Say this for senior writer E.M. Swift, he doesn't pull his punches. In his story on the Olympic men's figure skating competition (page 50), Swift suggests that the judges were stiff-necked when confronted with the unconventional artistry of Canada's Elvis Stojko. The panel preferred the faux ballet of Russia's Alexei Urmanov, elevating him to the gold medal over Stojko, and Swift was not amused.
But then Swift himself hasn't received many 6.0s from Olympic officialdom. In SI's Feb. 7 Winter Games preview, he assailed the U.S. Alpine ski program as disorganized and underachieving. In the sort of quote that provides bulletin-board motivation in a Super Bowl locker room, he wrote that "all seven million Austrians and half of the cows in Switzerland ski faster than the entire U.S. ski team" and dismissed the Americans as "Uncle Sam's lead-footed snowplow brigade."
That brigade, which won a medal in each of the first four Alpine events before coming up empty in the women's combined on Monday, has been seeing red ever since. Picabo Street, the silver medalist in the women's downhill, said some skiers used the SI story to psych themselves up. Maybe we should have turned Swift loose on the Swiss and Austrian skiers, traditional Alpine powers, who were shut out in the first-week medal count in Lillehammer. They could have used the help.
The success of the U.S. skiers at Lillehammer notwithstanding. Swift sticks to his guns in saying that the team was mismanaged and ill-coached. And. privately, many ski officials agree. "Kudos to the team—it's peaked at the right time," Swift says. "But it was nowhere during the World Cup season for several years, and this should be an important enough skiing nation to be competitive all the time. There are fundamental changes needed to point the program in the right direction."
Still, Swift, who has covered five Winter Games for SI, would love it if he could take back a phrase or two. He concedes that he badly overrated the Swiss cows' skiing prowess and that maybe the lead-foot label was a bit heavy-handed. Utilizing the Olympic Village computer E-mail system, Swift offered just such a mea culpa to the U.S. ski press attachè, who passed the sentiments on to team members.
"I called my wife to see how things were going back home, and she told me her friend had read about my apology in The Boston Globe," Swift said. "I've been getting ripped in the papers on a regular basis."
Swift probably has been stricken from the U.S. Olympic Committee's Christmas card list as well. In a POINT AFTER (Feb. 21), he excoriated the USOC for backing down in its test of wills with figure skater Tonya Harding, who had filed a $25 million lawsuit to keep her place on the U.S. team. "Maybe the USOC was boxed in the corner by lawyers, but sometimes right and wrong should take precedence over legal issues," Swift says. "The USOC has not addressed that."
For all the controversy, Swift is a cheerful, fair-minded fellow, as viewers who have seen him discussing the Harding case on Good Morning America, CBS Morning News, Nightline and Cross Fire can attest. Further demonstrating his equanimity, he allows that Norwegian crow is almost as tasty as Norwegian salmon.
Swift, unlike the USOC, doesn't back down.