Olympians come up big down under

Brice Nixon, Editor in Chief
Brice Nixon, Editor in Chief

With the 2000 Sydney Olympics coming to a close on Sunday, there have been plenty of highs and lows, records broken and images forever immortalized.

The United States has, as usual, provided many of the biggest highlights and most heartbreaking letdowns.

·The U.S. men’s soccer team, for one, surprised many with its run to the bronze medal game. On its way, the U.S. was the underdog in four of its five matches. But only once did it leave the field as the losing side.

The team’s performance bodes well for the future of American soccer. This is, after all, the same country that finished last at the 1998 World Cup. This group, comprised of the nation’s under 23 stars, notched a 3-1 win over Kuwait and managed to tie the Czech Republic and Cameroon.

In the quarterfinals, the Americans got by Japan, winning 5-4 on penalty kicks. The Spanish side, however, proved too much for the U.S. With their 3-1 win, they put an end to the American’s dreams of Olympic gold.

But the result is still considered a huge step for American soccer. They have “closed the gap” with the rest of the world. Failure to win the bronze would be considered a disappointment. That statement alone says a lot. But whether they have closed the gap will not be known until the next World Cup.

·The women’s team continued its dominance, although the ’96 gold medalists lost the gold medal match, 3-2 in sudden death overtime, to perennial championship opponent Norway.

So in a country where most care little about the sport in the rest of the world, both soccer teams did their country proud.

·There was little surprise on the track, where Michael Johnson and Marion Jones did what was expected of them and Maurice Green maintained his title of “world’s fastest human.”

·The Aquatics Center, on the other hand, was host to a flurry of activity.

Australia’s golden boy, Ian Thorpe, gave the host nation a reason to expect great things of its swimmers. He broke his own world record and he even helped the Australians end the American stranglehold on the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

But the United States, led by its own swimming standouts, came back to steal the show from the Australians.

Sixteen-year-old Megan Quann was one of the athletes leading the charge. She won gold in the 100 breaststroke. What made her win even better was the fact she boldly predicted she would defeat reigning world-record-holder Penny Heyns of South Africa, and she did.

Then there was Lenny Krayzelburg, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to win a gold medal for the United States in the 100 backstroke. In the 400 freestyle, Brooke Bennett and Diana Munz went one-two, as did Tom Dolan and Erik Vendt in the 400 individual medley.

The diving competition, however, provided one of the best highlights of the Games. American Laura Wilkinson entered the 10-meter platform finals in eighth place. Two Chinese and two Canadian divers looked to have the top spots locked up.

But round after round, they failed to nail their dives. Wilkinson, meanwhile, slowly moved up the standings with consistently good dives. Finally, she moved into the top spot with China’s Li Na, who entered the finals in first, still to dive. Wilkinson’s score left Na with little chance. She needed a great dive to pass Wilkinson. She failed to do so and Wilkinson claimed the gold, which practically fell into her lap after amazing collapses by the Chinese and Canadians.

·Former L.A. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda led one of the biggest surprises in the Games when the U.S. baseball squad upset Cuba to win the gold. I fully expected the ragtag team of minor leaguers and washed-up players representing our country to have little success, but they beat the two-time Olympic gold medalists.

·There have also, however, been some negative in this the 27th Olympiad. Jones’ husband, U.S. shotputter C.J. Hunter, may have made Jones’ quest for an unprecedented five gold medal a little tougher when it was revealed he failed drug tests.

The one thing that has really tainted the games has been NBC’s coverage. The 18-hour time difference means events happen at odd times. But NBC’s insistence on showing nothing live makes no sense. It is ridiculous that while a semifinal math is happening, the quarterfinal match is being shown on television. It is great that NBC is devoting all three networks to the Games, but it could have made much better use of them.

Brice Nixon, a junior journalism major, is editor in chief of the Campus Times. He can be reached by e-mail at nixonb@ulv.edu.

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