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Original Issue


"What's he saying? I can't hear him. Is he thanking someone?" The elderly woman, one of eight diners at the round table, is sprightly but a bit "deef." She's dressed from hat to shoes in archery-target gold so dazzlingly bright it's turned the half-filled glasses of white Bordeaux to a cloudy muscatel color. Around us the sounds of digestion are at full volume—interior gurgles, low moans, the creak of belt leather—and rich cigar smoke swirls. It appears to be a normal convention, people staring at plastic name tags while pumping hands, striding down hotel corridors with vinyl briefcases, sales charts and well-mannered hangovers. But this convention is special. The IOC and COJO are meeting with GAIF at a luncheon sponsored by the MCS&R. A-O.K., Mission Control?

You know immediately that you're at the Olympus of executive-level meetings by the sleet-storm of initials. In English, it means that the International Olympic Committee and the Montreal Olympic Organizing Committee are meeting with the General Assembly of International Federations, the organization that represents 26 Olympic sports, at a lunch hosted by the Canadian ministry of sport and recreation. Such earthshaking matters as whether the grass will be ready in the equestrian arena by July when the Montreal Games begin are being agonizingly put off. The president of GAIF is good-humoredly thanking COJO officials for showing them the Olympic sites, even though they could only view the main stadium through five layers of barbed wire. There's a billion dollars on the line and everyone's good-natured about it. The new Mirabel airport opened just the day before and the computerized transit system failed. Everybody got a laugh out of that. A real knee-slapper.

All this geniality, against a background of substantial rumors that the Olympic site can't possibly be ready on time, is the result, one is convinced, of the weight of knife and fork. Is it possible to get folks high on food, trick them into on Béarnaise, until they fall from the table laughing all the way to intensive care? The IOC, COJO and the sponsors of luncheons and dinners during the five days of meetings (Oct. 5-9) seem to be trying. And the speeches are an added irritant, doubly so because they're given in English and French. Ha-ha and ha!ha!

But food is uppermost in the minds of these 100-plus amateur sport moguls. Comparisons are endless as the hotel chefs of Montreal turn out tons of roasted meats, rivers of hollandaise and mountains of imitation baked Alaska. "The shirred eggs were better Sunday, don't you think?" "Is this lamb or pork, waiter? I can't tell from the sauce." All week the delegates have staggered from the tables into meetings, eyes glazed with gluttony, to decide about the pitch of the oval track. The Russians eat solidly and long, the English keep finding foreign objects on their plates as they pick carefully through the asparagus. The Arab delegates plunder the dinner with Third World savagery, looking as though they're about to raise the price of oil again.

Here amid the bread crumbs and sauce spills one thought strikes the glutted observer. Where are all the athletes? As one sits back after another dinner, given this time by a sneaker mogul, one wonders. The talk has been fatiguing. An international head pooh-bah of Olympic equipment has discoursed at length on the merits and faults of the London Playboy Club. Several women have corrected each other's golf swings, and when one member of the international sporting press leans forward and asks, "What's the difference between a good woman and a good cigar?" the only thing to do is sprint away, knocking over waiters carrying decanters of brandy, and hide.

One longs to plan such a dinner, even have the sneaker king give a boring speech in his tuxedo and brown Gucci loafers, but end it with a twist. A giant Estonian javelin champ, in sweaty field shorts and enraged mood, would lope into the dining room and heave a perfect shot through the roast suckling pig. Have him sit down and arm-wrestle the heads of sporting state in their cream-drenched stupor, have the assembled 35,000 athletes and coaches march past the dessert trays singing and carrying flags. And finally, have the shade of Avery Brundage present the huge dinner check to the IOC with a ghostly "Well done."

But these fantasies are no doubt the result of the rich food. The thing to do is calm down and wonder what's for breakfast. And who'll be paying for it.