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Saturday, September 1, 2007

The title of Olympian ...

Olympic qualification is the topic once again.

Olympic qualification for the USA in men's and women's basketball is
something that most sports fans take for granted.

Much the same way we feel about our "National Pastime" and the USA's
participation in the Olympic baseball tournament, right?


"Wait a minute?"

"We didn't qualify for Baseball?"

That was 2004, right?

There's no "crying out loud failure to qualify in Baseball," exclaimed Tom Hanks. How is that possible?

You mean, in 2012, there is no Baseball in the Summer Olympic Games?

"So, that means we must qualify for football, right," says our olympic
historian, citing the wonderful, TV ratings driven NFL?


No football at the Olympics, unless you want a three team round robin
between the USA, Canada and American Samoa. Not a bad idea as you can enter and guarantee your country's NGB a bronze, at least.

So, what else is there for the USA sports fan?

Car racing? Do all the people who voted for W in 2000 and 2004 have a
NASCAR Olympic team to root for?


Okay, golf?

Tiger can shake off the Ryder Cup "W and L" record and play for a little gold. And it can come right smack in the middle of the Fed Ex road to the Cup on your summer sports calendar.

No? No golf.

Lacrosse? International Fight League? Rodeo? Bass fishing?

Nada. But, try the X-Games.

So, actually, Olympic qualification is a pretty special thing. It is
something to treasure. It is something to respect. For most athletes in
scores of countries, including the USA, the title of Olympian is the most cherished title in all the sports land. The title of Olympian can never be taken away, unless the cream and the clear police track you down.

The title of Olympian provides for entry to a club membership that cannot be bought by a scratch golfer/CEO or even Donald Trump. It allows you entry to the Olympic Opening ceremony, a moment that brings the most decorated athletes to their knees in awe. In awe of something much bigger than their trophies or bank accounts.
Something a lot bigger than all of us.

I have a special memory and story to tell about the Brazilian Men's
basketball team and their participation in the 1992 Tournament of the

Remember now, the US men's team in 1992 was in the exact same situation the current USA team finds itself in today. The Dream Team HAD TO QUALIFY for Barcelona. Rewind back to 1988 (Seoul) and an Olympic bronze by John Thompson's crew and 1990 (World Championship) where a Coach K led team of studs fell to then-Yugoslavia. That loss put the USA into the qualification process for 1992.

But, the Brazilians with the Great Oscar Schmidt worked their way through the Portland-based Tournament of the Americas only to find themselves "on the bubble" for qualification to play in Barca.

A win over Puerto Rico placed Brazil in third place with an impressive 5-1 record and a fourth straight Olympic tournament for Oscar.

The Brazilians ran to the media phones to phone home to communicate their success. The Brazilians danced in the halls of the Portland Memorial Coliseum and a colleague of mine, Josh, taught me just how important it was for those guys and their country. For the Brazilians, draped in their flags, it wasn't about the Dream Team and Larry and Magic. It was about their goal to punch a couple plane tickets to get to Barcelona later that summer.

It was about the fact, they became Olympians.

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