughly outplayed Norway but lost in overtime on a goal that was probably illegal, the cry went up before Dagny Mellgren's tournament winner tickled the back of the net:

Break up the Americans!

The starting lineup is too old!

Give Mia and Julie and Kristine and Brandi and Carla and Joy their silver medals, and then their gold watches, and bring on the youth movement!

Give me a break.

The United States still has the best team in the sport. Nothing that happened against Norway in Sydney has changed that. The up-and-coming Brazilians? They didn't win a medal in Australia. The already-here-and-supposedly-already-ahead Chinese? One more time: Show us your medals. Nothing here, silver in Pasadena, silver in Atlanta.

If anything, the breaking up of Team USA happened too soon. How massive was the pre-Olympics retirement of central midfielder Michelle Akers and the injury to central defender Carla Overbeck? Did you see where Norway scored each of its three goals? Right down the center of the U.S. defense. Do you think Scurry, a veteran of two World Cup campaigns and the ride to the 1996 Olympic title, might have better handled the pressure of a gold-medal match than young Siri Mullinix, who had appeared in only 20 national-team games before Sydney?

The kids are all right, but will U.S. Soccer really be better served by moving 11 of them into the starting lineup next week?

Mia Hamm is 28, not 40, and should have nutmegged her critics with her lively performance against Norway. Tiffeny Milbrett turns 28 next month; can you name a better female striker anywhere, with any other birth certificate. Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Shannon MacMillan, Kate Sobrero--still all under 30 and shouldn't be going anywhere except the next national team training camp.

Besides, Mellgren only scored the winner after flicking it to her feet with her upper arm. Many referees would have called that a hand ball. Not this one. Unlucky, Americans.

But, it's all part of the greening of a proper Footbaling Nation. Now, just like the English, we have a great soccer injustice to sustain our righteous indignation into our dotage.

The English will always have Maradona and the Hand of God.

We will forever have Mellgren and the Hand of Thor.

And what will Ato Boldon be muttering as he sits in the rocking chair in 2042, squinting at those three tarnished bronze medals and that single silver hanging above the fireplace?

Something about the 200-meter final that got away in Sydney, no doubt.

A Greek beat Boldon for the gold medal that was handed him, like a relay baton, on July 23 in Sacramento, when Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene went down in a heap. Right then, the Olympic gold was Boldon's for the taking. Automatically Ato's.

So someone named Konstantinos Kenteris runs a 20.09 in the 200 final--and that's more than a tenth of a second faster than Boldon. A British chap named Darren Campbell came in at 20.14.

Boldon (Don't Call Him Golden) came in third at 20.20.

Boldon ran four-tenths of a second faster when he finished third to Johnson in Atlanta. He ran 0.23 of a second faster in a tuneup race in July.

Ato was off his game when it mattered most, except when it came to talking about it afterward, which is where he always shines.

"That's what the Olympics are all about--a guy no one has heard about coming in and running the race of his life," Boldon said, referring to Kenteris. "I'm happy for him."

As for himself, Boldon shrugged and said he simply ran out of gas after running so many prelims to qualify for both the 100 and 200 finals.

It didn't seem to bother Marion Jones, who also doubled up in the women's sprints and won both golds in a racewalk.

"I think Marion has it a little bit different than the men," Boldon said with a tired laugh. "Marion is head and shoulders above the other women. That doesn't detract from what she's done, but I think it's a little bit easier when you don't have people breathing down your neck."

As Boldon learned too well, no one wins the men's 200 Olympic final on Ato-pilot.

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