The 2004 Athens Olympic Games are over, although the weight-challenged lady continues to sing a long song at various homecomings, parades, parties, and spontaneous standing ovations the world over.
Homecoming parties have been happening daily; Ali Cox got the key to the city of Turlock; Kent Smack and JR were honored by Hunterdon County, and were given a parade; West Windsor issued a proclamation at the Mercer Lake homecoming; Joey Hanson got a full page cover shot on the Trentonian and a block party; musician friends of mine had seen articles about Aquil playing with James Brown and asked if he was available to play; it runs the gamut.
The aftermath wasn't without glitches and bumps; one US medalist left a gold medal in his mother's hotel room when helping her check out (it was still there on the table when he returned a couple hours later), and another missed a satellite linkup to a local TV station covering a party at home after getting a little looped and a little lost in downtown Athens. In their defense, neither (getting looped or lost) was hard to do in the Plaka.
The SI party sounded like it lived up to the billing; rumors of a coxswain crowd-surfing and Rick Reilly hitting on a member of the women's eight are just that, I'm sure. The SI party is often the site of the greatest possibility, and the greatest missed opportunities - often for the best. Here's one report, with some of the names changed or omitted to protect the betrothed and soon-to-be:
"The night after Amy Acuff finished 4th in the high jump, I met her at the SI party. We chatted and danced a while. She informed me during the conversation that she could easily jump over me. Sloan later got her to autograph her cover photo in Playboy.
Jenny Thompson and another swimmer introduced themselves to Jimmy Jams and me at the SI party. I think they eventually figured out that I was married and Jimmy was in a serious relationship."
Speaking of people you can or can't jump over, there was a huge photo of Jamie Schroeder in the Bank of America hospitality house. He's already a big guy, but this thing was about twice life-size.
Cipollone, not usually a hellbent media hound, hit the circuit hard while still in Athens - satellite linkup to Philly, Letterman's Top 10, an article for the Wall Street Journal; hey, now's the time dude.
Speaking of media, when folks got off the plane and saw a rower covering the entire front page of the tabloid Trentonian, guess who it was? Nope; it was Lawrence resident Joey Hanson, who had rehabbed a house in town and become an instant local. Joey also arrived home to a full-blown homecoming block party.
The fun continued at home; a couple days after the team returned, a heap of us got together in a local restaurant. Word got around the restaurant eventually, and folks were checking out medals, saying hello, etc. Most of the group left, but Pete C. stayed behind to talk to some folks, and the word kept spreading through the restaurant. When he got up to leave, Chip got a standing O.
Not every medal flash results in glory and adulation; sometimes it does give a needed charge, however. One medalist writes: "I got a free car charger for my cell phone for showing my medal."
The question of the week in Athens: will you continue on to Beijing? Almost every pundit and microphone jockey had to ask this within seconds of a crew finishing their race. Damn, wasn't it hard enough to get to Athens? Seems to me it's like asking a brand new mother still on the delivery table when she's going to get started on having another child. Uhh, maybe let me name this kid first, then I'll talk to you…
In the women's single, Karsten looked in as good shape as she ever had, but Stompo showed a sense of purpose all week long - she was the first to launch every morning, barely looked around, and finally commanded each of her races like no other during the week.
Her comments about her win, mostly about feel for the water - resembled comments of swimmers and even soul surfers more than an Olympic singles champion.
Hacker's spectacular unraveling, including a dramatic shushing of stakeboat kids at the starting line a full 5-6 minutes before the start of his awful semifinal, ended with a big win in the B final complete with him kissing his lucky stuffed pig.
In the light women's double, the luck of the draw hammered the US crew, as their semifinal included all three of the eventual medalists, and they only missed qualifying in that semi by 0.73 seconds. No wonder that their win in the B final seemed so dominant; they were likely a solid top four crew, with a fair shot at a medal.
The Romanian women's eight's adjustment to the US crew's ferocious first 1000 was truly impressive. The tactic would be instantly recognizable to any rowing coach; stay as close as possible to a fast-starting crew, and wait for the second 1000 to attack. Nonetheless, a medal has been a long time coming for the US women, and although I know they wanted a yellow medal, their disappointment lasted a few seconds on the water, and by the time they were in front of the cameras, they all genuinely appreciated what they had done, and what they had won.
The men's eight was ridiculous - open water at the 1000? Volp said he almost couldn't keep himself from smiling in the last 500. He was definitely surprised at how the crew roared out, but deep down he might have seen it coming; he said he felt himself on the verge of tears not after winning, but during the training the week prior. "Some of the rows were so good, it gave me the chills," he told me.
FISA did a great job with a difficult hand, their effort marred only by the controversy in the men's pair. Even then, most rowing historians and experts feel FISA did the right thing, even if most would have liked to have seen everyone get a clear shot at the medals.
By Friday of this past week, not one Olympic rower had been seen on the Carnegie; even Ben Holbrook and Aquil Abdullah, who had to race on the weekend, saved themselves for race day. That time will come for some, and not for others; tremendous luck to all the rowers who are rowing into the sunset after these Games, whether they made the team or not.
Personally, I'm calling these Games "The Computer Games;" transport and access difficulties hobbled your dedicated editor, and I ended up looking through a camera eyepiece and staring into a laptop 18-20 hours day on dialup, trying to pick the best photos while sitting in the direct sun, sneaking into Denis Oswald's air-conditioned, tinted window offices to let the sweat dry and my eyes recover from the scalding, uploading all the stuff while trying to grab some winks into the wee hours, but not for too long now - it was up at 4:10am to start over. It ain't easy being row2k, but I think we got it done; thanks to our sponsors for participating, and to you for watching.