Turn back time two weeks to the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City, and it becomes clear that the only logical choice to light the Olympic torch would be Judge Wapner. It seems only fitting that a Winter Olympics marred by the silliest sorts of judging controversies—from snowboarding to freestyle skiing to short-track speed skating to, that most subjective of spectacles, figure skating—ended on perhaps the most ridiculous official decision of all. On the last day of the Games, three cross-country skiers, Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova of Russia and Johann Muehlegg of Spain, were disqualified, and Lazutina and Muehlegg were stripped of their medals because they tested positive for darbepoetin, a drug that was—get this—not on the International Olympic Committee’s list of banned substances. “The substance is not listed on the banned list because it is so new,” said Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC’s medical commission. Actually the kidney drug, which functions like the banned hormone EPO (which boosts red-cell count and, thus, stamina), received FDA approval in September 2001, clearly long enough for athletes to discover it and the IOC to make a decision about it. “This is a strong statement to those who say we are far behind,” Ljungqvist continues. “We are on their heels.” Actually, it’s a statement that suggests that the IOC is, as usual, more concerned with appearances than considerations of due process and basic fairness. For the IOC to publish drug-testing guidelines and then change them in the middle of the Olympics is like moving the finish line after a race is started.

Contrast this decision with the one in the Sydney Games in which Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan was stripped of a gold medal because she tested positive for trace amounts of a banned substance found in a cold medicine that even the IOC admitted gave her “no competitive advantage.” Said François Carrard, the IOC’s director general then, “We feel we have no choice. It’s tough, but that’s what it’s all about. In the fight against doping, we have to be tough and be blind to emotions and feelings.” Let’s get this straight. Raducan takes a drug that’s on the banned-substance list but doesn’t actually enhance her performance, and she gets stripped of her medal. And these cross-country skiers allegedly take a performance-enhancing drug that’s legal, and they get stripped of their medals.

“Technically, they are Olympic champions,” pontificated IOC president Jacques Rogge about the fact that the skiers would be allowed to keep the medals they had won earlier in the Games—after they had passed the IOC’s drug tests. “Morally it is a totally different issue.” Let’s see. Under Rogge’s direction, the IOC has formulated an anti-doping policy so addled that its drug cops can, at their own whim, crack down on both action without intent or intent without action. It’s the kind of war on drugs of which William Bennett would be proud.


Maybe Ales Valenta knew something the other guys didn’t. The freestyle aerialist from the Czech Republic stood at the top of the hill, outfitted with the finest skis, the slickest suit—and a helmet mummified with duct tape. Thus fortified, Valenta launched himself to a gold medal with a spine-rearranging, quintuple twisting flip, the first ever landed in competition.

Duct tape, that tireless affixer of the working and wintry classes, became an unofficial theme of the Salt Lake City Games. American snowboarder Chris Klug desperately fashioned some into an instant buckle, then captured the bronze for parallel slalom. Luge racers used it to keep their numbered bibs from flapping, and Latvian bobsled driver Sandis Prusis clapped his visor closed with a two-inch strip. When colleagues of French skating judge Marie Reine Le Gougne sought to muffle her cries of conscience, they sealed the door with a ready roll.

An Olympics spokesperson couldn’t say how much tape it took to stage the events, but it was clear the athletes have long been stuck on it. For his early training runs in Lake Placid, skeleton racer Chris Soule wrapped himself with a protective layer of the silvery stuff. Double-bronze speedskater Jennifer Rodriguez spent a Milwaukee winter with duct tape sealing her apartment windows. Last year, reports the Daily News, New York’s own Thomas Vonn was disqualified from a Super G slalom race in Austria because a piece of duct tape lifted his boot too high. His teammate Bode Miller, who captured two silvers, remembered traveling New Hampshire’s junior circuit in a racing suit patched with the homely adhesive. “Everyone got a roll of duct tape in their stockings at Christmas,” Miller told the AP.

The quick fix of choice made a darker appearance, too. In late January, the body of a police informant in Phoenix turned up—hands bound with duct tape—after he had snitched on a scheme to steal a million-dollar shipment of human-growth hormone. Detective Tom Britt told reporters he couldn’t pin the plot to the impending arrival in neighboring Utah of several thousand world-class athletes, “but we thought it was interesting that this was done right before the Olympics.”

Contributor: Allen St. John, Laura Conaway Sports Editor: Ward Harkavy