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Atlanta 1996 Olympics / The Countdown: 40 Days To The

This Would Have Won Gold--for Bad Taste

June 09, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

Maybe you heard. For the Olympic Games this summer, some synchronized swimmers from France put together a routine set to the music of Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List," with goose-stepping Nazis diving into the pool to splash their stiff little arms and legs off, on their way to a gold medal.

Springtime for Schindler and Germany.

I would have figured the French to come up with something more subtle, like swimming to the works of Jerry Lewis. But this, this takes the German chocolate cake.

With a routine more offensive than anything I can imagine other than Marge Schott in a Speedo, these synchronized coneheads from France were about to prove to the entire world why this is a sport where they wear clothespins on their noses.

Now I've heard everything. Aqua-Nazis.

Maybe the French have many such ideas, like a synchronized tribute to Richard Speck and Jeffrey Dahmer, to the music of "Jailhouse Rock." Or a salute to Joan of Arc, at the end of which, the swimmers set one another afire.

Joan could wear jelly in her hair, with a flame-retardant wet suit from the Kathie Lee Gifford collection, fireproof or Frank gives you your money back.

Over 100 years of Olympic competition, this would have been a new low, worse than anything you could imagine, including Tonya Harding on skates carrying a blunt instrument.

Where in the world did the French synchronized swim team come up with such an idea? Were they sitting around one day by the pool, dripping Evian, when someone suggested a World War II water-sports motif? Perhaps the surprised French swimmers suddenly heard Coach Jean-Faucet Bidet say, "I have it! Let's swim the Holocaust!"

They probably couldn't believe their ears, unless there were plugs in them.

What sort of routine was it?

Well, it reenacted the arrival of Jewish women at death camps and their march to the gas chambers, except done in black bathing suits. (I can't believe I'm typing this.) Each swimmer would goose-step toward the pool like a German soldier, dive into the water, then do a four-minute routine. (I must be hallucinating.)

Somewhere in Hollywood today, even Mel Brooks must be saying: "Too much."

Done as art, this act would be controversial. Done as comedy, it would be in terrible taste, but understandable in a profession where anything goes. But as sport, swimming to "Schindler's List" would be the scandal of the Olympic century, created by artists inspired not so much by Steven Spielberg as by Ed Wood.

It would have been the first time I ever rooted for Olympic athletes to be eaten by sharks.

"Ridiculous, tactless, in poor taste," were among the reactions after civic leaders learned of the French team's new routine, "Nazis in the Natatorium."

France's top-ranking minister of sport ordered the swimmers to think of something else, neglecting to order a doctor to examine them for chlorine on the brain.

Somebody is obviously sneaking red wine into these people's Gatorade jars.

We live in a world where poor taste is tolerated, where "Hogan's Heroes" is now a TV ratings smash in Germany, after 30 years of making American audiences laugh at the zany antics in a prisoner-of-war camp. If there has been a formal protest of this program in this country, sorry, I must have missed it.

The Olympic Games, however, is no place to try out provocative new material. My idea of a risky idea in the Olympics is for a runner to paint her fingernails. The only political activity I want from the Olympics is to see Mary Lou Retton in a red, white and blue leotard. The only goose-stepping should be from somebody training for the high jump.

Synchronized swimming isn't a sport that one would think could possibly be embarrassed.

To me, they are human bathtub toys.

Leave it to France to find a way to make a dumb sport dumber. I believe the French wrestling team also has a new routine. It involves mud.

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