Wednesday, August 25, 2004

This year's Olympics: Chauvinist's nightmare


By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

ATHENS - Women. Can't live with 'em. Would be fighting Japan and Australia in the medal count without 'em.

The barstool cranks who scowl at girls on the balance beam and think the WNBA is a four-letter word better turn off the television this month. Or keep it tuned to NASCAR.

Here at the Olympics, it's a chauvinist's worst nightmare. The American women are on a roll. Especially in team sports. Show me a juggernaut, and I'll show you a ponytail.

In baseball, the men didn't even qualify to come.

In softball, the women flattened the field like they were the 1927 Yankettes. What do you call a team that outscores the opposition 51-1? Murderess' Row.

In basketball, the men shoot badly, pass poorly, defend sporadically and struggle to get past Greece and Australia.

The women slice apart defenses with a paring knife of an offense and blow through their first five opponents by an average of 29 points a game.

In soccer, there is no men's team. The women play Thursday for the gold, a last encore for the Mia Hamm generation.

The macho mats at wrestling? The first two American medalists were a theater major named Sara and a law student named Patricia.

Even karma seems to understand what has been happening. In gymnastics, Paul Hamm keeps winning medals and then having to answer questions about judging brouhahas. He has seen more storms this week than Doppler radar.

Carly Patterson wins the women's all-around, and the only objection is from one pouting Russian.

Not that we can't find an Olympic sport where the American male public is nearly universally enthused about female participation. But man does not live by beach volleyball alone.

By the way, the women went gold-bronze on the beach. The men lost to that sandcastle empire, Switzerland.

As of Tuesday night, the U.S. men had won 37 medals, the women 31. The difference could be explained in two words: Michael Phelps.

You can tick off several factors, and swear on a stack of Title IXs they are true. Baseball uses no major-leaguers. Men's soccer has an age limit.

"The reason is easy," women's basketball coach Van Chancellor said. "For our team, the best players choose to come. The men don't."

Or maybe just more girls are serious about playing the games. Whatever. It must take some adjustment back home, clicking on the Olympics and finding the most intimidating and ferocious weapons in the U.S. camp with names such as Brandi, Crystl and Lisa.

Plus, the American women have been staying out of the messy mishaps the Olympics seem to produce.

Take Australia. The Aussies had such a nasty spat among their women's rowing crew - when two members publicly shredded a third for giving out late in a race - they all appeared at a news conference Tuesday to make up.

Among the questions was if one would ask the other to her wedding. She said she would.

Or the Russians, painfully and colorfully recounting how shot putter Irina Korzhanenko had lost her gold medal because of a failed drug test, despite the sternest warnings to all their athletes.

"There is a saying in the Wild West," Russian anti-doping official Nikolay Durmanov said. "Nice words can provide miracles. But nice words with a gun can provide more miracles."

Apparently, it's a hot subject back in Moscow. "This is not politically correct," Durmanov said, "but now we have a new Hiroshima."

Meanwhile, the skies have been red, white and mostly blue for the American lasses.

So here's the choice. They are women, watch them roar. Or crumple the beer can and turn to preseason football.

And there's even more sobering news for the cynics: Synchronized swimming is under way.

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