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Sparrowhawk
08-30-04, 09:17 AM
Awarding two marathon golds is the only answer


COMMENTARY
By Mike Celizic
MSNBC
Updated: 7:59 p.m. ET Aug. 29, 2004ATHENS, Greece - Iím not sure Iím the last person who would ever award a duplicate medal to somebody who didnít win an event, but there are more people ahead of me on that list than there are behind me.


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Loonies in skirts are not part of the vagaries of life and sports
Cornelius Horan, right, a defrocked Irish priest, grabs Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil as he leads the men's marathon Sunday. Lima was delayed several seconds by the attack and appeared to have been injured. He finished third.



Basically, I donít believe in it. When you go around giving duplicates to everybody who had a bit of bad luck, you turn competition into an elementary school sports festival in which anyone who can fasten the Velcro on his or her shoes gets a gold medal and a certificate of participation suitable for attaching to the front of the refrigerator. If everybody wins, why bother running the race?

But there are rare times when awarding two golds is the only fair recourse. Sundayís Olympic marathon is one of them.

Vanderlei de Lima deserves a duplicate in the marathon for the same reason a halfback streaking down the sideline who is tackled by someone running onto the field from the opposing bench is awarded a touchdown.

Live Vote
Would Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima have won the Olympic marathon if he hadn't been attacked by a fan?




De Lima had a clear shot at the goal and it was taken away from him. No one can say whether he would have won or not if nothing had happened, but neither can anyone deny that what happened to him damaged and perhaps crippled his chances.

With three miles to go, de Lima was leading the most grueling of races and a signature event of the games. Suddenly, a man dressed in a skirt with a sign on his back advertising his dedication to incomprehensible grammar, ran into the road and took de Lima into the crowd on the other side of the street.

The assailant, Cornelius Horan, who may or may not have thought he was in Comiskey Park where such behavior was part of the ambience, turned out to be a defrocked Irish priest. And since he couldnít wear a frock, he went with a cute, red schoolgirl kilt.

Spectators and police pried de Lima out of the clutches of the Irishman who has a history of doing this at sporting events, apparently because he believes the world is about to end and if he didnít disrupt the Olympic marathon now, he might never have another chance. Somehow, the $1.5 billion that went towards security for the Games didnít cover checking airline passenger lists for serial disrupters such as Horan.

De Lima didnít lose the lead during the incident, but he would about a mile later when he was overtaken by the eventual winner, Italian Stefano Baldini, and silver medalist, Meb Keflezighi of the United States. The man from Brazil finished third.

Afterwards, de Lima, who handled the insult to his aspirations with uncommon grace and dignity, said, ďI was scared, because I didnít know what could happen to me, whether he was armed with a knife, a revolver, or something and whether he was going to kill me. Thatís what cost me the gold medal.Ē

But he ran to the finish line smiling and waving and crossed it blowing kisses to the cheering crowd in the old Panathenaic Stadium where the marathon ended, just as it did 108 years ago at the first Modern Games.

ďIt was a very difficult incident because I was very concentrated, knowing I was going to win, and it cut my rhythm,Ē de Lima said, adding, ďI managed to finish, and the bronze medal in such a difficult marathon is also a great achievement.Ē

The Brazilians filed an almost immediate appeal asking for a duplicate gold. The International Olympic Committee declined to honor that reasonable request. Instead, it gave de Lima a medal designating exceptional sportsmanship and Olympic spirit named for the founder of the Modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

Iím sure itís a very nice medal, but the way to show exceptional sportsmanship and the Olympic spirit would be to give de Lima a gold medal.

Despite what he said, itís impossible to say he would have won the race had Horan not intercepted him and knocked him off course. De Lima didnít say he was hurt, but he said he was scared and confused, two emotions that are not conducive to maintaining the tunnel vision marathoners need. He also lost perhaps eight valuable seconds of his lead.

The Italian and American, who had been as much as 46 seconds behind de Lima, were closing in on him at the time. Both felt they would have reeled in the Brazilian no matter what had happened.

But weíll never know what the result would have been had the race gone without incident. All we know is that someone attacked de Lima on the course and he lost.

Road races are fraught with mischance. A runner can slip or turn an ankle. He can miss a water station and later cramp up because of it. Winds can blow grit in his eyes. A tree limb could even fall on him. But all of those events are what golfers call rub of the green and the rest of us explain with the phrase ďstuff happens.Ē

The vagaries of chance are part of life and part of competition. But loonies in skirts running out of the crowd to make a statement that even they donít understand arenít bad luck. Theyíre outside agents.

All any runner asks is a fair chance, and de Lima never got that. He might have won. He might have finished third anyway. Weíll never know.

In football, he would have been given the goal line. The Olympics should do no less. Baldini won a gold medal. And de Lima deserves one.

Mike Celizic writes regularly for NBCSports.com and is a freelance writer based in New York.

Sparrowhawk
08-30-04, 09:27 AM
Marathoner embodies
Olympic spirit
De Lima proof that some athletes still
care about competing, not just winning
Brazil's Vanderlei de Lima, who would have won the gold medal in the men's marathon if not for a spectator's attack, embodies the true Olympic spirit, writes the Washington Post's Mike Wise.
COMMENTARY
By Mike Wise

Updated: 12:28 a.m. ET Aug. 30, 2004ATHENS, Greece - Vanderlei de Lima is not a big man. At 5 feet 5, he is two feet shorter than Yao Ming, the tallest Olympian. At 119 pounds, he is 231 pounds lighter than Iranian weightlifter Hossein Rezazadeh, the world's strongest man.

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But the little Brazilian marathoner who careered into Panathinaiko Stadium on the last night of the Athens Games represents nothing more than the largest Olympic ideal left: That man can still run the great race of the ancients and finish with resilience and heart. That no matter how many frighteningly dangerous ó and flat-out bizarre ó modern hurdles come your way, human majesty does not crumble as easily as Grecian columns and some Olympic values.

De Lima won the bronze medal in the marathon on Sunday night, beginning in the town by the same name, following a steep, treacherous course where, legend says, Pheidippides carried the news in 490 B.C. that the Greeks had defeated the Persians ó after which he promptly dropped dead.




The Brazilian was leading the race when a deranged protester from Ireland, imprisoned for running on a Grand Prix racing track in England a little more than a year ago, accosted de Lima and forced him off the course, onto the adjacent sidewalk and into a crowd with about three miles to go. Stunned beyond belief, his rhythm shaken for maybe six seconds, de Lima gathered himself and somehow continued.

"It was a great, big surprise," de Lima said through a Portuguese interpreter. "Someone simply attacked me with his whole body. He simply hurled himself in front of me.

"But I think the Olympic spirit prevailed again. My determination prevailed again. I was able to medal for myself and my country."

Two men caught him, gold medalist Stefano Baldini and American Meb Keflezighi, the silver medalist. De Lima, who thought he could have won gold, did not care. He would finish.

Wasn't that the sole mission 2,500 years ago, before the death of amateurism, before the Games became big and fat but clearly not Greek?

Spiridon Louis did not have anybody blocking his path in 1896, the year the modern Games were founded and a shepherd from outside Athens won the marathon. But then, Queen Mary II was not a floating, five-star hotel carrying multimillionaire basketball players; she was merely a royal born in 1662. Michael Phelps's medals would have been heralded by his country in 1896 more than his bathing-suit company. News conferences were always held by nations, not the United States of Adidas.

In his introduction the first modern Games in 1896, Pierre de Coubertin drew on the old-fangled English schoolboy concept of physical education as a means to building character.


"In this reform physical exercise holds, in a certain manner, the fundamental basis as a means of ethical conduct," de Coubertin wrote. "This is the reestablishment, according to the needs of the present times, of one of the most noteworthy features of Greek civilisation; the contribution of the muscles to the work of moral education."

Muscles begetting morality. Foreign, no? Muscles getting us paid, perhaps. Muscles morphing into fame and sponsorship. But the notion of sport and competition as a fundamental way to build ethics and character has all but been discarded the past 25 years.

Amateurism as an ethic became so confining it gave way to sport as a living, and it spurred the advent of the truly modern Games. If Jim Thorpe's medals were taken away, Ian Thorpe's hardware is worth IOC-approved cash.

The more the Games evolve, on the contradictions go. Set foot in the sunken passageway of Ancient Olympia, to the return of competition after 1,600 years. Place your foot in the same grooved marble starting blocks as Leonidas of Rhodes. Touch the past ó before the grounds are desecrated by the women's shot put champion, popped for a drug test a few days later.

Another gold medal null and void, the Doping Arms Race escalates.

Track and field drew crowds of 70,000 to Olympic Stadium, the Greeks paying tribute to the classical athletic disciplines like few nations. But the cloud of steroids was omnipresent, and when the Games were done 22 athletes had either tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs or failed to show up for a test.

So many different Olympics now, so many different Olympians.

Time clocks officiate most competitions, judges run and ruin others, enough to make you want to divide the Games in two ó an objective Olympics and a subjective Olympics.

How can an NBA star such as Richard Jefferson, cooped up on a luxurious ocean liner ó telling his Athenian cab driver, Andreas Galos, he will pay his 150-Euro fine for driving in the illegal Olympic lanes to get him back to the boat by 5 a.m. on game night ó possibly be on the same Olympic team as Mariel Zagunis, a 19-year-old, bubbly kid from Beaverton, Ore., who claimed America's first fencing gold medal since 1904?

Zagunis will go on to Notre Dame, keep her NCAA eligibility and hope for a good life and a good job. Jefferson goes back home to amenities befitting a king, a life in which the Olympics is more of a footnote than a seminal life moment. Maybe we just have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that the Olympics are locked in a constant battle between the spirit of the ancients and the reality of the present.

The question is, then: Do they all find the same meaning? No. It's impossible, given their backgrounds and current stations in life. But neither do the spectators find the same meaning. We don't like ambiguity when it comes to the Olympics; we want something distilled and crystallized to embody the purity of sport. The IOC lives by this doctrine and yet always finds tripwires ó be it Kostas Kenteris, the Greek sprinter who was supposed to light the cauldron before he curiously decided to skip a drug test, or the unseemliness of an incompetent judge siphoning the spirit out of an entire sport of pixies and strong, little men.

And so you are left waiting for a moment, the night the little Brazilian with the big heart enters the old marble stadium the way Spiridon Louis did 108 years ago. You watch him come in, imitating a kite blowing in the wind, a human airplane, weaving, about to land on the last night in the last event of the Olympic Games. Hours after a man accosted him in the middle of competition, in the middle of a modern world's madness, he proudly wore an olive wreath on his crown ó just like the gods.

"It is a festive moment," de Lima said, explaining why he was so joyous when he entered the stadium. "It is a unique moment. Most athletes never have this moment, very few have the privilege to live such moments."

Vanderlei de Lima tells you with his resolve and smile that it is all right. He ran the great race of the past and overcame the most bizarre of modern hurdles ó not unlike the nation that held these Games. What a poignant and perfect finish for the old world, no?

Poor Pheidippides. At least his spiritual descendant lived to tell about it.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company