Swish-Whack, Take That! (The Origins of the Swish-Whack Awards)

Swish-Whack, Take That!

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004

With the XXI Winter Olympics drawing to a close, I'm getting ready to write my 2nd installment of the 2010 Swish-Whack awards, which I give out at every Olympics. Since Wayback Wednesday is the day I reprint old columns, I thought I would reprint the original Swish-Whack column that gave birth to these highly coveted (by me) awards. This column originally appeared in August 2004.

Although NBC's Olympic coverage has greatly improved (only one "Up Close and Personal" per night, less blathering by Al Trautwig, Elfi Schlegel, and Tim Daggett during gymnastics), I wish they would have shown more fencing.

Fencing is such a cool sport. It's one of the few Olympic sports that's actually based on real fighting and killing skills people used centuries ago (archery, shooting, and the javelin are a few others). All the rest of the sports are based on transportation (rowing, running, swimming), recreation (volleyball and badminton) or torture and masochism (gymnastics and race walking).

But fencing is such a satisfying sport, especially the saber. It's different from the foil and epee, where the fencers only try to poke each other. Saber fencers fight like they're fending off pirates.

However, in saber fencing, the buzzer sounds when you've been hit, rather than your arm being whacked off.

With the saber, you duel with your opponent, swords clang, and then -- Swish-Whack, Take That! -- a point is scored. The fencer raises his or her fist in celebration, and is warmed by the sense of smug self-satisfaction from knowing that if it were a real duel, their opponent would be dead.

It happened in the women's saber event when -- Swish-Whack, Take That! -- 19-year-old Mariel Zagunis beat China's Xue Tan to take America's first fencing gold medal in 100 years.

In honor of Zagunis' great, but largely unnoticed, accomplishment, I have created the Swish-Whack awards, and give a few during the first week of the Olympic games.

The first Swish-Whack award goes to Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the president of the Athens Organizing Committee. She is largely responsible for bringing the games to Athens, but was shoved aside after the bid was completed. After the Greeks fell way behind schedule in building the venues, they were warned that they might lose the games, and that the International Olympic Committee would send them back to Sydney. So the Greek politicians groveled and asked Angelopoulos-Daskalaki to please please PLEASE come back and make sure everything got finished on time.

She did just that. The venues were finished with just moments to spare, the transportation issues had been largely solved, and the games would stay in Athens. And now, after a marvelous opening ceremony and six days of competition -- Swish-Whack, Take That! -- it looks like Angelopoulos-Daskalaki is the queen once again. Maybe next time Greek politicians will think twice before firing the woman who made them winners in the first place.

The next award goes to American male gymnast Paul Hamm, gold medalist of the male all-around gymnastic competition. During the vault, Hamm managed to make a perfect landing. . . right on his butt. This immediately dropped him to 12th place, and everyone -- including me -- was convinced it was all over.

"No one can ever come back from 12th," I said to my wife, since I'm a men's gymnastics expert. "He's too far back, and the judges aren't being very generous tonight." I knew I was right, because the NBC commentators were saying the same thing.

Swish-Whack, Take That! After two great performances on the parallel bars and high bar, and a few falls by the leaders, Hamm came from behind, and became the second American gymnast, male or female, to ever win the all-around. Maybe next time I'll quit listening to the Three Stooges of Olympic gymnastics.

The final Swish-Whack award goes to American gymnast Carly Patterson, the 16-year-old Texan who, as I write this column, just gave Russian diva Svetlana Khorkina a good old-fashioned American spanking in the women's all-around gymnastics competition.

Khorkina, the self-titled "Queen of Gymnastics," was bound and determined to win in her final Olympics, having failed twice before in 1996 and 2000. In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, she told everyone she was a champion and that she would prevail on this night.

Patterson, the last performer of the evening, completed her floor exercise and everyone eagerly waited for the final score. While they waited, Khorkina grabbed a Russian flag and waved it around as if she had won the gold. She draped it over the uneven bars and waved to the crowd, fully expecting the elusive medal to be hers.

Swish-Whack, Take That!

The scoreboard lit up, and Carly Patterson won the gold. She became the second American woman to win the women's all-around competition. The Queen had been dethroned.

If nothing else, the Olympics will teach us some very important lessons. Never give up on the underdog. Never count someone out just because they're down. And never ever, under any circumstances, call yourself the queen because -- Swish-Whack, Take That! -- you may just get beat by a little princess.

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