The Tolopka's Meet the Olympics

Baseball & Gymnastics:  Tuesday, 19 September 2000

Tuesday began as usual with us wading into the breakfast buffet here at the hotel.  We have mixed feelings about the buffet; parts of it are really good (fresh fruit, pastries), parts are so-so (mostly-cooked bacon, indifferent scrambled eggs), some of it just doesn't work for us Americans (broiled tomatoes, pork and beans), and it never seems to change, which means even the good parts pall after a while.  But it's free, it's filling, and you can make your own raisin toast, so what the heck.  We've also used it as an excuse to experiment with Vegemite, one of Australia's national delicacies.  For the uninitiated, Vegemite is a dark, salty paste made from brewer's yeast.  I kinda like it (reminds me of the tasty gunk in the bottom of the pan after you've cooked a roast or pork chops), although it hasn't exactly caught on with the rest of the crowd.  But we just recently read an article on the Zen of Vegemite ("First spread the toast generously but not lavishly with butter, then fleck on the Vegemite") so we may have to practice again.  Well, enough of breakfast -- time to head for the Museum railway stop and plow on to Homebush Bay.
 Today we headed to the baseball stadium for the game between Japan and the hometown Aussie Nine.  (Diversion:  Actually, the baseball team is one of the few Australian teams that doesn't seem to have a specific nickname.  For example:  women's soccer are the Matildas, women's basketball are the Opals, women's hockey are the Hockeyroos, men's hockey are the Olyroos, somebody is the Kookaburra, and there's a bunch that just aren't coming to mind at the moment.  It's charming, but makes it hard to keep up when reading the sports headlines!) 

Anyway, the stadium is a little gem, as you can see here.  We were sitting two rows from the top of the stadium and they were still great seats.  Out beyond the centerfield wall are grassy terraces -- kinda "picnic seating".

The president of Mizuno Sports got the honor of throwing out the first ball and did a creditable job. Japan jumped out with a run in the top of the first, but the Aussies came back with a three-run third, capped by a two-run homer to right (crossing the plate at right). 

I wondered what the "feel" of the game would be like since Australia doesn't exactly share a lengthy baseball heritage with us, but it turned out to be pretty much like any game you've ever been to.  The announcer sounded like an announcer, organ and other recorded music appeared on cue at the right times (including Pat Benatar singing Hit Me with Your Best Shot for a hit batsman, and Nancy Sinatra crooning These Boots Are Made for Walking after a base on balls) -- except for the periodic "Oi! Oi! Oi!" you'd never have known you were in Australia.

 After the third inning, the grounds crew raced out and dragged the infield to the strains of Dudley Do-Right's theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle (diddle-ah, diddle-ah, diddle-ut-duh-dut-duh-dah), getting a big hand from the crowd.
Unfortunately for the Aussies, the lead didn't last long.  Japan got two back in the fifth to tie, then went finished the scoring with four more runs in the sixth.  The crowning blow was a three-run homer to left field by the fellow who's chugging into third base here.
Naturally, he was congratulated by his on-base teammates after he crossed the plate (left).  But then he was congratulated big-time by everyone else as he neared the dugout (right).  And I noticed that after the high-fiving ended, four of these guys sprinted back to the bullpen in right field!  Apparently, they had hustled in so as not to miss the celebration.  And that, boys and girls, is one definite difference between Olympic baseball and games I've seen before; hard to imagine that much team spirit at a Portland Rockies game!

We got another round of the grounds crew after the sixth inning (different music), then moved on to the seventh inning stretch accompanied by a rousing (and Aussie-accented) rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  A highly satisfying afternoon despite the loss by the home team.
With four hours to kill before the evening events started, we decided to make the long stroll to the south end of Olympic Park to check out the Exhibits area.  We wandered through a big Samsung pavilion, where the highlights were all the new dual-purpose mobile phones that Samsung is planning to release in the next few months.  Probably the most interesting one was a combined phone and MP3 player; not hard to see that one catching on.  We also wandered through an exhibition by the wool-growing industry (right) and admired the hillside planted with thousands of blue and white flags trembling in the breezes (right, background).
We also stopped into Cadbury's World of Chocolate, where Steve posed with the new Country Fair mascot (left).  We also like the music in this place (<Hrrmmmm, Hrrmmmm> "It's chocolate, it's chocolate, it's chocolate!" -- repeat ad infinitum).
 But the fun didn't end there!  We got to chuck tennis balls at a radar gun (84 something-per-hour for me; it just now occurred to me that I don't know whether they were clocking miles or kilometers!) and then got a photo op with a replica of one of the Olympic Torches used in the relay.
Then it was time for the long trek back to the Superdome at the other end of the Park for the women's artistic gymnastics team final.  Time to break out our flags again as the US women were in the hunt!  Here they are being "presented" to the judges before competing in the vault.
Our girls made their way around the rotations, eventually warming up (left) and competing (Dominique Dawes, right) on the beam right in front of us.

The U.S. team finished up at the floor exercise.  Amy Dantzscher performs at left ... and her personal cheering section performs at right.

As you undoubtedly know by now, the U.S. women were hardly the big news of the evening, though.  That position went to either (a) the Romanian team, which performed beautifully throughout the evening, or (b) Svetlana Khorkina, who fell on both the uneven bars and the balance beam, probably costing Russia the team championships.  On the other hand, she pulled of a great floor routine at the last, which moved Russia past China for the silver medal.
The evening was capped by our first medal ceremony, done with great pomp and circumstance (left), but capped by a lot of happy flower-waving gymnasts in the end (right).