Surveying the Olympic Swindles
The Olympic Games, alas, are over—but much about them still lingers. We’re not talking about gold-medal glory or even all the syrupy-sweet Bob Costas anecdotes. No, the things that stick with us are the swirling controversies and endless IOC arrogance. On these counts, there is no better commentator than Brit journalist Andrew Jennings, the Michael Moore-like gadfly of the Games. In two books on the Olympics, The Lords of the Rings and The New Lords of the Rings, Jennings exposed IOC czar Juan Antonio Samaranch‘s Franco-Fascist ties and other IOC malfeasances. In his latest work, the just published The Great Olympic Swindle (Simon & Schuster), Jennings details the corruption surrounding Salt Lake City’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games, and documents the string of sordid happenings in Nagano ’98 and Atlanta ’96. Just back from Sydney, Jennings spoke about his favorite subject from his home in England.
On the “reforms” undertaken by the IOC after the Salt Lake City scandals: “If there will be any change at all, it’ll be very, very slow. The IOC owns the rights to the Olympic Games, one of the most valuable of sports properties. They have no interest in true reform. . . . They basically told your Congress: ‘Reform? Fuck off, we are a private club.’ ”
On NBC’s coverage from Sydney: “I wonder if they don’t realize that they’re contributing to the demise of the Olympics. They don’t think of sport as performance—they think it’s one big soap opera.”
On Anita de Frantz, the ranking U.S. member of the IOC and acknowledged as the most powerful woman in sports: “I think Anita was once a very decent person. But she’s been sitting in the big leather seats in the front of the plane for too long. She always says, ‘We put athletes first,’ but they’re sitting in coach. . . . She’s become Samaranch’s courier, and I don’t give her much of a chance to succeed Samaranch [when his term expires next year].”
On the future of the Olympics: “It’s going to collapse because all rotten empires eventually collapse. The Olympic movement hasn’t got a normal heart as it should because of all the corruption and the tolerance of corruption. That’s Samaranch’s legacy: The Olympics is rotten with drugs because he chose to ignore them and concentrate on building economic value. . . . The best thing that could have happened in Sydney is if [Australian Aborigine sprinter] Cathy Freeman tested positive for drugs. Then the whole thing would implode and we could start all over.”
Not So Black and White
Apparently, despite the logorrheic physiological arguments set forth by Taboo author Jon Entine and his ilk, white men actually can jump—and they can run, too. Entine (whose work is subtitled Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About it) has stirred a vigorous racial debate in the sports world since his book came out last year. But his arguments weren’t bolstered by the results in Sydney.
The gold medal in track’s 800 meters, the race where the twain of speed and stamina most vividly meet, went to the Germany’s Nils Schumann, who succeeded the very pale Atlanta champion, Vebjorn Rodal of Norway. The 200-meter sprint that was supposed to be a showdown between Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene ended up being dominated by Greece’s Konstantinos Kenteris. The triple jump, an ultimate test of nimbleness and springiness, was handily won by graying white guy Jonathan Edwards of Britain. And the women’s 5000 meters, which, according to Entine, should be dominated by athletes from Africa’s Rift Valley, turned out to be a duel between Gabriela Szabo of Romania and Sonia O’Sullivan of Norway.
On the other hand, along with expected African American champs like Johnson, Greene, and Marion Jones, Lawrence Johnson broke through to take a silver and barely miss gold in the hitherto all-Caucasian pole vault. Like 1999’s discus world champion, Anthony Washington, he mastered a technical event that will undoubtedly see more nonwhite competitors as black youngsters are extended opportunities to try the event at an early age.
What’s our point in all of this? Well, the proof is there that anyone from anywhere has a shot at track and field glory in any event, and should not be dissuaded from chasing destiny due to any narrow ethnic preconceptions. One need look no further than the women’s marathon—in which Japanese, Romanian, and Kenyan athletes took gold, silver, and bronze—to understand the irrefutable reality of that.
• The Yankees may say they’ve made $12 bleacher seats available for the Division Series, but try to buy one through Ticketmaster and watch the price soar faster than Jason Grimsley‘s ERA. Start with the $12 face value, then add a $4 Ticketmaster per ticket “convenience charge,” a $3 per ticket “building facility charge,” a $3 per order “Ticketmaster handling charge,” and lastly, a mandatory $8 UPS fee. Total cost of your $12 ticket: $30. . . . • Brutality? In football? Apparently it’s true. Many a Jets beat writer in the last two weeks has focused on the “brutal” preseason practices that Al Groh ran as the source of Vinny Testaverde‘s recently expressed testiness. So what constitutes “brutality” in the most brutal of all sports? Jockbeat had little luck finding the answer from players, but some Jets observers think they know. Dan Leberfeld, editor of Jets Confidential, says what was brutal was the team’s practice schedule—in particular the vigorous two-a-days that even the team’s 36-year-old, Achilles’-tendon-challenged QB was forced to struggle through. “Some players believed that [the 10-0 preseason loss at Baltimore] might have been a reflection of how worn out they were,” says Leberfeld, who added, “Being a first-time NFL head coach and also following Bill Parcells, [Groh] wanted to show everyone he was the boss.” RealNFL.com contributor Bobby April agrees that Groh acted as a drill sergeant during training camp, but doesn’t feel that he was trying to send a message: “I think he’s just coaching within the framework of his personality. He’s an intense person and the only way that he can do a good job is to be himself.” Whatever the reason, it’s now in vogue to credit the hard practices for the Jets’ fourth-quarter prowess. Seems to us that a couple of late Tampa Bay fumbles are more deserving. . . . • The ceaseless encroachment of sportswear manufacturers’ logos on team uniforms reached surreal levels at the Olympics, where the Mizuno logo was clearly visible on the jersey and pants of the Cuban baseball team. Given that the logos are essentially corporate advertising, it’s hard to fathom how they ended up being worn by a team from a socialist country. Does Fidel know about this?
Contributors: David Davis, Peter Gambaccini, Neil Demause, Paul Forrester, Paul Lukas
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 3, 2000