LEAN AND TOO HUNGRY
SI's Robert Sullivan reports from San Diego on the first meeting of the U.S. Olympic Committee's board of directors.
The 100-member USOC board was created this year to replace the bloated (400-member), bureaucratic House of Delegates, which until its disbanding in February had final say on most USOC matters. The goal was to streamline decision making, and, indeed, last weekend the board acted on two important initiatives: It approved long-stalled plans to build a 16-sport training center in Chula Vista, Calif., and provide greater support for centers in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, and it passed a proposal to award more USOC money to federations whose athletes do best in international competition.
"The Olympics are not for recreation," said USOC president Robert Helmick, underscoring the organization's new emphasis on winning. "We do not want to take up our time, beds and money with athletes who are not dedicated to being the best they can be."
The creation of a slimmed-down board is welcome. Among other things, it saves the USOC a small fortune every time members are flown in for these meetings and put up at plush hotels. Still, the harmony in evidence in San Diego was almost unsettling. The new focus on earning medals was scarcely questioned. The motion to link USOC funding to a federation's success rate in producing winners passed nearly unanimously, receiving the support even of smaller, less successful governing bodies that for reasons largely beyond their control—the lack of grass-roots participation, for example—aren't likely to produce any Olympic champions in the next millennium.
It's glib to suggest, as Helmick seemed to, that if athletes in some of these underdeveloped sports were somehow more "dedicated," they would become world-beaters. The formula isn't that simple. Some of the most dedicated U.S. Olympians are those trying desperately, even quixotically, to finish higher than, say, 39th in their event. In the past the USOC slanted funding toward those federations whose athletes were struggling and needed the most help. Now, weaker federations will still get as many USOC dollars as ever, but the sports that produce medals and world-ranked athletes will earn bonus money. While there's something to be said for this financial incentive, one fears that the rich federations will merely get richer, and the disparity between the strongest and weakest will grow.
"People always remember [modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre] de Coubertin's statement about participation being the important thing," said USOC treasurer LeRoy Walker, "but they forget the Olympic motto: citius, altius, fortius. Swifter, higher, stronger. That means better. You shouldn't continue to reward mediocrity." Neither should the U.S., in its quest for medals, dismiss as irrelevant those who strive for victory but don't reach it.
WEATHERING THE STORM
It was a foregone conclusion that English and/or Dutch soccer fans—the most notorious rowdies in the sports world-would create disturbances before last Saturday's England-Holland World Cup game in Cagliari, Italy. The only question was how grisly the scene would become. Some worried that even the presence of 4,000 Italian police and soldiers might not be enough to control the brawling and rampaging.
Thankfully, no cataclysm ensued—though the streets of Cagliari were no place for a romantic stroll, either. The Dutch supporters, to their credit, remained peaceful. The English, alas, did not. As perhaps 1,000 English fans walked to Sant'Elia Stadium, police tried to steer them onto a route that would prevent them from encountering Dutch supporters also walking to the game. The English fans began throwing rocks and taunts. Police responded with clubs and tear gas, and some residents hurled flowerpots at the English from their windows. In the end, 10 people were hospitalized with bruises or concussions, but property damage was minor, and there were no flare-ups at the game, which ended in a 0-0 tie.
Only in soccer could such an ugly scene qualify as relatively good news.
•Oakland officials have come up with a more sensible proposal for luring the Los Angeles Raiders back to their city (SCORECARD, March 26, et seq.). Unlike Oakland's original offer, which included $547.6 million in revenue guarantees and a $54.9 million cash payment to the Raiders, the new plan includes no revenue guarantees and no flat payment (only a $31.9 million loan, to be repaid with 10% interest within two years). The proposal has not yet been approved by the city and county boards, but it appears to be acceptable in principle to all parties involved, including the Raiders. It's increasingly clear that Oakland residents did themselves proud by speaking up and forcing the city to withdraw its initial, overly generous offer.
•In a welcome turnaround, the Bush Administration announced that the U.S. will contribute between $20 million and $25 million to a new international fund to help developing nations phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons and other chemicals that contribute to depletion of the earth's protective ozone layer (SCORECARD, May 21). In May, the White House backed away from an apparent commitment to provide the money, claiming that developing countries could instead borrow the necessary funds from the World Bank or other financial institutions. That move drew so much criticism from the international environmental and political communities that the Administration last week pledged to contribute to the fund.
SI's Steve Rushin previews the June 27 NBA draft.
Beyond the obvious top pick, Syracuse forward Derrick Coleman, this is the most difficult field to forecast in years. It's short on height, long on little men and peppered with sleepers, such as 6'10" forward Jerrod Mustaf of Maryland and 6'8" forward Anthony Bonner of St. Louis.
Who will end up where? "It's almost not predictable after Number One," says Chicago Bulls vice-president Jerry Krause. "If I were you, I'd punt on first down." Never. Here is our draft-day first-and-10:
1) New Jersey Nets. They will snatch up Coleman, the 6'10" rebounder and shot-blocking ace.
2) Seattle SuperSonics. There's a lot of talk of Seattle's trading this pick. The Sonics could deal down a notch or two and still be able to snare coveted point guard Gary Payton of Oregon State.
3) Miami Heat. A possible suitor for the Sonics' pick. The Heat could use 6'8" shooting guard Dennis Scott of Georgia Tech, who figures to be the second player taken.
4) Orlando Magic. Florida's Dwayne Schintzius is a head case, but the head is 7'1" off the ground and the Magic desperately needs a center.
5) Charlotte Hornets. Another team with a large hole up front, which would be ably filled by 6'11" forward Alec Kessler of Georgia.
6) Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves can address both frontcourt and backcourt needs by drafting University of Minnesota swingman Willie Burton, whose stock soared during the NCAA tournament and in predraft camps.
7) Sacramento Kings. Louisiana State's Pistol incarnate, Chris Jackson, will play the point in the pros, and few teams are more pointless than the Vinny Del Negro-led Kings.
8) Los Angeles Clippers. Injured shooting guard Ron Harper will miss much of next season, so look for Michigan's 6'2" Rumeal Robinson to join ex-Wolverine Gary Grant at guard in the Clip Joint.
9) Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs have two more picks in the first round, so they may take a chance on La Salle forward Lionel Simmons or go with 6'9" Tyrone Hill of Xavier as a rebounding backup to Roy Tarpley at power forward.
10) Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are the smallest team in the league, and coach Don Nelson loves a project. He'll get a good one in Louisville 7-footer Felton Spencer.
11) Atlanta Hawks. Kendall Gill of Illinois could get playing time filling in for Kenny Smith at the point or for Doc Rivers at shooting guard, or by playing small forward. Atlanta's worry is that he may not be available this late.
LITTLE IRON MAN
As expected, Baltimore Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken (SI, June 18) extended his consecutive-game streak to 1,308 last week to pass Everett Scott and move into second place, behind Lou Gehrig, on the alltime list. For all the attention given Ripken, however, it's been overlooked that Scott was perhaps history's unlikeliest iron man: a 5'8" shortstop who by his account never weighed more than 138 pounds in 13 big league seasons with the Red Sox, Yankees (whom he captained from 1922 to '25), Senators, White Sox and Reds. Scott batted only .249 for his career but was an excellent fielder known for his accurate arm. Indeed, he was also one of the nation's top bowlers.
Scott began his streak in 1916 while with the Red Sox and four years later surpassed the record of 577 straight games, set by Brooklyn shortstop George Pinckney between 1885 and '90. Scott's streak ended May 6,1925, when Yankee manager Miller Huggins replaced him with Pee Wee Wanninger. Coincidentally, on June 1, 1925, Gehrig pinch-hit for Wanninger to launch his 2,130-game streak.
Considering all the speculation lately about whether Ripken might perform better if he took a few games off, Scott's words from 1937 seem timely: "I don't know what made me stay in there, and I doubt if Gehrig knows why he does it, either. I played when I should have been on the bench. So I punished myself and probably handicapped my team."
A COSTLY SEASON
Righthanded pitcher Floyd French went 7-2 this spring for Federal Way (Wash.) High and even tossed a six-inning no-hitter. But what his mother, Linda, will remember most about the season is that it cost more than $27,000 in legal fees. She ran up the bill while getting Floyd, a fifth-year senior, an extra year of eligibility.
Under regulations of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), high school athletes receive only four years of eligibility unless they are unable to graduate in four years "due to circumstances beyond their control." The Frenches maintained that Floyd, who repeated his junior year because of academic and personal difficulties brought about in part by a death in his family, met that stipulation, but the WIAA disagreed. Only after months of legal wrangling did the WIAA rule in March that Floyd could play ball this year.
"After a while I stopped opening the lawyers' bills," says Linda French, a single parent who earns $25,000 a year as a buyer for Boeing. "I wasn't going to let the expense stop me." The law firm that represented the Frenches has agreed to accept payments of $50 a month, so Linda French should finish paying for her son's senior season in about 45 years.
HERE'S HOW IT'S DONE, GUYS
When Kentucky basketball Coach Rick Pitino Announced last Month that he wanted to hire a woman to replace departing assistant coach Ralph Willard, many people assumed it was a publicity stunt. But Pitino insisted he was serious, saying that a female assistant could be especially effective in talking to the mothers of prospective recruits. To offset criticism that he was really only looking for a token, Pitino promised that the new coach would also be involved in instructing players in technique and in drawing up X's and O's.
Last week Pitino, true to his word, hired a woman assistant: Bernadette Locke, 31, a former All-America guard at Georgia and an assistant coach with the highly successful Bulldog women's team for the last five seasons. Locke, who as a so-called volunteer assistant won't be paid by the university but will earn an undisclosed salary as a director of Pitino's summer camps, is the first woman to coach in a men's Division I basketball program.
Locke was at the top of a list of candidates recommended to Pitino by Karen Booker, an assistant for the Wildcat women's team. After graduating from Georgia with a degree in special education in 1981, Locke worked at her alma mater for two years as an assistant for the women's team and an academic counselor to female athletes. She then spent two years studying computer science and working for the Xerox Corporation before returning to Georgia in '85 as assistant coach and recruiter.
Because of Locke's experience in academic counseling and business, one of her side duties will be to help players find jobs after graduating. "Bernadette will work with me on the corporate level," Pitino says. "We'll have lunch once or twice a week with business executives to open avenues for players. I think this is what it's all about after graduation—placing players on the right track for success, making sure the players have a bright and rosy future."
Locke hopes her hiring will make the future rosier for other women coaches. At present, men coach 53% of all women's college sports programs, while only a handful of women direct men's programs, most of them in swimming. Locke doesn't want to make too much of her role as a pioneer, however. "After today I'm part of the team," she said upon being hired. "I want to be treated no different from any of the other coaches." When asked if she thought male players would be reluctant to take direction from her, Locke said, "Once they realize I care and I know the game and can teach it, I'll gain respect."
—WILLIAM F. REED
THEY SAID IT
•Bobby Rahal, race-car driver, whose wife, Debi, sprained her neck in a fall from a horse: "I just told her she's going to have to find a safer sport."