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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS / The Countdown: 19 Days To The
Games

Olympic Scene : Legal Splash Embarrassing to Burgess

June 30, 1996|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Olympic preparation for a swimmer, ideally, does not include conferring with legal counsel 19 days before the opening ceremony.

For Greg Burgess, the out-of-pool developments last week included a continued effort by rival Ron Karnaugh to eliminate him from the U.S. team. Karnaugh's manager, Bennett Raffer, sent a letter on Karnaugh's behalf requesting sanctions against Burgess for violating the U.S. Olympic Committee code of conduct.

On Friday in Jacksonville, Fla., Burgess' attorney, Hank Coxe III, said that after the Olympics he will file a motion to vacate the no-contest plea his client filed in March to misdemeanor charges of public drinking and providing alcohol to a minor. While the drastic action of dismissal from the Olympic team is considered highly unlikely, Burgess has been helped by a letter sent by Florida's state attorney to the USOC, explaining that the charges do not involve moral turpitude and should not hurt his Olympic standing.

Burgess, who won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona behind Hungary's Tamas Darnyi in the 200-meter individual medley, earned a berth on the 1996 team when he placed second in the 200 IM behind Tom Dolan at the trials in March. Karnaugh finished fourth but advanced to the first alternate spot after third-place finisher Paul Nelsen did not sign a form guaranteeing that he would continue training.

The USOC will not address the issue before Monday at the earliest. In any event, the recent uproar has been embarrassing for Burgess, 24, and has detracted from his preparation, said his coach, Gregg Troy of Jacksonville's Bolles Sharks.

"It certainly has made it more difficult than what it needs to be," Troy said. "But there's not much we can do about it. I think it has been distracting in our training, not that his training hasn't been good. But it doesn't help when you read about yourself in the paper and come to practice 30 minutes later."

Clearly, Burgess' mind has not been totally focused on defeating world-record holder Jani Sievinen of Finland in the 200 IM. Troy and Burgess admit that a mistake was made but point out that the transgression doesn't exactly put Burgess in the same company as Lawrence Phillips.

Raffer said he and his client remain adamant about pursuing the case, even to the American Arbitration Assn., if necessary.

"The strain is taking its toll," Raffer said. "I talk to Ron every day, and if he wanted to back off then we would. We were urged in a nice way to back off by [U.S] Swimming and the USOC. If we lose, we lose. Ron was not brought up that if you see something wrong, you don't do anything. We're trying to protect Mr. Burgess from being another Bruce Kimball. . . . Ron is not the one who broke the law. My swimmer didn't break the law."

Kimball, a silver-medalist diver in the 1984 Games, spent more than four years in prison after killing two people and injuring four others in a 1988 alcohol-related driving accident.

Burgess' supporters castigated Karnaugh. They say the campaign is one of self-interest, not altruism.

"It's like the days of [Bjorn] Borg and [Jimmy] Connors, you're pulling for one to win by the other losing by double-faulting or a foot fault," attorney Coxe said.

Olympic backstroker Tripp Schwenk, a teammate of Burgess' for a season at Tennessee before Burgess transferred to Florida, was outraged.

"He [Burgess] would never do anything to intentionally stand in the way of someone else's Olympic aspirations," Schwenk told the Florida Times-Union. "In my opinion, he [Karnaugh] is the biggest jerk in the world. If I get in hot water for saying this, that's fine. Because Greg Burgess needs and deserves to have people on his side. . . . I think this whole thing has been blown out of proportion. I think it's really sad that Karnaugh is allowed to go on this mission."

FACTOID

Twenty days from today, at approximately 8:30 PDT on the morning after the opening ceremony, the first medals of the Centennial Games will be awarded. The event is the women's 10-meter air rifle competition.

NEWSMAKER

Gwen Torrence was favored to defend the Olympic title in the 200 meters. Then she suffered a muscle strain in her upper left thigh during the U.S. track and field trials and failed to make the team in that event, finishing fourth by one-thousandth of a second.

But for every story of disappointment, there is another of gratification. The woman who edged Torrence in a photo finish to earn the third berth in the 200 was Inger Miller of Pasadena.

Miller, a 1995 USC graduate in biological sciences, had never reached the potential she showed at Muir High because of injuries. But she decided this year to concentrate on making the Olympic team, postponing her studies in veterinary medicine.

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