When we look back on the Atlanta Olympics, we'll remember the dramatic gold medal triumph of the U.S. women's soccer team (above) more vividly than the bronze medal performance of the U.S. men's baseball team, and the smiling teamwork of the kinder, gentler women's Dream Team more than the guns-out assault of the NBA All-Stars. Michael Johnson's blazing golden slippers will prove more memorable than Lisa Fernandez's blazing fastball or Amy Van Dyken's four swimming victories, but we'll recall Jackie Joyner-Kersee's gutsy bronze medal long jump with nearly as much awe as Carl Lewis's leap into immortality. American women worked together, winning all three swimming relays, both track relays and team golds in gymnastics and synchronized swimming. American women worked alone—the pain-racked visage of Kerri Strug will be an enduring Atlanta image. Call the Games of the XXVI Olympiad, from a U.S. perspective, the Gender Equity Olympics.
A Proud Nation
Iranian freestyle wrestler Rasul Khadem's defeat of Makharbek Khadartsev of Russia in the 198-pound gold medal match elicited the following comments from Iran's president, Hashemi Rafsanjani: "I congratulate your excellence and our nation for rubbing the nose of America in the dirt. The flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran was raised in the house of Satan through the resolve of a pious youth, despite all the mischief by the Americans to prevent this historic event."
It's nice to see the Games haven't been politicized.
Driver Emerson Fittipaldi's survival of not one but two glorious racing careers spanning 26 years—first in Formula One's deadliest era and then in Indy Cars' fastest era—is astounding. Last week came his crowning miracle, and he wisely took it as his cue to quit. Fittipaldi, a 49-year-old Brazilian, walked out of a Miami hospital after having avoided quadriplegia by "less than a millimeter," according to one of the neurosurgeons who repaired the crushed vertebra and destabilized spinal cord Fittipaldi suffered in a fiery Indy Car crash at Michigan International Speedway on July 28.
Even as he announced last week that he would not race again, Fittipaldi immediately hedged, as all drivers are wont to do when facing retirement. The close call "is a sign to stop," he said. But he also said that he has not yet made the final decision.
"When I started in Formula One, in 1970, the odds were that of the top 21 drivers, three would not live until the end of the year," Fittipaldi once said. He defied those harrowing odds through 10 years, 14 Grand Prix victories and two world championships, in 1972 and '74. But with so many friends killed in racing accidents—Francois Cevert, Jochen Rindt, Jo Siffert and, most of all, "Ronnie Peterson, my best friend in motor racing"—Fittipaldi spearheaded demands for safer cars and tracks.
In 1975 he parked in protest after one lap of the Spanish Grand Prix because he was disgusted with dangerous track conditions. The race continued, and when Rolf Stommelen's car went flying off the road, four onlookers were killed. Fittipaldi's point was sadly made, and the move toward safety was on.
Fittipaldi retired from F/1 in 1980, but back home in São Paulo he fretted to wife, Teresa, that he still longed to do again "what I do best in life—make the racing car go very fast." Two years later he showed up at the Indy 500 with a pink car, and there was laughter at this supposedly over-the-hill foreigner in his flashy machine. But in 1985 Fittipaldi won his first Indy Car race and in '89 he came out on top in one of the most dramatic of all Indy 500 finishes, a 220-mph duel of brinksmanship that left Al Unser Jr. against the wall and Fittipaldi taking the checkered flag under caution. He won the CART championship that year and another Indy 500 in '93, establishing himself as history's most successful driver of both F/1 and Indy Cars.