Friday, August 20, 2004

Olympic Spirits

What can we learn from the Athens Olympics? So far?

Dan Henninger in this morning's WSJ comments on the thrill of seeing teams from Afghanistan and Iraq -- ones that include women and ones that compete for the idea of non-primitive homeland states and societies.

Elsewhere in the same issue, Franklin Foer writes about the shame of letting an Iranian athlete avoid a match with an Israeli and letting him and his team make a political point with impunity.

One plus and one minus. My third impression, however, is positive. While fewer attend gymnastics, many more attend and enjoy beach volleyball -- and all the trappings. These are wholly American. And a great answer to the dreary, "why do they hate us so much?" and "why doesn't more of the world like us"?

Here is some of the story:

"X-Treme Envy: Olympics Makeover Lures Young Viewers
'Fuddy-Duddy' Sports Lose To Bikes, Bikinis, Disco; 'It's a Big Party Out Here'
By PETER WALDMAN and VAUHINI VARA Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL August 18, 2004; Page A1

ATHENS -- During play on Center Court at the Olympic tennis complex, stadium entrances are sealed by tall metal gates. Battalions of ushers grimly stand guard, and the umpire admonishes the audience: 'Quiet, please!'

Across town at the Beach Volleyball Center, the Olympics enter a dimension more akin to the television show "Baywatch." Men play in surfing shorts, women in bikinis.

Disco and heavy-metal tunes blare between points. A DJ who sounds like Wolfman Jack with a Greek accent announces the score and goads the audience, "Put your hands together and make some noise!" Between sets in the two-on-two matches, cheerleaders in scanty silver swimsuits prance and gyrate in the sand.

'It's a big party out here,' says Holly McPeak, a U.S. beach-volleyball player who has won both of her matches so far in her third Olympics. 'The fans go crazy.'

And there are lots of them. Unlike at the tennis stadium, where a thin crowd watched Americans Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond dispatch two Ukrainians in a first-round doubles match Sunday, evening sessions of beach volleyball have been packed.

'It's the scene, it's the people -- come on, you want to watch people play volleyball on the beach,' says NBC's Molly Solomon. She's directing her network's cable coverage of the Athens Games, which includes as many as four beach-volleyball games a day. 'Young people gravitate to it; we're trying to cater to that.'"