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All but forgotten in the greater contretemps of the Soviet withdrawal from the Los Angeles Olympics is the semantic nicety insisted upon by Marat Gramov, chairman of the U.S.S.R.'s National Olympic Committee, who said the Soviets weren't boycotting the Games. "We never use the word 'boycott,' " he said, "and we will never use it."
Gramov's dogmatic statement is interesting because the Russian "boikot" has the same meaning as its English counterpart. The Russians even borrowed the word from the English, or, more accurately, the Irish, since it came into being in Ireland around 1880 when protesting tenants in County Mayo refused to have anything more to do with Charles Boycott, agent for an offending landlord, the Earl of Erne. "To abstain from dealing with as a means of protest" is well within the word's definition in both English and Russian, according to sports editor Georg Meyers of The Seattle Times, and Gramov should be familiar with Soviet sporting behavior during the past couple of decades:
1966: Soviets "cancel" dual track meet with the U.S.
You sure there's not a boikot in there somewhere, Marat?
Bobby Knight, head coach of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, has cut 56 of the original 72 players invited to try out for the team, but he attracted more critical attention for dropping one player, Charles Barkley, than he did for all the 55 others. Barkley, an Auburn junior headed for the NBA this fall, had been one of the stars of the group when it assembled a month ago.
Yet Barkley himself expresses no resentment toward Knight. "I just didn't play well," he told SI's Armen Keteyian. " Coach Knight told me it wasn't the fact that I didn't play good, it was that other guys were more what they were looking for. I didn't play defense. I'm not used to playing out on the floor. Coach wanted me to take the jump shot, and I kept trying to post up. It was hard to try to change my game in such a short time. I'm disappointed, but I'm not shocked. I just didn't play well."
Asked if he felt that Knight had been fair to him, Barkley said, "I think he was very fair. I have more respect now for coach Knight than when I got here."
BYRON JUTOVSKY'S OPINION