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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | Inside the Olympics

A Solution: Let Moths Eat Fatso the Wombat

September 25, 2000|MIKE PENNER

SYDNEY, Australia — After running millions of spectators onto trains and through metal-detector security tests, I guess it was bound to happen eventually. But today, it was made official: Our friendly Australian hosts have finally gone loopy.

Today, the Australian Olympic Committee took firm, decisive steps to ban a stuffed toy wombat from the Sydney Games.

The wombat, according to reliable sources, has not tested positive for diuretics or steroids or human growth hormone. Although, in fairness, it must be reported that the animal's backside is unnaturally large, giving rise to suspicion, innuendo and the marsupial's well-known nickname: Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat.

Fatso is the cartoon mascot of Seven network's popular late-night Olympic satire, "The Dream," hosted by two very funny Australian comedians who mock-present, mock-broadcast and pretty much mock everything about the Sydney Olympics. It truly is must-see TV, and if the Aussies had been smart enough to export it to the States--to, say, ABC or HBO--NBC's ratings now would be in negative integers.

Every night, Fatso waddles across the screen leaving animated droppings in his wake during replays of Olympic bloopers. "The Dream" team also interviews Australian athletes holding a stuffed toy version of Fatso, who has made guest appearances on the medal podium with swimmers Michael Klim, Susie O'Neill and Grant Hackett.

It is this toy the AOC wants expelled from the Games, because Fatso has become so popular among Aussies, he is overshadowing the AOC's "official" boxing kangaroo Olympic mascot--and the AOC has loads of boxing kangaroo T-shirts, flags and soft toys to sell.

This has developed into a major story here. According to the Daily Telegraph, the AOC has filed a written request to Seven asking the network to refrain from pushing Fatso into the arms of Australian medalists just before award ceremonies. Seven has reportedly agreed to the request.

Fatso has become so big, International Olympic Committee Director General Francois Carrard, who ordinarily moderates very serious news briefings about very serious issues, was asked to comment on the matter.

"I'm not aware of banning Fatso," was Carrard's very serious response.

Yes, they have completely lost it in Sydney. To combat the humongous bogong moths that have swarmed Olympic Stadium, drawn by the hundreds to the massive floodlights, an Australian restaurant owner has proposed eating them.

Hanging gigantic moth balls from the light standards would be unsightly, and spraying pesticide would not be good for the denizens of the upper deck, so Jannece Kersch, ) who runs the gourmet restaurant at the Main Press Center, has suggested frying them up in tasty, if oddly crunchy, omelets.

Kersch even has a recipe for bogong moths, which, according to adventuresome Australian gourmands, taste like a cross between a walnut and a pecan, only more furry. Kersch has offered to whip up a bogong omelet, seasoned with olive oil and Tasmanian pepperberry leaf, for any curious members of the media.

No takers from the American press corps yet.

The moths have become a significant problem at the track and field competition. Sprinter Ato Boldon, when asked why he was wearing sunglasses during a 100-meter final contested at night, explained, only half-joking, "It was because of the moths."

Oh, I've seen bogongs and I've seen rain. Inclement insects and weather plagued the men's high jump and hammer finals, as well as the 400-meter semifinals, which left Australian track hero Cathy Freeman looking more like an Australian swimming hero.

High jump silver medalist Javier Sotomayor complained loudly about the difficulties of high-jumping in the rain, but at least he has a cushion to fall back on. What about the poor hammer throwers? You ever try to throw a hammer in the rain? Would you want to be around people throwing hammers in the rain? Let me tell you, those hammers get slippery. If you don't pay very, very close attention, you easily could get nailed.

Actually, that advice is worth spreading around. In the women's soccer semifinals, a German defender named Tina Wunderlich didn't pay close enough attention while retreating under a long Norwegian lob and wound up heading the ball into her own net for the only goal of the match.

Norway 0, Wunderlich 1; Norway advances to the gold-medal match against the United States.

Maurice Greene also didn't pay close enough attention to the details in the aftermath of his victorious 100-meter sprint, and now it's going to cost him. Greene pulled off both of his shoes, possibly to shake out all the bogong moths inside, and in his jubilation, threw one of them into the stands.

That shoe, Greene has been told, might be worth more than $180,000 (Australian) to memorabilia collectors.

"If it's worth that much," Greene said, "then I think I want it back."

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