Is there a better story than Nastia Liukin winning the Gold medal in the all-around? Her parents are former Soviet gymnasts who fled the country at their first opportunity. The kid looks Russian and sounds so American. They chose to be Americans to determine their own lives and their daughter honored their adopted country. Bela Karolyi has been honoring his country since his defection here in the early 1980s. I can think of no better contrast between an American-by-choice and a born-American than Bela Karolyi cheering Nastia in the studio next to an uncomfortable Bob Costas.
What’s impressive is that she won despite the bias against her. It was obvious in the first two rotations that the Chinese team only needed to show up to get a score whereas every slight American error was compounded in the minds of the judges. The uneven bars were a big frustration. And yet Nastia and Shawn Johnson came back and nailed the horse and the floor and even the judges couldn’t stop them.
I didn’t see the team Gymnastics event, but I read the stories of how the suspected gamesmanship from the Chinese. My friend Sean -- the citizen of the world guy -- felt that it was wrong of them to complain, but as I pointed out, the real mistake was allowing a totalitarian country to host the Olympics. Why should we think that they believe in any measure of equity? Oh sure, the country jails bloggers and blackmails Yahoo, but they’re choir boys when it comes to running sporting events.
Now China did a fine job with opening ceremonies, the facilities look great, and the Chinese athletes have been much more gracious than the Soviets of old, but they haven’t earned the honor. Yes we do business with them, but like that scene in Godfather II where the old guy tells Michael – “Your father did business with Hyman Roth, but your father never trusted Hyman Roth!” You invite them to the Olympics so that their people can get a glimpse of freedom, but you don’t reward a country with full membership to the International community until they respect the rights of their own citizens.
One more thing on gymnastic scoring . . . How does a person with a daughter stand it? The kids have been doing gymnastics since they could walk and it all comes down to some anti-American bias. I think it would be my tendency to push them toward a sport with an objective winner.
But what makes the Olympics great is that we get to meet such great Americans. You certainly don’t meet them in the media. And you wouldn’t even meet them now except NBC paid a ton of money to televise the Olympics and can only make that money back by showcasing American contests. I can almost hear crotchety old Frank Deford bemoaning it on his Wednesday NPR segment.