Béla Károlyi is a National Treasure

What do you think of when you hear the words “National Treasure”? The Statue of Liberty? The Washington Monument? Nicolas Cage’s best Indiana Jones impersonation?

Me? I think of none other than legendary gymnastics coach, Béla Károlyi (below, Bela would have never worn that jacket if Sen. McCarthy were still alive).
Mark Stehle (AP)

Béla’s effusive personality was one of the highlights of the Games back when he was coaching the U.S. team. The image of him carrying an injured Kerri Strug is forever burned in the minds of American fans.The crushing bear hugs he delivered to his pixies as they came off their exercises were a sight.

But not as much of a sight as his act on NBC’s gymnastics coverage of the 2008 Beijing games. His rants, in which he uses words like “rip off”, against the seemingly biased judging (giving an unfair edge to the Chinese) have been classic.

NBC’s gracious peeks into Béla’s reaction as he watches U.S. gymnasts has been highly entertaining. The guy is flailing his arms, kicking his legs up in the air, all the while, I’m sure, analyzing the nuances of the sport he has dedicated his life to. Tell me of another analyst in any other sport who shows this much passion (John Madden’s man love for Brett Favre does not count).

Then on the last night of gymnastics, he’s sitting on the couch with balance beam gold medalist Shawn Johnson and her coach Liang Chow while they’re being interviewed by Costas.

During a characteristic (not to mention a very Eastern European) fit of laughter, Béla puts the cherry on top to his act in Beijing by delivering a hearty and joyous patella-cracking slap to Chow’s knee. The look on Chow’s face betrayed some pain.

Thanks Béla for all the memories, you’re the best.

Shawn Johnson is Awesome

Yeah she’s only 4’9″ but let’s see you do this:
Sports Illustrated

That’s the chippy Ms. Johnson during her gold medal balance beam routine (click here for the the full story).

After Johnson secured a gold medal in these games, I guess it’s safe to say that the Coca-Cola curse is no curse at all.

I must admit that it is nice to see an American Olympic athlete live up to the corporate hype. Though I’m sure Coca-Cola preferred that she won all gold medals, Johnson with one gold and 3 silvers to her name still had a pretty good haul (we’re still holding our breath in the case of Bron-Bron).

Which brings us to the best part of her Olympic experience. So if you’re Shawn, you’ve spent countless hours in the gym: bleeding, sweating, crying, tumbling, falling, learning. Your folks have spent an inordinate amount of time and keish to keep the Olympic dream alive, according to this piece, Johnson’s parents,

…took out a line of credit on their home and have used that money over the years to cover travel expenses. The debt has made a dent in the family finances, but that’s a price parents seem willing to pay.

Yet for all that, the affable Ms. Johnson, in describing her gold medal, reminds us what the Olympics are all about, a childlike wonder and dreams fulfilled:

“It’s crazy,” the 16-year-old Johnson said. “I remember seeing Nastia have hers from the all-around and it is so pretty. Silver is really pretty, too.”

You’re awesome Shawn Johnson!

Nastia Liukin Haliukins Rest of the Field to take Gold

Every four years we, as a nation, care about gymnastics, women gymnastics that is (as for the men we collectively care about them as much as we care about the WNBA).

Last night’s women’s all-around final was no exception as many people around the country (my wife and I included) stayed up until midnight to watch American Nastia Liukin win gold and teammate Shawn Johnson take silver (and Chinese gymnast Yang Yilin and her cadre of judges take bronze). I was shocked to learn this morning that even my boss (who misses the latter parts of Houston Rockets late playoff games) stayed up to watch the drama unfold.

Liukin and Johnson push each other to all-around glory

After the Russian-born Liukin won, I couldn’t help but think if the Russian team was bitter because they could have had her on their team had her parents not moved to the States when she was 2.

Although Shawn Johnson got the silver, could the “Coca-Cola Curse” (second cousin to the Madden Curse) prevented her from getting gold? Could her appearance on commemorative 12-pk Coca-Cola boxes (below) prevented her from getting gold?

Let’s just hope that doesn’t extend to her boxmate, LeBron James as he tries to restore former glory to USA Basketball.

If you’re wondering what in the world Haliukins is in reference to, here is a hint:

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