Summer Olympics: Beer over Powerade

Games are a lot more than gymnastics, track and swimming

Kurt Angle, your American hero (USA TODAY Sports)
Kurt Angle, your American hero (USA TODAY Sports)

You won’t see the best of the Summer Olympics.

Every four years ago I get a little sentimental, because I covered one Summer Olympics. That was 1996 in Atlanta. And I saw things that NBC never covered, things you probably never read about. Little things. The best things.

I’d never been to a weightlifting competition before and haven’t been to one since the Atlanta Games. But I was a curious boy back then …

Ronny Weller of Germany had just set a world record in the clean and jerk, and was so giddy that he threw his shoes into the crowd. But Andrei Chemerkin of Russia topped that effort later by two pounds to snatch the gold from Weller.

“I didn’t see him throw his shoes in the crowd,” Chemerkin said. “I really didn’t care. ... Even if he got himself fully undressed on the stage, I wouldn’t be shocked.”

Chemerkin has remained one of my favorite all-time athletes for the disdainful way he acted and spoke after his win. He smoked several cigarettes before finally showing up at the post-event news conference, telling an official “The press can wait.” When he finally did appear, his tongue and teeth were blue.

“I’m getting fed up with American drinks,” Chemerkin said, talking about the Powerade he had to swill in mass quantities to hasten the completion of his drug test after the event. “It tastes like the antifreeze you put in your car in the winter. That’s what they give me at the doping control. I couldn’t even get a beer.”

I saw judo. It was the only Olympic event in which certain strangleholds were allowed.

“I like the sport because it’s one of those types of things where you can give a good bashing type of thing and feel good afterward,” said Cathy Brain, a member of Australia’s judo team that year.


I was at the freestyle wrestling competition the day Kurt Angle of the U.S. got good training for his future career in professional wrestling. He won a gold-medal match over Iran’s Abbas Jadidi on a judges’ decision after they battled eight minutes to a 1-1 draw.

After the officials huddled, the referee went to the center of the mat, started to raise Jadidi’s arm, then pulled it down and raised Angle’s instead. The pro-American crowd of 7,000 went berserk. So did Jadidi, but in a less-jubilant manner.

“I heard the judge and the ref vote for me,” Jadidi said later. “The referee wanted to take my arm up as the winner, but another chief told him no.

“I respect (Angle) as a human being, but I don’t respect him as an Olympic champion. I feel that gold medal that he is hanging on his neck is mine, and I feel they took that from me.”

Angle wept in joy. Jadidi seethed.

Angle joined the carnival of pro wrestling. In 2013, Jadidi was elected to Teheran’s City Council.



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