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Jacques, Be Nimble

March 06, 2006
March 06, 2006

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March 6, 2006

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Jacques, Be Nimble

IOC head Jacques Rogge has ably run three Games, but his biggest test is ahead, in China

Jacques Roggefancies himself a man of the people. "Athletes first," the president ofthe International Olympic Committee likes to say, and for three Games now hehas lived the message by bunking in the spartan Olympic Village, with never awistful word about the five-star accommodations enjoyed by his predecessors.Yet in Turin, Rogge could take the act only so far. He still had to stay on afloor bereft of Olympians. "I don't want to wake up the athletes," hesaid late last Thursday night. "I have many meetings in the evenings, andthis Austrian affair is keeping me busy."

This is an article from the March 6, 2006 issue Original Layout

The AustrianAffair doesn't have the sexy snap of The Italian Job, but coming from a grimBelgian knee surgeon, it's not bad. And since Rogge was squarely behind themost dramatic action of the 2006 Winter Games, it's only right that he get toname it. Late on the night of Feb. 18, Italian police invaded the livingquarters of 10 Austrian biathletes and cross-country skiers in the mountainswest of Turin and reportedly seized dozens of syringes, various prescriptiondrugs and a blood-transfusion machine. One athlete reportedly threw a bag ofneedles out a window, and two of the skiers bolted across the Austrian border.The raid followed reports that Austrian coach Walter Mayer, who has been bannedfrom the Olympics since blood-doping equipment was found in a house rented byAustrian Nordic skiers during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, was in the Turinarea. Mayer fled over the border on Feb. 19. Doping tests performed on all 10Austrian athletes came up negative last Friday, but Rogge insists thatcircumstantial evidence could well result in sanctions against them.

"The wholesaga ... I mean, this is Hollywood," Rogge says. Then again, the 2004Athens Games opened with a similar melodrama involving two Greek sprinters andcontinued with an almost daily series of failed doping tests and strippedmedals. Since Rogge took over as IOC president in 2001, in fact, each of hisOlympics has begun with athletes taking an oath against doping and then beingdismayed when he actually held them to it. "They underestimated ourresolve," Rogge says of the 2006 Austrian athletes. "They made amistake."

Rogge is used tobeing underestimated. He has neither the political wiles of former IOCpresident Juan Antonio Samaranch nor the eloquence of the founder of the modernOlympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. When Rogge beat out the bright, bombasticDick Pound of Canada for the IOC presidency, Pound resigned from all hispositions on the committee, including that of head of IOC marketing, and wrotea letter to Olympic sponsors warning of Rogge's marketing incompetence. Insteadof letting Pound go, though, Rogge asked him to stay on as marketing boss, thenmade him head of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Pound, who has since become theworld's loudest drug scold, worked with Rogge and the Italian police intargeting the Austrians. "I need people like Dick," Rogge says. "Ihad no doubt about myself. I knew I would succeed. And we now have 35 percentmore marketing revenue than we had four years ago."

Rogge, 63, spent30 years as a surgeon, and he has operated with great precision on the bodyOlympic. He repaired the wounds caused by the Salt Lake City bribery scandal,cutting out junkets and other inducements that had corrupted the IOC'ssite-selection process; made the committee's finances transparent; andstrengthened earlier reforms by word and deed. His crusade to cap the number ofOlympic sports--baseball and softball were eliminated from the 2012 SummerGames last year--is one of the few ways, he believes, that the IOC can make itfeasible for a city in South America or Africa ever to host an Olympics.

Still, some IOCmembers see his collegial manner as a sign of weakness. "I'm soft-spoken,but I have very strong beliefs," he says. "On the principles I willnever budge."

We'll see. Rogge'slegacy will hinge on how things play out before the 2008 Beijing Games. In itseagerness to tap the huge Asian market, will the IOC stick to its ideals, orwill it allow itself to be used to provide cover for a repressive government?Rogge says he has pressed China's leaders to improve their human rights record,but he insists it's the job of politicians and rights advocates to make theregime comply.

Rogge doesn'tpractice medicine anymore. "I couldn't be a good surgeon," he said,straightening his fingers. "You lose your hands." His don't move,though, not a quiver. But it's early. The Beijing Olympics will show how steadyRogge truly is.

PHOTOPhotograph by David Bergman/CorbisSEEINGRED - The next Olympics hosts showed their colors at the closingceremonies.