After Carl Lewis won his third and last individual gold medal, in the 200 meters, the first thing he said was, "I'm really glad to get all of this over." Edwin Moses had won 90 finals in a row, but he offered the same sentiment after his Olympic triumph in the intermediate hurdles. Throughout the Olympics, from many other athletes, this expression of relief was the one we heard again and again. How sad that is.
The Olympics should be the acme of an athlete's career—the competition his greatest challenge, the victory his greatest moment of exultation—and yet repeatedly the most notable Olympians, the winners, found more consolation in the completion of the task than joy in the achievement. I don't recall these agonizing confessions of relief forming on the lips of Seve Ballesteros or Martina Navratilova or a single member of the Baltimore Orioles in their moments of glory. There must be such excruciating, unnatural pressure thrust upon the Olympic performers, who can only be redeemed of defeat after waiting another four long years.
It's fashionable to declare that the Olympics have grown too big, but Los Angeles swallowed them up as if they were just a Kiwanis convention, and television packaged them quite neatly as a spectacle for the watching world. However, what the Games are for the Olympians, who have so few years of their own prime time, is this: They're too far apart. Every four years? This isn't ancient Greece, joined by footpaths.
Let some benefit come out of the tragedy of Zola Budd and Mary Decker, who are forever bound together in 1984 because the one had to be rushed to battle and the other's time may have passed by the next Games, in Seoul. For Budd and Decker, for all athletes, it would be both fairer and in consonance with a modern world if Olympic medals were awarded every year or two during the various and separate world championships. Then, as always, all of the championships would take place at a common location every fourth year.
I was surprised to discover that Olympic athletes don't cool off like the rest of us. Instead, they warm down.
At the opening ceremony, Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee president Peter V. Ueberroth hailed the Olympic athletes, a genial collection of javelin chuckers and pugilists, as "the best hope for the future of mankind." That's the sort of benign posturing we've come to expect on such occasions. On the other hand, there's Ric Charlesworth, 31, of Australia.
Charlesworth is generally acknowledged to be the best field hockey player in the world, and since 1977 he has been the captain of his national team. For many years he was also a leading batsman for the West Australian cricket team. That meant he played high-level hockey and cricket for eight months a year, while at the same time attending medical school. He's now Dr. Richard Charlesworth, though he has put aside that profession to become an elected Member of Parliament. Altogether, as you can see, he makes Senator Bill Bradley look like something of a layabout.
For all that, Richard Charlesworth, M.D., M.P., is a very human chap. He's going bald fast. He has a terrible temper, which makes him the bane of referees; he's known variously as a poor man's McEnroe or, simply, Grumpy. He played in his first Olympics at 19 in Munich, and now, surely, this would be his last, a triumphant finale. The Aussies had an old team, with an average age of 28. It had been together for years and had won 34 international matches in a row. As undisputed favorites for the gold, the Aussies had given up five months of paychecks and time with their families to prepare for Los Angeles. There was something terribly old-fashioned about it all. On the one hand, Charlesworth and his mates were as dedicated to the quest as any athlete in any sport who might gain a fortune from his attainments in the Games, and yet Charlesworth used these two quaint words to describe his hockey: "release" and "recreation."
No athlete in the Games had matters more properly in perspective. "To me, this is just another hockey tournament, which happens to coincide with the Olympics," Charlesworth said. He wasn't going to gild any lilies; he can't abide the politicians of either party back home—he's a Labor member—who rise in the House of Representatives to speak for headlines when the real work is being quietly done in committee. "The Olympics are just special now because of all the media hype," he said. "And they make too many people very nationalistic. All that talk of brotherhood: Why, we've known our competitors for years, meeting them in other hockey tournaments. And the anger and spite you saw in our game today—it's hard to square that with the ideals, isn't it?"
He grinned sardonically under his sun hat. He was watching West Germany beat Great Britain 1-0 in the second semifinal. Dr. Charlesworth had been a little late getting out after his own game, against Pakistan, because he'd had to help stitch up an injured teammate, Craig Davies. You can't be substituted for in field hockey, unless you leave the game for good. So Davies had to play with a head wound. During his game, in the heat and the smog, Charlesworth leaned on his stick and then squatted to capture a moment's breath whenever the action paused. The Aussies outplayed the younger Pakistanis, but 22 minutes into the game, Hasan Sardar got away on a little break, the Aussie goalie guessed wrong, came out with the wrong foot, and Sardar put the ball past him. It was Pakistan's only shot of the first half.
The Aussies were palpably the better team. They had many clean chances for goals, but they couldn't score, and when it ended 1-0 in Pakistan's favor, one of the major upsets of the Games, Charlesworth dropped back down into his squat, his head bowed, while all around him the Pakistani players fell to the ground, kissing the artificial pitch, surrounding the pale little man as if he were a fallen idol who had to be sacrificed—which, in a way, he was.
"Sometimes it just doesn't happen the way it's supposed to," Charlesworth said afterward, shrugging. Not far below him, Sardar worked the crowd, autographing the dollar bills his happy countrymen thrust upon him.
The largest American flag I saw at the Olympics was at an ARCO station in Pasadena.
As seriously as the International Olympic Committee takes itself, don't you wish those OLYMPIC DRINKING TEAM and OLYMPIC MAKE-OUT TEAM sweat shirts were still around?
There's a new word in international sport that appears to have enough momentum to move into our domestic game plan. That word is energy.
As near as I could tell, for the international athlete energy is some magic thing. It must be carefully husbanded. Everybody is out to steal your energy, and the athletes guard it in the manner of tribesmen who don't want their photographs taken, lest the black box capture their spirit.
Here are just some of the things that can steal your energy if you aren't careful: The press. Heats. Anything that upsets your concentration. Memories. Hassles. Love. False starts.
Eugene, Ore. seems to be the place where energy is best conserved.
You've been away the last couple of weeks? Here's the whole Olympics in 30 seconds:
"The U.S.A. will be going for more gold tonight. Heats. He touched out. 8.5, 8.0. The blows are coming with rapidity. Oh, say can you see. From Atlantis, trains in Eugene, Oregon. Color these Americans gold. Venue. She really nailed that one. Speed work. Side out, U.S.A. Pommel horse. The nationals. By the dawn's early light. She's careful not to dissipate too much energy. 9.85. The tale of the tape. He held it. Turns. A silver medal among the gold for these Americans. He really nailed that one. The blows are still coming with rapidity. What so proudly we hailed. Strength work. Kilos. She held it. It's a solid gold evening for our Americans. Arthroscopic surgery. If you're not familiar with the way team dressage is scored. At the twilight's last gleaming. Inward 2½ somersault pike. Semifinal heats. Another golden moment for the Americans. World's fastest human. Whose broad stripes and bright stars. We really nailed that one. PR. As you were telling me before we came on the air, Harry Beth, the Americans have a real good chance here to pick up another gold. FIFA. Energy. FIBA. Through the perilous fight. FINA. As I indicated earlier, the blows are coming with rapidity. Another golden moment for the Americans. He's from the Holy Roman Empire, now attending college at Middle Tennessee State. And the rockets' red glare. Meters. A golden oldie. Flag. International rules. Venues. More heats. A sweep of the gold for the U.S.A. And the home of the brave."
The Olympic press coverage is a classic example of more is less. As the number of reporters, photographers, television technicians, etc. has increased—and at L.A. it was up to something like one media member per athlete—access to the athletes has had to be limited. The consequence of this excess is twofold. First, despite the more intense coverage, the humanity of the Games and its participants is being submerged by the herd. Second, as the print press increases in size and therefore diminishes its ability to operate, it cedes more and more of its authority to the television network that pays for the exclusive TV rights to the Games. That's a situation that both ABC and the IOC obviously find most convenient.
The problem isn't that ABC is not up to the task as a technical authority. The problem is that the Olympics are unlike all other sporting events. ABC (or whatever network happens to be involved) doesn't end up covering the Games in the journalistic sense, but edits them to make the best variety show. ABC's Olympic "coverage" is more analogous to how it "brings us" the Academy Awards than how it "brings us" the World Series.
It's common for the so-called "medal standings" to be published, listing how many golds, silvers and bronzes each nation has won. But comparing Olympic teams is hardly like matching up the National League East, in which everybody has 25 players and 81 games, home and away. Many obvious factors influence the Olympic count, most notably the size and wealth of nations. For example, among 1984 gold medal-winning countries, the largest, China, has 1,008,000,000 people; the smallest, New Zealand, 3,100,000. The wealthiest, Sweden, boasts a per capita income of $14,821; the poorest, Kenya, $196.
So let's take the population of each gold-winning nation as well as its income per capita and then factor those components in with the country's medal count, awarding three points for a gold, two for a silver, one for a bronze. The result: true medal standings. The top 12 would look like this (if these figures make less sense to you than diving scores, you'll have to trust me):
The synchronized swimming people better watch it or they're going to get tossed out of the club barely after they got in. Compulsories in such sports as figure skating have been putting paying customers to sleep for years, but the synchro folks had the gall to issue this statement: "The figure session is regarded as tedious and boring and neither the competition director nor the LAOOC felt that it would be correct to sell public tickets to the session."
If symbolism means anything, the most macho Olympic sport was basketball. That's because hoops, male and female, was the only sport that chose not to have its winners presented with bouquets as well as medals. Team handball and field hockey went in for stereotyping: The federations in those sports decided that, yes, the chicks would get flowers, but real men don't stop to smell the Strelitzia.
Flora is hardly new to the Olympics. The ancient all-male Games dressed the nude victors only in olive wreaths, and at both Moscow and Sarajevo the custom, with bouquets instead of wreaths, had returned in some measure.
In L.A. the floral tributes—donated by a florist chain called Conroy's, which valued them at 20 bucks a throw—were specifically designed to correspond with the Games' so-called "festive federalism" official colors. That meant each bouquet was topped off by an orange and purple Strelitzia (which you may know as the bird-of-paradise and which, not coincidentally, is L.A.'s city flower), plus yellow Oncidium orchids, two purple Liatris, and magenta and orange Gerberas.
What was especially nice about the bouquets—boo-quets to you, basketball—is that they caught everybody by surprise. There are no flower T shirts or hats or pins. We will just have to remember, happily, that '84 was the Flower Games.
The single most unfair thing in the Olympics is to allow a nation to use different competitors through the course of a relay competition, so that a strong country like the U.S. can employ second-stringers for the qualifying heats and then bring in fresh stars to rout the poor tired devils who've been competing all along.
In Los Angeles, a widely heard rumor is that Ueberroth will only keep the baseball commissioner's seat warm, returning to California in either '86 or '88 to run for the Senate.
Remember when shamateurism was such an Olympic issue? Certainly, we all assumed that for professionals to be allowed into the Games a great formal to-do would have to be made, with all sorts of threats and power blocs, compromises and stormy voting. Instead, professionalism has just sort of oozed into acceptance, and amateurism has ended with a whimper, not a bang.
I come away from Los Angeles with the feeling that the Olympics could learn a great deal from that example. For all the forced and highly exaggerated discussion about mankind and ideals, spirit and goodwill, these worthy things would be better served—and the fine aspirations of the Olympics possibly even approached—if everybody involved would just shut up and stop hyping the Games artificially and let the Olympics speak for themselves.
Seoul osinun gus, whan young ham ni da. (Welcome to Seoul.)
3. New Zealand
4. South Korea