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LOOKING BACK / 1984 OLYMPICS: DAY 6 IN L.A.

Footnote Even for a Gold

August 02, 2004|Bill Dwyre

With the finals of the women's gymnastics all-around still a day away, Mary Lou Retton already had won the hearts of viewers in the United States, and probably worldwide.

The Times' Jim Murray, in a column that ran under the headline "Now We Have Charlie Hustle in a Leotard," wrote that "She is 4 feet 9 inches tall, and 3 feet 7 is eyes."

In the men's competition, Peter Vidmar, with a team gold already in his pocket, barely missed an all-round title when he hopped ever so slightly on his dismount from the parallel bars. That cost him 0.025 of a point and meant a silver instead of gold.

For U.S. swimmer George DiCarlo, the joy was somewhat tempered too. He won the 400 freestyle with an Olympic-record performance and then lost that record 10 minutes later. In one of the stranger and less-publicized happenstances of the L.A. Olympics, West Germany's Thomas Fahrner, who had failed by one spot to make the final and thus was swimming in a consolation 400 that had been introduced into the L.A. competition to give more exposure to other countries in the evening sessions, broke DiCarlo's world record.

Officials, at first in denial that such a thing could happen and leaning toward rejecting Fahrner's mark, eventually came to the conclusion that it had been achieved in an Olympic competition and could hardly be ignored. So DiCarlo won the gold medal and the ninth-best qualifier took the Olympic record.

Soccer was still a hot ticket. Italy's men -- there was no women's soccer in the '84 Olympics -- played Costa Rica in the Rose Bowl. The crowd of 41,291 for a preliminary-round game involving no Americans provided a good counterpoint to those who were turned off by the perceived chauvinistic nature of these Olympics.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, wrote a letter of protest to Peter Ueberroth, saying that ABC was covering only U.S. athletes and U.S. stories. The Times ran a lengthy story, providing a forum for non-U.S. athletes, coaches and officials to have their say and for Ueberroth, an ABC spokesman and Times Managing Editor George Cotliar to respond that they thought the audiences being served were dictating TV and newspaper coverage.

That turned out to be pretty much a one-day story, quickly overrun by more U.S. medals and celebrations.

In a sport in which the U.S. seldom was a factor and the Soviet athletes usually dominated, even Greco-Roman wrestling became an American bright spot. Jeff Blatnick, two years after beating Hodgkin's disease, won the super-heavyweight gold medal.

Paul Zimmerman, sports editor of The Times for more than 30 years, was retired by the time the '84 Games came along but still had his zeal for the Olympics. During the '84 Games, he wrote pieces for The Times and for a large-circulation Japanese newspaper.

But he wasn't the one who uncovered the story this day about a Japanese masseur who had given one of his team's male volleyball players a cold medication that contained ephedra. When the medication showed up in the player's urine, the IOC banned the masseur, not the player.

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