Jorge Terceiro and Renato Gomes.
These two names could, quite simply, be overlooked as just two more Olympic athletes competing in Beijing this summer. Judging by the immense amount of media speeding at us over international, interoceanic fiber-optic cable, it would be easy to skip over these two names. However, that would be a mistake -- whether you're a proponent or a critic of the Games.
Jorge and Renato, two Brazilians, put their indelible stamp on these Games on several levels. After losing their first two contests in Men's Beach Volleyball, Jorge and Renato faced a much more capable, far more experienced Netherlands team in Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil. The two Dutch players were expected to run over the 0-2 pairing of Jorge and Renato, but miraculously, even after a premature celebration at the end of the first game, they beat their Dutch opponents 2-0. The upset was so exciting and so unexpected that Renato ran into the stands and climbed to the top of the seating area and raised his arms in triumph basking under his country's flag. His country's flag, of course, was that of the Republic of Georgia.
Jorge Terceiro and Renato Gomes are both Brazilian-born volleyball players. They tried competing for the Olympics and the World Cup and various other international competitions on behalf of their native country but due to the fact that Brazil has so many talented men volleyball players, they were shot down and weren't able to compete. Enter Georgia.
Apparently, Georgia's representatives approached the teammates and asked them to represent Georgia. For a fee -- part of which was contingent on their success at the games in Beijing -- they agreed to represent Georgia. Their first step was to gain dual citizenship in Brazil and Georgia, which they accomplished. Their second, and perhaps more painful step, was to sit out of international competition for two years, as their nationality was not immediately recognized. Their third step was to train and prepare for the games. Somewhere along the line, these two were nicknamed Geor (for Jorge) and Gia (for Renato), thus making them "Geor-Gia." That, of course, was as much connection to Georgia as they will ever have -- except, of course, the financial one.
Now that they've defeated the Dutch team, it's not clear how they'll fare in the semi- and, perhaps, Final rounds of the competition. However, as much as it was exciting seeing Renato running to the top of the volleyball arena to the Georgian flag, it was a bit different watching the spectacle and knowing his patriotism was, perhaps instead, a great showing of capitalistic pride.
I may be jaded; in fact, after years of reading more news about which athletes have been disqualified from international competition due to illegal doping, or simply hearing stories about athletes cheating or similarly trying to gain unfair advantage, I don't have the same naive, patriotic love for the Games as I did back when the US men's hockey team pulled off the Mirace on Ice in Lake Placid. Then, the Russians were regarded, not simply in men's hockey, as a monolithic entity destined to crush anything and anyone in their path. Under the tutelage of the late Herb Brooks, the team -- led by Mike Eruzione and a bunch of salty, young players too inexperienced to be scared -- was able to stand up to their Russian counterparts and win.
Now, when we hear about Michael Phelps or Dara Torres, the continued, incredible success leaves us wondering whether their achievements are the result of incredible, almost superhuman talent, or from external supplements that make them cheaters instead of the best of the best.
It's not the fault of these athletes, or the Olympics itself, that makes me feel this way. In fact, I feel badly I don't have the kind of almost hypnotic, gravitational pull towards the Games that many do, including my other half. I'm thoroughly patriotic, as I pull for my fellow Americans no matter what. However, when America is not competing in an event I'm watching, it's as disinteresting to me as a pre-season baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and the Washington Nationals. More often than not, I'm sleeping before the contest is a third of the way completed.
I've watched some sports with which I am familiar and, relatively speaking, I enjoy, like basketball and boxing. The former, especially those games featuring the USA, and the latter, are not quite the same as their professional counterparts. Olympic basketball is a bit cleaner and features a lot less show-boating and much less trash-talking, although I suspect the reason behind the latter is invariably teams that speak different languages have a tough time insulting their opponents' maternal parents effectively. And the boxing is a complete waste of time. The reason why people watch professional boxing, as they do NASCAR or other dangerous sports, is they're waiting for the crash that ends a career. They want to see one guy get knocked clear out of the ring like from the Rocky films, and knowing these guys wear protective headgear and, effectively, are sparring rather than competing leaves a lot to be desired. Knowing when a boxer gets "hurt" in the Olympics and when he gets "hurt" in the real world are completely different things make me, as a casual -- if at all -- boxing fan wish Mike Tyson was in there against some French guy who seems to apologize every time he hits his opponent.
The Olympics are an exciting time, but perhaps what leaves me jaded more than anything else is the crass, intense commercialization of the entire process. Knowing NBC stands to pocket somewhere around a billion -- not a million, a Billion -- dollars in the wake of this competition is staggering, and yet it's not as surprising as it is a mere fact. There has been a lot of excitement and drama -- from the Swedish wrestler who threw his medal away in protest of losing a match, to the US womens gymnasts poignantly striving and failing under Alicia Sacramone. It's just that the negatives seem to grow each four years, and I wonder -- and I hope -- that one day these games can recapture my excitement and complete interest like a World Series Game 7 or a Stanley Cup Finals Game 7 featuring, respectively, the Yankees or the Rangers.
I suppose all is not lost; I still retain the hope towards the rekindling of this excitement one day in the future, and despite not knowing the up-to-the-minute medal count, I can honestly and unabashedly root for Team USA no matter if the sport is Water Polo, Trampoline or Fencing. It may not be the Color War I experienced as a tyke in Camp, and it might not be October, 1996, when the Yankees won the first of four world series in that decade; but knowing that the majority of these athletes -- no matter what country they shoot, run, swim or compete for -- are legitimately the best in the world and watching them should be an honor. I'm appreciative of their efforts, and I aspire to really enjoying and following what's happening half a world away.
Every time I find myself detaching, I remember back to 1980 and it all comes back. So I'm not too, too worried.