LAYING THE GROUNDWORK?
The specter of a Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics loomed larger last week. Apprehensions that the Soviets might skip the Summer Games were heightened in particular by a Tass dispatch in which Soviet sports officials demanded an emergency meeting of the International Olympic Committee's executive board to deal with a long list of complaints related to the L.A. Games. These included charges that crime and smog in Southern California were excessive, that prices in the area were too high, that the L.A. organizers had allowed the Games to become too commercialized, that U.S. Olympic officials were out of line in approving press credentials for Radio Free Europe, the U.S. government-funded station that broadcasts to Eastern Europe, and, not least, that the Reagan Administration was, in effect, harassing the Soviets and encouraging émigré and other private groups in Southern California to do the same.
It's conceivable that the Soviets were raising a fuss merely in hopes of wringing concessions on some of these points. The suggestion was also heard that they were setting forth their complaints as ready-made excuses in the event their athletes fared less well than expected. Given the dismal relations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., however, a Soviet boycott did seem possible, although not necessarily over any of the issues Soviet officials had so far raised. U.S. diplomats in Moscow speculated that the Soviets could have been laying the groundwork for a pullout from L.A. in the event of a major international incident on the eve of the Games. "Say they concluded it wouldn't be safe to send their athletes to California," one U.S. official said. "They could use [last week's statement] as their justification. They have it in the bank."
None of this is to deny that some of the Soviet grievances may be heartfelt. For example, the Soviets are upset over the U.S.'s denial of a visa last month to their proposed Olympic attaché, Oleg Yermishkin. Although the action was ostensibly taken on grounds that Yermishkin had close links to the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, there's reason to suspect that the Reagan Administration also relished the opportunity to bait the Russian bear. In any event, the U.S.S.R. hasn't named another attaché and is reportedly considering resubmitting Yermishkin's name. Moscow also professes to be concerned about the danger to its athletes posed by anti-Soviet protesters in L.A., although another worry—the possibility of worldwide media exposure for the demonstrators—may have been betrayed last week by one Soviet source, who fretted, "Of course, you know the TV cameras will be on those people."
Soviet officials said a final decision on whether to compete in L.A. may not be made until just before the June 2 deadline for Olympic entries. Meanwhile, the IOC has asked Soviet Olympic officials and the L.A. Olympic organizers to meet on April 24 at its headquarters in Lausanne to deal with the Soviet complaints. Although that falls short of the full-dress executive board session Moscow apparently had in mind, the IOC obviously hoped the meeting would defuse a situation that badly needed it.
Larry King, the late-night radio talk-show host, recently
interviewed former umpire Ron Luciano. The segment included this illuminating exchange:
King: "Are there such things, Ron, as natural umpires?"
Luciano: "Yeah, there really are, but nobody starts out that way."
People once scoffed at claims that the world was round, and now a group of Chicago sailors are encountering similar resistance to a novel geographical claim of their own. They are insisting that Lake Michigan, the inland body of water on whose wind-whipped shores their city is situated, is legally an "arm of the sea."
The claim is being advanced by members of Chicago Challenge 1987, Inc., a syndicate that hopes to enter a boat under the burgee of the Chicago Yacht Club in the next America's Cup competition, now scheduled for Australian waters in 1987. Under the terms of the 97-year-old Deed of Gift that governs America's Cup racing, entries are confined to yacht clubs that hold their regattas on "an ocean water course on the sea or an arm of the sea." Officers of the Royal Perth Yacht Club, which now holds the Cup, make no secret of their belief that the Chicagoans probably don't meet the arm-of-the-sea requirement. After all, Michigan is a freshwater lake separated from the Atlantic by locks—not to mention 2,250 miles of waterway. But the Aussies have requested that the New York State Supreme Court, which historically has had jurisdiction in America's Cup related cases, pass on the validity of Chicago's argument.
The Chicago group is prepared to do some fancy on-shore navigating to make its case. "We'll prove that the Great Lakes are an arm of the sea," says Chicago lawyer Leland Hutchinson, a syndicate member. "People and marine life use the Great Lakes like the sea. Lamprey eels and alewives, both saltwater fish, find their way to Lake Michigan. And there are international ships in our ports." The Chicagoans' strongest argument may be their assertion that they can vie on equal terms with the world's best sailors. "We may be new to 12-meters, but we'll be competitive with any group," Hutchinson says. "Chicago has world-class competition, and we have the best skipper around." The last was a reference to the Chicago group's choice as skipper, Buddy Melges of Zenda, Wis., who won a gold medal in the Soling class at Kiel in the '72 Olympics.
The Chicago challenge is fueled by dreams of a day when America's Cup races might be seen on Lake Michigan from the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center. Toward that end, the Chicago syndicate is raising funds for its $6.8 million campaign and researching designs for a 12-meter boat. Meanwhile, the Perth club is taking a determinedly sporting attitude toward the whole thing. Notwithstanding the Aussies' reservations about Lake Michigan being an arm of the sea, Noel Robins, executive director of the Perth club's America's Cup Committee, says flatly, "We'd like to have the Chicago club here."
The New York Islanders' first-round Stanley Cup playoff" series against the New York Rangers, which ended with the Islanders advancing to the Patrick Division finals against the Washington Capitals (as of Sunday the Islanders led that best-of-seven series 2-1), is one that deserves to be savored. The Islanders had won the Cup four straight years. The Rangers hadn't won it for 44 years. The teams had been bitter foes for 12 years, but it wasn't until this series that their rivalry produced a classic moment that stood out from the rest.
Through the first four games the plucky, well-prepared Rangers and the endlessly resourceful Islanders battled on even terms, and the score was 2-2 after 60 minutes of Game 5. During the overtime the pace was relentless, the tension high. The Islanders' Mike Bossy missed the net entirely on a three-on-one break. The Rangers' Mikko Leinonen fanned on a point-blank chance from the slot. For minute after minute it went on like this. It was a game impatient for a hero, and it finally got one when, at 8:56 of overtime, Ken Morrow of the Islanders scored the series-ending goal on a screened shot from 30 feet.
Writing the next day in the Long Island paper Newsday, Joe Gergen reported that Morrow's dramatic goal "left the victors spent and the losers in tears." Gergen concluded: "This was a landmark series, game and overtime, something to measure other hockey moments against in the foreseeable future. It was professional hockey at its best, played by a team with something to prove and another with something to preserve." And SI's E.M. Swift said, "Driving home after the game, I couldn't help thinking of something Muhammad Ali had said after defending his heavyweight crown in the Thrilla in Manila against Joe Frazier in 1975: 'I always bring out the best in the men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me.' That seems to me to define the essence of competition: Two athletes, or in this case two teams, bringing out the best in each other and their sport."
BIG, BIG DIPPER
Kentucky center Melvin Turpin last week declined an invitation to the U.S. Olympic basketball Trials, explaining, "I'm not in enough shape to play basketball. I'm overweight." This admission by the Dipper, who gave his weight, in what Lexington sources called a most conservative estimate, as 265 pounds—he's listed in the Kentucky media guide at 240—was significant, because the Wildcats' season had ended less than two weeks earlier. But it wasn't all that surprising; Turpin had appeared to be out of shape during the NCAA tournament.
Turpin's adviser, Mel Cunningham, said that other factors may also have entered into Turpin's decision to skip the Trials. "A lot of pro teams aren't enthusiastic about draft choices going to the Olympics," he said. "They're afraid of burnout, or that they might fall behind other rookies who've been in pro camps two or three weeks."
But one also has to wonder how enthusiastic NBA teams will be over a draft choice who's at least 25 pounds over his playing weight two weeks after the end of a season.
DR. KING'S TOURNAMENT
None of his friends who gathered in Atlanta earlier this month for a golf tournament in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could remember the late civil rights leader ever making the slightest mention of golf, much less of having played the game. But Evelyn G. Lowery, who organized the Drum Major for Justice golf tournament as part of the annual week-long commemoration of King's death, sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization King founded, considered the event an appropriate tribute to the man. "This week is a celebration of Dr. King's movement and how it elevated black people," said Lowery, whose husband, the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, now heads the SCLC. "Black people used to serve only as caddies. Now they can play the sport and really enjoy it."
The tournament, which took its name from King's avowed wish that he be remembered as a "drum major for justice," attracted 133 entrants, mostly local amateurs, who paid $60 apiece for the privilege of fussing and fuming and hacking pieces out of the weather-beaten fairways of the Alfred (Tup) Holmes public course. Walt Bellamy, the former NBA center, was on the tournament board of directors but didn't play. Dick (Night Train) Lane, the former NFL defensive back, who now has a more ample caboose, had a respectable opening-round 87. Lee and Rose Elder were the honorary chairpersons, but Lee couldn't attend because he made the cut at the Greensboro Open. The host pro was Thomas Smith, who in 1971 became the first black golf professional at any of Atlanta's municipal courses. Smith was a cofounder, also in 1971, of the North American Golf Association, which was set up to hold tournaments for black golfers and conducts its own minitour through the South, including such memorable stops as Jabbing Joe's Pro-Am in Eufaula, Ala.
The way Smith tells it, a golf tournament in Dr. King's honor makes perfect sense. Recalling the days when black golfers lived by their wits in the shadow of the lily-white main tour, he says, "Nobody ever gave us anything, and we all came up through the caddie ranks. Travel meant six to a car and as many to a bedroom. And we'd stay with private families. Remember, there weren't a lot of motels that would take us. Dr. King, I guess, helped us get into the motels."
THEY SAID IT
•Mickey Rivers, Texas Rangers designated hitter: "We'll do all right if we can capitalize on our mistakes."
•Edgar Jones, San Antonio Spurs forward, on his energetic style: "I play a little faster than full speed."
•Marty Springstead, American League umpire, on former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver: "The way to test the durability of a Timex watch would be to strap it to his tongue."