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Storm Fronts

With antagonism increasing between the U.S. and IOC, it seems unlikely Olympics will be awarded here for a while after Salt Lake City Games.

September 27, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

SYDNEY, Australia — More than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, these Olympics were supposed to be the Friendly Games.

The Cold War ramifications of which country finished atop the medal standings, so pervasive in the '60s and '70s that some suggested dropping national flags and anthems from medal ceremonies, would be replaced by the unity and harmony of a world largely at peace. Even the two Koreas, still technically at war, marched together in the opening ceremony. There would be no more us against them. Just us.

It was too good to be true.

All you have to do is read Shakespeare--actually, you can go back even further, to Genesis--to know that for every hero, you must have a villain. Good and evil, protagonist and antagonist, yin and yang.

Guess who's playing the role of yang here at the Friendly Games?

As Pogo said in the old cartoon, we have met the enemy and it is us--us as in U.S.

We are the new Soviets.

We thought we were John Wayne.

We turned out to be Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street."

We are too successful, too rich, too cocky. Our athletes are too good, our dollar is too strong and our pop culture oppressive.

Little of this resentment, fortunately, has manifested itself in our welcome from Australians. They, for the most part, seem OK with us, even though they insist on calling us Seppos.

That requires some explaining. Australians like to rhyme. (They're going to love Johnnie Cochran.) So Yanks become tanks. Tanks become septic tanks. And since Australians also like nicknames, septic tanks become Seppos.

But even Australians were infuriated when the producer of the opening ceremony invited a bunch of kids from the United States--along with kids from other countries--to form a marching band. That apparently was too American for Australians. You haven't seen so many people wanting to string up a band director since Harold Hill hit River City in "The Music Man." The matter went to court, the producer won, and the band remained in the opening ceremony. But Australians are still sore about it.


Their soreness at Americans, however, barely registers in comparison to that of the International Olympic Committee.

Reaction of certain members to the news that U.S. shotputter C.J. Hunter had tested positive for a steroid was little less than gleeful. Now Hunter, although he is a reigning world champion, is hardly a marquee name. But his wife, Marion Jones, is the biggest U.S. star here, and some IOC members are only too happy to have suspicions raised about her performances. Nothing personal against her. It's directed more against the name she wears on her singlet, USA.

The IOC has been spoiling for an opportunity to make the United States look bad on the drug front ever since the Clinton Administration's anti-drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, began raising questions last year about the IOC's ability, or even willingness, to seriously confront the issue.

Richard Quick, the U.S. women's swim coach, revived the theme last week when he expressed concerns about "the quality and the frequency" of IOC drug testing.

The IOC has always patted itself on the back for its efforts in this area, especially in comparison to U.S. professional sports organizations such as the NFL, NBA and major league baseball. So to suddenly be on the other end of the pointed finger was too much for some members.

Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOC's medical commission, charged that five positive tests--he said he couldn't recall details--involving U.S. athletes in Seoul 12 years ago were covered up by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Arne Ljungqvist, a member of the IOC's medical commission, reported that 15 positive tests involving current U.S. track and field athletes have not been accounted for by USA Track and Field. (The number in one Sydney newspaper today was up to 20; it will probably be 100 by the closing ceremony.)

There is some truth in both of their claims.

There were irregularities involving 12 U.S. athletes in 1988, most involving asthma medication. But they were disclosed and dealt with years ago. De Merode knew that but chose to speak out this week as if he had new information about U.S. athletes in Seoul.

Ljungqvist also is correct in saying that some U.S. track and field athletes have recently failed drug tests, but they are still involved in the appeal process in the United States. Besides, none is a member of the U.S. team here. He and Craig Masback, USA Track and Field executive director, met this week and discussed the misunderstanding.

There are, however, legitimate concerns about the U.S. Olympic Committee's commitment to drug testing. The last two directors of its medical commission, Dr. Robert Voy and Dr. Wade Exum, have quit in frustration. Here, on Tuesday, McCaffrey sent a letter to Masback, urging him to come clean if he hasn't already.

No one is saying that the Americans shouldn't be twisting in the wind. It's just disturbing to see the IOC so happy about it.


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