- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY The 2002 Winter Olympics were a long, strange trip, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying very little.
But enough about NBC.
In city distinguished by beautiful mountains and little else, the world gathered to celebrate peace, sport, omnipresent corporate branding and elevated blood levels of nandrolone. Among other virtues.
The Games opened with a small child being chased by a large puppet. A tattered flag that survived the worst terrorist attack in United States history was nearly put out of commission by something called the International Olympic Committee.
President Bush said hello to the world, then said hello to Sasha Cohen's mother. Above, Blackhawk helicopters kept watch.
Organizers and the U.S. government spent more than $300 million to protect the event from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Yukki, a four-foot tall stuffed mascot from the Nagano Games, was stolen from the main media center, a building surrounded by concrete barriers and teeming with security.
Police have no suspects.
Berets were hot. French figure skating judges were not. Jamie Sale and David Pelletier got to know Larry King. Everyone got to know Ottavio Cinquanta. Scott Hamilton seethed.
Katie Couric was visibly upset.
With the memory of September 11 still fresh, the Games were delightfully free of aggressive nationalism. At least until they actually began.
Korea's Dong-Sung Kim was disqualified from a short track speedskating race. The winner, America's Apolo Ohno, received death threats via e-mail. An Italian skater charitably suggested that Ohno be shot.
Violent metaphors were the order of the day in of all places women's hockey. After defeating the United States in the gold medal match, Team Canada's coach spoke of driving a knife into the Americans' hearts. A Kazakhstan assistant coach called each loss a death.
Team Kazakhstan lost all three of its games.
Meanwhile, World Trade Center hero and Greek skeleton slider Michael Voudouris was told that his racing sled could not include a tribute to nine fellow paramedics killed in the attacks. The reason? Too political.
The IOC frowns on political statements. Unless, of course, they're made in unmarked manilla envelopes.
Gold was for the taking, so long as you were cute, cuddly and preferably Canadian. Sale and Pelletier fit the bill. Russia's Irina Slutskaya did not. Jeremy Schapp asked for a second gold medal on behalf of Roy Jones Jr. and was told, in the manner of a magic 8-ball, to try again later.
The silver medals awarded to 1972 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team sat untouched in a Swiss bank vault, presumably gathering dust.
Falling was bad, but not as bad as two-footing the quad. Michelle Kwan fell and won bronze. Bode Miller nearly fell and won silver. Ohno fell down, got back up and scrambled for a silver of his own. Australian short track skater Steven Bradbury remained upright.
He won gold.
Rage was never far from the surface. Wayne Gretzky got hot, claiming the world was against his hockey team. The Russian delegation got hot, claiming the world was against their hockey team. Gretzky said the United States hated Canadian success. A Russian film director said the United States hated Russian success.
Winning athletes from both nations stood on a downtown podium, surrounded by hateful Americans. They were cheered, and invited to stick around for Dave Matthews and Sheryl Crow.
Appearances were amusing, if not always deceiving. Team Korea's speedskating uniforms resembled a bottle of laundry detergent. Team Canada's speedskating uniforms looked like a skinless cadaver. China's Chengjiang Li skated in knee-high boots. Australia's Anthony Liu skated in a bowling shirt.
The Brazilian bobsled team competed in a neon-green sled christened "Samba on Ice."
Standards shifted like loose sand. Prior to the Games, American Pavle Javanovic failed a drug test. He blamed a nutritional supplement. Prior to the Games, Latvian Sandis Prussis failed a drug test. He blamed a nutritional supplement. Javanovic was banned. Prussis was allowed to compete.
Powerade, which makes nutritional supplements, was an official Olympic supplier.
Aggrieved parties sought recompense. Team Korea threatened to boycott the closing ceremonies unless organizers awarded Kim a gold medal, and Team Russia threatened to boycott the closing ceremonies unless organizers said, in effect, "sorry."
The Koreans vowed to sue. A Russian aluminum company vowed to underwrite any future legal action. Both nations plan to march today.
Johnny Cochran was unavailable for comment.
The Games were often emotional. Sale wept. Timothy Goebel cried. Jean Racine blubbered. Ukraine's Dmitri Dmitrenko wiped tears from his eyes while clutching a stuffed white rabbit. Kleenex, like Powerade, was an official Olympic supplier.
Some cried foul. Vladimir Putin complained that North American athletes enjoyed an unfair advantage, never mind that the Games were played in, well, North America. Russian hockey coach Slava Fetisov argued the use of NHL referees gave North American players a leg up.
Of course, most of Fetisov's roster was drawn from the NHL.
Through it all, there were reasons to smile. Australia captured its first two gold medals at a Winter Games. The United States more than doubled its previous high in winter medals. Kenya, Cameroon, Fiji, Thailand, Puerto Rico and Mexico went home empty-handed, but none were expected to file a protest.
Some athletes stood out. Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won quadruple-gold. Croatian skier Janica Kostelic won three golds and a silver. German speedskater Anni Friesinger won gold and bought beer for her entire hometown. Russian skier Larissa Lazutina won two silvers but failed a blood test.
Glory was a relative term. Kelly Clark won gold and appeared on Letterman. Jonny Moseley finished fourth and will host Saturday Night Live. Goebel won bronze and did his laundry.
Derek Parra, who works at the flooring department of Home Depot, won gold and silver. He said he may move to lumber.
As the Games wound down, Yukki was still missing.


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