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GOLD COUNT : These Games May Be Only Half as Good

Times Staff Writer

Only Goldfinger and possibly Sammy Davis Jr. owned more gold than the 1984 United States Olympic team.

Eighty-three gold medals.

One for archery, two basketball, nine boxing, four cycling, three equestrian, five gymnastics, two rowing, three shooting, 23 swimming and diving, two synchronized swimming, 16 track and field, three yachting, nine wrestling, one volleyball.

Eighty-three in ’84.

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And that’s just 83 events . Basketball teams, swim and track relay teams, rowing fours and eights . . . each individual received his or her own medal.

Americans took gold medals in just about everything except women’s skeet shooting and synchronized Greco-Roman wrestling.

Conrad E. Homfeld won a gold medal. You remember Con.

Betsy Ann Beard won one. Bet you haven’t forgotten Betsy. Debbie Bebe Green won one. Oh, yeah. Debbie wound up on a cereal box, didn’t she?

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Edward Aetzel won one. Edward Trevelyan won one. Alexi Grewal won one. Sunder Nix and Lillie Mae Leatherwood won one apiece. Lou and Ed Banach won one apiece. Darrell Pace won one for the second straight Olympics.

Go ahead, rattle off their events.

You can do it. It was only four years ago. It was the Olympics. They were champions. They wongold medals, same as Mark Spitz and Jesse Owens and Cassius Clay and Jim Thorpe and Oscar Robertson and Mary Lou You Know Who.

This isn’t Trivial Pursuit. This is Serious Pursuit. These are the Olympic Games, Babe. These are our heroes.

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They should be famous for more than 15 minutes.

We in America almost have come to take gold medals for granted. We expect to dig them up as easily as Cracker Jack prizes. We come to an Olympics, prospect for gold, and go home with a full pan.

These are hardly the Winter Olympics, where we switch off our television sets and feel lucky to have taken two gold medals, as we did this February at Calgary. We do not worry our poor heads over giant slaloms and ice-dancing. We come to expect some kid named Franz or Hans or Heidi to outski and outskate us.

The Summer Olympics, though, are ours. Ours and the Soviets’. OK, OK, also the East Germans’. Medals will pour in these directions like coins from a Vegas slot. Basketball, boxing, swimming, track, gymnastics. All the good stuff.

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We will not mind when some Bulgarian sprite steals the show at the rhythmic gymnastics, because it’s not much of a show. There is only one seating area in the United States at rhythmic gymnastic competitions. It is known as: “Parents of Competitors.”

We do not care if we get wiped out in taekwondo, because everybody in America who can do taekwondo is working on location in a Chuck Norris movie, masterfully pretending to get kicked in the face.

We will lose no sleep if we have won no medals in modern pentathlon, because most of us do not know modern pentathlon from ancient and medieval pentathlon. If somebody told us the events in the modern pentathlon included a 50-kilometer swim on the back of a horse while shooting a rifle at ducks flying overhead, we would probably ask how many points you score for each dead duck.

Medals do mean a lot to us, however and wherever they are won. Day by day, we study the standings. Check out by how many the Soviets are ahead of us today.

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“Damn,” we say to our spouse at the breakfast table, reading yesterday’s results in the paper.

“What?”

“We lost the four-man kayak.”

“Damn.”

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That is why we were so overjoyed throughout the 1984 Olympics, the morning after, because the gold kept piling up like Fort Knox. Another day, another medal. Yawn. “How many did Carl win last night, Honey?” “Two more, Dear.” “That’s nice, Honey.” The Americans showed up, limbered up, got psyched up, showed everybody else up, then stepped up on the platform to model another necklace. Cue the anthem.

We were spoiled.

We had so many medal-winners, we couldn’t keep track of them. A guy in Yugoslavia wins a silver, they put his face on a postage stamp. Us? Gold medals get you, what? Lunch at the White House? Free tennis shoes? A story to tell the grandchildren someday?

Just for the record, Conrad E. Homfeld was an equestrian gold medalist. Betsy Beard was in rowing, eights with coxswain. Debbie Green was a volleyball setter. Ed Aetzel shot small-bore rifle (prone) before accepting his gold medal (erect). Ed Trevelyan got his in yachting, soling class. Alexi Grewal was a road-race cyclist. Sunder Nix and Lillie Mae Leatherwood ran track relays. The Banachs were wrestlers. Darrell Pace is the greatest archer since the Swiss sensation, Bill Tell.

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These people won some of America’s 83 gold medals in Los Angeles and, for a pleasant week or two, stood right up there with Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton and Greg Louganis at the head of the class.

However, if anybody back there in the Far West is expecting Americans to rack up gold medals here in South Korea the way they did four years ago in Southern California, well, get serious.

With the Soviets among our Olympic adversaries for the first time in 12 years, expect America’s medal count to shrink and shrivel. Savor every gold as precious, because during NBC-TV’s 179 1/2 hours of Olympic air time, you probably will not hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” played more than, oh, 40 times.

This prediction seems to strike some people as awfully low.

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Korean journalists keep popping into the office to ask: “How many medals you think U.S. will win?”

“Forty,” we say.

Their eyebrows rise.

“And Soviet team?”

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“Much more than 40,” we say.

Each interviewer seems to consider this prediction as unduly pessimistic, or perhaps inaccurate, or possibly even unpatriotic.

“You are . . . un-confident?” one man asked.

“Realistic,” we reply.

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Forty seems a nice round number. Well, round anyway. Some say the Americans might win anywhere from 50 to 60, but if they do, wave the red, white and blue. It will mean we are having one fine Olympics.

Much will depend on Matt Biondi, America’s pool shark. If he wins three or four golds, good for him. If he becomes The New Spitz, good for us. Biondi conceivably could take seven gold medals in men’s swimming, just as Spitz did in 1972. Then again, his shot at seven could last about one day. The 200-meter freestyle, his weakest event, comes first, and Michael Gross, the German merman, probably will win it.

Let us be gracious but reasonable and give Biondi four gold medals in advance--100 freestyle, 100 butterfly and two relays. That would still be a monster performance for Jaws Biondi.

Let us be optimistic and give Carl Lewis four more--100-meter dash, 200, long jump and one relay. This is more than optimistic. It allows no margin of error for false starts, pulled tendons, Ben Johnson or coaches that read the schedule wrong and get Carl to the track too late.

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All right, that’s eight golds right there. Biondi moves on to do milk advertisements in America, where billboards are large enough even for his ego, and Lewis goes back to Japan, where sales of ear plugs will soar as Carl resumes his singing career.

From there, let us go sport by sport, alphabetically, to see how many golds we could win. (Estimates in parentheses.)

ARCHERY (2)--Yes, expect gold from either Pace or Jay Barrs, probably Barrs, and another one in the men’s team competition, several seconds of which you will see on NBC.

BASKETBALL (2)--Two more, both men and women, unless of course this is your typical John Thompson team, in which case it will be kicked out of Korea for fighting.

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BOXING (3)--Not many. This is 1984 no more. We like Todd Foster at 139 pounds, Ray Mercer at 201, maybe Kennedy McKinney at 119. Kelcie Banks, Roy Jones, Kenneth Gould, Riddick Bowe . . . oh, one of them, we suppose. We also wager 10,000 won that somebody starts calling Mercer “Sugar Ray.” No Ray alive is safe from this nickname.

CANOEING (1)--Greg Barton, now of Newport Beach, but part of the kayaking Barton clan of Homer, Mich., is an absolute inspiration. He was born with club feet, but Greg’s upper-body strength is so solid, he is a three-time world champion, and won the Olympic bronze in 1984. We’ll take him in the kayak 1,000-meter singles.

CYCLING (1)--Connie Paraskevin-Young of the U.S. and Christa Rothenburger-Luding of East Germany, two Winter Olympic speed-skaters, go for the Summer gold in the women’s sprint. Connie puts her pedal to the gold medal.

DIVING (2)--Greg Louganis surfaces with two more gold doubloons. If somebody puts a banana peel on the board before his final dive, he’d probably score 9.9 instead of 10.0.

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EQUESTRIAN (0)--Maybe a gold medal in team show jumping? Nay.

FENCING (0)--Curses. Foiled again.

FIELD HOCKEY (0)--Our team can’t even find the blue line.

GYMNASTICS (0)--Goodby, Mary Lou. Goodby, heart. Sweet Mary Lou, we were so in love with you. We thought we knew, Mary Lou, we’d never part. But goodby, Mary Lou. Goodby, heart.)

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TEAM HANDBALL (0)--We’re a lot better with the handball you whack against a wall.

JUDO (0)--Believe it or not, an American, Mike Swain of Santa Clara, has a shot at the gold at 156.5 pounds. We can see it now: He Came to Korea in Peace, iut Then He Flipped Out! Cannon Pictures Presents Mike Swain in: ‘California Ninja.’ Opens Friday at a Theatre Near You!” Sorry.

MODERN PENTATHLON (0)--Just when you think America has made progress, here’s a sport where we get kicked by Hungary.

ROWING (0)--Row, row, row, Romania, gently down the stream. The Americans might finish second in the eights, but first is just a dream.

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SHOOTING (1)--Where is Inspector Harry Callahan when we really need him? Oh, well, we still like Matt Dryke in the skeet shooting. We also like Katarina Witt in the figure skeeting.

SOCCER (0)--Ho, ho, ho, ho! Yuk, yuk, yuk! Americans win the Olympic soccer? Stop, you’re killing me! No, please! Stop!

SWIMMING (13)--Ah, now this is more like it. OK, let’s pool our resources. Four golds for Biondi. Give David Berkoff one in the 100 backstroke, Tom Jager one in the 50 free, Dave Wharton one in either the 200 or 400 individual medley. Make it three for Janet Evans. Add on two men’s relays, one women’s, and call it another great Olympics for Team Chlorine.

SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING (1)--Tracie Ruiz-Conforto should take the solo. Martin Short and Harry Shearer should have entered the duet.

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TABLE TENNIS (0)--In this sport, America against the Asians is Ping Pong vs. Godzilla. We get stomped.

TENNIS (0)--Welcome to the Wimblympics. One of our doubles teams might do it, but we stand no chance against Steffi Graf unless we send for Elise Burgin, our only player with incentive.

TRACK AND FIELD (13)--We fly in track, flop in field. Gold fever for Florence, Jackie, Edwin, Carl, Butch, Roger Kingdom, the whole gang. We get zip in field events except for Lewis in the men’s long jump and Joyner-Kersee in women’s long jump and heptathlon. Mary Slaney? Around and around she goes. Where she stops, nobody knows.

VOLLEYBALL (1)--The men win, and look good doing it. The only way they’d look better is with their shirts off while wearing Ray-Ban shades.

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WATER POLO (0)--Our horses drown.

That makes 40 golds. The question at this point is: Is that enough to hold you? Are these Olympic Games a disappointment if we do not take home everything that’s not bolted down? After 83 gold medals, is 40 too big a comedown? Or are these 40 worth more, because these are the real Olympics, with everyone present and accounted for?

More importantly, if we do not win the synchronized swimming, should we bother to go on living?

We offer simple advice. Just sit back, enjoy the Olympics on TV, and never forget, no matter which Americans succeed or fail, cheer up. Keep telling yourself how much worse the Olympic telecast could be for Americans everywhere. Keep repeating two little words:

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Howard Cosell.


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