Buying into Olympic hype

No more front-page photos of the tattered American flag that flew at ground zero.

No more polls of overwhelmingly wrong guesses that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani would light the cauldron.

And no more figure skating drama – at least for another four years.

The 2002 Winter Olympics are finished. You may now return to your regularly scheduled lives. And Tom Brokaw can stop wearing that ugly purple sweater and hideous red vest.

More than once I’ve been called less than patriotic. But my love for America has nothing to do with my disinterest in the Olympics. In fact, it’s because of my respect for this country that I hate to see the beginning of what inevitably happens after the Olympic cauldron has been extinguished: the exploitation and commercialization of heroes.

Have you eaten your Wheaties lately? If not, there’s not much time left before the picture of an Olympic favorite from Salt Lake is slapped on its boxes. In 1996, it was track and field star Michael Johnson. Next to the image of Johnson, in the midst of his Olympic glory, was the cereal’s signature slogan, “The Breakfast of Champions!”

I guess that’s to be expected from this General Mills product that has a reputation for capitalizing on sports greats.

Office Depot was certainly no stranger during this year’s winter games. Its Olympic-themed “experts” commercials may have tried to drop subtle Olympic tid- bits along the way, but I found the double-take intro at the start of each of its commercials annoying. If I wanted to know how curling got started, I’d log onto or and ask the “Olympic expert.” Between those two sites, I learned more about skeleton than I wanted.

What I worry about most now that the games have ended is that someone new to Olympic stardom, like Sarah Hughes, will lose sight of what it means to be an Olympic champion.

Hughes wasn’t expected to even make it to the platform. And with Michelle Kwan favored in her category, Hughes said during a post-event interview that skating for gold wasn’t a goal. Therein lies the beauty of the Olympics. A one-time metal-mouth teen from Great Neck, New York, can move through the ranks from No. 4 to No. 1 and leave an international audience stunned.

It’s a word that seems to fit the most memorable moments of this year’s Winter Olympics. Just ask Australian Steven Bradbury.Bradbury was so far removed from the possibility of obtaining a medal, even he had trouble believing the results of his short-track speed skating competition. The Australian could only say, “I don’t know what happened.” Bradbury went from trailing his opponents to being the last man standing and in the most-coveted place at the Olympics – the gold medalist spot.

When it’s all said and done, and Salt Lake is left once again barren of its Olympic hype, it’s not the Wheaties box I’ll turn to for a reminder of the 2002 games. Instead, I’ll remember the tales of the true Olympians, such as Hughes and Bradbury. I’ll think about the upset that Hughes gave to Kwan. I’ll think about Bradbury’s thoughts when he realized he was the first to cross the finish line – “My God. I think I won.” And I’ll trust that future Olympians will keep in mind that million-dollar endorsements may come and go. But the chance to call yourself an Olympian is an experience that should never be cheapened.

  • Kevin Graham is The Oracle editor in