Is a controvery free Olympics too much to ask?

Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2000

SYDNEY-Can't we please just have one Olympics where there isn't some big American controversy?

In Lillehammer we had knee-tapping Tonya Harding, the figure skater who arranged her competition's choreography with a metal pipe. In Atlanta there was Dream Team 2 giving everybody a nightmare, buses that disappeared and a bomb in Centennial Olympic Park.

In Nagano the professional hockey players on the U.S. team made up for what they missed when they skipped college for charm school by staying up all night, bothering the other athletes with loud music and turning the chairs and desks in their rooms into kindling. We even took care of the next Olympics, in Salt Lake City, by getting caught bribing IOC officials to bring the 2002 Games there.

At least Sydney looked like an oasis in this desert of poor judgment. Perhaps Americans would slide through unembarrassed. Through 10 days there were no late-night press conferences to explain embarrassing incidents. We have been gracious guests, winning enough medals to feel good, but not too many to appear greedy.

Oh, sure, there were other people acting up: Bulgarian weightlifters, French runners and other assorted minor players. But when they do something stupid, somehow it doesn't reflect on their national culture. It's just a crazy young athlete doing something dumb.

When our athletes act up, it's a matter of national policy. I guess that's the price you pay when you're the world's last superpower, and you win a lot of medals.

So now we have the federation governing international track and field leaking the story that American world champion shot putter C.J. Hunter shattered the curve on a drug test at a meet in Oslo in July.

That wouldn't be too bad if this just involved Hunter, but he has become more famous for his taste in women than for how far he can throw a steel ball. He's married to Marion Jones, soon to be the most famous woman in sports throughout the world and the second most famous in Australia behind Cathy Freeman.

Jones just happens to be in the middle of an attempt to win five gold medals. Do you think this will distract her? The media sharks are circling faster than the Great Whites at Bondi Beach after a blood bank spill.

Of course, no one will comment on this accusation. Of course, USA Track and Field held a press conference to say they had nothing to say and wouldn't answer any questions about the controversy.

Of course, that just incensed the international press, who wound up accusing the U.S. Olympic committee of doing just about everything short of handing out Pez dispensers full of illegal drugs.

Now the IOC bigwigs are taking aim with their blunderbusses. IOC member Dick Pound, from Canada, who seems to harbor a grudge against Americans ever since Atlanta police detained his wife for jaywalking during the 1996 Olympics, says the USOC is covering up at least 15 cases of positive drug tests by American athletes.

I don't know if Hunter used illegal drugs. Neither do you. But there have been so many cases of athletes cheating that we're all prepared to believe it's true. Some Olympic athletes are incensed. They say the drug cheats are stealing from the honest athletes, and it's time the athletes themselves fix the problem.

Just do it fast, folks. Would tomorrow be too soon? We're about to unveil a new hero for a world that desperately needs heroes. It would be a shame to see her quest fall apart because her husband did something stupid. It would even worse if the Marion Jones express gets derailed and it turns out Hunter's innocent.

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