Americans finally had a big night at the Olympic track, prompting three playings of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for U.S. relay teams standing atop the victory stand. And that’s when the trouble began.
Marion Jones won gold in the U.S. women’s 1,600-meter relay and bronze with the 400-meter squad — making her the only woman to win five track medals at one Olympics. The U.S. men swept both relays Saturday.
Michael Johnson capped his golden Olympic career by running the anchor leg on the winning 1,600-meter relay team, preserving his record of having won only gold in his five Olympic and nine world championship medals.
In the 400-meter relay, Maurice Greene was the anchor as U.S. squad won in 37.61 seconds. On a victory lap, the Americans — two of them barechested and wrapped in the stars and stripes — preened and flexed muscles while posing for several minutes.
And, when awarded their medals by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the foursome — Greene, Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams and Brian Lewis — continued clowning. Greene stuck his tongue out at cameras.
“I held my breath,” U.S. Olympic Committee vice president Sandy Baldwin said today (Saturday night ET).
“I tell the athletes at every one of the briefings that American athletes are judged by different standards than the rest of the world, because we live in a blessed country. Anytime we forget that for even a moment, we’ll be criticized more than most people will.”
Preening and Boos
The criticism came from fans in the crowd, who whistled and booed the Americans as they celebrated. It also came from some U.S. athletes, who cringed at the antics.
“The girls were thinking, ‘We’re kind of ashamed.’ For us, we tried to handle it with more dignity. That’s not the image we want up there,” said Nanceen Perry of the women’s 400-meter relay team.
“The whole way they were going about it, making all sorts of comical faces — you could do a little bit of that, but they were doing it throughout the national anthem. How do you expect anybody to respect our flag if you don’t? I think foreigners think we’re rude, anyway, so it just confirms the whole image they have of us.”
Greene made several apologies at a news conference today. He said he talked with his teammates and prepared them for the criticism to come.
“It was some people’s first time, and it might have been their last time, too,” Greene said. “As athletes, we hold so much in. When you finally see something good come out of it, you’re liable to do anything. Emotions can get away from you. I’m truly sorry if it offended anyone out there.”
One of the foursome wrapped a flag around his head. A bare chested Williams draped himself in a flag and flapped it as though he were a bird.
“What I would say to Bernard is: ‘Sometimes, don’t get caught up in the moment. You represent the USA. It’s a bigger spectrum than here, it’s all around the world,’” said 1,600 relay team member Antonio Pettigrew. “We have an image to portray, we represent the USA proudly and there’s a time and a place for everything.”
Drummond apologized, saying they were lost in the excitement of the moment and were sorry if they offended anyone.
“Jon Drummond never won an Olympic gold before, so sorry,” Drummond said. “You have a lot of emotion bottled up. Your focus is on one thing for so long. When we finally have that opportunity to exhale, we’re just expressing ourselves the way we know how.”