published Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: These Olympics among best overall

Maybe it's the fact that United States gold-medal-winning gymnasts Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman at least temporarily have supplanted Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber as my young daughters' favorite celebrities.

Maybe it's knowing that the most decorated Olympian of all-time, Michael Phelps, once spoke to our newspaper's Best of Preps banquet after winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games but before claiming the final six medals of his record 22 at this year's Games.

No, he's not from our town and he may never come here again, but for one spring night in 2009, Phelps gave us all one of those "Is this really happening?" moments, which seems even more unbelievable today.

Or maybe it's those tiny faucets in the corners of my eyes that kept leaking every time South African runner Oscar Pistorius slipped on his artificial limbs and competed against the fastest humans on the planet, a concept so wild Dorothy wouldn't have dared to dream it in "The Wizard of Oz."

But whatever the reason, as the 2012 London Olympics draw to a close today, as much of the USA turns its back on volleyball, water polo, decathletes and synchronized diving until the Rio Games in 2016, these past two weeks in jolly old England have come to feel like one of the most satisfying Summer Games ever.

Not necessarily the most memorable. Heading into this morning's gold medal men's basketball final there have been no Kerri Strug moment, her 1996 gymnastics vault on a bum ankle perhaps the last great U.S. gold medal tear-jerker.

And while Raisman and Douglas leading the U.S. to the team gymnastics gold over Russia, Romania and China was nice, the end of the Cold War certainly has dialed down the Red, White and Blue euphoria many of us felt in 1980 over our "Do You Believe In Miracles?!" hockey triumph over the Soviet Union.

In sports, fear and loathing can be a good thing.

That also brings me to my one serious criticism of these Games. Despite the 40th anniversary of the horrific murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games, there was no recognition of that awful event at the outset of these Olympics.

Instead, it was left to the 18-year-old Raisman to honor the Israelis by choosing Hava Nagila -- a traditional Jewish score for wedding dances -- as the music that accompanied her gold-winning floor exercise.

On a far less serious level, could U.S. basketball superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James puh-leeze stop with the notion they might be better than the 1992 Dream Team, the greatest hoops squad ever assembled?

Certainly this team can knock down a preposterous number of 3-pointers. The global game also is better than it's ever been, which makes the ridiculous ease with which this team has dispatched most of its opponents truly remarkable.

But while this team's post play -- such as it is -- is built around Tyson Chandler, the Dream Team was built around Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. Enough said.

What does seem better this time around than most years is the attitude of the athletes -- especially our athletes -- whether they win or lose.

Yes, Usain Bolt somewhat classlessly dissed Carl Lewis after winning both the 100 and 200 meters, but Lewis had directed a few shots Bolt's way.

(On a vaguely similar subject, in much the same way the Dallas Cowboys once signed "Bullet Bob" Hayes after he became "the world's fastest human" by winning the 100 at the 1964 Olympics, Cowpokes owner Jerry Jones now should go after Bolt. Then Bolt could attempt to follow Hayes as just the second man to win Olympic gold and a Super Bowl ring.)

Nothing is exactly as it seems, of course. While we were cheering the golden accomplishments of Douglas and swimmer Ryan Lochte, we learned that Douglas' mother was forced to file for bankruptcy earlier this year and Lochte's parents were facing foreclosure on their Florida home. Misery spares almost no one in this economy.

And while I've enjoyed watching my 8-year-old Julia Caroline and 5-year-old Ella Beth chant "U-S-A! U-S-A!" I was more than a little taken aback when Ella Beth kept wondering where American swimmer Matt Grevers was.

Asked why she kept inquiring about Grevers, she replied, "He's hot."

No, she wasn't talking about his body temperature.

Then again, it's fair to say that a lot of men of my certain age probably developed a rooting interest in Dorothy Hamill for more than her "Hamill camel" ice skating move.

Yet better to finish on a high note, even if U.S. hurdler Dawn Harper had to settle for silver this past week instead of repeating her gold-medal effort in 2008.

"I cannot be mad," she said with a sincere smile. "I enjoyed the whole process."

Other than the seemingly purposeful ignoring of the Munich tragedy, I would say the same of these whole London Games.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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