Phelps. Bolt. James. Lochte. Durant. Household names, all. They'll no doubt be joined by the electric Missy Franklin, or England's own Mark Cavendish, or whatever young American gymnast flips herself skyward with reckless enough abandon to capture our easily-won and commercially-influenced hearts. We celebrate these and all the other phenomenally skilled and dedicated athletes readying for the impending start of the 2012 London Olympics.
But quite a different quartet are wearing the colors of Gheorghe Nation (purple gingham check and cream, in case you were wondering - we let Clarence's daughters pick them this year) this quadrennial. We won't bore you with 'they're all champions' platitudes. They're not. But they're all Olympians, which is something everyone reading this would give an arm (or at least a flap of extra skin) to be.
We're uniting behind these four because they don't have anyone else to do so. Marathoner Guor Marial, sprinter Churandy Martina, shooter Philip Elhage and swimmer Rodion Davelaar make up Team Gheorghe, and we couldn't be prouder. Marial hails from South Sudan, a nation so new and lacking Olympic sports organization that it's not recognized by the IOC. The latter three are residents of the Dutch Antilles, formerly an independent territory of the Netherlands, but now a transitional municipality with no recognized athletic teams. For once, the IOC did something right, allowing all four to compete under the IOC flag in 2012.
Martina is the most prominent member of Team Gheorghe, finishing second to Usain Bolt in the 200m in 2008 before being disqualified for a lane violation an hour later. You can rest assured the GTBOC will not stand for such shenanigans this year.
While he's not fronting the legendary prog-metal performance art ensemble that bears his name, Marial runs track and cross-country for Iowa State. His PR of 2:12 is good enough to compete for a spot in the top 10-20 in London, though he's not really a medal threat.
Davelaar, a senior at the University of Florida (in fact, it's his relationship with Mark that started the ball rolling on Team Gheorghe) competed in the 50m freestyle in Beijing, finishing 57th. He grabbed a silver medal at the 2010 CAC games, which I assume is a made up event.
Finally, Elhage took 45th in the 10m Air Pistol in Beijing. His twitter (@pelhage) bio is fairly impressive, noting that he's a " Olympian, Developer, Promoter & Entrepreneur". G:TB could use all of those things, with the possible exception of 'Promoter', as we've got the Teej doing a fairly good job in that role. But if Elhage can score good Dutch weed, we might have to at least give him a deputy position.
We note for the record that Team Gheorghe is conspicuously lacking in female members, so we're trying hard to convince Saudis Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani (judo) and Sarah Attar (800m) to join the squad. The Saudi government added women to its team under duress, with heavy international pressure ultimately wearing down the Kingdom's sports ministry. Ladies, just so you know, we'd be happy to have you. And not in the way Clarence is thinking.
In 1996, I was fortunate to spend part of the Atlanta Olympics in the company of Brian Hyde, a 1500m runner on the U.S. team and W&M grad. Though he flamed out in the preliminary rounds, his stories about his experience as it happened (not to mention his ridiculous volumes of impossibly cool free gear) made me and the others with us impossibly jealous. While it's too late this year to get ourselves to London, we're thrilled to know that we'll be able to make up the official party for Gheorghe: The Nation in Rio in 2016. And really, who'd choose London over Rio given the option?
Best wishes to all of our athletes in London. And don't be alarmed if a tall, pale fellow speaking with a difficult-to-place accent shows up in your Olympic Village room. That's just Otto Wolfcastle. He's with us.