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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | BILL PLASCHKE

It's Five Times the Fun, Five Times the Confusion

July 31, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE

CONYERS, Ga. — It is 5 p.m. on a Los Angeles city bus in the middle of a parking lot 30 miles outside Atlanta. Everyone inside grows quiet with a sudden bit of enlightenment that goes: I don't know where I am, or why I am here.

The bus circles and circles. It has been almost 30 minutes since these fans left their cars at a parking lot where a guy took $10 per driver and welcomed them to the Georgia International Horse Park.

Which wasn't anywhere close.

The bus stops, starts and circles again. Maybe another reason nobody says anything is because they are attending the Olympic modern pentathlon, and maybe they think this is one of the events.

Five sports. Three venues. Thirteen hours. A one-day rebirth for a historic contest--George Patton's sport, dammit--that could be waived from the Olympic roster next year for lack of interest.

It could have been a beautiful thing, all this shooting and fencing and swimming and horseback riding and running.

Except only a hardy few could attend all five events. Only a brilliant few could understand them.

And all but a virtuous few wanted to slug somebody on the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games for turning sport to torture.

(Note to native Atlantans: This story is about fans, not media. They whined, not us.)

So we're on this bus headed for the final two events of the pentathlon, and one of the fans wonders if one of the events isn't a video game.

"Don't they do Tetris in this thing?" asks David Thayer, a phone company worker from Conyers.

Another fan starts talking about showing up at the morning events with a pentathlon ticket, but not being allowed into the arena because the pentathlon ticket policy changed.

"So about 10 of us got together and kind of stormed them," says Andy Michaud, an Orlando veterinarian. "It was early, nobody was there, so they just let us in."

Then there is Everen Brown of Salt Lake City. He is not on this bus. He quit four hours ago at the swimming venue, leaving with a declaration that would have made Patton proud:

"It takes a modern pentathlete just to get around to the modern pentathlon."

SHOOTING

It is 7:10 a.m. at the Georgia World Congress Center when the first shot is fired by a line of indistinguishable guys wearing baggy sweats.

A fuzzy big-screen TV in one corner serves as a scoreboard, no big deal considering only a couple of hundred people sit empty-handed in the stands.

Bless my $2 bagel, an event here beginning without concession stands being open.

Not that Rich Dyer and his family of four are hungry. But when they arrived on a bus this morning, ACOG had forgotten to open the gates. The Dyers and others walked 15 minutes around the other side of the stadium before finding an entrance.

FENCING

The air-pistol shooting takes 30 minutes, then everyone walks next door for the fencing. Not all with such certainty, though.

"By the time we figured out our seats and what was happening, the shooting was about over," complains Edna Kohnke, a retiree from nearby Lilburn. "We don't know what they were shooting at, and whether they hit it."

Kohnke's southern accent is dancing this morning with frustration over a ticket that she thought entitled her to an entire day of the pentathlon.

Turns out, for her $22, she gets only the first two events.

It would cost her $16 more for the swimming in the early afternoon, and another $22 for the riding and running in the evening, providing she can figure out how to get to the other two venues.

Originally, ACOG sold one ticket for all five events. But realizing they could make more money while being forced to provide less transportation, organizers nullified that super ticket and began selling them separately.

"I got ripped off," Kohnke says. "When you go to a pentathlon, shouldn't you be allowed to see everything?"

She and a friend depart in the middle of the three-hour fencing matches, as do many others, leaving the arena only one-third full.

The U.S. chances disappear about the same time Michael Gostigian, the only member of the team, essentially falls on his epee.

"This is a sport of no mulligans, and narrow fairways . . . and I'm not going to tell you where I just hit my first shot," says the man whose personality deserves better.

SWIMMING

Everen Brown didn't mind that he paid $16 to watch 30 minutes worth of races--one 300-meter freestyle swim by each of the 32 competitors.

It is the $20 parking that stuns him.

It is these pentathletes appearance on the starting blocks that stuns me.

Two words: farmer tan.

RIDING AND RUNNING

"Unless Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly are waiting behind a tree to knock off the first 12 guys during the run, I don't have a chance," Gostigian says after putting his horse through an obstacle course.

He doesn't, finishing 16th in the four-kilometer run to Alexander Parygin, who catches Russian Edward Zenovka in the final 10 yards for a dramatic victory, .

The stands here are one-third full. Gostigian, in the announced finale of his three Olympic appearances, is 100% peeved.

"I've got 100 friends back at the Olympic Village, and they want to be here to watch, but they can't," he says. "They can't get tickets, and they can't get transportation here."

Whiner.

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