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RBJ Daily Edition 7-19-96

Buffalo Bills games? If you’ll excuse the cliche, been there, done that.
The Super Bowl? Thirty seconds after it starts, it’s just another football game (except that it has more TV timeouts and an interminable halftime show during which you could read “War and Peace”).
The World Series? Every autumn (yawn). However, about one minute after the first pitch, you can’t tell it from a three-game homestand in June. It’s a baseball game: spitting, scratching, etc.
The Stanley Cup? Great hockey. Intense to the Nth degree, but for some stupid reason only a hard-rubber puck could understand, the rules change. Result: No penalties are called unless someone commits Murder One in the first two minutes of each period.
And then there are the Olympics. The Summer Games start tomorrow in Atlanta. The Olympics is one of those rare arenas of competition where winning isn’t everything; it is next to nothing. Simply being part of the Games is honor enough. Winning a medal, gold or otherwise, is a bonus.
The beauty of the Games is those scenes forever recorded in our memories: swimmer Mark Spitz churning through the Olympic pool on his way to seven gold medals in 1976; the U.S. hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union in 1980; or Rochesterian Cathy Turner’s do-or-die outside pass on the last turn to win the 500 meters in short-track speed skating in 1992.
It will be years before the Bills are remembered for something other than losing four consecutive Super Bowls. Some football coach once said that finishing second doesn’t mean anything except that somebody beat you.
Not in the Olympics. A second-place finisher in an Olympic event is known forever as a silver medalist, not as someone who lost. And no one ever says of a non-medal winner, “Oh yeah, I remember him–he was an also-ran in the Olympics,” but rather, “I remember her–she was on the Olympic team back in . . .”
And that, folks, is what the Olympics is all about. There will be more than 10,000 athletes from almost 200 countries competing in Atlanta for the next two weeks. They are not motivated by money, although for a few Olympians there is considerable earnings potential after the Games.
Almost exclusively, these are amateurs with nothing to gain except the satisfaction of competing. In most of the sports, there is no money to be made once the Olympics are over. I mean, what’s Felicia Zimmermann going to do between Olympics, become a professional fencer? Ever hear of a free-agent synchronized swimmer holding out for a better contract? And as far as I know, there is no great demand for race-walkers.
Most professional athletes won’t walk across the street unless they are paid to do it, but even members of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, the Dream Team, don’t grouse about how they’re doing this for nothing. These are guys who could pool their resources and probably buy General Motors Corp., but in Atlanta they’re playing for their Uncle Sam.
There will be more than 170 hours of television coverage, but it is unfortunate that most of it will focus on the so-called glamour sports: track and field, swimming, basketball, boxing, etc. You and I will miss many of the vignettes of human drama that only the Olympics can provide.
In the grand scheme of things, though, the athlete’s real reward is being able to hold a grandchild someday and say, “I was on the Olympic team back in ’96.” And in sports, I’m not sure it gets any better than that.
(You can read Rick Woodson’s column every Friday in the Daily Edition of the Rochester Business Journal and hear him every Tuesday night at 8 on 1370 Sports Connection on WXXI-AM 1370.)

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