The People's Voice digs out from Athens

Dan Wetzel

My columns from the Olympics brought in more than 15,000 emails. Weeding them down wasn't easy. We previously learned that the BCS, Bob Knight and Pete Rose brought in letters, but nothing compares to Middle East politics.

I'd like to thank everyone from all over the world who wrote me – at least 25 countries checked in. As always my responses are in italics.

Now on to The People's Voice …

RUSSIAN GOLD ("Shared pain, shared values" August 28, 2004)

I would just like to comment that I found your words describing the impact of terrorism on the Olympics and the world to be both insightful and powerfully sensitive. At a time when the legacy we are preparing for the youth is laced with terror and horror, it is good to hear words that cause introspection and empathy. Well done.

W. Fred Bowen
Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia

My praise for the Russian teams, to stand tall and brave against the terrorist may have been the hardest thing they have ever done but they have the keen awareness of how to beat them … to grow stronger and not let anything or anyone tear them down. I as an American join them in their efforts to be strong!

These terrorist are such fools don't they know they only make such countries and nations grow stronger in a united front! So congratulations to our saddened partners in this terrible tragedy for continuing and showing your pride and bravery!

Jayne Kowal
Port Jervis, N.Y.

WOMEN'S SOCCER ("The sincerest form of flattery" August 26, 2004)

Great column on the U.S. women's soccer team's impact on the rest of the world. You reminded people of what they always seem to forget: Today's winners are the models for the future. Well-written and right on target.

Mary Ann Evans
Houston, Texas

Instead of the Fab Five why not the Fab Six? Unfortunately Mr. Wetzel you and many other media sports hounds who only focus on certain athletes have absolutely forgotten the goalkeeper, Briana Scurry.

Since 1995 Briana has been the solid rock minding the net. She is the most capped goalkeeper in U.S. women's soccer history. Yet the focus is on women of the team who bring the most attention.

Eric Lallana
San Diego, Calif.

If it weren't for Briana Scurry, the United States would have lost the gold-medal game. She was the most valuable player on the field. She has been a classy, star contributor for this team for years. The problem is, the Fab Five all played in the inaugural 1991 Women's World Cup. Scurry and other key players did not, hence the distinction.

MEN'S BASKETBALL ("Game over" August 18, 2004)

I think you are misjudging Larry Brown. He has highest regard for the Olympics and is very afraid his team isn't up to playing the international game at the Olympic level.

I think he believes his team has a tendency to become uncoachable when they win and is trying to head that off.

He coaches ALL the time, even in press conferences. If they listen to him, and work the ball in, and take better shots, and share the ball, they still have a chance for a medal.

Alan Jacquemotte
Detroit, Mich.

The differences in opinion between the U.S. and in Athens surrounding our men's team is striking. Back in the States most of the media criticized the players, decried the culture of the NBA and praised Brown.

But if you were there, you saw the effort and attitude of the players was mostly commendable. There was no public complaining and little finger pointing. The main pouter was Larry Brown who ripped his players, played on stereotypes and acted like he didn't select the team. It worked to win over the public back home, but was so distasteful for USA Basketball that they trotted David Stern out to rebuff it.

I got drilled by about a thousand fans for taking this opinion of Brown, but my mind hasn't changed a bit. I saw and heard what I saw and heard.

Larry is right on all counts. The NBA is just a bunch of egotistical ME-oriented players who do not have any idea what it takes to play a team game. Just try to watch any NBA game and the proof is there. I used to love basketball when Larry, Magic and Michael were playing. Passing, shooting and defense were art forms. Now we watch people run up and down the court trying to out slam-dunk the opposition.

We would have been better off if we would have just sent the Detroit Pistons to the Olympics. Or the Connecticut Huskies.

Shawn Bishop
Murfreesboro, Tenn.

As I was saying. … Sending a championship team is a popular suggested solution, but it wouldn't work. You can't send the NBA champs because not all the players are American, and some who are don't want to go. Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton turned invites down. As for sending the NCAA champs, please. It is just absurd. I love the 2004 UConn championship team, but it wouldn't have won a single game in Athens. Even Angola would have dusted the Huskies by 20.

I'm in the military and serve my country in Afghanistan. I am tired of these overpriced whiners not wanting to represent their country. People are dying representing their country, and they can't even find time to represent their country by playing a damn game.

I wish someone can point this fact out … I'm not mad at the players who found time to play. I'm extremely angry at the non-players in the NBA who will joke about this team. At least these guys had enough pride to represent. SCREW the others.

Erik Grubel
Aiea, Hawaii

IRAQI SOCCER ("Iraq is the new dream team" August 15, 2004)

Good article about the Iraqi soccer team. I am currently working in Iraq as a police advisor. I have watched the Iraqi soccer team while standing next to both Kurds and Muslims of both sects. During these times they all agreed and took pride in their team. The Iraqi soccer team has done more for these people's pride than anything anybody else has done in a long time.

I am proud to say I am here with the Iraqis and am able to watch them bristle with pride about their team. They are also grateful for the chance to go to Athens as free men who, no matter the final outcome, will be heroes in their country and not shot for losing. That is the outcome under Saddam Hussein.

Michael Hayward
Baghdad, Iraq

I just wanted to compliment you for taking the time to recognize the beacon of hope that is the Iraqi soccer team. I firmly believe that the nation will rise out of its ashes into a bold new democracy, but you eloquently set all the politics aside and saw the team for the beauty of true sportsmanship that it is.

Todd Newman
Houston, Texas

As a U.S. soldier currently in Iraq I found your article on the Iraqi soccer team quite heartwarming. I'm so happy for the Iraqi soccer team and what it is doing for this country. I'm amazed at what they are doing in the Olympics and it is really nothing short of a miracle. Your article had me choking up repeatedly and I would like to thank you for putting your all into it.

PFC Harding
U.S. Army
Baghdad, Iraq

I just wanted to thank you as an Iraqi reader [for] your comment on our football team. The words you used are very attracting and emotional. We thank you for your support to our team and lovely country. We hope you all the best and hope you visit Baghdad one day when time allows.

Dhiaa Hussien
Baghdad, Iraq

MICHAEL PHELPS ("Plenty great" August 16, 2004)

Thank you so very much for your article about Michael. He is a neighbor, a friend and classmate of my son, and a wonderful kid. I am so frustrated that the media and the promoters put Michael into a position where bronze or silver aren't good enough. How many of us can say we have even one gold medal or one medal of any color?

Michael's goal was to win a gold and elevate the status of his sport. He has done both with flying colors and all of us in Towson are so very proud of him.

Kathryn Bojanowski
Baltimore, Md.

Outstanding column about the swimmer Phelps. The marketing hype set him up to be a loser from the moment he got off the plane in Athens. He is a winner, despite this, and many of us realize this. Thanks for putting it in writing!

Keith Mote
St. Louis, Mo.

IRANIAN BOYCOTT ("No place for hate" August 15, 2004)

Thank you for calling the IOC out for the shameful way in which they have dealt, rather not dealt, with the Iranians.

Many Americans wonder why Israel needs our support. They need look no further than this.

Of course, the Iranian judo "champ" could just have been scared that he would loose to a Jew … hmmm, sounds a lot like 1936.

Doug Scott
Denver, Colo.

I send you this from Iran and just think about this. Arash is one of our best sportsmen and he did a lot of exercises to catch [a] medal in Olympics, but it wasn't his choice to refuse the match … the Iranian government forced this athlete to do this.

Just keep this in your mind and then write about Iran. Never say 'Iran do this or [that].' Just write, 'The government of Iran does this.' Thanks a lot. Nice to meet you and excuse me for my bad English typing.

Tehran, Iran

Your article is a bit naive, ignorant and misleading. Here are your errors (probably done on purpose to mislead the reader, a very American way of reporting news no?)

1. Iran doesn't have a problem with competing with Jews; Iran has Jews of its own. I'm sure half of the American soccer team that lost to Iran in the France '98 World Cup was Jewish. Iran has a problem with competing with Israelis.

2. Didn't the entire American team of Athletes withdraw from the Olympics in the '80s because of political reasons? Oops, you messed up on that one, hypocrite.

3. Why is it that the world sympathized with Kuwait when Kuwait refused to compete with Iraqi athletes because of the Iraqi invasion that was illegal under international law?

Now, can I ask, isn't the Israeli invasion and occupation of Israel illegal under international law?

Darius Syrossian
Tehran, Iran

No nation should arrive at the Olympics and then pick and choose which competitions they enter based on politics. You are either in the games or you are not. I did not cover the Olympics involving the situation with Kuwait you describe. You'll have to trust me that my position would not waver.

If you want to boycott, as have the USA, Soviet Union and others, fine. But don't ruin the games with politics.

AFGHAN WOMEN ("Finally free to run" August 20, 2004)

It was a pleasure to read your story on the female Afghan runner. This story is one that shows a true glimmer of hope and pride for what the U.S. is sacrificing in the Middle East to provide a humane society. Even thought I disagree with some of what we have done in Afghanistan, stories like this make me proud of the American way!

Let's hear more stories like this and keep the smiles and pride rolling for the USA!

Ken Yeoh
Tampa, Fla.

Great article regarding the first female Afghan Olympian. Since you are interested in Afghan women's sports, I thought then that you would want to learn more about a nonprofit organization called the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange (AYSE). This year we sponsored an eight-player girls soccer team from Afghanistan for a sports leadership camp.

The goal of AYSE is to use sports as a tool to promote leadership among children in Afghanistan. The girls have returned to Afghanistan and will be working together to teach more young girls the sport of soccer.

If you would like more information please feel free to log onto the web site at

Awista Ayub
Founder - AYSE
Waterbury, Conn.

I don't know much about this group but it looks very legitimate. I am passing it along because many readers wrote in wondering how to help women athletes in Afghanistan and this sounds like a good idea.

MIA HAMM ("The retiring type" August 22, 2004)

Fantastic article. I am 34 and remember in 1984 when I figured out that cheerleading was a more "appropriate" activity than softball in high school. I am so relieved that my 7- year-old daughter has idols like Mia Hamm who show that it is OK to kick butt as a girl.

Sonja Bramer
Atlanta, Ga.

GREECE ("My big, fat Greek adventure" August 29, 2004)

I'd like to say to the many, many Greeks who wrote in that this column was largely a joke. Trust me: Everyone in the United States saw it as the pathetic ramblings of an ignorant, homesick American. Most people in the U.S. got it. People elsewhere seemed confused why the name Dick Pound is funny.

In short, I love Greece and I recommend to the entire world to take a vacation to its islands. Seriously.

You are almost a mentally challenged person, aren't you? And I say "almost" because you seem to fail in that area as well. Konstantinos Tsiogas
Athens, Greece

Now that is a funny line.

Good thing the Greeks gave us democracy otherwise you could be hurt for speaking like an idiot.

George Karahalios
Nafplion, Greece

If you think the hill with the Acropolis is breathtaking, go to an Athenian beach and check out the unfettered hills. You'll need a cold shower afterwards.

Jeff Murray
Fort Worth, Texas

Indeed, Greece has many beautiful natural resources.

My wife and I went to Italy last fall to celebrate our anniversary, and I challenge you on the chain-smoking issue. The Italians, never ones to concede anything to the Greeks, would certainly medal, if not win the gold. They (the Italians) even smoke while eating. I don't mean pause from dinner to enjoy a smoke, I mean "double fisting" with a fork in one hand, cig in the other, child on lap.

Jay Gibson
Zionsville, Ind.

Wonderful. Guess which country hosts the 2006 Winter Games?

I don't think your comments about Athens are fair. The attendance was good, better than Sydney … The fans were cheering all the time and everybody had fun. You should point out the good things too. Maybe you had too much (ouzo) or ate one too many souvlaki when you were writing these comments.

Kostas Kon
Athens, Greece

I'll say this for Greece. The Heineken was tremendous, the food great, the scenery (especially Mt. Olympia) and weather wonderful. And for the most part, the people were terrific. I am actually starting to miss the place. I may begin a worldwide tourism campaign.

Greece: A heck of a place to get lung cancer.