Every two years, the world throws a party, and everybody comes. A few
thousand athletes from a few hundred countries pack their bags and
travel a really long way to wherever, compete like all get out for
two weeks, then go home.
It's called the Olympic Games.
A few athletes are famous before they get there, or will be when
they leave, but most will never be heard of, or from, before, during
or after. Why do they do it? No one knows. Countries that haven't a
thing in common and no contact whatsoever and, in some cases, can't
stand the sight of each other, get together every two years like
clockwork and say, "Let's play."
Is it commercial? Of course, it is. The Olympics are big business
and make lots of money for lots of companies. But most of the
countries and athletes involved won't see a drachma of it. In fact,
most have to scrimp and save and pay their own way to get there. Why
do they do it? I already told you. No one knows. But I'm glad they
Orange County is always well-represented in the summer Olympics,
and Athens is no different. There are over 40 Orange County athletes
on Team USA, in more sports than you can shake a stick at, although
I've never understood why you would shake a stick at things to begin
with, or why you can only shake it at a certain number of them. There
are the big names, like USA women's soccer captain Julie Foudy from
An impressive five members of the USA men's water polo players are
current or former Anteaters, as in UCI Anteaters, not real ones. Real
anteaters can't play water polo. Their legs are too short and it's
too hard to keep their snoots above water.
Another Olympian is super-swimmer Amanda Beard, who was born in
Newport Beach and now lives in Irvine, and it might just interest you
to know that beach volleyball superstar Misty May lives in Costa
Mesa, which is very close to here.
Misty May. Is that a cool name or what? I say it is. In fact, in
the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Misty was teamed with the all-time
cool-name champion of cool names -- Holly McPeak. You can see McPeak
now and then beneath the dome on Niketown at Triangle Square. She's
the one with the 6-foot-tall head in the sun-visor and wrap-around
sunglasses. "Misty May and Holly McPeak." I'm repeating myself, I
know, but if you had a name like mine you'd be obsessed with cool
Just one more, I promise. One of the stars of the USA women's
gymnastics team is "Courtney McCool." Anyway, May and her teammate,
Kerri Walsh, are the No. 1 ranked women's beach volleyball team in
the world, and the world is a very big place. A strained abdominal
muscle put May's excellent Greek adventure in doubt for a while, but
she's back, she's fit, she is ready. Before she pulled her muscle in
June, May and Walsh racked up an unheard-of 90 consecutive matches
and they will be the team to beat on the sands of Sparta.
Actually, there's one athlete who's not from Orange County who I'm
disappointed I apparently won't see this year. In fact, he couldn't
be from anywhere much farther away.
He's from Equatorial Guinea, a small country sandwiched between
Cameroon and Gabon on the western coast of Africa. His name is Eric
Moussambani. Doesn't ring a bell? Maybe his full name will: Eric "the
Eel" Moussambani. Still nothing? Try this. Moussambani was a swimmer,
sort of, in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Every Olympian wants to carve
out a place in the record books, and Eric Moussambani did just that
when he turned in one of the worst times ever recorded in an Olympic
100-meter freestyle heat. But things got weird even before Eric "the
Eel" hit the water. He ended up racing alone when both the other
swimmers in his heat were disqualified just before the start.
Moussambani had taken up swimming just eight months before the
Olympics, and it showed, a lot. Apparently, Equatorial Guinea has
only two swimming pools, neither of which is 100 meters long, so he
had to estimate how far 100 meters was in his practice sessions. He
underestimated, badly. After 50 meters, he was barely moving forward
and starting to flail his arms wildly. The crowd began applauding,
then cheering, then chanting Moussambani's name. At one point, he
actually stopped completely and tread water for a few seconds, trying
to regain his strength. With 25 meters left, some of the race
officials crouched beside the pool, trying to decide whether someone
should dive in and rescue Moussambani, who looked liked he had a
better chance of drowning than finishing. With a few meters left, the
crowd went wild, on their feet, screaming and cheering every,
agonizing meter until he finally touched the wall. Moussambani was an
instant celebrity around the world, but the International Olympic
Committee was so horrified that they are considering changing the
"wild card" rule that allows people like Eric "the Eel" to make it
into the big Olympic tent. Smaller countries that can't qualify
anyone for the Olympics through sanctioned trials can use a "wild
card" to get an individual or team into the competition with very few
questions asked -- thus, Eric "the Eel" and the now-famous Jamaican
bobsled team. Personally, I think that would be a terrible mistake.
Without the wild card, we would have never had Moussambani or ski
jumper Eddie the Eagle or the Jamaican bobsled team. Tragically,
Moussambani will reportedly not be allowed to compete in Athens
because of an administrative error in submitting his credentials for
It's the world's loss because Eric "the Eel" has been training
Moussambani has reportedly shaven about a minute off his time.
We don't want a better time, Eric. We just want you to survive. I
* PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs
Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.