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The winds of change continue to waft through the International Olympic Committee. At its just-concluded meeting in Baden-Baden, West Germany, the 82-member IOC elected its first women members, Pirjo Haggman of Finland and Flor Isava-Fonseca of Venezuela. The IOC also abandoned the notion that Olympic athletes are, like children, meant to be seen but not heard. Sebastian Coe, the Olympic gold medalist who holds world records in the mile, 1,000 and 800 meters, was one of several athletes given the unprecedented opportunity to address the IOC Congress at Baden-Baden, after which IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said he had accepted an invitation from Coe to get together in London sometime soon for lunch.
But Samaranch was just trying to be gracious in extravagantly praising as "decisive" a passage in Coe's "wonderful speech" urging the IOC to liberalize its Rule 26 governing Olympic eligibility. Although the IOC proceeded to amend the rule along the lines Coe suggested, the change merely formalized existing realities by officially leaving it to each of the 28 federations that oversee Olympic sports to set, subject to IOC approval, its own rules on amateurism. Such rules already range widely, from those in cycling and skiing, which are professional in all but name, to those in track and field, whose world federation, the IAAF, recently voted to ease restrictions on the payment of endorsement money to athletes but still makes a great pretense of keeping its payola-happy sport amateur.
Any hope for more meaningful reform of Olympic eligibility standards was dashed by officials from Eastern European countries, who resist tampering with a system under which their state-subsidized athletes have been able to flourish. Still, the IOC's willingness to amend Rule 26 was at least symbolically important, signaling that that organization no longer clings so tenaciously to the fiction maintained under Samaranch's predecessors, Avery Brundage and, to a considerably lesser extent, Lord Killanin, that athletes can subscribe to the archaic tenets of pure amateurism and still somehow train and perform at a world-class level. How to go about assuring those athletes the right to earn a living wage without having to demean themselves by resorting to accepting under-the-table payments is something Samaranch and Coe can talk about over lunch.
PLAUDITS & SNUBS
A more discordant note in Baden-Baden was the disfavor in which the U.S. found itself within the Olympic movement because of 1) the organizational snafus and continuing financial difficulties surrounding the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, 2) the U.S.-led boycott of the '80 Summer Games in Moscow and 3) the threat to the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles posed by the recent admission to the U.S. of the South African rugby team, the Springboks. The U.S. Olympic Committee was miffed because its president, William Simon, was left off the speakers' list at the IOC Congress, and Lake Placid officials complained that while Sergei Pavlov, organizer of the 1980 Summer Games, was awarded an honorary Olympic silver medal, nobody from Placid was similarly honored.
Considering all the other medals that were handed out in Baden-Baden—officially, medals of The Olympic Order—that did seem like quite an oversight. Pope John Paul II, Norway's King Olav V, the Marquis of Exeter, Lord Killanin and Amadou Mahtar M'Bow, director-general of UNESCO, all received gold medals, while British, French, Italian and Belgian Olympic officials were given silver medals in recognition of their having resisted the Moscow boycott. The only American to receive a medal—bronze—was Anita DeFrantz, a member of the U.S. rowing team at the 1976 Olympics who led an unsuccessful court challenge of Jimmy Carter's decision to boycott the '80 Games and who, invoking the hours she spent on ice-choked rivers training in vain for Moscow, uttered these now historic words: "Carter said 'we' are going to boycott the Olympics. I don't understand the 'we.' Where was he when I was out there freezing my butt off?"
THE GAME WAS A LOCK
This week's Knute Rockne Award for inspirational locker-room oratory goes to Pete Potter, football coach at The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn., in recognition of the heights to which he's evidently capable of lifting his team. After Potter finished giving his boys a pep talk before a recent game against Soddy-Daisy School, they charged out of the locker room, followed by an equally fired-up Assistant Coach Bill Cherry, who paused only long enough to lock the door. In their eagerness to get on with the game, neither the players, Cherry, the team managers nor anybody else realized that Potter was still in the locker room, having made a detour to the bathroom. When Potter found himself locked in, he banged on the door and hollered for help, but to no avail. Peering helplessly through a crack in the door, the frustrated Potter could see the Soddy-Daisy players running toward the field, too.
Out on the gridiron the starting lineups were introduced, the captains met at midfield and the national anthem was played. Only when the McCallie players came to the sideline for final instructions from Potter did anyone realize that the coach was missing. Eventually somebody figured out what had happened, and a team manager was dispatched to rescue Potter, who arrived on the field only after McCallie had received the kickoff and run two plays from scrimmage. Somewhat sheepishly, Potter said, "Now that's a first. I'll guarantee you that."