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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | SPOTLIGHT / THE
SHORT AND SWEET SIDE OF THE GAMES

Once More: Who Is He?

September 22, 2000

Ruthie Bolton-Holifield grew up in Mississippi, not exactly a winter sports wonderland.

So when the U.S. basketball player was told after blowing out a knee that her doctor would be Eric Heiden, she figured he was just another orthopedic surgeon.

"I had never heard of him," Bolton-Holifield admitted this week in Sydney. "I wasn't really big on winter sports and my husband was like, 'You don't know who he is? He was a skater. He was in the Olympics.' I just didn't know."

And not just any skater. Heiden won five gold medals in speedskating at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, stamping his name forever in the lore of the Winter Games. Last year, a panel assembled by the Associated Press named Heiden the Winter Olympian of the Century.

Oh, yeah, that Eric Heiden.

Bolton-Holifield, a guard for the U.S. women's basketball team, apologized to Heiden for not realizing who he was. Heiden, a modest, easygoing sort who just happens to have thunderous thighs, took no offense. He even offered to refer Bolton-Holifield to another doctor.

"I was like, are you kidding me?" she said. "You're a five-time gold medalist and you ask me can I rely on you? Yes, I can."

On June 29, 1998, Heiden repaired Bolton-Holifield's shredded left knee. Six Olympic gold medals were represented in that operating room--the five won by Heiden and the one Bolton-Holifield earned in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

"He was real proud after the surgery," Bolton-Holifield said.

RIVALRY HEATS UP DOWN UNDER

Australians have numerous jokes about their Oceania neighbors from New Zealand, most of them with a punch line that includes sheep.

The jokes this week in Sydney, however, are about the Kiwi Olympic team, which, through Thursday, had yet to win any medals.

"If you're a New Zealander in Australia--don't admit it," is one line from Channel Seven's "The Dream Show."

Now the New Zealanders are whining, or, as Australians say, whinging.

Under a headline in the New Zealand Herald reading, "Trust the Aussies to Rub It In," the newspaper reported, "As if the constant Ocker crowing about the swimming deeds of 'Thorpy' and 'Klimmy' wasn't enough, they've started pointing the finger of scorn at New Zealand's nonappearance on the medal tables."

YOU COULD LOOK IT UP

Australians who attend the baseball competition here seem to like the game OK, comparing games to one-day cricket matches, but they're having difficulty with "the obligatory crowd leg stretch," as it was called in Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

Especially the part where they're supposed to sing, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

Mothers cover their children's ears on the line, "Root, root, root, for the home team," the word root having an entirely different meaning here.

LOST IN HIS OWN WORLD

Matt Welsh, the Australian swimmer who won a bronze medal in the 200-meter backstroke Thursday, was asked what he actually sees while backstroking.

"Water is flowing over my face, so it's like, I can see, then I can't, I can see, then I can't," he explained perfectly.

He said when he was younger, he tried to look for a line in the ceiling and follow it.

"I was always getting tangled up in the lane lines, and I needed direction," he said. "But no more. An atomic bomb could go off in front my face and I wouldn't notice it."

He said his biggest problem now is that he gets too comfortable, and forgets about the flags that warn backstrokers of the end of the pool.

"I'll be swimming along and see the flags and think, cool, flags," he said. "Then I'll realize, wait a minute, that means I have to turn! So sometimes I get in trouble on my turns."

ONE WOMAN'S HORROR . . .

A reporter at the tennis venue was pursuing a story angle Thursday about how much some of the tennis players were enjoying their experience in the athletes' village.

First, he asked Venus Williams, who is living in a hotel, rather than the village.

"It's a little uncomfortable going there," she said. "I would just like to go and talk to some of them, but everybody wants to have me pose for pictures, and I don't care for that."

Later, he asked Monica Seles.

She said, "I love the atmosphere. If somebody asks me to pose for a picture, I consider it an honor."

BONDI BEACH PARTY

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer begins, "please put your hands together for the world's biggest beach volleyball fan."

All eyes turn to Roberto Santana, known as "Seven Ball," who lifts up his 480-pound body and starts a rhythmic clapping that quickly spreads through the Bondi Beach stadium.

His companion on trombone joins in, and so does everyone else. Kids in baggy pants dance in the aisles, while face-painted, wig-wearing adults clap and holler. Flags of all sizes and colors wave.

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