Sports Column

International lifelines should be open in times of strife

Trent Frayne January 21 1980
Sports Column

International lifelines should be open in times of strife

Trent Frayne January 21 1980

International lifelines should be open in times of strife

Sports Column

Trent Frayne

Why are medals struck for guys like Mark Spitz and Bruce Jenner, youths with all their hair and muscles on their muscles, while a distance runner named Don Kardong runs up and down the rocky slopes of Spokane, Washington, practically in total obscurity?

Black-haired Mark won seven golds and undying fame for splashing around in a swimming pool in Munich in 1972. Fair-haired Bruce won the decathlon gold in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium four years later, throwing his arms around his blonde wife for the cameras whenever he wasn’t throwing javelins and putting shots (shotting puts?) over Place Ville Marie.

The other day, though,

Bruce’s muscles tended to invade his skull. Some thoughtless newshound asked him how he felt about President Carter’s notion that U.S. athletes might have to be kept away from next summer’s _

Moscow Olympics on acm count of the Afghanistan 5 business. f

Bruce is against it.

“Jimmy Carter can’t even finish a 10kilometre race,” Bruce said with terrifying logic. “When he can, then he can start making decisions about sports.” Meanwhile, back in the hills of Spokane, here is Don Kardong, a man whose life is finely tuned to the Olympic goal. Don is a marathoner who competed at Montreal in 1976 in that tortuous 26 miles of supreme endurance and he aims now for Moscow. He is anything but a household word in the wonderful world of children’s games, but in the inner sanctum of long-distance runners he is remembered as the guy who finished fourth behind East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski, the marathon winner at Montreal.

“It would be a dangerous precedent to boycott the Games,” Kardong said between the huffs and puffs of Moscow preparation the other day. “I mean, where do you draw the line? A few years ago most of the world felt we were on

the wrong side in Vietnam. Nobody boycotted Montreal because of that.”

This is the point that has been overlooked in the furore over the presence of the Soviets in Afghanistan. None of the athletic unions, least of all the U.S.S.R.’s, threatened calling off the cultural exchanges with the U.S.—musical, theatrical or athletic—while American troops were sitting in Southeast Asia or bombing Cambodia. Similarly, running 100 metres on a rubberized track in Moscow next summer shouldn’t be construed as an endorse-

ment of the rightness of red-starred tanks in downtown Kabul.

Chances are that if some sort of understanding is to prevail in the world, international sports events such as hockey tournaments and gymnastic competitions and the Olympics ought to be spared the interference of throaty politicians. By themselves, these things do nothing much for world peace—contrary to the sanctimonious babblings of Olympic committee bigwigs.

The Olympic flame had scarcely reached its embers in Berlin in 1936 before Hitler’s armies were rumbling over half of Europe. In the wake of the Second World War the Games went on in Australia almost immediately after Soviet tanks crushed a revolt in Hungary, though blood flowed when Hungarians met Russians in water polo. The Games went on in Mexico City two weeks after army machine-guns massacred more than 30 students in the

Plaza of the Three Cultures. The Games went on in Munich while Arab terrorists were murdering 11 members of the Israeli delegation.

That time, there was a brief pause for station identification. Sports stopped long enough for a memorial service in the vast Munich stadium. “I am sure the public will agree that we cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international co-operation and goodwill we have in the Olympic movement,” said then IOC president, Avery Brundage, turning stomachs all across the map. “The Games must go on.”

Avery was right, but for the wrong reasons. The thing is, cultural exchanges are the only lifeline in times of political strife or ideological warfare or even military occupations.

When Maureen Forrester stands up in a concert hall in Peking or in Moscow or in Leningrad, her voice and her big, warm smile give the people a way of thinking about Canada that no government can infuse or erase.

I remember seeing a lithe, curlyhaired Canadian woman, Abby Hoffman, run the best race of her marvelous career nearly eight years ago in Munich. It was the final of the 800 metres. She was eighth in a field of eight, absolutely last. But the thing was that each of those eight young women from eight countries broke the Olympic record for the distance. When the announcement was made on the publicaddress contrivance in three languages, German, French and English, there was a roar from the crowd but, more than that, there was an explosion of smiles on the track as the eight runners exulted in the joy of accomplishment. Abby was eighth but it was the best race she ever ran and those eight young women were immensely proud and happy. Not just for themselves but for each other. Bruce Jenner might not understand that but a guy like Don Kardong would revel in it.