Ever munched on a gyro? Sipped ouzo? Smashed a plate on the floor
If so, you, too, might be able to compete in the Athens Olympics.
No, no, not for the U.S.
June 6, 2004
Thanks to a very stupid rule, all kinds of Americans will be
donning the ol' blue and white of Greece in the Summer Games, and
most of them have never set a sandal in the place.
Once upon a time, somebody at the IOC with moussaka for brains
decided that the host country of an Olympics should field a team
in every sport, even for a sport that the natives don't know from
a Macy's purse sale.
If you brought a baseball mitt into most restaurants in Athens,
they'd start trying to slice it up as overcooked leg of lamb.
Until recently there were only two baseball diamonds in the
entire nation, and both of those are on abandoned American
military bases. Yet Greece has a team in the Olympics!
Of course, the Greeks don't particularly want to take the world's
stage looking like nine drunk guys chasing a bee. Answer? Yank in
some Yanks! The Greek government says that if you, your parents,
your grandparents or even your great-grandparents were born in
Greece, you can compete for the Greek Olympic team--even if all
you know about the Odyssey is that it has 11 cup holders.
You may have watched only half of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The
only Greek you ever heard of may be Jimmy The. The closest you
may have come to Greece is working the fry vat at White Castle.
The IOC doesn't give a fig!
Find an old baptismal certificate, get dual citizenship and you,
too, can walk into the Olympic Stadium last during the Opening
Ceremonies as a proud, fake Greek.
Eighteen of the 24 players on the Greek Olympic baseball team are
Americans, which is 18 more Americans than will play for America
in the Olympics because America didn't even qualify. Maybe if the
IOC didn't fritter away a wild-card spot in the eight-team
tournament on the host nation, the U.S. would've gotten in.
True, some Homeland Security officials are nervous about
Americans showing the red, white and blue in Athens and becoming
instant terrorist targets, but disguising them in another
country's uniform seems a bit drastic, don't you think?
Plus, you can't imagine the research--some of it paid for by
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos--that went into proving
these American athletes have Greek blood. During one search, an
athlete discovered a family secret: Her grandparents were not
married when they started a family.
Clay Bellinger, who won two World Series rings as a utilityman
with the New York Yankees, is loaded with Greek connections.
"Well, my wife went backpacking there once," he says. Bellinger
will be in the Olympics because his mother's grandma was born in
Greece ... or once ate feta cheese, one of the two.
Jared Theodorakos, a pitcher for Baylor, says glowingly, "It's a
dream come true!" Wait a minute--the dude dreamed of playing for
Greece? Whose poster was on his bedroom wall, Zorba's?
Chris Demetral, a former Triple A player who is an infielder on
the Greek roster, says, "Actually, I'm still waiting for somebody
to tell me they're kidding."
No kidding. Sixteen of the 18 women on the Greek softball team
will be Americans, too. You talk about unorthodox.
It's not really Greece's fault. Nobody knows softball in that
country. Linda Wells, the Greek Olympic coach who happens to also
coach at Arizona State, has been to Greece eight times in the
past year trying to teach the locals how to play. But the
outfielders still stand and look up at fly balls sailing over
their heads like it's the Fourth of July.
Stacey Farnworth, a former college player who will be on the
Greek team along with her two cousins, says the Americans are
trying to bridge the language gap. "We try to use as much Greek
as we can on the field," she says. "Like, How are you? is Ti
kaneis? and Hello is Yassas." O.K., what's Greek for, The ball
just rolled by us and two runs scored while we were chatting?
More than a third of the players on the Greek women's soccer team
are Americans. That must make the folks in Sparta swell with
None of these teams has a meatball's chance of winning a gold
medal, nor do they have a right to. This is just the IOC wanting
to be richer than King Croesus. It wants the host nation to have
a team in each sport purely for ticket sales. After all, how else
are you going to get Nick and Nia to go see a game that is so
boring it requires a seventh-inning stretch just to stay awake?
If all the IOC cares about are tickets, let's get Jennifer
Aniston on the softball team. Her name is shortened from
Anastassakis and her godfather was Telly Savalas. Who doesn't
love ya, baby?
In the Greek tradition, I'd like to spit in the hair of everybody
involved. And not to ward off evil spirits, either.
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
Thirty-four of the 42 players on the Greek Olympic baseball and
softball teams will be Americans.