I've lost tally, but there must have been a million hugs here these last two weeks. No matter where you turned, on ballfields and courts and tracks all across Sydney, there stood moms or husbands or sisters, teammates or competitors or coaches, waiting on the side with open arms for these 10,000 maniacs chasing 300 pieces of gold and squeezing them in ain't-this-awesome winners' hugs or I'm-so-sorry losers' hugs—a few of them obligatory, most of them as pure and powerful as a baby reaching out in the middle of night, but none so complicated as....
Well, imagine it. You've just lost in the biggest moment of your life, on the biggest stage of your life. You need a shoulder to cry on, and for god's sake, there's your spouse a few feet away—but you can't go near each other. Finally, when it's all over and no one's watching, you crawl into bed and close your eyes, and the person you reach out to for solace—is the one who just beat you, the one wearing your gold medal.
On the second day of the Sydney Games, a married couple competed against each other for the first time in Olympic history. You probably didn't notice, but legions in Norway and Denmark did. They'd been awaiting it for months.
It all began in the midst of that shocking news in Denmark last January about a lunatic who chopped a mother and her two children to pieces. Of course, that wasn't quite as shocking as the lead tabloid story that day, about the female superstar of Danish team handball falling in love with the female superstar of Norwegian team handball. Certainly, when that Russian submarine went dead last month, entombing 118 sailors at the bottom of the Barents Sea, that was a big story too. Nearly as huge as the one that muscled it off the front pages in Copenhagen, about the two lesbian handball heroes' desire to have a child one day through artificial insemination.
Somehow, by luck or by Lucifer, the two countries that dominated women's handball for the last half decade and the two stars who shared the same sheets would square off on their first day of Olympic competition, Sept. 17. Sure, Scandinavia is renowned as a land of live-and-let-live and its people as among the world's least sexually strait-jacketed. But even they couldn't resist this.
That Camilla Andersen, the 27-year-old Danish scoring machine who finished second in balloting for the world's best female player last year, found herself in such a predicament was fascinating, yet not quite shocking. Camilla, after all, had been introduced to tabloid front pages as the lover and second fiddle to handball legend Anja Anderson after they led Denmark to the 1996 gold medal in Atlanta. But that 23-year-old Mia Hundvin—the gorgeous little Mia chosen by a Norwegian magazine as the country's sexiest woman last year, the Mia who had both a boyfriend and a stalker calling her regularly (the latter, she told the media in 1998, phoned to describe precisely how he would make her "scream with happiness")—would end up in Camilla's arms and in her Olympic path, well, that certainly made it worth bolting out of bed at 7:30 on an Oslo Sunday morning to see them clash.
To defeat the favored Norwegians, Camilla would have to be at the top of her knifing, leaping, whiz-bang shooting game. Smaller than most of her foes at 5'6", Camilla loved to lurk back, just off-center, reading the moment with her pale blue eyes, then letting loose the instincts passed on by a father and mother who both played for the Danish team. Suddenly she would charge, seize a pass from a teammate on the run and gun it past a stunned goalkeeper.
Mia is smaller still, a 5'4" winger with water bug quickness and a duffel bag of unpredictable shots, such as her one-bounce spinning "banana shot." She put those same sudden surprising twists on her life: one day a raven-haired bartender in a disco, then a blonde archaeology student, then a red-haired, tattooed media major. Mia's impulsive gusto was what pulled Camilla to her last year when their acquaintanceship abruptly transformed—apparently at a test Olympic competition in Sydney—into love.
They decided last spring to live in Copenhagen, where Mia could work toward a degree in TV and film studies while they played for a local handball club, Frederiksberg, and where they might disappear more easily than in Bergen, Mia's smaller and less worldly hometown. Almost instantly, Mia became the second-most-targeted subject on the website of the Copenhagen newspaper Ekstra Bladet, a little behind sex but a little ahead of Anna Kournikova. Three months ago Mia and Camilla quietly married, signing documents as "registered partners" in Copenhagen's town hall; it took the hounds all of a few days to find out.
All through the long buildup to their first-round Olympic match, Camilla and Mia wrestled with a dilemma. Should they cloak their love and live a lie, or shout it from the rooftops? Should they agonize over people's perceptions or tweak and tickle them? Mostly they did all of that, making two countries scratch their heads over questions about sexuality, parenting rights and media ethics.