This is an article from the Feb. 4, 2002 issue
Forget the Summer Games, the Winter Olympics are tops
It's a simple choice, really. The Winter and Summer Olympics
share five rings, Bob Costas in the studio and not much else. If
you like supersized, hyper-commercialized spectacles in which any
connection to the Olympic ideal is a distant memory, then the
Summer Games are for you. If, like me, you think smaller is
better, book a ticket to Salt Lake City.
Think of it this way: The Winter Olympics are contested entirely
on snow and ice, a purity that blessedly constrains the Games. In
recent years the IOC has made freestyle skiing and snowboarding
part of the Games, commonsense additions that recognize a
cultural wave. Short-track speed skating was added in 1992,
taking an accepted sport and enlivening it. Skeleton returns this
year after a 54-year absence. Beyond these tweaks the Winter
Games are essentially what first unfolded in Chamonix in 1924,
except swifter, higher and stronger.
The Summer Olympics are a hopelessly bloated affair. While the
Nagano Games had 68 events and 2,077 athletes, the Sydney Games
had 300 events and more than 11,000 athletes. Summer sports have
been added at a dizzying rate. Synchronized swimming, rhythmic
gymnastics, baseball, beach volleyball, mountain biking and
triathlon have all been tacked on in the last 20 years.
The Winter Games are cross-country skiers flowing through snowy
woods, downhillers screaming along a treacherous and icy course,
and figure skaters bridging the gap between art and sport.
They're a luger here, a biathlete there, a ski jumper soaring
into the sky. They're large enough to be inspiring, yet small
enough to be embraced.
Put the Winter Games in deep freeze, the Summer Olympics are hot
What I love about the Summer Games is that the marquee events
connect us to the roots and essence of sport. Athletes contest
their might. They see who can run or swim fastest, who can jump
farthest or highest, who can shoulder the heaviest load. They
wrestle and box. These are the same things kids do when they go
outside to play. We could have seen those same contests on a
dusty floor in Athens 2,800 years ago.
The sports at the Winter Games feel concocted and unnatural.
People strap strange equipment to their feet and helmets onto
their heads. One debate coming into the Salt Lake Games was about
which metal alloys are allowed in skeleton runners. This isn't
sports; this is a gear expo on steroids.
One of the nobler aspects of the Olympics is that they unite
people of every class and ethnicity. Athletes from 199 countries
went to Sydney two years ago. The Winter Games, meantime, are
reserved for the few who live among high mountains and snow
fields. Only 80 nations will compete in Salt Lake and entire
continents (Africa, South America) will likely go medal-less.
O.K., the Summer Olympics have gotten a bit bloated, but the
excess just means that coverage never gets old. You can watch a
different sport each day. The Winter Games are about three
sports--hockey, skating and skiing--and a lot of filler. NBC's
prime-time Olympic coverage is dominated by an event that skirts
the fringe of athletic competition: a piece of soft-porn
sports-theater in which sequined competitors ham it up to
schmaltzy music. Go ahead and tune in to the figure skating if
you like; I'm renting Moulin Rouge. That'll hold me until 2004
and the Summer Games in Athens.
THE ABC'S OF ARBITRATION
Salary arbitration is the major league equivalent of divorce
court: Owners and players hate going there, and when a case ends,
both sides leave with hard feelings. Hearings are scheduled to
begin on Feb. 5 for 42 of the 93 players who filed for
arbitration this year, and the fact that 51 players have already
settled their cases is no surprise. The process is so
distasteful--things get testy when a team lays out why a player
isn't worth the money he wants--that last year only 14 of the 102
players who filed went the distance. For cases that do get heard,
just what do those hearings entail?
Each year about 20 arbitrators are chosen by Major League
Baseball (in consultation with the players' association) from the
National Academy of Arbitrators. Cases go before three-member
panels, which evaluate arguments by player and team reps. Because
both sides come armed with far more research and statistical data
than the arbitrators can sift through in the 24 hours they have
to render a decision, the most efficient strategy for lawyers in
each camp is to make a comparison presentation. For example, is
Mets lefthander Shawn Estes, who's seeking $7.1 million this
season--$1.3 million more than the team wants to pay him--more like
the Yankees' Andy Pettitte (who earned $7 million last year) or
the Red Sox' Dustin Hermanson ($5.3 million)? "The problem is
that there's never a perfect match," says veteran arbitrator
While arbitrators in other sports often formulate a compromise
salary, baseball arbitrators must choose between the team's offer
and the player's request. They start with what's called the break
point, the midpoint between the two figures. If they deem a
player to be worth a penny more than the break point, he wins,
and vice versa. Adding complexity to the process is the sport's
ever-shifting economics; contracts signed by other players or
decisions handed down by other arbitrators can change a player's
worth in an instant. Says Abrams, "I've seen hearings in which
someone rushes in with a decision from another case, and everyone
looks at each other and says, 'Now we know what a leftfielder
The NHL will shut down from Feb. 14 to 25 so that about 125 of
its players can participate in the Olympics. The NHLers who
aren't bound for Salt Lake City will get a midseason vacation.
Here's what some of them plan to do with it.
MIGHTY DUCKS GOALIE STEVE SHIELDS Visit Cuba. "You have to go
before it opens up. You have to go before Castro dies."
HURRICANES FORWARD JEFF O'NEILL Go to Las Vegas. "Why does anyone
go to Vegas? Get a pamphlet on the place."
MAPLE LEAFS DEFENSEMAN WADE BELAK Scuba dive in California with
his fiancee. "There's a wreck of a Canadian warship near San
Diego. I'll also do some spearfishing if I get a chance."
THRASHERS CENTER BOB CORKUM Go to Disney World with wife Jessica
and their four kids. "I'm not big on the rides. Last time I went
on a ride, I got sick and spent the rest of the day waiting in
the truck. Maybe it's because of all the concussions."
STARS GOALIE MARTY TURCO Wife Kelly, due in mid-February, will
have labor induced during his time off. "This way, after the
baby's born, I can do all the work and she can rest."
DUCKS CENTER JEFF FRIESEN Attend grandfather's wedding. "He's
83, but he looks like he's 70."
LEAFS WINGER SHAYNE CORSON Stay in Toronto. "I'll get some work
done on my teeth."
Q Why aren't zone defenses seen more often in the NBA?
A The league made the zone legal this season for the first time
in 55 years, in part to get rid of the despised (and rarely
understood) illegal-defense rule and in part to open up the game
by encouraging teams to 1) quickly push the ball upcourt and 2)
take more outside shots. The impact of the rule change, however,
has been barely perceptible. The league's per-game scoring
average, three-point shooting frequency and three-point
percentage are nearly identical to last season's numbers. That's
because the zone isn't effective enough to rely on as a base
defense. "The zone has hardly changed the game at all," says
Kings coach Rick Adelman. "Good teams can bust zones. With our
team, we pass and shoot too well for the zone to be effective."
That explains why the zone is far more common in the NCAA, where
players are less talented. Still, some NBA teams have had success
using the zone as a novelty defense to throw offenses out of
sync; Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders has said that selective
use of the zone helped his team get off to its best start ever.
But as T-Wolves forward Wally Szczerbiak says, "Coaches weren't
prepared on how to beat the zone at the start of the season. Now
they are, and offenses are getting aggressive."
In other words, don't expect to see the zone more often in the
coming weeks. Says Lakers assistant Frank Hamblen, "The longer we
go, the less zone will be played."
WORD FOR WORD
Boy, Oh Boy
PrideVision TV, a Canadian gay and lesbian cable network, debuted
a half-hour sports show last Friday called Locker Room, hosted by
actor Paul DeBoy. As described on pridevisiontv.com, the show "is
a saucy comedy offering a look at the world of sports from a
brand-new perspective. A really gay one!" Here are lineups for
some upcoming programs--or, as the show's site says, "your weekly
dose of jockstraps and strapping jocks!"
FEB. 1 Powerslam Wrestling Extreme; Nude surfing; Top 10 Boxers;
We Love Patrick Rafter; Jock Strap Art; DeBoy Goes A'Hunting
FEB. 8 Judy Garland Memorial Bowling League; We Love Dave Kopay;
Top 10 Hottest Female Athletes; Pilates; Cruising Night in Canada
FEB. 16 The Two-Spirits softball team; We Love Martina
Navratilova; Top 10 Tennis Hunks; Tribute to Bobby Knight; The
Todd Happlestory Story
FEB. 23 Vancouver Volleyball; Top 10 Sexiest Non-Human Athletes;
We Love David Beckham; Coach's ABCs; We're Here! We Cheer! Get
Used To It!
--To an office upstairs, Michigan State hockey coach Ron Mason,
who announced on Monday that he'll resign at the end of this
season to become the Spartans' athletic director. With a career
record of 916-376-81, including 19-5-3 this year, Mason is the
winningest hockey coach in NCAA history.
--Despite the Jan. 22 death of Jack Shea, 91, who had been the
U.S.'s oldest living Winter Olympic gold medalist and the
patriarch of the first family to have three generations of
Olympians, a Sprint TV commercial featuring him. The phone
company pulled the spot after Shea died in a car accident but
reinstated it at the request of Shea family members.
--An Enron ad that ran on the back of the Astros' media guide for
the past two years, which read, "Sometimes, it's the things you
don't see that have the biggest impact." Enron plans to donate
the space to a charity this season.
--In The Kansas City Star, an ad reading, "Found: Kansas City
Chiefs jacket with damaged zipper on [Highway 54]. I can
understand why you'd throw out Chiefs clothing, but in case it
was an accident and you want it back, call...." The lister's name
and phone number followed.
--The Italian Female Volleyball League, to prevent one of its
teams, Pallavolo Palermo, from being sponsored by Hungarian porn
star Eva Henger. "Mere beauty is not the only value that female
volleyball should portray," explained league president Francesco
--The single-game junior college record for free throw attempts
(155) and personal fouls (97), in Monroe Community College's
164-156 quadruple-overtime win over Erie Community College.
Fourteen players fouled out--also a juco record--in the game
between upstate New York rivals.
Plenty of jocks get jobs in the media after their careers are
over, usually in the broadcast booth. Former NFLers Derrick
Frazier and Quentin Coryatt, however, have skipped the
talking-head bit and gone straight to media-mogul status. The
two, who were roommates at Texas A&M, have started Controversy,
a bimonthly men's lifestyle magazine that'll launch nationally
with the February/March issue. Frazier, who played defensive back
for three teams during a three-year NFL career, is the founder
and publisher of the Maxim-esque magazine, while former Colts
linebacker Coryatt contributes story ideas as a creative
consultant. "We want to make people think about a wide variety of
issues: sex, sports, politics, fashion," says Frazier, a
journalism major at A&M. "We especially want to challenge younger
minds." Frazier says their pasts have little bearing on their
current jobs: "We just happened to play in the NFL, and we happen
to be editors now." ...Knicks guard Mark Jackson is suing his
former business manager, Bruce Breger. In court papers Jackson
and his wife, Desiree, claim Breger used "hundreds of
thousands--perhaps millions--of dollars" of Jackson's money to pay
gambling debts and to cover shortfalls in other clients'
accounts. The Jacksons say Breger "may be in the process of
hiding or destroying" their financial records. They're seeking a
restraining order to prevent him from getting rid of documents
and want unspecified damages. Breger couldn't be reached for
comment.... Mike Tyson has finally thrown in the towel. He's been
unable to sell his 56,000-square-foot Farmington, Conn., mansion
and has taken the property off the market. The 18-bedroom,
38-bath estate was listed for $22 million in 1998, $12.9 million
in '99 and $5 million last year.Unfortunately, in this buyer's
market even that rock-bottom price didn't get any bites.
It's party time in America's party capital. New Orleans will host
more than a dozen exclusive shindigs before the Super Bowl. How's
a crasher to know which soiree to slip into? Here's a handy
WALLY WILLIAMS PARTY
WHEN/WHERE 9 p.m., Feb. 1, at Ampersand night club GUEST
LIST Magic Johnson, Will Smith, Tyra Banks, Queen Latifah, Jerome
Bettis, Kyle Turley DESCRIPTION Hosted by Saints guard Williams,
the bash will attract a young crowd with a heavy hip-hop
flavor--rappers Snoop Dogg, Treach, Nas and Nelly will all be
MAXIM MAGAZINE'S CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER BASH
WHEN/WHERE 9 p.m., Feb. 1, at the Ruins night club GUEST LIST
Tara Reid, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Chris Klein, Serena
Williams, Carson Daly, Michael Vick DESCRIPTION Maxim's second
Super Bowl fete has the most cachet with young Hollywood.
Proceeds from the $250 entrance fee go to the HollyRod
Foundation, Holly Robinson and Rodney Peete's charity for
LEIGH STEINBERG AND JEFF MOORAD'S SUPER BOWL PARTY XVI
WHEN/WHERE 2 p.m., Feb. 2, at Jazzland amusement park GUEST
LIST 'N Sync, Lennox Lewis, Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams,
Warrick Dunn, Warren Moon DESCRIPTION Sports agents Steinberg and
Moorad's annual bash is known as the power party of Super Bowl
weekend. This year Pats owner Bob Kraft, Cowboys owner Jerry
Jones and Redskins owner Dan Snyder will attend.
PLAYBOY'S SUPER SATURDAY NIGHT
WHEN/WHERE 10 p.m., Feb. 2, at Anne Rice's St. Elizabeth
Orphanage GUEST LIST Marcus Allen, Backstreet Boys, Derek Jeter,
Chipper Jones, Mike Piazza, David Wells, Eddie George, Barry
Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Steve Young, Howie Long DESCRIPTION A
pajama party at horror novelist Rice's pad, replete with
Bunnies--which explains why plenty of athletes will be in
Approximate number of the 20,044 tickets to the Feb. 10 NBA
All-Star Game in Philadelphia that the league made available to
the public, riling Philly fans and leading 76ers chairman Ed
Snider to say, "This is a nightmare. If I could give the game
back, I would."
Horses in a seven-horse steeplechase on Jan. 23 at England's
Southwell course who fell and lost their riders; one rider
remounted and finished to win the race.
Feet between Mets catcher Mike Piazza and Yankees pitcher Roger
Clemens as they stood on a dais at an awards banquet on Sunday,
the closest the two have come since a confrontation during the
2000 World Series when Clemens threw part of Piazza's broken bat
in Piazza's direction.
Mavericks assistant coaches, an NBA high, now that Dallas has
added Sary Benzvi, who is fluent in Chinese and who will work
with center Wang Zhizhi.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The Lancaster (Pa.) YMCA is scrambling for security help for its
Sept. 7 triathlon after a nearby fire police department decided
to boycott the event, saying the YMCA promotes witchcraft by
holding readings of Harry Potter books.
International Tennis Federation official, on changes in player
behavior since the ITF cracked down on cursing: "One player,
frustrated at his shot-making, kept yelling out, 'Intercourse!'"