- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

The 2004 Olympic Games are over and, in much of the world, probably already forgotten.

We track and field fans had our sport showcased for two weeks, and now it goes back into oblivion until we meet again in Beijing four years from now.

The challenge, as USA Track & Field CEO Craig Masback has said since he took over the sport’s governing body seven years ago, is maintaining interest between Olympics.

Athens was a huge success for U.S. track and field, contrary to what some reports in the press have been saying.

One such critical piece written by an Associated Press reporter and published in this newspaper lamented the lack of a marquee American athlete in track and field like Marion Jones in 2000. Who needs marquee athletes when you have marquee events?

Ponder this: In the men’s 100, 200 and 400 meters, Americans ended up with eight medals out of a possible nine.

The problem with setting your heart on marquee athletes is that they can retire, as Michael Johnson did after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, or they can blow up, like Jones — a five-medal athlete in Sydney — did in Athens.

For my money, I’d rather see five Americans winning one medal each than one American winning five.

Most encouraging about the 2004 squad was that we finally reversed the decade-long graying trend. We were transfixed by twentysomethings who I suspect will keep us that way for many Olympics to come.

Not only that, I hope these youngsters, who showed great poise under the international microscope, inspire other young athletes to turn to track and field as their sport of choice.

Yes, Americans won 25 medals in track and field, including an improbable silver and bronze in the men’s and women’s marathons.

That was five more medals than we garnered in Sydney, but critics are quick to say it is five fewer than won in Barcelona in 1992. I counter that the rest of the world has closed some of the gap on America in the past 12 years because these countries’ resources — facilities, coaching, equipment — have increased significantly as well.

From the outcome of the Athens Games, I see a bright future for U.S. track and field. I for one cannot wait until Beijing.

Marathon moron — The religious zealot who tackled Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima near the end of the Olympic marathon marred the dreams of three fine athletes, not just the Brazilian’s.

Nobody truly knows if de Lima would have hung on to win had he not been attacked. Gold medalist Stefano Baldini, a world-class marathoner for a long time, and silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, a relative newcomer, always will wonder if they would have caught de Lima.

All three were robbed of knowing for certain how this race should have ended. That’s tough, considering all their years of intense training.

But one thing is certain — the suspended sentence of the moron ex-priest from Ireland was a joke. If there were justice in the world, his sentence would have been to run 26.2 miles in the blazing heat, without stopping, with a red-hot cattle prod to his backside, then be sent to Brazil for further sentencing.

Bailing out of Baylor — Jeremy Wariner, the 400-meter Olympic gold medalist, turned professional last week at 20. It is a great move for the heir apparent to Michael Johnson. Wariner will forgo his college career but will continue to train under Baylor coach Clyde Hart. Ironically, he has chosen to be represented by none other than Johnson, who 400-meter world record he eventually will surpass.

Acting starter — Known around the world for his signature portrayal of loud, aggressive, screaming military figures, retired U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant and actor R. Lee Ermey will be an honorary starter of the 29th Marine Corps Marathon along with fellow Marine and 1964 Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills on Oct.31.

Ermey’s resume includes 11 years in the Marine Corps and film credits on “Apocalypse Now,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Switchback” and both “Toy Story” movies.

Suffice it to say, he will not need a megaphone as a starter.

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