Athens, Greece (Sports Network) -
Yassou, yassou. I don't know why you say
yassou, I say yassou.
Or is it yassas? I don't know. It's confusing. But here in Greece, like in
Hawaii, the same word can mean hello and goodbye. And I'm doing both: saying
goodbye to the Athens Olympics, and hello to the rest of the city for a few
Okay, so the Games have ended. Terrorism really dominated the NBC coverage,
But seriously, all the terror talk before these Games really left the crowds
threadbare. The Olympic Stadium here was emptier than the one halfway across
the world in Montreal.
- - -
The Greeks did put on a good show, though. Can't say they didn't. I can only
complain about the ants in my bathroom at the Agios Andreas media village. And
the lack of a shower curtain, which left puddles of water on the floor every
morning in an otherwise comfortable bathroom. Oh well, at least it drowned some
of the ants.
Oh yeah, one more complaint. The "food" served in cafeterias here was dreadful.
Barbecue beef? In texture, it was more like barbecue sponge.
That's why everyone ate at McDonald's. Even the athletes.
Ninety minutes after the U.S. men's swimming team edged out Australia to win
the 800-meter freestyle relay, team members Klete Keller and Peter Vanderkaay
were in the McDonald's on level one of the Main Press Center (MPC). Keller had
just held off the Thorpedo on the anchor leg, and he was chowing down on a
crispy chicken salad, gold medal dangling a half-inch from the table. I was
ordering the McNuggets meal. For the third time that day.
And last Friday night when Phelps gave up his spot on the medley relay
to friend and teammate Ian Crocker, he showed up at a late-night press
conference chowing down on a Big Mac. I don't know what the bigger story was,
that Phelps was done swimming, or that I had only eaten fries once that day.
Speaking of Phelps...what a choke artist. Eight medals, and only six of them
were gold. Somebody didn't bring his "A" game. At least his name fit neatly in
a headline, though. My worst fear on any given night of swimming was that
Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn were going to sweep their races,
demanding a headline longer then this column is turning out to be.
- - -
The men's basketball team lived well, crashing on the Queen Mary 2 in the port
city of Piraeus. They should have stayed there. I do feel bad for the guys who
showed up to play, as bad as you can feel for multi-millionaires. Especially
Allen Iverson; his was the only voice in the entire debacle not spitting out
half-truths and excuses.
At least the Scream Team's failure helped Argentina to have an amazing day. No
gold medals in 52 years until winning two on Saturday, in men's soccer and
basketball. Israel also picked up its first Summer Games gold ever, windsurfer
Gal Fridman's emotional title in the men's mistral.
The Americans won 35 golds. And 103 medals overall. "Put that with our other
2,000," they said. One funny note: the U.S.'s 100th medal came from, you'd
never guess, the bronze medal-winning men's basketball team.
Is there any doubt that American women ruled these Games? Gold in soccer,
basketball and softball. Meanwhile, the men's baseball team failed to qualify,
a fate also shared by the soccer team. And we all know what happened in b-ball.
- - -
Get rid of handball, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, the mistral,
shooting (shooting??), equestrian, modern pentathlon, men's field hockey and
badminton. The Summer Olympics are weighed down by too many sports with too
little to offer. Softball and modern pentathlon survived the IOC chopping block
a few years back, coming within one Jennie Finch of being replaced by golf and
rugby. Yes. Golf and rugby belong, but keep softball, and please God keep beach
volleyball. Get rid of the rest.
Seriously, did you watch handball? I think I could put together a good handball
team. I know guys back at the office who are pretty good at tossing crumpled
paper into the trash bin. Without looking at the bin. Sign 'em up.
And shooting? It doesn't belong. Americans stink at it too, if you can believe
that. A nation of gun fanatics, and we only managed two gold medals in 17
shooting categories. How is that possible? I'm pretty sure if clog-wearing were
an Olympic sport with 17 categories, the Dutch would win every one of them.
- - -
Of course, the U.S. would have had three gold medals in shooting had Matt
Emmons not FIRED AT THE WRONG TARGET in the 50-meter 3-position rifle event.
Emmons, who won gold in the prone event, was in first place until the mistake
on his ninth shot, which dropped him into eighth. At least he wasn't shooting
at the wrong target to complete a triple-double.
"Stuff happens. That's the Games, that's just sports," Emmons said. "In all
honesty, I was the best guy on the line. I can go away with that and be happy.
I had a gold medal performance, and that's all that matters. I don't know if I
can make up for this, but I'm looking forward to Beijing. I'll live to shoot
- - -
The security here was tighter than in my freshman dorm at St. Joe's.
In college, I once velcroed a girdle to my stomach and slipped a six-pack of
Moosehead in there before trying to breeze pass the guard. He flashed me a
Robert Mitchum stare, confiscated the beer and tacked a fifty dollar fine on my
parents' next tuition bill. "You look like my pregnant wife," the guard said.
Here, no one tries to breeze past security. If anything, you walk through the
metal detectors the way Buckner might walk into Fenway, if he ever goes there:
slowly, and with a preternatural feeling that alarms will sound and the floor
will fall out from under your feet.
I saw the same British guy set off the Agios Andreas metal detector every night
for one week. He was hammered each time, and every night his watch was the
culprit. Must have been the 2-euro Heinekens. Had a few myself.
- - -
I'll miss Greece, but one thing that I won't miss are the cell phones. You
think it's an annoyance in the States? Come here. The rings haunt my dreams at
night, particularly NOKIA's "ba da da da, ba da da da, ba da da da, da." I also
won't miss the hundreds of stray dogs I saw roaming about. They're everywhere
here, and although they look healthy enough, every time I saw one I felt like
driving it to the vet for a checkup.
- - -
I need to work on my French and German. Madame Evans and Frau Fischler did a
good enough job to teach me the basics, but my foreign language aptitude is
seriously lacking. Five years of classes in both languages, and I can sing
"Patty Cake" en Franc?, and know how to introduce myself auf Deutch, but that's
Cheers to Mr. Mussachio, though. With his month-long lesson on Greek history in
the seventh grade behind me, I was able to impress one local with my swift
recitation of the Greek alphabet at a bar during the Opening Ceremony. Still,
it was only good for one Heineken, and the Britons behind me had offered a
table-full of them without once demanding I sing "God Save the Queen."
Speaking of the Brits, here's news: they get along. The Scottish and English
here mingled together as one. No arrows. No swordplay. Just friendly jibes. And
they were amused that I thought otherwise, so I rattled off the classics.
Braveheart. Trainspotting. Soccer fights. I even (after a few of the free
Heinekens) recited lines. Trainspotting: "Some people hate the Anglish. Well I
doon't, they're just waankers. We, on the uther hand, are coolinized by
waankers." They got a kick out of that one, and soon I was double-fisting cups.
- - -
There was virtually no language barrier here. I never had any trouble
understanding the Greeks, aside from the maid one day two who wanted Olympic
pins and asked for "signs" while pointing to her chest. When I showed her my
media credentials (thinking, for some reason, that she needed to see them
before tidying up my room), she rephrased her question in broken English to
"have buttons?" I offered her and the other maid pins from the U.S. Olympic
Team Media Summit. With four of five pins to choose from, they inexplicable
shied away from the USA Swimming pin with the movable part to pins made by
Gateway and VISA. "USA pins?" one asked. Uh huh.
- - -
The transportation was great. Shuttles and trains were on time, and drivers
almost never got lost. The buses were air-conditioned, and if you were
carrying heavy bags, drivers would more often than not help you out.
But I did anger one of the shuttle bus drivers here early last week. As I sat
in my seat reading, with my left leg crossed over my right, waiting for the
2:00 a.m. ride from the MPC to Agios Andreas to begin, the driver walked past
my seat and began to scold me in incoherent Greek. Sputtering about his words,
flegmy, like Balki on speed, it took a backwards "opening book" motion of his
hands, and a swift nod in the direction of my feet, for me to realize that a
quarter-inch section of my dusty REEF sandal was touching the window.
Obviously, this was a man who cared about the condition of his bus. "You missed
a spot," I said, indignant, pointing to a large splatter-stain on the window
that dwarfed my foot three-fold. But he didn't speak English, and I don't speak
- - -
One columnist here has already called for an apology. An apology to the Greeks
for worrying they couldn't pull this off. I agree. Organizers procrastinated,
sure, but everything turned out well. The stadiums were finished and venues
looked nice, save for all the dirt swirling about. And everybody was safe, as
long as you weren't a Brazilian marathon runner.
The Olympics definitely belong here, and I think they should return soon.
Athens 2016? I'll be there.
Yassou. Or yassas. Whatever.