<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
...and I saw Carl Lewis last weekend!
Traveled down south to Atlanta last weekend in unexpected circumstances. Looking up the events section of the newspaper, I was delighted to find that the 10th anniversary celebration of the Atlanta Olympics was slated for that evening at Centennial Park. Carl Lewis and Janet Evans were expected to grace the occasion with their presence.
I first heard of Carl Lewis when the Sportstar splashed a few pictures of him in its coverage of the 1983 Track and Field World Championships in Helsinki. Carl had won 3 golds. (The peerless PT Usha set Jakarta afire in 1985, when she won 6 medals, 5 of them gold in the Asian Track & Field championships). Having missed the 1980 Moscow Olympics due to the boycott, a lot was expected from him in his first Games at Los Angeles 1984.
It was a summer evening in '84 that I was seated outside the house with Appa. Rajaram reading the AIR news announced that Carl Lewis had won the 100m in 9.99 seconds. Appa snapped his fingers ten times and remarked that Lewis would have finished the race within that time frame. It was the most convincing win ever in the Olympic 100m - 0.2 secs ahead of 2nd place and finishing 3rd was a certain Ben Johnson! He went on to win 3 more golds. (Elsewhere, the North Carolina kid Michael Jordan averaged 17 pts a game to help win the basketball gold, 15 year old Steffi Graf and 17 year old Stefan Edberg won the tennis singles finals. Atlanta boy Evander Holyfield won a bronze in boxing).
The visit was definitely a lot fulfilling than the dozen or more previous occasions when I visited ATL downtown. The place reminds you a lot about Colaba in Bombay. Those high-rise buildings along Marietta Street(a wag I know from Chennai who used to tamilize places in US would call it 'Maariyaatha Street') leading to CNN; the building of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the city's best known newspaper, resembles the Times of India office in Bombay. Even to the extent of pigeons hopping around on the sidewalk.
The anniversary show was emceed by NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, the voice of the Olympics. A few folks of the US Olympic Committee, the ex-Mayor and a few of the Organising Committee made token speeches. Expectedly, much of it bordered on American jingoism, the we-showed-the-world phrase was freely thrown around. Videos clips were splashed upon a giant screen to recollect the significant events leading to the '96 Games - IOC chief Samaranch announcing Atlanta's victory bid in September '90 which was followed on a big screen downtown by a huge crowd. I had a little grievance - the centennial olympics should have gone to Athens, the disgruntled Greeks had complained that the choice of venue was dictated by commercial interests rather than tradition, Coca Cola Olympics
, they called it. Billy Payne who brought the Olympics to Atlanta showed up on stage. More chest-thumping followed. The video flashbacks were disappointing - it had lots of vignettes about the city and barely 30 seconds of sporting action. Costas was the redeeming feature - the guy mentioned the memorable moments such as Michael Johnson blazing down the track in golden shoes, beating the 200m world record, Kerri Strug the gymnast who battled injury sustained on the ring, Marie Jose-Perec's twin golds, Dan O'Brien the great decathlete returning to win gold, Carl Lewis winning a 4th consecutive long jump gold at age 35...it was pathetic they didnt even screen a tiny clip of these magic moments. The American public sucks in statistics, they're not exactly like the Chepauk audience.
Mohammed Ali appeared on screen, struggling to light the flame. The audience broke into applause. Actually, only "certain" sections of the audience. How come none of you mention what Ali did to the gold he won?
, I thought. The free and the brave indeed! Not long back it was the land of the enslaved and the moral cowards, rather. Of course, there are a lot many positive things today that the world can learn from. The screen showed a couple of clips concerning the bomb explosion at a Centennial park concert during the Olympics. It took one life and injured a few. A moment's silence was observed. The explosion was the handiwork of a loony anti-abortion activist. Thankfully he wasn't one of the 9/11 guys and more jingoism was spared.
Janet Evans the swimming champ who took the Olympic torch into the Stadium(now Turner Field) appeared looking very cheerful and nostalgic. Immediately after, it was the turn of the man himself. Carl Lewis sauntered to the podium welcomed with a so-so round of applause. Heck, I was expecting the kind of noise Wankhede Stadium makes when Tendulkar walks in to bat. Disappointing, considering that Lewis is an Alabama boy and a Southerner. Anyway I was reminded of the Sportstar commenting "Mere rantings of an egotist athlete", when Lewis released his book sometime round 1993. Expected more jingoism, but Lewis was refreshingly different and mellowed - didnt speak much, recalled his feelings when he walked out of the pit for the last time after winning the gold. He was very much toned down and didnt stay for more than a couple of minutes. Come on Costas, the dude who won 9 Olympics golds without resorting to drugs is here. For 2 years, he stayed quietly in Ben Johnson's shadow without doing anything wrong. Say something now and rouse the laidback audience
...Nothing happened. The legend retreated quietly. What a letdown. Goodbye, champ. Atleast he's well looked after despite the hype, whereas generally the converse holds true for the Indian sportsman.
Trisha Yearwood the multiple Grammy winner, went on stage for the next 45 minutes. Got bored to death. The much anticipated fireworks display followed. It was a darn good display, the sky lighting up in a myriad hues. The glitter of neon-lights and high-rise buildings added to the lustre. As an Olympic fan, the evening had something in it for me. As far as nationality and identification with sporting achievement go, this was the Olympics where Leander Paes played his heart out for the umpteenth time and won a bronze. The first individual medal by an Indian in 44 years. I wished I could visit the courts but they were located afar in the Stone Mountain Tennis Center in the suburbs.
All in all, an okay evening. Once the show ended, we disappeared into the CNN building across the street for a quick snack. The very office where my all-time favorite journo Anita Pratap worked.