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Close to the Flame

Feeling the Heat From Bribery Scandal, DeFrantz Focuses on What's Right With IOC

February 26, 1999|RANDY HARVEY

Since the glorious summer of 1984, the legacy of the L.A. Olympics has resided at 2141 W. Adams Blvd. That is the address of the Amateur Athletic Foundation, which was created with the surplus from the Games and since has contributed$90 million to youth sports in Southern California.

Symbolic of the spirit that remained after the 7,078 athletes from 140 nations left, the flame in the courtyard burns day and night.

But as I approached the AAF on Tuesday, for my first visit since the worst scandal in Olympic history began to seep like noxious fumes out of Salt Lake City in December, I wondered whether that flame has been flickering. Certainly, my four-decade-long fascination with the Olympics has been.

When I see the five rings today, I feel good only if I connect them with athletes. I was reminded of that as I looked at the pictures on the walls on the first floor. Eric Heiden. Bjorn Daehlie. Kristi Yamaguchi. Scott Hamilton. Peggy Fleming. Dick Button.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 12, 1999 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 11 Sports Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Olympics--Genealogical research for Anita DeFrantz, an International Olympic Committee member from Los Angeles, was completed by a private researcher and commissioned by the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The information was incorrect Feb. 26.

The Olympics are about them, not Juan Antonio Samaranch and the other 100 or so--depending on how many eventually will resign or be expelled--members of the International Olympic Committee.

I've always believed, still believe, that the woman upstairs at the AAF shares that sentiment.

Still, I felt I had to ask Anita DeFrantz, the foundation's president, about it when I was shown into her office.

She repeated a story she has often told, about the days leading to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, where she would participate in rowing as a member of the U.S. women's eight. A teammate told her that if they were standing on the podium at competition's end, they would receive their medals from "the Lord."

"Divine intervention," DeFrantz mused.

"No," the teammate said. "Lord Killanin."

DeFrantz didn't know Killanin, the Irish IOC president at the time, and the only thought she gave him in subsequent days was while wondering which color medal he might place around her neck. (It was a bronze.)

"Like most athletes, I neither knew nor cared about the IOC," she said.

She was a naive athlete with a singular purpose then. Today, she is an IOC vice president, and, as such, spends much of her time defending not only the organization but herself. On a recent day, she received 80 phone calls at her office. The summer of '76 was a far better time.

The crisis has taken a political toll. DeFrantz, 46, was once considered a leading candidate to succeed Samaranch as president when his fourth term expires in 2001, but her immediate chances probably have been damaged because she is one of the IOC's two U.S. members amid a scandal that erupted in a U.S. city, Salt Lake City.

It also has taken a personal toll.

"I know what has occurred is wrong," she said. "Members have abused their privileges. It's painful, it's infuriating, it makes me angry. It also makes me sad that so much is being made of one small part of what we do as an IOC member. It gnaws at me."

So much so that she has experienced sleepless nights, one recently during which she called an IOC colleague from Hungary, Pal Schmitt, at 2:45 a.m. to inform him of a report in the New York Times.

According to the newspaper, she approached Mike McGee, USC's athletic director in the early '90s, and inquired about a position on the tennis team for Schmitt's daughter.

DeFrantz has never denied it. Why should she? Petra Schmitt was being recruited by three other U.S. universities, and DeFrantz believed she was doing USC a favor by alerting McGee. She was. Schmitt received a scholarship and became a two-time All-American for the Trojans. DeFrantz said she also contacted UCLA.

No one accused either DeFrantz or Pal Schmitt of unethical behavior. But because the incident was reported within a story about the scandal, there was a hint of such.

In two other cases, DeFrantz has been compelled to respond to accusations.

One was that she worked as a paid consultant for Anchorage's unsuccessful bid for the 1992 Winter Games while serving as an IOC member. In fact, DeFrantz, the mayor of the athletes' village at USC during the '84 Games, designed the proposed village in Anchorage as a consultant to one of the bid's consultants and the job was completed before she became an IOC member in October 1986.

The other was that she received research on her family genealogy in 1996 from the Church of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City at the expense of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee. That is true, she said, although she was unaware of it at the time. When informed by church officials that her bill, which amounted to $1,500, had been paid, she reimbursed the SLOC. She has the canceled check.

It is more problematic for DeFrantz to defend herself against suggestions that, as a high-ranking IOC member, she knew about misbehavior by some of her colleagues--24 have been implicated so far--and did nothing to expose them.

Not true, she said. She made inquiries of SLOC members about rumors she had heard.

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