Emotions ran deep through women's wrestling final
Posted: Sunday August 29, 2004 9:23AM; Updated: Sunday August 29, 2004 10:12AM
We asked the Sports Illustrated writers who covered the XXVIII Olympiad to leave us with their indelible memory of the Games.
The nine minutes of unremitting action turned in by the Ukraine's Irini Merleni and Japan's Chiharu Icho was one of the best wrestling bouts I've ever seen. And, no, I'm not talking about just women's wrestling, the new sport in this year's Games. Merleni had breezed through her 48-kilogram division without hardly breaking a sweat, but, in the gold medal match last week, Icho gave her everything she could handle. The match went into overtime and was awarded to Merleni on a technical point; even Merleni wasn't sure she had won until her hand was raised.
I've never seen a winnner as ecstatic as Merleni (she kissed the referee and anyone else in her path) or a loser as distraught as Icho. When asked about the match in the medalist press conference, Icho said something that was translated as: "I feel I lost this match because of a lack of courage."
The room got quiet. She was asked a question about the impact, presumably positive, that such a fine match would have on young women wrestlers back in Japan. Icho's answer: "I hope I have not brought disgrace back home." She wasn't crying, but her expression reflected her pain.
I looked over at bronze medalist Patricia Miranda, an intellligent and fascinating woman from California who throughout her career had battled as hard and wanted to win as much as anyone, but who had accepted her disappointing loss in the semifinal match with equanimity. "I feel bad for Chiharu," said Miranda, who was scheduled to begin Yale Law School this week. "No one should take a loss that hard."
I thought of Icho often during these Games, the heartbreak she felt, the degree to which she felt she had let down her country. She hadn't let down anyone, of course, but my guess is, she still doesn't believe it.