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After tonight's closing ceremonies for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, one question will remain: Were these Games "too American?"

I don't think so, but some critics -- like veteran Sports Illustrated columnist Frank Deford -- think we engaged in too much patriotic flag-waving over the past two weeks.

"It is ironic that the United States, which places less emphasis on international sports than any other large nation, probably most connects patriotism to sports," Deford wrote last week. "Of course the sincere demonstration of national feeling has been outsized since Sept. 11. Nevertheless, we often overdo our expressions of American pride at sporting events."

Well OK, I'll concede that NBC overdid it with its constant emphasis on American athletes, its corny "Hallmark moments" and the endless repetition of those USA! USA! chants. But frankly, I think some healthy flag-waving was in order after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And I thought NBC paid more attention to foreign athletes this time around. Just look at the airtime the network devoted to the Canada vs. Russia pairs figure skating dispute, which ended happily when all four skaters received gold medals.

The Salt Lake Games followed two of America's premier sporting events, the World Series and the Super Bowl, during which U.S. patriotism was on display for the whole world to see. My only regret is that the miserable bastards who destroyed the World Trade Center weren't alive to see how quickly our country bounced back from the worst domestic terrorist attacks in its history.

Sports have always been part of our national identity; after all, Babe Ruth helped our grandparents get through the Great Depression and Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams were there for us during World War II.

Much of the criticism of American patriotic displays during the Olympics came from the remnants of Juan Antonio Samaranch's International Olympic Committee, who complained when the American delegation wanted to carry a tattered World Trade Center flag into Olympic Stadium during opening ceremonies.

"One cannot help but wonder what those who objected to the presence of the flag ... could possibly have been thinking," wrote AOL sports columnist John Feinstein. "No athlete, no official, no symbol belonged in this (opening) ceremony more than that flag." Amen!

Samaranch, the imperious Spanish fascist who headed the IOC for some 20 years until he was finally replaced by Belgian physician Jacques Rogge last year, was notoriously anti-American when he served as Spain's ambassador to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was Samaranch ("Just call me Your Excellency") who set the tone for the bribery and corruption scandals that plagued the Olympics during his term in office.

The Salt Lake City Olympics produced the usual quota of great human interest stories -- a snowboarder with a liver transplant, a speed skater with mononucleosis, a stone mason luger and a trumpet player in the moguls (whatever that is).

I loved the odd characters that the Games produced, especially the Swiss Harry Potter lookalike who won two gold medals in ski jumping and a pair of Australians who won that country's first Winter Olympics medals ever: Speed skating gold medalist Steven Bradbury, who was the last skater standing after a four-man crash enroute to the finish line, and freestyle aerials champion Alisa Camplin, a shaky skier who fell on her trip down the mountain to the winner's news conference. But, as the Aussies say, No worries, Mate!

And then there's the incomprehensible (for Americans) "sport" of curling, in which the competitors sweep furiously with brooms ahead of a large stone that is sliding down the ice toward a circular target. Martha Stewart should have been the honorary captain of the U.S. women's team; however, the best part of curling is that the losers buy drinks.

Another unusual sport is the biathlon, a combination of cross-country skiing and target shooting made to order for the thousands of security agents who patrolled Olympic venues.

Unsung heroes abounded in Salt Lake City. Among them were 16-year-old Sarah Hughes, who upset figure skating champion Michelle Kwan; ladies' "skeleton" (sled) winner Tristan Gale, who had never finished higher than eighth in international competition, and the women's bobsled team of Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers, who became the first African-American to win a Winter Olympics gold medal.

And there were local heroes too, including retired pro football superstar Steve Young, a descendant of Mormon pioneer Brigham Young who showed the true Olympic spirit by making early morning newspaper deliveries to athletes and officials.

Our neighbors to the east should be proud of the Winter Olympics that they organized. Despite judging flaps and the inevitable criticism of U.S. patriotism, the Utah Games added some dramatic and unforgettable human moments to the annals of Olympic competition. And were the Games "too American?" No way!

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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