IRREVOCABLE OR NOT?
From the moment President Carter announced it exactly a month earlier, the timing of his Feb. 20 Olympic boycott deadline has caused bafflement. Did Carter settle on so early a date for fear that pro-boycott sentiment might otherwise dissipate? To allow sufficient time to put together an alternative Games? Because the date fell at a time when the world's attention would be riveted on the Winter Olympics? Whatever the explanation, the Feb. 20 deadline passed last week with 70,000 or more Soviet troops still in Afghanistan. Because Carter's demand that Soviet forces be withdrawn was conspicuously unmet, Administration officials said a U.S. boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow was now irrevocable.
There was continued uncertainty, though, about how much support Carter had abroad. Presidential Counsel Lloyd Cutler, the chief Olympic strategist, said last week that 23 other countries had publicly announced a boycott, 13 had given private assurances of support and 19 others were "leaning" that way. But even some of the 23 supposedly solid countries appear to be shaky. For example, Canada's position has been blurred by Pierre Trudeau's election win over Prime Minister Joe Clark, a boycott supporter. Trudeau's attitude is wait and see. Britain's Margaret Thatcher, who has voiced support of a boycott, has left herself an "out" by saying the decision will be made by the British Olympic Committee. As for the assertion of private support, while it's not quite the same as Joe McCarthy's bandying about of exact numbers of supposed Communists in the State Department, one does wonder when the identities of the countries on Cutler's secret list are to be made public.
Some foreign officials maintained, as did boycott foes in the U.S., that Carter had overreacted to the invasion of Afghanistan. They argued that Afghanistan was in the U.S.S.R.'s sphere of influence even before the invasion and that, contrary to White House intimations, there was no firm evidence the Kremlin was plotting a push to the Persian Gulf. But none of this altered the fact that Soviet troops were occupying a country whose populace wanted them out, a reality underscored by last week's demonstrations in a number of Afghan cities. The Soviet leaders responsible for imposing their will on the people of Afghanistan are the same ones who, by all indications, hope to use the Moscow Games to glorify themselves. If the Soviet troops haven't withdrawn by the time the Summer Games open on July 19, it is impossible to imagine the U.S. competing.
The White House's boycott strategy, however, has not always inspired confidence. A case in point was Secretary of State Vance's heavy-handed speech to the International Olympic Committee in Lake Placid. IOC officials have also been shaking their heads over a cable urging a boycott which they say Carter sent to South Africa—a country that has been out of the Olympics for 16 years. Meanwhile, West German officials are miffed that Washington misled them about the deadline virtually until it was announced, a bit of deviousness out of keeping with the moral stance Carter has assumed on the boycott issue.
Announcing a deadline may itself have been a mistake, depending on what the Administration hoped to achieve. From the start the President may have felt he had less hope of ending the occupation than of chastising the Soviets for having undertaken it. If that was the reasoning, the deadline makes sense. But Carter presumably would respond favorably to a Soviet pullout whenever it occurred, and it therefore is to be hoped that Feb. 20 or no, he has not completely foreclosed his Olympic options. After all, IOC officials have conceded that if enough countries decided to boycott, they would seriously consider canceling the Moscow Olympics. Given the importance Soviet leaders attach to staging those Games, that prospect might yet help impel them to find a face-saving way to withdraw from Afghanistan, whereupon the U.S. could—and should—participate in the Olympics. If the troops did not withdraw, the punishment of a boycott could still be inflicted on the Kremlin. Whatever the end result, by remaining flexible on its supposedly irrevocable decision, Washington might hope to enlist the unwavering foreign support its boycott campaign urgently needs.
On the theory that a feminine presence can calm the jangled nerves of male duffers, golf caddies in Japan are, by tradition, women. Owing to a tight labor market and rising wages, Japan's female bag-toters may now be a vanishing species. The Japanese have come up with an enterprising alternative to both human caddies and the kind of carts used in the West: monorail systems that wend through courses, carrying golf clubs but not golfers. Such systems have already been introduced at more than 100 Japanese courses.
A typical setup consists of 60 cars, each of which can carry up to four bags of clubs. The cars ride on an I-beam rail that skirts the rough and passes behind each green. The cars are usually visible to golfers, but the rail is almost always out of their view. Most of the systems are battery powered, although a few operate on electric current in the rail. In some cases, cars are operated by onboard push buttons, but remote-control systems are growing in popularity; a tiny control panel fits in the breast pocket and has a signal range of 150 meters.
The monorails have received a mixed reaction. Some golfers grumble about the necessity of walking to and from a car before practically every shot. Also, except at certain switching points, cars can't pass each other, making it impossible for one foursome to "play through" without going to the trouble of moving bags from one car to another. But the monorails are more economical for customers as well as for course owners—the fee is about $4 vs. $8 for a caddie—and as with self-propelled carts, some grateful golfers find that forgoing human caddies spares them embarrassment. When they're playing poorly they don't particularly enjoy having witnesses around, male or female.
In becoming the first athlete to win five gold medals in individual events at one Olympic Games, Winter or Summer, Eric Heiden has established himself as one of the greatest of Olympians. To fully appreciate Heiden's feat, it should be noted that Mark Spitz' seven golds at the 1972 Summer Games included only four in individual events, the others coming in relays. Spitz was one of half a dozen Olympians who won four individual golds at a single Games, another being a speed skater, the U.S.S.R.'s Lydia Skoblikova, who swept four women's events in 1964. The five golds apiece won by Italy's Nedo Nadi in fencing in 1920 and by Finland's Paavo Nurmi in track in 1924 included "team" golds in each instance—three for Nadi and two for Nurmi.
Heiden's hoard also outglitters those of such storied Olympians as Jesse Owens and Fanny Blankers-Koen, whose four golds in track in 1936 and 1948, respectively, each included a relay, and Nadia Comaneci, who took three individual golds in '76. In winning events ranging from 500 to 10,000 meters, Heiden exhibited a combination of speed and endurance that more than compensated for the fact that speed skating is a somewhat less than universal activity.
Together with the gold medal taken by the U.S. hockey team, Heiden's performance meant that all six U.S. victories at Lake Placid were achieved on ice, as were all three of our wins at Innsbruck in 1976. Interestingly, at the '76 Olympics in Montreal, 15 of the U.S.'s 34 gold medals—13 in swimming and two in diving—came in water, the substance beneath Eric's flying blades. For U.S. Olympians H2O=Au, that's for sure.
OLYMPIC HOCKEY VS. BRAND X
On the same historic night that the U.S. Olympic hockey team held the nation in thrall by beating the Soviet Union 4-3, the National Hockey League, whose All-Stars had been humbled by essentially the same Soviet squad last February, was displaying its brand of hockey in Vancouver. While the showdown in Lake Placid produced nothing even remotely resembling a fight, the NHL game—in which the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Canucks 7-3—was marred by the ejection of 16 players, eight from each side, most of them because of their involvement in a bench-clearing brawl in the third period that delayed the game for 45 minutes.
The half dozen-odd U.S. Olympic heroes who are due to join NHL teams this week needn't worry, though. As NHL President John Ziegler keeps saying, any talk of violence in his league is "ill-founded."
TROUBLE AT TROY
In a self-congratulatory mood, Southern Cal Football Coach John Robinson told SI a few weeks ago that he prided himself on having encouraged his players to "work towards a true education." Last week a considerably more subdued Robinson spoke of having experienced "a personal sense of failure." That confession was prompted by a revelation in the campus newspaper that 34 USC athletes, most of them football players, were enrolled last semester in speech courses they didn't attend. The Daily Trojan further reported that the professor who taught the courses, USC Debate Coach John DeBross, had resigned and that Athletic Director Dr. Richard Perry had suspended the football team's academic counselor, Jeff Birren.
Perry confirmed the Daily Trojan story and said he had learned of the irregularities involving the speech courses last Dec. 7. The Trojan reported that several football players had then been given a five-day "crash course" to make up the missed classes, that other players had received incomplete grades and that two team members had been listed as "illegally registered." However, Perry insisted that none of this adversely affected player eligibility for the Rose Bowl, in which USC beat Ohio State 17-16. Nevertheless, USC has ordered further investigation.
The situation at USC means that the Pac-10, which was already staggering under evidence of transcript irregularities at UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State, now finds itself with yet another trouble spot. While discussing his conference's growing epidemic of academic abuses, Pac-10 Executive Director Wiles Hallock said recently, "You better believe we're concerned. I'm not surprised at anything I hear anymore. Why, at USC there is more sympathy from the faculty and the students for the athletic department than just about any place you can name. The athletic department practically is USC."
HEROES & VILLAINS
One day a leading performer lunged into the crowd to defend the honor of his gorgeous wife, who was being bothered by a paying customer. Another day an official went rushing forward to upbraid a star for boorish behavior. And on both occasions onlookers went bananas.
Professional wrestling? No, the two incidents occurred last week at a World Championship Tennis tournament in Salisbury, Md. The chivalrous fellow who went into the stands was Jimmy Connors. He had just lost to Vijay Amritraj 6-3, 6-2, when he saw his wife Patti, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, suffering the unwanted advances of a masher. Connors was on the scene in a trice and landed a blow before he and the cad were separated. As for the enraged official, well, that was Mike Davies, the WCT's executive director. Ilie Nastase was stalling and using abusive language during a match against Amritraj when Davies burst onto the court and took down the net. When the week's excitement was finally over, Connors (yea!) had a bruised left hand, Nasty (boo!) had a disqualification and it was probably only the necessity of completing the tournament—Bjorn Borg beat Amritraj 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 in the finals—that prevented the WCT from bringing on the tagteam matches.
THEY SAID IT
•Jean Cruguet, French-born jockey: "When I first came here I worked the Florida tracks. It's hard to learn English when everybody is speaking Spanish."
•Rocky Bleier, Pittsburgh Steeler running back, marveling at Coach Chuck Noll's self-confidence: "He's the only person I know who bought a plane before he learned to fly."