Save a kind thought for the Tanzanian field hockey goalie, an Olympian figure in the annals of athletic tragic-comedy.
Imagine the pantheon of sporting losers: the original Mets and lifelong Caps, Tampa Bay, the Cleveland Cavaliers and whoever the Harlem Globetrotters play each night. Add the Tanzanian field hockey team, a collection of agreeable klutzes who help make these Games unique.
Because of the 50-nation boycott, fields for most events here are less than first rate. Some teams that otherwise would not have had a prayer of qualifying were invited simply to offer a facade of credibility. The Tanzanian field hockey team was one of them.
In three matches, the Tanzanians were beaten by a total of 34-0. The poor fellow madly waving his legs and sticks as all those goals whistled by was Leopold Gracias, and had he not kept up his spirits and hustled about the goal area every minute, the embarrassment might have been worse.
No, the Tanzanian coach said before today's match with winless Cuba, he would not replace Gracias, even though India had scored 18 goals against him in the first game and Spain 12 in the second. In truth, Gracias -- at least to these untrained eyes -- seems to be one of the better Tanzanian players.
Field hockey is not likely to soon grab America'a attention with a Nadia-like grip. Not until they let some athletes in who actually have a flair for it -- the golfers on the U.S. pro tour. Those folks, women as well as men, would lend some style in addition to increasing the level of play drastically.
Cuba and Tanzania might have moved the ball more accurately had they been pushing it with their noses instead of those sticks whose blades have a remarkable resemblance to Isao Aoki's putter.
The Indians and Spaniards surely are superior, but the play today had almost everyone whacking the ball into a herd of defenders in the hope that somebody familiar would nudge it goalward. Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and some others would be more creative.
Lee Revino might be a world-class field-hockey player. The swing seems rather flat, anyway -- the no-angle, curved blade hardly would be troublesome to a man who has knocked a much smaller ball more accurately swinging a Dr. Pepper bottle.
Tanzania needed all the help it could muster today, even against a team that showed the sport also is not among the priorities in athletic-passionate Cuba. If an Indian Casey Stengel had been on hand for the midmorning match, he surely would have been in agony early, muttering: Can't anyone here play this game?"
Field hockey officials undoubtedly sensed this would be one of the lowlights of the Olympics. This is probably why the program literature and talk over the public-address system concerned the sport's history instead of each team's heroics.
"People in Asia, Africa and America played games resembling modern hockey long before Christ," the fans heard as the teams warmed up. "In its present-day version, hockey appeared in the early 19th century in England, where the first national association was founded in 1886 . . . hockey has been on the Olympic program since 1908, but at the 1912 and 1924 Games, hockey tournaments were not held. However, since 1928 it has always been there."
The pregame pep talk by the Tanzanian coach was not hard to imagine: "Men, let's go out there today and see if we can get beyond midfield." Gracias may have bought extra life insurance before he left home for Moscow, but he was not in mortal danger today.
The two young chasers on either end of the field touched the ball more often than the goalies, so erratic were the shots and passes. There was one whiff, by Tanzanian Mike Michel with the ball in fine position for a shot on goal.
Gracias has the build of a light heavyweight fighter and the only goals he allowed came on a penalty shot and what are known as short corners. It is a term apparently borrowed from soccer, for one of the players puts the ball on the opposition's goal line and bats it toward teammates scattered around a semicircle about 15 yards away.
When the ball arrives at one teammate, he stops it with his hand and another comes immediately and whomps it toward the goal. Two defenders who have been cowering in the goal mouth with the keeper dash toward the shooter while he is winding up and try and stop the struck ball and also stay alive.
With such confusion in front of him, the goalie can scarcely hope to stop a high percentage of those shots. But Cuba was successful defending every one today, in part because the Tanzanians had trouble stopping the ball with their hands.
For most of the game, Gracias seemed to be playing well. A few times he left his spot near the net, dashed toward a Cuban on a breakaway and smothered the ball, but late in the game, Gracias left too great an opening on a shot that bounced wide of the net and a Swedish hockey junkie muttered: "Now I know why he gave up 30."
Still, when the 4-0 Cuban victory ended, Gracias could be seen with a small smile on his face as the players were leaving the field. It was not a smile of satisfaction, but perhaps Gracias had expected worse.