The quest for Olympic glory

Hal Quinn July 30 1984

The quest for Olympic glory

Hal Quinn July 30 1984

The quest for Olympic glory


Hal Quinn

The biggest and best Canadian Olympic team ever assembled will march into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday for the opening ceremonies of the politically troubled 23rd Summer Olympiad. Two weeks later the 438 young men and women will almost certainly leave the City of Angels with a record number of medals, surpassing the performance of 130 red-and-whiteclad Canadian athletes who trooped into the same stadium 52 years ago. Not since that 15medal performance at the 1932 Games, which included two golds, has a Canadian team held such promise and counted among its members so many world record holders, world champions or teams capable of winning gold medals. Said Roger Jackson, president of the Canadian Olympic Association: “This is the

strongest Canadian team ever. We are going back to Los Angeles hoping to win 20 to 30 medals.”

Champions: The Canadian athletes are led by world record-holding swimmers Alex Baumann and Victor Davis; world champion boxer Willie de Wit and his teammate, Shawn O’Sullivan; canoeist Larry Cain; World Cup equestrian jumping champion Mario Deslauriers and his bay gelding, Aramis; worldclass women’s field hockey and men’s basketball teams; world champion synchronized swimming duet Sharon Hambrook and Kelly Kryczka; a strong sailing team, including Terry McLaughlin, who skippered Canada 1 in last year’s America’s Cup Tournament; and strong track and judo teams. Canada has not captured a Summer Games gold medal since 1968. But the 1984 team may win as many as 12 and another dozen silver and bronze medals.

But the celebrations by all medal winners at Los Angeles will be subdued because of the Soviet-led, 14-nation boycott of the Games. Indeed, some Canadians would not be travelling to California

if the Communist world’s athletic stars were competing. And champions in all events this year will always wonder whether a Soviet, an East German or a Czech might have prevailed. The point was made by U.S. javelin thrower Duncan Atwood, who, referring to world champion Detlef Michel, declared, “If I win a medal, I should mail it to the East German who really deserves it.”

The Summer Olympics have been tarnished by politically inspired boycotts since 1976, when 31 African and Asian

nations refused to participate in Montreal because of the presence of South African athletes. In 1980 the United States led a 57-nation boycott of the Moscow Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And on May 8 the Soviet Union announced that its athletes would stay away from the Games because of threatened demonstrations by anti-Soviet groups and inadequate security arrangements. Moscow quickly orchestrated a boycott by most of its Eastern Bloc allies—including sports powers East Germany, Cuba and Czechoslovakia —and thereby robbed the Los Angeles Games of performances by hundreds of the globe’s finest athletes. The 14 boycotting nations accounted for 310 medals in 1976 at Montreal, the last time the major sporting countries competed in a summer

Olympiad. Indeed, there may never be another truly global Olympics. Juan Samaranch of Spain, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has already expressed grave doubts about the future of the Olympics if, as expected, the majority of Communist nations refuse to go to South Korea in 1988 for the Summer Games in Seoul. Said Samaranch: “If the situation [East-West relations] remains unchanged, or if we confront even more serious crises, the worst is to be feared.”

Beyond the boycott, organizers of the Los Angeles Games were troubled by the city’s notorious smog problem as well as by tardiness in the preparation of facilities. Since the IOC awarded the Games to the city in 1977, athletes have been concerned about air pollution. And just days before the opening ceremonies, the worst smog in a decade blanketed Los Angeles. Last week organizers were considering rescheduling some long-distance running events because of the cloud of pollutants and its debilitating high levels of ozone. At the same time, workers were rushing to finish preparing the various sites at which an estimated 7,500 athletes, 4,000 officials and 8,000 media personnel will compete, work and relax during the two-week Olympiad. Because the Games will utilize many existing facilities in a cost-

saving measure, refurbishing could not begin while they were being used by local universities and athletic organizations. Barely two weeks before Saturday’s opening ceremonies the athletes’ dormitories and the Coliseum itself were only “80-per-cent ready,” according to Harry Usher, executive vice-president and general manager of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC).

And organizing security for the Games has not gone smoothly. Only last month the L.A. city council and the organizing committee settled a bitter dispute over payment of security costs. They agreed to arbitration over $10 million, and Usher gave the council a cheque for $5.2 million. The total cost of securing the athletes and dignitaries is estimated at more than $100 million for the largest security force in Olympic history. An estimated 17,000 law enforcement officers from 60 police forces will outnumber athletes 2:1. More than 700 FBI agents will patrol the 4,500square-mile area encompassing the Games facilities. They will be supported by U.S. Secret Service and state department security officers and the army’s crack Delta Force antiterrorist unit.

Profit: Aside from the massive security arrangements, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Games is the fact that they will make a profit. The Montreal Olympics lost roughly $1 billion in 1976, but LAOOC president Peter Ueberroth has predicted that Los Angeles will net as much as $50 million. Ueberroth convinced 50 corporations—most of them American—to pay $4 million and in some cases to donate as much as $10 million more in services in exchange for the right to use the Olympic “Star in Motion” logo in merchandising their products and call themselves “official suppliers” to the Games. Levi Strauss & Co. supplied the U.S. team uniforms and outfits for the Games support staff, food vendors and ushers. McDonald’s Corp., whose Big Mac is the Games’ “official hamburger,” built the swimming and diving complex. Southland Corp. (7Eleven stores) built the velodrome. And Atlantic Richfield Co. donated the new track at the Coliseum.

Although the boycott and other problems dominated pre-Games publicity, once the competition begins the athletes themselves will move to their rightful place in the Olympic spotlight. The Canadian team may be the best ever, but so is the U.S. contingent. The Americans will be challenged by, among other nations, Romania, which has ignored pressure from Moscow, largely to demonstrate its superiority in gymnastics, and China, which is competing in a Summer Games for the first time since Melbourne in 1956, when it withdrew because Taiwan was allowed to partici-

pate. Even with the Eastern Bloc’s refusals to compete, more nations (141) and more athletes (7,500) will compete in more events (221) than in any previous Olympics. Seventeen new events have been added—including the women’s marathon, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming—and the demonstration sports, for which no medals are awarded, will be baseball, boardsailing and tennis. As host nation, the United States chose the demonstration sports, which may be considered for medal competition in future Olympiads.

For all the problems, the L.A. Games promise enough memorable performances and world and Olympic records

to stir spectators’ hearts and, however briefly or futilely, fan the Olympic flame. Anticipation is high for heroic performances from, among others, Canada’s Baumann; the incomparable U.S. hurdler Edwin Moses; U.S. sprinter Evelyn Ashford; the tiny South Africanborn distance runner Zola Budd; and Britain’s master of the decathlon, Daley Thompson. But Los Angeles may prove to be the Carl Lewis Games. Not since Jesse Owens won four gold medals at Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin has a track-and-field athlete threatened single-handedly to dominate an Olympiad the way Lewis does this year. The 23year-old Alabaman has awed trackand-field fans—and infuriated his rivals—for the past four years. While

winning 100-m races, he throws up his arms, in a victory salute to himself, metres before the finish line. He now lives in a $175,000 Victorian mansion in Houston, Tex. (which he bought three years ago), with a BMW parked in the garage. Yet Lewis is a dropout from the University of Houston and is a certified amateur athlete. As the biggest attraction in track and field, his trust fund is larger, his appearance fees higher.

Finest: Those who love him, and some of those who loathe him, agree that Lewis is perhaps the finest athlete in history. The U.S. track-and-field Olympic trials in Los Angeles last month was one of the most competitive meets in history. Yet Lewis qualified for four events—the 100 m, the 200 m, the 400-m

relay and the long j ump. His time for the 100 m is ll/100ths of a second shy of the world record. His time for the 200 m is 12/100ths off. And he will run the anchor for the 4 x 100-m relay team.

But Lewis’s specialty is not running; it is the long jump. The world record in the long jump—29 feet, 2xk inches—is an aberration, a leap that stunned the world and particularly the man who accomplished it. American Bob Beamon launched himself through the rarefied air of Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics and landed one foot, 9% inches farther than any human had ever jumped. He had never come close to his record distance before and never did again. Neither has anyone else—except Lewis. He has jumped eight of the 10 longest jumps in history. On his radical 171-foot approach (20 feet longer than usual), Lewis takes exactly 23 strides reaching a speed of about 43 km/h—too fast for most jumpers.

But Lewis controls his speed, hits the take-off board precisely and, after about IV2 seconds in the air, has travelled as far as 28 feet, 10x/ inches. Lewis is expected one day to leap 30 feet—possibly in Los Angeles, where he may win four gold medals.

Gruelling: Sprinter Perry Williams of Vancouver, in 1928, and swimmer George Hodgson of Montreal, in 1932, are the only Canadians to win two Summer Olympic golds. Alex Baumann may duplicate the feat this year. The 20-yearold resident of Sudbury,

Ont., swims the Games’ most gruelling pool events—the 200-m and 400-m individual medleys, which incorporate -

all four basic strokes: freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke. The Czech-born Wunderkind, nicknamed Sacha, has a red maple leaf tattooed on his chest and has twice broken his own world record in the 200 m, and, at the Canadian Olympic trials last month, he set the world record for the 400 m. Jim Counsilman, the highly respected swimming coach at the University of Indiana, said that should Baumann win both the 200 m and the 400 m at Los Angeles, “he would have to be considered ahead of Mark Spitz as the greatest swimmer ever.” Spitz won a miraculous seven golds in the pool at Munich in 1972. But Baumann has already surpassed Spitz’s times in the breaststroke and freestyle and matched the American’s times in

the butterfly and backstroke. Said Baumann’s coach, Jeno Tihanyi: “Right now Alex is king of the world. The word is out in the swimming community that Baumann is the one to beat for the Olympic gold.”

Showdowns: Baumann’s teammate Victor Davis is also expected to star in Los Angeles. At the Canadian Olympic trials last month the 20-year-old from Guelph, Ont., bettered his own world record in the 200-m breaststroke. And Davis won the trials’ 100-m breaststroke in 1:02.87, just 74/100ths of a second slower than the world record set by John Moffet of the United States last month.

Davis will have his showdowns with Americans Moffet and former record holder Steve Lundquist in the 100 m and Moffet again in the 200 m. But Davis will

not be tested by Robertas Zhulpa or Dmitri Volkov of the Soviet Union. Although both Canada and the United States have strong swim teams, so do the Soviets and the East Germans. The boycott has removed from competition no fewer than 12 ^vimmers ranked first in the world in their events, 19 ranked second or third and two East German relay teams that were expected to win golds. Victories by Davis—and especially Baumann—will not be tainted by the boycott, but virtually all medals in women’s events will be. East Germany’s Birgit Meineke, Astrid Strauss, Kristin Otto and Ute Geweniger would have dominated the meet.

The boycott has also hit hard at trackand-field standards. Carl Lewis will not

notice. He competes with himself—and history. Similarly, hurdler Moses will be unaffected. His victory in the 400-m hurdles at the U.S. Olympic trials was his 89th in a row. And decathlon specialist Thompson of Britain will continue his rivalry with Jürgen Hingsen of West Germany, while Dave Steen, 24, of Toronto, seeks a bronze. But the world’s best in the throwing events—discus, hammer, shotput and javelin—will not be there. Nor will the best triple jumper, Zdzislan Hoffman of Poland, or Soviet pole vaulter Sergei Bubka.

Among the women, the United States’ Ashford holds the world record of 10.71 seconds in the 100-m dash. Marlies Göhr of East Germany would have tested Ashford in the 100 m, and her countryman Bärbel Wöckel would have been favored in the 200 m. The Games will be

without the best women’s 400-m relay team, the top three 1,600-m relay teams, the top three in the 400-m and 800-m runs, the best in the 100-m and 400-m hurdles, the best high jumper and long jumper, the top three heptathletes and the top three female discus throwers and shot-putters. Despite the absences, the Canadian women were not expected to win many track-and-field medals, although Montreal’s Jacqueline Gareau, 31, has a chance in the first women’s marathon. She won the Boston Marathon in 1980.

Interest in women’s track events will focus on a tiny girl who, running barefoot and weighing only 82 lb., shocked the track world in January by setting a world record in a 5,000-m race during a

track meet in Johannesburg. But because South Africa is barred from international sports competition for its apartheid policy, 18-year-old Zola Budd’s record is not recognized and she was not eligible to compete at Los Angeles. Offers of scholarships from U.S. universities swamped her home outside Bloemfontein. The Cleveland-based International Management Group, which handles top pro athletes, sought to represent her. A 67-year-old volunteered to marry her so that she could gain British citizenship. Finally, Budd’s father, Frank, agreed to accept a generous offer from the Daily Mail newspaper of London, which brought her to England and bought exclusive rights to her story for a reported $30,000. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government granted Frank Budd, whose father was British, his citizenship in a lightning-quick 12 days—which made Zola eligible to compete for Britain in Los Angeles.

Ordeal: The five-foot, two-inch Zola had to endure the slings and taunts of the Daily Mail’s rivals, the Greater London Council’s threat to withdraw $1 million in sports funding if she was allowed to compete for Britain, spectators’ banners reading “No Zola Budd,” and such track-side jeers as “Go home you South African trash.” During the ordeal Zola pleaded, “I wish they would just let me run.” Budd, who has excellent times in the 1,500 and 3,000 m, will face the popular U.S. distance runner Mary

Decker in what may be the most compelling competitions of the Games. Said Decker, who was virtually assured two golds before Budd’s change of citizenship: “I’m happy for Zola. I will enjoy

the extra competition.” In boxing it was unlikely that Canada’s world heavyweight amateur champion, de Wit, will be threatened—at least not as severely as he was last week at the Calgary Stampede. Two men attacked the 23-year-old from Grande Prairie, Alta., as he walked along the Stampede midway. The incident was not expected to affect his bid for the heavyweight (91 kilos) gold medal or his post-Games professional career. The six-foot, four-inch puncher won all 12 of his fights in 1983, 11 of them by knockouts. He had hoped to defend his world title in Los Angeles in April, but pótenla tial challengers from the l Soviet Union, Cuba, the I United States and Italy c declined to enter the i ring. Said de Wit’s coach, Harry Snatic, a former dentist from Louisiana: “Why tempt the devil?” Organizers finally offered up U.S. heavyweight Henry Tillman. De Wit knocked him out.

Gold: He has beaten the top-ranked Soviet, Cuban and American and should crown his amateur career in a goldmedal bout Aug. 11 on the eve of the closing ceremonies. Then de Wit will likely move from Calgary to Texas, where a group of wealthy cattlemen has offered to sponsor de Wit in return for a percentage of future earnings. Said de Wit: “I have to go where the market is best. In 10 years nobody is going to say I was a good guy for staying in Canada and give me a handout if I need some money.”

Money should not be a problem for the big blond. Black boxers have dominated the professional heavyweight ranks for the past three decades, and the U.S. TV networks and promoters are anxious for him to be the next “White Hope.” Said de Wit: “My color Won’t make a difference in the ring. But if people want to pay me $20 million extra for it, I’ll take it.”

Money may not come as quickly to light-middleweight (71 kilos) O’Sullivan of Toronto, but his chances for a gold medal are almost as good as de Wit’s. O’Sullivan lost his world crown in April while suffering from influenza but he has twice beaten Armando Martinez of Cuba, who won the light-middleweight gold at the Moscow Games in 1980. On the other hand, wealth awaits American Mark Breland, the odds-on champion of the weight class below O’Sullivan’s. Bre-

land has been trumpeted in the U.S. media as the next Sugar Ray Leonard, who won a gold medal at Montreal and made more than $40 million as a professional. His welterweight class (67 kilos) has become, unlike O’Sullivan’s, one of the most lucrative in the professional ranks, and the 21-year-old from the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant area of New York City should leave Los Angeles with a gold medal and a hefty contract.

Although a powerful motivation for many, professional careers do not await the majority of Olympians. Larry Cain of Oakville, Ont., is one of the best in the world at what he does. The networks are not lining up to sign the 21-year-old canoeist, even though he may paddle to two gold medals on Lake Casitas,

135 km north of Los Angeles. At a pre-Olympic regatta in Nottingham,

England, in June, Cain placed first. In the absence of Soviet and East German paddlers, Cain is favored in the 500and 1,000-m Olympic races.

“If I win the championship now, I’ll question it all my life,” said the 1981 world junior champion.

“The two gold medals are what I’ve been counting on all along—but not this way, not cheaply.”

Hunt: Medals will come at a steeper price for Canada’s rowing and sailing teams, which face daunting competition.

The heavy eights rowing team pulled a stunning upset last month at the Rotsee Rowing Regatta at Lucerne, Switzerland.

Powered by 26-year-old Toronto twins Mike and Mark Evans, who will also compete in the pairs on Lake Casitas, the Canadian eight set a world record time in the 2,000-m event, leaving the Soviets and East Germans in their wake. But that effort only placed the Canadians among the Olympic favorites—together with New Zealand, Australia and the United States. Among those to beat in the women’s pairs are Tricia Smith, 27, of Vancouver, and Betty Craig, 26, of Brockville, Ont. They won a bronze medal at the 1983 World championships and were second at Rotsee. Smith is competing in her third Olympics, and Craig in her second. The Soviets and East Germans are the acknowledged powers in women’s rowing, but Romania has a strong team and the United States is ranked fourth, ahead of

Canada. The West Germans, Norwegians, New Zealanders and Italians are all in the medal hunt.

Canada’s sailors will be tested as severely as the rowers. Hans Fogh, 46, competed for Denmark in three Olympics, winning a silver medal in 1960. Sailing as a Canadian Olympian for the third time, Fogh is a co-favorite with American Robbie Haines in the threeman Soling class. Terry McLaughlin, 28, and Evert Bastet, 34, will have a chance in the two-man Flying Dutchman class.

The Olympics are basically a numbers

game. And dramatically underlining the Olympic motto, “Swifter, higher, stronger,” is the fact that of 37 Olympic track-and-field records 29 have been established since the 1968 Games in Mexico City. But of all the numbers bound to be assaulted in Los Angeles, the number 10 may be the hardest hit. When the elfin gymnast Nadia Comaneci of Romania scored the first perfect 10 at the Montreal Games, the floodgate was opened. Once unattainable, perfection is now almost commonplace in gymnastics, and scores of 10 are necessary for victory. Although the politics of judging has always been a factor in the scoring, the problem now is that judging has not kept pace with the advances of the athletes. Said Bill Roetzheim, the

U.S. representative on the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG): “The

problem is that the FIG only changes its rules once every four years. The gymnasts are progressing at such a rate that they surpass standards set by the people who make the rules.” The FIG will update its standards in January, too late to stop a flood of 10s for such gymnasts as Li Ning of China and Mary Lou Retton of the United States.

Scandal: One area in which Olympic standards are up to date is testing for illegal use of drugs. The East Germans and Soviets have been the most widely accused of using anabolic steroids and growth hormones to enhance athletic performances. But at the Pan-American Games in Caracas, Venezuela, last year, sophisticated new testing equipment detected evidence of anabolic steroid use among 11 Canadian and American weightlifters in the worst drug scandal in the history of amateur sport (.Maclean ’s, Sept. 5, 1983). Taking its lead from the Pan-Am officials, the ioc has established the most stringent drug tests in Games history. Fully 300 drugs —from nasal sprays to amphetamines—are on the IOC banned list. Urine samples will be taken from each medal winner. One sample will be stored under strict security and another analysed at the $1.5-million laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, under the direction of Don I Catlin, chief of the Medical School Division of Clinical Pharmacology. Said Catlin: “If someone is using the drugs, we’ll find them.”

Problems aside, the 23rd Summer Olympiad will be a showcase for many of the finest athletes in the world, including 20 disabled athletes from eight countries whose own Olympic finals will be held in Los Angeles Aug. 11 and who will for the first time share the stage with their fellow Olympians. And when the Games are over, athletes and spectators alike will undoubtedly leave Los Angeles touched in some way by the lofty Olympic ideal and by the hope that there will always be an arena for friendly competitors seeking to run swifter, jump higher and be stronger.

With Ann MacGregor.

Ann MacGregor