Time will tell

April 30, 1991|By The New York Times

SOMETHING is driving over-the-hill athletes over the cliff this spring. Jim Palmer. Mark Spitz. George Foreman. Bjorn Borg. All four were genuine superstars in recent and not-so-recent years -- on the mound, in the pool, in the ring and on the court. All are well past their peak. Indeed, all had retired from active competition. But all four have tried to come back this year, for various reasons. None has succeeded.

First it was Palmer, former All-Star hurler for the Baltimore Orioles. He faded in spring training. Then Spitz -- seven golds for swimming in the 1972 Olympics -- lapsed in a one-lap sprint, but still has a lucrative contract for another plunge. Ex-heavyweight champ Foreman disported himself well in a bout to recoup the title. Outmatched, he vows to fight again. And now Borg, five-time winner at Wimbledon, has been trounced by a youngster ranked No. 52. He, too, plans to keep trying.

Maybe it's the thinning ozone layer that's causing it. Maybe there's something in the Gatorade. Maybe it's an enduring thirst for competition -- or money. Or maybe, just maybe, it's the dream of youth. These four were all great in another time, graceful and admirable, models of athletic achievement. Better they be remembered for what they were in their prime than for struggling against the inevitable toll of advancing years.

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