An alleged fix at Salt Lake is the latest link between organized
crime and Russian athletes
The reaction of IOC chief Dr. Jacques Rogge, who described
himself as "shocked" at last week's news that an alleged Russian
mobster, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, 53, had been arrested in Italy
for conspiring to fix both the pairs and the ice dancing results
in the Salt Lake City Games, called to mind a scene from
Casablanca. French police captain Louis Renault, collecting his
winnings as he shuts down Rick's Cafe under orders from the
occupying Germans, loudly proclaims, "I am shocked! Shocked to
find that gambling's going on in here!"
Racketeering? In Russian sports? What would have been truly
shocking is if the Russian mafia had not been involved in what
has for months been widely, if not officially, viewed as a fix.
Anyone with even a cursory sense of sports in Russia knows that
organized crime has spread its tentacles around the highest
levels of sport, insinuating itself into the lives--and deaths--of
numerous high-income, high-profile athletes and officials.
In this case Italian authorities say that as many as six skating
judges may have been contacted before the Games by Tokhtakhounov,
a man described by the FBI as being "a major figure in
international Eurasian organized crime." His motive: backdoor
help in getting a French visa.
In early February wiretaps captured Tokhtakhounov talking to the
mother of French ice dancer Marina Anissina, who is Russian-born.
"Even if she falls, we will make sure she is Number 1,"
Tokhtakhounov said. In a taped conversation after the Olympics,
Anissina acknowledged his help, while opining that she and
partner Gwendal Peizerat would have won gold anyway.
Tokhtakhounov, alleged by the FBI to be involved in distributing
drugs, selling illegal arms and trafficking in stolen vehicles,
has an interesting Rolodex. Tennis pros Andrei Medvedev, Yevgeny
Kafelnikov and Marat Safin have all been photographed with him.
(Last week Kafelnikov called Tokhtakhounov "a good friend.") Anna
Kournikova acknowledges that she knows him. Among the guests at a
ceremony in Paris in 1999 honoring Tokhtakhounov for philanthropy
was Russian hockey star Pavel Bure. Marina Anissina was there
Mob ties have been alleged or suspected in connection with the
deaths of several sports figures who, apparently, were not
cooperating. To name just a few, the president of the Russian
Hockey Federation, Valentin Sych, was murdered gangland style in
April 1997 in Russia; later that year the director general of
Spartak Moscow's soccer club, Larissa Nechayeva, was assassinated
at her home near Moscow; and last December figure skater Kira
Ivanova, a 1984 bronze medalist, was mysteriously murdered in her
NHL stars from Russia have long been subjected to extortion
attempts, though few will talk about it. In January 1996
defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky's mother was kidnapped by conspirators
who demanded ransom and protection money. (Tverdovsky refused to
pay, and his mother was released unharmed.) In '94 a Russian
gangster confessed to trying to extort $150,000 from then Sabres
forward Alexander Mogilny. And U.S. investigators have long
suspected that Bure, Valeri Kamensky and former Red Wings star
Slava Fetisov, who coached the Russian Olympic team in Salt Lake,
have associates in the Russian mob.
The fixing of a figure skating competition? Small potatoes for
this lot. Certainly not worthy of a reaction so vivid as shock.
As Kournikova sensibly responded when asked about her
relationship with Tokhtakhounov last week in San Diego, "I don't
think I should be talking about this. I'm Russian. I have to go
back there." --E.M. Swift
One Well-Paid Groom
Star trainer Bob Baffert gets hitched--and enriched--over the
Bob Baffert isn't hard to pick out of a crowd, and as he arrived
at his box at Monmouth Park on Sunday, shortly before his
superstar colt, War Emblem, romped to victory in the $1 million
Haskell Invitational, many of the 45,212 fans turned and cheered.
When the trainer and his bride of 24 hours, Jill Moss, raised
their hands jointly in acknowledgment--just call them the Juan and
Evita of the horsey set--the cheers rose to a powerful roar. "He's
a star, and the horse is a star," said George Zoffinger, the
president of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority.
"Anybody who doesn't think we did the right thing by bringing
this horse here is nuts."
Zoffinger was referring to the controversy that erupted over the
news that the NJSEA was paying Baffert a $50,000 appearance fee
to bring War Emblem to the Haskell. Appearance fees are almost
unheard of in racing, though Baffert claims they are offered to
him regularly. This large sum is a testimony not only to the
prestige of War Emblem, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner,
but also to Baffert's celebrity power. "I've turned down a lot of
deals where I didn't go because the horse wasn't right," says
Baffert. "Nobody works harder to promote racing than me, and if
somebody wants to pay me for it, I'm going to take it." (He did,
however, donate half his fee to the Thoroughbred Retirement
Foundation in the name of War Emblem's owner, Prince Ahmed bin
Salman, who died on July 22.)
A little extra dough, and War Emblem's wire-to-wire, 31/2-length
victory, is nothing unusual for Hollywood Bob, whose horses had
won 80 races and more than $7 million this year; that wasn't even
the best day of the weekend for him. On Saturday, at the Hotel
Del Coronado outside San Diego, Baffert and Moss were married
before more than 250 guests as well as a handful of paparazzi.
"When was the last time a trainer's marriage was covered in the
papers?" wondered one veteran turf writer. Is Baffert a star
without his horses? Of course not, but that hardly mattered to
Zoffinger. "Look at this," he said, gesturing to the
second-largest crowd in the track's 132-year history. "Having him
here is good for the sport, and it's good for us." --Mark Beech
$1,639.20 Payoff to former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf on the
winning $3 trifecta ticket he placed at Del Mar Race Track
outside San Diego, two days after he'd announced his retirement.
17 Stitches that Chiefs offensive tackle John Tait needed after
sustaining a broken nose during a training-camp fight with Eddie
Freeman, a rookie defensive tackle.
1 Times that the son of an NBA coach has also been hired as a
head coach in the league, now that the Warriors have brought in
Eric Musselman, son of former Cavaliers coach Bill Musselman.
$8,995,000 Asking price for Drew Bledsoe's Medfield, Mass.,
mansion, an 11,000-square-foot, 20-room home that includes a
theater, wine cellar and spa.
9 Teams (Giants, Phillies, Yankees, Mariners, Cubs, Braves,
Pirates, Dodgers and Indians) that have employed pitcher Terry
Mulholland, the 39-year-old lefty who was traded from L.A. to
Cleveland on July 28.
4.29 Seconds in which 6-foot, 242-pound Seahawks linebacker
Anthony Simmons runs the 40-yard dash, a drop of .17 after a
summer of speed training in preparation for facing running back
Marshall Faulk, whose Rams are now in the same division as
A BLIND BROADCASTER EYES THE MAJORS
When Don Wardlow and Jim Lucas got their first pro broadcasting
gig, with the Class A Miami Miracle in 1991, they were content to
be regarded as a novelty act. Wardlow, blind since birth, just
wanted the chance to analyze baseball on the radio. Now, some
1,500 games later, they're one of the sharpest broadcast teams in
the minors and close to a major league call-up. They were among
five finalists for an Anaheim Angels radio job before this season
and are now being looked at by the Detroit Tigers, who must
replace retiring Ernie Harwell. "They will get serious
consideration," says Tigers VP of marketing Mike Veeck.
Wardlow scores games on a Braille typewriter while Lucas provides
exceptionally rich detail--even down to the color of batting
gloves. They don't try to hide Wardlow's handicap. "I used to
think McDonald's served six french fries in each bag," Wardlow
has complained to Lucas on the air, "then I found out you were
stealing the rest." Says Angels VP of communications Tim Mead,
"They're unique because of their partnership and their passion. I
still have their tapes. We'd have no problem giving them another
look in the future."
A year later, pitching phenom Danny Almonte owns up to his age
Anyone who feared that last summer's Little League scandal (SI,
Sept. 3, 2001) might do irrevocable harm to the teenager caught
in its vortex can rest easy. Ace pitcher Danny Almonte--whose
Rolando Paulino All-Stars had to forfeit all of their Little
League Tournament games after Almonte was found to be older than
the maximum age of 12--is doing fine. Living with Paulino in the
Bronx (Danny's parents are in his native Dominican Republic),
he's starring in a youth league, and after a year of middle
school his English has progressed so much that Almonte says if
he doesn't make it to the majors, he'd like to become a lawyer
in the U.S.
He certainly has experience in arguing his case. Last year, when
he dominated the Little League World Series, Almonte and his
father, Felipe, insisted that Danny was only 12. As recently as
June, Danny stuck to his story. But last Saturday, after helping
his Liga Paulino team go to the finals of the Under-19 Dominican
League tournament in New York, the phenom came clean to SI.
Almonte, who is 15, said he knew that he was 14 during the
controversy but insists that he found out after the tournament
had begun. "What could I do then?" he says. "I was already
This summer, in a league dominated by older teens, Almonte went
2-0 with 21 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings and was to pitch in
this week's title series. He also maintains a level of
celebrity. Not long ago he was waiting to get autographs outside
Shea Stadium when Astros pitcher Octavio Dotel, a Dominican, saw
him and asked for his phone number. Almonte wasn't fazed; during
an earlier autograph quest at Shea, Brewers righthander Nelson
Figueroa spotted Almonte, went back into the locker room and
came out with a ball. "Could you sign this for my sister?" he
asked. --Luis Fernando Llosa
WHO WAS THE FIRST MAN TO DUNK?
While the history of the dunk in women's basketball is well
documented--from Georgeann Wells, the 6'7" West Virginia center
who in 1984 became the first woman to throw down in competition,
to 6'5" Lisa Leslie, whose breakaway jam on July 30 was a WNBA
first--its evolution in the men's game isn't clear. Not even the
research staff at the Basketball Hall of Fame is sure who made
the first dunk in organized play. What is known is that the shot
has been around nearly as long as the game itself (that means
since the 1890s) and that in the 1940s Oklahoma A&M's 6'10"
center Bob Kurland became the first college player to regularly
use the dunk. Kurland jammed and slammed the Aggies to NCAA
titles in 1945 and '46. In the early '50s, 6'5" Lakers forward
Jim Pollard (a.k.a. the Kangaroo Kid) often amused himself by
dunking in practice, but he never did it in games because NBA
players considered the dunk a breach of etiquette. The shot only
caught on after the 1976 merger with the ABA, where players like
Julius Erving had been turning the dunk into an art form.
DIED After undergoing two operations for brain hemorrhaging,
Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn, 85. Hearn, the only full-time
play-by-play announcer the Lakers have had since moving from
Minneapolis in 1960, was hospitalized after he collapsed in his
backyard on Aug. 2. His 3,338-consecutive-game broadcasting
streak ended last December when he took a leave of absence to
have heart surgery.
HIRED By Nike, for one of three basketball sports marketing
summer internships, Akron sophomore Maverick Carter, the cousin
and former high school teammate of LeBron James, the nation's top
high school basketball player. James is expected to be the target
of a major bidding war among sneaker companies should he forgo
college basketball and apply for the 2003 NBA draft, as most
people expect he will.
DISCOVERED By antiterrorist police in Greece, a cache of
explosives including dynamite and a hand grenade buried near an
Athens arena that is scheduled to be used as a venue in the 2004
Olympic Games. Police have made no arrests but say the explosives
may have been buried by November 17, Greece's most dogged
BURNED By members of the Triple A Rochester Red Wings in hopes of
snapping a losing streak, a barrel of bats and batting gloves on
the pitcher's mound of Rochester's Frontier Field before a July
31 game against the Ottawa Lynx. The Red Wings lost the game 4-3
and at week's end had dropped 12 straight.
COLLECTED By the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
surveys from 4,728 college undergraduates that asked about the
relationship between sports and suicidal thoughts. The federal
study found that college students who play varsity or intramural
sports were between 1.6 (women) and 2.5 (men) times less likely
to consider or attempt suicide.
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
SUNDAY 8/11--CBS 3 PM--Buick Open, Final Round
You'd think this was the Ferrari Open by the looks of the elite
field. Three of the world's top four players--Tiger Woods, Phil
Mickelson and Retief Goosen--will be teeing up at Warwick Hills
for the $594,000 winner's share.
SUNDAY 8/11--ESPN 8 PM--Mets at Cardinals
St. Louis players erupted in applause when they heard about the
trade that brought them third baseman Scott Rolen. Expect the
Busch Stadium crowd to be equally excited in the last game of
Rolen's first homestand with the first-place club.
SUNDAY 8/11--NBC 4 PM
AVP Manhattan Beach Open
Imagine: 48 teams of bronzed gods and goddesses spankin' it and
poppin' it at pro beach volleyball's marquee event. The duo of
Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs will be aiming for a fifth
consecutive 2002 AVP tour victory.
MONDAY 8/12--ESPN 8 PM--Dolphins at Buccaneers
Battling Bucs teammates Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson have
been called the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis of the NFL. When
you're as big and nasty as these guys, that's no joke; let's hope
Tampa Bay plays football, not family feud.
WEDNESDAY 8/14--ESPN2 8 PM--Girls Little League Softball World
While the boys head for Williamsport, the world's best 11- and
12-year-old female softball players take to the diamond at
Portland's Alpenrose Dairy.
THURSDAY 8/15 > TNT 2 pM > PGA Championship, First Round
For Phil Mickelson, the Sisyphus of the PGA Tour, the
Championship has been particularly torturous. Last year David
Toms sank a 10-footer on the final hole to beat Mickelson by a
--Jonesing for a Job
--Cameras on a Crash
--During more than a decade of calling NBA games for NBC, Steve
Jones provided a measured counterpart to analyst Bill Walton,
especially when Walton went on one of his
at's-as-trippy-as-a-Jerry-Garcia-guitar-solo rants. The
yin-and-yang chemistry between the pair often proved electric,
and Jones distinguished himself with sharp analysis. That's why
it's disappointing that he hasn't been named to one of the
primary teams chosen by the NBA's new broadcast alliance of ABC,
ESPN and TNT. With a few secondary analyst jobs remaining on the
NBA's national outlets, here's hoping Jones finds a slot. "I'm
anticipating I'll be doing games nationally," says Jones, who
will still call Trail Blazers games for Portland's KGW-TV. "I
don't want to be looked at as campaigning for an opportunity,
but I don't think I'm out of the picture."
--This has not been a good summer for televised All-Star games,
but at least Fox aired every inning of baseball's unresolved
midsummer classic. ABC, in contrast, abruptly moved Saturday's
MLS All-Star Game to ESPN with 20 minutes left in a rain-delayed
contest that was tied 1-1. Except on the West Coast--where ABC
aired the game to its end--viewers who missed the switch or didn't
have cable saw the network's scheduled programming instead of the
dramatic three-goal flurry that culminated in the MLS All-Stars'
3-2 win over the U.S. National Team.
--NBC's use of extra cameras at Sunday's Brickyard 400--the network
deployed 79 cameras, up from the 60 it typically uses at NASCAR
races--paid off. The setup gave viewers a dramatic perspective on
the early-race crash of driver Geoff Bodine. --R.D.
Should baseball players strike, they can always turn to acting.
During the 1994 strike, an episode of Seinfeld featured then
Yankees manager Buck Showalter. Keith Hernandez, Derek Jeter and
Paul O'Neill have also appeared on Seinfeld. Another sitcom
famous for athlete cameos is The Brady Bunch, which ran from '69
to '74. Which of these athletes never acted on the show?
a. Lew Alcindor b. Deacon Jones
c. Joe Namath d. Wes Parker
Dwayne Johnson, better known as the pro wrestler the
Rock, has built a formidable acting career. He starred in The
Scorpion King and has appeared on TV in That '70s Show, The
Net, DAG and Star Trek: Voyager. Before becoming an entertainer,
Johnson played college football. Two-part question: Which
college did he play for, and which current NFLer did Johnson
back up as a senior?
This Week's Matchup
Match the actor with his former athletic role.
1. Dean Cain a. Cubs first baseman
2. Chuck Connors b. Harvard lineman
3. Mark Harmon c. Princeton def. back
4. Tommy Lee Jones d. UCLA quarterback
Call to Order
Put these NFL players turned actors in order of most television
and movie roles played.
a. Jim Brown
b. John Matuszak
c. Bob Golic
d. Fred Williamson
MOONLIGHTING: a. Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar, never appeared on The Brady Bunch. He's been in
movies such as Fletch, Airplane! and D2: The Mighty Ducks.
ROCK SOLID: Dwayne Johnson was a defensive tackle for the Miami
Hurricanes from 1991 to '94. His senior season he backed up NFL
All-Pro Warren Sapp.
THIS WEEK'S MATCHUP: 1. c; 2. a; 3. d; 4. b
CALL TO ORDER: Williamson (91 roles), Brown (57), Matuszak (25),
WELL-PAID GROOM, PAGE 24