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The End Is Such a Deflating Experience

By Tony Kornheiser
Washington Post Columnist
Aug. 05, 1996

ATLANTA -- As the Olympic flame is snuffed out in the McDonald’s large fries holster that overlooks the Atlanta night, and our happy Washington Post team (motto: "When the Spectravision charges go on the bill, you don’t list the actual titles of the movies, do you?") returns home, we will all inevitably face the same question from friends and family: What do you remember most about the Atlanta Olympics?

For some it will be the bomb, of course. For others, some golden moment in the Games, perhaps Michael Johnson running, Carl Lewis jumping or Kerri Strug landing; perhaps one of those babes teams that did so well—softball, soccer or basketball.

For me it’s inflatable beer cans.

When I close my eyes and picture Atlanta, I see a giant Miller Lite can or a giant Bud can—even better, Gumby, 80 feet high! And I’ll hear the familiar strains of "Macarena" wafting from the beer gardens (and I say familiar because they played the blasted song 400 times every night at decibel levels loud enough to wake Franco, and now 15 times a day, like a nervous twitch, I find myself spontaneously shouting, "Heeeeyyyy, macarena!")

Whoa! I think I just saw Janet Evans with Tom Brokaw.

And I’ll reflect on the 450-pound vendors nesting in the lower lobby of our comfy hotel, drawn upstairs by the smell of bacon. And the crush of people in Centennial Park waiting in line in the heat for hours to get into "The Super Store," a schlockery where you can buy the same official Olympic merchandise you can buy in the Kansas City airport. Speaking of Centennial Park, there is a statue there of Baron de Coubertin. He is facing "Bud World" and "Coca-Cola City," and the look on his face indicates that if he’d known what the Olympics would turn into, he’d have bought Anheuser-Busch and Coke stock.

Excuse me, that wasn’t Brokaw, it was Janet Evans with the Pope.

And I’ll think of the fun couples of the Olympics: Carl Lewis and Erv Hunt; Janet Evans and Michelle Smith; Gail Devers and Kenny Harrison; Matt Ghaffari and Aleksandr Karelin; Brooke and Andre. (And let’s give Andre his propers for not tanking here like he does everywhere else; like John McEnroe, Agassi plays hard for his country, and in my eyes that lessens his jerk quotient.)

And I’ll think of the tender moments, like swimmer Angel Martino giving her bronze medal to a friend who has cancer, and wrestler Kurt Angle weeping through the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the medal ceremony, after placing his gold medal around his mom’s neck, and Allen "I’m The Other" Johnson carrying his daughter around the track on his victory lap. In my mind the most compassionate act of all was Ghaffari going to the hospital to visit Fallon Stubbs, teenage daughter of Alice Hawthorne, who was killed in the bomb blast. And the worst moment of the entire Olympics was learning Alice Hawthorne’s home in Albany, Ga., had been robbed, while her husband was here arranging for her funeral.

By the way, am I the only one who noticed that Shaquille O’Neal spent most of the Olympics with his big can glued to the pine? The Lakers gave this guy $121 million, and Lenny Wilkens gave him five minutes a game. What was Shaq’s problem, too much club-hopping with Janet Evans?

And is it just my imagination, or does every American swimmer have asthma? How did asthma get to be the official disease of the U.S. swim team? Speaking of swimmers, anybody seen the Chinese women swimmers? They had to be the biggest myth since Godzilla.

You know, I’m pretty sure I just saw Janet Evans with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Now that Kerri Strug is turning pro with the rest of the Gymnasts Gumdrops, do you think she might be persuaded to use her bonus for a voice transplant? Every time she opens her mouth I think of "The Wizard Of Oz."

What’s with the tattoos so many athletes have? I’m glad there were so many great women athletes featured in these Olympics; they can be role models for lots of girls like my daughter. But does my daughter have to look like Dennis Rodman to play sports?

Somebody just called me to say they saw Janet Evans drinking a pin~a colada in Trader Vic’s. Her hair was perfect.

Excuse me, Tony, but do you think you could dispense with the Warren Zevon lyrics and get to the Closing Ceremonies? We know you won’t get off the stage until you rip the Closing Ceremonies, so let’s get on with it so we can all move on to real sports stories, like "Juwan Howard Held Hostage. Day Three: LaSooz Calls Juwan On The Car Phone."

Ah, the Closing Ceremonies, in which the beasts and spirits that came out of the ground in the Opening Ceremonies go back into the ground. (After four hours of singing and dancing. Heeeeyyyy, macarena!)

Because this is Georgia, home of the Dawgs, and football season is coming up in our rear view mirror, there were marching bands in the Closing Ceremonies. And, because you can’t really stop Gloria Estefan, you can only hope to contain her, there was Gloria Estefan. And because you can’t have Opening or Closing ceremonies without 12,000 children scampering around dressed as bugs or gummy worms, you had them too.

What was new this time were the skateboarders and mountain bikers and roller bladers, the whole X-Games crew. Did I miss something? I thought NBC had the rights to the Olympics. How did ESPN2 get in on the act? Does this mean long jumping is out for 2000, and bungee jumping is in?

Pepsi!

(I’ve wanted to do that since I landed here in the capital of Coca-Cola. I feel like I just screamed "Fire!" in a crowded theater.)

The entertainment highlight of the Closing Ceremonies was:

Janet Evans?

No. It was the Southern Jamboree, a way to roll out the "Quilt Of Leaves" that formed the artistic design of these Olympics, and to trot out Georgia’s own Little Richard, and Little Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Al Green, The Pointer Sisters and the indefatigable Ms. Estefan, among others. For those of you wondering how Gloria Estefan fits within the borders of a Southern Jamboree, the answer is: She’s from South Florida.

My own personal highlight, of course, was the giant inflateable characters—kangaroos and blooming onions—spewing confetti over the athletes. After three weeks here somebody’s got to spew something.

Say good night, Gracie.

Say g’day, Sydney.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post

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