The new force in the U.S. Olympic movement delivered a philosophical message to delegates at the quadrennial meetings of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) in Portland, Ore., last weekend: The primary goal of the USOC is—and must be—to help U.S. athletes win Olympic medals. Mere participation isn't enough to satisfy George Steinbrenner, New York Yankee owner, newly elected USOC vice-president and chairman of the Olympic Overview Commission, and that was reflected in the commission's long-awaited, 21-page report, delivered on Sunday. Steinbrenner clearly wants the USOC to start playing hardball. Among the commission's recommendations were
•Provide far more money to U.S. athletes through expanded tuition assistance, job programs and direct financial payments. Obtain the money by stepping up fund-raising efforts, demanding a larger share of Olympic television revenues from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), marketing USOC products and logos more aggressively and trimming administrative expenses.
•Take a lesson from the Eastern bloc countries and create an organization to identify and develop promising young athletes.
February 27, 1989
•Streamline USOC decision-making by eliminating 16 of 29 committees and reducing the executive board from 89 to 46 members.
•Relocate the USOC's marketing, merchandising, licensing and media operations from organization headquarters in Colorado Springs to New York City and model them after those of the NFL and major league baseball.
•Hire a public relations/lobbying firm with offices in Washington, D.C., to build national Olympic spirit and keep Congress and the White House aware of USOC needs.
While some at the meetings questioned Steinbrenner's emphasis on winning—which, after all, isn't exactly at the heart of the Olympic ideals—Steinbrenner generally earned positive reviews. "He's a guy who takes a problem and deals with it," former Olympic hammer thrower Ed Burke said. Anita DeFrantz, a U.S. representative to the IOC, said that if the USOC acts upon Steinbrenner's proposals, he "could have the biggest impact on the organization since the Amateur Sports Act," the 1978 legislation that created America's current amateur sports structure.
The Portland meetings weren't without a significant embarrassment for the USOC: In House of Delegates voting held on Saturday, men were elected to fill all six of the organization's top executive board positions. No women had even been put up for the offices by the USOC's nominating committee. USOC president Robert Helmick rushed to remedy the oversight by announcing the appointment of outgoing USOC vice-president Evie Dennis as his special assistant, but that seems a token gesture.
As the USOC steps into the Age of Steinbrenner, it should be reminded that women made up 36% of the membership of last year's U.S. Olympic teams and earned or shared 35 of the 103 medals won by American athletes at Calgary and Seoul.
GALLERY OF DOOM
Jeannine Bliss, the secretary in the Arizona State basketball office, meant no harm last fall when she hung photos of the Sun Devil players in two rows on the wall behind her desk. But soon a strange pattern developed. Center Emory Lewis, whose picture hangs first in one row, suffered a stress fracture in his left foot and missed the first 18 games of the season. Then guard Tarence Wheeler, whose photo is next to Lewis's, tore up his left knee and was lost for the season. Next, forward/center Torin Williams, whose photo is next to Wheeler's, came down with strep throat and was sidelined for four games. After that, center Mark Becker, whose picture is fourth in line, was knocked out for the season with a broken right wrist. Finally, guard Rich Goldberg—yes, photo No. 5—went down for two games with water on his left knee. "It got to where we weren't laughing anymore," says coach Bob Schermerhorn.
The coaching staff was especially worried because the sixth and seventh pictures were of two starters, forward Alex Austin and guard Mike Redhair. The jinx was thought to have ended at an afternoon practice on Feb. 6, when nonplaying walk-on John Hayes and redshirt Emilio Kovacic suffered a broken finger and a bruised finger, respectively. Alas, to protect Austin and Redhair, Bliss had moved Hayes's picture into position six and Kovacic's into position seven on that morning.
At last report Redhair, whose photo now hangs in position No. 8 in the gallery, was still alive and well.
ALIAS SULTAN OF SWAT
When checking in for a convention of Cub fans at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago recently, several members of the team got the hotel to register them under assumed names to protect their privacy. Pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and Mitch Williams chose to be R. Redford and G. Patton, respectively, but the deepest cover was used by infielder Curtis Wilkerson, who has hit a total of three home runs in his six-year big league career. Wilkerson signed in as B. Ruth.
It may not be your idea of a sun-and-fun getaway, but the Hotel Nelson in Norwich, England, is offering a special Pollution Weekend package for about $160. The deal comprises two nights' lodging, free breakfasts and dinners, and a consciousness-raising tour of the surrounding countryside. "Guests will be shown areas ravaged by acid rain, effluent and pesticides," read an ad in the London Sunday Times. "Highlights include a beach [along the North Sea] where dead seals are washed up and (a success) the place where wild orchids have started to flourish again."
Hotel general manager Peter Mack-ness, who thought up the special, says that part of the proceeds will be donated to a nature trust. He adds that guests who arrive in cars that use unleaded gas and who bring environmentally safe deodorants—those not containing chlorofluorocarbon propellants, which damage the ozone layer—will receive a 10% discount.
RACING'S COCAINE MYSTERY
Years ago, some thoroughbred trainers juiced up their horses with prerace "speedballs," potent mixtures of heroin and cocaine that supposedly made the horses run faster. Speedballs gave way to scores of other, cheaper drugs—some legal, some not—that also boosted performances in one way or another: stimulants, painkillers, anti-inflammatory agents, you name it. People in racing say there aren't many drugs that haven't been tried on a horse at least once by some trainer looking for an edge.
All of which adds intrigue to the California cocaine mystery. No one is sure why six thoroughbreds handled by six different trainers—among them the highly successful and respected D. Wayne Lukas and Laz Barrera—have tested positive in the state for cocaine in the last four months. The trainers deny giving the drug to any horse or knowing of anyone else who has done so, and almost everyone in the sport believes them. After all, the races involved were primarily small-potatoes affairs, especially for trainers of Lukas's and Barrera's stature. And no evidence exists to suggest that cocaine actually helps horses run faster.
Nevertheless, cocaine did show up in those California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) tests, and that fact begs for an explanation. Consider some of the possibilities that have been raised:
•A stable hand used cocaine and had residue of the drug on his hands when handling a horse's bridle or feed.
•The urine samples were spiked with cocaine after being drawn.
•The lab fouled up. Truesdail Laboratories of Tustin, Calif, which has tested horses for the CHRB for nearly 50 years, has admitted losing part of its testing data on one of the horses involved while purging some computer disks. All six positive samples are being retested at Ohio State.
•A trainer or assistant trainer administered cocaine to the horses. The drug could be used as a painkiller, although the cost would seem prohibitive. Of greater concern to the CHRB is that cocaine is possibly being used as part of a drug cocktail far more sophisticated than the speedballs of old.
Few horses have ever come up positive in more than a decade of testing for cocaine at California tracks. The recent positives may reflect the effectiveness of a new, more sensitive test for cocaine that the CHRB introduced in November. The CHRB has been using the test on both current and frozen urine samples, and four of the six positives—including those involving horses trained by Lukas and Barrera—have turned up in samples frozen last summer.
The trainers involved can look ahead to months of hearings and, if necessary, appeals as they fight to protect their reputations and avoid fines and suspensions. Exoneration won't come easy: In California, each trainer is accountable for all drug violations involving his horses, even those committed by third parties without his knowledge.
THEY SAID IT
•Mike Eisenberg, 5'10", 220-pound basketball coach at New York City Technical College, describing the effect created when he stands next to his 6'6", 133-pound guard Martin Lacewell: "We look like the number 10."