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Front Page » February 21, 2002 » Sports » The Sports View
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The Sports View


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sports editor

Controversy, controversy, controversy! Does it never end?

Once again the Olympics have outdone themselves; the Olympic bobsledder who kicked her best friend out of the cabin for a behemoth brakeman that ended up being not-as-good-as-expected; a figure skating debacle that included of all things a French judge who still thought the Soviet Union was alive and well and ready to invade western Europe; and a Belarussian athlete who tested at nearly 400 times the allowed limit for steroids and then talked her team into getting her out of the country before she could be tested again.

Does it seem to you that there is more controversy than ever at the Olympics? Does it seem since "pro" athletes were allowed to don Olympic uniforms the controversies have grown larger? As the games are more commercialized are they generating less feeling of friendly competition and more cat fights?

Well don't be fooled. Controversy has raged each and every time the games have been held, summer and winter. Headlines concerning improprieties have been about everything from what site was selected to how bad the judging was in a number of events. Part of the difference is that the size of both the Summer and Winter Olympics has grown immensely and with sports like golf and bowling probably soon to be thrown into the mix they will grow even more.

Certainly the media exposure has changed things too. And the relatively new elements of drug testing, very precise electronic timing and advanced materials used in uniforms and equipment bring new differences to the limelight.

As I talk with people, I find that most think a lot of the problem with the Olympics is that the judging in some events is so subjective, while other events, like timed events or events of scientific measure, are objective. It is interesting that we tend to trust machines and electronics, as if they cannot be manipulated or, my gosh even make mistakes. I guess we should trust those devices, but sometimes I wonder.

Some sports will never be measured totally in the vacuum of objectivity. If you think there is a way to do that you must also believe bribes given by cities hoping to host the games will never happen again.

We have laws against speeding and murder in our country and almost everyone speeds and people are still murdered every day. We give out tickets for one and the death penalty for the other but people keep on breaking the law. The law of judging follows the same path. It will never be completely untainted and neither will almost anything that has to do with the games. Controversy manifests itself in many ways.

In 1956, the controversy in the summer games simmered over the site Melbourne, Australia. The story of this Olympic city easily rivals the Salt Lake bribery scandal in many ways.

At the time people were concerned about the reversed seasons that northern athletes would have to face; they would have less time to train and it wasn't natural for someone from Russia to be swimming in the middle of the winter. No one ever thought about how the southern hemisphere athletes had felt for years.

The equestrian competition had to be held in Stockholm because of an equine quarantine in Australia. Those events had to be held five and a half months before the rest of the summer games. Otherwise the sport of horse curling might have been invented in the middle of a northern hemisphere winter in Sweden.

The Premier of Victoria, the state in which the games were to be held refused to give money to build an Olympic village and the Prime Minister of Australia refused to give the games any kind of federal funds. In fact, as late as 1955, the IOC was thinking about moving the games to Rome, which had been picked for the 1960 games because they were so far ahead of the Australians in their preparations for their games that were to be held five years later.

The games finally did come off though and actually the Australians did a fine job of holding them. But a judging scandal marred the games when a U.S. diver (Gary Tobian) was given unusually low scores by eastern block Hungarian and Russian judges and failed to win his event because of those votes.

There were many more problems with those games, too many to mention here.

All of us have had times when we believe there has been a miscarriage of justice in watching the Olympics. How about the controversial decision by referees in the 1972 games to put three more seconds on the clock when the Russians beat the United States for the gold medal? Or how about the stripping of Jim Thorpe in 1913 of his gold medals for winning both the pentathlon and the decathlon at the same games (1912) because he had basically played baseball in trade for lunch a few times. What about the decision that led to the loss of the gold medal in a middleweight bout when Roy Jones of the United States landed 86 punches to Park Si Hun's 32 and still lost 3-2 in the 1988 summer games?

The controversies in both the winter and summer, and spring and fall of sports will always be with us. Even in the games that are supposed to celebrate the spirit of competition. More than victories, controversy will always be with us.


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