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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

The Precious

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Frank returned at last from his New York visit, and with the fragile psyche of Packer Land restored—at least for a week—by the exhibition victory in Denver, the Observers could focus on the final days of round-the clock Olympic TV coverage.

Frank: Alas, now that we’ve seen the final fireworks from Beijing—don’t ask whether they were real or digital—it’s a four-year adios to almost all the sports that were so riveting for two weeks.

Artie: No more badminton, team hand ball, table tennis, Greco-Roman wrestling...

Frank: Not just those. For the most part, it’s goodbye to swimming, gymnastics and track and field. They’ll remain niche sports for most Americans despite the exploits of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt and Nastia Liukin. We’ll see those sports a little on TV, but not as much as we’ll see Phelps trying to sell us things.

Artie: We’ll be seeing Bolt right up until his tearful declaration, “I didn’t know that was a banned substance.”

Frank: Man, he better be clean. The last guy who won the 100 by that much was Ben Johnson.

Artie: If the IOC investigates him as well as they investigated the age of the Chinese gymnasts, he’s got nothing to worry about.

Frank: It would be nice if track and field could get to 2012 in London without the kind of disgrace we saw this year with the 2000 Olympic queen, Marion Jones. Meanwhile, for most fans it’ll be four years without rowing, water polo, beach volleyball...

Artie: Does it only have to be four years for beach volleyball? Couldn’t it be six or eight? Every time I turned on NBC in prime time, it was beach volleyball.

Frank: And your point?

Artie: I wanted the full experience of the Olympics while sitting on my couch, and all I got was that ridiculous women’s beach volleyball. I kept looking for the keg; it’s something you do at Bradford Beach, but it’s not an Olympic event.

Frank: Finally, something we disagree on. I was quite a fan of those American gold medalists. Somehow, though, I missed the men’s competition.

Artie: I know, those gals in bikinis are ath letes, I guess. But they’ve got the physique of 11th-grade boys. Now, I could go for beach volleyball if the players were Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, maybe Jane Russell, Raquel Welch...

Frank: You realize they’re either dead or quite elderly.

Artie: Dating myself, huh? OK, some contemporary equivalents, except I can’t think of any.

Frank: Well, NBC didn’t show those women in prime time by chance.

This will shock you, but sexiness sells. And I must note that the women have bought into that. The men wear T-shirts, and I doubt the women’s performance would suffer if they wore them, too. But they don’t. Whoever’s in charge of the sport has decided this is the way they’ll look, and the players obviously agree.

Artie: I did like that futuristic, apocalyptic, “Mad Max” black tape that one of the Americans had creeping up her shoulder.

Frank: Some kind of medical thing, and I guess it worked. Well, now that China has out-Vegased itself with the closing hoopla, it can get back to repressing its people and bankrupting the United States.

Artie: What I’m worried about is this: Opening ceremony: Russia invades Georgia. Closing ceremony: What’s Putin got up his sleeve now? Poland?

Frank: Heads up, Baltic states. By the way, the U.S. and China could have used some peacekeepers on the Olympic baseball field.

Artie: It was pretty interesting that the Chinese, led by former Milwaukee Brewers interim manager Jim Lefebvre, were throw ing at our batters.

Frank: Like any manager, Lefebvre said he never ordered any such thing. But five Americans got drilled and we plowed over two of their catchers. Then one of the catchers hits a homer to cut the deficit to 9-1 and runs the bases like he just won the World Series.

Artie: How do you say “Kirk Gibson” in Chinese?

Frank: In contrast, when our two gymnasts won on the balance beam, the Chinese competitors hugged them. A show of respect for their elders.

Artie: Maybe the Americans had baby sat for the Chinese during the week.

Frank: Speaking of sportsmanship. I love the stories of people who have glory snatched from them but deal with it well. This time there was U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones.

She was cruising to victory in the 110 race when she hit the next-to-last hurdle and dropped to seventh. She knelt on the track in shock for several minutes, but managed to give a gracious TV interview. “Today I was not meant to be a champion,” she said.

Artie: I know at the end of Lord of the Rings, Gollum wasn’t that gracious. He could feel gold around his neck, too.

Frank: Then there’s Matt Emmons, an American shooter. Four years ago, he has gold in his sights in something called three position rifle but somehow fires his final shot at the wrong target. This time, he’s one shot from the gold but his rifle fires early and he fails again.

Artie: You might call that trigger-happy, but happy he wasn’t.

Frank: But there’s more. In 2004 a woman shooter from the Czech Republic came up to console him, and now she’s his wife. This time Emmons said, “Things happen for a reason... The last time the reason was Katy. This time I don’t know yet.”

Artie: Well, I know. When they shoot the big-screen remake of “Andy of Mayberry,” he’ll play Barney Fife.

Frank: There’s no contest for the “worst sportsman” title. It’s a Cuban taek wondo guy named Angel Matos. He was win ning the bronze-medal match but fell to the mat after being hit...

Artie: Isn’t that kind of the point of taekwondo?

Frank: I suppose. Anyway, you get one minute for an injury timeout, but when that passed the Swedish referee disqualified Matos. Whereupon he went ballistic and kicked the ref in the head.

Artie: As Homer Simpson would say, “Taekwon-D’OH!

Frank: The head of the sport said, “This is an insult to the Olympic vision.”

Artie: And maybe the ref’s permanent vision, ain’a?

Frank Clines labored almost 20 years in the sports department at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and covered the Brewers part-time for most of those years. If she were alive, Art Kumbalek would definitely consider Rita Hayworth for the veep position on the Kumbalek presidential ticket.
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