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Associated Press/Photo by Matt Dunham

Olympics off track

Sports | From class to crass, the Beijing Games ran the gamut

The Games of the 29th Olympiad seemed destined for mixed reviews from their outset. A host country guilty of ongoing human-rights abuses, rampant censorship, and a totalitarian streak as long as the Great Wall was bound to generate controversy no matter the glory of athletic exploit. True to form, China's government behaved poorly, retracting promises for unfettered media access, expelling house church leaders from Beijing, and even pulling the visa of 2006 Olympic gold medal winner Joey Cheek, who had planned to use the Games to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur.

Such predictable malfeasance surprised few beyond the naïve members of the International Olympic Committee, who had flattered themselves into thinking the "spirit of Olympism" might effect some real change. More surprising, though, was the number of unsportsmanlike displays among competitors. Sprinkled amid a host of stories worth cheering, some athletes provided disappointing reminders that the spirit of Olympism is no cure-all for the sinister human heart. As counterbalance to the widespread reports of class, here now are the Games' top five moments of crass:

1. Cuban athlete Angel Valodia Matos delivered a roundhouse kick to the face of a Swedish referee after disagreeing with a call in his bronze medal taekwondo match. The blow left Chakir Chelbat bloodied and in need of stitches. The World Taekwondo Federation took swift action in banning Matos for life from any future competition.

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2. IOC anti-doping efforts exposed 45 cheating athletes, 39 of them caught before the opening ceremonies thanks to the first-ever coordinated pre-Games testing program. Among the brashest offenders: the entire Bulgarian weightlifting team. But with the recent advent of undetectable substances, some doping analysts fear the use of banned performance-enhancers may have been much more widespread among the Beijing Games' 11,000 competitors.

3. Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian rushed toward the judges table and had to be restrained after losing his semifinal bout in a close decision. He left in a fury, refusing to speak to reporters and punching the dressing room door. Later, after returning to win a bronze medal, Abrahamian disrupted the award ceremony when he stepped off the podium, deposited his medal in the center of the wrestling mat, and stormed out of the arena. IOC officials promptly stripped him of his medal.

4. Chilean tennis star Fernando Gonzalez went silent after winning a controversial point over American James Blake during the third set of their semifinal match. Replays showed that Blake's forehand, which sailed long, deflected off Gonzalez's racket, but the umpire missed the call. In a sport characterized by self-regulation, Blake believed his competitor would speak up. Instead, Gonzalez sheepishly moved to the back of the court and later defended his actions by saying nobody had asked him. Gonzalez went on to win silver, while Blake finished out of the medals.

5. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt delivered the single most impressive performance of the Games, sprinting to victory in the men's 100 meters with a world-record time of 9.69 seconds. But over the final 15 meters, the 21-year-old betrayed immaturity in throwing his hands out to the sides and pumping his chest in a manner many interpreted as disrespectful to his competitors. The antics also cost Bolt time in the race, robbing viewers from appreciating just how special a talent he truly is.

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