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Now He Has to Live With It : Track and field: Tom Petranoff was suspended because he competed in South Africa. Now he can compete nowhere else.

SOUTH AFRICA: Athletes in Exile. Fourth in a series

May 09, 1990|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Of course, he was free to live in the United States and get a job. The business world may have its restrictive policies toward South Africa, but throwing a javelin there is not among its lists of sins. But if Petranoff wanted to continue throwing the javelin, which had been his job for more than 10 years, he had only one choice. Move to South Africa.

He has. Petranoff, his wife and their three daughters now live, work, and to some extent, socialize in South Africa. It hasn't been easy. It hasn't been a pathway paved with gold. It hasn't been welcome wagons and neighbors with cakes. At times, the decision has been regretted.

"If people had welcomed us more and associated with us more freely, this might be easier," Petranoff said, sitting in the cluttered living room of the small house he and his wife Carolyn rent in a suburb halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. "I'd just as soon be at home. I'd just as soon raise my kids there. Believe me, we have contemplated packing the bags and leaving. But that means not competing."

Petranoff's long career is studded with world records in 1983 and 1986--he's the current American record-holder--as well as outspoken stands, usually on the opposite side of the sports Establishment. He was one of the leading critics of the Carter-inspired boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He has headed TAC's Protective Testing Committee, which oversees the sport's drug-testing procedures.

"People have portrayed me as a (jerk) because I blurt out all this stuff on how I'm feeling and I don't have it in a systematic, unified order," he said. "I'm sorry. I'm an emotional person who probably uses my emotions too much."

The severity of his suspension may have some correlation to his outspoken, combative nature. But then, Petranoff was not just along for the ride. He helped recruit athletes for the tour. Now, he is not only angry with TAC for the suspension, but also with Dick Tomlinson, the tour's organizer.

"I don't feel I got a fair shake," he said. "I was snowballed and used. It was like, 'Let's shut up this Petranoff guy, put him in his place.' You break the rules. That's the end of the story. For them, the story ended there. But for me it doesn't. I admit I broke the rules. I admit I was naive and I made a mistake."

Petranoff calls the TAC hearings on the tour a "Mickey Mouse shakedown." He said he was offered a deal in which he would apologize and promise never to go to South Africa again, in return for a lesser sentence.

"Deep down I didn't feel I should apologize," he said. "Should I apologize to all the Jews who are being repressed in Russia? I've competed there. Should I apologize to the Poles and the Czechs? I've competed for the U.S. there."

Petranoff said that one reason he chose to stay in South Africa was his need for the money he could make from throwing there. He claims that Tomlinson made promises that never materialized. In fact, Tomlinson organized a second tour to South Africa in April of 1989 and Petranoff was not officially invited, even though Tomlinson had said the athletes on the first tour would have the right of first refusal for the second tour.

He is also angry about another issue--the extent to which the South African government was involved in the tours.

The athletes were told that money to finance the tour had come from the private sector, a key point since tour critics had called the athletes "puppets of the apartheid regime."

Obviously, though, a sports tour, especially of American athletes, would be highly prized by the government as a way of showing the world that South Africa has become "normalized." As a show of good will, the athletes also held clinics in black townships, often with much media attention.

Petranoff says he now knows that the government was involved in organizing the first tour.

"I plead ignorance and being steered for a purpose that was good," he said. "In hindsight, it was a cover-up. It was propaganda. It's like, 'Let's bring the cameras out for the clinics in Soweto.' I didn't feel very good about that. It was all a big lie. I feel bad. I competed in five meets and six clinics and I got paid $35,000, lock, stock and barrel. I came out taking a bath. And, I can't bring up my kids in America.

"What is fair? A lot of people think that I'm sitting down here in a millionaire's house and I've got a Mercedes and Lear jets at my doorstep. I want people to know I'm not living on Easy Street."

Petranoff found that broken promises were not the sole province of Americans. Left with no option other than to compete in South Africa, Petranoff began to make arrangements to live there. He made a deal to represent Rand Afrikans University, in return for hotel accommodation, a salary and air fare for his family to move from California.

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