You've heard this voice before. It is the voice of a comically self-satisfied man basking in the glory of achieving something very few mortals would be capable of -- in this case, running a successful Olympic Games. Indeed, Romney would have you believe that he didn't just make the Salt Lake City games a success -- he saved the Olympics themselves. He grabbed ahold of an Olympic torch extinguished by international scandal and relit the flame. That is the unembarrassed message of Romney's 2004 book "Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games." Romney's Olympic triumph is what made the difference (at least in Romney's mind) between his failed 1994 Senate campaign and his successful 2002 gubernatorial bid, which put him on the path to the White House. It is, today, a significant part of Romney's argument for electing him president.
It's also, as I've written before ("No Medal For You,") a pretty weak case. Romney did a perfectly fine job running the Olympics, but so have lots of other people. When reporting my earlier column I asked Lisa Delpy Neirotti, who teaches sport management at George Washington University, whether she could name a single U.S.-based Winter or Summer Olympics -- going back three decades -- that wasn't managed well. She could not. But Romney is deeply invested in the idea that it takes superhuman skills to save an Olympic Games from the disaster and international humiliation to which it naturally inclines. The idea that it can be done reasonably well even by a past-its-prime power like Britain is too much for Romney to bear. And I'm afraid he let it show at a very inopportune moment.