Originally created 02/25/02

Validation in controversy

SALT LAKE CITY - These won't be remembered as the best Olympics ever. Not in Moscow, not in Panmunjeom. Not even around America.

Too much of the news here came from the ugly side of sports, was made by post-game griping, de-facto press conferences and the live television break-ins that validated them both

By the middle, they had become the Sob Lake Games, and if you didn't like a result, you simply cried long enough and loud enough until it was changed. Or until you had so discredited the winner that it appeared you hadn't actually lost.

Too regularly, complaining overshadowed competition and whiners got more attention than winners. Sensationalism had become a new sport.

And you know what?

That's just fine.

When you consider where these Games came from and where they could have headed, even poor sportsmanship was good enough if it kept the focus on sports. We can handle a little sore losing when the lead-in was so painfully uncertain.

Borne from scandal, introduced with warnings and conducted under the tightest security in United States history, the 2002 Winter Olympics ended Sunday.

Without incident.

And that's the best thing that can be said about these Games. Not that we won a lot of medals or that a crooked sport was revealed. But that nothing happened.

That's why all the nonsense is acceptable.

At least it was derived in some sense from the games being played, the story here staying more ESPN than CNN all the way through.

Three weeks ago, there was more fear than excitement about these Games. And there was an underlying suspicion that they would not make it to today. They seemed such an easy target.

And then 17 days went by with only trivial drama, were completed peacefully if not perfectly.

The world didn't stop for these Olympics.

Suicide bombers kept walking into crowds in Israel. A train fire killed 363 people in Egypt. There was even another warning about new terrorist attacks taking place here.

But nothing happened here to derail the Games or prevent their meaning from being delivered internationally.

Some disturbing new developments did come out of Salt Lake.

The new bottom of the ninth in the Olympics is after the game now, anybody unhappy with a result knowing now they can pull out a different one if they carry on enough. From now on in international sports, federations will try to bring about the victories their athletes can't. And nobody will ever just walk into an event at the Games again, security checks becoming a new Olympic trial for fans.

But there was some good here, too, some images and memories that will carry on long after all the petulance goes away.

A third-generation Olympian took a picture and the memory of his late grandfather on an 80-mph sled ride all the way to a gold medal.

A 16-year-old figure skater and her coach both reacted like school girls to winning scores after everybody else involved in the sport had behaved like children all week.

The faces of Vonetta Flowers and Derek Parra, filled with emotion on the top of the medal stand, finally brought some color to America's Olympic champions.

And the people of Salt Lake never stopped smiling, saying hello and making everybody feel welcome.

There was also a record success for U.S. athletes, nearly a doubling of the medal goal that had been set at almost twice the previous American best for the Winter Games.

That caused a lot of the nastiness. Because there were those that didn't want to believe we could compete in sports we had for so long dismissed as un-American unless we were doing something untoward. But 34 medals should speak for themselves. They should also shut up critics.

From the start, though, these Games were going to be gauged less by national medal counts than by how we all came out of them.

They were not the unifying Games they were supposed to be. In fact, they might have divided different t cultures more than any recent Olympics.

But in the end, everybody left safe, able to talk about corrupt judges and subjective scoring and favorable hockey calls - sports things instead of far more serious issues.

And even after all the shouting in Salt Lake, that's the biggest statement of these Olympics.


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