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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | COMMENTARY

In This View of Games, Anyone Can Be a Champion

August 05, 1996|TONY KORNHEISER | THE WASHINGTON POST

Attn: His Excellency Juan Antonio Samaranch

President

International Olympic Committee

Your Excellency,

Please accept my sincere congratulations on a splendid Olympics. I bought loads of souvenirs, including an official Izzy anti-shrapnel vest.

By the way, how did you get to be "Your Excellency"? Were you promoted from "Your Very Goodness"? There aren't enough blowhard titles in America. If I had a title, I'd like it to be something that would help me get chicks, like "Your Mammoth Groinship."

Anyway, I want to congratulate you on a number of things, starting with how you were able to stretch a track meet, a swim meet, a non-competitive basketball tournament and some gumdrops in leotards balancing themselves on shower rods into 16 days of prime-time television. The swim meet lasted a week! All you could see were flailing elbows and the tops of bathing caps. If watching water churn is so exciting, how come they don't sell tickets to Laundromats? And what about small-bore rifle shooting? As long as we're shooting small bores, sign me up for Richard Simmons.

I have enjoyed the thousands of taped pieces about Olympic athletes overcoming tragedies in their lives, especially the ones narrated by the overwrought, simpering dope John Tesh. It's amazing how many of these Olympians have had close relatives die horribly, or suffered tragic illnesses, or survived tragic kiln explosions, or watched their cat stick its head in the goldfish bowl and eat "Buster." I felt so badly for the swimmer who had to overcome a severe case of sunburn. And I cried when I saw the one about the diver who once got into bad traffic going to the mall.

I have been particularly intrigued by the Modern Pentathlon, an event created by Baron de Coubertin 85 years ago. What a whacko concept. The Modern Pentathlon is based on the premise that you are a soldier and you have to deliver a message to the front lines. To get past the enemy, you have to display ability in running, swimming, riding horseback, shooting and fencing. Of course, if you had to deliver a message to the front lines in a truly modern pentathlon, the five disciplines would be: phone, fax, pager, e-mail and satellite uplink. And the coach of the U.S. team would be Bill Gates.

Baron de Coubertin created the first designer event in the Olympics. If he can do it, so can I.

I decided to invent an event that would give me, and only me, a good shot for the gold. So, I've come up with the "Baron von Kornheiser Triathlon," which tests disciplines important in my life.

1. This first event would be the field-narrower, the one designed to eliminate most of my potential competition. I call this event "The Bowling Ball Catapult." A bowling ball would be placed on one end of a regulation playground seesaw. The competitor will be required to leap onto the other end, tuchus first, so as to hurl the bowling ball the greatest possible distance. This would immediately eliminate anyone who is not A. fat (I'd like to see perky Kerri Strug launch that Brunswick Bad Boy more than a few inches) and B. sedentary, with a well-padded behind accustomed to long hours riding the pine in, say, a newsroom.

2. The second contest would be sarcasm. Competitors are put in a hotel with no room service, no cable, no turn-down service and cheap towels. Competitors are judged by how long it takes them to contact the front desk ("Oh, good, there's someone working here. And why did you seek employment here, dear, lose your job to an automatic pin setter?"), demand to speak to the hotel manager ("unless he hasn't gotten off his shift at the 7-Eleven yet") and start complaining about the accommodations ("If I'd known I was staying in a rat hole, I'd have brought Cheez Whiz. By the way, who does your decorating here, Ray Charles?").

3. Whining is next. Competitors remain in the hotel room and are judged by how quickly they call their offices and ask to come home, plus the creativity and boldness of the excuses they offer ("My pancreas exploded.").

Lastly, I think the winner ought to get something more than a gold medal. I was pleased to see that Hong Kong rewarded its first-ever medalist, Lee Lai-Shan, with free subway rides for life. At the moment, though, nobody knows whose "life" that refers to--Lai-Shan's or Hong Kong's, as China is scheduled to take over Hong Kong from the British next year. My advice to Lai-Shan is to get in that subway now and be prepared to ride forever beneath the streets of Hong Kong, like Charley on the MTA.

I think America ought to offer its Olympic winners a lifetime supply of some product too. I have been trying to think of the perfect product, something lowly but important, the sort of thing you don't appreciate until you look around and don't see any of it anywhere.

I know -- humility.

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