Dave Hyde, [email protected]

http://ww w.sun-sentinel.com/sports/columnists/sfl-flspnuhyd e0803sbaug03,0,5608864.column
Aug 2 2008

Dara Torres going from Broward pools to Beijing gold at age 41? That
would be a defining Olympic moment. Sanya Richards making the final,
victorious strides back from a rare immune disease? That would be a
defining Olympic moment.

Then there's Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade hoping to help return
basketball gold to the United States. He might define the 2008 Beijing
Olympics, and South Florida's suddenly large involvement in them,
though to me the concept of the rich and famous like Wade becoming
more rich and more famous tramples the whole concept of the Games.

Naively, maybe childishly, I still embrace the Olympic ideal.

Its existence will be tested like never before in Beijing. There will
be positive drug tests of athletes and the over-commercialization
of sport. There will be too much hype, money and 30-second spots
between competitions.

Above all will be the story of China. What is it? Who is it? Should
the celebration of sport be sent to such a closed and authoritative
and, well, fascinating society?

But above the skepticism and potential stench should be something
athletic to admire if you care to look for it. South Florida, again,
is part of this story in a big way, with more than 50 athletes and
coaches connected to this area headed to Beijing.

Look at Jevon Tarantino, a diver, fittingly, from Olympic Heights
High School who worked as a full-time roofer to fuel his dream.

Look at Adler Volmar, a Haitian-American from Broward County still
holding fundraisers to pay for his judo hopes in Beijing.

Look at Walter Dix, the former Coral Springs sprinter who waited
to turn pro until he graduated from Florida State University and
now has a chance for three medals. An outside chance. But a chance
nonetheless. And isn't that what it's about?

There are the real Olympics. Or they have been through time. The
basketball and tennis pros might prove good for their sports, good
for conversation and especially good for sneaker companies' sales in
a coming country like China.

But the joy in any Olympics isn't found in discussing the pampered
and the immodest who live in suites and party at casinos. It's not
in spotlighting the suddenly and uncharacteristically loud Wade,
who is guaranteeing a gold medal and even suggesting how it should
be embraced back in America.

The best Olympic stories involve celebrating someone who isn't
much celebrated. It's Rulon Gardner beating the unbeatable Russian
wrestler. It's Kerri Strug gritting through a gymnastics routine. Most
of all it's about any story that shrinks the world just a bit.

The moment I fell in love with the Olympics was watching a skier
come down a snowy Norwegian mountain, crying in some incomprehensible
language, his dream apparently dead.

He was the first winter Olympian from Armenia, said the coach walking
beside him at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. And he trained, it came out,
on hand-me-down skis, a teacher's salary and a love of sports we can
all understand. That's what the Olympics still can be about on their
best days.

"To be here, he overcame money, equipment, the earthquake ...,"
his coach said.


"It crippled Armenia," he said. "No electricity. So no ski lifts to
take him up the mountain to train."

How did he train?

"He climbed four hours up the mountain every day. Then skied down."

For a sportswriter, every Olympics is like eating your way out of
an ice cream factory. It's good stories piled like double chocolate
chip on better ones. How could it not if an Olympic Heights roofer
like Tarantino shines? Or a St. Thomas Aquinas runner like Richards
overcomes an illness to win not just once by competing, but twice by
taking gold?

The Armenian skier initially wasn't allowed to compete because of some
red-taped Olympic regulation. It was sorted out, and he competed. He
finished last in the slalom.

In 146th place.

"The highlight of my life," he called it.

On its best days, the Olympics still can be that.