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.