February 8, 2002, - 4:46 pm

What’s So Great about the Olympics? Nothing–Part I

By Debbie Schlussel

Neil Diamond’s hit song, “America,” is reminiscent of the 80′s.

But the new version–the theme song of this year’s Winter Olympics–is a crummy, synthesized remake. Just like the latest Olympic Games, opening tonight in Salt Lake City.

In January 1981, when U.S. hostages were released from Iran, they were shown a highlight tape of major news stories they missed during their 444 days of captivity. Several freed hostages said the highlight of highlights was the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s 1980 semifinal victory over our nemesis the Communist Soviet Union.

It ultimately led to a Gold Medal for the U.S. (over Finland). Amidst shouts of “USA, USA,” announcer Al Michaels’ rhetorical question and answer, “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” is among the most memorable sports broadcast quips. Young boys dressed as the U.S. Hockey Team for several Halloweens to follow.

But this year, there’s no Bin Laden-sponsored Taliban Hockey Team to beat. The Taliban was banned from the Games in 1999 because of their treatment of women. And this time around, Al Quaida, Iraq, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian Authority don’t field ice hockey teams for us to beat.


Even if there were, we’re being admonished like incorrigible children by left-wing sports writers not to display patriotism. It’s a good thing USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan wasn’t genuflecting in 1980. She dedicated a whole column denouncing flags, shouts of “USA” (she calls them “greatly overused”) and any other show of American pride at the Games. Yet she told PBS that is was okay for the Australians to cheer at the Sydney Summer Games. “They’re charming.”

Ditto for columnist Mitch Albom who, on his radio show, approvingly quoted another commentator’s denouncement of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles as the most “nationalistic” Games since the 1936 Berlin Games. American patriotism is Nazism. Right.

Then there’s Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney, who admonishing his fellow Americans’ behavior at previous games. “Around the world it was like, ‘Boy, those Americans, always beating their chests,’” he told England’s The Guardian. “This is not our time to talk about how great America is. It’s not designed to be a patriotic American display.” Did he say that to Congress, when he hit up taxpayers to heavily subsidize the Games?

Gone also from these games are the working-class, amateur U.S. Hockey Team players who made the 1980 victory over professional, Soviet-subsidized players twice as sweet–guys like Mike Eruzione, the team captain who scored the winning goal against the Soviets, but never played in the professional National Hockey League (NHL). Guys like Mark Pavelich, who now builds homes and fishes, and William “Buzz” Schneider, who sells industrial equipment in Minneapolis.

Eruzione and his teammates will reunite to light the Olympic Cauldron. But it is empty symbolism. Their bodies will be there, but their 1980 spirit won’t be.
Those amateurs–who had spunk, sparkle, and an underdog hunger to win for the U.S.–have been replaced by millionaire, spoiled brat, professional athletes, like the Detroit Red Wings’ Chris Chelios– who threatened the life of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman during the NHL lockout of 1994-95, and who allegedly led the rest of the U.S. Hockey team in breaking chairs and trashing dorm rooms as team captain of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Instead of class acts like Eruzione, most of the anonymous culprits will be on the U.S. Team, this year. Worse, thousands of dollars and hours were spent haggling with these “pros” on Olympic drug testing policy.
Chelios’ teammate, Brett Hull, another spoiled millionaire, isn’t exactly Eruzione either. Instead of being honored to represent the U.S., Hull whined to The Detroit News about how far away the games are. On the dorm-trashing team with Chelios, he complained about the distance to Nagano, too.
Then there is the politically correct aspect, absent from the 1980 hockey victory. The US Olympic Committee is using Eruzione to raise the public specter of desperate women’s hockey. A USA Weekend feature had former Olympians picking “the most promising American athletes,” with Eruzione “passing the torch” to U.S. Women’s Hockey player, Cammi Granato, who wears his number, 21.
Sorry, Cammi, but you’re no Mike Eruzione. It’s like comparing the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team to a troupe of Ice Capades figure skaters. Guys like Eruzione were tough and gritty. Without endorsements, they barely subsisted to practice and train. And people cared about their victory.
“Eruzione and Granato are intertwined influences, whose gold medal wins have deeply affected the sport of hockey in this country.” Huh? No-one says, “I remember the 1998 PMS Miracle on Ice.” Women’s Hockey–who cares? The girls won the gold in 1998, too, but no-one noticed. They barely got any endorsements, and couldn’t start a pro women’s hockey league. There’s no market for their “product.” Yet, unlike Eruzione and his sponsorless, struggling 1980 team, the women are among the most subsidized athletes, a la the WNBA–another affirmative action version of sports. Still, no one cares.
But wait–the women will be the one thing for which politically correct sports commentators will allow us–even urge us–to cheer. Even though we don’t want to.
Eruzione brags that he practiced with the women’s team before they headed to Nagano in 1998. From macho American hero to aging first-shifter for the women’s team–boy did he lower himself.
But so did the Olympic Games.
There are 121 pro sports teams. The Olympics is not the Games of the 1980 Hockey Team’s “Miracle On Ice” victory over Communist tyranny.
Now, it’s just a bloated 122nd pro team.

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