In the mid-'70s Dwight Stones was the world's best high jumper, achieving records of 7'7�" outdoors and 7'6�" indoors. He was suspended from Olympic and all other amateur competition last summer by the AAU for "improperly allocating" the $33,400 in prize money he won as a competitor in "The Superstars" television series. In this interview he voluntarily describes other improprieties.
During the six-year period in which Stones was near or at the top—just about the best drawing card any track meet could get—the Californian estimates that he made $200,000 from his "amateur" sport. The money, says Stones, now 25, came via appearance fees, double-billing for travel and hotel accommodations, and performance bonuses such as the $500 he got from one meet promoter by threatening not to attempt a world-record jump unless he was paid for the effort. Moments after the money was angrily guaranteed, Stones cleared the record height on his first try.
There was a time when Stones seemed to be breaking the world record almost at will, and he remembers occasions when he deliberately stopped competing after setting a record—at the probable cost of an even better one. "You have to keep slicing the baloney," Stones says. "If I hadn't stopped I'd have made the next height for sure; 7'8" and a fraction was well within my reach and I'd still have the world record, indoors and outdoors. [Today Vladimir Yashchenko of the U.S.S.R. has both—7'8" and 7'8�".] But you had to slice the baloney thin, because you got a bonus each time you broke the record. So why mess up and break it by more than you should?"
"To be eligible for participation in the Olympic Games," reads the International Olympic Committee Eligibility Code, "a competitor must not have received any financial rewards or material benefit in connection with his or her sports participation...."
The code ignores the fact that to be competitive, an athlete must train year round—a practical impossibility for most American Olympic hopefuls once they leave college. Left on their own, a number of U.S. athletes predictably end up as Stones did—amateurs in name only. Every knowledgeable person in the track-and-field community realizes what is going on.
At last year's NCAA meet, Stones berated Tennessee Coach Stan Huntsman over a bylined article by Huntsman in The Olympian, a magazine published by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Huntsman wrote that the United States would do well in track and field as a team only if it established a permanent national program, but the chances of doing so were virtually impossible because some Americans who competed in Europe through the summer made more than $60,000 a year and were not likely to sacrifice that to stay home and train. Stones says he hit the ceiling when he read the article. He told Huntsman, "I'm the top-paid guy from the United States in Europe and I make $20,000—maybe. So some guy might make $7,000, and that's if he whores himself all over Scandinavia so he gets 20 meets in one month. You want to know how IRS investigations start? Through careless, irresponsible, absurd comments like yours."
Ironically, because of an above-the-table payoff (for Superstars) rather than any under-the-table deals, Stones was barred from all amateur competition by the AAU and has begun to accept the fact that his high-jumping career is over. "I'm never going to jump again," Stones says. "I know it.
"Making money is common throughout amateur sport," says Stones. "Track is the most advanced because it's the easiest one in which to do it. Obviously, swimmers are in no position to hold anybody up, and gymnasts are the same. I'm sure there's a certain amount of hanky-panky going on in other sports, but not to the same extent as in track. Track is in the same situation that tennis was in a dozen years ago, before it went open. You knew those guys were getting paid under the table."
It is Stones' contention that he suffered "a lot of emotional turmoil" in the early stages of his career, when he discovered there was money to be made from his sport. John Barnes, Stones' coach at Glendale High School and a 1952 Olympian who, says Stones, "is probably the man I respect most in the world," entertained no discussion on the morality of the situation. "He gave me the purist approach," says Stones. "He'd say, 'It's not right. You're an amateur.' And that was it."
However, Stones had friends who pointed out how much money could be made from world-class performances in the right meets, and having done his bit for soul-searching, Stones eventually sided with the pragmatists. "I thought, 'The hell with it,' " he says. "If everyone else was making money, I wasn't going to work and perform and draw people into a stadium and not get paid for it. That's all there was to it."