Athletes Fret over the Games Angry about the Salt Lake Scandal, They Hope It Will at Least Spur Realreforms

Article excerpt

After his early-morning workout on the frigid Potomac River a few weeks ago, Olympic white-water canoeist Davey Hearn saw the headline on a newspaper in a neighbor's driveway: "Olympic scandal: trading votes for money."

"I was deflated because I have to work so hard to train, eke out a living, and raise money to compete every year, while the Olympic organizers are ... getting gifts and perks," says the holder of 13 world champion-ship medals. "I don't like the way the whole Olympics has been marketed at the expense of the little-guy athlete like me."

As investigators attempt to pry the lid off the role of vote- buying in Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the athletes - and their opinions on the scandal - have been largely forgotten. Now, many of them are beginning to speak out about an Olympic movement they feel has lost its way. From swimmers to skiers, joggers to gymnasts, Olympians are expressing anger and feelings of betrayal over a system they say gives money and preferred treatment to International Olympic Committee officials and their families while it leaves athletes to struggle economically. At the same time, interviews with athletes in the US and abroad reveal that many welcome the current scrutiny, hoping it will help end corruption and bribery. And while many athletes feel they are being tarred with the same brush that has brought shame to the Games as a whole, most say they are moving ahead undeterred in their quest to make it to the Olympics. "Coaches and athletes all across the world of Olympic sports are beside themselves with anger and frustration, because everyone gets shown in the same negative light," says John Naber, winner of four swimming gold medals at the 1976 Olympics and now president of the United States Olympic Committee Alumni Association. "At the same time, they realize this could bring the formal scrutiny for a revamping of the International Olympic Committee movement, {which} they feel has been unaccountable to anyone for far too long." Future of the Games Athletes are also expressing concerns about the future of the Games in terms that are both intangible - such as "honor" and "excellence" - and practical. They ask whether the fallout will diminish the interest of corporate sponsors that produce the Games every four years and support the training of thousands of athletes between Games. "The big sports will always get sponsors, but I wonder about the smaller sports now," says Elliot Weintrob, who competed for the US team in whitewater slalom canoeing in 1992. John Hancock Insurance has temporarily suspended millions in advertising, putting the IOC on notice that no more funds will be forthcoming until current practices are condemned and eradicated. U S West temporarily delayed a $5 million payment to the 2002 Games in wake of the scandal. Other advertisers have adopted a wait-and-see posture about supporting the Games. The organizers may not be the only ones to lose out if corporate America loses faith in the Olympics. Shoe companies and athletic- apparel outfitters have helped many athletes continue training by paying them money to wear their equipment. And while critics argue that those ever present logos have hurt the spirit of the Games, many athletes say sponsorship is vital. "That's been part of the Games for a long time. It hasn't all necessarily been bad and there's a trickle-down effect," says Ed Eyestone, a US distance runner at the 1988 and 1992 Games who has had contracts with Reebok shoes and Oakley sunglasses. …