THE THRILL IS GONE
There was an irresistible first-time-around-the-block quality to
the 1992 Dream Team, but the two subsequent editions, including
the one blowtorching the competition in Atlanta, have been tired
imitations. And after Dream Team III wins the gold medal on Aug.
3, the organizations in charge of U.S. Olympic basketball
fortunes (the NBA, USA Basketball and the U.S. Olympic
Committee) should seriously reconsider the Dream Team concept.
--The Olympics should be about competition, and Dream Team games
are not. We keep hearing that "sooner or later" a Dream Team is
going to get beat, but as long as the U.S. sends an all-star
lineup of pros, it will be later--much later. There is no
suspense in Dream Team games, and that makes them inherently
--Expectations for the Dream Team are so absurdly high that it
is doomed to a kind of failure even as it succeeds. After a
96-68 victory over Argentina in the opener last Saturday night,
most of the news reports centered on the fact that, unlike Dream
Team I, Dream Team III had actually scored fewer than 100 points
in a game, a minicondemnation in a 28-point victory. That sort
of microscopic examination is ridiculous, yet it's pretty much
all that journalists have to write about.
--With little or no challenge on the court, it's impossible for
the Dream Teamers to perform consistently or even figure out
exactly how to perform. Either they're sleepwalking, as they
were in the first half of the game against Argentina, or they're
padding their already huge leads by slamming down
ungracious-looking power dunks, such as the rim-rattler by
Shaquille O'Neal right before the final buzzer on Saturday night.
--Though it is less obvious than it was in Barcelona, the
presence of the Dream Team still takes the spotlight away from
other Olympians. O'Neal, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, et
al., practically live on NBC in the winter months, so,
naturally, they were the athletes whom the network concentrated
on during last Friday's opening ceremonies. With hundreds of
otherwise obscure Olympians longing for a moment in the sun, did
we really need to see O'Neal flashing yet another No. 1 sign? Or
a live interview with former Dream Teamer Magic Johnson about
his prospects for returning to the NBA? The answer is no--and we
don't need to see any more Dream Teams in the Olympics, either.
THE GAME WENT ON...AND ON
For those who found the two-hour Parade of Nations a tad tedious
or for whom a mere eight hours of daily Olympic TV coverage
seems to drag on, be thankful you weren't in Old Trafford,
England, last Thursday and Friday watching cricketer Jason
Gallian at the bat. In a match between his Lancashire team and
Derbyshire, he stood before his wicket for 11 hours and 10
minutes (not counting his overnight rest), 32 minutes longer
than the previous British record. And Gallian is known for a
decidedly unspectacular style. "There are," London's Independent
reported, "few around better at grinding the opposition into
Not to mention the spectators.
A GREAT MESS IN NEW YORK
When Wayne Gretzky signed a two-year contract for $8 million
plus incentives with the New York Rangers on Sunday, it was the
treaty that ended a phony war in the NHL. The battle for
Gretzky, a free agent, was conducted in hasty retreat as team
after team backed away from the most prolific scorer in league
history. Rangers general manager Neil Smith, who had explored
trading for Gretzky last winter before the Los Angeles Kings
moved him to the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27, was stunned. "There
were teams that came out publicly and said they didn't have any
interest in him," Smith said. "I don't understand that. He's
obviously a special player." Gretzky, who at 35 scored 102
points last season, shrugged. "I can't answer why everybody
didn't call, but I'm not too worried about it," he said.
Gretzky, who was in fact too expensive for many teams, has more
immediate concerns, such as being a complementary player on a
team that belongs to captain Mark Messier, Gretzky's lieutenant
in Edmonton in the 1980s, when the Oilers won four Stanley Cups.
His other worry should be the clause that will give him an
on-air role on an MSG Network television show. If NBC hasn't
already burned the tape of Gretzky hosting Saturday Night Live
on May 13, 1989, it should get out the matches.
But even as a No. 2 center with diminished ice time and
increased airtime, Gretzky should be happier than he was during
his two months in St. Louis. The Blues were eliminated in the
second round of the playoffs--a Gretzky turnover led to
Detroit's overtime goal in Game 7--and the Great One was the
target of some well-aimed barbs from coach Mike Keenan. St.
Louis was willing to pay more than the Rangers, but Gretzky was
willing to take less to start fresh. (Keenan can have that
effect on people.) And though they haven't played together in
eight seasons, Messier and Gretzky on the same team is a
compelling mix in a city that loves headliners.
FISH OUT OF WATER
Too bad for Misty Hyman (left) that the swimming trials were
held in March. The 17-year-old from Phoenix missed qualifying
for the Olympics in the 100- and the 200-meter butterfly by a
combined .3 of a second. But since then, with a little guidance
from nature's aquatic vertebrates, she has established herself
as Olympic material in both events.
Inspired by an article in the March 1995 Scientific American
that described how a fish uses spinning thrusts of its tail to
boost speed, Hyman and her coach, Bob Gillett, developed the
"fish kick." As Hyman enters the water, she turns sideways and
uses a horizontal legs-together kick instead of the vertical
dolphin thrusts butterflyers traditionally employ. Hyman, who
swims underwater for considerably longer off the starting blocks
than her rivals, has gotten consistently faster as she has
perfected her style. At a meet in May she beat all the 1996 U.S.
Olympians in the butterfly--Angel Martino and Amy Van Dyken
(whose 100-meter Olympic quest began Tuesday), and Annette
Salmeen and Trina Jackson (who are to swim the 200 in Atlanta on
Friday). Hyman's time of 2:11.32 in the 200 eclipsed Jackson's
qualifying time of 2:12.89 and propelled her to the top of the
U.S. rankings in that event.
Astrology buffs take note: Hyman's an Aries, not a Pisces.
DEATHS IN THE FAMILY
The sadness and sense of loss wrought by the crash of TWA Flight
800 inevitably intruded upon the opening days of the Olympic
Games. In his radio address on Saturday, President Clinton said,
"Sixteen of the victims were high school students. Remember the
dream these children shared...of making the most of their own
lives....That's the lesson we saw come to life so vividly
yesterday in Atlanta."
The 16 students were from Montoursville, Pa., hometown of
Baltimore Orioles ace Mike Mussina, who knew several of them
from his volunteer work as a basketball and football coach at
Montoursville High. Mussina was sleeping in a Boston hotel room
when he received a 3 a.m. phone call from his brother with the
news. "It makes you realize wins and losses aren't that
important," Mussina said. "It's not going to be easy, [but]
people will stick together and pull through."
That's what the family and colleagues of Jack O'Hara will try to
do. The executive producer of ABC Sports for the past five
years, O'Hara was on board with his wife, Janet, and their
13-year-old daughter, Caitlin, and leaves behind twin
12-year-old sons. O'Hara, 39, was en route to the Tour de France
to supervise coverage in what was to have been his final
assignment for the network.
O'Hara's intelligence and upbeat disposition enabled him to rise
swiftly to the top; he became executive sports producer in 1991,
just eight years after starting as a production assistant. And
though ESPN's recent takeover of ABC Sports led to his
unceremonious dismissal last month--a move that drew protests
from his colleagues--O'Hara refused to complain publicly and
attended to his duties to the end. "Change is good," he had said.
Michel Breistroff was familiar with change. The 25-year-old
hockey player had left Roubaix, France, in 1990 to play and
study at Harvard, from which he graduated this spring with an
anthropology degree. He was returning home to continue working
toward becoming an Olympian, a dream he had nearly realized in
'94. Training with the French team that year, Breistroff
suffered a fractured skull and was the final defenseman cut.
"I'll remember most the times I enjoyed with him one-on-one,"
said Boston Bruin Ted Donato, who played with Breistroff at
Harvard. "A lot of people will be extremely sad."
DUDE LOOKS LIKE AN M.D.
First there was the David. Now there's the Dude. Vince Nalbone's
sculpture may never attain the stature of Michelangelo's marble
monument to the Renaissance spirit, but, as toothpick surfing
art goes, it's a bitchin' masterpiece.
Nalbone, a 33-year-old ear, nose and throat specialist, used
150,000 toothpicks, four gallons of Elmer's glue and his
operating room dexterity to construct the life-sized figure of a
crouching surfer. "It took a long time," says Nalbone of his
work on the statue, the full name of which is--what
A native of upstate New York and a self-described sports addict,
Nalbone had never tried surfing until he moved to Los Angeles in
1991 to serve his residency at USC Medical Center. "I figured,
when in Rome...and borrowed a board," he says. He was quickly
hooked. Long hours at the hospital cut into his wave time,
however, and Nalbone turned to art as a way to keep close to the
surfing culture. "I had made a 12-inch water-skier out of
toothpicks when I was in medical school," he says. "My goal had
always been to make something life-sized. It ended up taking
4 1/2 years."
Nalbone, who left USC this month to take a fellowship at the
University of Chicago--and brought the Dude and a board along
with him--concedes that the response to his work has been
mixed. "Some people thought it was neat that I had another
outlet for my energy," he says. "Other people thought I had too
much time on my hands. Most people said, 'Well, we've never seen
anything like that before.'"
Doc, neither have we.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY HUNGRY DOG STUDIO [Drawing of Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Anfernee Hardaway, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and other member of U.S. men's Olympic basketball team as multi-headed spider]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTODISC [Man in toga holding Olympic torch]
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL BERESWILL Champions Gretzky and Messier have been reunited for another Cup run. [Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in game]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Misty Hyman swimming]
B/W PHOTO: NARA [Athlete saluting Adolf Hitler]
COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG Ear, nose and throat physician Nalbone, the righteous dude on the right, picked the perfect medium for his creativity. [Vince Nalbone and statue of surfer made from toothpicks]
Years since the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens.
Olympic medals, summer and winter combined, won by Greek men
from 1896 to 1992.
Olympic golds won by East German women from 1956 to '88.
Olympic goals scored by Italian soccer teams before Atlanta.
Millions of dollars lost by NBC on its ill-fated Triplecast of
the 1992 Games.
Place in line of Latvia among the 197 countries that marched in
the Atlanta opening ceremonies.
Cost, in dollars, of the lower-priced tickets to the men's and
women's tennis singles finals.
Price, in dollars, of the cover charge for the Cauldron Lighting
Party at Pauly D's, an Atlanta nightclub.
The Nazi Olympics
Exhibit at Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to
July 27, 1997
Ten hours before the Olympic opening ceremonies last Friday, a
less festive opening took place at the Holocaust Memorial
Museum. "The Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936" not only recaptures
those Games but also puts them into historical and cultural
perspective. "It's not just about athletes," says Stephen
Goodell, the museum's director of exhibitions. "This was the
ultimate manipulation of sport. It was part of the Nazi project."
The exhibit, which will travel to several other U.S. cities next
summer, is divided into five sections, one for each of the
Olympic rings. A wall-sized photo of a runner carrying the
Olympic flame in front of Nazi soldiers and swastika-emblazoned
banners leads into the first section, which chronicles the 3 1/2
years between the time Hitler became chancellor and the start of
the Games. Nine concentration camps were built in that period,
and the Nuremberg Laws denying Jews rights of citizenship were
passed, yet the International Olympic Committee never considered
taking the Games out of Germany.
Another section examines the debate in the U.S. over whether to
boycott the 1936 Olympics and points up the irony of such a
debate given the racism that existed in the U.S., where, among
other things, blacks were forbidden to play major league
baseball. The section devoted to the Games includes a copy of a
letter from the Nazi government informing Germany's best female
high jumper, Gretel Bergmann, a Jew, that she would not be
allowed to compete because of her poor performance--even though
she had equaled the German record of 5'3" four weeks before. A
video screen shows footage of Hitler proclaiming the Games open
to all as a crowd rises in Nazi salute.
"The Nazi Olympics" has an undeniable resonance. As visitors
left the exhibit last Friday, most no doubt planning to watch
the Atlanta ceremonies that night, the last thing they saw was a
row of photos of 12 European athletes from that era. All later
perished in concentration camps.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
During a recent men's golf tournament at Lakewood Country Club
in Rockville, Md., members held a locker room "vodka shoot-out,"
featuring an ice sculpture of a nude woman with chilled vodka
spouting from between her thighs.
THEY SAID IT
The U.S. long jumper, to Olympic teammate Dan O'Brien after
momentarily forgetting the decathlete's stunning failure to
qualify in 1992: "Did you march in Barcelona, Dan?"