History-making Olympics

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The greatest of all time?

By Greg Woods


The 30th Olympiad is now in the history books and it will be remembered for many things, including all the athletes who will be remembered as the best their respective sports have ever produced. Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and the beach volleyball duo Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh all cemented their place in Olympic and sporting history with dominating performances yet again.

The debate will rage about which of these athletes truly is the greatest of all time. The great thing about that is they are from different sports and so there will always be room for argument, which is what most sports fans love.

Another great story line will be the dominance of the American women in these Games. The American women won so many gold medals that they would have put the United States in third place in the gold medal count even if the men had stayed home.

A less reported, but more socially important story, was the inclusion of women from some traditionally male-dominated societies and the increase, generally, of female participation. One woman each from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei participated in these games. With the inclusion of these three women the London Olympics became the first to have female representation from every team participating.

Women outnumbered men on three of the largest teams, the U.S, Russia and China.

There was another story of inclusiveness that brought smiles to the faces of spectators. Oscar Pistorius of South Africa became the first amputee to participate in the Olympic Games. I will remember two things about the Pistorius story. One is what a classy young man he was. After he ran his races he made it a point to go to every athlete and shake their hand. He also handled the obvious disappointment of not making the 400-meter final with grace as he was interviewed on television.

The other thing is the sportsmanship, humility and class of the winner of the 400-meter heat that Pistorius was in. Grenada’s Kirani James was on his way to winning the first-ever gold medal in the history of his tiny country but he went to Pistorius after their heat had concluded and asked to exchange bibs with him. It was one of those moments that remind us of what sports should be about- especially Olympic sports: where people come from different social and political backgrounds and where ego, competitiveness and ideology sometimes get in the way of the celebration of the tremendous physical feats of these athletes.

In stark contrast to James, Bolt, who may be the greatest sprinter of all time, showed little control of his outsized ego. A little humility never hurt anybody and usually helps a person to be more complete. It will be interesting to see a more mature Bolt in the Rio games. Maybe a few more defeats at the hands of his talented teammate, Yohan Blake, will humble him and make him as great a person as he is an athlete.

As for the debate that Kobe Bryant tried to start about which U.S. men’s basketball team is the greatest of all time- well there is really nothing to debate in my opinion. The original 1992 Dream Team is the greatest of all time. Nothing happened in the London Olympics to change my opinion. While Kevin Durant and Lebron James may have been able to make the Dream Team, I don’t think Bryant and most of the others could have. Bryant is a great athlete and player, but the Dream Team did something he couldn’t do: put egos aside and play team ball.

All throughout the tournament, venerable Coach Mike Krzyzewski kept benching Bryant and the announcers would make excuses for him. They said that he was being rested because he was older and the U.S. needed him fresh when the medal round started. I say baloney! Coach K benched him because he didn’t play defense and he took bad shots throughout the tournament. The U.S played much better when Bryant was out and Carmelo Anthony was in the game.

One last thing on the Dream Team non-debate: did any team get as close to the original 1992 Dream Team as Spain did to the 2012 team in the gold medal game? 

Bolt, Phelps and the beach volleyball team will go down as the greatest of all time in their sports but the 2012 USA men’s basketball team will not.