By Tim Keown
Page 2

I think we'd all find it easier to enjoy the Olympics if we were given some sign that the competitors are having a little bit of fun. A wink of the eye, even, or a subtle semaphore. We'll take a smile; hell, at this point we'll take a smirk.

Obviously, the Olympics have always been serious business for the athletes, but when did it all get so damned solemn? The opening ceremony has become like four hours of church. (I think I just blasphemed, by the way, since most reports call them the Opening Ceremony.) Just because NBC paid $90 quadrillion to televise them, can't we have some fun? How about an opening ceremony featuring 30 minutes of Chris Rock -- with the requisite number of translators -- followed by audience participation in Olympic events like balance beam and platform diving?

Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps should look like he's having a little more fun.

Wouldn't you love to see some corporate honcho on his sixth gin and tonic be called out of the stands to attempt to clear 12 feet in the pole vault? Couldn't NBC pick up the insurance on that, maybe as a rider on the "Fear Factor" policy? How about an over-60 competition in floor exercise? Let's see which yellow-jacketed security guard can knock down more clay pigeons in target shooting.

Where's the passion? There's very little from the participants, unless you count that Japanese swimmer who yelled to the point of annoyance after beating Brendan Hansen in the breaststroke. The U.S. men's basketball team, in addition to being composed of horrible shooters and indifferent defenders, is on vacation. They can't wait to get to the pool.

Even the winners are only moderately contented. Expectations for people such as Michael Phelps are so stratospheric that failure is the only possibility. There was no earthly way he could exceed expectations, since the expectations called for eight gold medals.

(The Greek synchronized divers who took gold were a nice diversion, but that event is just a little too weird. And the weekend wasn't all humorless. After watching the U.S. women's gymnastics team, I was heartened to see that the old costume designer from "American Gladiators" has finally found meaningful work.)

At the current rate of depreciation, fun is going to be completely drained from the Olympics by 2012, when the opening ceremony tentatively calls for a six-hour procession of blank white framed canvases representing the competing concepts of vast possibility and vast nothingness.

This Week's List

  • Two months ago, the suggestion alone would have provoked calls for drug testing: Everyone now seems to agree that some non-marketable NBA player -- Kyle Korver, Anthony Peeler, Fred Hoiberg -- would look pretty good busting up a foreign zone.

  • I know it sounds nutty, but wouldn't the Olympics in Athens be considered a prime vacation destination?: Bob Costas attempted to explain away the seas of empty seats in the various venues by informing us that the Greeks traditionally take vacations at this time of year.

  • Taking a play right out of the Jeff Kent playbook ... : Suspended Greek sprinters Konstantinos Kenteris and Katerina Thanou might or might not have been in a minor vehicle accident, and reports vary on whether Kenteris fell while washing his car.

  • Best sight of the Olympics: Amanda Beard's amazing eyes.

  • It was probably the Croatia-Slovenia team handball game that brought me to a stark observation: There is a good portion of the Olympic coverage that makes me feel like I'm watching ESPN late-night programming from the early '80s.

  • If this were baseball, somebody'd throw at him just on general principle: How long before the main story line in every one of golf's major tournaments is something other than "Tiger Doesn't Win Again"?

  • It's hard enough to watch without having to listen to someone who sounds like Grandma shriek into the crowd mike: As you've undoubtedly noticed, the most annoying aspect of the television coverage of the Olympics is that woman who screams instructions to the U.S. female gymnasts during each of their routines.

  • Existential question of the week: If television did not exist, would there be such a thing as women's beach volleyball?

  • And finally, just for the heck of it: Pankration.

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