Vaught's Views: Fencing? That's only part of the Olympics lore

August 18, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

So what if the NBA superstars couldn't beat Puerto Rico and barely defeated Greece. What about that fencing gold medal?

Trust me, only once every four years - at the most - would I use the word fencing in a column unless it was to discuss improvements made to a local athletics field. But that's what the Olympics can do.

Mariel Zagunis - not exactly the household name that Allen Iverson is - already has something the NBA stars may not get. She became the first American woman ever to win a medal in fencing when she took the gold Tuesday. That touched off a victory celebration with teammates that had far more emotion than the American men's basketball team has shown in two games.

While many NBA players declined an invitation to play in the Olympics, Zagunis didn't get into the competition until June when Nigeria pulled its participant out and opened a spot for the next highest ranked fencer, which was Zagunis.


The overpaid, overhyped team of NBA players struggled to beat Greece 77-71 Tuesday. Forgive me for not feeling a sigh of relief. Like many of you, it's hard to care a whole lot about whether this team wins or loses. They don't represent Americans. They live a plush life that is all about themselves.

Give me the U.S. softball team, a group of no-name stars that just enjoys winning. If you like a fast-paced, well-played game, then watch these women. They understand team work and how fortunate they are to be in Athens for the Olympics. They are 3-0 going into today's play and have outscored the opposition 24-0. Take that, NBA stars.

Or what about beach volleyball stars Misty May and Kerri Walsh. They easily won their second match Tuesday and if they win the gold medal as expected, it will be their 30th straight tournament win. Granted, they are professionals, too, but their game depends on effort, and they have no regard for their bodies as they dive for shots and make spectacular plays time after time.

The gymnasts haven't been bad, either. Both the American men and women took silver medals in the team competition. Again, you won't see me on a balance beam, and, to me, floor exercise is when I'm walking to the television set. But it truly is amazing to watch these athletes perform.

I knew about soccer star Mia Hamm before the Olympics started. I had no idea who twin brothers Paul and Morgan Hamm were until this week, but I know now that they are magical with their gymnastics skills.

Swimming? Take me to the hot tub, not the swimming pool. But how can you not be intrigued by Michael Phelps. He already has three gold medals and two bronze medals - and is not going to reach his goal because he wanted to win seven gold medals.

Don't even think that Phelps has had a disappointing performance because he's not won every event. Remember, he's 19. That's only a year older than several Danville and Boyle County football players who will be starting their state title quests Saturday and younger than most of the players who will participate in the Kentucky-Louisville football game Sept. 5. Yet he'll leave Athens with so much hardware that he may not be able to get through the metal (make that medal) detector at the airport to come home.

NBC deserves its own gold medal

NBC deserves its own gold medal for its Olympic coverage. It seems like every channel has Olympic coverage, and no matter what time it is, you can find something to watch. Maybe it's badminton or handball, but it can also be swimming, gymnastics, basketball or soccer.

There are so many human interest stories - or controversies - to follow from so many countries that I find myself watching more coverage every day. Often, I've known the results before the coverage airs, but it hasn't mattered. It is still entertaining.

Today NBC even made an interesting switch in its afternoon coverage plans to show the Iraqi soccer team, which has won two matches.

If one team might epitomize what the Olympics should be about, it could be this team. Four years ago this team faced torture or jail time for failing. Now that's changed.

"We can play without any fear," Tiras Odisho, director of Iraq's National Olympic Committee, told The Associated Press Tuesday. "We can shoot at the goal and not be afraid."

Talk about perspective. Too bad the suddenly vulnerable U.S. men's basketball team can't get a needed dose of reality from this team. Since it won't happen, I'll be one of those watching the Iraqi team and really not caring how the USA NBA team does.

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