Echoes from the Centennial Park bombing resounded through the
shut-down streets of Atlanta and across a tuned-in nation for
days. But for too many Olympic athletes from too many war-torn
nations--Burundi foremost among them--reverberations of violence
are routine. On July 20, the first day of Olympic competition,
330 Burundians were killed when Hutu rebels attacked a Tutsi
refugee camp, the latest massacre in a war between those ethnic
groups (who between them make up virtually all of Burundi's
population) that began in 1993. The pace of killings has
increased sharply this year, and the overall death toll has
Still, on July 19 a seven-member Burundi delegation led by flag
bearer Dieudonne Kwizera, 29, a veteran 5,000-meter runner,
walked proudly into Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremonies.
"We want to bring some good news from our country, some news
from the heart," says Kwizera, who guided the campaign that
brought Burundi to Atlanta for its first Olympic appearance. He
began lobbying the IOC for membership before the 1992 Games, and
he helped persuade the nearly bankrupt Burundian government to
spend tens of thousands of dollars on the Olympic trip.
Burundians are likely to cheer en masse on Saturday when native
son Venuste Niyongabo toes the line for the 1,500 meters, in
which he is the most formidable threat to Algeria's Noureddine
Morceli. Niyongabo, like all of Burundi's Olympians, is of Tutsi
descent, a member of the elite ruling class. Kwizera, however,
feels that the Burundian team in Atlanta is representing both
ethnic groups. "We are here running under one flag," he says.
"If Niyongabo wins a medal, great. But the biggest victory was
to give the Olympics to Burundi, to give young people something
to build toward."
Kwizera likes to think that unification under the Olympic banner
is a step toward peace in his fractious land. It is an ambitious
notion, but Kwizera has proved a resolute man. And his surname,
in his native tongue of Kirundi, means hope.
When you're a spokesman for Atlanta's beleaguered Olympic
organizing committee, you're always on the lookout for good
news. At a press conference held about 12 hours after the
Centennial Park bombing, press chief Bob Brennan put a smiley
face on the morning's news from venues: "Scalpers were well
represented. Seventeen-dollar handball tickets were selling for
NFL HITS IRVIN TOO LIGHTLY
Just to review: On the night of March 3 Michael Irvin was caught
in a Dallas hotel room with 60 grams of cocaine, about three
ounces of marijuana, two topless dancers and an array of sex
toys; he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of cocaine
possession; he and several of his party-boy teammates were found
to have frequented the infamous White House, rented by several
Dallas Cowboys players and used as a haven for extramarital
liaisons; he flouted the law in Texas by ignoring a grand jury
summons until the Dallas County DA threatened to arrest him; and
he shrugged off inquiries by NFL officials about the incident,
defiantly proclaiming that he "definitely" didn't have a
substance abuse problem.
How did NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue react last week? He put
on kid gloves and slapped Irvin's wrist. Tagliabue's
penalty--the wide receiver-miscreant will miss the first five
games of this season and will therefore lose more than $500,000
of his salary--is a joke, albeit a humorless one. The suspension
is just one week longer than the NFL's minimum punishment for
any drug-related violation of the law. And Irvin will hardly
feel the loss of pay, given his annual salary of $1.7 million.
Tagliabue had all the ammunition he needed to send the message
that behavior such as Irvin's will not be tolerated, but he
didn't do it. The NFL's drug policy, Tagliabue said with his
decision, has no teeth. Tacitly he was saying, Violate the rules
by getting caught with hard drugs, and the worst that will
happen is you'll read a long-winded letter from me, pee in a
bottle on a regular basis and sit out a few weeks. A groin pull
might be worse. And head-in-the-sand attitudes such as the one
expressed by Irvin's thickheaded teammate Nate Newton will go
on: "[Irvin] shouldn't have been suspended. It's not like he
murdered anyone or anything."
Yes, he should have been suspended, and for a lot longer than
five games. A half season (eight games) suspension would have
been better, an entire season best of all.
NOT SO FAN-TASTIC
Hakeem Olajuwon dropped by the Georgia World Congress Center
last week to catch some of an Olympic men's team handball game
between Russia and the U.S., and sadly, he must have felt right
at home. With yahoo P.A. announcer Mike Noble bellowing for the
crowd to "pump it up" and "make a little noise out there," and
with such arena rock standards as Shout! and Great Balls of Fire
blaring at excruciating volume during every break in the
action, the ambience was far more NBA than Olympic. In fact, it
bordered on monster truck. The same sonic assault is occurring
at other Olympic venues, where, to the pounding beat of
apoplexy-inducing tunes like Y.M.C.A., some announcers seem more
intent on hyping the event than on providing information.
Atlanta organizers acknowledge that the expanded role of music
and announcers is "a new concept for the Olympics" but say it
"gets audiences involved and increases fan interest in the newer
sports." Involved is one thing, shell-shocked is another. IOC
rules rightly prohibit advertising in venues, mercifully sparing
spectators the signage overload endured in pro arenas--and, more
important, preserving the Olympic tone. They should pump down
the volume as well.
WILT KNEW IT ALL ALONG
A recent study by exercise physiologists at the College of St.
Scholastica in Duluth, Minn., measured the impact that sexual
intercourse has on maximal aerobic performance 12 hours later.
Eleven men were given a treadmill exercise test 12 hours after
doing the wild thing, then were tested again after a period of
abstinence. The results revealed no detrimental effects on
aerobic performance, and the conclusion drawn was that sex
before, say, a marathon would not have a harmful effect on
Our question, though, is this: What's the impact of a treadmill
exercise test on sex?
As indelibly as Willie Mays did with his basket catch and Sandy
Koufax did with his curveball, Tommy Lasorda, who retired Monday
after 20 years as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, brought a
signature move to baseball: the hug. His unabashed embracing of
his players was pure Lasorda, at once capturing his fervent
enthusiasm, his devotion to the game and, given how he seemed to
always turn up in camera range, his showmanship.
The diamond will sparkle a little less brightly now that another
of baseball's top goodwill ambassadors is hanging up his
uniform. Lasorda's retirement follows those of two other
magnetic figures, Sparky Anderson and Kirby Puckett, who also
called it quits recently. Lasorda, 68, who underwent an
angioplasty on June 26 following a mild heart attack, got
clearance from his doctors to return to the dugout but decided
against managing because he was concerned about his heart, he
said on Monday.
Lasorda's Dodgers won four pennants and two world championships,
including one in 1988 against the Oakland A's that stands as his
most masterly achievement. In Game 1 of the World Series,
Lasorda used eight players in the number 9 spot in his order,
the last of them an injured Kirk Gibson, who hit a game-winning
homer. In Game 5 Oakland started Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco,
Dave Parker and Mark McGwire in the two through five spots. By
contrast, the meat of Lasorda's lineup was Franklin Stubbs,
Mickey Hatcher, Mike Marshall and John Shelby. The Dodgers won
that deciding game 5-2.
More recently, Lasorda's dugout acumen seemed to wane. His teams
were 321-337 in the past five seasons. Last year he was even
caught napping on the bench. He was so loved, though, that he
was never booed in his home park, a remarkable feat for a
manager over any stretch of time. That is his legacy, as well.
It turns out baseball was embracing him all these years too.
Most every athlete in Atlanta has a story to tell of an injury
or setback that he or she has overcome. U.S. kayaker Cliff
Meidl's story might top them all. Ten years ago Meidl, then 20,
was working as an apprentice plumber in Redondo Beach, Calif.,
when the jackhammer he was operating struck three live power
lines. Here's Meidl's deadpan description, delivered at a press
conference at the start of the Games, of what happened after
30,000 volts of electricity coursed through his body for 30
"I didn't remember a lot because I had three cardiac arrests. I
woke up 14 hours later in the hospital. I was fighting for my
life the first couple of days. Two toes were blown off. A third
of my knee joints were burned away. A shoulder blade exploded.
Part of the back of my head was blown off. I faced amputation of
my legs below the knees, but they removed a calf muscle from one
leg and moved it to my knees."
Introduced to canoeing as part of his recovery regimen, Meidl, a
former soccer player and cross-country runner, turned to kayak
racing in 1993. He is scheduled to compete in Atlanta in the
four-man 1,000-meter event, in which the American boat had a
shot to make the final. After what happened to Meidl, nothing
would be a shock.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY AMY GUIP [Photomontage featuring photographs of Muhammad Ali, Michael Johnson, Michelle Smith, soldiers, Kerri Strug, dark clouds and Olympic rings with crosshairs]
B/W PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER [Muhammad Ali holding Olympic torch]
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR.; [Michael Johnson]
B/W PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [Michelle Smith]
B/W PHOTO: ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AP [Soldiers]
B/W PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [Kerri Strug]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [Gold medal from 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Irvin caught a break when Tagliabue failed to send a strong message. [Michael Irvin in game]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN A. [Rhythmic gymnastics ball]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO B. [Water polo ball]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK C. [Beach volleyball]
COLOR PHOTO: TOM LYNN D. [Team handball]
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER E. [Field hockey ball]
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES [Michael Johnson]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: PAINTINGS COURTESY OF VISA INTERNATIONAL An Atlanta exhibit by 11- to 13-year-olds has provided an eloquent answer to dispiriting images of violence. Some 31,000 kids from 22 nations offered visions of an Olympics promoting peace and unity. SOUHAIL HOUMAM, 13, MOROCCO [Painting of runners on track]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: PAINTINGS COURTESY OF VISA INTERNATIONAL [See caption above] GEORGE PODOLEANU, 12, ROMANIA [Drawing of figures playing basketball on rollerskates]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: PAINTINGS COURTESY OF VISA INTERNATIONAL [See caption above] GALIT PINTO, 12, ISRAEL [Painting of globe with doves amd national flags in shape of baloons]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: PAINTINGS COURTESY OF VISA INTERNATIONAL [See caption above] KATIE ORNELAS, 12, U.S. [Painting of two women swimming]
Meters by which Atlanta gold medalist Donovan Bailey would have
beaten 1896 Athens winner Thomas Burke in the 100, based on
their Olympic-final times.
Margin by which 1996 gold medalist Kenny Harrison would have
beaten Athens victor James Connolly in the triple jump.
Margin by which 1996 shot put champion Randy Barnes would have
beaten 1896 gold medalist Robert Garrett.
Pounds by which this year's weightlifting gold medalist Naim
(Pocket Hercules) Suleymanoglu would have beaten Athens
heavyweight champ Viggo Jensen.
Meters by which 1996 gold medalist swimmer Aleksandr Popov would
have defeated 1896 winner Alfred Hajos in the 100 freestyle.
Meters by which Atlanta women's 100-free champ Le Jingyi would
have beaten Ioannis Malokinis in the never-again-held 100 free
for Greek sailors.
It takes lots of balls to make an Olympics. Do you know which
balls go with which sports? (Answers below)
A: Rhythmic gymnastics B: Water polo C: Beach volleyball D: Team
handball E: Field hockey
THE SCORECARD POLL
The Pros' Games
Anyone who's anyone is watching the Olympics, and among the
viewers are pro athletes. We polled a cross section of baseball,
football and hockey players to see which sport at the Games is
their favorite and which current Olympian they would most like
to be. Forty-two of 61 respondents selected track and field as
the sport they most enjoy watching. "That's what I like," said
Cincinnati Reds infielder Bret Boone, "but when my wife is home,
gymnastics is always on. I usually head for another room then."
Gymnastics did get six endorsements. "It amazes me those young
kids can be so strong and skillful," said San Francisco Giants
reliever Rod Beck. And even the nontelegenic archery competition
garnered a vote. "I'm a bow hunter," explained Phillies
outfielder Jim Eisenreich. "Archery may be boring to everyone
else, but to me it's exciting. I've dreamed of shooting that
Plenty of the polled athletes have dreamed of running as swiftly
as Michael Johnson, who dominated the which-Olympian-would-
you-like-to-be competition with 21 votes. "He puts all the
pressure on himself," marveled Denver Broncos linebacker Glenn
Cadrez. "He knows he's the best." Chimed in one of Cadrez's
Broncos teammates, running back Reggie Rivers, "He reminds me of
A few non-U.S. athletes pulled in votes, though not always for
their athletic ability. "I'd like to be Pocket Hercules," said
Arizona Cardinals tackle Lomas Brown, referring to diminutive
gold-medal-winning Turkish weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu. "I
heard he can dance. I heard he can sing. I heard he can rap."
As a caveat, remember that some of the voters are
Olympics-challenged. Who in the Games would Braves infielder
Mark Lemke most like to be? "Is Mark Spitz still around?" he
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
The Las Vegas Club Hotel & Casino is offering limited-edition
gaming chips honoring track and field great Jesse Owens.
THEY SAID IT
St. Louis Cardinals veteran second baseman, on his proclivity
for diving for ground balls: "That's the difference between a
young player and an old player. The young player doesn't know
how to get on 'SportsCenter.'"