"SHE JUST COULDN'T COPE"
After succeeding in obtaining hurry-up British citizenship last April, South African-born middle-distance prodigy Zola Budd promised to "run my heart out for Britain." Then Budd, barefoot as usual, finished a tearful seventh in the 3,000 meters at the Los Angeles Olympics after colliding with Mary Decker of the U.S. Last week the 18-year-old Budd, who had returned to South Africa after the Games, wrote a letter in a childish hand to the Afrikaans newspaper in Bloemfontein, her hometown, in which she described her experiences abroad as "educational" but said she'd decided to remain in South Africa "because I enjoy my athletics much more here." As a consequence of its apartheid policies, South Africa is an international sports pariah, and Budd's decision, if it sticks, will mean she'll no longer be able to compete internationally.
The cynical view of Budd's about-face was that she had sought a British passport for the sole purpose of competing in the Olympics and that she had conned both the British Home Office and the International Olympic Committee. A more charitable, and almost certainly more accurate, view was that she had acted in good faith in changing her nationality—that is, she had intended to compete as a Briton after the Olympics—but had been traumatized by events she couldn't have foreseen. At any rate, almost everybody agreed that Budd was foolish to voluntarily put herself back on the sports blacklist from which she had so recently escaped. Her parents, her coach and sports officials in both Britain and South Africa all argued against the decision that her mother, Tossie, said "was hers and hers alone."
In reaching that decision, Budd was recoiling from the realities of international sports and politics that had resulted, on various occasions, in her being booed in Britain by antiapartheid demonstrators and reduced to tears by probing journalists. Finally, there was the debacle in the 3,000. Decker's coach, Dick Brown, said last week that he and others were hoping to have Decker and Budd appear together at the Olympic closing ceremonies, but that Budd had scotched the idea because she was tired of all the hubbub over the collision with Decker and "just wanted to go home."
According to her sister, Estelle, Zola's experiences in Britain and the U.S. had left her close to a nervous breakdown. "The pressures on her were too much," Estelle said. "She just couldn't cope." There also were reports that Budd wanted to remain in South Africa because, on top of everything else, her parents had separated and her mother was ill. But Tossie denied a rift in her marriage, and she dismissed reports she was in failing health as "a load of tripe."
Budd will become ineligible for international competition the moment she runs again in her native land, and early this week Nigel Cooper, the general secretary of The British Amateur Athletic Board, flew to South Africa to try to persuade her to hold off entering any races. If Budd forfeits her international eligibility, any world records she may set will go unrecognized. Unless South Africa is restored to good standing in international sports, Budd also will forfeit big-money opportunities on the U.S. and European track and road-racing circuits, and fans will be deprived of the chance to see potentially dramatic rematches between herself and Decker. They instead will be left with the memory of a young woman, at once precocious and vulnerable, who ran barefoot into the Olympic glare only to find the light too harsh for her taste.
Do U.S. Air Force aircraft ceremonially buzz West Point before football games between Army and the Air Force Academy? Heavens, no, an Air Force Academy spokesman assured us, suggesting with a straight face that the jet fighters and bombers seen flying at low altitudes over the Hudson River in past years must have been privately owned (SI, Nov. 5). Well, more of the now-familiar buzzings occurred in the days before last Saturday night's game, which Army won 24-12, and this time we decided to see what West Point sports information director Bob Kinney had to say about the phenomenon. Yup, Kinney told us, he'd personally witnessed two flyovers.
"It was a bomber on Tuesday, a big one," he said. "Thursday it looked like a fighter jet."
Were they flying low?
"The one on Thursday was. I thought it was going to take some tops off the trees."
Were the Cadet players properly psyched out?
"I was with the team inside the stadium on Thursday when the plane flew over. The players all laughed."
Since the Air Force has disclaimed any responsibility, might these have been Soviet aircraft that somehow eluded detection by U.S. radar?
"Boy, I hope not."
THE ULTIMATE COMMITMENT
Concept-wise, it was most curious. Hoping to shore up lagging fan interest, the Atlanta Hawks were offering a free season ticket and a T shirt inscribed I GOT MO-HAWKED FOR THE HAWKS to anybody who submitted to a Mohawk haircut at halftime of the team's home opener at the Omni against the Philadelphia 76ers. But since when does the Hawks' nickname have anything to do with Mohawk Indians? Although the team is descended from the Tri-Cities Blackhawks of the old National Basketball League and that nickname was derived from the name of an Indian—Black Hawk, the famous Fox and Sauk warrior—the Hawks, through successive incarnations in Milwaukee, St. Louis and Atlanta, have long since been associated not with Indians, but with birds of prey.
No matter. At halftime of the Hawks' 111-108 loss to the Sixers, 14 men came down to courtside and got Mohawked in what was trumpeted as "the ultimate commitment to the team." Pronouncing the promotion a success, Hawks p.r. man Bill Needle said the number of takers was about what he'd expected. As he lovingly put it, "In a city of two million, you figure there'd be 14 nuts."
As for the liberties taken with the Hawks' name, Bob Hope, executive vice-president of Cohn & Wolfe, the ad agency that thought up the offer, said, enigmatically, "There's an old saying that it's better to go down the street as a village idiot than not to be noticed at all."
FREE SPEECH, COWBOYS STYLE
The Dallas Morning News reported last week that Cowboys coach Tom Landry had threatened his players with $1,000 fines and suspensions if they went public with complaints about how the team was being run. Landry, who issued the warning because he was dismayed that some Cowboys had openly criticized his decision to bench quarterback Gary Hogeboom in favor of Danny White, had no sooner spoken than one player unwittingly demonstrated that the edict was already having its desired effect.
"This is all pretty silly, isn't it?" the Cowboy fumed in an interview with the News. "I mean, isn't there freedom of speech? If Coach Landry fines me for something I say, I will take him to court. Well, at least I'll file a grievance. It's gotten so players are going to be afraid to say, 'No comment.' "
The newspaper didn't identify the player, presumably at his request.
A CUPFUL OF BAD LUCK
When Kentucky thoroughbred breeder John Gaines proposed the Breeders' Cup two years ago, he envisioned it as a surpassing extravaganza—seven races held on a single day at a single track for an unprecedented $10 million in purses. He compared it to the World Series and the Super Bowl and called it "the equine Olympics."
Unfortunately, this Saturday's inaugural Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park is shaping up as a first-rate production with a second-rate cast. There have always been off years and untimely injuries in racing, but 1984 has proved to be a spectacularly unlucky year for top horses. Devil's Bag, one of the most promising horses in years, had three disappointing races before retiring in May with knee problems. Derby favorite Althea finished 19th in that race and was never herself again; for all anybody knows, she may still be plodding toward the wire. Derby winner Swale dropped dead eight days after winning the Belmont Stakes. Saratoga Six, purchased as a yearling for $2.2 million and the fastest 2-year-old on the West Coast, broke an ankle during a workout two weeks ago. Interco, who handed John Henry two of his three losses this year, is sidelined with injuries. John Henry's owner, Sam Rubin, after grousing long and loud about the exorbitant cost of supplementing his horse to the Breeders' Cup, finally relented and paid out a nonrefundable $133,000 of the requisite $400,000 fee. Less than 24 hours later John Henry suffered swelling in his legs. He's out of the Breeders' Cup, too.
So the only name horse left in Gaines's extravaganza is Slew o' Gold. He'll be odds-on to win his race—the 1¼ miles for 3-year-olds and up; should he lose, the defeat will almost certainly be attributed to California's liberal medication rules, which figure to help Slew's rivals, or to his own foot problems, rather than the superiority of his opponents.
"I see a parallel with the recent Olympics," said Gaines, returning to one of his original metaphors when asked about all this bad luck. "There was tremendous discussion that the Games would be no fun or not interesting because of the boycott. But everyone loves competition. The Olympics were a resounding financial, artistic and political success. The important thing about the Breeders' Cup is that we're putting it on."
A MOST PUZZLING INSCRIPTION
How come the New York Rangers, alone among the NHL's 21 teams, presume to print the words "NHL Championship" on their tickets? The Rangers, after all, last won the Stanley Cup in 1940 and, in fact, they may be resting on laurels even older than that. Jack Fitzpatrick, senior vice-president of Madison Square Garden Corp., the Gulf & Western subsidiary that owns the team, says he has a ticket in his office from the 1938-39 season that bears the inscription, and he suggests the usage could date from the Rangers' NHL title in 1927-28 or even earlier. Fitzpatrick justifies retaining the words NHL Championship by noting that league bylaws refer to the regular season's schedule of "championship games," but this doesn't explain why the words also appeared on the team's '84 preseason tickets. The best explanation seems to be that it's simply tradition—a very, very old tradition.
THEY SAID IT
•Orlando Pizzolato, surprise winner of the 1984 New York City Marathon, upon being told that his prizes included a new Mercedes: "My god, gas costs so much."
•Mike Blewett, USC golfer, after making a hole in one: "All I could think of was, 'Good! I don't have to putt.' "
•Scott Brunner, Denver Broncos reserve quarterback, when asked which would be the more frightening experience, getting sacked by Lawrence Taylor or by Mark Gastineau: "At this stage of my career, I'd like the opportunity to be sacked by either one."