Medal podium drama rivals the real thing

BEIJING Thu Aug 21, 2008 1:02am EDT

Matthias Steiner of Germany holds a photo of his late wife Susann as he poses with his gold medal in the men's +105kg Group A weightlifting competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 19, 2008. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Matthias Steiner of Germany holds a photo of his late wife Susann as he poses with his gold medal in the men's +105kg Group A weightlifting competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

BEIJING (Reuters) - They have won the contest, secured the medal. So the drama is all over, right?

Not so fast.

From tantrums to tears, action on the Olympics podiums in China has often matched that off it, keeping spectators at medal ceremonies riveted long after the end of competitions.

In the wide spectrum of human emotions on show, it befell Sweden's greco-roman wrestler Ara Abrahamian to give the Games' greatest display of anger so far.

Furious with referees he deemed biased, Abrahamian made his displeasure known to the world by marching off the podium and dropping his bronze medal in the middle of the wrestling mat.

The ungentlemanly protest earned him an ironically ineffective punishment: the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ordered him stripped of his unwanted Chinese mint.

"The awards ceremony is a highly symbolic ritual. Any disruption by any athlete, in particular a medalist, is in itself an insult to the other athletes and to the Olympic movement," it said, chiding the Swede for failing to apologize.

While opinions were divided over that podium protest, there was unanimous sympathy for "sad colossus" Matthias Steiner.

After the German super-heavyweight lifter won gold to be crowned the world's strongest man, he reduced onlookers to tears by producing a photo of his wife who died after a car crash.

The bear-like Steiner, 25, sobbed and kissed the photo.

"The first thing I'll do when I get home is visit her grave," said the weightlifter, who had promised to his dying wife that he would pursue the Olympic dream in her honor.

OLYMPIC SPIRIT

While fighting between their nations cast a pall over the start of the Olympics, Georgia's Nino Salukvadze and Russia's Natalia Paderina gave an object lesson in international unity when they took bronze and silver respectively in shooting.

They embraced warmly and appealed for peace.

In further international detente, South and North Korean friends Jin Jong-oh and Kim Jong-su twice shook hands on the podium as they took medals in two shooting disciplines.

But the good vibes from that disappeared when Kim, from the north of the divided peninsula, tested positive for a banned substance and was stripped of his medals.

Tears of joy have inevitably flowed aplenty on the podium.

But for some silver-winners -- like the British women's rowing quad -- the tears were definitely borne of bitterness.

The three-times world champions could not stop crying after being pipped by China and awarded an undesired second best.

Greco-roman wrestler Nazmi Avluca was crying too when he took bronze, but only out of pain. The Turk's knee was in agony, and he had to be helped on and off the podium by Chinese assistants.

Athletes love to look at their flags rising up the pole as they take their medals. In the Bird's Nest stadium the flags have fluttered perfectly at the top -- even when there is no breeze.

It seems the ingenious Chinese have now invented a way to pump air into the flags from the top of the pole.

So just how good must it feel to see your national flag hoisted eight times just for you?

"Pretty cool," said the ever laid-back Michael Phelps after stepping up for his record-breaking eighth swimming gold.

(Reporting by Beijing Olympics bureau; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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