SPORTS: Phelps, good; Iraqi soccer team, bad; gymnastics, ugly

MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)--Compelling stories always abound at the Olympics, and the more I watch of this year’s Games in Athens, the more engrossed I become.

Although several athletes and performances so far came to mind as potential fodder, and with apologies to Clint Eastwood, I’ve chosen three as the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

Michael Phelps established himself as the most dominant athlete at this year’s Olympics and possibly in the history of the games. He won eight medals, tying the record for the most-decorated athlete in one Olympics.

But on Saturday, Aug. 21, Phelps did something that was possibly more impressive than winning eight medals -- he gave up his spot on the men’s 4x100 medley relay to Ian Crocker.

Phelps had rightfully earned a spot on the team, but he wanted to give Crocker a chance to redeem himself. Crocker hadn’t performed up to his potential in previous events, and Phelps said he knew Crocker was capable of swimming better. Crocker didn’t disappoint. He played a vital part of the team’s record-setting, gold medal performance.

Phelps still earned a medal for the relay team, even though he didn’t swim, because he did participate in the preliminaries. But although he got a medal, he didn’t get the glory, and he didn’t get the team’s world record. Obviously that didn’t matter to Phelps, who was cheering boisterously for his comrades from the sidelines.

His gesture was a selfless act that had to mean a lot to Crocker. So while Phelps was busy in Athens showing the world how great of a swimmer he is, he also demonstrated that he’s just as good a person.

The Bad

This honor goes to the Iraqi soccer team. On one hand, the surprise performance of the Iraqis could be classified in the category above. But the minute some of the Iraqi teammates began criticizing President Bush, it changed my opinion of them completely.

“How will he meet his God having slaughtered so many men and women?” midfielder Ahmed Manajid said about Bush. “He has committed so many crimes.”

Memo to the Iraqi soccer team: If it weren’t for Bush, you’d still be under the rule of a murderous tyrant. Maybe the war in Iraq hasn’t gone as smoothly as both Americans and Iraqis hoped. But it did result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein and his sons, and the Iraqi soccer players ought to be a little more grateful to Bush for changing their lives for the better.

The Ugly

The clear-cut winner is the gymnastics judging debacle on not one, but two separate occasions.

First there was the controversy over whether Paul Hamm actually should have won the gold medal in the men’s All-Around competition. Then in the high bar event, after wrongfully giving Russia’s Alexei a lower score than he deserved, the judges changed their scores when the fans in attendance boisterously protested. What a joke.

This is a good argument why events like gymnastics, diving and figure skating aren’t as legitimate as other sports. Yes, the athletes who participate and compete are extremely talented. I’m not taking anything away from them. But anytime an event’s outcome is based solely on the subjective scoring of judges, it tarnishes that sport’s credibility.

Tim Ellsworth’s column appears each week in BPSports, on the Web at; his weblog is at

Download Story