Torch or Torture?

The Greeks may have their hands full for the Olympics.

You gotta hype something, so NBC has been promoting the favored U.S. woman gymnasts: a Carly, a Chellsie and two Courtneys who, put together, weigh less than Rulon's severed toe. The attentive NBC viewer can also hear the word "volleyball" being uttered, and the Williams sisters -- Serena and Venus -- assure us that they have new outfits ready for Olympic tennis. Don't expect, say, Pakistan to put up much of a fight, and the Williams kids are sure to out-dress them, too. Some of our boxers will probably kick ass before turning pro and selling their souls to Don King, and Gardner's long-anticipated rematch with Russian behemoth Alexander Karelin could produce a major tremor on Crete.

Otherwise, official advisors to American team members have warned all 550 of them not to wave the U.S. flag during medal celebrations, or to indulge in any other kind of jingoist antic. The Iraq war has sensitized other nations to U.S. political imagery, and it simply won't do to dump a keg of Molson into a storm sewer or burn Jacques Chirac in effigy. Of course, imposing emotional restraint on any high-strung athlete who's given years of sweat and blood for one moment of glory is like telling Rusty Wallace to take it easy down the backstretch at the Daytona 500. Look for some new and highly original modes of personal expression in Athens.

Will it all go well? Can it? The optimistic Greeks think so, and they're sticking to their story. Meanwhile, the worst-case American scenario -- short of a bloodbath, anyway -- has been dreamed up by no less an Olympic figure than Mark Spitz, the peerless American swimmer who won seven medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics. As Spitz sees it, any verifiable terrorist threat at the Games could provoke the U.S. team to withdraw -- even at the last moment. Sound implausible? Maybe, but Spitz was in the Olympic Village back in '72 when Black September terrorists slaughtered eleven Israelis. He heard the chatter and absorbed the ambient fear.

Mike Gorman

NBC, too, must have that nightmare in the back of its corporate mind -- no American team, no viewership -- but the darkest thought of all has to be that TV ratings here will shoot up if something horrible does happen at the Olympics and we're all compelled to watch it live. Let's not go any further with that one, though. Let's get that one out of our heads right now, okay? Instead, let's start putting the guest list together for that big party on the night of the team handball finals.

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