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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | THE DAY IN SYDNEY

Day of Upsets Is Enough to Make His Head Spin

September 28, 2000|MIKE PENNER

SYDNEY, Australia — Shame Of The Games: American Journo Tests Positive For Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride.

That would be me. I admit it. I confess. I took pseudoephedrine hydrochloride. And paracetamol too.

But I am not alone. If I'm going to go down, I'm taking people with me.

Bill Dwyre, The Times' chef de mission here in Sydney, introduced me to the shadowy yellow pills midway through the Games. Very surreptitiously, when no one else was around, he slipped two of them into my hand, looked to his right, looked to his left, and whispered, "Take these. They will enhance your performance."

What else could I do? The Summer Olympics come around only once every four years. I'd written a lifetime to get to this moment. You can call it selfish, but think I'm allowed to be selfish tonight. This is my night. So I popped the Tylenol Allergy Sinus medication. Followed the directions right on the box: Take two and sit to write.

Feeling better now, although it was touch and go for awhile. In and out of the cold rain and steaming Amazon jungles known as "mixed zones," hacks covering these Olympics are hacking all over the place. The 1968 Winter Olympics had American figure skater Peggy Fleming, the 2000 Summer Olympics have American sportswriters practically phlegming. You can hardly think straight, with all the foghorn sneezing going on. Dwyre has been hit particularly hard. He and I missed our true calling; we should have entered the coxless pair coughing-and-wheezing sculls. They'd be hanging gold medals around our sore throats and swollen glands right now.

I could be hallucinating, but I thought I just saw a 285-pound red-white-and-blue Greco-Roman-Sumo wrestler win the Olympic men's gymnastics floor exercise. Just did a cartwheel that shook Sydney Harbor. Followed it up with a somersault that rattled Ayers Rock.

American Rulon Gardner, who is not to be confused with the tennis stadium Roland Garros, but is almost as large, came through against staggering odds and just like Rocky and the 1980 U.S. hockey team, beat the unbeatable Russian.

Alexander Karelin is not just a super heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestler. He is the super super heavyweight. The platinum plutonium heavyweight. Had won something like seven world championships in a row. Hadn't lost a bout in 137 years, according to one release I saw.

Well, Gardner uprooted him, right before our bloodshot eyes, and planted him on the silver medal stand. Then, as if that wasn't enough, he cartwheeled and somersaulted and became the first American man to clinch a spot on the 2004 Olympic gymnastics team.

My head's a little cloudy, but I also thought I saw the U.S. baseball team take out another super heavyweight, the unconquerable Cubans, for another gold medal. And then I thought I heard Tom Lasorda call it "the greatest moment of my life."

Lasorda won the gold medal on the same day the Dodgers were mathematically eliminated from National League playoff consideration. Think about that symmetry, Dodger fans. Yes, you two who haven't already.

I can see it now: Davey Johnson's out the door, Lasorda's back in, Dodger blue No. 2 is back in commission, Lasorda brings back Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez, the Dodgers trade for a real shortstop, the Dodgers win the NL West, the Dodgers win a playoff game . . .

Hold on a second.

What's in these pills again?

Now I'm seeing red dots. Red dots all over, right next to names of 20-kilometer racewalkers. And red cards, waving one 20-kilometer racewalker after another out of the competition.

An Australian racewalker, Jane Saville, was disqualified just 100 meters from the finish for doing more racing than walking. China's world champion, Liu Hongyu, was also DQed, as was Italy's Elisabetta Perrone, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist, who saw red at around 16 kilometers, stopped walking and started jogging.

This is an effective way to make up ground in the 20-kilometer racewalk. Perrone started passing walkers right and left, including Saville, who looked around quizzically as Perrone jogged by and had to ask trackside supporters if either she or Perrone had entered the wrong kind of race.

I'm blinking much harder now. I can't be sure, but I think I just read a L'Equipe interview in which Sydney-to-Paris marathoner Marie-Jose Perec said she would have dusted Cathy Freeman if she'd stayed in town long enough for the 400-meter final.

"I think I would have run the race in less than 49 seconds," was how Perec was quoted in the French publication. Freeman won the gold medal in Sydney in 49.11 seconds.

Perec said she would never set spiked foot on Australian soil again, but could race Freeman next month in Qatar. L'Equipe reports that track promoters in Doha are offering a million-dollar purse for a Freeman-Perec match race in early October.

My head hurts.

Time for some more pseudoephedrine hydrochloride.

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