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ATHENS 2004 | Mike Penner / THE DAY IN ATHENS

Errorists Are Worst Problem

August 30, 2004|Mike Penner

ATHENS — Long before this big Greek marathon limped to a close, Deena Kastor finished third in another. She beat the heat, she beat 79 of the 82 women who began the race, she became the first American to win an Olympic marathon medal in 20 years.

This being fairly big news, the U.S. Olympic Committee arranged a news conference for Kastor the next day. Waiting for her, in front of her seat, was a big white placard that read: TINA KASTOR.

A few early-arriving journalists noticed the mistake, and notified a volunteer that the winner of the bronze medal in the first women's marathon run along the original marathon route is named Deena, not Tina.

The volunteer put an alarmed hand to her mouth, asked for the correct spelling, carefully wrote it down, asked a writer to double-check the spelling, grabbed the placard as if it were a relay baton and sprinted to the nearest computer printer.

Minutes later, the volunteer was dashing back, putting the new placard in front of the microphone shortly before Kastor arrived to meet the press. Situation salvaged with seconds to spare.

That was the Athens Olympics in 200 meters or less.

Mistakes were made, most of them early on, but the Greeks were great on second effort. From start to finish, these Games felt like trial-and-error on-the-job training for the Athens organizers, who listened to criticism, made course corrections and slapped together Olympics that were memorable for mostly the right reasons.

A quick look back, now that Greece's Games are feta accompli:

* Michael Phelps: No man is an island, but if Phelps were a country, he would have finished 15th in the gold-medal standings. His best moment, however, was the race he lost, stepping inside Ian Thorpe's house -- the 200-meter freestyle -- for the thrill of the challenge, even if it scuttled his chance to tie Mark Spitz's record. That, not a $1-million carrot dangled by Speedo, is what the Olympics are supposed to be about.

* Gary Hall Jr.: Rebel without a relay final. Won the 50-meter freestyle gold medal, then was fined $5,000 by USA Swimming for wearing an Everlast boxing robe on the pool deck. Would USA Boxing fine a gold-medal fighter $5K for wearing a Speedo into the ring?

* Aaron Peirsol: Did he or didn't he? He called the controversy surrounding the third turn on his 200 backstroke victory "bogus," said it "weirded" him out and can probably be thankful the British Olympic Assn. is less strident about the protest procedure than the Korean gymnastics federation. Now, if he would just pull up his trunks.

* Amanda Beard: The pin-up athlete of the Athens Games. Not counting the poster of Ian Crocker that (no longer?) graces Phelps' bedroom wall.

* Paul Hamm: They have an expression back in Waukesha, Wis.: "Finders keepers, losers weepers."

* Hammer throw: What the International Gymnastics Federation wishes Hamm would do with his gold medal.

* Carly Patterson: After she'd won the women's all-around gymnastics gold medal, runner-up Svetlana Khorkina whined that she was "fleeced." Memo to Svetlana: Jason was the one with the golden fleece.

* BALCO: Vengeful modern-day Greek god of shorter shotputs, slower sprints and abandoned gold medals.

* Costas Kenteris: His scandalous fall from grace would never have happened in ancient Greece. Very few motorcycles at old Olympia.

* Mixed zone: How many college students can you cram into a Volkswagen? That's what life is like inside the mixed zone, where international sportswriters meet and greet athletes coming off the track, the field and the court to conduct quickie interviews. Also known as rugby.

* Maurice Greene: The G.O.A.T. tattoo on his right arm used to stand for "Greatest Of All Time." After settling for bronze in the 100, what does he do now? Nothing. Now it stands for "Got Only A Third."

* Marion Jones: Finished five medals shy of her Sydney load. Said, "I exceeded my wildest dreams, but in a negative sense." What does she do now? The WNBA?

* Phevos and Athena: The much-maligned mascots of the Athens Games. Apparently modeled after Zippy the Pinhead after an unfortunate smelting accident. Stuffed likenesses will still be available on store shelves at the 2104 Athens Games.

* Footwear: Rulon Gardner left his shoes on the wrestling mat after his semifinal defeat. Perdita Felicien slammed her shoes on the track after tripping over the first hurdle and crashing in the women's 100-meter hurdles final. Hicham El Guerrouj took off his shoes and carried them around like smelly trophies after winning the 1,500-5,000-meter double. In Athens, if you followed the shoes, you followed the story.

* Softball: The American women won in a rout again, prompting some to call for the sport's removal from the Olympic Games because the United States is too dominant. Remember when men's basketball had that problem?

* Men's basketball: The NBA players aren't getting it done anymore, so what now for the U.S.? Answer: NASCAR, official 2008 Olympic sport.

* Larry Brown: Working title of his book: "How I Spent My Summer Vacation Becoming a Genius and Ruining My Reputation in Less Than 10 Weeks."

* The '91ers: On the other hand, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and the other veterans of the United States' 1991 Women's World Cup championship team perfected getting out of the game at precisely, absolutely the right instant.

* Men's marathon: A naturalized American born in Eritrea becomes the first U.S. man to win a marathon medal since Frank Shorter in 1976 after a kilt-clad former Irish priest runs onto the street to push the leader into the crowd. Just another night at the Olympic men's marathon.

* Weightlifting: Why do they shout and scream as soon as they clean-and-jerk 500 pounds of heavy metal over their heads? Because it hurts.

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