It's all over...
October 1, 2000 3:56 AM   Subscribe

It's all over... And I can honestly say that watching this Olympics has shaken all the pre-Games cynicism out of my system. It's been wonderful to watch, looked wonderfully organised, and suffused with a sense of good spirit by its hosts... good on you, mates.
posted by holgate (32 comments total)
It's not just that Britain had the best overall performance for 80 years, either...

And yet, in the US, it's apparently been a TV flop, due to a mixture of bad planning by NBC and parochial reporting in the press. (It didn't help that an American journo called it "a hick games in a hick town" in the Sydney Morning Herald.) So, judgements, anyone?
posted by holgate at 4:05 AM on October 1, 2000

The closing ceremony summed up what Sydney's Olympics were all about. They made the world feel good about Australia, and Australia feel good about itself. They gave the Olympic movement its strongest justification in ages for calling itself a family. Everything about Sydney 2000 deserved a big red tick - the facilities, the infrastructure, the organisation, the transport, the security, the weather, the spirit, the enthusiastic crowds, the marvellous volunteers, and of course the athletes - barring the inevitable drug cheats who tarnish any Games. And Sydney can scarcely be held responsible for them. Australia showed itself to be a sophisticated, affluent, can-do country, but above all a friendly country. The nation that invented the Friendly Games back in Melbourne 44 years ago went one better this time. Australians put the fun back into the Olympics. It was evident in the sporting arena - all you had to do was look at the face of Melinda Gainsford-Taylor to see an athlete having the time of her life. It was evident in the stands, it was evident everywhere. Only in Australia would a publican near the equestrian venue tell a national TV audience: "It's a 16-day piss-up with a bit of horse-riding in between." Australians showed they could laugh at themselves, from the moment lawnmowers, dunnies and two-up featured in the opening ceremony until tonight, when the good old Hills hoist and the humble thong had starring roles. Sydney set benchmarks that will be hard to equal, let alone surpass. Pity poor Athens. It's going to feel like the bloke who batted after Bradman.

posted by murray_kester at 4:48 AM on October 1, 2000

Having just seen all of the closing ceremony, I now know that hallucinogenic drugs have a role to play in event organisation. Wow. Just brilliant.
posted by holgate at 5:01 AM on October 1, 2000

Forget the hills hoist.

The best part was Midnight Oil and Yothu Yindi sticking it up the beloved primeminister, Johnny.

posted by lagado at 5:27 AM on October 1, 2000

I'd fully agree; the great British performance was enjoyable to see, but it wasn't that alone which made Sydney the greatest Games ever.
The combination of the facilities and the faultless organisation together with everything that has already been said above made Sydney a runaway success.Noting the comment about NBC's coverage of the Olympics, they'd do well to look at tapes of the BBC programmes (and schedules) which were a) intelligently planned, b) extremely well organised and c) entertaining to watch. 'The Olympic Breakfast', 'Olympic Grandstand' and 'The Day Down Under' (evening news roundup) were cleverly scheduled and provided excellent coverage in the face of time-zone adversity. Well done to all concerned.
posted by williamtry at 6:04 AM on October 1, 2000

Some people were expecting a bit of cultural cringe for the closing ceremony, but apart from the bit with Paul Hogan and the giant shrimp (well... I guess it shows we can laugh at ourselves..!), I thought it was all good. I wasn't planning to watch it, but I did anyway, and I thought the opening with the guy on the lawnmower (er... spoiler? Do things like closing ceremonies need spoiler warnings?) was brilliant - fun, silly, and really well choreographed. I was watching it with my father (a man who, judging by his reaction, has no sense of humour left at all), and he was cursing the opening, calling it an embarrassment and an international outrage. I told him to get a grip and a sense of humour while he was at it. Come on, the ceremony organisers even made fun of themselves with one of the inflatable kangaroos from the Atlanta closing ceremony! Beautiful.

Even though I haven't been watching the games that much, I'm a bit sad that it's all over - there's been a feeling of unity and togetherness throughout Australia and the world that would be beautiful, were it to last..!
posted by sammy at 6:14 AM on October 1, 2000

Not that anyone cares, but here are my favorite stars and moments from The Games of the XXVIIth Olympiad. This list doesn't include any of the so-called minor sports simply because America didn't see many of them. The interminable televised time delay really kept the United States from enjoying the Games the rest of the world saw. These individuals impressed me in one way or another for their humility, grace, dignity, and performance joy. Contrast these with the despicable behavior of the winning 4x100 sprint relay team that epitomized the term "ugly Americans."

From the first week and the Olympic pool emerged Lenny Krayzelburg, immigrant to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union who captured three gold medals and endeared himself to the public with his quiet, confident demeanor and movie star good looks. There was controvery galore in the gymnastics venue, but standing head and shoulders above the rest was Aleksei Nemov. This Russian was simply the class of the field. No one else came close to his all-around ability and dignity. He earned the respect of his competitive peers and the world.

During week two, the spotlight shifted to Olympic Stadium and the track and field events. While Marion Jones' five medal performance was certainly historic, I was more enamored with the grace and humble attitude of Michael Johnson. Adding two more gold medals to his legacy, he will be remembered among the immortals and will be missed.

And finally, my favorite. Her performance, under incredible pressure moistened my eyes as she did the eyes of all Australia. Cathy Freeman won only one medal in these Games -- gold in the 400 meter run -- but she won far more than that. Racing for a nation, an entire people, and finally for herself; she was a consummate champion. Shy and reserved, but with the heart of centuries of native Australian Aboriginal heritage behind her, she exhibited graceful performance on the track and on the world stage. She will be an inspiration for generations to come. Thank you Cathy. I won't forget.

And thank you Sydney.
posted by netbros at 6:23 AM on October 1, 2000

BBC radio's been good too: it's been fun to follow the commentators learn the technical terms of the more obscure sports they'd been assigned. And there's been good background stuff, as well: interviews with Sydneysiders, reviews of the Sydney papers, generally avoiding the more cringeworthy "local colour" stuff that sometimes infects TV coverage. Though my one regret is that we didn't get to see "The Dream", especially after hearing about Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat and Roy & HG's revoiced commentaries...

posted by holgate at 6:24 AM on October 1, 2000

And I should add that Roy & HG has absolutely made every olympic night worthwhile, though i've always been a fan of their commentary, they really made the olympics so damn fun for the rest of us.

Their gymnastics commentary was fantastic, "ooh.. crazy date. spinning date! oh a sparkle! and a little bounce! i think they get bonus points for that little bounce...". It's almost art.

posted by aki at 7:48 AM on October 1, 2000

I find it hard to be as enthusiastic about the Olympics as you folks. Even though the event was held in Australia, it might as well been here in the US because of what we saw and the way it was packaged. Leave it to the US to take something that was obviously quite good and suck all the life out of it.
posted by jkottke at 8:29 AM on October 1, 2000

Oh? Was that the olympics? I couldn't really tell, through all the NBC Colour Commentary. I thought perhaps it was a Lifetime Television for Women 20 day movie.

Good Lord, but that coverage was dreadful. As far as their portrayal of Australia, apparently it is all Koala Bears, Kangaroos, and the Opera House, and how many times can we mention it was once a penal colony?

As for the sporting coverage? Could they suck the drama out a little longer? "Just a week before the games, SuperAmericanAthlete's dog, the dog that trained loyally beside his master, every day, through snow and sleet, died. Can SuperAmericanAthlete keep his focus here at the Olympics, knowing that even a gold will be bittersweet, without his dog to share the glory with him?"

posted by kristin at 8:42 AM on October 1, 2000

I don't follow the Olympics religiously, but I do try to catch events here and there, making some attempt to share in the "international experience" that only the Olympics provide, except for your occasional millennium celebration.

Of course the shared experience turned out to be only virtual, considering NBC showed nothing live. Remember the old days, when you would be up at 2 a.m. watching diving or gymnastics? Didn't they do a prime-time highlights show back then, for those who didn't want to stay up late?

So I get past the time-delay issue and try to catch a glimpse of the rest of the world through the USA-centric lenses of the NBC producers, and run smack into the Bobbitt-Keller school of sports editing. I've grown up with television, but still find it disarming to see the excitement of a swimmer winning, and then an immediate cut to the same swimmer out of the pool, in a robe, with the team, with no buffer in between. NBC would say they have to compress time to get in more events, but it's more like they have to do it to show more of those cheesy, feel-good back stories that seek to manufacture some emotional response--something that would occur naturally if we could see the real-time unfolding of the contest and its glorious aftermath.

Despite all this, I thought Australia displayed itself wonderfully. I always thought the US-based ceremonies were little more than an attempt to put on a show for ourselves, in celebration of our corporate culture. Australia kicked our butts by putting their world on display for the rest of us, in a way that was genuine and touching.
posted by carsonSF at 9:28 AM on October 1, 2000

I didn't watch it. I didn't watch any of it. I did my best to ignore it. I'm glad it's over now.

And the reason why is that I think the entire purpose of it has been subverted. At its base, the Olympics is or should be a competition between people and we should celebrate how people do. Everyone who competes and does his or her best is a winner; some few of them get to take medals home.

What I hate about the Olympics is how the media keep score on a country-by-country basis. That's not what it should be about. I remember a time when they didn't do that. (But then, I remember a time when women actually competed in women's gymnastics.) I don't recall exactly when it became a nationalistic horse race but I do know who did it: ABC. During a period in the late 60's and early 70's, when they had a long string of having won the TV rights and advertised themselves as "the network of the Olympics", their coverage began to emphasize the country-versus-country aspect of it all, and that's exactly the opposite of what the games were originally intended to do.

And so far as I can tell, everyone now thinks in nationalistic jingoistic terms; you root for the guy from your country no matter what.

Why? Why can't you root for a specific athlete because you like the spirit they show or because you like the way they look, or for no reason at all?

Who gives a damn how many medals each country took home?

If I had my way, two things would change: every athlete in any given sport would wear the same uniform irrespective of country of origin, and when the medals were awarded they wouldn't play the national anthem of the winner, because their country of origin does not matter. Or at least it should not.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:41 AM on October 1, 2000

Whether you like it or not, Cathy Freeman's country of origin mattered.
posted by holgate at 9:55 AM on October 1, 2000

I also didn't watch. I couldn't tell you who won what. It didn't help that the US coverage sucked so bad. I hope NBC is loosing their shirt, the rat bastards!

My wife and I just bought tickets to go see the games in Utah in 2002. I hope to experience the games first hand and not through a TV or a computer.
posted by Brilliantcrank at 9:58 AM on October 1, 2000

"women actually competed in women's gymnastics."

Hoo, boy, Steven, are you gonna take shit for that comment.
posted by baylink at 11:27 AM on October 1, 2000

Psst: Steven's making an age reference, not a gender one. :-)
posted by cCranium at 12:43 PM on October 1, 2000

I gotta agree with Steven - I'm amazed every time ESPN or ABC covers skateboarding, snowboarding, bmx, or inline skating, because they're trying to project the olympics mentality onto those sports as well. They make a big deal about which country competitors are from, and I've heard "not a single american placed today" way too often.

I've competed in these sorts of events, and I can say firsthand that it never, ever, mattered where a fellow rider or skater was from. No one cares, because no one is "representing their country." They're just a bunch of people going out and doing their best. But the networks sure seem to care. Maybe it's an old mentality.

I say loose the national anthem too.
posted by mathowie at 12:51 PM on October 1, 2000

NBC's coverage was pretty terrible but I've got to give Bob Costas points for doing a great job of anchoring the main NBC desk. His droll commentary helped make it at least somewhat watchable.
posted by evixir at 1:35 PM on October 1, 2000

I say keep the national athem. I don't hear foreign ones enough. Granted I watched very very little, and NBC did a poor job covering start to finish for one event when I did watch. Sure the athem and medal ceremony I'm sure comes hours after the event, I still don't mind hearing anything other then the Star spangled banner

Take out professionals. The "Olympic spirit" is one that would be for the best a country could produce without paying them. After they win then give them a contract for pros. The money will be there in the end.

As for drug scandals, my suggestion is to limit the number of athletes a country can send. For example, those athletes that actually compete in the Olympics, and have been found to have cheated, enforce a ban against the country that the athlete came from. That will only make sure the countries do enough to test and enforce testing so they send the best clean qualifying athletes. It may just open up a chance for others to make an Olympics too. You may say it is unfair for one athlete to take a spot from a qualifier 4 years later, but that is exactly what the drug user took away from a deserving athlete this year. Would we have an Olympic team from China anymore? That would make a country by country analysis worth counting...Wow you lost all spots for an event due to doping....Just my 2 cents.

posted by brent at 1:49 PM on October 1, 2000

Keep the anthems. You're not doing it just for yourself, no matter what Nike would have you believe. You're doing it for the people who got you there, the organisations who invested in your talent, the parents who bought the equipment and took you to the venues. And you're doing it for the country which puts you on the plane, looks after you in the village, treats you like a VIP and gives you the opportunity to sleep with other competitors from foreign countries after your event is over. It's not quite the same as the X Games.

As I said, Cathy Freeman ran for herself, and her nation. The Cameroon footballers player for themselves, and for their nation. And that applies pretty much everywhere that sport hasn't been given over to the TV barons, celebrity endorsements and seven-figure salaries.
posted by holgate at 2:43 PM on October 1, 2000

Regarding "women competing in women's gymnastics" I am indeed referring to age, not gender.

There was a time when all the competitors in "women's gymnastics" were actually women, not girls. If you have an opportunity to ever see film of the women's gymnastics competitions from about 1960, you'll be quite surprised by how much different the participants look. They actually have breasts.

The problem is that the strength-to-weight ratio of a girl is much higher than for a woman. While the changes caused by puberty in a female are marvelous and I wouldn't change them if I could, the fact is that the mass added to a female in that transition is all dead weight; none of it is muscle, it all serves other purposes.

I sadly watched it happen to one gymnast. She was one of the US's shining stars; she was superb; she had dedicated her life to training. Then the hormones kicked in, her hips began to broaden, she developed breasts, and suddenly she couldn't compete any more. All her training was off; wide hips don't act the way narrow ones do, and breasts change the weight distribution and threw off her balance. And she gained considerable weight without putting on very much muscle, so her str/wght ratio dropped. And she could no longer compete against all the 9 year olds.

It was sad. She kept trying for a while, but it was futile. She'd spent her entire life training; she hadn't even been living with her family, but had moved in with her coach and and had been living with his family instead. (Which, by the way, is quite common with leading girl gymnasts.)

Once she was no longer able to compete, what became of her? I never heard of her again; and what kind of life does she have to go back to? She hardly knows her own family; she spent very little time with them. She spent her entire life dedicated to something which puberty stole from her.

Perhaps she majored in PhysEd in college and is now training a whole new generation of girls who will go through the same disappointment. I hope she found something better. In the mean time, she was 14 and had probably had little or no involvement with boys; she got all her schooling by home tutoring at her coach's house.

It makes me deeply sad to contemplate an entire population of girls who look forward to puberty with horror and dread. Hell; it's hard enough for normal people, but for these girls it also takes away what they've dedicated their lives to. They don't know when it will happen, early or late, but it's inevitable.

I honestly think they should impose a minimum age limit of 18 on all participants in the Olympics. In most cases that wouldn't matter, but it would radically alter "Women's gymnastics" because the competitors would again be women and not girls. That is the only event in the Olympics where you see 10-year-olds competing.

Men's gymnastics doesn't have this problem; puberty has exactly the opposite effect on a male. Where puberty in a girl decreases her strength-to-weight ratio, it increases it as a boy turns into a man if he trains properly, and all the males competing in "Men's gymnastics" really were men; typically at least 19, and often as old as 25 or 26.

This problem for girls versus women doesn't apply to any other sport of which I'm aware, because other things are involved. No girl can compete against the top women in a sprint or long distance running event for the simple reason that their legs are too short and their lungs too small, and because total strength is more critical in those events than strength-to-weight ratio. And that applies equally to all other track events; you don't see girls competing, they're all women, which in my opinion is as it should be. No girl will ever throw a javelin as far as a well-trained woman.

Equally, in women's judo the participants really are women, because long legs, long arms and total strength (and, indeed, total weight) are what are critical, and girls aren't capable of competing. The point is that the actual competitors are adults, and as adults can reasonably make an informed decision about whether to make a commitment to the sport and by so doing alter their lives. The girls in gymnastics usually don't make those decisions for themselves, and anyway I don't believe a 5 year old is capable of understanding the full ramifications of such a decision, which is about when most of the top female gymnasts begin their serious commitment to the sport.

I have no problem with a woman dedicating years to compete in a sport. I have serious concerns about how these girls in gymnastics are treated, because I'm afraid it ruins their lives by stealing from them anything resembling a normal childhood. Worse, once puberty sets in, they're discarded by the coaches without a further glance. I bet that as adults they suffer from a higher than average rate of mental illness. Most of the coaches are men, and to the girls, they're forming a father-daughter relationship during that time; all you have to do is watch how often they go to their coaches for hugs.

Then they get kicked out of the families they've come to know, and return to families that are strangers.

This is wrong. It's sheer exploitation.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:16 PM on October 1, 2000

I'm absolutely with you, Steven. That's bothered me for a long time. I'm certain the ratings are too important to ignore, though, so they should keep the Nadias and the Mary Lous and the Kristins and call the sport "little girls' gymnastics", and restore "women's gymnastics" to its rightful place.
posted by dhartung at 4:32 PM on October 1, 2000

Oh, yes, remember Nadia's "breakup", and all that sturm und drang? Exactly.
posted by dhartung at 4:34 PM on October 1, 2000

I honestly think they should impose a minimum age limit of 18 on all participants in the Olympics. In most cases that wouldn't matter, but it would radically alter "Women's gymnastics" because the competitors would again be women and not girls. That is the only event in the Olympics where you see 10-year-olds competing.

A new minimum-age requirement took effect this year; gymnasts must turn 16 during 2000 to compete in the Summer Games (under the previous rule, the minimum age was 15).
posted by netbros at 4:46 PM on October 1, 2000

At this Olympics there was an age minimum of sixteen for female gymnasts.

I’m surprised you missed that one, Steven. :)
posted by Georgina at 5:00 PM on October 1, 2000

As I have mentioned, I avoided all coverage of this Olympics quite deliberately except when doing sufficient research to find links for entries here. I'm very glad to hear that they've imposed a minimum age for female gymnasts. I think maybe 16 is still a little low (especially since the 16th birthday might be in December), but it's acceptable; the point is that it means most competitors will have passed puberty and they will be women. But it still means they will have spent the majority of their childhoods in training instead of doing what normal kids do. So it's not a total fix. Still, it's better than nothing.

The men don't have their lives fucked up that way; most of them begin training seriously when they're 16 or 17 (after puberty).

There was a time in the past when ten year olds did compete (I recall someone named "Shannon"), and it was the only event in the entire Olympics where the majority of participants were children. There didn't used to be an age limit at all.

Evidently the IOC does have some semblance of ethics after all.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:54 PM on October 1, 2000

Won't you come a-waltzing matilda with meee..
posted by jessicamg at 8:29 PM on October 1, 2000

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes

Opens in a new window, and you can get it cheaper on - but a must read for anyone who ever watched women's gymnastics and thought it was a neat thing to see.
posted by kristin at 8:37 PM on October 1, 2000

I loved the Olympics for the most part, although it was almost too much of a marathon here in Canada - the CBC basically cleared its schedule save for a few hours during the day. But starting at about 4pm, with a couple of news cuts, they went to 5 the next morning every day. And they did a good job of letting you know when things were expected to happen so you could tape stuff overnight.

Best moments for me - Daniel Igali, a Canadian who defected from Nigeria several years ago who won a gold in wrestling on the last day. His "adoptive" mother - a woman who met him when he first arrived and basically took him under her wing for 6 or 8 years died just weeks ago. Marion Jones, who's a marvel, and seems to have a great spirit. Of course Cathy Freeman. The woman cyclist from Holland - her name escapes me - who won gold both on the track and on the road - an amazing feat. Michael Johnson - he's mellowed a bit and to me exemplifies the best of what sports can be - keep your head down, do your very best, and be humble about it. Simon Whitfield - the Canadian who won the first Men's triathlon. Triathlon is a great addition to the Olympics - a really tough and established sport that tests a wide range of skills. He was crying as he crossed the finish line, jumping up and down. And the Cameroonian soccer victory was amazing.

Sports that have to go: Boxing - a total and utter joke for the third Olympics in a row. Trampolining. Rhythmic gymnastics. Synchro swimming and even more, synchro diving. Actually - any sport in which you have to wear makeup. Or just prohibit makeup - which to me is the antithesis of sports (other than eye black or something).
posted by mikel at 9:39 PM on October 1, 2000

A freakshow run by a bunch of fascists with the cheesiest of trimmings.
I don't like the idea of spending millions on elite athletes to stimulate jingoistic pride. $30 million a piece for each of those golden disks since the Australian Institute of Sport was founded oi oi oi!
I'd rather they spent that loot recreation facilities for plebs.
Only thirty or so years ago 'fun' figured in every definition of sport, try finding it now. I was heartened when top skaters declined to participate in the Atlanta demo and snowboarders at Nagano.
There was definitely some good stuff came out of it like sticking it to the racists though.

"I say loose the national anthem too."
Yeah! Jimi at Woodstock.

posted by Blieb at 4:58 AM on October 2, 2000

The Hendrix anthem. Yeah, that would be cool...

I see your point, Steven. I would observe, by way of contrast, that Mary Lou Retton doesn't seem especially screwed up; I suspect it's highly dependent on the environment.

And, to Brent: are you *familiar* with the rationale under which American professional athletes are now allowed to compete in the games? It's that the Soviet-bloc athletes *were professionals, anyway*. They were relieved of the entire burden of having to *have a life* by the State, so that they could train full time, and make the State look better. Given that, I see no reason at all why the 'Murrican pros should be excluded... and indeed several performances this year -- pointedly including that squeaker in Men's basketball -- suggest that the gap isn't nearly as wide as we're sometimes asked to believe.
posted by baylink at 8:15 AM on October 2, 2000

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