Athens Report Card

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Athens Report Card

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Have you been as transfixed by the Olympics as I have? The Games are almost a week old now and I still gaze with wonder at those golden nighttime helicopter shots of the lights up on the Acropolis.

This is the first summer Olympics I haven-t personally attended since Munich back in 1972. Well, I didn-t go to the Moscow Games in 1980, either. When I-ve returned each time, I-ve heard such heavy criticism of the American television coverage, but I-m such a certifiable Olympics junkie that I-m loving the all-day, all-night, wall-to-wall cable coverage. I-m having trouble getting any work done -- or anything else, for that matter.

You get keyed up for the big moments. Aussie Ian Thorpe swimming against American Michael Phelps a few days ago, when Michael still had the possibility of matching Mark Spitz-s historic record of seven gold in one Games. The Dutchman, Pieter van den Hoogenband, who upset Thorpe in his home pool in Sydney four years ago, was in a center lane next to the two big guns, too. I had been excited about that 200-meter freestyle ever since Michael Phelps announced weeks ago that he wasn-t going to run from the Thorpedo and avoid the 200 free. He was willing to take him on, the Spitz record be damned. I was on my feet in my own living room, adrenaline surging every stroke of that race. Admiring of Thorpe the winner, in his modesty, the Dutchman, in his effort, and Phelps, in accepting his bronze medal so graciously.

I actually cried like a baby in my living room when Thorpe won the 400 meters last Saturday. At 6-5- and 225 pounds, Thorpe was tender and not so superhuman when he flooded with tears as he looked up at the electronic scoreboard. He had been such a lock for gold in the 400 in Sydney. This time, perhaps a tad beyond his prime, it was moving to witness him give that race the chutzpah of a true champion.

That-s the heart and soul of the Olympics to me. Bodies sculpted over a decade or more to perform the required motions and skills of the various sports-eyes brimming with focus and desire. Gold medal winners as well as heartbroken finishers, out of the medals altogether.

And there are the surprises, full of human drama. I tuned in to men-s synchronized diving one afternoon early this week. This is a new event at these Olympics and for the first half hour that I watched, I wasn-t impressed. Diving is a great sport. Why do we need two divers trying to precisely match each others- take-off-s, twists & somersaults, and water entries? I was bored.

Then the announcers started to educate us as to who is the best in the sport and why. The Russians were a team of old and young. The older teammate a previous Olympic champion. His younger compadre the pup who follows the alpha dog-s lead. The Chinese were impeccable. Graceful, lithe, and in sych to perfection. And the Americans were gutsy, brothers who hadn-t always been buddies. The Greek pair had no chance. Even their bodies were slightly softer than all the others. But dive by dive, the favorites stumbled. Unheard of, the elder Russian caught the board with his foot. One of the Chinese pair spun out of control and caused his team to take a fatal zero on one dive; and as the round of dives increased in degrees of difficulty, the American brothers just didn-t find their groove. Meanwhile, the Greeks found themselves in a zone they had never visited before. And as they nailed dive after dive, the hometown crowd rose to their feet and started waving their blue-and-white flags. In the end, the unlikely happened. The Greeks took the gold. They stood on a diving board and led the entire crowd in song and cheers and plenty of -Opa-s!-.

Much has been made of the empty seats at most of the events in Athens. But the fans at the diving stadium that day rocked. And, for an Olympic junkie, it just doesn-t get any better than that.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that-s The Score.



Diana Nyad