Olympics are back ... yawn ... really!

Friday, August 20, 2004

Am I the only person alive who thinks the Olympics have gone bonkers?

Countless stories this year have informed us that the original Olympics were wild and crazy. Hanky-panky in those days was a serious contact sport, if you know what I mean.

Today, teams are invented using professional athletes who, it turns out, don't play particularly well together.

Look at the U.S. basketball team. A bunch of hand-picked stars from the pro ranks get whupped by Puerto Rico's crew.

Think about it. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but Puerto Rico gets to go to the Olympics as a country. How does that work? Could Missouri have its own Olympic competitors? I'm sure we'd take the gold in hog calling, corn shucking, coon hunting, rail splitting, timber skidding and mule skinning.

Hey, don't scoff. Those are events that require skill -- more skill than bridge, which relies heavily on dummies, or beach volleyball, which is the closest thing to the original nekkid Olympians you'll see on TV this year.

I was astounded to read in this very newspaper that the Greek softball team is being coached by a graduate of our very own Harvard on the Hill. Congratulations to Linda Wells. Heck, I was surprised Greeks played softball. Turns out they don't. Greece didn't even have a softball team, much less a league, until Wells was hired a couple of years ago to get things started.

The Greek softball team members are mostly Americans whose last names happen to end in "opoulos." With rules like that, any Jimmy Joe, Jim Bob, Bobby Joe or Bubba would qualify for the Missouri all-star watermelon seed-spitting contest in Athens.

I must say that, in spite of the goofy events, the professional athletes and the general nuttiness of today's Olympics, the opening ceremony was breathtaking. The special effects were a visual feast of Greek mythology and history.

Too bad NBC chose to have a couple of play-by-play sports commentators do the narration. They sounded like quarterbacks-turned-sportscasters emceeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Sample:

"Wow, Chrissy, that's quite a statue of Aga ... Aga ... Agamemnon -- whatever -- floating over the water there."

"Yeah, Bob. You know he was an all-star swordsman in his military school days. So it's no surprise when he was made head coach of the Greek army."

"Right, Chrissy. And he was one of the tallest generals in his weight class, if I recall correctly" (said while looking at an electronic stat board including win-loss records for the entire mythological war season).

No wonder the world is yawning during this year's Olympics.

TV cameras at many Olympic venues show thousands of empty seats, although there are still a few popular contests. There's a theory that the threat of terrorism is keeping spectators away.

But that doesn't explain the TV ratings for this year's Olympics, which have fallen off a cliff.

What will it take to pump up a little excitement for the Olympics? I can tell you in two words: Reality show.

Let viewers vote Olympians off the team. Force athletes to sit in a circle during a tribal council and tell why, with lifelike tears streaming down their faces, they shouldn't be kicked out.

If that doesn't work, there isn't much hope left for the modern Olympics.

Unless some savvy TV producers can come up with "Law and Order: The Olympics" or "CSI: Athens."

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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