If you're wondering why the past few Olympiads have lacked drama, blame Mikhail Gorbachev. Sure, his decision to green-light the fall of Soviet totalitarianism was pretty popular with the people who had been living under the USSR's iron fist, using D-grade toilet paper and lining up to buy shoelaces, but it ruined that us-versus-them vibe that made the pre-glasnost Games so great.
You remember the fun. We tried to imagine Kornelia Ender playing linebacker for the Bears. We wondered which Soviet weightlifter -- other than the mighty Alekseev -- had ingested the most illegal enhancements. We boycotted them. They boycotted us. Hollywood couldn't have come up with a better script. Then came Gorbachev. And before you knew it, the Grateful Dead was designing Lithuania's hoops uniforms and we were wondering where all that facial hair on the Hungarian women's gymnasts went.
That old furor is gone from the Athens Games. The American team is running away with the overall medal title, proving itself to be the world's lone athletic superpower, just as we are the sole global purveyor of military might. Ho-hum.
But, wait. There, on the horizon. It's coming. China.
That's right, China. By the time the 2008 Summer Games crank up in Beijing Team Mao will have all the necessary ingredients to be an old-school bad guy, the kind of throw-Penelope-under-the-train villain the Olympic movement has lacked for 16 years. First, no matter how much the government has liberalized the economy, China is still a state-run, jail-the-dissenters, Communist autocracy. That may not be so good for the 1.2 billion Chinese, but it's great for the Olympics, which needs a bad guy. Heck, they even wear red uniforms, just like the Soviets did. Next, there exists enough distrust on both sides to spawn accusations of cheating and other nefarious behavior. We got a whiff of that in 2000, when their swimming team emerged as a powerhouse after centuries of barely being able to master the doggy paddle. Another big plus.
Finally, and most importantly, the Chinese are positioning themselves to kick serious backside in '08. They may not do it in mainstream sports -- the next great Chinese male sprinter will be the first -- but the country has made one Long March from the days when just winning a bronze medal was worthy of a year-of-the-monkey-style celebration. By 2008, the Chinese will be ready for widespread domination. Just imagine our horror when the red-white-and-blue isn't atop the medal leader board. That should get the competitive juices going. And the TV ratings soaring.
China has approached Olympic success with a methodical (maniacal?) sense of purpose. The Chinese are searching everywhere for prodigies in every Olympic sport, from basketball to kayaking to artistic gymnastics. It is pouring billions into the cultivation of this talent, with the goal of winning big across the board. If the Chinese decide to do something, they do it. Period.
By 2008, the Chinese could well celebrate the Beijing Games by taking the medal title. If it doesn't happen in '08, it will definitely occur in '12, perhaps in New York. Now, that would be something to see. And hate.
Let the Games begin!
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Tuesday brought yet another reason to root for Colorado's football program to go 0-11 this year and for the school to find the money somehow to buy out the rest of Gary Barnett's contract. A Boulder grand jury decided to indict former Buffaloes recruiting assistant Nathan Maxcey -- and NOBODY ELSE -- after a six-month investigation into the allegations that the school regularly provided prospects with enticements generally associated with after parties at the Adult Video News Awards.
If you listened carefully, you could hear Buffs head coach Gary Barnett, AD Dick Tharp, chancellor Richard Byyny and school president Elizabeth Hoffman heaving massive sighs of relief. In a classic old-school mob plot line, the underling had been pinched, while the bosses walked away clean.
Maxcey's sin was using a university-provided cell phone to order "entertainment" for big-time Colorado prospects. Like the good soldier he is, Maxcey asserted he was just dialing up some companionship for himself, a claim that was rendered semi-unbelievable by alleged testimony given by former play-for-pay girl Pasha Cowan, who claimed Maxcey paid her $2,500 for three willing women to call on "very young, very athletic" men at Boulder hotels.
Still, the grand jury was in a generous mood and only accused Maxcey of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution and two felonies, embezzlement of public property and theft, both due to his extracurricular cell phone use. If convicted of everything, Maxcey faces up to nine years in jail and fines totaling $600,000. More than likely, Maxcey will get a small fine and time in county -- as if that's any prize.
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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Is it any wonder those Canadian baggage handlers didn't know what to do with the Stanley Cup last week? After all, it has been 11 years since a team from Molson Nation has won the thing. Half the people there wouldn't even recognize the thing...So, Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina believes that "everything was decided in advance," and American Carly Patterson didn't deserve the gold medal in the all-around. Next thing you know, she's going to start questioning whether those old Soviet elections were fixed or not. Joe Stalin guilty of voter fraud? Never!
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AND ANOTHER THING: Watching Larry "Don't point your finger at me" Brown go after Spanish coach Mario Pesquera in the aftermath of Team Iverson's quarterfinal win was the best news possible for American hoops fans and wise columnists who forecast gold for the home squad. It would appear as if the U.S. has worked up a little anger for the medal round and wants to stick it down the collective gizzards of the naysayers, the we-don't-fear-them crowd and anybody else who has derived glee from a double-digit loss to Puerto Rico and an opening-round defeat at the hands of a former Soviet republic. Nothing is guaranteed, but you have to love the Americans' chances, now that they are properly motivated -- and more than a little agitated.
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ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: Anybody who watched the Chiefs' wipeout of the Rams on Monday night was treated to a pair of reasons why ABC is losing ratings ground to the likes of the Outdoor Life Network and C-SPAN9. How about these fall-lineup anchors: Desperate Housewives and Boston Legal. The former speaks for itself, while the latter features William Shatner as an attorney. William Shatner! What, was Erik Estrada busy?