fancies himself a man of the people. "Athletes first," the president of
the International Olympic Committee likes to say, and for three Games now he
has lived the message by bunking in the spartan Olympic Village, with never a
wistful 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 a
floor bereft of Olympians. "I don't want to wake up the athletes," he
said late last Thursday night. "I have many meetings in the evenings, and
this Austrian affair is keeping me busy."
Affair doesn't have the sexy snap of The Italian Job, but coming from a grim
Belgian knee surgeon, it's not bad. And since Rogge was squarely behind the
most dramatic action of the 2006 Winter Games, it's only right that he get to
name it. Late on the night of Feb. 18, Italian police invaded the living
quarters of 10 Austrian biathletes and cross-country skiers in the mountains
west of Turin and reportedly seized dozens of syringes, various prescription
drugs and a blood-transfusion machine. One athlete reportedly threw a bag of
needles 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 banned
from the Olympics since blood-doping equipment was found in a house rented by
Austrian Nordic skiers during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, was in the Turin
area. Mayer fled over the border on Feb. 19. Doping tests performed on all 10
Austrian athletes came up negative last Friday, but Rogge insists that
circumstantial evidence could well result in sanctions against them.
saga ... I mean, this is Hollywood," Rogge says. Then again, the 2004
Athens Games opened with a similar melodrama involving two Greek sprinters and
continued with an almost daily series of failed doping tests and stripped
medals. Since Rogge took over as IOC president in 2001, in fact, each of his
Olympics has begun with athletes taking an oath against doping and then being
dismayed when he actually held them to it. "They underestimated our
resolve," Rogge says of the 2006 Austrian athletes. "They made a
Rogge is used to
being underestimated. He has neither the political wiles of former IOC
president Juan Antonio Samaranch nor the eloquence of the founder of the modern
Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. When Rogge beat out the bright, bombastic
Dick Pound of Canada for the IOC presidency, Pound resigned from all his
positions on the committee, including that of head of IOC marketing, and wrote
a letter to Olympic sponsors warning of Rogge's marketing incompetence. Instead
of letting Pound go, though, Rogge asked him to stay on as marketing boss, then
made him head of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Pound, who has since become the
world's loudest drug scold, worked with Rogge and the Italian police in
targeting the Austrians. "I need people like Dick," Rogge says. "I
had no doubt about myself. I knew I would succeed. And we now have 35 percent
more marketing revenue than we had four years ago."
Rogge, 63, spent
30 years as a surgeon, and he has operated with great precision on the body
Olympic. He repaired the wounds caused by the Salt Lake City bribery scandal,
cutting out junkets and other inducements that had corrupted the IOC's
site-selection process; made the committee's finances transparent; and
strengthened earlier reforms by word and deed. His crusade to cap the number of
Olympic sports--baseball and softball were eliminated from the 2012 Summer
Games last year--is one of the few ways, he believes, that the IOC can make it
feasible for a city in South America or Africa ever to host an Olympics.
Still, some IOC
members 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 will
We'll see. Rogge's
legacy will hinge on how things play out before the 2008 Beijing Games. In its
eagerness to tap the huge Asian market, will the IOC stick to its ideals, or
will 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 the
practice 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 steady
Rogge truly is.