Final thoughts on a memorable two weeks in Greece
This is my last blog from the Athens Olympics, which I'm assuming
will be one of the more memorable I've covered for a number of reasons.
Phelps. He did everything I thought he would and more. When asked before
arriving here how many gold medals I thought he would win, I said four or
five. He won six.
Most impressive, though, was his third-place finish in the 200-meter
freestyle. No one thought he would beat
Australia's Ian Thorpe or the Netherlands' Pieter van den Hoogenband. But
Phelps insisted on challenging himself. There was no shame in winning a
Unfortunately, many people will remember the second week of the
Olympics for the judging and drug controversies. (I don't know if you've
heard, but the 4.5 earthquake here this week was judged a 3.9 by the
It's not the first time those elements have overwhelmed all of the
positive things that happen during an Olympics. The Seoul Olympics in 1988
is remembered more for Ben Johnson's positive drug test than anything else.
The Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002 are still known for the corruption
in the figure skating judging.
But it didn't start with those Games. As you've no doubt read during
these Games, cheating and corruption were staples of the Ancient Games in
Greece. Athletes invented all sorts of methods to overcome their opponents,
including curses and spells. They also took performance-enhancing potions,
some derived from bull or sheep testes.
They also bribed opponents and judges. When caught, they had to pay
significant fines. The money was used to build the massive statue of Zeus
As long as men and women compete, some will search for corners to
One tradition, unfortunately, that hasn't carried over from the
Ancient Games is the Olympic truce. Wars among the city-states came to a
halt for a period before, during and after the Games, primarily to
guarantee safe passage to and from Olympia.
Protest groups in Athens have suspended demonstrations during these
Games. But wars and terrorist attacks rage in other parts of the globe. The
cases of the two Russian airplanes crashing within minutes of each other
look very suspicious. Could it be we're less civilized now than in ancient
August 25, 2004 8:25 AM ET
No conspiracy theories seen in Athens misjudgments
I have a friend who decided he wanted to be part of the Atlanta
Olympics. Not as a spectator. Not as a volunteer for the organizing
committee. Especially not as a journalist.
He actually wanted to be in the Games, on the field of play.
He searched for the easiest way to be admitted and found it was by
becoming a judge in badminton. He had never played the game, except at
perhaps an occasional backyard barbecue, but that didn't stop him. Or the
international badminton federation. He took a short course in judging,
passed a test and, the next thing you know, he was watching shuttlecocks go
back and forth across the net in Olympic competition.
I have to believe the standards for becoming judges in most sports
are higher. They certainly are in sports such as figure skating and
gymnastics. Still, judges, as we have seen in Athens, are far from
It used to be easy to conclude why judges made mistakes. We saw
everything through the prism of the Cold War. If an American or British
athlete was wronged, it must have been because the judging panel was
weighted with communist judges. I'm sure they on the other side of the wall
were equally suspicious of American and Western European judges.
Even in Salt Lake City, more than a decade after the end of the Cold
War, people were counting the number of figure skating judges from former
communist countries to see if there was still some sort of conspiracy
against Canadians. Please.