Column: Olympics have a local flavor this year

Published 10:42 pm Friday, August 13, 2004

By Staff
Tonight's Opening Ceremonies mark the beginning of the 28th Olympic Games and all the excitement and patriotic furvor they bring.
There's something about the Olympics, the summer games in particular, that makes viewers proud to be American. Maybe its the feeling of beating other countries, some that are considered our enemies, in athletic competition that summons up pride. Maybe its the sight of the American flag waving and our National Anthem playing as gold medalists, the toughest human beings alive, cry tears of joy that makes us feel good inside.
Whatever the reason, many Americans are glued to the almost non-stop coverage of the Olympics for the enitre 19 days of the games. And Niles-Buchanan viewers will have even the more reason to watch this summer.
One of our hometown heroes, Buchanan native Jeff Smoke, is going for gold in Athens with the U.S. Kayaking Team. We can take pride in the fact that someone from a small town, who's been to the same places we've been and done the same things we've done, is now on an international stage, trying to prove he is the best in the world at what he does.
Having someone local to cheer on gets us all excited about the Games. To watch someone we know and have talked to and interacted with should be an amazing experience. Imagine what it would be like to watch the Pistons win the NBA championship if Chauncy Billups grew up next door to you.
Those of us in Berrien and Cass counties almost had a shot a seeing two of our local athletes compete for gold.
Becky Breisch, from Edwardsburg, just missed making the Olympics in the discus. She finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where the top three spots head to Athens.
Having two local Olympians might have driven our local communities over the edge of Olympic fever.
While the Olympics may have lost some of their luster in recent years amidst rumors of performance enhancing drugs and crybaby professional athletes, the Games are still the greatest athletic contest in the world.
And yet, few people in the area are aware of Smoke's achievements. The Daily Star did a story on his journey to Athens last month, as did the South Bend Tribune. People still seemed shocked, though, to learn that our small, tight-knit community has a potential gold medalist, one of the greatest honors any athlete can acheive.
What might surprise more people is that Smoke isn't the first Olympian from Buchanan. He's not even the first Olympian in his family. His mother and father both have gone to the Olympics for kayaking. His mom, Marcia Smoke, won a bronze medal in the event in 1968.
Smoke competes in the flat-water sprint kayaking, which is basically a race of two-man kayaks across calm water. The other type of kayaking is slalom, in which kayakers maneuver between obstacles. His event begins competition Aug. 23, with the finals on Aug. 28.
With all five of NBC's networks air-tight coverage of the Games, viewers should have a chance to see Smoke in action at least once.
He's worth watching because he has a good shot at taking a medal. In May, he finished ninth in a world race in Germany, racing against the same athletes he'll see in Athens. Heading into the Olympics, Smoke said he's confident he can at least make it to the finals of his event.
So, while you may not buy into the three week-long hype of the Olympic, keep your eyes and ears alert to the Games Aug. 23-28 because one of our very own might become one of the world's very best.