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Tarango, Spadea Can't String Along Success

September 23, 2000|MIKE PENNER

SYDNEY, Australia — I was hoping to talk to a Bulgarian weightlifter today, but they've all been expelled from the Games for using diuretics or traded to Qatar.

So then I decided to track down an American men's tennis player. You know, just to see how the defense of the 1996 gold medal is going, maybe get a few thoughts about what's in store in the third round.

They're all gone, too.

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi never made it down here, as you might have heard, for reasons reasonable (there's serious illness in Agassi's family) and reasonably lame (Sampras said he was tired). Neither did Jan-Michael Gambill, who said he'd be too busy this September losing ATP tournaments in Bucharest and Palermo.

Did you hear who replaced them on the U.S. Olympic team? Jeff Tarango and Vince Spadea. You did? Well, did you believe it when you heard it? Tarango is an international incident waiting to happen. Spadea was 2-24 for the year before he played Pat Rafter in the first round of the Olympics. Now he's 2-25.

Think about that for a moment. You might run around your backhand like Cathy Freeman on the oval, I skip more balls into the net than the U.S. women's water polo team, and yet both of us, you and I, could play 27 matches in the same events as Spadea and finish only two wins behind Spadea, United States Olympian.

Vince Spadea and the Equatorial Guinean swim team: Making the Olympics accessible for everyone.

So Spadea lost to Rafter, Todd Martin and Michael Chang went out with a clang and the second-seeded doubles team of Alex O'Brien and Jared Palmer lost to the doubles team from the Bahamas, here taking a break between Club Med coed beach volleyball tournaments. That left the fort to Tarango. Last Tarango in Sydney. He lost to an Argentine in straight sets, staying on the court for barely an hour. We can only hope he remembered to sweep up and take the flag.

America, we have seen the future of U.S. men's tennis here, post-Sampras, post-Agassi, and it is called, "Let's see what's showing on the Golf Channel."

U.S. prospects look much better in the pool, now that Anthony Ervin and Gary Hall Jr. have established themselves undisputed masters of the new Olympic sport of men's synchronized swimming.

Ervin and Hall tied for the 50-meter freestyle gold medal, both touching the wall as the clock ticked off 21.98 seconds. Boggling, really. Imagine how fast Ervin might have gone if he hadn't been carrying that extra weight attached to his earlobes.

(Swimmers are a strange breed. They shave off every shaft of body hair in pursuit of aerodynamic excellence, they squeeze their torsos into skin-tight bodysuits so they can better slither through the water. But metal hoop earrings? Better keep those on.)

The Olympic swim competition ended today, with Aussies fired up over the 1,500-meter freestyle showdown between Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett. "15 MINUTES TO GLORY" trumpeted the Sydney Morning Herald above its story advancing the race, which seemed a bit presumptuous. The Portland Trail Blazers said the same thing during Game 7 in Los Angeles.

Jenny Thompson swam her last Olympic race, helping the United States win the women's 400 medley relay in world-record time. Of course. Despite her very public feud with Dara Torres, Thompson at the Olympics has been the consummate team player.

Thompson's final Olympic medal count:

Relay golds: 8.

Individual golds: 0.

Individual silver: 1.

Individual bronze: 1.

Just call her Madame Relay.

At Olympic Stadium, Finn Arsi Harju and American Adam Nelson placed 1-2 in the men's shot put--or if you prefer the proper track and field shorthand: Arsi-Nelson.

Arsi hails from Perho, Finland, but recently spent a month training in San Diego, where he said he was often mistaken as a football player. No, he would politely reply in broken English, he did not play American football, nor did he play Arsi rules football. Arsi, who has a playful sense of humor, was fine with it until someone mistook him for a San Diego Charger. Within seconds, he was packing up his iron balls and stomping off back to Finland.

The first gold medal in track and field went to Poland's Robert Korzeniowski in the 20-kilometer racewalk after Korzeniowski was bumped up from second place after a disqualification. After walking 20 kilometers, Korzeniowski received his medal, which required him to walk several meters more.

Racewalk is the only sport in the Olympics which requires winners to repeat their performance during the medal presentation. Which is probably a good thing. Just off the top, the equestrian ceremony would be a mess.

Underachieving British tennis player Tim Henman reportedly did some long-distance walking of his own, taking the guided tour to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

This had to greatly please the English press corps, who could accurately report to readers back in Blighty, "On a magnificent day under a glowing Australian sun, Master Tim finally reached the pinnacle."

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