0

Darrell Huckaby - Phelps resuscitates Olympic spirit

I didn't intend to get all caught up in the Olympics this time. To tell you the truth, I had become rather jaded toward the whole thing. It was one thing when our amateurs were trying to beat the rest of the world's professionals, but once they put all pretense aside and turned it over to the pros, the Games lost a little of their glitter as far as I was concerned.

Or maybe I'm just getting to be a cynical old curmudgeon, I don't know. I do know that the last time I paid a lot of attention to anything that went on in an Olympic venue was the night Kerri Strug did a perfect vault and landed on one foot, in the Georgia Dome, of all places, to give her team the gold medal.

I actually toyed with the idea of going to Beijing for the Olympics this year. UGA's own Jack Baurle is the head women's swim coach and he offered to hook me up with tickets to the swimming events - and China is a place that I have never been. But then I got ready to book my flight and found out that it's a long, long way to China. I would have spent more than 24 hours in an airplane each way, and I didn't think my old bones were up to the challenge.

Besides, me in a Communist country, with all those Red Army guys around just didn't seem like a real smart idea. It was all I could do to stay out of jail in Lake Placid, N.Y., when there were only Yankee policemen to contend with. I would have smarted off to one of those guys with a fancy rifle and y'all would never have seen or heard from me again. I couldn't take that risk this close to football season, so I stayed home and told myself that I might or might not watch the action on television.

Well believe me - I have watched.

I tuned in to the Opening Ceremony, but honesty compels me to admit that I didn't stay with the entire broadcast. Those 2008 Chinese soldiers beating on those war drums in unison scared me. I heard it was wonderful, although I was disappointed to learn that some of the fireworks we saw on our screens were fake. I was even more disappointed to learn that the little Chinese girl who sang the beautiful anthem wasn't singing at all. Another little girl was singing; one who was deemed too ugly to represent China on a world-wide broadcast. How awful is that?

But once they said, "Let the games begin," I began watching - a little tentatively at first, but it didn't take me long to get hooked, and suddenly it was like 1968 in Mexico City or 1972 in Munich or 1976 in Montreal all over again.

I cite those years because they were the times in my life that I considered the thrill of Olympic victory and the agony of Olympic defeat mandatory viewing.

Beach volleyball caught my attention first. Such style. Such power. Such grace. Such skimpy bikinis. How could a guy not watch? And now I have to make sure that the American women defend their gold medal.

Next I got caught up in the glamour sport. Women's gymnastics. I grew up during the era of the Eastern Bloc nations dominating women's gymnastics; think Olga and Nadia et al - and I still remember where I was when Mary Lou Retton won U.S. gold. (The Atlantic Motel, Myrtle Beach, S.C., thank you very much.)

I hadn't heard much about the Americans, but was aware of the controversy surrounding the Chinese women - and I use the term "women" loosely. If those girls are 16 years old, I am a midget Russian astronaut. That one girl couldn't have been over 12, and I think it's a disgrace that the IOC won't enforce their own rules. So I pulled mightily for the Americans and was disappointed when they lost the team competition but reveled in the gold and silver they won in the all-around competition.

And I think Bela Karolyi was absolutely right when he called the judges out for cheating.

But flippers and twirlers and bikini clad strikers and setters aside, my biggest thrills have come from the pool - and I'm not taking about the synchronized divers, either. I am talking about Michael Phelps.

What an incredible performance! I will never forget the come-from-behind win in the relay race that seemed to be lost, or the magic of last Friday night's miracle touch, or the images of Phelps' mother and sisters rooting him on. His performance is one for the ages and the stuff of Olympic legends - and the reason that even old jaded curmudgeons like me can still shed a tear over what has become a two-week orgy of political and commercial extravagance.

So now we have a few days left of basketball and track and field, and I'm not sure what all, but I intend to be watching until the flame is extinguished and the "children of the world" are summoned to meet in London in four years.

And if, when the next Olympiad rolls around, I mention being cynical and jaded about the games, somebody remind me to watch the replay of Michael Phelps on the medal stand after his eighth gold medal.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.