Millionaires and munchkins

August 04, 1996|By Donald Kaul

ARE THEY OVER yet? I'm talking about the Olympics, of course. Is it three weeks they've been going on now, or three months? I know I said they were entertaining, but enough is enough. We've had wars that didn't go on this long. I'm exhausted.

I never knew there were so many sports. Not just track and field and swimming and basketball and cycling and boxing and wrestling and baseball and soccer, but archery, badminton, shooting guns, riding horses, fencing, tennis, beach volleyball, wind-surfing, synchronized swimming.

Synchronized swimming! That's not a sport, that's an Esther Williams movie. Granted, the performers are the prettiest things in noseplugs, but Busby Berkeley is dead; let him rest in peace.

Ban these sports

I think it's time to stop adding sports to the Olympics and start subtracting. If it were up to me, I would ban the following:

Any sport that reminded me of a Beach Boys video. Olympic sports are supposed to be about dedication, sacrifice and overcoming adversity, not summer vacation. Beach volleyball, despite the cunning costumes worn by the women, is not a sport, it is an excuse to drink beer.

Any sport where the athletes make millions of dollars at their sport and use the Olympics to increase their endorsement income. Goodbye Dream Team. Also Andre Agassi. I know, there are those who say that in their desire to squeeze every last dollar out of the games the players on the Dream Team embody, rather than violate, the Olympic spirit. Perhaps, but I say make them hustle their products on another channel.

Any sport where children have a competitive advantage over adults. This would put women's gymnastics where it belongs, with women. Officials have decreed that next time, in 2000, gymnasts will have to be 16 to compete. That's a good start. What they should be looking for is a sport where old people have an advantage over young ones.

At no time could a weight lifter weigh more than the barbell he is lifting. I know that weight lifters tend to be bulky chaps, but let's put limits on it. There are children watching.

Hurdlers would be required to actually clear two or three hurdles in the high-hurdle races. Our man won the gold by simply kicking over each hurdle, as though it were a war protester. What's the point in having them out there if you don't make the contestants jump over them?

I would also disqualify anyone who was caught carrying his nation's flag around the track after winning a race or who allowed himself to be photographed crying during the awards ceremony -- unless he lost. I think it smacks of phony sentimentality.

Forget the soap opera

And, finally, I would have a designated smiler in each event, an athlete who would look as though he was enjoying himself. They are the Olympic GAMES, after all.

Let's bring true grit and jollity back to the Olympics and get rid of all of this namby-pamby, touchy-feely soap opera.

By the way, I made the mistake the other day of speaking out against women's gymnastics. I suggested that the young women so engaged had a pale, unhealthy look about them, sounded like munchkins and resembled abused children.

Well, wouldn't you know it, the article fell into the hands of a gang of young gymnasts who set out to put me straight.

The gymnasts strike back

They wrote of the affection they feel for their coaches and the care they receive at their hands, of the fact they are required to maintain food diaries to maintain proper nutrition, of the joy they receive from their sport. And, as more than one of them said: "I do not talk like a munchkin."

Well, maybe not, but Ian Tofler, a psychiatrist at Children's Hospital in New Orleans, recently wrote, in the New England Journal of Medicine, that there is "a coalescing of more severe conditions and some potentially dangerous conditions" in gymnastics that often lead to eating disorders, repeated stress fractures, spinal damage, delayed menstruation causing loss of bone density, which can in turn lead to premature osteoporosis.

"There's pressure to remain prepubescent, which is unique in gymnastics," he said.

I rest my case.

So watch it, all you munchkins out there. Don't do anything to your body at 14 that you'll be sorry for at 30.

Donald Kaul writes for Tribune Media Services.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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